Friday, July 30, 2010

The Party of the Insane; or, Beyond the Know-Nothings

I realized long ago that many Republicans would not be able to pass the tests given to students in Civics classes in the 1950s & 1960s, were such tests administered to people in the US today. (This first became obvious when the Republicans decided that adultery was an impeachable offense for the POTUS when the POTUS is a Democrat). Nevertheless, even I am gobsmacked by the latest piece of nonsense to come out of the Iowa Republican Party. (It's not just Civics exams that the Iowa Republicans would fail, but exams in Logic and History as well.) Desperate to find a way to take President Obama's citizenship away from him (the repeated lie that he was not born in the US not having accomplished all that its propagators have hoped for), some Republicans in Iowa have dug up an attempt to amend the US Constitution back in 1810 that failed because it could not achieve the votes needed for ratification. They are calling this "the original 13th amendment." You all know what the real 13th Amendment is, don't you? It's the amendment that bans slavery and involuntary servitude.

Yeah. Just so.

So what is this failed amendment they want to reintroduce and ratify?
If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.
What, you might wonder, does this have to do with taking away Obama's citizenship? Apparently these bozos believe that merely accepting the Nobel Prize from a committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament would then require him to be stripped of his citizenship. (I guess they don't know what the word "honour" meant back in 1810.) And I guess that would mean that everyone who ever accepted a Nobel Prize would also be stripped of their citizenship. (Jimmy Carter, Toni Morrison, Paul Krugman, Joseph Steiglitz, any number of scientists-- yeah, I can see why these whackos would like to rid our shores of all recipients of a Nobel.) But apparently Nobel Laureates are not the only ones these guys are targeting. Here's Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post:
In the world of the Thirteenthers, though, it's all a conspiracy, and the leading suspects are those shady characters who put "esquire" after their names. To quote the Web site Constitutional Concepts, "This Amendment was for the specific purpose of banning participation in government operations by attorneys and bankers who claimed the Title of Nobility of 'Esquire.' These people had joined the International Bar Association or the International Bankers Association and owed their allegiance to the King of England." In other words--well, we're not sure how to explain it any better, but Constitutional Concepts CEO Jim Barrus says in an e-mail that enforcement of the 13th Amendment would strike a blow against "the elected politicians who have grand plans of ruling every facet of America," and would essentially delegitimize virtually every act of the federal government since 1819. Who wouldn't want that?

Naturally, most lawyers see it differently. "The esquire thing is ridiculous," says R. B. Bernstein, a professor at New York Law School and author of Amending America. "'Esquire' is not a title of nobility. Back then, they were worried about people accepting literal titles of aristocracy that convey land or privileges, things you can leave to your kids." Lawyers obviously command certain privileges, but they are not inherited.
The "Thirteenthers" (as they call themselves), according to the Iowa Independent
argue that it was ratified and have a plethora of conspiracy theories to back up their assertion. These folks, known as “Thirteenthers,” believe that since the amendment would have banned lawyers and bankers from serving in government (since they joined the International Bar Association or the International Bankers Association, respectively), every act of the federal government since 1819 would be delegitimized.
In a way, this is even more grandiose in its disregard for truth than the Birthers' refusal to admit that Obama was born in the United States. But who knows, it sounds like the kind of re-writing that might make it into Texas's K-12 history texts.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clarion West 2011

Sorry for the dry spell here. I haven't been spending much time online over the last week because our broadband internet connection has become spotty,rendering every attempt to get out email or browse online full of frustrating interruptions. We at first assumed it was our modem, but replacing it has done nothing to improve our connection. Since the situation is worst on the weekends (when home internet use tends to be up), we're now assuming that our cable company has acquired too many new customers in the area to be supported by the existing equipment. I'm hopeful, though, since we've got an appointment with a tech set up. Until it's fixed, though, I will continue to be mostly offline.

I've got some news. Clarion West has announced its lineup of instructors next year, which will include me, in the editor slot. Here's the full announcement from Clarion West:
We're pleased to announce that our instructors for the 2011 Clarion West Writers Workshop will be Paul Park, Nancy Kress, Margo Lanagan, Minister Faust, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Charles Stross, the 2011 Susan C. Petrey Fellow.

General background on the Clarion West Writers Workshop can be found here. Check back with us in September for more information on next year's instructors and on applying to attend the 2011 session.
Although I found teaching at Clarion West rather grueling, I enjoyed it immensely. All that talent! All that variety in styles and approaches! And the intensity! I'm very much looking forward to experiencing it again.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Speculative Literature Foundation's Travel Grant


For Immediate Release: July 22, 2010

The Speculative Literature Foundation (SLF) is accepting proposals for the Gulliver Travel Research Grant from July 1st 2010 until September 30th 2010.

