Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What a mess.

Well, I got lucky.
The Upper West Side got off fairly well. We kept power, for instance. I lost internet and phone, but they're back now.
But the power is still out south of 40th Street, I'm told.
The subway system is flooded, and no one knows when the trains will be back.
The buses are running, but on a Sunday schedule.
Cities and neighborhoods directly on the water are flooded, including a lot of Jersey towns that had started to become the new gentrifying areas.
I guess I had assumed this would be like Irene, last year - sloppy, untidy, inconvenient, but with a city that ultimately recovered in a day.
This seems more extensive. And like any New Yorker, I get twitchy when the subways are seriously down for the count.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy, 7:00 PM

We're heading into the peak area now, apparently. Until about ten o'clock, the winds will be the strongest. It's a little nerve-wracking, but I know that I am so much better off than so many other folks. The eye of the storm made landfall in southern New Jersey, and I'm many miles away in Manhattan. Really, all I have to worry about is, at the absolute worst, a power outage...although the wind noise does make me neurotically twitchy about broken glass.

Best wishes to everyone.

Dang, Sandy Is Loud! Monday, 6:15 PM

The wind really is something up here on the 27th floor.
The water in the toilet is sloshing back and forth a little as the high winds shift the air pressure in the apartment, just a little bit.
I guess the thing that really gets you, if you grew up in New York City, is the unnatural feeling of it all. Hurricanes never happened in the city, in all the years I grew up here. Now, two hurricanes in two years - and big ones.

Sandy Is Here - 3:30 PM Monday

While there is some rain, the real power is in the wind. You can hear it whoosh past the windows. It's when that turns into a whistle that it gets a little scary, because the speed has increased, a lot, and the windows begin to rattle.

If you look out and down, you'll see wet, brown flying leaves. Even though you know the wind is shooting downtown, the leaves themselves are flying in all directions.

The cloud cover isn't that thick. If it weren't for the sound of the wind, it might almost be an ordinary rainy day - until you look more closely out the window and what rain there is being blown sideways along Amsterdam Avenue.

Sandy Is Coming, Pt. 2: 9:00 AM Monday

So far, Sandy's a drizzle in NYC.

I've been tracking the storm's path on Wunderground.com.
I've been tracking the storm's media freakout on Google News.

According to the Weather Underground site, the eye of the storm will hit land south of Philadelphia and loop around the metro area as a Category 1 hurricane, declining to a Tropical Storm by Wednesday.

But according to the TV and newspapers, it will destroy all life as we know it on the East Coast.

Hmm. Cognitive dissonance.

(I hope I'm able to maintain this insouciant attitude, by the way.)

Why Is That So Good, pt. 2: "Too Lazy to Be a Farmer"

As I said here, there are some scenes and passages that just hit that perfect note. Maybe it's awe. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's just pure frikkin' cool. However they succeed, it makes sense for us writers to dissect them and see what makes them tick, no?

So...Robert Heinlein. One of the Greats, with a capital G. In recent years, he's been sorta-kinda associated with militarism, libertarianism, and polyamory. But anyone who's read more than Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress knows that his biggest ideology was anti-ideology. He was always a patriot; he cherished the military values of honor and courage; but he was also a writer who kept asking questions that were political and philosophical as well as scientific. In other words, he had a vision that was far too broad to be hemmed in by musty "isms," and he loved to play with ideas. He certainly believed in self reliance, but he was also a big enough human being to avoid the "I've got mine" selfishness of Objectivism.

Which brings us to my favorite passage. This is from Heinlein's novella Revolt in 2100 (also known as If This Goes On-) another of his spine-chillingly prescient works. Written in 1940, it describes a future in which Nehemiah Scudder, a backwoods preacher,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hmm. Apocalyptic Storm? End of the World?

Time to get cracking on Chapter Eight!

Yep, this is my writing time.

Sandy Is Coming

2:30 PM. Want to buy batteries at the Duane Reade? In and out in five minutes. Want to buy delicious crostini at the Trader Joes? The line is around the block.

Heh-heh-heh.

Make sure you get your pesto and your olive tapenade, my beautiful, impractical neighbors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Is That So Good?

Every now and then there's a passage that just works. It makes you grin, or raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Some of them are so good that they enter into fan history. (That's not just true of speculative fiction, by the way; ask any English lit enthusiast about the "Disgusting English Candy Drill" in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.)


I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the goodies in science fiction and fantasy, starting with the "White Tiger" scene from Barry Hughart's Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Master Li, an ancient, cunning, and somewhat alcoholic Chinese Sherlock Holmes, is administering a faith healing to the Weasel, a local ne'er-do-well who is dying of the plague. Li knows that the Weasel is going to die, and the ceremony is really for the benefit of the Weasel's wife, but Li's invocation (possibly inspired by a genuine Chinese ceremony - it feels authentic) still sends chills down the spine:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Met Tippi Hedren

For reals.

HBO's doing this docudrama about Hitchcock's abuse of her. Having met Ms. Hedren briefly, I'm on her side.

