June 2007


I’ve been teaching a science fiction class for several years now with Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on the reading list. I also include sf films, but in previous years haven’t shown Blade Runner fearing the popular film might eclipse the book. I shouldn’t have been concerned. The students overwhelmingly preferred the book. While the look of the film is stunning and influential, the narrative is no match for the original novel. The “love story” upon which the movie turns is embarrassingly awkward. One of my students described the pivotal love scene as a bit like witnessing date rape. I have to agree. The same student informed me that the film’s designer, Syd Mead, was on campus last semester, and she passed along this handsome poster for the event. I’m kicking myself for missing it. His other work includes Tron and Aliens.

Corporate money talks but students can’t, even on a public sidewalk, at least when the deadliest threat to America is involved—I mean, of course, marijuana. Though the right-wing majority insists we must err on the side of the speaker when it’s money talking, anyone even joking about drugs must shut up. Just think—these guys will be making decisions long after Bush has crawled back into his hole in Crawford. Ain’t we the beacon of freedom though?

Hearing that thousands of embryonic stem cells languishing at fertility clinics have been spared the horrible fate of being used in research to cure Alzheimer’s and other pesky diseases by the veto of the Ethicist-in-Chief George W. Bush, God made an unscheduled campaign stop at one such facility today and delivered his usual stump speech in hopes of winning the votes of these wombless citizens.

“Frankly,” the deity said, “I found them completely unresponsive, scarcely alive. Of course, they were frozen.” Perhaps their lack of enthusiasm was due to their being destroyed shortly after God delivered his half-hour address. The director of the facility apologized there wasn’t time to thaw them out before God’s visit but opined it wouldn’t have made much difference. “They’re not really very political,” he said.

Santa Claus! “While there were many strong contenders,” God said at an announcement ceremony at the North Pole, “Santa and I see eye to eye on so many issues, he seemed to be a natural.” While the Lord giveth and taketh away, Santa is primarily known as a giver, though, like God, he has been known to withhold gifts from those who don’t believe in him. They both have been purported to keep lists of those who are naughty and nice, and both are uncannily aware of the most intimate details of each and every person’s life—even when they’ve been sleeping and when they’ve been awake. “The young people take to him, especially,” God pointed out, a weakness in God’s demographic in recent years when the young have often been described as godless.

The nomination was not without controversy. The Tooth Fairy, thought to be a strong contender, was openly critical in her comments to the press. “God had the opportunity to add a woman to the ticket, someone with a serious background in basic economics. Instead we have a guy who laughs all the time and has no concept of getting a fair return from those he’s supposedly ‘helping.’ How will people ever learn self-respect and good dental hygiene and the importance of suffering?”

Santa has not been without controversy in recent years, with charges of his exploitation of elf labor under harsh conditions and his cruelty to animals forcing a team of reindeer to fly around the world in a single night, but God brushed off such criticisms. “Look. The guy believes in being good for goodness’ sake. What could be wrong with that? I looked into his soul and liked what I saw.”

There were questions about what Santa was smoking in his pipe that made him so jolly and whether he set a good example for America’s youth, but God said whatever it was, he created it and it was 100% organic. “Not like that junk Joe Camel sells!”

Three of my short stories, “Memories Are Made of This,” “The Banjo Singer,” and “The Broken Dream Factory,” all returned to me homeless with editors’ regrets this weekend. I’m reminded of my dating life in high school, only in those days, rejection was mercifully quick: Work up your nerve, make the call, “Sorry, you’re not quite what I’m looking for at this time.” These editorial regrets, however, often take months and months to reach me. Too bad I can’t switch the processes. Back then I thought I was immortal; these days I know I’m not.

All three stories are sleeping comfortably. I tucked them in and reassured them I still love them. Tomorrow I’ll send them out in the world again to join a half dozen companions and their big brother, my novel The Donut Man, all awaiting another judgment. It’s like dating across light years, serial apocalypse.

I’ll be showing Dr. Strangelove in class today, in the perfect frame of mind for the Doomsday Machine.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I teach summer school at VCU, teaching two 4.5 week classes back to back. These are a semester’s work crammed into less than a third the time, so they keep me busy. Hence my silence here. I start the class with the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers—the 1956 version—which IMO holds up incredibly well. None of this year’s students had ever seen it before. Today, we discuss Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, our first of five novels. It doesn’t hold up so well—too much bombast and speechifying. The waif who turns the fireman around credits her good sense to getting a good spanking when she needed it. In general the treatment of women leaves a lot to be desired, even for the 50’s. I’ll probably return to Bester in future.

When I was quite young, I used to watch television with my folks on Sunday afternoons in Dallas. There wasn’t much on, but their favorite show was a hispanic variety show. We were new to Texas, but my parents were delighted by all things Mexican—the food, the music, the dance. Whenever we got the chance traveling with my dad, we would visit Mexico.  As an adult, I’ve traveled to several countries, but Mexico is still my favorite.  There are no better hosts in the world.
When I moved to Virginia in the mid 80’s, I entered a black and white world. Where were the brown people, the Spanish language, the food, the music, and culture? That’s what I missed most about Texas—perhaps the only thing. I certainly didn’t miss the politics.  Now that’s changed, and Virginia—indeed, the entire country—is richer for the hispanic immigrants who have come here.

