Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

old stories are good stories

Black Orpheus (1959) is a fantastic movie.



If you haven't seen it, check it out.

I'm hard at work at stuff like this - reimagining of greek myths - so I'm scouring the wires for anything else that could be a good reference, or tips on what to avoid because it's been done before. Plenty of Orpheus and Eurydice out there - of which Black Orpheus is probably the best - but not much for characters like Arachne, or Persephone, or Ganymede.

Know anything good, drop me a line.

Monday, March 29, 2010

with apologies to emily...

microscopes are a fine invention
when people can see
but faith is prudent
in an emergency

missed connection

We meet, perhaps for the first time,
on the L-train, above the city. Neon lights
like coral reefs but dirtier, unreal
in that way that artificial
things seem more real than coral.

We're standing. I'm in a suit and tie. My hand
clings to the noose.. The L-train bobs.
The reef teems with citizens and cars;
minnows, speeding turtles. searchlights
flood the glass. Your face reflected there, serene
as manta rays. Headphones, a face absent of gaze.

Where do people meet in this city? Your hand
so close to mine, we could be touching if the train
just jumped enough, a rock on the tracks or a stroke
of lightning – a crazed commuter shoving people around
might knock someone who knocks someone who knocks
you just enough to make the skin of our hands brush.

Messages in a bottles. A woman in a car shouts
*I saw you I saw you I saw you*... driving your blue car,
two eyes locked – woman and man - but there's no way to speak
in cars, then the highway bends the lanes apart. A man
in a grocery store describes your summer dress, the way
you touched your beautiful son's hair,
and he couldn't think of things to say in time because you
were already loved by a man – your younger one. Another
man stumbled in all the rings on your hands,
dozens of beautiful rings, and we don't know
what they mean, but he describes a tattoo, where dolphins
swim in circles around your navel, their bodies
curved like chasing each other's tail. You're looking
for him at the gym, where he hides inside his headphones,
like you do
now,
with me,
on the train.

Was your smile on the train something real, or a memory of fish
spinning off into open water? Caterpillar camouflage, perhaps?
“If I smile I'll escape...” she said, about the sharks
Was it real? Was any moment missed
where two people met on a train?
There's the tower where they filmed that movie.
We curve around it in our train. When you look up at the red light
flashing on the antenna, do you hold my gaze in the reflection?
Did we look into the opposite of each other's eyes?

I'm writing to you now from work. I share an office
with three other men. We have to be
careful when we stand up from our desks.
We might bump into each other.
We work all day long.
We talk, sometimes; we meet after work for a beer.

Sometimes, I think I can smell their cologne, when I'm working.
Sometimes, I think I can smell your perfume.

Sometimes I can't sleep

And I stay up late, searching the internet for something...

Until I stop and decide to write something...

Until I stop and try to lie down and stare at the ceiling, and wait for morning...

Until I get back up again and search the internet for something...

Until I stop and decide to write something...

Seeing a pattern, here?

Well, I'm breaking the pattern now. I'm going for a walk.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Already interviewed...

Suvudu, the Random House SF/F Blog, has already interviewed me about MAZE, mosaic novels, and other neat stuff.

http://www.suvudu.com/2010/03/looking-to-the-future-with-last-dragon-author-jm-mcdermott.html

Friday, March 26, 2010

While I'm busy..

Maze is part of the tradition of OZ/Wonderland stories. From our world, and into the next. I wonder what Disney would do with my take on the matter, though... Hm... Troubling.

While I'm busy doing final edits, enjoy some little head trips courtesy of a talented person calling themself Pogo.







Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just put the signed contract in the post.

MAZE, a mosaic novel, will be forthcoming from Apex Books sometime in 2011(?). They are also going to pull LAST DRAGON back into print.

J M McDermott’s MAZE, in which four intertwining lives find other survivors in a huge otherworldly maze, where trolls hunt the halls, minotaurs are meat, and light gives life to a woman that falls from an embryo in a sleeping man’s lung.

I've mentioned it a little bit here, here, here, and here

All those abandoned fragments of imminent worlds, rewritten, repurposed, or removed, have been popping up here and there in this blog.

MAZE is coming. It's been coming a long time.

If light speaks to you. If it comes to you in the night. If it says "Put me in your lung". If it speaks and has a name. Don't do it. Even if you want to help it, don't.

Run.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I wrote my senator regarding Dr Watts' recent conviction

And, here is the response I got. To which I say, WTF, Republican Saxby Chambliss?

Dear Mr. McDermott:



Thank you for contacting me regarding S. 1536, the "Avoiding Life-Endangering and Reckless Texting by Drivers (ALERT) Act of 2009." It is good to hear from you.



S. 1536 was introduced on July 29, 2009, and referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This legislation would require each state to ban the sending of text or e-mail messages while operating a car, bus, or truck. If a state does not comply, it would risk losing 25% of its annual federal highway funding each year. I will keep your comments in mind should this bill come before the full Senate.



If you would like to receive timely email alerts regarding the latest congressional actions and my weekly e-newsletter, please sign up via my web site at: www.chambliss.senate.gov . Please let me know whenever I may be of assistance.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Before she was a spider, she was in art school

I had all these portraits of women with thin, narrow faces, and conservative clothes. Their faces were too small for their bodies. The portraits were drawn flat, like German Expressionism. Dignified women, with dignified, cold demeanors. Under the hands of the women, I jabbed sewing needles into the canvas, with malformed knitting projects – crooked scarves in ecstatic colors, pirate skull and bones, and little sweaters too small for anything but dolls, or too large for anything human.

They were awful. I couldn't stand them. They were jagged. The ideas didn't meld together, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I sketched protoplasmic shapes, like sea creatures being born in loamy water. I painted precise, whimsical shapes. But, I didn't just throw them onto canvasses. I shaped them into classic iconagraphic poses. Madonna and child. Mona Lisa. The Last Supper. Christ Blessing. Francis Assissi with the animals. All of these bestial, animal, water shapes, like what I had seen in the cafe, but sharper at the edges, and no colors at all – just charcoal and pencil and blank canvas.

***

Describing art inside of a work of art is always strange because ultimately, you will never get to see these works of art. Arachne's art must be spoken of, to tell her story, but you will never see it. I pause. I try to explain enough of it so you get the gist. I try to keep it short.

I think her work with knitting needles is probably really beautiful and cool. I think the protoplasmic shapes turned into icons are probably a little blah. Who knows? I'll never see them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Trying to Make Sense of the Peter Watts conviction...