I was working as an electrician on a low-budget indie film (I never saw the finished product in theaters, but years later, in Vienna, I saw it running on a hotel TV under the title "Der Labyrinthen Der Leydenschaft"). Tippi was one of the supporting players. She still looked great, and she was gracious to everyone.

And that's it. Nothing more to say - although it was admittedly great for a recent film-school grad to be on the same set.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Stanford Ovshinsky, RIP

Stan Ovshinsky passed away today. His bio sounds like that of a late 20th Century Tesla.

He never went to college. He worked as a machinist, and got his first patent at the age of 24.

His company was called Energy Conversion Devices, and he achieved breakthroughs in the technologies we'll need to break free of fossil fuels: Solar cells. Hydrogen fuel cells. Semiconductors. He invented the amorphous semiconductor technology that allowed the creation of rewritable CDs and DVDs. He invented the rechargeable nickel-hydride battery technology in cordless drills and the Toyota Prius.

He also burned through millions of dollars of his own and investors' money. American industrialists didn't take him seriously until the Japanese took an interest in the '80s.

“I don’t relish the role of being a prophet in the wilderness," he said. "But I recognize that we’re agents of change and change is difficult.”

The Wrong Sword is a Featured Book!

...on SpecFicPick. Yee-hah!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Alpha Centauri Has Planets!

One, anyway. How cool is that?

Between our nearest stellar neighbor having planets, and the possibility that an Alcubierre FTL drive wouldn't require the dismantling of an Jupiter-sized planet for each trip, these are banner days for interstellar travel.

Now all I have to do is stay alive for the next 100 years to see the end of the 100YSS initiative, and I'll be good to go.

Oh...and get over my fear of falling, roller coasters, and high-g acceleration. But for a trip like that, it would be worth it. Worse comes to worst, I'd just take some Space Age, ultra-modern super-Valium.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bosses Day. Yeah.

Apparently, today actually IS Bosses Day.

The list of bosses who have done their best work negotiating their own compensation and severance packages is long and ever-growing: Carly Fiorina, LIBOR-fixer Bob Diamond, Richard "I took my private jet to beg for congressional money" Wagoner, BP's Tony Hayward, etc. etc. It seems that no matter how badly they mess up, they still keep getting mo' money. Based on that, I have to say that unless you're Tony Frikkin' Stark (who at least gives us ARC reactors and exoskeletons for our taxpayer dollars), it's pretty clear that Every Day Is Bosses Day.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Tuesday.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Particle AND Wave

A little complementarity on Niels Bohr's birthday...


The walls between science fiction and fantasy are breaking down. Back in the day, it was either Tolkien or Heinlein. Not only was fantasy non-technological, it was almost always pre-technological. Horses, not cars; swords, not guns. Even fantasy ostensibly set in the modern world would often wend its way to a secondary world - through a wardrobe, for instance - where technology simply wasn't.

Then came wainscoting (which I've mentioned before) where magic does exist in the here and now, but is carefully hidden away from ordinary muggles...er, mortals. Obviously, the magic's hidden away in Harry Potter, but Rowling was far from the first to use the wainscot. Any pre-True Blood vampire story, for instance, has the undead hidden away. The Borrowers is classic wainscot. Percy Jackson, Neverwhere, Highlander. Tim Powers turned history into wainscot fantasy with masterpieces like The Stress of Her Regard and On Stranger Tides. Fantasy and science fiction edged closer and closer. And then came the '60s.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke. And in the 60s, writers like Michael Moorcock and Jack Chalker took him at his word, creating futures whose inhabitants no longer understood the forces that gave them their magical powers. But there was one writer who followed that avenue while delineating the philosophical difference: Roger Zelazny.

He created worlds full of characters who were literally deii ex machina - people with godlike powers granted by technology; so godlike, in fact, that they assumed the identities of the Hindu, Egyptian (and even alien) pantheons. But even while he was doing this, Roger never lost site of the border:

"It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy – it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool."  (Lord of Light)

Science and magic, SF and fantasy, reason and the unknowable, particle and wave - complementarity. The next big step in fantasy is bridging the gap, writing science and magic in the same story at the same time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Today's word is STYLITES

Can you say "stylites"?
Or, to be more explicit, saint-on-a-pole.
Very popular in the Byzantine Empire around the EMA (early Middle Ages).
Apparently, Indian fakirs aren't the only holy folk who feel the need to mortify the flesh, but it's an impulse that is utterly alien to me. Why would God desire self-inflicted pain from his creatures? How do you get so deep into your own belief system that this sounds like a good idea?

I don't mean to offend any rockin' stylites out there. I'm just asking.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scored the Annotated Alice

Long ago, my brother and I had a copy of The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner's astounding edition of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass which explained all the mathematico-logical in-jokes and history that Carroll had scattered through the books.

Well, I just found a copy in the "put-a-penny tak-a-penny" bookshelves of my building's laundry room. I will bring down all my thrillers and the Millennium Trilogy in return.

Yes, I'm a massive nerd. We've met, no?