on genre, the infinite cloud, and other things

Hello, readers.

Welcome to Friday. Many things are happening. Which is, of course, in the nature of things. If things didn’t happen then they wouldn’t even be things. Which is a weird way to think, actually, as it leads me to look at the pillow leaning against the arm of this couch and think: “That pillow is a happening pillow.”

Here are things.

Thing 1:

Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on BBC4 talk genre fiction and the prejudices and wonders surrounding and contained therein, and, more awesomely, how they’ve evolved. Bask in the variety of English accents!!!

Also.

Here’s a review I wrote of Stories, a collection of genre-bending stories Gaiman co-edited.

Thing 2:

Google Photos launched. Unlimited, free storage for photos (up to 16mb per image) and videos (up to 1080p resolution). The cloud becomes infinite.

…you’ll be able to search for photos with simple keywords. It’s like your own personalized Google Image search. Looking for all the photos you’ve ever taken of your puppy? Just punch in “puppy.” Even more advanced searches like “kissing” returned accurate results in my early testing.

Google wants to organize and make sense of the world’s information. Giving the world a free space into which to put their information kind of helps with that.

Thing 3:

A fantastic TED talk, that’s really an interview and demonstration. John Hockenberry interviews Tom Shannon (painter of centrifugalism, sculptor of magnetism) about making art that visualizes the invisible world.

I love invisible things.

Thing 4:

John Scalzi’s very big, and very public, deal with Tor discussed in the Washington Post with an interview with John Scalzi.

Scalzi’s contract sets a very public precedent for other science fiction authors to use as a negotiating point, and it also gives him room to breathe: In addition to sequels to several of his most popular series, Scalzi pitched Tor three ideas for young adult novels, a genre he hasn’t worked in before.

Thing 5:

I like having 5 things. That is the fifth thing.

Enjoy your weekend, readers.

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must see magic love horror

Hello, readers.

I’ve finished Neuromancer. I believe this counts for 8 additional sci-fi cred points (sfcp’s, as the kids call them, the ones in my head that I made up anyway).

Here are a few links of note for you, this Thursday, the ancient day of the god Thor and the slightly less ancient god of NBC’s Must See TV.

An awesome Storify put together by Alyssa Wong wherein she asks writers to send her their favorites of stories they’ve written, and share why they favor them so very much.
title

I sent Alyssa a link to this old gem, Some Things about Love, Magic, and Hair, which I wrote about the why’s and wherefore’s in Some Things About Some Things.

Stories, like love, are a kind of magic, even to the writers and lovers. Especially to them, maybe, because some part of them, like the magician, knows that everything around them is an illusion, a carefully orchestrated system of smoke and mirrors and forevers designed to conceal the truth—that the woman is still in one piece, that the flying man is held up by wires, and that love, however true it seems, sometimes lasts for only a month, a year, or a day.

An interview with Kelly Link by Helen Oyeyemi

I do reread books and stories, all the time. Often children’s books and ghost stories, especially anthologies of ghost stories. Stephen King’s novels or collections. I reread things that I loved, or that had a particular effect on me. I once asked a bunch of horror writers why it was still pleasurable to reread scary stories when their power to scare us has diminished. The writer Nick Mamatas said, “I read to feel a sense of dread.”

A great interview with one of my favorite writers. ^_^

A review of Uncanny Magazine’s 4th Volume, Come into the Valley, by Angel Cruz.

It’s all tied together by Tran Nguyen’s astonishing cover art, if anything a tribute to the untameable nature of science fiction and fantasy, and the possibilities within. If there was ever a time to start reading Uncanny Magazine, Volume 4 confirms is it, with stimulating and truly enjoyable fiction, and a strong developing nonfiction base.

Happy gods and television, readers.

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nanaimo recipe

Hello, readers.

Here is a somewhat vegan, totally gluten-free, not too sweet variation on a canadian classic1 called, NANAIMO BARS, what I concocted with the help and suggestions of a friendly Canadian lady person.

Nanaimo bars being a three-layered stack of delicious equal parts crumbly, creamy, and chocolatey.
 
IMG_3703

 

a recipe for nanaimo

 

LAYER 1: the crumbly bottom

ingredients

1 egg

~230g butter/coconut butter2

90g cocoa powder3

250g oat biscuits

200g shredded coconut

100g chopped nuts

IMG_3592
method
  1. Heat the fat in a pan with the cocoa. Melt.
  2. Remove from the heat.
  3. Slowly beat the egg into the cocoa/fat mixture. Place back on stove. Cook for about 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat. Mix in the crumbs/coconut/nuts mixture (one could add dried fruit if one wanted).
  5. Press into pan what lined with parchment paper and greased.