So,Peter Watts was flagged for a random, stopped, and then got beat up, maced, etc., without any sort of meaningful provocation on his part. He is facing up to 2 years in prison for making the very reasonable statement to the border guards that were assaulting him without provocation: asking the officer who had just been punching Dr Watts in the face for no reason to please explain what the problem was that was getting Dr Watts beat up, maced, handcuffed, arrested, etc., and apparently the only threatening thing he did was ask questions like "So... What's the problem, officer?" and holding his arms out at his side and saying something like "Seriously, like, why are you beating me up without any provocation on my part? I come in peace! I have no weapons! Search anything you want!"

Yet, a jury felt he was legally non-compliant because he didn't move fast enough to get on the ground after a 51-year-old man had been punched in the face by an armed border guard. The jury convicted, not the assaulting officers who acted without meaningful provocation, but Dr Watts. Presumably he was guilty of assault for bruising Beaudry's knuckles with his face.

Any sane, rational human being realizes the statue of the law states that citizens have to comply in the course of lawful orders and lawful acts. Being assaulted is a non-lawful act. Being beat up, maced, etc., without any sort of reasonable cause of peril to the police officer is not a lawful act. Actually, the border guards involved in this fiasco ought to be the ones on trial for assault, and not complying with the people who spontaneously decided to beat you up, drag you from your car, and mace you is part of what makes someone sane.

Which is to say that the jury f***ed up, and now someone's facing jail-time for it, undeservedly. The whole point of having juries is to make sure some thoughtless, indifferent judge doesn't do something like that.

Read about it here... here... and notice how the news article gets this wrong in the first sentence, because it was clear that the only thing Peter Watts was guilty of was an interpretation of non-compliance, not assault, and not obstructing: here...

I, for one, think asking a police officer who's just beaten you in the face for no reason why he is hulking out is a pretty reasonable thing to ask. If I were Dr Watts, I'd be concerned for my safety getting on the ground, where I am defenseless against the unprovoked assault that this border guard was engaged in providing a normal, unarmed, non-violent individual.

When, the f***, did we become a police state?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Free Short Story: The Lovesong of Jack McNally

Lovesong of Jack McNally
Atomjack Magazine, February 2008

We forget - we always forget - exactly why things fall apart among friends.

Alcohol. Air planes. Divorce. Aliens.

I ran into Jack McNally at the old Black Dog on Throckmorton, east of downtown Fort Worth. That bar was a merging point between hipsters and college kids, and Jack and me were too old to be college kids. Roaches were more common than yuppies like me. Nobody ordered anything that came in a glass unless it was bought with a fake ID from some kid that hadn’t been around long enough to notice the rats.

Jack McNally was still dressed like a hipster. He mostly fit right in except we were a couple years older than just about everybody there. He came here because he had always come here when he was in town. I only ran into him because he was in town indefinitely.

He and I both grew up in Fort Worth, but I went off to college and came home, and he had stayed out in New Orleans until that hurricane washed through and pushed everybody back to where their mothers and fathers still had the bedroom just like it used to be.

I was in a suit because I was an insurance agent, and he was in jeans because he was a bartender now, hanging out in this college kid and hipster bar on his night off.

Last I heard of him he was married, and his name was John, and he was working in a family business. He told me everybody called him “Jack” now, and he had divorced the girl he had flown to London to marry. He had spent the last five years since his college diploma working for his ex-wife’s father all day and all night until the old man had succeeded in shoving the family business between the daughter and Jack, that new husband no one had really wanted around.

Jack and I had never smoked out together, back in the day, but we had always meant to do it. We were friends in high school, in the way that people in high school can be friends with each other without seeing each other off campus. We were in the same English classes – I had been one year ahead in English, and he was one year older than me, and we were in the same classes. We had both made out with the same theatre girls and neither one of us really wanted to share stories about how far we’d gotten with whom because we were both a little afraid that the other had gotten farther.

That was at a private school in the middle of Fort Worth. Back then, we both had to drive miles over highways in the morning to get to school on time from our different corners of the city. We lived too far apart to be close friends, but we were friends enough to drink together a while that night.

Then, he graduated and went off to New Orleans, and I was still in high school for a year. Then, I graduated and went off to College Station. I graduated, and then I came home to south Fort Worth, and I had forgotten all about him.
I had stopped smoking pot and cigarettes entirely after the aliens had abducted me. He had dirty, yellow teeth now and that lazy look in the eye that twinkled like too much marijuana.

I never expected to see him again.

We forget – we always forget – exactly why we had never stayed in touch when we see someone like that again.

Jack McNally stopped hitting on the college girls long enough to pat me on the back and remember my name.

We talked about the teachers that had died since we had left.

His mother had died. She had been a teacher at our private school. I hadn’t heard about that one. He asked me what I was up to, and I was just the guy in a suit with the proverbial apple for a face. (Referencing famous surrealist paintings is what yuppies have to do to hang in hipster bars.) Jack told me about his hurricane-induced placeless-ness, his divorce. I bought him a beer. Life had kicked him around even more than me, and I had been abducted by aliens and transformed into something nearly inhuman. (I never told Jack about the aliens.)

Then Jack disappeared into the crowd. He talked to the college girls in the room like he was going to win their heart someday. He worked that room. Every time I turned around, he was talking to some new girl that didn’t mind the free drink but wouldn’t mind if Jack left, either. Jack was cracking jokes and mugging and smiling and talking about philosophy because he had majored in that in college and this was a hipster bar where that sort of thing was supposed to work. He was puffing cigarettes as if they weren’t responsible for his yellow teeth and talking about M-Cats because he wanted to be a neurologist.

He came back to me from his rounds. When he and I were talking, I encouraged Jack to be a nurse because he’d never make it through medical school if he was the same guy I remembered – the same guy that I was watching right now. I encouraged him to think about nursing because nurses usually make more money than doctors after you do a cost benefit analysis including years spent in school, pay raises, and all those debts.
Aliens had taught me to think like a businessman about everything.

After Jack had faded into the background noise again, I leaned over to the woman next to me – she was older than me by about seven years, but she was still beautiful and she was dressed in designer clothes. She didn’t give a shit about anyone buying her drinks. I asked her if she had ever met that guy, Jack McNally.

She said she had never met that guy. She asked me why I wanted to know.

I shrugged. “Just trying to make conversation, I guess,” I said, “if you had met him, we could talk to each other about that guy.”

“I’ve never met him,” she said. She pulled out a cigarette and leaned over like I was supposed to light it for her. I didn’t smoke, but I had a lighter.

Then, I asked her if she knew the meaning of life.

