Some bits 'n pieces from around the way.
Finally, we've all heard about Philip José Farmer passing on at the venerable age of 91. A shame, because I suspect only now I'll be getting caught up with him good and proper — apart from the Riverworld books, that is, which actually quite underwhelmed me.
Part of the problem there was how I couldn't help but contrast them to my favorite work of this that I've read so far, his novella "Riders of the Purple Wage", published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology. "Wage" was, to borrow Harlan's own words about PJF's earlier story "The Lovers", "an explosion in a fresh-air factory". It was, by Harlan's own estimation, the finest story in that whole collection, and while its Freudijungian pretenses have not dated well, it's still such fun to read that it makes the Riverworld series look terribly warmed-over in comparison.
If people have suggestions for Farmer reading apart from Riverworld, post 'em here; I'd love to hear your takes.
I spent most of February doing research for Tokyo Inferno rather than actually writing it. Is that procrastination? Probably, although I didn't feel like scribbling the rest of a draft and then dumping a good part of it because I didn't know diddle-all about what had been going on in Japan at the time.
The book Yokohama Burning was a major source of insight. A good chunk of it is about the Westerners in Japan at the time, but there was a whole chapter on Tokyo itself that made me plant quite a few Post-Its in the margins.
To my surprise, most of my original instincts about what to put in or leave out seemed to be on target. One character will either have to be changed or revised entirely, depending on what conclusions I come to. Fortunately it's not one of the main characters, just someone who occupies a role that might be better served by using someone else already established. It's going to be one of those things that I think I can only work out by actually writing that part of the story. Musing about it "offline" is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle by putting the pieces in the box and giving it a good shake.
If all goes well, I should have a full draft by the end of April or so — plenty of time to clean it up and get it into shape for the final quarter of the year.
What I'd love to do — and this is really iffy, but I'm tossing it out here anyway — is make the first section of the story available as a teaser when it's ready. It would be essentially the same thing as the teasers I have up right now for The Four-Day Weekend and Summerworld — about the first 30 or so pages, maybe with some editing for readability.
Another idea. (Uh-oh!) After this, I have about two or three other pieces of work that I could dive into. Since I've only got two arms and ten fingers and no direct neural input for this thing, I can only write one of them at a time. My idea was to create "taster" versions for each project as above, post them, and get feedback for a couple of months from people about which ones they most wanted to see.
Let me know what you think!
John Cage, again. "I don't hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven't yet heard." [*]
I am the same way, I think. I write to bring into existence the stories I have not yet read. It feels like there is a hole somewhere that needs to be filled up, and so I go and fill it. Maybe this hole doesn't exist anywhere except in my perceptions, but it will persist until I go about doing the work that fills it.
Folks, I have some terrible news.
It's come to my attention that Zydrate does not, in fact, come in a little glass vial. It comes in a large, sterile plastic one-time use flechette. I'm doing my best to make sure this is corrected wherever it's referenced, but it's slow going.
Please spread the word. Thank you for your cooperation.
Tags: comedy gold
I spent most of the weekend sneezing my fool head off. Good thing I didn't try to get into a car, as had been my original plan. I regret not getting to WF, but I have to be forward-looking. I tell myself that next time around, I will have even more to offer, and it's almost certainly true. As a by-product of that, however, I have signed copies of my books in stock once again, and the price is now $20 inclusive of shipping to the continental U.S. (Foreign orders slightly higher. Ask.)
A bunch of review goodies came in over the weekend, which I will be plowing through and writing about in the usual fashion. However, I'm trying to step back and make more time for book work and my own review material — stuff like El Norte or Watcher in the Attic or The Geisha, all things I've watched recently and haven't had time to talk about. (I hate relegating these things to a simple capsule review, because the more I talk about them the more I find there is that much more to say in the first place. It's like throwing away a blank notebook that you've only written in for a few pages.)
So much for WickedFaire this weekend. I spent most of today watching the room spin around, so the idea of getting into a car and driving any distance at all was straight out. At least now I have an excuse to get caught up on my reading!
