Wetmachine Blog: Writing

Novel and other writing updates

Wetmachine has a new baby sister! And so does Acts of the Apostles!

Well, what I mean is, I’ve finally set up JohnSundman.com as a place to discuss, promote, wax ecstatic about, and, mainly, Real Soon Now, sell direct to you, dear friends, my hackertastic philosopho-literary tales of the technopotheosis. It’s not nearly as nice as it soon will be, but on the other hand it does exist, which is (as my pal Gary Gray will attest) something.

TOO-ALSO, my ancient chef-d’oeuvre Acts of the Apostles has been cloned, and the new instance has thereafter been given an oil change, face lift, new transmission and a stern talking to and rechristened Biogigital: A Novel of Overmind Emergent. For the next month you can get it (ebook only, DRM-Free) from Unglue.it. So please do check it out.

Also posted in General, infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

Ten Years of Wetmachine Already? Some Preliminary Observations

In the immediately prior post, Harold Feld reflects on ten years of blogging at Wetmachine.

Go read that post; it’s short & fun & informational. I’ll wait for you below the fold, where I offer some further reflections on Harold’s reflections. Read More »

Also posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

The “Meme Hustler” hustler: Evgeny Morozov’s Stupid Talk about Tim O’Reilly

[note: I wrote the following post one Sunday afternoon nearly two months ago. It was no great shakes, but I was happy to have finally written something to break out of my Wetmachine doldrums. I set it aside to jell overnight, intending to re-read, put in links, give it a once-over the next day before posting it. However on that next day,  Monday , the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon occurred, and publishing this  little essay was clearly inappropriate. Time has passed & I’ve finally gotten around to re-reading and putting in the links. It’s no longer as timely as it was, but in any event, here it is. . .]

Evgeny Morozov is a guy with a soapbox and a schtick.

His soapbox is his position as a “go to” authority on technoskepticism — that is, he makes his living pointing out, to any who care to listen, The Folly of Technological Solutionism (which phrase I italicize because it’s also the subtitle of his latest book, whose primary title is To Save Everything, Click Here).

His schtick is finding influential people who embrace (or appear to embrace) this philosophy of technological solutionism and taking them down a peg or two.  And he’s really good at peg-decrementing — which probably accounts for the prominence of his soapbox, which includes positions at prestigious academic institutions (Stanford, Georgetown) and think tanks, and regular appearances in prominent publications (New York Times, Foreign Affairs) and a TED fellowship.

Consider, for example, Morozov’s hilarious (and quite well-deserved, in my opinion) evisceration of former San Francisco mayor, and current Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, in a Bookforum review of Newsom’s book Citizenville:

 

In a flourish [in the publisher’s catalog] as logical as it is grammatical, we learn that “Newsom’s quest to modernize one of America’s most modern cities—and the amazing results he achieves—form the backbone of this far-reaching book.”

Alas, this dubiously signifying nonsense does not let up between the covers of Citizenville. To say that Newsom’s ruminations on technology and politics come in fifty shades of bullshit is to give this all-too-representative study in online civic boosterism too much credit. Newsom’s bullshit is solidly and tediously monochrome.

 

The essay gets only more brutal from there. I loved it when I read it; I actually exclaimed “YES!” out loud a few times, which seemed to startle my fellow passengers on the New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station to Chatham, New Jersey. When he’s on target, Morozov can be brilliant, funny, and merciless.

Recently Morozov turned his attention on Tim O’Reilly, the founder of  O’Reilly Media (formerly O’Reilly & Associates), the so-called visionary whose careers first as a publisher of books on computer technology and then as impresario of various conferences that bear his name catapulted him to international prominence as a commentator on where technology is, or might be, taking us as a nation and even as a species.

To put it mildly, Morozov doesn’t care much for O’Reilly. In fact he seems to reserve for O’Reilly a disdain much more intense than that which he evinced for the poseur airhead Gavin Newsom. In a recent piece in the smugly iconoclastic magazine The Baffler, (“The Meme Hustler — Tim O’Reilly’s Crazy Talk”) Morozov goes after O’Reilly like an angry Rottweiler.  Or more accurately, he goes after a caricature of O’Reilly like a caricature of an angry Rottweiler. I really enjoyed Morozov’s take-down of Newsom, and O’Reilly (“Saint Tim”) is, frankly, an object of veneration in some circles who could stand a little ribbing. I’m a Walt Whitman kind of guy in that I don’t have much tolerance for the veneration of  popes, Dalai Lamas or Steve Jobses; Whitman enjoined us to “tip your cap to no man”, and I’m down with that.  So I wouldn’t mind seeing St. Tim taken down a notch or two, just on general principles. I had done a 30-second skim read of Morozov’s essay when it first appeared in The Baffler and it looked promising, so I was looking forward to actually reading The Meme Hustler when I found the time to do so. I found the time yesterday.

Man, what a disappointment. What a pompous, shallow, unfair, error-filled and hysterical piece of dreck. Essentially, I found The Meme Hustler stupid and baffling. It made me angry. I explain why below the fold.

Read More »

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Software | 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, My Thoughts Exactly, Wetware | 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, My Thoughts Exactly | 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, My Thoughts Exactly | 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 My Thoughts Exactly | 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 My Thoughts Exactly, Software | 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 My Thoughts Exactly, Software, Wetware | 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 My Thoughts Exactly, Software, Wetware | Comments closed
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register