“Never waking up alone,” she said, without hesitation. She gazed into the red tip of her cigarette. She looked at me past the embers. “What do you think it is?”

“I was going to say something else, but I like your answer better.”

“They always do. What were you going to say?”

“Genuine human connections.”

“Same thing,” she said.

I agreed with her at the time.

Jack McNally waved at me from between two girls in red dresses - two girls that looked like Momma’s make-up and fake IDs from where I stood across the bar, by the doorway. The two girls in red dresses leaned back to make eyes at each other behind Jack’s back, and they were laughing about the creepy guy over ten years older than them who thought he stood a chance in hell. Jack looked like he was king of the world right there, between those two pretty girls - like he didn’t know a damn thing.
I left with the older woman. In the back of my mind I thought about Jack McNally with his yellow teeth and the glaze beneath his pupils from that way natural disasters have of humbling arrogant hipsters. Disaster: his bartending certificate was worth more than his philosophy degree. Disaster: his mother died so young. Disaster: his marriage failed. Disaster: he lost that family business in the divorce. Disaster: a hurricane threw him out of his beloved city, like God was kicking his ass.

Even from the door, I heard Jack rattle off his lines too loud about the M-cats to girls too young to really know what that means, but old enough to know a line when they hear one.

In my mind, I wished him all the best luck in the world.

The older woman and I walked down the street because she didn’t live far away. She lived in a building downtown, in a loft like an artist, but she wasn’t an artist. She was only a seducer of artists. Her last boyfriend was a junky actor that had left her for a college girl in a red dress. Now, she wanted a rebound fuck from a warm body. I was warm enough.

Her bedroom was up a flight of stairs. It smelled like old sex. In the slanting light of her setting the mood with candles, I saw the stains on the sheets that hadn’t been washed properly in weeks.

“Take off your shoes,” I said.

“What?”

“I want to see the soles of your feet.”

“Feet are your thing?” She kicked off her shoes. She sat on her bed. She lifted her right foot up to my face. “I like feet guys.”

I took her foot in my hand. I stroked it like a kitten – a living thing.

She liked it.

I asked her, “Did you know that you have three souls?”

“Fuck,” she said, laughing, “I didn’t think I had any.”

I kissed her big toe, gently. “You have three,” I said, “I learned this from some aliens. You have a soul hidden in the bottom of your feet, and then you have the soul in your spinal column, and then there’s a soul just inside of your eyes. Everybody has three souls. You can live without the soul in your feet, and the one in your eyes. The one in the feet is just the energy that’s fallen away and collected where it’s like an id puddle, and the one behind the eyes is extra soul to filter your head from the energies in the air. But the one in your spinal column can live forever if you process it just right. That’s the real you. That’s your electricity.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? Where did you say you got that?”

“Aliens.”

“Like immigrants, or like fucking space?”

“Both. I was abducted by aliens and they’re taking over the world a little bit at a time.” I ran my hands along the bottom of her right foot. When I wasn’t talking, I was sucking on her toes like popsicles. They tasted almost as bitter as her voice sounded, but what did I expect meeting an older woman at a hipster bar with a sex dirty bed?

She leaned back. “That feels good,” she said, “but tell me about your aliens, crazy boy. Did they anal probe you?”

“Of course,” I said, “They also sent me on a mission to anal probe others.”

“Don’t anal probe me,” she said, “I don’t like it. Fuck, you are a toe-sucking fiend! Keep doing that. I like that. It feels amazing.”

I was finished with three of her toes by now. I had started with her big toe because it took the longest and I had moved down the line to the last two toes. I stopped to take a breath. “These aliens,” I said, “They caught me in a field drunk and cow-tipping with some hicks outside College Station. They took me into outer space. They anal probed me. They did all kinds of crazy shit to me. They made me kill those fucking hicks and process them because they wanted to show me the future.”

“What did the aliens look like?”

“They looked like aliens. Big, black eyes and big, white, light-bulb heads. Their skin was gray and spongy. They only had three fingers on each hand. They were fucking aliens.” I finished the last two toes on the right foot. I put it down on the dirty carpet and picked up the other foot. I started with the big toe.

She leaned back and moaned a little. She pulled at her shirt until her small breasts looked up at me like melted teacups. “You should be a writer. You tell some crazy fucking stories. My ex was like that. He was an actor, and a junkie. I told you about
him, right? I fucking hate drugs, but I keep falling for junkies. Suck my nipples next, crazy boy,” she said. Her nipples were erect already.

I finished her toes and complied to her request. I got her right nipple first. Then, her left. She had her eyes closed by now. She had lost enough blood that she was completely out of her head. She started muttering men’s names, like she couldn’t remember mine and was having a brainstorming session out loud.

I got her legs next. Then, I anal probed her, searching for the soul that hides in the spinal column to the brain. I got that next. After that, I kept taking her, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but all the blood she had lost.

When I was done, I rummaged around her apartment for a cable outlet. I couldn’t find one in that old building, so I had to use a telephone jack. I flipped my thumb open like a pez dispenser. I pulled out the right cord. I plugged my left thumb into the wall, and waited in the dark until sunrise for all the data to transfer. Just like when I sold an insurance policy, I had to plug the computer into the wall and wait for the data to transfer. When I process a body, I plug into the wall and wait for the data to transfer. Telephone jacks took longer.

When I was done, I washed the blood off my clothes in her dryer, and washed up all the blood with bleach and club soda. It was morning, now.

I had a sales meeting in the morning. I put my suit back on; I put on my white smile. I drove to North Dallas from downtown Fort Worth to meet with the sales team.

In our sales district, we had about eighteen people. Some of them were so far out in the countryside that they couldn’t always make sales meetings. Usually only seven or eight showed up for the meetings regularly. We were all ages, from all walks of life. None of us were married, though. A couple were divorced with kids.

My boss was from Idaho. He was six foot eight, and shaped like a walrus complete with the scraggly beard. He had recruited me right out of college. My senior year, I went to a big city jobs convention, and he was there and we shook hands and we knew each other right then and there wasn’t a need for an interview.

He had brought us donuts. I didn’t eat the donuts because I knew they wanted me to keep skinny. An older guy could be a little hefty, and a girl just had to be female, but young guys couldn’t do anything if they weren’t skinny.

We spent an hour talking about the changes to the disability plans, then he told us each individually how we were doing meeting our quotas.

We clap for each other. We cheer. I’ve been here five years. In my mind, I can’t help but think about the faces I don’t see. Sometimes, someone just disappears from the table, and nobody tells us why.

