Neal Stephenson, Seveneves, and envy

Neal StephensonI didn’t get to ask the question I wanted to. A question I’ve wanted to ask him for years. Alas.

Continuing the amazing roll of meeting favorite authors since moving to Portland, tonight I saw Neal Stephenson at Powell’s for the release, on this day, of his new novel, Seveneves. He read a portion (very witty), and he spoke a bit about the inspiration of the novel,being 10 years in the making. He explained that part of what took so long is that in order to make a convincing “ark” story, you needed to have an apocalyptic event that’s urgent and soon enough that there’s no time to solve the cause of the doom, but not so impending that there’s no time to build a humanity-rescuing ark ship. And, a doom that’s absolutely certain and not deniable by some, “like… climate change.” *grin*

He took questions, and fortunately, no one in this store full of geeks and nerds, did anyone feel that now that they had a microphone, they needed to soliloquize for 10 minutes before, maybe, getting to a question. Everyone was succinct and interesting.

Yet, time ran out before I could ask mine.

So, here it is, and if anyone knows Neal Stephenson, maybe you can pass it along: “This is going back a bit, so my apologies if it’s a tired question, but, Cryptonomicon appears to be set in our, ordinary world. And yet, there’s clues* that it’s not quite the world we live in. How would you describe the world in which the story of Cryptonomicon is set?”

Like I do for Cory Doctorow as well, I harbor a great deal of envy for Neal Stephenson’s speaking ability. While Cory speaks fast and clipped, and Neal speaks in a measured and easy pace, both are so incredibly eloquent, well-spoken, clever, funny, and without an instant of affectation (“uhm,” “uh”) or stutter or hesitation. I so wish I had such presence and extemporaneous speaking skill. *sad pout*

As for my fandom of Neal, it started when I read Cryptonomicon back around when it first came out, around 2002. I knew of his most famous (post?)cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash, but had never gotten around to reading it until after I got past the mindnumbing haze of finishing the other brilliant and odd and educational and fascinating novel. Snow Crash is a bit weird, irreverent, quirky, and creates a near-future world that’s essentially a libertarian paradise — with all the problems that presents. Quicksilver soon followed, although I never picked up the sequels. I started reading the challenging and maybe too-clever? Anathem, but it’s a tough read, even for someone like me who loves when people play with language and linguistic development. It’s actually sitting on my desk right now; I do intend to finish it.

11262451_485174241632825_8738845372095469386_nNow, I’m going to dive right into Seveneves while the flame is burning bright!

*clues: Everyone at all times in the novel refers to Japan as Nippon, regardless of ethnicity or language, not just the native Japanese speakers. He created a British country off of England that spoke a consonant-heavy language that could have been Wales, or Isle of Man, but his own creation instead. Why, in an otherwise perfectly normal our world, would he do these things, unless he wanted a world that was only a couple degrees off? To what purpose?

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A little love for Michel Gondry

While looking for some music in my library to listen to, I was reminded about the similarities between Chemical Brothers’ songs “Let Forever Be” and “Setting Sun” with The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (seriously, check them out!) and I was reminded of the video for “Let Forever Be.”

A really fun, wild, unsettling video, and when it first came out is when I first became aware of the director Michel Gondry. Then found out he made the video for Daft Punk’s “Around the World.”

And then, when I saw the video for Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” I just knew that also had to be his, and it was:

No matter how many times I watch that video, it still makes me cry.

(And later discovered he made some of my favorite White Stripes videos.)

Michel Gondry is among my favorite directors, using surrealism and what I call “creative reality,” to make images that are at once fanciful but oddly disturbing. The roughness to them, the apparent slap-dash and playful imperfections mixed with repetitiveness visual loops and improper geometry and proportions, invoke a dreamlike quality that, like surrealism is meant to do, bypasses the consciousness and ego and communicates right with the subconscious, id (and perhaps our sense/memory of Lacan’s “the Real”).

I knew he had directed the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” when I went to see it, so I was excited to experience it (despite Jim Carrey). And, of course, that film was perfect for Gondry, and it is still one of my favorite films (despite not having watched it again in far too long).

He was supposed to direct a film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, my favorite of PKD’s work. If anything would be perfect for Gondry, it should be a film about the dreamlike deterioration of reality with uncertainty and discomfort with what is real, what is illusion. Sadly, something happened and it’s no longer to be.

Just wanted to share these thoughts. Maybe next I’ll discuss one of my other favorite directors, Spike Jonze! (Interesting… so many of my favorite directors, who work with striking and emotionally affecting imagery, like these two, and David Fincher, come from the world of music video directing.)

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Making decisions

Continuing on from my previous post “Thoughts on CthulhuCon PDX, and getting going!,” I’ve been thinking a lot since that massive hit of self- and independent-published writing and game inspiration.