Every now and then you come up against something that makes you not only stop cold but have the worst time starting up again and saying anything that isn't just "WHAT? WHAT?"
Yes, again I was doing Tokyo Inferno research, and by way of one link and another I ended up reading Noam Chomsky. And Noam spake thusly:
In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, 'Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force.' Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible. — Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-Style
Most of my gibbering stupefaction at this quote — a quote which came to me by way of some of Chomsky's writings about Japan and WWII, and deserve their own separate dismantling — comes from the first couple of sentences. They by themselves invalidate any point Chomsky might have been trying to make.
To say that totalitarian societies "don't really try to control your thoughts ... just give you the party line" is to admit that you know absolutely nothing about the facts of life in a totalitarian society in the first place. This is not something you need to go to, say, North Korea to understand firsthand; even the most casual reading of Robert Jay Lifton (he who educated the West about the very term "thought reform" as it was practiced in Mao's China) or the like will do fine.
Of course totalitarian societies practice thought control. That's what the prefix total- in the adjective means: total control of thought, deed, behavior and movement. What you think is of manifest importance to the ruling powers, because thought is the precusor to action, and the last thing they want is their people — forgive the use of this weatherbeaten phrase, but it fits here — thinking outside the box. This is why there is total control over what people are permitted to say and do. The end result is, you guessed it, also control over what they are permitted to think, what conclusions they can draw and what actions they can take based on those conclusions.
One of the things we assume for granted in any democratic society is what could be called the freedom to be trivial — to live without having everything we do automatically assume weight. There are no trivial actions in a totalitarian society. Everything is invested with political heft, which is how people can be thrown into gulags and never seen again for nothing more than accidentally sitting down on a copy of a picture of the Great Leader. In Mao's China, sentences were handed down for such crimes as "talking gibberish", a catchall way to get someone out of sight for saying anything that made the powers-that-be remotely uncomfortable. In the U.S., I can brag about burning a copy of the President's picture and never incur much more than a little partisan venom for it, if even that. (Not that I've ever actually done that or would want to, but you get the idea.)
I've heard other people describe Chomsky as a great political thinker, but so far I've seen nothing to convince me of this.
Over at Sadly, No! (in a thread about Larry Niven) there was this comment: "When a writer consistently expresses the same views in (in this case) his fiction over a period of years, I think people can be excused for thinking he's expressing his personal views." This is something I've bumped into myself, and not in ways you might imagine.
Not long after I wrote Summerworld I had a conversation with a friend who knew that I didn't believe in magic or put much stock in mysticism of any variety, so why then did I go write a book chock-full of such things?
After a sizable delay — during which I had to administer several firm whacks to the side of my head to unscramble all the neurons fused by that statement — I did my best to point out that just because a writer finds something an interesting subject for fiction it doesn't follow that they condone, approve of, or have sympathy for the thing. Most mystery/thriller writers do not condone committing murder — no, not even if you think you're smart enough to get away with it. (And on the same note, just because I write about and have a fondness for Japan doesn't mean I excuse or deliberately overlook things about it that are troubling.)
More to the point, though, is the idea that if someone includes a great deal of what appears to be sympathetic or approving treatment of X in their stories, then it follows that they have an affinity for X in real life. Or that the personal views they hold are something along those lines, etc., and that you are not going to be seen as wholly deluded if you believe they think such things when you see them over and over and over in their work. Sometimes you don't have to dig very hard (Mishima); sometimes it's more a matter of interpretation.
I'd go with the idea that a goodly amount of someone's world-view will appear in their writing no matter what they do. A big chunk of this is simply because the person you are compels to you write certain stories about certain things because you find them personally resonant. You can't help it, and if you're honest with yourself, you probably shouldn't try avoiding it. At least then people know where you stand and can act accordingly.
What I don't believe is that by reading one book, or even two or three, you can become an arbiter of someone else's political opinions. If a person's entire output is very limited, then it's a bit foolish to try and intuit what they think — and, most of the time, if they want you to know such things they're not going to dance around it; they'll tell you. Nobody by now has to guess at Orson Scott Card's feelings about certain issues, for instance.