We clap, we cheer, and we smile like we mean it. Everybody’s missed quota a few times. Nobody knows exactly where the tipping point might be. Nobody asks.

I was lucky I had gotten that older woman last night, barely in time to meet quota. My boss and I were going to have to meet in person after the sales meeting. While everyone else was out selling insurance policies and employee benefit plans, I was going to be in an office explaining how I wasn’t collecting the souls the aliens wanted, and I wasn’t exceeding the quota.

We had a talk, him and me, about what my real priorities were.
I told him that I had been doing this for years just fine, and I was in a dry spell, and I was having doubts about the aliens that never felt the need to prove the paradise to us lately.

“Get over it,” he said, “Humanity is counting on you. If you want anyone to survive the tipping point, you have to process them for us. I know the aliens don’t really feel the love like you and I do, but they are giving us our only chance.”

“I miss sleeping,” I said, “I miss dreaming.”

My boss shrugged. “You writing books, still?”

“I am.”

“Well, you think you have time to do that if you’re asleep? You’ve been here long enough to know how gifted we are - how special we are. Nobody else has the opportunities we do. Everyone we process is rebuilt on the other side, and we get extra time in our day because we never have to sleep, and we get these great products to sell to people to help them survive a little longer past the tipping point so we can save even more of them. We’re like angels.”

“I don’t mean to sound negative, sir…”

“I don’t have time for negativity,” he said. “You should take a week off from sales and get your priorities straight. Take it as an opportunity to research the environmental disasters brewing right now, and save a few good girls. You were a true believer, and I know you will be again. You just need to think about your priorities a while.” He glanced down at his watch. “You’d best head to the rest room. I don’t want any blood in my office. Be sure to pick up the new disability packets on your way out.”

I looked at my watch, too, and cursed it. I took off for the restroom as fast as I could. My stomach twisted up and grumbled before I made it all the way down the hall.
We had the processing system down by now. We knew exactly when my expulsion would hit based on how long it’s been since the download.

In the restroom, the diarrhea hurt enough to make me have to bite down in my tie. I bit down on the smaller end because sometimes I got all the way through. When I turned around afterwards I saw chunks of the woman’s bones floating in a rainbow of bodily organs and fluids.

I went to work, after that. I sold insurance. I went to a café after work, with a fancy laptop, so I could write a novel, or a short story, or anything to help me drown out the doubts in my head.

I had seen the aliens rebuild the hicks when I had first processed them.
I was supposed to trust them to rebuild everyone else I sent to them through the wires.

Jack didn’t know that about me, and I never told him, and I never will.

During my week off, I sent one of my books out in the mail. A couple months later, someone bought it. I was still working in insurance and I was still processing women. But, I felt better about it because the aliens made me so I never had to sleep and that meant I had so much time to write and I was doing something I had always wanted to do that was mine and wasn’t part of anyone else’s plans.

I told Jack about the book the next time I saw him.

We forget - we always forget - exactly why people fall apart. We look back and think fondly of the good times and a purple haze descends over the strange tension in the air that had pushed people away from each other like magnetic polarities.

(Money. Alcohol. Bad Music. Slow Cars.)

I ran into Jack McNally again at Black Dog, the same hipster bar, on another day after I had sold a book. Jack came over long enough to hear how I was excited because I had just sold this book I had written. I bought Jack a beer. He asked me what it was about, and I wanted to hit him. I did hit him. I punched him in the gut. I didn’t punch him hard. “That’s what it’s fucking about!” I shouted.

That pissed him off. “Anybody can hit anybody!” he said, “How can that be what your book is about?” He hit me just as I had hit him.

I realized that I hit a lot harder than he did. I wanted to hit him again, and I didn’t really know why.

“I fucking hate post-modernism!” I shouted, drunk, “All that cold rationality! Where’s the fucking heart, the fucking emotion!?” I punched him in the shoulders, the arms, the stomach. I wasn’t hitting hard enough to damage him - just making a point.
He punched back. “I fucking hate post-modernism, too!” he shouted, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to hit anybody!”

We hit each other for a while, me pulling my punches so we didn’t end up in a fist fight, and him hitting about as hard as he actually could and working up a sweat.
Weird thing was, we both wanted to fight each other. I could see it in his eyes, how he hated me and he wanted to hurt me. I wanted to hurt him, too.

Then, we debated whether Rumi was Arabic or Persian. I knew Rumi was Persian, but I wanted to give him something he could hold over my head. He didn’t have anything he could hold over my head except the aliens.

Also, we talked about how much we loved all those post-modern authors. We fucking loved post-modernism.

He smiled and he told me that he hated my guts. I think the smile was a lie. He was just baring his teeth. He hated me because he wanted to write a book. He wanted to be an author. He wanted to be the proverbial guy in a suit with a green apple for a face that was always leaving with the beautiful woman, always paying for drinks with fresh cash and driving a nice car to a nice place far away from parents and shipwrecks and tooth decay.

I asked him what he had been doing with all his time, and he told me he had been working for his ex-wife’s family company before the divorce, then bartending, studying for the M-cats, and taking some biology classes at the university so he could be a neurologist. He had a Philosophy degree and a broken marriage and the cigarettes and the jobs at hipster bars. This was supposed to be the kind of thing he’d do, eventually, but he never had.

I was living all of his broken dreams. He didn’t say that out loud. Instead, Jack introduced me to this blonde girl and this gay guy that everyone had known in high school but me. I couldn’t remember their names, and they couldn’t remember mine. We bar hopped together for a while. We ended up at this place on the edge of downtown because of a jukebox that played “The Payback” by James Brown. When Jack drove us there – he shouldn’t have been driving but he was – the blonde who was sweet on me was trying to find common ground in music. We had nothing in common. Jack didn’t help because he took her side of things and refused to change the subject. The gay guy realized everyone in this car was straight so he kept staring out the window at the men in the street who were probably just homeless bums. Hope springs eternal to the drunken and the horny.

And that blonde, she kept singing along to music I didn’t like, and she kept insisting that I had to like this song. I had to love this band. Jack was saying how I was full of shit and didn’t know shit because I didn’t know shit about this band.
In the last bar, we fed enough quarters into the jukebox to make James Brown sing until mid-afternoon. Those three white hipsters danced and mugged like black soul singers. I watched them do it, a little horrified at it. The rest of the bar ignored us for their own private Casablancas.

I guess I wasn’t drunk enough, yet. We played pool until nobody could remember who was stripes or solids. Then we all drove off into the night in our separate cars as if we all weren’t too drunk to drive.

