Monday, March 24, 2008

Holy #$%^! I'm going to Clarion West!

God an e-mail today from Les Howle telling me that she was trying to call me. I was almost too scared to call back because, well, they wouldn't be calling me personally if I wasn't invited. Les was very nice from what I remember of the conversation. I still didn't believe it 'till I got home & got the official e-mail invitation.

I'll write more on this later, because I need to sleep. But I really needed something to work out right now, because my job is going to hell. This will do!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What blogs are for: My story's finally out!

Just got an e-mail from Jason Sizemore at Apex Digest, telling me that Issue 12 is now available, featuring my story "I Can't Look at the City." See that cover art? That's from my story! Woohoo! Available at all respectable bookstores, including Barnes & Noble.

I wrote ICLATC when I was 25. I am only hoping it will take a little less than 10 years to publish the next story.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Howard Who meets Mr. Bobo

A little while ago at a convention I told a friend that I was interested in seeing Howard Waldrop read, and the friend rolled his eyes. Without trying to discourage me, the friend implied that he thought Waldrop was overrated. I have been reading "Things Will Never Be the Same," an anthology of HW's readings released a few years ago, and I figured out why when I got to "Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance."

The plot, such as there is, of the story is the 20-year reunion of the class of 1969. And unfortunately, the story is exactly what that sounds like. It's a big mishmash of 60s/80s hippie/yuppie cliches practically yanked out of a 1983 Doonesbury cartoon thrown together, and they don't even make any sense. "I'll really put 1969 in a nutshell for you. There are six of you sharing a three-bedroom house that fall, and you're splitting a rent you think is exhorbitant..." But wait a minute. They were supposed to still be in high school. Were they all runaways (with perfect attendance)? In 1989, stuck-up yuppies are taking disabled Vietnam veterans' handicapped parking places and threatening to beat up the narrator for a pack of donuts. But the narrator has never sold out, preserving his status as a hopeless loser passing out to porno videos in the middle of the night. "So this is what me and my whole generation had come down to, people sleeping naked in front of their TVs with empty beer cans in their laps." Um, actually, I think that's just you.

The ending of this mishmash of cliches (spoiler alert, kind of) has something to do with the song that will "save the world," sung be bohemians that have become stereotypically bourgeois. This should have made David Brooks happy. His book "Bobos in Paradise," which I've admittedly only read fractions of and heard DB bloviate about for hours on end, takes the position that the bourgeois are the future of bohemia, with the added implication that this is a new thing. Of course, the bourgeois are the present, past and future of bohemia. If I had any readers, I'd get scores of nasty e-mails saying something to the fact of "hey, I was poor and bohemian!" First of all, it's a class thing, not a money thing; you can be poor and bourgeois. Second of all, I'm talking statistically. In general, the people that have the resources and motivation to fritter away their youth that way are middle class. And most of them end up being what are generally described as bourgeois, or in the modern sense yuppies. 90% chance that guy that wrote "yuppies go home" all over the East Village is going to be a yuppie some day. It's like a tadpole saying "frogs get out."

But that's an oversimplification too. People aren't that simple. There are no hippies, no yuppies, no hipsters and bourgeois. There are people who inhabit different identities in the public sphere for a while, then another, and most of the time just kind of do what they do. And Waldrop has some stories where that's exactly what happens. "The Ugly Chickens" is as good an example of that as anything. But I can definitely see where my friend was coming from.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tor is sending me free books faster than I can read them.

At least the first one, Scalzi's "Old Man's War," I've already read and blogged about. But I haven't started on Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin" yet before they sent me something else.

I'm not enough on the producer side of the writing market to have a strong opinion on the advantages & disadvantages of giving away content. I'm still mostly a consumer, and therefore my attitude is more along the lines of "cool, free stuff." What I haven't worked out yet is the practical mechanics of reading a whole electronic manuscript. I can't bring myself to sacrifice that many printer pages, reading them on the computer on the train seems lame, and I'm too cheap to buy an e-book reader. Well, maybe Heather can show me how to put it on my Ipod, I've seen her do it. But being the new-media download junkie that she is, I think she's already moved on to a Kindle.

Anyway, you want free electronic books, check out Tor's website. Why not?

Gary Gygax, RIP

Via David Louis Edelman, I have just learned that the legendary Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, has used his final hit point. Let me add my voice to those who honor his contribution.

There just is not going to be enough notice of the pervasive influence GG has had on our culture, to say nothing of the way he practically saved the lives of countless thousands of introverted geeks such as myself with the loopy tomes that composed the AD&D game. To paraphrase what was said about the Velvet Underground banana album, I speculate that only a few thousand people purchased the First Edition of Deities and Demigods (with the copyright-violating use of the Cthulu mythos), but every one of them has written a speculative novel, tv show or movie.

Thanks Gary.

Shakespearian Pie - absolutely brilliant

You absolutely have to listen to this. The Bard and Don McLean thrown in the blender and filtered through the sieve of Tom Lehrer. I was laughing so hard I damn near peed myself.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Paprika and Beowulf

Last weekend I saw the Japanese animated movie Paprika, and I've had a post about it in my head for a week. Because of the way my life's been going, I think up five posts for every one I actually write. I am kind of glad I waited, though, because I saw Beowulf tonight, and it gives me a good opportunity to play them off against each other.

I had every reason to like Paprika more. The movie is hand-animated and trippy. If I was ten years younger I would have watched it stoned, which would have been the perfect way to see it. Many of the images are disturbingly memorable, especially the parade of dolls and refrigerators marching through town, and Detective Toshiba's dream.

Beowulf, on the other hand, is a CGI flick, with the actors rendered as realistically as technologically possible. The poster that I saw when it came out turned me off utterly, one of the bearded hero and the other of an animated Angelina Jolie dripping animated mud. Beowulf is full of reasons to ridicule it, from the mishmash of accents to the battle scene between Grendel and the naked Beowulf in which things keep popping up to hide his genitals.

(Note: potential spoilers below.)

And yet I was surprised to find that I liked the CGI movie better. Being a 37-year-old family man, I saw Paprika stone-cold sober on a 24" television on DVD, which made it too obvious that the movie couldn't follow through on the mysteries and conflicts it set up in the beginning. It would be interesting to explore whether the creation of the DC Mini by the childish, obese Dr. Tokita was invading the last refuge of the human mind, as the bad guy the Chairman claims. Instead we get more of a superhero battle in which the utterly evil Chairman is destroyed. The only character with any complexity is Dr. Tokita, who has a sort of autistic inability to understand people's moral arguments. Reading the Wikipedia entry on the movie, there are a few subtleties I didn't get on watching the film (I guess the figure that grows up and sucks up the Chairman is the psychic "child" of Tokita and Chiba/Paprika), but they don't seem to connect with any of the philosophical conflicts the movie has set up.

By comparison, the story that Beowulf tells is tight and complex, and goes exactly where it set out to, which isn't surprising because it was written by Neil Gaiman. Begin with Grendel, who is made out to be both pathetic and terrifying. The monster is a big vicious baby, driven to destruction not by a lust for evil by the completely understandable desire to shut down the annoying party next door - which by the way seemed to me a perfectly believable portrait of what a 6th century Nordic mead-hall might have been. Then you have the hero, who is portrayed right away to be brave, certainly, but also vain, horny and boastful, inclined to exaggerate exploits that would have been impressive enough if told straight. And then you have the whip-braided naked "hag" of a mother.

