Archive for the ‘Books & Writing’ Category
Friday, 11 April 2014 • with 2 comments
My story “Rio Grande” appears in the new alternate-history anthology, Altered America. Gambling gunfighter Lorenzo seeks vengeance against a card sharp in the Republic of the Rio Grande, an independent country based on the economic principles of Frederic Bastiat:
“When the Republicans defeated the Mexican army at Morales, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Mexico tried again. They realized our little breakaway estado could only be held by force. Force means men. So they encouraged homesteading to grow the population. They tried various policies for a few years but nothing worked. Everyone wanted to go to California instead. Finally President Jordan discovered the writings of a French philosopher named Bastiat. This philosopher advocated free exchange. No taxes. No tariffs. No customs. A strictly confined government. ‘Law is organized justice,’ said the philosopher — anything beyond that is perversion. So they scrapped everything and started over with a new constitution based on his writings and principles. They advertised it in all the eastern newspapers. Cheap land. Live tariff free. Women can vote. And where there are women, there are men and soon enough children who grow up to defend against Mexico. Then there weren’t enough branches in the trees to beat back the settlers.”
“But how do you pay for the judges and the marshals? Who builds the courthouses?”
“The philosopher wasn’t against taxes so much as their unfair and arbitrary application,” said Valasquez. “So to keep everyone honest, there are none to begin with. Citizens can make donations. But that’s exactly how Jordan managed to convince his caudillo supporters to agree to the constitution. It meant only self-sufficient people could afford to be judges and marshals.”
“Only the wealthy, you mean.”
“How is that worse than America?”
Alien Space Bats maybe, but I’ve often wondered why banana-republic rebellions usually take such a distinctly left-hand turn. The answer, I suppose, is Marxism’s empty pledge to eliminate the elite classes, a mistake based on the assumption that class derives from economic systems rather than being a natural by-product of state-level civilization.
In any event, “Rio Grande” isn’t for or against libertarianism so much as it is a stab at that most pernicious of modern ideologies, utopianism. Earlier this week at Reason.com, author Anne Fortier noted the power of historical fiction:
To the freedom-friendly novelist, one further advantage of historical fiction is that the entire history of mankind is jam-packed with tragic examples of what Hayek called “the fatal conceit” and the corrupting effects of power — especially state power.
It’s worth reading her whole essay, though I’m not sure what business Fortier has throwing speculative fiction under the bus after writing a whole book about a mythological matriarchy (for all of her self-satisfaction, it seems Fortier hasn’t learned that genre — the difference of where you’re shelved in the bookstore — is simply packaging). But she’s right: history shows that power disparities are inevitable once a certain complexity of social organization is reached, and the key is not a false promise of eradicating those disparities but rather blunting power so that it does the least harm.
You can purchase the whole anthology here — I’m happy to report the Kindle edition has seen a steady burn of sales since its release — or read my complete story for free here. And if you enjoyed the antho, please leave a review at Amazon or Goodreads!
Friday, 7 March 2014 • 0 comments
Today at National Geographic’s Energy Blog, I have a story about Bridgeport’s environmentalist-on-environmentalist dog pile over a plan to situate a 9,000-panel solar array atop the landfill in Seaside Park:
Torres believes the solar project should be sited elsewhere in the city. “It does not belong in a park. It belongs on any of the countless, countless unused or massively underutilized land owned by the city.”
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Bridgeport has 17 brownfield sites totaling more than 185 acres. This doesn’t include any number of non-polluted but abandoned lots and buildings in Bridgeport, a phenomenon so ubiquitous that Connecticut Yankee Seth MacFarlane once used it to zing the city on Family Guy.
Anybody who’s ever driven through Little-Detroit-on-the-Sound knows the city does not lack space for projects such as this. The real issue, of course, is that Bport doesn’t own any of those brownfields or derelict factories, so they’d have to lay some currency on the countertop before they could even think about siting the array anywhere but on park land. UIL sure as hell isn’t going to buy real estate for renewables.
Friday, 28 February 2014 • 0 comments
My friend and Ithaca College writing professor Cory Brown wrote to me about a new project of his, wicked haiku: a devil’s dictionary, wherein he posts cynical verse daily. Some of my favorites:
the gift from two holes
the ass who lent it to you
and the one you’re in
the little cabin
in the woods you built before
it all fell apart
a sometimes lethal
virus that you wish happy
people would contract
Every one of them is a sharp little piece of glass; Cory tells me he has over 700 more waiting to be scattered across the city sidewalk. And if it turns out you like poetry but didn’t even know it-tree, Cory also has a book you might enjoy.
Sunday, 19 January 2014 • 0 comments
Never heard of Bill Ward? It’s your loss, though understandable. Despite having appeared in such pubs as Howard Andrew Jones’s Flashing Swords, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Kaleidotrope, and enough anthologies to burst an equort’s saddlebags, Ward remains shamefully underrated and unknown in the genre community.
Part of the handicap lies in the fact that as a short-story writer much of his work has appeared on paper rather than Paperwhite, which in modern times cockblocks discovery. Recently though, Bill collected and re-published his fiction as five e-books, each affordably priced at $3.99. Such value!