And all of us alone at the end of the night, and nobody had anybody’s phone number, because we had all ran into each other, fallen together for a while, and then disappeared into the street lights like nothing had happened and no one had really connected to each other and none of us were really friends.

I had to stop at a strip club on the way home, and pay money for the quota. Dirty ones like that, all covered in pastels and powders and glitter make me sick for a week. I have headaches from all the beauty products and illegal drugs. The strippers that do it for money always have kids somewhere waiting for their momma to make enough money to buy them a better nasty apartment, a little closer to the meth dealer’s place.

And my boss hates it when I send through one of those and it gets back to him. I have to tell him that I didn’t know how nasty she was when I met her. Even strippers can put on clean clothes and go to a bookstore. My boss never told me how many warnings I got before they shut me down. I had had a few warnings about not meeting quotas and sending in girls that didn’t belong in human paradise. I had that fear like what salesmen get that gives them a desperate edge if you look at them just right.

I didn’t tell my boss about it, but I blamed Jack at the time, and I wondered why he and I had ever considered ourselves friends.

We forget – we always forget – exactly why people drift away from each other. I told myself that I wasn’t going to hang out with Jack anymore. Something about him, and I didn’t know what, kept humans from coming together. Some people, they carry dissipation on their shoulders like bad weather that never leaves.

I felt like maybe the hurricane came to New Orleans simply because Jack called the place his home at the time. If I sent him to paradise, the place would melt in too much rain just because he was there to spoil everything. So, thinking about Jack McNally, I figured what the aliens were saying about selectivity was probably right.
Still, I thought about processing Jack McNally, to save him from his own miserable life, and give him another chance to start over somewhere new because I felt sorry for the guy and for some reason I had this weird feeling that we were friends once for an hour or two or a few moments in time.

What we do with the people we process is this: we download their DNA, and the three souls. We rebuild them in space, one cell at a time like watching a bloody rice krispy treat melt into a puddle of pink human all dazed and confused and scared shitless about the transformation.

The aliens are doing this because humans are an endangered species down here.

We barreled past the environmental tipping point decades ago. The glaciers will melt. The jungles will die. The dwindling algae in the oceans will drain the world of fresh air. The cities will fall to our own natural disasters. The living things here will die and die for generations. We won’t understand we’re fucking each other after the end of the world until the oceans rise in a flood of melted ice one awful year of rising water to claim all the ardent environmentalists left alive. Anyone left will be in the mountains, and maybe they’ll figure out a way to survive, but they’ll probably be too busy killing each other over the last resources to do what really needs to be done to survive more than a couple generations. People don’t tend to plan cosmically. Then, there won’t be anyone left.

All of us are going to be Jack McNally, soon, shipwrecked and dying and we don’t even comprehend the where or why of it all.

That’s what the aliens had told me up there, in the spaceship.

When I was abducted, I was with these meat science and technology graduate students – a bunch of hicks pursuing PhDs. They showed me around the agricultural facilities in the dark while we were all hammered, and we were tipping cows because they were mad at a professor for canceling their research project.

I felt like an idiot because I was a dean’s list English major and I felt dumber than these drunken hicks throwing science terms around the asses of cows, and every single one of them on the drunken edge of dropping out.

Then, the aliens got us all in a flash of light.

They flushed the alcohol out of us with needles and tubes, and it hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt. They pulled our souls out from our asses – us screaming like we’re dying of pain - and they showed the souls to us on a computer screen. They explained things to us without souls around to muck up our primitive reasoning. Then they gave us our souls back, and that hurt, too. They picked me because the computer said my soul was the best for the mission.

I had my guts opened, and changed. I had my arm bones peeled out and replaced with strange technology. My throat and teeth were rebuilt into something new. They pointed at the hicks, who were strapped down, now, naked and screaming for God to save them from this nightmare.

The aliens never asked my permission. I’m angry about that. But nobody asked the dolphin if it wanted the radio tag pierced into the dorsal fin, and nobody asked the chimpanzee if he wanted to be a cosmonaut and it was the same thing to the aliens.
The hicks were passed out. I was told to start my pre-programmed task. I was horrified, but I had been horrified for quite a while now so this new horror was nothing. I started at the bottom of their feet. I climbed up the top of their knees. I anal probed them with my altered organs before I ate their torsos, to pull out their souls. I devoured them toe to head.

Then, the aliens showed me how to download the DNA and the souls together with my new hand. They even showed me in front of my eyes how people came back to life after I processed them. It looked real, to me, but part of me is never completely certain any of this is real. Afterwards, I watched them be rebuilt before my eyes. They were going to paradise. I was going back down to earth. I was told to expect messages to come back to me when I plugged into the wires. The aliens told me where to find my new boss, and what I’d be doing for a living now, during the day.

That’s how I found my place as an insurance agent. That’s how I know my quotas, and what the aliens tell me about the people I saved, how they’re so happy now. I guess every job comes with inspirational e-mails.

The aliens – and my boss - told me to go find the kind of people who could carry the species bravely into this brand new colony, where the grass is green and the trees are perfect and the future is full of hope like I can’t even imagine because I’ll never go there.

My boss liked to call us merciful angels. He liked to give us rousing speeches about what the alien paradise is like for the people we chose, who consented to go when they consented to sleep with an angel. We’re supposed to fall in love with the people we’re saving. We’re supposed to believe that we’re saving them, and save them because we love them.

The other thing my boss talked to us about during our little meetings was how sometimes we spent too much time in hipster bars, and strip clubs. We had to save some church girls, some college kids, some upstanding citizens. We had to stop saving bar flies. The aliens wanted people with hope in paradise. We didn’t want to doom paradise to the same fate that was happening here by sending them too many losers.
I had been hearing that for five years. I had been looking around the room at new faces, where old faces disappeared.

We said hello to each other in the meetings. We knew each other’s names. We knew each other’s territories. At the end of the workday, I wasn’t the guy looking to grab a drink with a co-worker. I was afraid of them, and of what might happen if people learned the truth about the people I was saving sometimes, too much. I was destroying them because they were like me, or I was saving them because they were like me.

We were not supposed to save the people like Jack McNally – the people like me.

Tooth decay. Alcohol. Gasoline. Hurricanes.

I ran into Jack McNally again, one more time. I sat down next to him on the smoker’s patio in a café in the museum district. He was studying the menu for a restaurant across the shopping complex. He was a bartender there, now, starting soon.

He asked about my clothes.