Some of the other comments in that thread, by the way, are riotous — this one in particular:
Most stuff published by Baen is jingoistic, right-wing military SciFi written by angry, insecure white Pillsbury doughboys for the same demographic. Even the better stuff like the David Weber’s Honor Harrington series repeats standard wingnut memes about misguided liberals championing appeasement in the face of military threats OVER and OVER and OVER again. [*]
HH, one of the better books? I tried to read the first book in the HH series but got out before I sustained any permanent chromosomal damage. By all accounts, Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosian books are far better, and funnier to boot. And from my own experience, Harry Harrison not only skewered this kind of thing wonderfully as satire decades ago (The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To War), but saw through the moralizing oatmeal of it all in the course of a single short story: "No War, Or Battle's Sound". His best books are all about the smart, the resourceful, the plucky and the can-take-a-joke crowd coming out on top.
The best news first. Criterion has seen fit to grace us with a Blu-ray edition of Akira Kurosawa's Ran. (Depicted here is the conventional DVD edition; no ASIN has been assigned for the BD yet.) It's set to include all the materials found in the DVD edition, and will street on May 12th. Essential does not begin to describe this release. I strongly suspected this would be one of the first BDs in Criterion's catalog; I'm just surprised it wasn't the first.
Also coming soon is volume 12 in their Eclipse series of box-set reissues, this one being the films of Aki Kauriusmäki: Ariel, The Match Factory Girl and Shadows in Paradise. To the best of my knowledge these were never on DVD in English-language editions until now; I only saw Ariel years ago on VHS and never forgot it, so this is a must-review for when it hits.
Most of my reading time as of late has been taken up with research for Tokyo Inferno, and as such things go I tend to bounce from one link to another. I found myself reading about the fierce reactions to Hanna Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, the book that coined the phrase "banality of evil" (although at the cost of a good deal of violence to the truth).
The whole thing is worth reading, but one paragraph in particular absolutely stopped me cold.
[Mary] McCarthy felt that Eichmann in Jerusalem had been misinterpreted. Abel was wrong to interpret the conduct of Jewish leaders in terms of duress ('a man [who] holds a gun at the head of another and forces him to kill a friend'). McCarthy was indignant: 'Forces him to kill a friend? Nobody by possession of a weapon can force a man to kill anybody; that is his own decision..... he is tempting you to kill your friend that is all.'  This objection was, of course, uninformed by analysis of the criminal defence of duress in any legal jurisdiction.
Leave even the legal definitions aside and what you have is a stupefying example of the misinterpretation of the concept of free will. What McCarthy was attempting to say, I guess, is that in the end you always choose what to do regardless of what pressure is put on you in a given circumstance. Up to a point this is true; I can choose to spend or hoard my money as I see fit, and maybe even starve if I don't buy enough food for myself.
The problem with this argument, especially with the way she formulates it, is that it makes the vast swath of humanity — whatever else they might do with the rest of their existences — into total cowards not capable of meeting her high and mighty moral code. The victims of Cambodia's killing fields, the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen and Chelmno, the countless forgotten ones in North Korea's "re-education" camps, all dismissed at a stroke. Surely nothing stopped them from rising up against their captors except the fear of a bullet — exactly the kind of logic you'd get from someone who's never faced the prospect of death for both themselves and a generation of their families in both directions.
One of my college writing professors (not the one I admired more, I admit) provided us with something of the same botched formulation in one of his dissembling critiques of a student's story. The story was pretty bad, to be sure, but the attack on it was in wretched faith, and in the end people were more resentful of the professor's mean spirit than how not to write a story about moral issues.
Most of us have never been coerced — I'm sorry, tempted — into doing evil with a gun pointed at us, and I hope we never have to, me included. Those that have, they scarcely need to have further insult done to them in this way.
My interview with translator Camellia Nieh (of Vertical's new edition of Black Jack, among many others) is now live. Go read it — it's in four parts, so remember to click the links at the bottom to move ahead.