I don’t know how you’re reading this, Dear Visitor, whether it’s soon after its posting on a blog by a lazy writer, or maybe a year from now on the ancillary blog by the head of Tragic Sans Press — but the latter is what I’d always intended this blog to be at its inception. I have wanted very much so to start up my publishing imprint and get it going, but I have been easily distracted. First the move to Portland, then I have for a while been toying with returning to my scholarly pursuits (continuing my research on Philip K. Dick by finishing my comprehensive annotated bibliography and literary analysis, beginning my career as the foremost Steven Brust scholar….)

Sadly, like Nancy Kress, I’m not someone who can operate on little sleep, which cuts down my available time and energy per day even more. And I don’t do coke, so I have a hard time doing more than half a thing half of the time. I’ll be honest, I’m a touch lazy and did I mention easily distracted? So I can’t do it all; I have to make decisions on where to put my time and energy.

As much as I love my scholarship, and I so very much want to publish in peer-reviewed journals, and get a jump start on my eventual PhD, right now the thing that will give me the most satisfaction, the most enjoyment, is to focus on writing fiction and getting Tragic Sans Press going.

Now, exactly what form will Tragic Sans be? Will it focus on putting out a literary journal? If so, what will be the theme? Will it focus on publishing other peoples’ novels and non-fiction full-length works? For pay, even? These are things I’ve been thinking about and need to come to conclusions, soon.

I’ve also been thinking about re-trying to contact the agents that I found a few years ago, and a prominent writer suggested to me, to see about eschewing self-publishing and going traditional. That would be cool… but fun?

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Thoughts on CthulhuCon PDX, and getting going!

cthulhucon_poster_600Last weekend I attended the Portland CthulhuCon. It was a gathering of a few hundred fans of Lovecraft and related media for two days, featuring amazing and fascinating panels, art displays and competitions, readings, games, vendors…. It was amazing!

I myself am a moderate Lovecraft fan. I probably know more about the man and his work than I do of the stories themselves. I mean, sure, I’ve read his most popular stories and I’m familiar with his mythos, but I’m by no means hardcore. Even so, I held my own in a Lovecraftian Pictionary game!

The panels were simply fantastic! They really were quality, intellectual panels with some very prominent Lovecraft scholars and artists and writers, the quality of discussions I’d have seen a the ICFA. Cthulhu vs Dracula, compare and contrasting Lovecraft’s writing and style, and place in literary history, with that of Bram Stoker. One on Lovecraft’s life and internal demons and how that may have affected his writing. An analysis of the Lovecraft mythos and writing in mythos (his and in general). And more! I took so many notes.

One of the best parts was a performance by Leeman Kessler of “Ask Lovecraft.” He does a very funny, and honoring, not satirical, impersonation of a reanimated Lovecraft answering any and all questions from the audience, from the serious to the goofy — and every improvised response of his was great and humorous.

One of the highlights was definitely “Scotch with Scott.”

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What a crazy happenstance at a SF book club

Attended the SF Book Club that meets monthly at Powell’s book store in Beaverton, OR, for the first time. The book for discussion was Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I liked it well enough when I read it the first time years ago, if a little disappointed in it. Liked it a lot better this time around. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. a lot of people, but the moderator did a great job being fair and pulling out discussion. Didn’t feel like we really got into any deep discussion, however. Seemed very brief and superficial.

Anyway, doing Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora next. That one I’d not read before, but I sure have wanted to. Especially after the Sword and Laser featured it.

Oh, the wild happenstance? Lauded fantasy author Terry Brooks just happened to stop by and say hi to the group! How wild is that? Portland, I love you! And thankfully, he cleared up and confirmed it’s pronounced SHA-nar-uh, not shuh-NAR-ruh. :)

(Honestly, I’ve not read much Brooks. I thought Sword of Shannara was embarrassingly horrible, but Elfstones and Wishsong were much better. I’d stopped reading him after that. But, there’s no denying his popularity and acclaim.)

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Best week evar!

So, I may have mentioned that I’m in Portland and loving it. There’s been so much to report and talk about, and I’ll have to parse it out over the next few days as I post more (promise!), but for this one, I want to report on the best week ever!

Where to begin….

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Privilege

For reasons, I’m linking these pages here. If you want to read them, please be my guest! But I’m just going to set them here and go.

Later.

In Which Cracked.com Does a Follow-up On “Straight White Male”

Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide

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My future plans for study and growth

scholarHaving just moved to Portland from the midwest, it’s obvious I’m looking to start a new life. Well, a new chapter. I like my life, and most of what’s in it, so I don’t want a new one. Just, improved. Full disclosure, a large part of the “deal” with moving here is so that my wife can find her own new life. I won’t go into detail as that’s her story to tell. But, suffice it to say, much of my role, at least initially here, is to support her in her search and discovery. And I’m happy to do so! But, while I’m looking for that elusive and decent-paying tech job, I do have some of my own goals — some I’m already working on. . . .

