Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Who Wins the Hope Tax

With the record bajillion dollar victory for some lucky person somewhere in New Jersey, there are a record bajillion tickets tossed on the floor with a shrug. How many people, who hope for a better life for themselves and their families played the lottery compared to how many people won it.

Lotteries tax community hope. They strike the poor the hardest. Even for the rich, that two dollars for a ticket once a week comes to 104 dollars a year, and would be better spent in an investment vehicle, like a stock or a bond, that goes directly towards innovation, community-building, and the seeking of a real return on investment.

For the person like me, who lives on very little (thankfully we need very little), two dollars a week is actual grocery money in our budget. It's a little extra in repayment of loans. It's a little extra saved towards the future of children who do not yet exist.

Lotteries would work better to build communities, in my opinion, if 3/4 of the ticket went into your social security account. Even them, it would be sort of a nightmare of identity theft and fraud, right, if that was implemented on a grand scale?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The smart people of the science stuff were less focused on terraforming Mars. They said we should seed Venus with genetically-modified bacteria to convert the atmosphere over into something more conducive to life than methane death trap.

No one has gotten down below the clouds to the ground surface. There was concept art once of floating, living things, like predatory blimps. It's hard to picture, now, how any life could flourish like that, because it seems large animals require small animals require smaller animals. Escher used to get these big lenses so he could draw tiny, tiny details of his algorithmic art, down beyond where they eye can see. It mattered to him to go deep like that. Go deep, then, beyond the blimps, and seek out the greasy sheen of semi-organic algae-like goo that clumps into tiny clouds and falls, only to rise up again when enough of the clumped proto-algae burns off approaching the toxic surface. This feeds the swooping and hovering pustules that feed and ooze, with no eyes or ears or sense of space. The pustules drop their waste matter down into the burning sands. From the stench, the herds of pustules are deduced by larger creatures that parasitically live on the back of the floating blimps. The blimps are predatory, and would eat the birds upon their backs, but they only have their scythes and jagged hooks on the bottom of the blimp. The bird-like things are on their billowing backs.

Look closer, at the bacteria that shimmers over everything. Below that, the rock dust and minerals and gases that warp into a slurry of life.

When we do send our terraforming rockets out upon the clouds to burn them all away and convert into something habitable, we'll see their fallen husks, their rotting heaps, and a forest of bones and tissues gone dry in the wind. The robots will stand upon the ground, and the people after them, and they will wonder at the disastrous extinction of a whole world hidden just below the clouds.

Of course, it doesn't matter. We terraform wherever we are, and cause death and life, reshaping our world to suit our comfort. What matter is it to flood a valley to make a reservoir, or to burn away a whole world in the heavens with genetically-modified bacteria? There is no difference but scale. Every step we take upon the grassy plain crushes bugs, compacts the soil, and twists the blades of grass. We cannot be sky clad men and women, standing still, with masks before our faces to prevent the inhalation of insects and not do harm. Life requires the suffering of the small for the larger.

The smaller will have their turn upon our bones, soon enough.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Who Has the Biggest Straw

I was reading up on the drought here in Texas, because the garden demands water, and I don't know how much we'll be able to buy come summer time. A rain barrel is a must, but we don't have one, yet, and what good will it do without rain?

Herodotus speaks of the Nile River Valley, how it floods but it never rains. (I've been writing science fiction, lately, so I'm trying to read the oldest things I can find, to touch upon the things that last.) The Nile reminded me of this town. Texas is rivers and plateaus and more rivers. There is only one natural lake in Texas, on the border with Arkansas, and it's an oxbow lake. I tell that to people all the time and they don't believe me. Caddo Lake is the only one. (Sabine is arguable, but it is claimed as much by Louisiana as by Texas, and generally gets lumped one way or the other depending on which state is writing about it. Also, it is occasionally considered a bay and not a lake, because it is a port right on the gulf, and on the border. I look at a map, and it looks to be more in Louisiana than in Texas, and it is a bay that I think they call a lake to sell lakefront property. I digress...)

In Texas water rights get written about because water rights matter. We are a pro-business state. We are a pro-wealth state. If you buy land, you can build a lake on it. You can dry out the whole county to stock your recreational lake.

We're reservoir country, now. I can't help but look at a map and think that I'm seeing a slow, scattered Aswan Dam, damming up the flow of the rivers a little bit at a time until so little is left.

Behind our house, there is supposed to be water. There is supposed to be a creek that's been bone dry for ten years. It is such a little creek, and there are no snakes or mosquitoes in it, so I guess that's good. But, snakes and mosquitoes have such tiny straws. How can they stand against the men and women who would build up a reservoir for the sake of a scenic vista, and fishing now and then, and maybe a jet ski in the summer if the grandkids are around?