 

LAYER 2: the creamy, sweet middle

ingredients

2–5tbsp almond butter (instead of custard)4
180g–230g fat
some amount of maple syrup as sweetener

IMG_3597
method
  1. Cream everything together into a creamy thing.
  2. Spread on top of the chilled crumbly layer.
  3. Chill for another 30 minutes to an hour.

IMG_3601 IMG_3607

LAYER 3: the chocolatey top

ingredients

4 oz dark chocolate
~1/2–1 tbsp fat

IMG_3702
method
  1. Heat the fat in a double boiler with the chocolate. Melt.
  2. Remove from the heat.
  3. Top the middle layer
  4. Chill.
  5. For at least half an hour.
  6. Eat.

IMG_3701

Happy fooding, readers.

 

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  1. Note: I halved all of these ingredients except for, well, the egg, which I didn’t. Also. You could make this totally vegan by substituting some egg-replacement and using vegan butter or just going full-on with the coconut oil/butter []
  2. As noted above, feel free to substitute more coconut butter/oil for the butter and see how it goes []
  3. Totally used carob powder cause had it on hand []
  4. A lot of nanaimo recipes call for whole milk, or cream, plus some custard to thicken it all up. I went straight for something already thick and creamy. []

the hope at the end of everything

Hello, readers.

There’s a famous quote I don’t quite remember that may be attributable to either Joss Whedon or Neil Gaiman, in regards to either Buffy or Coraline, respectively, which goes something like this: That she cried was not in any way meant as an indication of weakness, or how little bravery she possessed, but, on the contrary, it was a sign of her strength, of how much bravery she possessed, that in the depths of such sadness she chose to continue fighting.

I was reminded of this because of two articles.

A.O. Scott’s NYtimes review of Tomorrowland: ‘Tomorrowland,’ Brad Bird’s Lesson in Optimism

And Naomi Novik, writing at Tor.com: A New Reality: The Optimism of Zen Cho

A.O. Scott’s sums up his particular sadness with Tomorrowland–a sadness made all the sadder in light of his love of Brad Bird’s other works, especially Ratatouille– in his final passage:

False cheer can be just as insidious as easy despair. And the world hardly suffers from a shortage of empty encouragement, of sponsored inducements to emulate various dreamers and disrupters, of bland universal appeals to the power of individuality. “Tomorrowland” works entirely at that level, which is to say in the vocabulary of advertisement. Its idea of the future is abstract, theoretical and empty, and it can only fill in the blank space with exhortations to believe and to hope. But belief without content, without a critical picture of the world as it is, is really just propaganda. “Tomorrowland,” searching for incitements to dream, finds slogans and mistakes them for poetry.

Contrast this, with the beautiful way Novik captures the particular wonder of Zen Cho’s writing in a story like “The House of Aunts.”

Cho doesn’t airbrush away those inconvenient realities—her vampires really do eat people, and they really are dead. But they can still be people, and still have friends and go to university and fall in love, because that is delightful, and capturing that middle ground is what makes the story so satisfying. There is nothing of the grimdark here and also nothing of the plastic and fake. You’re allowed to feel uneasy about the eating of people going on in the background and you’re also allowed to like the characters and be with them in their story.

You feel as you read that the author wants you to be happy, even if she is not going to lie to you to make you feel more comfortable

So very true.

titleReaders, as you may or may not know, one of my favorite stories happens to be the story of Pandora and her box.

Most people know the first part of the story.

That a girl, upon opening a box, unleashed a myriad of evil magic and demons.

It is useful to remember, though, that in the darkest depths of her despair, after all hell had broken loose and she had arrived at the end of everything, there was, at the bottom of the box, only one thing remaining.

Hope.

It is a fact, sad or true or magical, I suppose, depending on your point of view, that the sharpest glimmer of hope might only be appreciated, might only truly be seen, in those moments marked by the deepest darkness.