I had had insurance meetings in the area, and I had figured jogging in the nearby park would be a better use of my time than grinding home in traffic. I had changed out of my suit, and into my running clothes. Since there was still traffic, I was going to get a drink and write for a while. I told him how I once sat down and did the math and even with the occasional pastry indulgence, waiting in a café for an hour or two while traffic dies is cheaper than the gas it costs to drive home in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I had written a book doing this. I had read a hundred books doing this. “Time-management,” I had said.

He lit another cigarette.

I asked him how he was doing.

He pulled his answer out of his cigarette. “Fine,” he said, “Starting microbiology in the fall. Just studying for those M-cats.”

I looked over his shoulder, and he was studying the salads and which ones came with what kind of sauce.

He saw me do that. We looked each other in the eye.

We sat in silence.

Nothing happening for a long time.

The wind picked up. The wind died down. Cars drove like beams of neon light over the highway bridge past the shopping complex.

Then, I said it was great seeing him again, and I’d probably run into him someday soon. We had been running into each other everywhere, after all.

Then, I was typing inside that café, with a beautiful young woman sitting across from me. We were talking about my day job and her schoolwork and all the stupid things that people talk about in cafes. We were talking about religion and neurology as if we knew a damn thing about the afterlife and the chemistry of souls.

Jack came in reeking of cigarette smoke. He stopped a moment to say hello to the beautiful girl I was talking to, like he hoped for an introduction. He patted me on the shoulder like he was proud of me for meeting this beautiful girl. He congratulated me with a smile and a nod and a wink.

She saw him do it, too. Her eyes changed at that.

I wish Jack hadn’t done that. I could smell how clean her skin was from where I sat across from her. I looked in her face and saw no make-up. I saw what women wore make-up to look like. I saw a soul in her eyes that would spill from her spine like drinking water in a desert. I felt hope from her like something so beautiful I could taste it. I wanted to save her, because I was in love with her like I was supposed to be.

Then, Jack McNally showed up.

I wish Jack the best, and I wish him all the luck in the world. I also wish not to run into him again. He saved her life without even knowing it, in his way, and it occurred to me that Jack and I were never friends, and if we were ever friends, we weren’t anymore, and we would never be friends again. Fuck Jack McNally and everyone like him.

He’s probably writing about me in his malformed, soon-to-be-abandoned book right now, shaping my narrative to suit his own glory. I probably did the same with him right now.

That’s because we look backwards and shape our own story. We forget – we always forget – exactly why things fall apart.

Tooth decay. Hipster Bars. Hurricanes.

Lonely death.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

Where is the line between style and affectation? Reading Saunders, all in one chunk, I am at first enjoying a story, then I am seeing patterns. The beat-down man, dehumanized by the system, castrated by the women and men around him, staring down death, or something close to it, becomes an affectation almost immediately after first exposure to his plight, and not a substantial source of insight into humanity.

In any collection of short stories, especially ones by an author whose material trends towards similarity, this is a problem that must be considered before either deciding upon an order, or before the decision to go ahead with a collection happens at all. In this case, I am not convinced these stories work as a cohesive whole. I'm also unconvinced by the mechanics of things inside the story, and the way these mechanics never become more than a tool to beat down one narrator.

In more than one story, the ghost of a young boy, wrongfully or accidentally killed, takes form in the story as a ghost and haunts the narrator. There is no deviation, and no illumination of a larger world for the dead child. At first, the matter-of-fact existence of the ghost child is an interesting way of illuminating the guilt carried by the narrator over the unintentional death. The ghosts of the original family, from the Civil War, and their communications with the narrator are most interesting in that they receive gifts. Mrs. McKinnon accepts a rubik's cube. Her husband accepts playboys and lighters. These ghosts are "real", yet they are also locked into the moment of death. The very same paragraph where Mrs. McKinnon accepts rubik's cubes, she complains that her daughter - also a ghost - needs a quilting bee. Yet, when the wife arrives, she doesn't seem to notice the ghosts at all. When she yells at her husband, the ghost contributes to the noise.

This is, I think, an interesting way of looking at these ghosts: they only seem to exist for the narrator. In these stories of downtrodden males, the initial appearance of a ghost is nifty, as is their pseudo-reality. Then, as the stories continue to unfold, the ghosts seem to merely reinforce the notion that the world is set up against the narrator, with no deviation. The child killed in the swimming pool exists only to torment the narrator.

This is the line between affectation and style: the world elements exist for one purpose. The ghosts only exist to torment the narrator. All these elements in the world exist for the single purpose of grinding the narrator down into either rubble or a blade. One never gets the sense that these other characters could walk away into their own narratives. The woman who torments the 400 pound CEO with a date on a dare does not have the depth of soul necessary to carry a story on her own. Like the ghosts, she exists solely to grind down the narrator. One story like that - satirical - is fine and excellent. A collection of stories like that - where everything in the exists for one purpose - becomes tiresome. The world of Saunders is a narrow lens. I can't help but imagine what would be different if he took on the POV of one of the ghosts for a story, and showed a depth of purpose to an element outside the boundaries of the put-upon male.

Because I go back to that Rubik's cube, and those playboys and lighters that were gifts to ghosts. The rules of ghosts are singular: whatever it takes to torment the narrator. I am, however, curious to hear the point of view of the woman who is cursed to relive her terrible moment of death over and over again, whenever she wanders too near to the place where her husband killed her, holding a rubik's cube in her hand and marvelling at the world that has changed so much since she dropped away from it.

I wish there was only one setting, but a different narrator viewing the same space from multiple POVs, to illuminate a world of sorrow that affects different characters different ways. I wish there was style, not just affectation.

My recommendation? If it's in your library, take a few minutes to read one of the stories when you visit. Then go check out other books. When you return, read another story. When you get to the novella at the end, make a decision for yourself if you want to take the time or not. You've encountered all the themes, and the only new thing is a bit of a shift at the end of the line.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Alien Baby Poo Eggs

I meant to take all sorts of photos while dissecting the alien baby poo eggs. I really did. The thing was, they were just too delicious. Anytime I was anywhere near the fridge, where they must be kept chilled, I was too busy scarfing down these delicious hunks of goo to bother taking a photo. Perhaps it was the fumes, or the endorphines. Perhaps I must build up tolerance to such things before I am ready and able to push my will upon the situation.

Regardless, my girlfriend introduced me to alien baby poo eggs. She brought one in her purse that had - alas - been out of the fridge too long. It was dried up, and hard to chew. When we cracked the brittle outer shell, the poo eggs were all wrinkled up, pressed against the tiny pods where the protoplasmic bones of the baby fetus that pooped all that brown goo.

I did my best, and thought little of the stuff.