Life begins at the bottom. Preserving the bottom matters. Being wealthy ought to mean having the most opportunity to be a good steward of the land you hold, instead of someone who says that anyone can do anything if they spend enough money to get it. There's nature, and there's the cost of changing nature.We are terraforming our own deluge.

Stand on your balcony, and gaze out upon the water that will not be in a farmer's fields, and will not be swelling the creeks and rivers of the cities downstream. Apres moi, le deluge.

Friday, March 22, 2013

the squeaky wheel, and all that...

This morning, I woke up to the excellent discovery that my issue with Amazon search is fixed. The correct edition is pulling up first in search. This is good news for me.

But, before ringing the bells and calling this issue done, I clicked around to some other titles, and discovered that only mine was resolved. No other titles seem to be fixed, by other authors.

New Editions of texts should appear first in search. The latest edition should be the first. It doesn't matter whether both issues are out of print, or if one was published a month ago, and the second published a month after. There are lots of reasons why new editions happen, and these are all good reasons why the newest edition should be given primacy in search placement at the largest bookstore in the world.

I am very grateful that my issue is resolved, and a huge thanks goes out to SFSignal, Jaym Gates, and Lee Martindale, as well as the folks who commented and agreed to write to Amazon about this issue.

Scholars amongst you, as well as web-savvy folks, can probably quickly grasp why new editions should appear first in search, and be given prime placement. Once there, clicking through to remaindered or older editions is a fine and dandy thing, and is not to be discouraged at all. No one has any problem that used or remaindered books are being sold at a discount. They should not, however, be first in search.

Keep making noise?

I know this is hardly an injustice on par with the terrible disappearance of GLBT books that happened a while back, but it's something that matters. It impacts scholars, readers, authors, and publishers. It's a very quiet sort of disappearing act, that impacts the way books are read and what books succeed in their reprinting.

No Ganja

When I was at the gas station putting air in my wife's tires, some teenager came up and asked me if I knew where he could buy some ganja. He waited around even after I brushed him off, as if I was going to tell him where. I was in my gym clothes, coming from the local YMCA. I was sweaty, a little bit, with messy hair that's getting a little long-ish, and a beard. I guess I looked the part?

I said, "No."

The kid stuck around, convinced I was the guy to introduce him to a dealer. I repeated myself.


I do not care for ganja. Some people do, and good for them if they are in one of the states where it is currently legal. I do not care for it. I tried it once in high school, and thought it was dumb and a waste of time. I preferred recreational activities that had more a sense of accomplishment than sitting on a couch watching cartoons. I am pro-legalization, but this has nothing to do with my desire to use the silly thing. I don't think we should ban tobacco, either, and I wouldn't touch the stuff to flush it down the drain.

I long ago figured out that I don't need a drug to have the munchies. I have the munchies right now, and almost 24/7. I do not need a drug to sit on my couch for hours. Again, I have that covered. I do not need a drug to laugh at dumb things, or obsess over weird things. I do both of those naturally, quite successfully. As I am currently not experiencing nausea for any medical reason, nor am I suffering from depression, I also do not need medical usage of marijuana. Basically, all the symptoms this drug helps with and creates are things I do not need added into my life.

But, kids apparently think I'm the guy to go to for their ganja hookup? I'm not even the guy to get them a jumper-cable hookup. I'm not even the guy to tell them where the bus stop are, because I don't know where the bus stops are. If you were lost, I probably couldn't give you directions.

Nothing makes me want to get a haircut and a beard trim and ironed clothes more than a teen coming up to me searching out a ganja dealer.

Don't do drugs. Stay in school. Do things that are fun when your head is clear, because they require you to think and move and stuff. Save the drugs of leisurely afternoons for when you've accomplished great things, or you are dealing with a serious medical condition that is aided by the drug.

I need a haircut. And clean clothes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

All Publishing is Web Publishing

Some people buy print-outs in artifact form, because they don't want to run it through their own printers, or because they like how pretty they are in their hands. (I like how pretty they are, in my hands!) My issue (see yesterday's post) is still unresolved, but it is a reminder that in the modern publishing world, everything is web publishing, already. Even people who go to the library use computer catalogs to search for their hardbacks, and the metadata better be solid in those web-based databases to aid their search. Access to the web is critical to everyone working and consuming books. Web publishing is what we all have, right now. Magazines are on-line. Reviewers are on-line. Readers are on-line, and sharing what they love with others over on-line communication tools. Books are bought and sold primarily on-line. The growing tide of format that is the eBook has already become a primary format for the book. It's probably not the last shift in the water of text-delivery-systems.