But, truer still, maybe, is that hope, and the courage to hold on to it, to seek it out, to believe in it, only really matters at those moments. And so it’s only those stories that recognize the darkness which gives birth to hope and the tears which demonstrate strength, like those of Zen Cho, which prove both optimistic and brave.

on friction, and the best and worst in all things

Hello, readers.

sisyphus_charcoal_concept_sketch01It’s hard to get started, and once you get going, it’s hard to stop. This is as true of writing, beginning an excercise regimen,1, or collecting bulk metadata. Also pushing a really big rock up a hill. But, anyway, enough of Sisyphus.

Here’s some food for thought in the form of a thought about friction which, strictly speaking, you can’t eat and so I’m not entirely sure why we metaphor our thoughts, or minds, as things with teeth. Though, well, I do like the image.2

Ben Thompson, writer of the Stratechery blog, wrote about his idea of FRICTION, or, more specifically, the current decline of it in so many areas of life. Mostly brought about by The Internet.

The Internet being a force for change on the scale of The Industrial Revolution, what rolled out changes over centuries and also war and trouble and people having hot water and cars and stuff.

His focus, in the article:

(1) How a frictionless Apple App Store actully makes it hard for developers to develop sustainable business because, whereas, at one time, it was really hard to get your product out there and so only a few did and those few garnered the bulk of the attention of consumers, now, the barrier to entry being low, there’s so much more competition that it’s harder for any app to stand out.

(2) How, while the bulk collection of meta-data may not be an entirely new tool in the law enforcement toolbox, the frictionless ease of such data collection brought about by moore’s law and ubiquitous cell networks has so increased the scale of such activities that it is worrisome.

(3) How the occasionally frictionlessness of the contemporary job market, allows some lucky folk, like Ben Thompson, to pick up and leave their home and work from anywhere, at the same time it allows some less lucky folk to be left unemployed at home as their employer, and their job, picks up and goes elsewhere.

Ben’s conclusion resonated with my paradoxical heart which, generally and simultaneously, sees the best and worst in all things.

Count me with those who believe the Internet is on par with the industrial revolution, the full impact of which stretched over centuries. And it wasn’t all good. Like today, the industrial revolution included a period of time that saw many lose their jobs and a massive surge in inequality. It also lifted millions of others out of sustenance farming. Then again, it also propagated slavery, particularly in North America. The industrial revolution led to new monetary systems, and it created robber barons. Modern democracies sprouted from the industrial revolution, and so did fascism and communism. The quality of life of millions and millions was unimaginably improved, and millions and millions died in two unimaginably terrible wars.

Change is guaranteed, but the type of change is not; never is that more true than today. See, friction makes everything harder, both the good we can do, but also the unimaginably terrible. In our zeal to reduce friction and our eagerness to celebrate the good, we ought not lose sight of the potential bad.

We are creating the future, and “better” does not win by default.

True facts.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

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  1. As, I suppose, the lady in the gym today might attest that I am []
  2. MY, GOODNESS GRANDMA BRAIN, WHAT BIG TEETH YOU HAVE []

on mad max and my possibly mad mom

Hello, readers.

Welcome to another week. This one’s way better than last week which was so three minutes ago.

Before that, when I was a kid, my mom introduced me to Mad Max, a dusty trilogy of post-apocalyptic westerns. I don’t remember the how’s, or the why, I just remember my mom had a crush on Mel Gibson and would often shake her head at the oddity of a woman seemingly so gentle, and against violence, finding such joy in films that carved bone from flesh.

Guess I’m just crazy, she said, and she was, and that could be quite frustrating, at times, but in her love of certain things I think her presumed insanity was really just a cover for enjoying things that, perhaps, she wasn’t supposed to enjoy.

3698.0.570.359

But, here’s the thing with those Mad Max films. They were not a mindless celebration of violence, so much as a celebration of the fight, and, in fact, the very fast running away to avoid fighting. There was, amidst the so-called psychopathic violence, some bit of soul, some moral compass, to those films. The world was a scorched, weary, violent place, and here was this man, made mad by the loss of those he loved to a world grown increasingly more violent, who was left just trying to survive.

I think my mom found something, whether she knew it or not, in the story of a man with the weight of a lost world on his shoulders, carving a lonely path, the weight of his past holding him back even as it pushed him forward.

I think she loved the love Max sought, and sometimes discovered, in the wake of having lost everything.

That was, at least, part of Mom. She could be gentle, and she could be mad, and it did very much seem like, from time to time, the weight of some lost world would visit her shoulders.