I was fortunate to encounter a rare artifact dealer who had a small supply of the alien baby poo eggs. For a fair price, I took home the whole box. I'll miss my left hand, but it was a small price to pay for the rare pleasure of alien baby poo eggs.

I cracked the shells. I peeled back the bloody veins. I ate the alien baby poo raw. Every day, for a week, I filled up on the alien baby poo. Cracked eggshell littered the apartment. Discarded veins twist around each other in the kitchen sink. My fingers on my right hand - the only one left - are permanently stained brown from the resinous poo.

The babies, ripped from their placenta, litter the trash can. I can't look at them. They seem to have eyes. They seem to hate me.

I wish I could stop. I can't stop. Tomorrow, I'm going back to the dealer. I hear he's looking for lucky human feet, a rare commodity on another world. I don't want to know what he does to trade for all these alien baby poo eggs.

Try some.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Granta Books of Something-Something... Or, a whole bunch of stories Richard Ford likes.

I just pounded through the GRANTA BOOK OF THE AMERICAN LONG STORY and the GRANTA BOOK OF THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY. I capitalize them, because they are very official looking books, very heavy, and very much the sort of books whose titles can only be spoken in an "announcer" voice. Reading them both back-to-back was like taking a crash course in American literary fiction. As I'm working on some less-speculative stuff right now, it seemed ideal.

Sometimes anthologies come along that say far more about the editor than they do about any individual piece or idea inside the stories. Almost all the time, in fact. In this case, Richard Ford seems to have pulled together a bunch of stories that he likes. The only thing they seem to have in common, side-by-side, is that they are vageuly American in nature, and Richard Ford likes them.

What I thought was most interesting in the short story anthology was Ford's selection of a short story version of the "Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan. I did not know that there was a short story version of this piece, in any form. I thought it was just a novel that I read in high school, liked quite a lot, and a sappy movie I did not like quite a lot. In short story form, the Joy Luck Club is too much story for its space. It does not have the precision of a well-executed short story, where not a word is wasted and everything that exists in the story is all that should exist of the story.

I wish Richard Ford had excluded this piece, and any other story that had been extended into a full novel.

If a short story is an independent art form, and I think it is, there must be a line where something hasn't just reached the end of a scene, but also the end of an idea. Take, as a comparison, Shirley Jackson's classic "The Lottery", also included - and, one of the classic stories of American letters. The end of Jackson's story is also the end of the idea. There is that mystery as the narrative builds to a head as these small-town folks - decent folks - go through their ritual and the reader does not know what the purpose of the rocks, or of the titular lottery is, and the tension building to a point as the strange ritual plays out ends at the stoning. This story is exactly the length it should be to make the idea come to life. Any longer, and it is very likely that something silly, and corny would result similar to the B-Movie "Wicker Man".

In the short story collection everything is hit or miss, like a shotgun aiming at a chair where the American short story might be sitting. The shot pellets hit all over the wall, maybe hitting bone, maybe not. If the true measure of the American Short Story is actually hit or not cannot be proven. Without a clear definition of what an American short story is - i.e. what makes a story "American" or what makes a story "short" - all we get is Richard Ford showing us a bunch of stories he likes. He intentionally, in his introduction, chose the loosest definition he could for both "American" and "short". What's left are only stories - too long, or too short, or to foreign, or not foreign enough, or too quirky, or not quirky enough.

Just a bunch of stories, like sitting on a subway and trying to eavesdrop every conversation at once. And, I guess that's the best way to do it. Take GRANTA off the title, though, and call it "Richard Ford Likes These Basically American Stories", and for gosh sake make it look less official.



The Long Story one was more interesting, to me. There was undercurrents of class struggles, race relations, and the constant questioning of the transitional nature of our young nation's identity. I think, if only because there are fewer novellas to choose from, there was opportunity for this more-focused anthology.

In Ford's introduction, he talks about the mystery of the elusive novella, and the manner in which such things are probably European. He ignores, completely, the mysterious stuff that happens behind the scenes to make books bound, printed objects that consumers buy. The cost of a publisher printing a 90 page book is about the same as printing a 300 page book, and, ergo, costs the consumer about the same to buy. When faced with a choice between a fifteen dollar book of quality at 300 pages versus a 90 page book of exactly the same cost, most American readers, I suspect, will favor the heavier book, convinced that is of more value than a 90 page book. I wonder if his "European" statement is a tweak to the American trait of seeing volume as value, whereas a European reader - presumably - favors the 90 page book, assuming it to be of higher value per word, as it holds it's own against the 300 page book in the eyes of the editor. I am reminded of my own, personal motto for pastry-cases: the plainest-looking thing is likely the tastiest because it holds its own against the stuff with frosting and sprinkles.
That said, the stories themselves are a grab bag of things that could stand alone, or couldn't. "June Recital" is a beautiful, powerful piece that shows how an outsider is quietly destroyed by a Southern community despite her prominent presence as a piano teacher, even as it reveals the era in which it is written by its tawdry and salacious treatment of African-Americans. This story could easily stand alone. Not so "The Making of an Ashenden", where a twit wanders the world looking for himself only to be seduced by a bear.
Ernest J. Gaines' piece of a decisive moment in a lower-class family's life seems tacked on to a book that is otherwise all about the middle-class' aspirations of grandeur. There are country clubs, piano lessons, The wealthy get their comeuppance, and the upper middle class aspire to wealth. In "Goodbye, Columbus", hard-working Jewish families play tennis in country clubs, and a young librarian seduces their daughter while pondering the rise to wealth the family experienced employing African-American workers as if the employees were the next wave of Jews, living in the same neighborhoods and experiencing similar prejudice as the Jews had experienced in the past. The race relations comes to a head in Joyce Carol Oates' powerful contribution, describing an interracial relationship before such a thing was commonplace.
All this aside, the form of the novella described by Ford in the introduction - European, experimental - seemed to reach a nadir in "The Making of an Ashenden". It is hard to imagine maintaining any sort of engaging narrative with the twit narrator for even a moment longer than present in the story. When the bear arrives, the initial reaction is relief that this fellow is finally about to get eaten. It is equally difficult to conceive of a continuation of the sort of events that end the story - wherein a female bear rapes the narrator for approximately twenty pages in immense, poetic detail, and the narrator likes it. This novella is the perfect example of what a novella could be. On the one hand, it is long enough that the narrator really starts to be annoying and despicable. On the other hand, the moment the absurdist elements take hold of the story to a point of genuine disgust, the novella ends. It is long enough, but not too long.
Now, I wonder how to define novellas, with this in mind. Personally, I'd hate to take a story that made me want to regurgitate as a canon-defining boundary of the novella form. So, instead of thinking of the form as a binary categorical - something is, or is not - I prefer to think of the form as a large pile of books. Large numbers of work seem to clump together at a certain range - experimental, absurdist, continental - but, on the whole, there exists no boundary. War & Peace - as a novella - may be so far away from the clump of titles that seem to define the form as to suggest it could not be a novella, but it still exists among the works that could merit that definition. Thus, with fuzzy boundaries, we can maintain a lively discussion not about what is not a novella - for instance War & Peace - but, instead, about what is a novella - works longer than a novelette, but shorter than a novel. The fuzzy boundaries of novellete and novel, as well, could be maneuvered around via new definitions and evolving publishing practices to include such things as "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams or "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan.
Regardless, the real difficulty of attempting to define an artistic form is the introduction of boundaries inherent in the act of defining. By creating an anthology dedicated to one form - which, as the narrator states, no one has managed to clearly define - the end result is a grab-bag of fictions, some stronger than others, that seem to reflect the editor's taste more than any clearly-defined boundary line of either nationality or form. It was better, and tighter than the prior anthology - and between the two, I'd tell you to take this one home from the library - but it was still evident that this was a bunch of stories Richard Ford likes.

