11.07.2004

SF on Radio BBC 7

During the weekdays last week, BBC broadcast Stephen Baxter's Voyage dramatized--well done apart from a heavy-handed social message--which you can listen to here temporarily. They announced Terry Pratchett for next week.

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11.06.2004

Space Constraint, part deux: The Other Hand

I am inordinately fond of short shorts and am dismayed when writers don't take it as seriously as other forms. You can say much in just a line or two. Ezra Pound, in explaining "In a Station of the Metro," wrote, "A Chinaman said long ago that if a man can’t say what he has to say in twelve lines he had better keep quiet." Some ideas deserve a larger canvas, but some small ideas use inordinately large canvases.

I recall Howard Waldrop once told us: If you think you have a novel idea, it's a novella. If you think you have a novella, it's a novelette. If you think you have novelette, it's a short story. If you think you have a short story, don't write it.

Which goes to show not only the need for brevity but also what Waldrop thinks of too much brevity. For too long, the subgenre of the genre has been home to the bad joke, devaluing what could have held much promise, which is to say neither that we don't need humor nor that anyone's to blame except a busy writing schedule allowing little extra time to make a short short significant. To find a gem among the old Asimov 100 Great... or Microcosmic Tales takes a lot of hunting. Amazing Stories seems to have discontinued their 1000 word game after three issues. Just as well though I hope it doesn't discourage the genre.

On the other hand, Eileen Gunn takes the genre seriously--both in Infinite Matrix and in her own two examples from her Stable Strategies collection.

Even lit-folk don't always take the genre seriously. Jerome Stern's Microfiction anthology has one diamond among few other gems. In less than 250 words, Rick DeMarinis' "Your Fears Are Justified" packs a wallop with three well-characterized characters:

In the Clinic City hospital I have to share a room with a heart patient. "What are you here for?" he asks. "Brain tumor," I say. He perks up, interested. "How's your ticker?" he says. His wife, large and phlegmatic, visits twice a day. The whisper. "You're terminal?" she asks, coyly. It's as if she's asked me about the weather in Des Moines. "Not that I know of," I say. "Brain tumor," her husbands whisperes, nudgeing her. They exchange loving glances. I know what they are thinking.... They want my heart.

Other stories worth studying from Microfiction:

Molly Giles' "The Poet's Husband" has a nice, resonant moment. Robert Shuster's "Eclipsed" captures a potent, child emotion we never lose. Pamela Painter paints the picture of a ham against marital discord's aftermath in "The New Year." Virgil Suarez's "Anti-Cain" shows how much politics can be stuffed in a tiny space. Joanne Avallon's "All This" is amazingly compact in time yet discursive yet delivering one imagistic blow to tell a lasting truth that isn't new but one we pretend to forget (not unlike Ron Wallace's "Worry" though the impact wasn't as thorough).

Stories (though that term does not always apply) worth reading:

Roberto Fernandez's "Wrong Channel" has good humor. Fred Chappell's "Painted Devils" shows machismo at full throttle. Natalia Rachel Singer employs lyric language. Tom Fleming's "Conception" and Stuart Dybek's "Flu" have a nice touch. Jamie Granger tells the old tale of "Stone Belly Girl" as does Betsy Kemper tell her own age-old injustice in "This Is How I Remember It." Ursula Hegi varies the theme on Sylvia Plath's life. In Russel Edson's "The Bridge," the male character speaks of looking for a sign that may already be there. Padgett Powell regrets "A Gentleman's C."

What I like about Stern's Microfiction is that most of the stories make an attempt that, like Peggy McNally's "Waiting," while it may not resonate for me no matter how I look at it, it must resonate for someone, one can tell, just by the way it's set up.

Finally, James Kelman sums up the feeling of telling a hard story to tell:

Ach, I dont want to tell this story....

Obviously the story has to get told....

Mmm, aye.... I don't want to tell it.

But you've got to tell it. Unless... if it's no story at all.

Oh, aye, christ it's a story, dont worry about that.