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on the sequel to Singularity Deferred. And, just moments ago, I finished two intense chapters of it and feel really good about where it’s going. I’m making a decision about its structure that fans of the first novel may find annoying, or really like — we’ll see. Anyway, that’s my main personal goal right now. But, ennui, dissatisfaction, the draw and tease of scholarly subjects, many influences have made me pine for grad school. I miss it. I miss the research, the studying, the reading, the papers, the learning and developing and widening and understanding of things…. I miss it something terrible.

Of course there’s no reason to stop learning and developing! Of course. But since graduating with my Masters, it’s felt like a demarcation, a transition from “scholar” back to working drone, and the old habits and floundering. (Although, like I said, I’m somewhat pleased that I’ve been writing semi-regularly, still!)

Today, it hit me hard. I was reminded of my work in mediated experience in a postmodern world, and the writers I used to research and use, and discovered new books by them… and I felt the need, the absolute need, to continue to study them, model them, and carry on my own scholarship and add to the discourse.

Part of me has been in wait. I’ve known since before I graduated in 2010 (oh my god!) that my next step was to be a PhD from Trent University in Ontario. Their Cultural Studies department is enviable and arguably the best in North America. Either their “culture and tech” or “culture and theory” course of study, I can’t yet decide. But, I figured that’d be something I’d do after our daughter graduated high school, three years from now. Sure, by that time I’d likely be one of the oldest PhD candidates they probably have (I was one of the oldest MA students MSU’s English department had), but I don’t care. I can’t let the unstoppable passage of time and my advancing age prevent me from seeking my goals. After all, how many people take up and climb mountains mid- and post-mid-life? Explore other countries? Take up diving and explore the ocean bottom? Why can’t my graduate degrees be my Mount Everest?

But will Trent happen? Even in three years? I’m in Portland now, and Portland is my home. Sure, I could move to Ontario for 2 to 3 years, then come back. But will I? Sure, if I want it enough, and can afford it….

But then, if I want it enough, why wait until then? Why not start now? Why wait until I enroll in a new school? Do Sherry Turkle or Katherine Hayles or Slavoj Zizek or Hardt and Negri wait to get yet another degree before they research and write their next books?! Of course not! They are scholars, and that’s what it means to be a scholar. You research, study, synthesize, and contribute now, despite where and when you are. Why can’t I do that now?

Soon I will have another mind and body sapping job in order to pay the bills, and I will have to conform and contort my writing and scholarship around that. To do that, I’ll have to give up other distractions: Facebook for the most part, TV and movies, sleep. But it’s not enough, for me, just just proclaim abstinence from distraction, find the latest book on posthuman cultural criticism and read… I need focus, goals, a program and a plan. I need to create my own doctorate program. No, I won’t get more letters I can put after my name from it, but that doesn’t matter. Zizek doesn’t get a new degree for every new topic he researches and then writes a book on. Just as I can’t in good conscience call myself “a writer” unless I’m actually writing, I can’t call myself “a scholar” unless I’m doing the work of scholarship. And I know myself well enough to know I’m unlikely to engage in actual scholarship (and commenting on Facebook articles is not scholarship), unless I have a plan and structure and goalposts.

And so, before work takes up most of my time and energy, I need to get to work creating my own personal PhD program. I feel excited, challenged…happy at the prospect!

…starting and editing a regular literary journal has been a goal of mine for a few years now–I wonder how to incorporate that.

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Portland, I’m in you. To stay.

yay oregonI despise “update” blog entries, but I set myself up for that every time I take such huge breaks from blogging. A lot has happened in the last several months, and I owe it to my fans (all those faithful comment-spam bots that lovingly message every day), to update what’s been going on. I’m sure if John Scalzi ever took a break from blogging for a month or 9, he’d update, yeah? Well, I promise I will try to keep this brief and just the highlights….

So, a few months ago my family and I, and a very close couple, jointly decided to sell most everything we own and move from the midwest to Portland, Oregon. How did it go? Well, we’re here, we have a town house (aka glorified 3-floor apartment), my wife has a job she likes (yay!) and I have been fielding a slew of “1st interviews” with promises of 2nd interviews that tend to not come. These are interviews for places doing jobs in the world of Web development — the field that has been earning my family money since 1998. It’s a field that I enjoy, have enjoyed, but I’m desperately sick of. But, it’s the only thing I know how to do that earns a modicum of money, and it’s money that we have to trade for shelter and food and entertainment, so….