Later this week, I’ll be seeing Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m so excited and so full of thoughts of Mom and what she would make of a Max not played by Mel. I think, considering what people are saying, she would have loved it. I think she would have found its rebellion led by women something to cheer. I think, perhaps, she might have developed a crush on Tom Hardy, or, who knows, Charlize Theron. We’ll see.

Here’s something A.O. Scott said of this most recent version of Max.

Even in the most chaotic fights and collisions, everything makes sense. This is not a matter of realism — come on, now — but of imaginative discipline. And Mr. Miller demonstrates that great action filmmaking is not only a matter of physics but of ethics as well. There is cause and effect; there are choices and consequences.

This captures, a bit, of what maybe Mom, and certainly I, have grown to appreciate in Miller’s post-apocalypse.

The weight of things.

Of the past, of action, of consequence.

It’s a mistake a lot of action movies make, allowing their pace, and their explosions, and their BAM/POW to escape gravity when really it’s the gravity of things that holds it, and us, all together.

Happy Tuesday, readers.

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embarrassingly lonely people. also flying. also falling.

Hello, readers.

Friday, being today, the day I finished Jimmy Corrigan, seems to be as good a day as any to think about loneliness and embarrassment. So, that is what I’m doing. They will very probably most likely feature in my next video blog. Things which might not feature in that video blog include:

1) Thinking of my father in the hospital and fainting upon seeing him in recovery.

2) Crying in the lap of a woman who was, at the time, the most important person to me in the world which was a weird thing to think about considering parents and, in particular, my dad having undergone surgery. Love does all kinds of wonderful-true-make-believe horror to reality.

3) Watching Parenthood with EG last night and feeling crushed by the thought of parents alone in their houses, knowing that’s how they must have felt, the parents, when their kids left and were, perhaps, sometimes alone in their new houses.

4) How much we long to connect to the loneliness in others and, in that connection, feel for some hope of the lifting of that loneliness, a feeling like flying together, rather than falling alone.

Actually, in fact, that last bit might make it into the video blog. And the others, will, perhaps, make their way in others or that video and, of course, make their way into everything I write, past, present, or future.

The thing about stories is how much they know about the past and future and a little bit of the present. If you want your future told, read a story and let it dream your future for you.

Something like that, readers.

Go read what Jonathan Lethem has to say. He’s smart.

I stitched together a notion: I’d be the American Calvino, but nourished by scruffy genre roots. As though this would comprise a movement or school of writing to contextualize lonely me. It just didn’t exist, that was the only problem. There was nothing there. I could declare it, and a few people would be gulled and say, Oh, you’re going to be that thing!— but only because I’d just described it with such energy and affection. But there’s no such thing.

Happy Friday, readers.

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you are no longer just you

Hello, readers.

Summer in London has ended. Everything is grey and wet and will probably stay that way forever.

Also.

The Wachowskis Awesome Fun Time Philosophy Show continues with their new Neflix series, Sense8. They’re collaborating with JMS, himself, J. Michael Straczynski, whose name I always have to look up and also he introduced me, before Whedon, even, to internet discussion of televison.

 

Bae Doona!
Sayeed!

Sense 8 premieres June 5. I’m in.

Also, also.

FACEBOOK launched this thing called Instant Articles yesterday which means that sometimes when you click on a New York Times story, for example, you will remain inside of Facebook. DARING FIREBALL described the deal with publishers thusly,

I can see why these news sites are tempted by the offer, but I think they’re going to regret it. It’s like Lando’s deal with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

There’s a good rundown of the motivations behind the deal, for Facebook and publishers, at STRATECHERY. He also talks about the economics of advertising on the internet here. It’s surprisingly kind of awesome and interesting and I guess that’s because Ben Thompson write good.

Happy Thursday, readers.

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we don’t know we know we don’t know we know

Hello, readers.

Chuck Wendig has written a splendiferous account of how little any of us knows about the fuck that is going on. His focus is on writing. And includes such delightful mountain-based metaphors as this one:

There exists no well-marked, well-lit path up the mountain. You will find no handy map. No crafty app for your smartphone. The terrain shifts after everyone walks upon it. New chasms. Different caves. The ice weasels become hell-bears. The sacred texts we find in the grottos along our journey are sacred to us but heresy to someone else.

It got me thinking about the world’s, and my own, continuing obsession with data. Perhaps, brought on by three reasons.