What often unites the better works is capturing poignant emotional moments that radiate meaning deeper than they seem they should. Before sending out prose, ask if it's a story, and if it is, what's it about? What words will carry the reader beyond the page?

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11.05.2004

Boston edited poetry at The Pedestal

Bruce Boston edited the current poetry issue of The Pedestal. The best appears to be Lincoln Michel's discursive piece which has nice lyrical moments throughout. The best line that stuck out in my first reading was Charlee Jacob's "souls in a slow winter's march."

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11.01.2004

Space Constraint: What We All Can Learn from "What We All Can Learn from Popular Fiction"

That's the title of an article in the ultra-short do-it-yourself magazine, Bottom Line.

The magazine itself is actually worth having if you don't want to wade through fat nonfiction books just to find what you need to know. The article writers are usually highly qualified in their respective fields.

That said, I think Gary Hoppenstand, PhD, overstates his case a bit, touting bestsellers for their intrinsic values. For example, in the lone science fiction writer category, he writes of Michael Crichton, "Crichton's novels force readers to confront problems created by technological progress. Jurassic Park dealt with cloning...."

But maybe that isn't overstating so much as stating to an audience which may not appreciate the finer points of fiction. Maybe a tax lawyer would find articles on tax shelter also necessarily oversimplified due to the space constraints. Maybe Hoppenstand's cases might have carried more weight if he had the room to explain what he meant.

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10.31.2004

Fortune Cookie Says, "Love Truth But Pardon Error" or Why I Didn't Cover the Other Debates

I don't know if it was a Chinese, Japanese, or Asian-American fellow (or someone's redneck granny locked in a kitchen closet with nothing else to do) who invented the fortune cookie, but I love them. I'm not fond of the cookie, but the fortunes--like those wonderful, worthless prizes in Cracker Jacks. My favorite fortunes come from a Chinese buffet across the street from a mall, where the main ethnicities eating include Sudanese, Latinos, a handful of Asians, and a smattering of European mutts like myself. It's almost always packed. Maybe they're seeking their fortunes. We all look like we could use some.

The above was an actual cookie quote. It is true, isn't it? But we prefer to love error and pardon truth, no? Especially in politics.

Don't worry. I'm burnt out on politics this is my last post on the matter for a long time. I still love politics in theory but I hate it in practice, mangled by our love for error.

I just visited some folks who have a Bush/Cheney sign in their front lawn. One of their signs had been stolen. When I told them I was fasting for the election, they assumed I meant for Bush.

"You mean you're not fasting for Bush?"

"No," I said, "for peace--peace for our country during post-election blues, peace for Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel and Palestine."

Surprisingly, this upset them. How could I be religious and not vote for Bush? Of course, on the other hand of politics, some religious folk like Jesse Jackson try to tell us, you're only religious if you're a liberal--seriously. He spoke at either the Cleveland or California lectures and said that Moses and Jesus were liberals. I can see a case for Jesus (although you'll find he makes a number of non-liberal remarks like "The poor will always be with us," etc.), but Moses? He's the fellow who brought the law--all those rules that liberals love to hate.

Love truth, pardon error.

My first ever psychology course taught that those of the same ideology who only hang out with the same ideologues become more extreme. You want to know why our nation has become polarized? Look no further. We need outreach and understanding--no more trumped-up charges and deaf ears to other perspectives. As Gail Collins said in "On the Media" [http://www.wnyc.org/onthemedia/transcripts/transcripts_102204_paper2.html], "Most people are happiest reading things that reinforce opinions that they already have."

You can read my post again on Hitler's Blind Spot or watch the film yourself, but the lesson you learn--if you are open to learning--is that the problem is not ideology, but the zealots who use ideology at any cost: because I'm right, I can do whatever I choose. This is what has killed both parties for me: zealots on both sides who think they're so right they can keep Nader off the ballots because of signatures that may or may not be legitimate yet get upset when Republicans question questionable signatures. Or zealots who think they're so right that they tear up Democratic voter registrations.

Love truth, pardon error.

