Featured on Wattpad: How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box

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I’m happy to see that my most recent sci-fi story, “How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box”, is now a “featured” selection on Wattpad. It’s a bit of what I like to call “magical futurism”, featuring a black-market “artificially intelligent person” (or A.I.P., or “ape” in the colloquial sense, as in ‘the planet of the’), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, the gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected novel.

As with all my books, this one is free on Smashwords and Feedbooks as well.

 

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Recommended: The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer

What I love most about literature is the rare experience of encountering a worthy mind. It’s not just about the story or the plot or the arc or the characters or the formula or the climax or the talent or the craft, it’s about how this other sees the world and expresses what they see. I want to know how their mind works, the connections it makes, the impressions it conveys. I don’t want to merely read to find out what’s going to happen, or how it’s all going to end, or what it’s going to make me feel. I don’t want to be nothing more than a passive subject operated upon as if mechanically by some technician who knows precisely how to manipulate my emotions. I can always watch a movie for that! When I read I want to come in contact with a mind through which I can discover new perspectives. This book – The Sixty Five Years of Washington, by Juan Jose Saer,  gave me such an experience.

I felt like I could live in this book, and it’s not something easily done. The structure of the story is simply two men walking together down a city street for less than an hour one morning, and the plot, if you can call it that, centers around their conversation about a birthday party that neither one attended. But I felt I was on that street with them, walking along beside them, listening not only to their words but to their internal digressions, their meandering thoughts, and feeling my way along with them through the pedestrian and vehicle traffic. The two men are not friends, just mutual acquaintances, who meet by accident and happen to be going the same way, but their worlds intersect and criss-cross on many levels. What matters in the book is, to put it in a word (or as the author says, “in two words, to be more precise”), “every things”.

There’s a lot I liked in the author’s style, the translation, the language, his “bag of tricks” so to speak, but ultimately I kept reading with excitement to see what he was going to say next, what he was going to make me see next, what new world I was going to be able to glimpse.

Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Recommended: The Conversations, by Cesar Aira

Cesar Aira has so much fun messing with his readers, but I fall for it every time. Here, in The Conversations, he starts us off with an erudite gentleman who enjoys ruminating over his recent chats with his various highbrow friends, so naturally we think we are in for something sophisticated and trenchant. He recalls one such conversation in which he pokes a little fun at a mistake in some crappy Hollywood film, where a peasant is caught with a Rolex on his wrist. How ridiculous, but these things happen. Our intellectual narrator is ready to move on to loftier topics, but his friend stops him and says, “what are you talking about? I saw that film and that was no mistake!” The next thing you know, Aira flings us all down one rabbit hole after another as our protagonist’s greatest fear may come true, that in fact his friends might turn out to be utter morons, in which case might not he be as well?

Someone less generous or more aggressive might have been pleased to discover that a friend of his was stupid. It would make him feel superior, safe in his narcissistic integrity, more intelligent than he thought: in a word, the winner. This was not the case for me. I felt depressed and distressed, like someone on the verge of losing something of great value.

As a famous American football coach (Jim Mora) once said, “you think you know, but you don’t know, and you never will”, and that is never more true than when reading Cesar Aira, from one page to the next.

One-Star Roundup

Dash it all but I’m dreadfully proud of my one-star reviews! (yes I’ve been watching the BBC production of Parade’s End today). This month in One-Star Roundup brings us a number of excellent examples of one-star readers, which is to say, people who should not have read the book but did and couldn’t help themselves but a) finish the darn thing and b) bother to rate it online (both of which must be some sort of compulsion. Personally I never feel compelled to a) continue reading a book I don’t like OR b) bother to rate it online.

This month’s award for “best self-restraint” goes to a Goodreads reviewer of Orange Car with Stripes (which, by the way, is still #1 on Amazon’s “Cults and Demonism” bestseller list, and #8 in Atheism, one ahead of its companion (and superior), Missy Tonight:

I had planned to write a lengthy review of this book, highlighting the reasons I felt it deserved only one star out of five. But I have scratched my plans for that review, because I couldn’t find anything nice to say. My planned review had rapidly become shrill and mean-spirited. The author doesn’t deserve to be the target of mockery. So, instead, let me simply say that I strongly advise anyone against reading this, and leave it at that.

I was curious about his other ratings , but the only thing of note was that he also gave one star to Pride and Prejudice

The opposite award goes to this judicious reader of Death Ray Butterfly, who reported:

This book is so bad that it doesn’t deserve to be called a book. More like somebody’s disjointed journal. The author couldn’t make two paragraphs blend together with a paint mixer. My six year-old grandson talks with more clarity than this guy can write. I feel my IQ has dropped at couple of points.