Now it looks like as long as they’re willing to work for shit wages as a permanent underclass, we willingly accept their contribution, but when they want the respect they deserve, we self-righteously (and hypocritically) turn our backs. It’s shameful.

As part of his bold bid for the U.S. Presidency, God made a surprise visit to the Creation Museum near Cincinnati. Even with the senior discount, he thought the admission price was a little steep for a religious institution, but added, “It was definitely worth it. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good laugh!”

He found the ark exhibit particularly entertaining. “Can you imagine living with all the bugs and snakes and spiders that have ever existed? Yuck!” Since drug-resistant TB has been much in the news lately, he wondered which of the eight people on board was harboring it, but nobody could tell him. “If there were only four women on the Ark, it must’ve been tough to get a date for quite a while afterwards without going out with your cousin,” God joked, but nobody laughed. “Even that terrible Costner movie Waterworld figured out the only dry land would be Everest. Ararat? Give me a break. The thing’s a molehill by comparison.”

At this point, God was asked to leave since his presence was disrupting the dissemination of the Truth. “Live and learn,” God told reporters out in the parking lot. “I thought with all these believers, I might get some support, but they’re just interested in their old time religion, I guess. But it’s like Rick Nelson said “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

Asked if he still planned to visit Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, God declined to comment other than to say it was under discussion with campaign media adviser Tinky Winky.

In a surprise move, God announced his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency today. “With several pundits proclaiming that the candidate who could talk about me the most would be the likely winner,” the well-known Lord God of the Universe declared, “I decided, who better than me?”

Known as a polarizing figure, God spoke to a select group with eyes to see and ears to hear at an undisclosed location. Reaction was mixed among the leading candidates, some cautiously pointing out that it hardly seemed fair that the omniscient and omnipotent leader would enter the race, to which God replied, “I don’t exactly have a reputation for fair. Remember the flood? Sodom and Gomorrah? Fair’s for wimps. But nobody can accuse me of faulty intelligence!”

Some pointed out that God wasn’t a U.S. citizen and therefore couldn’t run according to the Constitution, to which God replied by pulling a dollar bill out of his pocket—”Read it and weep,” he said, referring to “In God We Trust” printed on every one. “You guys put that ‘Under God’ line in the Pledge of Allegiance back in the fifties,” he said, “not me.”

Asked about the immigration debate, he shrugged. “What do I care about some ditch in North America? Mi casa, su casa is my position. If I wanted a wall there I would’ve built it myself.” God took equally controversial positions on gay marriage—”I did say ‘Love thy neighbor’ didn’t I?”—and the wars in Iraq and elsewhere—”What part of Peace on Earth don’t you guys understand?”

In perhaps his most shocking revelation, he distanced himself from the infallibility of the Bible. “It was true when I revealed it, but no end of editors and translators and scribes have made a real hash of it. Anybody who’s ever seen a film adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel knows exactly what I’m talking about.”

Asked if he’d spoken with the current President about his entering the race, he replied, “You know, I’ve tried to talk to that chucklehead on several occasions, but he just doesn’t listen, and he makes no sense at all.”

Asked about possible running mates, he declined to be specific but hinted he might reach out to non-believers. “I like this Dawkins guy. He shows some real moxie. Anybody can believe in God,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye. “You can bet your sweet ass Lucifer believes in me!” He expressed hopes that the average citizen would get involved by praying for him. “I listen to each and every one. Very entertaining.”

The quote for the day comes from Kelly Link’s “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” (from Magic for Beginners):

“Be prepared. It’s just like the Boy Scouts, except you have to be even more prepared. You have to prepare for everything that the Boy Scouts didn’t prepare you for, which is pretty much everything.”

This brought to mind my own Boy Scout experience. I know many guys got a lot out of scouts, and as long as they’re not equating being a good American with believing in God and not being queer, I don’t have a problem with them. I love all that outdoor stuff. But my scout troop in Irving, Texas pretty much sucked. We went on a total of one campout the two years I was in the troop, going to Lake Grapevine for a long weekend in November. The scoutmaster was a retired Air Force colonel who didn’t like kids and glared at you if tried to engage him in conversation. I guess he thought we were being insubordinate. He housed himself in a ginormous tent big enough for a MASH unit, complete with a heater and a cot. It was cold and getting colder. We all slept crammed into moldy tents in cheapo sleeping bags. He started his fire each morning with a cup of gasoline. You could hear the big whoomp all over the camp, as the pillar of flame went up into the treetops. The guy demonstrating the proper way to sharpen an axe cut his thigh pretty badly and had to go to the hospital, but the rest of us were stuck there. The big event on Saturday was a tracking exercise. The rather large scoutmaster and his equally rotund assistants were supposed to mark a trail with rocks and twigs and other crap, and the rest of us were supposed to track it. A buddy of mine and I, who were more or less willing outcastes, happened to spot the scoutmaster and co. across the lake piling rocks and breaking branches and watched them through binoculars. When they were done, we high-tailed it back to the starting point to participate in the competition, which we easily won by heading straight for the place where the fearless leaders had ended up. We each got an official Boy Scout flashlight without batteries. The next day it snowed, and everybody’s parents drove out to rescue us. This was Texas, after all, where nobody was really prepared for snow in November. It was years before I discovered on my own that camping could be fun, though I always forgot to bring the gasoline.