It's not just in this country. Why is the war in Iraq going badly? Listen to this NPR series:

http://www.npr.org/rundowns/segment.php?wfId=4114270

Someone has to let Syrians and other muslims know that this is not a war against them and their religion. If you were an atheist and felt fellow atheists were attacked, you'd probably join the fray, too. Christian, Buddhist, whatever. It doesn't matter. Every religion or atheist philosophy has had zealots performing foolish acts in the name of their belief. What we need are more moderates for outreach and understanding.

I became disenchanted by Bush--not that I was ever particularly enchanted--from the lack of removing whatever was corrupting his government: from the CIA agent exposed to Abu Ghraib, no one was even politely let go. And, according to John Zogby, Bush listened when a zealot discouraged Bush's attempt to create peace between Palestine and Israel. "Take away dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away wickedness from before the king...."

I became a Kerry fan early this year, preferring his performance at the Iowa primary debate and his online platform, most of which I agreed with. I said then that if he said something egregiously wrong, I might not support him. Science magazine reported Kerry as saying something like, "Science should not be guided by ideology." Mary Shelley? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Jonathan Swift? What did these writers have to say about such kinds of science? But it was not an egregious error, and Barth Anderson said that Kerry later qualified his statement, which put me at ease again.

Kerry was, otherwise, very cautious in his claims, infuriating loyal Democratic zealots, but endearing me. When Dean claimed that Bush caused the Spain bombing and Kerry said that that was not his perspective, I cheered.

Kerry seemed willing to wait for the truth before he made claims. His performance at the debates only reestablished my favor for Kerry. (Cheney, however, proved Edwards a liability, and the media failed to investigate Cheney's claim that Edwards had one of the worst attendance records in the Senate--how can Edwards lead if he's not there? But I would not have been electing Edwards, and Edwards could have later redeemed himself by improving his attendance.)

Love truth, pardon error.

Post debates, I thought President Bush's harping on Kerry raising taxes--when Kerry already said he would not--looked desperate, which I took as a good sign for Kerry's election. However, Kerry took a similar desperate move: He accused Bush of wanting to raise a draft.

Wait.

Who will raise a draft? Who called for more troops in Iraq? Which party's senator sponsored the two Senate bills--S.89 and H.R. 163--to raise a draft? Democratic senator Ernest F. Hollings. How can Democrats blame the draft on Republicans when they sponsor the bill?

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:S.89:

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:H.R.163:

I wanted a cautious candidate for President. Sure, if a draft is drawn, I think it would make more ethical sense for Kerry since he actually went to Vietnam, a vastly less popular war. Bush did not go, so while he has certainly the ability to do so, he has the lesser ethical claim.

But, please, let's deal the American people honestly. If there are plans to open up the draft, who is more likely to do it?

So that's why I'm fasting for peace and not for a particular president: so that peace may come fast.

Good luck to whomever becomes President but know that neither have a mandate to carry out partisan zealotry, so please don't.

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10.29.2004

The Character of Horror and the Myth of the Average Joe

I'm reviewing horror for SFSite.com, and stumbled on a common problem: character, there isn't any. Maybe I'm exaggerating, a little, but too many are written as blank slates. Some beginning writers justify this with saying they want to create an everyman so that anyone can see themselves in the character's shoes, but I think we automatically want to be in a character's shoes--that's why we read. It's not the species or race (almost anything by Hal Clement or Octavia Butler), the sex (The Left Hand of Darkness) or the age (Ender's Game unless you were a preteen when you read it), or the mental capability (Flowers for Algernon), but the logic of the character's actions. If an action makes sense in the context of the environment and capabilities at the character's disposal, the reader will identify.

There are two obvious extremes of characterization (obvious because of their extremity) that help writers to quickly sketch a vividly realized character. One is the crazy or really weird character common to the literary story. Writers do this often to get noticed by a literary magazine, to do something that hasn't been seen. The other is the object or affectation of the character's that distinguishes this character from the others. He's the thin man, the fat man, the girl with the bone through her nose, the three-legged dog, the boy who stutters.