1) I enjoy paying attention. Collecting data is one way of paying attention. One of my early heroes in the world of data was Benjamin Franklin who, as I’ve probably mentioned before, really loved schedules and diaries (which, for the Brits, is really the same thing, but, well). I wrote a thing about him for Strange Horizons many years ago called, “Imagining the Perfect Man…” which sort of leads me to believe that if he were alive today he’d be like that guy who early adopted cyborgness and have day fully calendared, his nutrition fully planned and documented, and his life, in general, fully scoped.

2) There’s also my EG’s well into data and the visualisation thereof, and so I started reading more about the business of data.

3) For some time, some time ago, I used an app, Human, to track my daily activity: the length of my moving about, the calories burned, the distance traveled. I wanted to know more about me because it seemed cool, and everyone was doing it, and also I thought, while I have always enjoyed going for walks, maybe it would help me make sure I walked enough, whatever enough walking might be. Perhaps, also, I just wanted a record of when and how and where I walked because it was fun to see my walks mapped out. It was, also, honestly, a bit creepy. I wondered, sometimes, what the humans at Human did with all that they knew about me and my fellow lower-case h humans besides create beautiful visualizations from their data-ing of us. They do a very cool thing in allowing you to see your raw data if you are so inclined.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure that no amount of knowledge will save us from ourselves. Sometimes, I think, that we will lose ourselves in the stream of data. That knowing ourselves in purely numerical terms may, in the end, blind us to some other kind of knowledge. That maybe knowing too much about some things about ourselves might erase who we are.

But, then again, I’m all about consciousness. And data appeals to me because it’s a way of being conscious. I suppose, what I try to remember, to be conscious of, is that there are infinite ways to be conscious, and it doesn’t do one any good to become too attached to any one way of knowing yourself, or the world. Because, as the man says, we don’t know what we’re doing. But, we’re trying.

easier, not better. also happiness headbands.

Hello, readers.

We often confuse easier/cheaper/faster with better. We often confuse hard/expensive/slow with better, as well. We are, generally, confused about how to better. Happily, very soon, we will all be capable of wearing headbands that will let us know when we’re happy and that should take care of that.

Here are some good things to read.

The Bad Economics of Bad Coffee

But you get my point. For just the cost of the Keurig machine itself, you could have a cup of really good coffee every weekday morning for a year (260 days) and still have 46 cups leftover. Or, if you bought Seattle’s Best Coffee for about $6/bag, you could make over 440 cups of coffee, and you’d be even better off.

I was an undercover Uber driver

With the lower fares, drivers need to drive more to make the same amount. Anybody at any job would be pissed if their boss declared that they would now be working longer hours for no extra money. But for Uber drivers, who bear the entire cost of maintaining the cars, more driving also means more expenses.

This is often overlooked, because driving a car you own feels like it has no cost. But it’s not free — there’s gas, but also the less visible cost of just owning a car and driving it to death. I’m surprised to find, after running the numbers (you can check my math online), that the cost of driving my car for Uber came to a surprising 51 cents per paid mile. My expenses and depreciation ate 19 percent of my pay.

What would you pay to be happy?

When the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham suggested that maximising happiness was the job of government, he inspired a quest to measure happiness that continues today. Until recently, the only effective tool for that – as the political scientist Will Davies explains in a forceful new book, The Happiness Industry – has been money. The value of an object is determined by how much people are prepared to pay for it. The unpleasantness of a job – grave-digging or rubbish collection – can be measured in how much people need to be paid per hour to do it. Governments use these “happiness-measuring” principles.

When the US courts were trying to assess what the oil companies should pay for the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, which contaminated a swathe of Alaska, they asked a sample of US households what they would be “willing to pay” for the accident not to have occurred. The answer – an average $31 a household – was used to help calculate Exxon’s ultimate fine. The neo-liberal economists who have driven conservative political philosophy for 50 years like the simplicity of reducing human feeling to monetary considerations. But the method was clumsy when used to measure abstractions such as emotion. However, with the rise of the science of behavioural psychology, another tool came forward. Economists, anthropologists and psychologists joined forces in the 1990s, spurred on by the interest of business and politics.

Sometimes I wonder if the march of history is a march towards convenience and efficiency? And if this march, by definition, might be inhuman? A march towards our own obsolescence, to humans doing as little as possible, but then I think, no, that’s just confused thought, because the same march that takes us to doing less in some areas tends to take us to doing more in others, such as travel through space. Space travel not being terribly possible if one is spending most of their time attempting not to die from the bitter winter wind.

Happy Tuesday, readers.

Spend your attention with care.

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