First design the cover, then write the book? Why not?
First off, sorry about my silence; it's been a busy few days. But one of the fruits of that busyness, as presented here on the right, is the cover art for a book coming in the somewhat-distant future, Absolute Elsewhere. (Image elements courtesy the always-wonderful Unsplash.)
I'm behind schedule on Behind The Scenes and the remastering job, but I haven't forgotten about them.
Constant readers might have noticed I'm a little behind on a couple of regularly scheduled things here. One is my monthly Rogress Preports [sic]; I'm cheating and assuming that just getting it up any time at all during the month will suffice. Not a good habit, though. #2 is the Behind The Scenes rundown for the rest of Flight Of The Vajra, pending me excavating my notes. Turns out some of them got slightly trashed at some point -- horrific for someone like me, who typically preserves everything from the making of a book in meticulous fashion -- so I'm forced to reconstruct my recollections entirely from memory. Third is the remastering of the last (actually, first) three books in my catalog -- Summerworld, Tokyo Inferno, and The Four-Day Weekend.
For both myself and others.
Yesterday afternoon I received the first of two doses of The Vaccine, all handled with great efficiency at a location less than a mile from my house. Right now I'm typing this with only a mildly sore forearm, although Mein Frau seems to have gone down for the count with a case of the one-day post-jab bug (body aches, chiefly). Better that than a full-blown case of the COVID Crud. We've even been pre-registered for the next dose in May.
A look back at the most deliberately frustrating album ever made for popular consumption.
The key to The Downward Spiral came to me by way of something Roger Ebert once said about a much-maligned but still-valuable Martin Scorsese film, The King Of Comedy. "This is a movie that seems ready to explode -- but somehow it never does. ... [T]here is neither comic nor tragic release -- just the postponement of pain. ... Scorsese doesn't direct a single scene for a payoff. The whole movie is an exercise in cinema interruptus; even a big scene in a bar ... is deliberately edited to leave out the payoff shots .... Scorsese doesn't want laughs in this movie, and he also doesn't want release."
Emphasis mine, because I think that is exactly what Trent Reznor was also trying to do with The Downward Spiral. What makes this such a tough album to swallow isn't just that it's so noisy or herky-jerky or confrontational, but that it is constructed, track after track and across its whole length, to deny us any real payoff, any real feeling of transcendence or liberation. When we do get it, it's too transitory, too fragmentary, too broken-off to deliver.
All of that is the point. This record isn't about a journey to an insight, but the experience of being trapped in a psychic holding pattern. Consider it the antithesis to Pink Floyd's The Wall: that album tunneled through pain and broke through to self-revelation and catharsis. The Downward Spiral just tunnels back into itself, like the curled worm on the cover of one of the singles released for the disc, and while it doesn't literally end on the exact same note it started on (as The Wall did), it does something more effective: it makes us realize we could have started anywhere and ended anywhere with the record, and it would have made no difference.
On "the world of demons" in Buddhist study, and other things in it that are routinely misunderstood.
Brad Warner has a video up on his channel about a subject he's discussed a number of times before, the notion of "the world of demons" in Buddhist study. It helped batch together a slew of thoughts I've been having about this stuff, so buckle your belts, this may get bumpy.
On being daring in a story, without that being an excuse for cruelty.
The other week friends of mine saw for the first time Strange Days -- a favorite of mine, and a massive personal influence -- and that inspired Steve to write up some thoughts about the film. He was as unhappy about the very ending as I was, but also agreed that a movie this maverick and daring was destined to have a certain degree of messiness. "Courage always beats cowardice," Steve wrote. "Even partial courage is better when it predominates."
What's most infuriating about Strange Days's cop-out ending (which for me still can't ruin a movie that strong and sustained) was that it was Cameron's original ending, as written. It wasn't something the studio forced on him; it was his own bad idea. Partial courage is better, but what about when it's not because you're pushing against some stricture like the studio system, but because you build your own cop-outs into the material? Cameron was at heart too much of a sentimentalist to give the movie what it really needed, something that the likes of Titanic and Avatar confirmed for me. Maybe he just loved the characters so much that he felt the ending they deserved was a happy one, even if that came at the cost of the story as a whole being potentially breaking its spirit.
Some technical notes about the blog system I built here.
I've received a couple of notes from people who're curious about how this blog is built. It's all custom software, which I will in time release as open source once it's not quite so awful to behold. But here's the basics.
"I keep thinking," my friend said, "that if only I'd done more, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in now." Were they right?
"I keep thinking," my friend said, "that if only I'd done more, we wouldn't be in this mess we're in now."
It was something like one in the morning (and on a school night, haha), and my friend was talking about how they felt like the Mess We're In was their fault.
I had to tease that one out as completely as I could. So you're saying, I said, that everything that's gone wrong with the state of things now -- the Trump presidency and all of its fallout, ecological collapse, bad Adam Sandler movies -- is somehow your fault? How, exactly?
The logic, as they laid it out, went like this:
It's easily to write badly. It's even easier to write badly when everyone else gets away with it.
My earlier post may probably have felt like I was just rebranding the term "infodump". In fact, I did use that very term in context there, but I was trying to think about something larger: the effects that 'dumping has on not only one's own book, but the general culture of SF&F writing. It's not just that it's easily to write badly, but that it's even easier to write badly when everyone else seems to be doing it and getting away with it.
Two different ways of making a story complete in terms of what it addresses.
Over the weekend, while working on Unmortal (we're at what amounts to a "draft 1.3" now, more on that later), I took a bunch of notes in re things that needed to be at least mentioned in the book, even if they didn't have to be expanded on tremendously. Bits of world background, references to things that deserved to be expanded, stuff like that. It struck me that there's roughly two ways to work such things into a story -- the Shoehorn Method and the Scissor Method.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind