Patricia Anthony

Among the books I’ve read recently was the fine novel, Flanders, by Patricia Anthony, which I missed when it first came out in 1998. I was delighted to find it still in print from Berkley. She is one of my favorite sf writers, especially Happy Policeman and Brother Termite. The fantastic element here is ghostly and understated, but it is hands down the best novel I’ve ever read about World War I, a pitch perfect epistolary novel about a Texas sharpshooter in the trenches. I loved this book.  If you’re weary of hip noirish steampunk mushrooms, give Flanders a try.  It will break your heart.

Rereading Wilderness

I’ll probably have more to say about this when I’m done, but I’m in the process of rereading my first published novel, Wilderness, written 20 years ago, because Tom De Haven is teaching it in his American Fantastica class at VCU, and I’m guesting.  Except for a few scenes I draw upon for “greatest hits’ readings, I haven’t reread the novel.  It’s fun how often it surprises me.  The characters certainly smoke a lot of cigarettes and have red-hot libidos.  It’s nice to know I’ve gotten better, I remind myself as I read, but the damn thing does keep me turning the pages.  Let’s just see if it can make me cry—one way or another.

On addressing the elderly

“Sir,” people address me in increasing numbers. Not “Hello,” but “Hello, Sir.” It’s the overwhelming whiteness of the hair, the bald pate, and the beard, I suppose. “Old-timer” is out of fashion, so I get “Sir.” I know this is supposedly a term of respect or something, but I detect a note of fear in it—that I might pass along some unwelcome wisdom or gas if they give me half a chance. I know my young wife, barely eligible for AARP and with a pitiful bit of gray to show for all her years on the planet, has an equal affection for “Ma’am.” I like a simple “Hello.” It makes me feel young, and you know how we old farts like to feel young.

Hamstrung and The Windup Girl

My infrequent and brief postings of late are the result of a hamstring injury that is a literal pain in the butt. It has lingered for some time now, and I am learning to work (as I am writing this post) standing up. This makes me jealous of my computer time, and I’m about halfway through a new novel.  Blog and correspondence suffer.  Sorry to everyone.

Since I’m here, I must take the opportunity to rave about The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s every bit as good as all the reviews and awards would lead you to believe. The best sf novel I’ve read in years.

How I Became a Luddite

I suppose it began with the Walkman.  I never actually owned one, but I borrowed them enough to know I didn’t really want my own personal soundtrack except on rare occasions, usually stationary at my desk.  So I wasn’t tempted by the iPod, though I listen to most of my music on my computer.  But my big step was in not getting a cell phone.  I still don’t have one.  As far as I can tell, it’s still a chronically unreliable technology, rather like owning an American car in the 70’s.  A favorite subject of social conversation now is cell phone woes.  Nearly all of you understand these better than I.  A nice young woman at dinner last night said she’d started receiving anonymous porn messages on her cell.  Many wish they could do without their cell phones, but they are cursed for life apparently.  Sort of like me and heart meds.  I do appreciate that cell phones have made eavesdropping on intimate conversations about damn near anything way easier, and for all that good material, I am grateful and unrepentant.

As a writer working at home during the day, I’m not crazy about The Phone.  Or, as I often call it, The Phucking Phone.  The no call list helps, but since the biggest biz in the world (American Politics) isn’t excluded, interruptions still abound.  I’m also fond of those Rat Bastards who claim to be charitable raising money for the police, orphans, et. al. and keeping 90% themselves.  There are also times, I confess, that I haven’t wanted an employer or deranged lover to be able to reach me on the phone.  So I wasn’t exactly enticed by the cellular technology that evoked images of no escape.  Hundreds of earnest pitches have been made to me by users based on Safety.  What if I Break Down?!  Like I said, just like an American Car in the 70’s.  I’ll probably die being run over by a motorist on a cell phone who ignored me in the crosswalk, and I’m sure all the witnesses will have cell phones to report the matter, take my picture, post to YouTube…

When I teach science fiction writing, I’m always advising students to remember who doesn’t use the technology they’re imagining.  A homogenous world isn’t plausible. Now I’m in a minority of non-users of what I’ve heard called “a necessity of modern life.”  Most apparently agree.  A friend sent me a NYT article with the following factoid:  Only 15% of Americans don’t have cell phones for various reasons, mostly bad coverage or can’t afford it.  I’m in a well-covered city and could afford it, making my reason “Chooses not to.”  You know how many gave that answer?  5%.  We’re talking tiny minority.  This happened very quickly.  I know there were clunkoid phones in the 80’s, but the fever’s been less than 20 years.  It’s now become a cultural study for me.  How long can I hold out?  When will I join in the fun?  When will I be safe?

More Richmond Noir Events and Review

Friday night, 5-7 pm, at Book People, 536 Granite Avenue (near Libbie and Grove) will be Richmond Noir Open House with editors and contributors available to mix, mingle, and sign.  Saturday, we’ll be at the Barnes & Noble, 1-4 pm, at Libbie Place.  Stop by PetSmart and see the dogs, then come by and visit us, maybe adopt a copy or two of Richmond Noir.

Finally, here’s a wonderful review from the Library Journal:

Richmond Noir. Akashic. Mar. 2010. 290p. ed. by Andrew Blossom & others. ISBN 978-1-933354-98-9. pap. $15.95. M
Richmond, VA, is a city of contrasts. Steeped in history—as the capital of the Confederacy and a center of slave trade—the city has become known for state politics, commerce, culture, and crime as it has become increasingly diverse, while still symbolizing Southern gentility. Although each of these 15 stories reveals a side of Richmond, its contrasts are shown most vividly in Dennis Danvers’s “Texas Beach,� in which a man finds the body of an immigrant killed accidentally while illegally felling trees so that a prominent white politician would have a better view of the James River from his mansion. Murder, scattered through these entries, is most chilling when it is imminent, as in Tom De Haven’s “Playing with DaBlonde,� in which a laid-off ad exec who’s into porn sees premonitions coming true. VERDICT A lovingly compiled entry in Akashic’s strong regional noir series, this could have appeal beyond the Commonwealth and its capital.

Tiger, Tiger

Tiger apologized to me, and it was about time.  I mean, he shook my faith in the clear correlation between skilled golfing and moral virtue.  How could someone so successful and rich do bad things?  I was glad to see the news media all agree that Tiger’s apology was and continues to be the most newsworthy event on the planet.  I would like them to dig deeper, to uncover the source of the virtue imparting powers of golf and why they failed so tragically in this case, so it won’t happen again.  Haven’t our role model deprived children suffered enough?  If he’d played pool or Frisbee or a mean pinball, his profligate sexuality would make sense.  We all know what kind of degenerates those sports spawn.  But golf?  I just don’t know how I can live with the reality that a man who amassed a fortune largely on the basis of endorsing products that have nothing to do with him or his putter would have anything but the most admirable moral qualities.  I’m shattered.  Just a thought, Tiger.  Maybe you could do one of those Hardee’s commercials, a big Buick with Cheater spray painted on the side, you gorging on jalapeño-laden meat?

Hurray for LA

Sarah had a couple of days off for Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Day, and we needed to get away.  We both read The Big Sleep, stayed in a fabulous old downtown hotel for way cheap, and relied entirely on public transport, except for the bikes we rented in Santa Monica.  What a great town LA is, in its sprawling California way.  We went to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice, Griffith Park, MOCA, La Brea tar pits, the market—the whole tourist experience.  Public transport was cheap, plentiful and efficient.  We found Californians incredibly friendly and helpful.  We had one spectacular crazy on a busride home.  Truly eloquent.  In Venice we resisted the Kush Doctors being advertised but rode with a herd of pub crawling med students who emanated a manic contact high of their own.  I’m contemplating putting them on the same bus with the crazy in some fictional busride.  The weather was luxuriously warm and exquisite until the very end when we were rained on a little, but we found great shelter in Birds on Franklin Avenue, a terrific place.  The bookstore down the way had a 1st edition hardback of Circuit of Heaven I signed for them.  Don’t have too many of those myself, but the price was too high for me.  Some pictures:  Me with a Short-faced bear at La Brea, the Griffith Observatory and LA from Griffith Park, and the Santa Monica Pier.

Avatar 3D

I don’t need to include a picture with this.  You already know what the blue people look like.  They eat at McDonald’s.  They’re noble savages.  We earthlings are assholes.  No surprises here.  I was prepped for this movie by friend Len Krueger who suggested I think Dances with Wolves, maybe even Pocahontas.  The bar was way low in other words.  I went by myself, probably the best way to see this movie so that whatever you like won’t be too embarrassing right after.  It doesn’t have a brain in its predictable head, but it totally sucked me into its 3D world, so that by the end I loved those 9 foot blue people.  I was never bored.  Whether this is art or mind control I don’t know, but I enjoyed the ride.  Get in touch with your inner earth goddess and surrender to the software.