Need I say that Zombie Nights is one of my all-time leaders in one-star readers, but few have been as enjoyable as this one:

This was one of the stupidest books I have ever read…HELL it wasn’t even a book it was more like a really short story with some serous pointlessness. All the story is about is a guy that wakes up in a grave from where he was bared by a couple of goons that killed him. he wakes up as a Zombie and he roams around until he find his uncle that he hadn’t seen for years , so all though the story he is trying to find out what he is going to do and he ends up getting killed by a Zombie hunter really pointless.

(point of order, however. Zombie hunter? Really? Not as far as I know, and why the capital Z for Zombie? serously! bared!!)

The Part-Time People may be the most one-starred of all, but this one is the best I’ve seen of those:

This was an utterly, poorly written piece of work; better yet…you can’t even call it a story: It was merely the ramblings of a mad man!!! Nothing made sense in this piece!!!

Then there’s my personal favorite of all my books, Secret Sidewalk, which has only received a single one-star review, as far as I’ve been able to find, but at least it was priceless. Here it is, in its entirey:

Nope

Who’s Your Favorite Writer?

Can you name just one? Would it be the same always? If the answer changes over time, or depending on the weather, or the time of day or other such factors, is it really ever an answer at all? And so many factors go into it. My own disclaimer – I am a 56-year old white professional male Californian, in other words a privileged, educated late-baby-boomer-benefiter-of-so-many-advantages-it-is-seriously-unfair.

So what are the categories anyway? Favorite writer? Most impressive writer? Most influential writer? Other cubbyholes?

I’ll take doors number one, two and three, as of today (and selecting four in each group)

Favorite: meaning, writers I read over and over again, and have read over and over again for years and always with great enjoyment:

Jorge Luis Borges

Flannery O’Connor

Guy du Maupassant

Joseph Conrad

 

Most Impressive: meaning every time I read them I wonder why anyone else ever bothers:

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Joseph Conrad

Guy du Maupassant

Clarice Lispector

 

Most Influential: and perhaps this is the most unvarying, since I was most influenced in my youth, specifically late teens and early twenties, by these people:

Kurt Vonnegut

Philip K. Dick

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Stanislaw Lem

Older Unwiser

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As an American, one feels obligated to have opinions. This week I’m letting other people have my opinions for me. The first set of opinions is the one I agree with 100%, as presented by Michael Graeme of The Rivendale Review in his post: Is Amazon Good for Aspiring Writers?. Michael makes all sorts of great points with which I agree entirely; therefore I deem these opinions to be good and right and just, especially in his summation: things are changing drastically at the money end of the book business, but for your average aspiring writer, it looks pretty much like business as usual to me.”

On the other side there is this set of opinions with which I do not whole-heartedly agree, in Chuck Wendig’s blog post Amazon, Hachette and Giant Stompy Corporations. I do not entirely disagree with everything said in there. I fact, once I read it a second time I was inclined to agree with much of it, until he gets to the part where he conflates value with money (as so often happens these days) – where paying more for a thing is seen as a measure, if not a justiication, of its value. In the real world of supply and demand, it is scarcity that tends to cause higher prices, not some imagined intrinsic worth of a thing. The more you pay for something, in his world, the more people you are supporting along the way, therefore you are contributing to the common good. You buy goat cheese at the farmer’s market, and local farmers prosper. I can see that. I like goat cheese. I support my local farms here where I live. But … you pay more for books, and … some imagined community of writers prospers? Are you supporting every guitar player in the world when you download an mp3 file? I don’t happen to think so. There’s this widespread idea that if art was free then there would be no more artists. That’s crazy talk. As far as I can tell, art – even Art with a capital A – is Biological with a capital B. It’s going to happen. It’s part of what we are, as animals, in fact all animals (mammals and birds at least) create some kind of art. They communicate. They make music. They appreciate the world as they see it (which we can scarcely even imagine!) Call me crazy but I think this is all true.

Take the money out of art and what you are left with is art, in the same way that twelve minus zero is twelve.

Take a look at Wattpad if you think there’s some shortage of writers or the impulse to write. Take a look at Soundcloud if you think there’s some scarcity of musicians. Take a look at YouTube if you think people aren’t doing shit with video. Take a look at Tumblr if you think there are no painters or photographers or cartoonists or other visual artists. Art, when you get right down to it, is primarily one of the many ways people attempt to get laid, especially young people, and it ain’t gonna stop happening.

So okay I threw some of my own opinions in there along with the more sensible ones of Michael Graeme and the interesting if sometimes questionable ones of Mr. Wendig. But that’s all right. I am an American. It’s my obligation.

It was election day here in California. As usual, I voted for more government. Yay.