Thursday: I galumphed on over to the city in the evening and swung by Book-Off, which was in the process of having a massive shelf-clearing sale. Walked out of there with a disturbing amount of material: a whole bunch of Ryu Murakami novels in Japanese (many of which have English counterparts, for the sake of cross-comparison); an original Japanese edition of the L: Change the worLd novel (also soon to be translated; more reading material), and a couple of other tidbits that I have yet to identify but which look interesting.
Friday: Glommed on a bunch of stuff at the show for cheap — the Samurai Champloo series artbook (in English), the rest of Lady Snowblood, the gaps in my Berserk and Blade of the Immortal collections. The only panel that day was the Vertical panel at 6PM; they were not going under, thank goodness, but they had to cut their list of titles way back for '09 while they reorganized and secured new funding. Went to dinner with friends downtown at Risotteria, which was way tasty.
Saturday: Panels galore. Del Rey, Bandai, Funimation — and in between I stalked the show floor and made a few contacts. Cinebook are bringing a whole slew of French and European bandes dessinees titles to the U.S., including a long-time favorite of mine, Yoko Tsuno — briefly available in English from Catalan Communications but now long gone. They were elated to know someone out there was as thrilled as they were about this! I also talked to the folks from Fanfare, publishers of many of Jiro Taniguchi's manga, and arranged to check out some titles from them when time permits. Also scored an autograph from Yuri Lowenthal for a friend...
Sunday: Only one panel, VIZ, and then a lot of showfloor spelunking. Got caught up with an old, old friend — Greg Rucka. He's sort of a big deal.
Went back downtown and ate dinner with friends, then snapped a few shots of New York oddities on the way up to the train station.
I've posted a longish summary of Comic-Con, from the "business / industry" side of things, over at AMN.
Back home from Comic-Con NY '09. Wonderful time was had by all, me especially. I'll post some more details later as I'm (predictably) rather worn out right now.
Twitchfilm just posted an out-of-nowhere trailer that made me sit up and beg: the live-action adaptation of Kamui Gaiden (Legend of Kamui) (Sanpei Shirato). Even more surprising is the director: Yoichi Sai. The last thing I remember from him was Blood and Bones, and before that Doing Time. It's a Shochiku release, which means if Funimation has any brains they'll be lobbying like hell to pick this up.
The Japan Society of New York is curating a new film series, Shinjuku Ecstasy, which specifically deals with productions of the Art Theatre Guild. Among them: Funeral Procession of Roses, Throw Away Your Books and Go Out Into The Streets, Eros Plus Massacre, Death By Hanging, and more. Since most of these are not available on video in the U.S., this is a must if you're in the area.
Comic-Con is this coming weekend. For me, it's partly a vacation, partly a job (I'm covering the whole thing for AMN), partly a family event (since I stay with my folks for the duration of the whole thing), partly a city outing (any excuse to go into NYC is a good one), and partly a way to connect with friends old and new.
In a discussion elsewhere, someone was grousing about how after a while all conventions seem the same. I suppose it all depends on what you bring to the table, because for me it's not about which vendors are there or what demos are being run. It's about the other people, and there's always going to be something about connecting with people face-to-face — whether total strangers or old buddies — that you can't get any other way.
Mailing lists and websites and all the rest don't displace the thrill of being with dozens, hundreds or thousands of other people under one roof at one time — and, frankly, I don't want anything to replace that thrill. It gives me that much more of an excuse to get out there beyond my four walls.
I didn't get a chance to get a vending table at Comic-Con this year; the price was still way the hell out of my league. I'm hoping NYAF will be a little more affordable, and there is a table waiting for me at AnimeFest come hell or high magma.
Side note: One of the first cons I went to was an SF-related con in the area, one which clearly felt like it was on the decline. The SF cons all seemed to be slumping, while the anime and comic-related cons were perking up. That provoked a theory: the reason those were on the expansion wasn't just because anime or comics themselves were on the rise, but because they were about media rather than genre. The former is always broader than the latter.