And Search? Google and Yahoo and whatnot argued effectively, once-upon-a-time, that search was absolutely critical, and worth paying money to get good placement, worth paying money to google and worth hiring SEO experts to get right and maintain as the algorithms and search spiders update.

If the largest bookstore in the world fudges with their search algorithms, hiding titles about transgender, gay, lesbian issues, it becomes a dogpile of bad publicity on the web. If they fudge their search to favor their Kindle Select Program titles, the things exclusive to them, it changes what authors and publishers do a little bit, and some abandon other avenues of sales outright. Because search matters.

Australia With Enough Space and Time...

Australia's model of social establishment failed in one key aspect: There were already people on Australia who quite resented being pushed aside for a bunch of white usurpers and their rabbits and wild dogs. But, space is larger than Australia. Send the criminals into space. Place them in colonization capsules, with the Garden of Eden Creation Kits installed, and no way of coming home. Shoot them out into the stars towards habitable planets in cryogenic sleep, with no way of knowing how to get home. In two hundred years, three hundred, seventeen-thousand years, these ragged, outcast, throwaway men and women will stand on the naked rock of a new world, and carve their own society out from mineral and starlight. 

People did this once, and they'll do it again. Send them all to Australia. Make them work in Australia. Let them find their fortunes far from this civilized place.

The grand social experiment of modern justice requires that bad people must go away. Get those criminals. Get them locked up. Remove them from society like bad seeds.

Be tough on crime. Send our neighbors' sons and daughters to the stars with no way back. Let them carve their Australia out there, and if they're smart they'll figure out what we were trying to teach them all along about civil society. 

At least it's better than a lethal injection, or expensive life imprisonment, and it's just as effective for us on the ground. Why bother curing the criminally-insane, when we can just send them off to fend for themselves somewhere beyond far, far away?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I have a Serious Problem with this listing, and I don't know who to contact


Look at it. Do you notice anything that might be strange or odd?

I'll give you a minute. Go look again. Do you see it, yet?

Right, I know it isn't obvious, but Jason over at Apex Books pointed this out to me, and I don't know who to contact to address this concern.

You see, when you search for LAST DRAGON at Amazon, what turns up in search, as the default, is the used, out of print edition. The newer paperback, complete with new art and everything by my amazingly talented then-girlfriend, now-wife, is trundled away as if it doesn't exist. The used stock is superseding the new edition.

I have nothing against people buying used books. That's silly. What I mind is that most people aren't even given the awareness of the latest edition, unless they choose to click on what looks like the most expensive edition in the drop down menu, and who would do that?

When you search for a book, the latest edition of the book, that is still in print, should come first, right? That should be the primary one that pops up first. Used books should be the second choice. We are talking about used books, here, with the discount edition. I don't mind that these are being sold, and I encourage everyone to pick up a used copy if they want one. But, I do mind that these "bargain price" books are being sold as if they are new, and given primacy over the new editions. Do people realize they're buying used, OOP editions? It doesn't look like they are, on the page. On the page, it looks like you're getting a brand new edition of the novel really cheap. When, in fact, you're getting a used, OOP edition, that is cheaper because it is used. (Also, it is hurting sales of the new edition and is impacting Jason and me directly that this is what's going on!)

Who do we (Jason Sizemore of Apex and I) contact at Amazon to rectify the situation, here?

Monday, March 18, 2013

busy working

Weekend guests came through, and we patched a hole in the drywall in the garage, repaired the deck where the 40-mile-per-hour winds tore through.

Everything is budding, now. One of the peach-trees has burst open into gorgeous purple, pink, violet, white flowers. The Asian pear tree is pushing out new limbs. The Moro Blood Orange Tree has new growth hidden in the evergreen. The Muscadines, Grapes, and Kiwi vines are growing green, climbing up to the sky from their trellises. The pomegranate tree, so young and small, has red-green leaves pushing out. The pumpkin is in wide bloom.

Everything grows, now.

I pulled watermelon radishes from the garden. the Black Spanish Radishes are bolting, and I say, let them flower and reseed.

Write more. Go out into leaf bud and bloom and push through it all. A novel in a season, if you can. New work every harvest, with the seeds of next year's harvest inside of them.

Be a good perrenial writer fruit tree. Be a good squash vine. Be a good tomato plant.


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Pope

There's this joke I picked up in junior high school that goes a little something like this.