But neither rendering has much to do with character except that they both quickly sketch what a character appears to be, but appearances don't capture the reality of a character. Actions characterize the character (or, in the case of Hamlet, inaction, which is still an act). Graham Joyce's Smoking Poppy begins with an everyman who loves his daughter, who describes the love he has of his daughter's smell. It captures the sentiment of the character and, therefore, why we should follow this character through hell to chase after his daughter.

We are all characters. That is, we differ from one another. Often we may see ourselves as average, but the world sees us differently, sees us as we cannot see ourselves. We all have annoyances. Consider the divorce rate in our country. The way you hold your mouth or speak out the side of it may charm me, but aggravate the piss out of someone else. The way you crunch potato chips at volumes of a television commercial may annoy me, but strike someone else as humorous.

The protagonist in Stephen King's Bag of Bones was so unadorned as to be rendered invisible. It may be no coincidence that the ghost was illustrated in the original hardcover. She was the only vividly realized character. (This isn't to say that King can't do character, as you can see from "Low Men in Yellow Coats" from Hearts in Atlantis.) My suspicion is that King based the character in Bag of Bones too much on himself without ever having looked at himself from the outside to see what made King King.

This may be what happened to these horror stories. We believe ourselves the everyman, the average joe. But that are many layers to us that await discovery (which is why I react strongly to those uninterested in self- or character-discovery). It requires a strong constitution and a hard, honest look to peel back those layers, sometimes complex, sometimes simple: Is your character so vocally against prejudice because he's prejudiced? Is your character homophobic because he's gay? Is he cruel to her because he doesn't want to admit he loves her? Does she aggravate him to be cruel to her because she feels she doesn't deserve to be loved? Does your character walk into a coffee shop to drink coffee or to be seen? Does he attend Republican conventions and listen to Rush Limbaugh to brown-nose his boss? Does she attend liberal rallies or rail against simplified Republicans in order to look cool with her liberal friends?

The questions of life are hard to answer because they are sensitive. It may be you aren't interested in answering in them. That's cool. You may be a plot man or a big-idea man. If so, write to your strengths. Do you write cool, weirdnesses that crop up in the world? Then skip straight to them. Drop the sections where you extensively describe human relations outside the speculation. If you do plot, skip straight to the roller coaster ride.

It is possible to get just as deep as a character writer through plot or idea. Actually, idea writers are usually a little deeper in the profound questions about life and society, but sometimes the story gets neglected when the focus is only on the ideas. The important thing is to be the writer you are, not the writer people say is the cool thing to be. If you prefer reading plot-oriented fiction, chances are you should write it. Don't let anyone tell you speculatively oriented fiction is any less profound than literary because there are plenty of examples to the contrary.

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10.27.2004

Back in the good old days when television was a virtue...

"I didn't used to do things like [wax over her partner and good friend into large octagonal cells]. I used to be more patient, didn't I? More appreciative of a diverse spectrum of human possibility. More interested in sex and television."

--Eileen Gunn's "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" in her new collection from Tachyon.

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10.20.2004

If you have just a little minor idiosyncrasy

you must be destined for mediocrity," writes Mark Rich in his story "Idiosynchronicity," published in the Small Beer press chapbook, Foreigners and Other Familiar Faces. Later, "I must make a practice of being a stranger to everyone."

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10.18.2004

Saving Fiction & other news items discussed

Maud Newton blogs on Ken Smith’s Junk English, which is dead-on but also can potentially be dead wrong--synonyms are not always exact matches, for they have sounds, contexts, and shades of meaning that almost never allow a 1 to 1 exchange rate.

Philip Jackson wrote in to say he has a new Robert Sheckley fan site up. It discusses a number of Sheckley stories and novels. Speaking of Sheckley's influence on others, BBC has the classic Infocom game online: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Screenwriter Ray Rhamey wrote in to say he had something further to add on the Anne Rice affair this coming Monday.

Sherwood Smith talks further about "Reader Investment": emotional involvement. Alexander Payne takes the unconventional wisdom on this matter.

