June 2008


At the conclusion of every course, I take a poll to determine what students liked and didn’t. Eleven students remain standing, and they were all present to vote. Interestingly enough this time, each book on the reading list was someone’s favorite, though Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven got only one vote as favorite and four least favorite. Like last year Murakami split favorite/unfavorite down the middle with three votes for each. Dick and Bester also got 3 each as favorites and no least favorite. The Road was the least favorite of three and the favorite of one. Part of the problem with Le Guin may have been my lackluster teaching. The book is getting stale to me, and I need to give it a rest anyway. Hard-Boiled Wonderland etc. may also need to sit on the sidelines for different reasons. I’ve read it a half-dozen times now, but my students come to it fresh and confused. It’s hard to get on the same page. As for the films, the voting was lopsided in both categories. Starman was trounced with eight negative votes. Alien was the clear winner with six favorite votes. Children of Men did well also with four favorite votes. So once again, the books and films from the 80’s are problematic. Maybe I should just skip that decade… Actually, I’m considering reinventing the course as a topical survey, with a book and movie for each of five sf tropes—aliens, time travel, end of the world, etc. Any suggestions for topics and books and films are always welcome. There are anthologies out there I could use, but I dearly hate lugging the damn things and prefer teaching novels or single-author collections.

Friend, neighbor, and fellow Texan, Martha Erwin recently returned to the homeland for her nephew’s wedding and snapped this photo. Kinda says it all, don’t it?

Anyone who’s read my books knows I’m not always a fan of the police. The Richmond cops, however, have found themselves in the news lately because they had their pictures taken with sexy women. The “public outcry” (tirelessly orchestrated by the “hard-hitting” local news) has been droning on for days. If these cops had had their pictures taken with puppies, kids, old farts like me, foreign visitors, ANYONE, no one would say a word. What nice cops, building good relationships with regular citizens. But these citizens were “scantily clad” in “sexy poses.” (No nudity, no naughty bits). This begs the question—what’s wrong with sexy women? Or is it all women who are suspect? Maybe it’s sex we don’t like, though these photographs are hardly sex. There’s no hanky-panky going on, nothing to suggest anything but some folks having fun. I commend the officers for being human. The photos are at a site called TheDirty.com which strikes me as more than a little arrested, self-righteous, and hypocritical. Real news outlets that have been exploiting it are way worse. The ads they run are sexier than these pictures.

I like to end the sf course with recent work that’s gotten a lot of positive attention. The book can’t be too long, however, and that’s been a problem lately. No Neal Stephenson, for example. This year, however, the short science fiction novel, The Road, was blessed by Oprah and Pulitzer. The film Children of Men was widely admired and seemed to be a natural companion. Both are beautifully done. Neither one is exactly a day at the beach. I’ll be curious what my students make of them. I hope they don’t want to lock me in a basement.
Total immersion in the planet’s demise takes a toll, so I wanted to get away from the darkness for a while and catch up on email but found myself reading about peak oil. I could’ve clicked on a video. I’m not sure what of. A big straw—a sucking sound? I resisted the temptation and walked over to a bike shop in Carytown and bought a new bike to replace my stolen one, after a decent period of mourning. This proved to be just the thing, followed by a brisk ride through the park, the air redolent with smoke from North Carolina fires. Here’s hoping I never have to pedal it down McCarthy’s Road. The tires would melt, cannibals would eat me. Okay? Okay.

Children of Men gets to me in some new way every time I watch it, but it’s always exhausting. It’s like living through the Bush years on fast forward. In both book and film redemption is frail, perhaps an illusion.
Maybe I should rent Sullivan’s Travels. Maybe it’s time for a remake.

I received a letter from a reader the other day lamenting that it had been 6 years since my last book. Nay, nay. It’s only been 3—still too damn long, but that’s another story. My last published novel was The Bright Spot published by Bantam under the pseudonym Robert Sydney. The reason? The Dennis Danvers brand wasn’t selling well enough. This wasn’t my idea but a publishing necessity. It didn’t work, of course. No matter how dismal that Danvers guy’s sales were, Sydney’s were worse. So there likely won’t be another Robert Sydney novel, and all my short fiction comes out under the Danvers brand. However, The Bright Spot is still in print and available. I’ve finished a couple of other novels since but haven’t sold any. I have a mystery story coming out in the forthcoming Richmond Noir anthology, and I’m toying with the idea of using the protagonist in that story in future mysteries. He’s unnamed in the story, but I was toying with giving him the name Robert Sydney, just to confuse things further. My dad was Robert Sydney Danvers, and he always wanted to break into print, which is why I chose the name.

After getting my second plagiarism in three assignments, I came out of class yesterday to find my bike stolen. A 3-year-old Schwinn Super Sport, blue with turquoise end bars I added myself, it was a sweet ride, a much-loved gift from Sarah. Locked outside the Student Commons with a clearly inadequate lock, it was stolen some time between 9:45 and noon in broad daylight. My new helmet was secured by the same lock.

In other news, however, I just reread Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World for class and enjoyed it even more. So poignant, so silly, so delightfully done. One positive thought about the bike—I had a moment when I was triple-checking where I left the bike, when I thought, I wonder if this is Alzheimer’s? My dad had early onset at 62; I’m bearing down on 61… So it was a relief, really, to verify it was stolen, and I wasn’t losing my mind. May the thief go on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney.

After a long silence, awaiting the conclusion of the Democratic primary process, God finally returned to the presidential campaign trail today. “I’m eternal,” he said of the Democrats, “but I can’t wait forever!” Anticipating the same problems that have plagued the other candidates, God boldly renounced all preachers regardless of their beliefs. “Face it,” he said, “They all claim to be speaking my words. I don’t know these people. They could say anything—dig up some off-the-cuff remark from a couple thousand years ago and make a big damn deal of it. No. The problems of the country are too important for me to waste my time being held accountable for anyone who claims to know me and speak for me. If those guys want to claim to know fairies, pookahs, and Betty Crocker, they can knock themselves out, but they can leave me out of it.”

Here, God renounces Rev. Adam, the leader of a radical long-haired nudist cult who claims God performed a highly controversial ribcage operation on him at an undisclosed location in the Middle East. Adam was “saddened.” The rib was unavailable for comment.