The first time the pope came to America - this is John Paul II we're talking about, the travelling man - this huge limousine pulled up for him at the airport. He was from a Communist country and had never seen such an amazing vehicle before. He asked the driver, (slip into your best Polish accent, here) "Hey, this is an amazing American automobile that I have only dreamed of in my country of communism, poverty, and despair. Please, may I drive? I would like to try the vehicle myself!"

The driver won't say no to the pope, naturally. He hops in back. The pope gets in front, and puts his pope hat beside him. The pope hits the road.

Of course, when Jesus really is your co-pilot, you hit that accelerator hard. I mean, come, the pope is from Europe. In Europe, speed limits signs are more ornamental than practical. They look really nice, but no one really follows them.

Covering that much ground, that quickly, he was bound to encounter a cop that pulled him over.

The pope complied. He rolled down the window and smiled as the cop came up to him.

The cop was taken aback to discover that the Pope was driving the limousine.

"Oh, hey, you're the pope!"
"Yes. Is there a problem?"
"No... No, no problem. Just wanted to make sure you're all right. You know, you were going pretty quick there. Just wanted to make sure you're okay."
"Oh, yes. Thank you,officer. Everything is fine. How are you doing?"
"Great, yeah, just great, yeah. Yeah. Wow, you're the pope. Okay, so, yeah..."
So, the pope blesses the cop, and takes off again, zooming into the horizon like a bat out of heaven.

The cop goes back to the car, a little dazed. His partner says "Dude, that guy was breaking 120. We should have arrested him. Who was in that limo?"

"I don't know who it was, but the Pope was his driver."


I have mixed feelings about the new pope. I think it's great that he's from South America, truly. I also think there's this weird sort of clash of religious expectations between the third and first world. In lots of places, homosexuality is still a shameful, sinful thing, and lots of those places are the third world. In the first world, we openly embrace our friends and neighbors and family-members, and an overwhelming majority of us - including us Catholics - favor gay marriage as a natural, normal thing for people to have.

The morals of the first world do not line up with the morals of the first. The Catholic Church is supposed to be this beacon of hope, spreading Christ-like love across the whole of humanity. Sometimes, it doesn't look like love, at all. Sometimes, it just looks like medievalism that won't let go.

Oh, well. See you in service on Sunday, Mr. Pope Frances. I hope you surprise everyone by permitting women to be full members of the priesthood, and permitting priests to lead a married life in some fashion. I mean, Vatican II was a shock coming as it did from a staunch, old, conservative Italian man, near the end of his life. He just came out of nowhere to change everything. Sweeping change is a good thing. Clear out the old pre-Medieval garbage. Christ, in life, was as open and democratic with women as he was with men. It's just remembered differently than the evidence present in the text because it is colored by cultures that did not see women as fully human in quite the same way as men. Interpretation, I guess.

This is probably related to how I'm not a pope.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Waste Land

We just watched this documentary on hulu:

I recommend it highly, for a look at what art is capable of doing to people's lives. There's a transformation that takes place. There's a wondrous thing that can happen when artists try to do good, to be good, and always strive to be better.

Waste Land is worth a watch, and remember that 99 is not 100. Every little bit helps.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Santa Anna Winds Blow

Lots more rough dreams as the Santa Anna winds blow through, and I feel the anxiety that comes from all the not-knowing and waiting and waiting and not-knowing.

Winter ends with a powerful gusting push in March, 30-40 mph winds, and power outages all over town. Winter ends the way souls are supposed to leave the bodies of yetis. I've been up on the roof, tying down this and that, and hammering as needed, in the brief bouts when the winds die down a while.

Every gust will die back. There's a push that comes when you're releasing something into the wild. That push when the things you do leave you then a mighty gust, and then a whimper at the end to take a breath.

When things are blowing out into the world, it feels like surrendering. It feels like letting go, and being done with everything. It feels like the times of change that come when the long, hard winter breaks. No more huddling at the glass wall between self and art. No more curled up in a corner cold and late at night. The wind breaks loose. It rattles the eaves, and shakes out the porch.

Take a deep breath. Let the words go. Let them tear the eaves off the roof.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Last Night at S.A.W.G.