Maud Newton asks, "Self-fulfilling prophecy: is fiction really dead or are publishers killing it?" Despite my love for the local bookstore which had two stacks of Through Ultraviolet Eyes by Clarion chum Stephen Woodworth (whose second novel, With Red Hands, is due in December), I wondered if chain-bookstores aren't also culpable and, thereby, singing the same old swan song: the aforementioned desire for the quick gain. I was recently informed of bookstores promising not to carry first novels in hardcover. Won't this kill the careers of the more methodical first-time novelists? Before, when the paperback came out, readers could be reminded of an author's name the second time around. Now the market appears to favor the prolific. Although the prolific certainly do write quality and slow-brewed is not necessarily indicative of quality, those who stew over works can take the time to bring in a certain quality. Perhaps this will have no effect on either type of writer, but--while I love all book stores, chain or independent--should a chain-store's descision bode ill for the fiction market, readers/customers should be prepared to respond. The Book Guys discuss ways to support the independent bookstores and to encourage reading locally--ideas that would bode well for chains as well, not to mention writers.

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10.16.2004

Che & Change

One of the most intriguing facets of The Motorcycle Diaries is how often it's almost trivially distorted by the critics (and here, too). Some will downplay its obvious political stance as "nonpolitical," presumably because of their lack of enchantment with either Che's methods or philosophy which flies in the face of their otherwise inexplicable appreciation of the film. Others will mock the movie for its commerciality (i.e. not radical Che enough) despite, according to one source, the material coming directly from Che's diary at the time. And another class of critics will overplay the movie's value as "layered" or "subtle" presumably because it's about Che, which means we must gear into automatic movie-love.

(Why do we love or hate art because of its politics? Although art can convey political beliefs, politics is not art, so those who love or hate because of politics must have a rather low appreciation of art--not to mention an amazingly undaunted ability to flaunt their vaunting intolerance.)

How can I load these attributions into their critiques? Because the film is simple. It's a story of two young men who go on a trip up the continent of South America. It's charming and humorous. The two ride through patches of snow that Alberto calls just a little frost not to be worried about, and in the next scene they're forced to push the overloaded motorcycle through a foot of snow. They chase women and get chased by the men who are married to them. Broke, they con mechanics into fixing their motorcycles by posing as famous doctors traveling through the continent.

If not beating you over the head with its political ideology is "subtle," what a sad state our politics is in. And "layered?" With what? Frosting?

What it is is a film about how a man became another man--transformed by what he saw and experienced on the road to do a medical internship at a leper colony. This is how we experience change. We do experience change. And is there anything else worth talking about?

My film companion and I were quite pensive after the film on two matters. We discussed our own life changes--changes you don't see until you're looking back at who you were just a few years before. I'd received a phone call from a college friend who described the man I was and am so unfamiliar with now. The companion described his recent changes. We conjectured that those who are settled in their ways may not change, but how interesting could their life stories be if they don't change, aren't transformed by the world?

Of course, the other matter is slightly tangential but political in nature--yet both of our minds struck upon it independently: How is it that corporate greed drives after ever larger slices of the economy? Isn't it clear that they will drive the middle class into poverty, devaluing their own wealth and the country's? Isn't it clear the larger the middle class, the stronger the nation's economy, and the more wealth the rich can accumulate, albeit over a longer time frame?

I just don't understand how they are blind to this, crashing and burning companies for hasty gains. Nobody but the envious and power-hungry care that the rich get richer, but we all care what greed does to the welfare of a nation's peoples. If the rich won't try to curb get-rich-quick lust, they're just an election away from having their money voted away. Consider this proverb:

"He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he that gives to the rich, shall surely come to want."

See other apropos thoughts on hasting to riches in 20:21, 28:20, 28:22. This public service announcement was brought to you by the concerned.

xxoo

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10.15.2004

I don't know how he does it & other poetic matters

Matthew Cheney's prolific observation inspires admiration and makes me want to respond but also to quit the blogging business in deference to his completist coverage. The most I can ever manage is detailed observation about a few items.

Oddly, we're almost always on the same wavelength. We both thought about the place of experiment around the same period (I was inspired by something Dan Green had written about formula, he by something Jeff Vandermeer had written). I'd pulled down Delany's collection to read and viola--Matt says he's thinking about blogging on Delany's stories. It's uncanny.