Most reviewers I saw described the role of Ms. Jolie in Beowulf as just throwing a little sex into a story that didn't have much. But that's not fair at all. Actually, the sexy turn of Grendel's mother ends up adding a level of depth to a story that, for all its contribution to English literature, has about as much moral complexity as a Michael Bay movie. To be fair, I am not looking at the story now, but I am sure that the curse that Jolie's character puts on Hrothgar, and then Beowulf, was not part of the original. And yet it's a perfect portrait of the kind of compromises those who rule make to get into the position they're in. If that's not enough, Gaiman spiced the story up with a little Nietszche, which almost no one mentions. As Beowulf's soldiers massacre a tribe of barbarians, he says something to the effect of "the age of real heroes is dead, killed by Our Lord Christ Jesus. He has left us with only the wailing of the saints..." It's really straight out of Beyond Good and Evil.

Interestingly, most of what's been written about the movie by lit-people think the modification of Grendel's mom weakens the story. The people who like it tend to be movie critics impressed by the special effects. But then is it so surprising? When you've spent your whole career studying something, you're going to be inclined to defend it as it is. But the age of the heroes is over. If the original Beowulf were written today, it would do two hundred million in the first weekend, and be forgotten as soon as the action movie season was over. No one would, as they kept saying in the movie, "sing his name through the ages," unless we had reason to think he was really a human.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

INTP, Enneagram Type 5, or victim of Forer effect?

I don't know you very well. But I am getting a feeling about you. A special insight into your personality. Wait, it's coming...

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

How close was I? Does that sound like you? Probably not, because you know that anyone who stumbled upon my blog (a selective group, in my defense) is going to read the same thing. But according to studies by the psychologist Bertram R. Forer people who are given this description of themselves - pulled randomly from an astrology column - rate the accuracy of the description on average as 4.26 out of 5 when they are told it's the result of their personality test given by an expert.

In the last few months I've been going through a bit of professional difficulty - painfully coming to a recognition that the career I've spent the last five years building isn't the right one for me. This has led naturally to a desire to analyze myself in various ways and get to know myself better.

First I found a book based on the Myers-Brigg personality test. After a lot of exploring I concluded I was an Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiver. Later, a friend forwarded me a link to a test based on Oscar Ichazo's Enneagram (based on a shape that's actually an enneagon), from which I concluded that I was a Type 5, or the Investigator. Of course, in both cases I took the cheapo free version of the tests, rather than the expensive "complete" version of the tests. I have no idea if the results would have come out different had I bought the full deal, and will likely not find out because I don't want to spend the money.

In both cases, the descriptions seemed to fit me perfectly. Here's an Enneagram type 5:

The perceptive, cerebral type. Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation. At their Best: visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

And here's an INTP from Wikipedia:

INTP types are quiet, thoughtful, analytical individuals who don't mind spending long periods of time on their own, working through problems and forming solutions. They are very curious about systems and how things work, and are frequently found in careers such as science, architecture and law. INTPs tend to be less at ease in social situations and the caring professions, although they enjoy the company of those who share their interests. They also tend to be impatient with the bureaucracy, rigid hierarchies, and politics prevalent in many professions, preferring to work informally with others as equals.

And yet, perhaps because of my personality type, I was cynical and suspicious. So I did a little digging about enneagrams and quickly stumbled across a description of the Forer Effect, as described above. Essentially, when people are told that a personality type description is specifically for them they are quite inclined to believe it. This is encouraged by other delusions, such as cold reading,, community reinforcement, and selective thinking.

The case for the MBTI is a bit stronger, because originally I tested out as an ISTP, but it didn't sound quite right and I ended up going with Intuitive over Sensing. If the Forer effect was working in full, I'd have taken the first description hook line and sinker. But that doesn't necessarily prove anything.

So here's what I'd like to know: how can I test to see if I'm falling victim to the FE? Does the validation of others count for anything? What about the quality of the tests? A lot of big companies use MBTI; and supposedly the Enneagrams are popular with some Jesuits. I've searched extensively, but I can't find any FE innoculation, except for a large double-blind study, which unfortunately is a bit out of my price range right now. Any suggestions?