I had a great time speaking at the San Antonio Writer's Guild last night. It was in an older church building, a congregationalist room. I felt quite like an art preacher standing at the pulpit and encouraging the people there to experiment, go beyond the basics of form, and ignore a lot of the stuff that's fed to us from screenwriting gurus and plot-masters. My wife won't watch her favorite shows with me because they're too predictable to me, and I can see them coming. Read a few screenwriting books, and you'll see the machinery, too. I talked about mosaic texts as an entry point into more experimental plot structures. I've written about that here, too. Here are some of the books I talked about last night:

So, if you're interested in the mosaic text as a form, these are a few great ways of pursuing the form. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

These Dreams of Eugenicide

I had a dream last night. I was a schoolkid again, and riding the bus again. The bus driver was a gifted and talented program director, and a staunch advocate of tiered structures, where the best and brightest as judged by them move on to better programs, and leave the rest behind.

We were driven in the bus into a garage. The children that the bus driver thought were worthy were let go from the bus. We left the garage and started wandering around the fields there, looking for our rides home and wondering what was going on. No one explained what was happening. It was just a normal day and a normal bus ride. The kids thought we were all just waiting for the rides to come for the kids that were let out, and the bus couldn't leave until the rides came. The garage was closed. Past the windows I looked in at the bus, and saw them all, oblivious, with the bus driver staring blankly ahead like nothing was happening inside the garage, with the engine running. Outside in the yard, none of the other kids got it either, just me.
Then, I woke up.

A dream by itself is just flotsam and jetsam. A radio program, plus a television show, plus scenes from my memory, plus the random firings of a brain on shutdown, reload, diagnostic mode.

Apparently this is what I dream about when I dream about school. My subconscious sees some kids, chosen almost at random by an educator who is so confident in their choice that they will stay with the rest of the children in the garage, keeping them calm, and running the engine. My subconscious views the horror from the outside, as one of the lucky few to be chosen for escape.

Dreams don't really have much of a genre narrative. They are a raw, unfiltered, unedited, and indigestible wad of narrative that pushes upon you at your most vulnerable and least-able to change the channel. Lay down at night and choke on these imageries, and the only ones you'll really remember in the morning are the nightmares.

It is an argument for writing horror and unsettling things, that when dreams are memorable, it is because they are a nightmare. When dreams are pleasant, they drift into the ether as forgotten as the seventeenth day of summer in 1983.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Modern Library and Free eBooks and copyright

Looking for a grand project to jump start my reading habits with a jolt of something new and different, I hit upon the classic idea of one of those "best novels" lists. I figure I won't actually read the whole thing, but at least I could try new things, classic things, and read a lot more of things I wouldn't normally find. I struck upon the Modern Library's Best 100 Novels, and Reader's Poll 100.

The surprising thing, though, was how very many of these books are available for free, simply because the copyright has expired. If culture means anything, it means that there's a shared experience or expectation about our lives that needs to be communicated somehow, down to the rest of the culture. If culture means anything, it means that there's a history of things going backwards and forwards and holding these ideas for others to carry.

I stopped on this idea of what to read if only because it seemed like the easiest way to jolt out of a malaise of browsing the same library shelves too long, and reading the same review websites and twittering authors. I wanted a blast from outside of that zone. There are many ways I could have done this. But, I stopped one step outside, at the Best 100 list, because when I hopped over to Amazon, so much of them were free for my Kindle.

Even the ones that weren't were so plentiful as to be cheap used. If anything, the popularity and lasting quality of the books in question means that the bar for entry gets very low. By printing so much of them, the used book market is full of them, and the culture barrier for entry drops.

The more culturally important something is, over time, the easier it is to access it. This is a statement that seems obvious, but it isn't obvious. The bar for entry on new media is comparatively high. That premium is presumably to protect the creator's right to profit from their work. But, the marketing of that high-bar stuff is that it is culturally important. Yet, often the opposite is true, for most of these high-bar things fade into the flood of words, never even rising up for their month or year to the top of the radar of culture, much less past it's time. It is culturally-important to protect the copyright and the creator's rights, I guess. But, culture has its own form of protection, doesn't it? Relevant things stay relevant. Creating relevant things means culture will take it and make it cheaper somehow.

Or something.

Anyway, back to reading.

Friday, March 1, 2013

is is, exist exist, to be to be

The purpose of existence is a tautology. Existence is the point of existence. Just saying "Existence is..." is like grammatically saying "Exist exists".

Would you worry a tautology like a rotten tooth? Would you scratch at it like a bad rash?

I don't know why people worry about redefining tautologies as if there is some reason to worry about making tautologies not tautologies. Faith is a fine invention when people can see, and all. Microscopes are nice. Science is your friend. This is all an ouroboros with an amazing complexity of the links of the chain. People are the most important part of science, for it's useless to experiment when no one else can recreate the results in a second laboratory.

Write papers. Publish them. Communicate.