And now about the Rhysling anthology, which I'm slowly reading through for a review at SFSite.com. I hope Matt doesn't mind that I disagree, however, on a few points.

Cheney points out Blackston's review, which is quite thoughtful but at times I felt not entirely accurate--particularly in regards to Bruce Boston's poetry.

There is a connection to Stevens in all of Boston's work--that's definitely true in his unabashed use of abstraction in the concrete, a technique that Stevens developed well but is, sadly, poorly evoked by beginning poets. But "The Crow Is Dismantled in Flight" did not feel very Stevens to me. Boston is way too evocative to be closely associated with Stevens. In fact, Boston seems very Boston to me--a poet with a clear voice of his own.

Cheney also mischaracterizes Boston with "Bruce Boston... I associate primarily with an interminable series of jokey poems about famous monsters' wives."

This truly misses what Boston achieved with The Complete Accursed Wives, which is the finest speculative themed collection of poems that I've ever read. What Cheney doesn't realize is that Boston subverted the SF poetry industry. The premiere magazine of science fiction was primarily publishing joke poems of zero consequence. But it was popular with the lay folk who have not been turned on to the charms of good poetry, so maybe this helps engender interest in poetry through the back door. Boston took what he called "Populist" poetry and turned it into something meaningful, examining the married life through speculative tropes. I'm disappointed that these poems have been short-changed for their powerful subversion while under the lousy conditions of this subgenre. Like any good poet worth his salt, he works with what he's got--no matter how limiting the conditions.

Please do not short-change Boston's achievement. Sure, he sometimes writes jokey poems that never amount to much, but he can "write the insides" of poems, which this particular Rhysling anthology does not do a lot of, unfortunately. The last quote is from Dozois. Dozois was referring to Russ' complaint about Zelazny whom she felt could not write the inside of a story. This complaint can easily be pointed at SF poetry field.

Moreover, I've never seen the inside of a genre poem so incredibly well-written as the poem that finishes his Pitchblende collection. I've reviewed several of Boston's collection at SF Site:

http://sfsite.com/revus/revuboston.htm

I've reviewed several others that I never finished polishing--and now lost forever, I'm afeared, amidst several other reviews and fictions and poetries, on a computer that died on me. As Gordon Van Gelder sayeth, "Alas."

By the way, my favorite for short poems is Mike Allen's "How I Will Outwit the Time Thieves," which is simultaneously written with a speculative outside and a deeper inside. (Roger Dutcher writes a fine poem up until the end while Boston writes a beautiful end. Maybe they ought to combine forces.)

My favorite long poem so far has been Boston's precisely because he writes on the inside although I had to reread it to be certain (strangely, the poem does not finish strongly, which made think that, unlike Cheney, there ought to have been more to come--I suppose Boston could have taken the poem in either direction more successfully if inspired). Theodora Goss' is marginally better written on the outside but less so on the inside--moreover, while it makes motions toward emotion (in fact, it is specifically about the different masks of one's emotions), it isn't quite as effective at directly rendering the emotions it speaks of. Yet it is without doubt a poem of note--which is the only kind of poem I'm bothering to mention here. Sandra Lindow has another poem of great emotive quality, which seems to be her strength.

This process takes awhile since I have to read the poems enough times to get the entire poem in my head at once to see if any structural resonance occurs. Maybe I'll get done this weekend. (But don't hold your breath.)

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10.14.2004

Anne Rice Prophesy Fulfilled

According to an NY TIMES article, I correctly predicted that the Anne Rice controversy would sell more books:

Sessalee Hensley, the fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble... said [that] "Blood Canticle" had sold 20 percent more copies than Ms. Rice's previous vampire book, "Blackwood Farm."

Anne Rice, however, goes on to elaborate her misunderstanding of what a good editor does:

"When you take home a CD of Pavarotti or Marilyn Horne, you don't want to hear another voice blended in. I feel the same way about Hemingway. If I read it, I don't want to read a new edited version."