His taste is pretty good, on the whole, and interesting enough to read through once. It felt like refreshing my memory of all those English classes I had to take in college, that were trying to establish a clear sense of American literary identity, and all of them failing - failing - failing...

A living creature cannot be dissected while it is still alive. Rome and Greece and Mesopotamia can be defined, but not yet us. I guess, though, when the day comes for aliens to sift through our bones, these are just the sort of anthologies their scholars will use to talk about us glorious, thoughtful apes, with a mysterious subconscious dream-state chasing us all through our days.

Anyway, here's the link:

Monday, March 8, 2010

peek over my shoulder.

Been working on this kind of stuff, of late. Ways to go, yet. See, this part is weak, and won't make it. It doesn't have the power of the rest, and will need some punch...

[quote]
I walked along the beach, and held my sandals in my hand and the men that worked there, with AK-47s slung over their backs, mostly ignored me. I was still wearing my communion dress. I had just gotten out of the church, eaten the communion lunch. My mother was angry because my father hadn't been there. She had a cellphone that she could call him on. She kept dialing his number, but he wouldn't answer. He sent her a text, and she threw the phone across the room and punched a servant in the face who was too slow getting back the phone.

I ate watermelon. I was not thinking about death or dead men. I was thinking about the world beyond the horizon, and all the marvels that must be out there.

After lunch, I walked along the beach, in my new dress, feeling beautiful.

I saw, at the edge of the water, a floating thing, perhaps a clump of kelp and trash from the mainland – cloth rags and floating plastics – and then I knew I wasn't seeing just trash and kelp. I saw exactly what that was: a man floating among trash, drowned...
[/quote]

Friday, March 5, 2010

"i must have slipped between his teeth..."



The Decemberists performing the Mariner's Revenge Song.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I think I've seen the future of eBooks...

I just saw Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente for sale as a stand-alone iPhone App, and I know my book is out as an individual app, as well.

This looks to be the future of eBooks, with the ubiqiuty possible through eReading devices, the iPad, and etc. Publisher bundle together the book into a downloadable ap, set the price themselves, and let people download it individually.

You own the app. It is yours. You keep it forever.

The only downside is the size constraints of loading a lot of ebooks, with individual software packages for ease of reading into the device. If there was standardized form of file-type on par with a .pdf for these things, and all ereaders and ereader-capable devices could easily download that software for free, even the heftiest of mass market readers could pour their libraries into their pocket at will.

It's the future. I have low expectations for my own kindle apps and BnN apps, in comparison. Seems like paying a middle man for leasing a product I could buy and own at the same price directly from the creators - the publishers.

The future is a marvelous place. They have excellent healthcare, and tasty, sodium-free crackers, and all sorts of nifty devicery.

Monday, March 1, 2010

After "Post-Singular"

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Rudy Rucker at World Fantasy Convention, and had an opportunity to ask him about part of the book that had me confused, from a scientific perspective.

During the book, characters travel between dimensions, and encounter a barrier described as an ocean-like substance that is not to be crossed - the Planck barrier - below which, according to Dr Rucker, no life should be in existence. However, I did not know that until I had the opportunity to stop Dr Rucker in person and ask. In the book, there is life below the Planck Barrier, in these so-called "sub-dimensions", and people can travel down into those sub-dimensional universes. When I read the book, I did not know this.

As a hard scientist, Dr Rucker has an impressive resume in mathematics. He teaches mathematics at the University of California, in Berkeley. I read his book, about fictionalized speculations into the fabled singularity. I do not have any knowledge whatsoever of the mathematics involved in the singularity. I know only that Rudy Rucker is a very smart person, who has an understanding of reality that would make my brain ooze out of my ears if I attempted to try and keep up with his scientific knowledge. Thus, when I read the section of the novel where the inter-dimensional travel mentioned an ocean of the Planck barrier, and then a character went below into a sub-dimension, I assumed that such a thing was perfectly normal, rational, and possible. To me, it was no stranger than a dimension where everyone is bigger and slower than we are due to the math of existing at that turning of the quantum reality.

This sub-dimensional level, as a reader, is accepted as a kind of truth. Though I knew that there probably weren't hallucination-inspiring monsters present, when I read the book, I also assumed that such a place must exist in some form, if it were truly present in a story by such a well-respected mathematician.

And, as Dr Rucker explained to me, I was wrong. In fact, nothing at all exists below the Planck Barrier. Below that ocean between dimensions, nothing is possible. In the fictionalized version of the science, monstrous creatures rise up from their ominous oceanic boundary and hunt the interdimensional travelers like monsters from a B-Movie.

This posits an interesting dilemma for the science fictionist. An audience like the readership of Analog can possibly be assumed to have some intermediate science knowledge. But, at what point does the science fictionist need to reveal the veil of fiction over the science? Was there any point in the fiction where Dr. Rucker could have revealed his hand towards the fact that current science does not support the notion of a sub-dimension populated by hallucination-inspiring predators? Where does the science end and the fiction begin, and, more importantly, how is the audience to know the difference?

I didn't ask this question of Dr. Rucker, because I suspect he can't answer it, either. I don't think it's a question that has an answer that can be applied across the board as a sort of truism. I suspect the answer is wholly dependent on the audience in question. For me, and for my audience, I must assume that we know nothing, and we are easily fooled. Also, I must assume that the world of science will survive any falsities I slip into the subconscious.