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to write as much as I can. Frequenting coffee shops until I find The Comfortable One and writing a chapter or two of the sequel to Singularity Deferred. My goal is to have it completed and edited by the end of 2014. Then, come 2015, I can go gangbusters on marketing and selling parts 1 and 2 and earn a bit of monies from that. (I have hope. I’ve done virtually no marketing and promotion of book 1, and I still get a small royalty “check” from Amazon and Smashwords each month. Well, enough to buy a couple of my iced mochas at least. But that makes me curious what can be done with some real marketing.) By the way, it kills me that I sell copies every month, but get virtually no reviews, good, bad, or otherwise.

Okay, that last couple paragraphs felt like some self-pitying kvetching. So, let’s move along….

Portland! Why? Because of “Portlandia” maybe? Heh, no. I lived a brief time, as a kid, in Washington, and I knew ever since then I would come back. I loved the weather, I loved the mountains, the ocean, the…”vibe” for lack of a less squishy word. And the art and culture and “vibe” I have kept an eye on coming from Portland and Eugene ever since has always been in the back of my mind as a land I must pilgrimage to. The idea of moving to Oregon, Portland even, never formed much more than a fleeting thought, but the seed was planted back in 1980, ready to be watered.

It’s been 4 weeks here, and despite the rough and troubles and bit of chaos in areas of work, family, household, etc…. I know as certainly as I knew after the first week and a half: I’m home.

I grew up in Colorado, mainly, and I will always consider it my foundational home. My place of origin, the place that will always be in my heart. And when my family moved me to Missouri as a teen, I knew despite all the other moves in my youth, that one was going to stick for a while — and I did not like it one bit. Never have. Sure, the Ozarks have some beauty to them. And I’ve met all my current friends, and my wife, and the things and people that are important to me, in Missouri. But I have never, once ever, felt like Missouri was home. It was my place of exile. I’ve only been in Oregon a month, I have experienced a tiny swath of the land and the insane variety of the landscapes and terrain it holds, a tiny sampling of the city and the people and the culture, visited the ocean once and walked among the trees a smidge… and  I know I’m here to stay.

A couple of days ago while visiting a park (that was more like a national forest situated in the middle of a city), my friend and I spoke with a native with adorable dogs, and she has observed, dealing with many people in her career, that Portland seems to draw in a lot of people, but then spit back out a lot of people “who don’t belong.” I don’t know what Portland, or Oregon, feel are the belonging people (wry grin), but I feel I belong. So this place is going to have to spit me out while kicking and screaming.

Some points of interest being here: Red and Black Cafe, will need to visit more often. Powell’s Bookstore, wow! I will be seeing William Gibson there next month! *swoon* Guardian Games, which is huge and fascinating! And loud and annoying. I’m making Rainy Day Games my gaming home. They also have a huge selection of disc golf equipment, which I’ve wanted to get into for some time.

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New year; new projects. And thoughts on Fading Suns

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Has it really been an entire year since my last post? Well, no John Scalzi am I! I plan to remedy the lack of communication issue in 2014, especially since I’m working on some projects this year that I can’t wait to talk about.

On the novel front, I’ve switched my focus. I had been working much of last year on my epic SF/fantasy trilogy. Some good research, some good outlining, and a decent amount of narrative written. But I reached a stopping point at the same time that thoughts of finally getting that sequel to Singularity Deferred out of my head started to peak. So, I’ve shelved the trilogy for now and picked up the sequel–which should make 6 people on Amazon and a couple on Smashwords happy.

Now, some truly awesome news: I just started working with FASA on one of my mostest favoritest role-playing games evar! Fading Suns. (Some additional info.) I’ve been into this system since the late 90s, ever since I got the “Emperor of the Fading Suns” strategy PC game, and then checked out the RPG it was based on. (That game has a truly amazing soundtrack that could be ripped off the CD! I’ve used it for years as part of my writing soundtrack.)

So they released a newly revised edition of the core rules about a year and a half ago, and a new game master’s guide this last December (with much old, revised material). Now, they’re working on redoing the supplemental source books. And that’s where I come in!

I can’t say much, but I’m working right now on a source book that’s going to contain a pretty big ratio of new content! It’s very exciting! And the fact that I get to have a role in the creation process really is like a dream come true.

As for the game itself, I’m quite pleased where it’s going. I won’t get into the messy details, but the original creators of the game were supposedly working on an entirely new 3rd edition of the game before Crazy Stuff Happened, and the line changed hands and people left…. And what happened instead was the Revised Edition was released. And as much as I was really looking forward to a new version, I think this is better. I mean, at the core of Fading Suns is a very good rules system that really did only need some fixing and enhancing. Which they did. It’s a much better system now.

Though, I’m still unsure about the physical copy of the new book. It’s a nice, portable size now, but it doesn’t lie open on the table anymore. Which is a shame. But I think I’ll live. :) I’m excited to see what the source books end up looking like.

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