Ah, but if the conductor notes that Pavarotti has sung the wrong note or key in rehearsal, should the conductor not inform Pavarotti of the mistake?

Hemingway is also a poor choice since he was rather ruthless about editing.

A good editor informs writers of troublesome errors, worthless tangents, unnecessary repetitions--small and large--and so forth. The voice is not to be tampered with--unless it's off-key or otherwise problematic and inconsistent.

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10.13.2004

The Cosmic Perspective

Living on Earth had an interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He had a number of comments shared by the SF community (as distinguished from the more generally speculative) that makes me wonder if their perspective isn't a universal for any lover of the cosmos: to see the world from the point of view of the greater universe, which leads them to translate this idea to a human level.

Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, puts this idea into present practicality in his Chautauqua lecture today. Invaluable.

***

In other, more mystical news, you can vacation in ghoulish style.

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The Big Empty

Here's an independent film worth watching for a couple or so of reasons:

1) Support new and talented directors.

2) It's quirky. Not quite up to the solid art of Donnie Darko--a first film masterpiece--yet not the usual Hollywood fare that we could use more of.

3) The talented Kelsey Grammer and Daryl Hannah are completely transformed that you ask if they're really the same actors.

4) If you're a writer, you'll want to listen to the deleted scene commentary--excellent stuff. If you're a director wannabe, you'll want to listen to the movie commentary.

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BBC and the Near Impossibility of the Representation of Nations

It's curious how much more literary the programming is on BBC. NPR has an occasional literary guest star who might have made the best-seller list, but almost never a story reading--let alone a dramatization. After all, 5% of the American public reads, so maybe a little programming could be devoted to it. There's a ton of jazz programming, which is cool, but a little disproportionate to its listenership--perhaps. Maybe, given that another station plays almost all classical music, they're trying to off-set the rock quotient on the other channels.

But if it's because jazz is an American institution of art that it's well-covered, why not the short story? Surely, the short story fills a similar role--if not SF as well. Although it began outside the U.S. and exists in other countries, it has flowered here--a curious phenomenon due to its underlying international thematic intent.

Also of note when thinking of the BBC is their portrayal of Americans. We're a mix-n-match. One show that takes place in the Northeast will play Bluegrass music. Character accents range the American geography: mixing Jersey accents with a Southern drawl.

I guess my accent is a little mix-n-match, too, having lived throughout the U.S. and ineluctably taking up the local flavors--as a joke at first, then as a part of my permanent speech. Even so it's still a matter of intensity. I will always sound Yankee to the deep Southerners--no matter that I was born in the South and have lived for extended periods in several of their sometime rebel-yearning states.

Possibly, it's impossible for an outsider to characterize a nation's biases without living inside it. For instance, locally, the town of Council Bluffs is known affectionately as Council-tucky. If you aren't aware of national prejudices towards Kentucky (Bluegrass land), then you probably aren't aware of how the locals feel about the town across the river.

For whatever reason, immigrant Sudanese have settled here, smack in the middle of the U.S. One came on the radio waves talking about the different dialects of Sudan and the misperception of their country all speaking the same. And, of course, the U.S. is probably just as laughably guilty of mixing up Australian, British, Scottish, Irish accents--let alone all the variants so charmingly elucidated in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

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10.11.2004

Derrida dies

I discussed some of his influential ideas on literature here.

Although you often hear you have to read him in French, he's great fun in English, too, which he knew pretty well--in fact, if memory serves, some of his works were originally delivered in English.

I've found some of his work logically problematic, basing his principles on ideas of, say, science that rely on misperceptions of science. I think, too, sometimes even he is snared in his own verbal trickery.

That said, I love reading his work--very clever, very slow-going but rapturous to read--which can be poweful as a tool. Unfortunately, like all criminals, some academics tranform tools into bludgeons, trying to mangle perfectly well-built edifices of art in order to reconstruct another misshapen edifice from a single tool. Imagine building a house with only a hammer. Reading academic papers, one encounters an abundance of such narrow misapplications of theory.

Derrida, though, and his further contributions to thought will be missed.

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