Interestingly my short story backlist sort of naturally fell into 30k-ish sized chunks of themed stories. There are two collections that are mostly heroic fantasy, sword & sorcery, or dark fantasy, those being ‘The Last of His Kind and Other Stories’ and ‘Mightier Than the Sword and Other Stories.’ ‘Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories’ collects mostly ‘mythic’ type pieces, stories that are written in a style more akin to fables or legends. I also had enough for two science fiction collections, divided roughly into ‘naughty’ and ‘nice.’ On the naughty side we have ‘Named in Blood and Other Stories’ which is darker, grimmer stuff; ’20,000 Light Years to Lilliput and Other Stories’ is a funnier collection, less serious, and a bit more all over the place genre-wise.
Having previously purchased a copy of Heartless Gao (which at that point only contained the titular story), Bill sent me a copy of the expanded Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories. Included are nine fantasies set in days of yore. Lust for wealth and the daughters of oracles drowns whole Hyperborean landscapes in “The Wroeth’s Grinding Bowl” and “The Old Man and the Mountain of Fire,” while Irish legends echo in “The Midnight Maiden” and “When They Come to Murder Me.” The Aesopic “How Antkind Lost Its Soul” satirizes corporate cubicle-copia; likewise, the repentant soldier-turned-monk Heartless Gao takes on the bureaucracy of a Chinese afterlife in the very clever and very worthwhile namesake tale. My favorites are the collection’s two bookends, “Gandolo of the Watchful Eye” and “Crow: A Triptych,” the first a rich sardonicism combining the best of Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, the other an arc reaching from classical Greece to post-apocalypticism.
I wish Bill would write more, especially in the “Gandolo” style. His dry humor is rare among fantasists (you can hear the laugh track when most writers combine labyrinths and levity) and his stories are almost always whole narratives — you know, those things with beginnings and middles and conclusions — rather than the pretty scenes strung together in literary ostentation seen so commonly in the pro markets. Please consider this humble recommendation when spending your Christmas Kindle gift cards.
Friday, 15 November 2013 • 0 comments
I’ve been so busy I forgot to tout my latest assignment: writing a monthly column on dinosaurs for Dig.
The first column ran in the October issue. The November/December ish (at right) weighs the evidence of whether Triceratops was a separate species or just a baby Torosaurus. In coming months I will discuss why there’s no such thing as a raptor, T-rex’s teeth, if Spinosaurus actually had a sail-like fin on its back, and whether Pachycephalosaurus was a butthead.
Though you wouldn’t know it from the column’s title, Blogosaurus is only available in print or e-book. Alas, all of my suggestions for names were ixnayed; christening credit goes to the editor of Dig‘s sister magazine, Appleseeds. Some of my rejected titles included:
- Don’t Take That Bone With Me Young Man
- Do or Do Not, There Is No Triceratops
- Mr. Gorbachev Ptero Down This Wall!
- Diloph the Phone, Mom
- That Was No Lady, That Was My Rex-Wife
Friday, 23 August 2013 • 0 comments
If there is a single writer I owe above all others, it was Elmore Leonard. Some of his ten rules I had cadged beforehand from Hemingway — which is where he grabbed them too — like the distrust of adverbs or not lingering too long on descriptions. The one that has really stuck with me is not using anything other than the word “said” for dialogue. I will also use “asked,” which is similarly neutral. The teachers actually scold my sons for using “said” in their writing; they want melodrama like “cried” or “pleaded” or “demanded.” I don’t worry too much because a big part of writing is throwing away everything you learned in school and paring down your style into something distinct. They’ll do it like writers do.
Valdez Is Coming was his favorite Western, which is understandable; its twist ending could be seen, like Unforgiven was for Clint Eastwood, as a kind of love-letter criticism of the genre. I’m partial to Cuba Libre, his Western set on a Caribbean island. His crime novels? Probably Rum Punch but that’s a tough call since it’s difficult not to compare it with Jackie Brown. Get Shorty is good. Freaky Deaky is fun, about ex-60s radicals trying to dynamite their way to riches (I watched the 2012 film version with Christian Slater on Tuesday — small budget but definitely worthwhile).
Leonard was the last of the pulp writers, a World War II vet who went to Detroit to scrawl ad copy and wrote Westerns on the side. I’ve read most of his early books, though years later a lot of them bleed together. The plots are forgettable because they derive entirely from the characters — there’s very few MacGuffins. It’s usually: this person wants revenge on that person, or to scam or steal from that person, and then coincidentally this other person or persons becomes involved, and the whole thing becomes knotted. His plots are tangled but never confusing; and there’s only a handful of characters to keep track of. The women are always smarter than the men and the men — this is something I really like about Leonard — are often undone by their vanity and ego. There’s a graf in Riding the Rap (I think) where the character imagines how he should wear a do-rag or a hat or something and how bad-ass he would look if he did that. Because ladies, men are peacocks. Just one thing among so many others Leonard got right.