SLF travel grants are awarded to assist writers of speculative fiction (poetry, drama, creative nonfiction) in their research. They are not currently available for academic research. We are currently offering one $800 travel grant annually, to be used to cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses.

PLEASE NOTE: This grant, as with all SLF grants, is intended to help writers working with speculative literature. If you're not sure what areas that term encompasses, we recommend referencing our FAQ (question #2) on the web site.

Travel Grant Application Procedures

Send the following three items to as attached .doc or .rtf files in one e-mail:

1. A writing sample in the proposed genre (up to 10 pages of poetry, 10 pages of drama, or 5000 words of fiction or creative nonfiction)

2. A bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply

3. A one-page written description of the project in question (maximum
500 words). Please include: Where you intend to visit (be as specific
as you can), when you intend to travel (including the completion
date), and what you will gain from field rather than desk research via
a library or the internet

If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to write a brief report of their research experience (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible public dissemination on our website.

Travel may take place from any country to any country, or internally within a country; the grants are unrestricted. Funds will be disbursed in U.S. currency (but can be sent through PayPal if that is more convenient for international recipients).

The grant recipient will be announced by October 15th. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application by that date.


The Speculative Literature Foundation is a volunteer-run, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the interests of readers, writers, editors and publishers in the speculative literature community.

"Speculative literature" is a catch-all term meant to inclusively span the breadth of fantastic literature, encompassing literature ranging from hard and soft science fiction to epic fantasy to ghost stories to folk and fairy tales to slipstream to magical realism to modern mythmaking–any literature containing a fabulist or speculative

More information about the Speculative Literature Foundation is available from its web site:

Fandom vs. the Westboro Baptist Church

Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church have clearly met their match-- viz., attendees of Comics Con in San Diego this weekend. Here's the beginning of the report from Comics Alliance:
They've faced down humans time and time again, but Fred Phelps and his minions from the Westboro Baptist Church were not ready for the cosplay action that awaited them today at Comic-Con. After all, who can win against a counter protest that includes robots, magical anime girls, Trekkies, Jedi and...kittens?

Unbeknownst to the dastardly fanatics of the Westboro Baptist Church, the good folks of San Diego's Comic-Con were prepared for their arrival with their own special brand of superhuman counter protesting chanting "WHAT DO WE WANT" "GAY SEX" "WHEN DO WE WANT IT" "NOW!" while brandishing ironic (and some sincere) signs. Simply stated: The eclectic assembly of nerdom's finest stood and delivered.
The report is accompanied by lots of amusing images and a video. You can view them here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This Is Not Science Fiction

"The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."-- Dana Priest and Will Arkin, The Washington Post, A hidden world, growing beyond control July 19, 2010

Welcome to the 21st-century US: a world in which the state hasn't disappeared (as so many prognosticators in the late 20th-century insisted it would), but in which business has merged with the state, blurring the lines between business and the power and money of the state (BP, anyone? Where BP gets to tell the Coast Guard what to do, where BP has the power to have journalists jailed and fined?), to run our lives and drain our resources (financial, personal, and otherwise). The Washington Post has begun publishing a huge expose by Dana Priest and William Arkin of the development of what they are calling the "Fourth Branch of Government," about which no one has any idea of the size, range, or reach (much less its budget). Almost a million people now have "top secret" security clearances. Imagine that. (I think of the population of the greater metropolitan area of Seattle and am flabbergasted.) You'll want to check out the WA Post articles. A documentary will be coming out in October on PBS's Frontline,as well. Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interviews William Arkin here.
WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, really, the most significant thing that we found, Amy, is not that the intelligence agency or the vast homeland security apparatus does work in this field and that is—and that they are engaged in counterterrorism. Really the most significant finding, to me, is the number of private companies in America who have been enlisted in the war on terrorism and who have now become an intrinsic part of government, really where the line is blurred between government and private sector. And the fact that there are almost 2,000 companies that do top-secret work in—for the intelligence community and the military is not only surprising to me as someone who actually put together the data, but it really asks some fundamental questions about the nature of government and the nature of accountability.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these 2,000 companies.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, you know, it’s funny. We think of the military-industrial complex in a sort of old-fashioned way still. In fact, we don’t even have an appropriate word to describe what this enterprise is today, and we’ve struggled ourselves to try to figure that out. You know, the military-industrial complex of the Eisenhower era was one that produced massive amounts of capital goods for the military—bombers, missiles, nuclear weapons, etc. But today’s national security establishment really values information technology more than it values weapons. And really, one of the things that was most surprising to us, but maybe not so surprising given the nature of society, is that a half of the companies in this particular area are really IT companies, information technology companies, and support companies.

The domination of this world of top-secret contractors over the traditional world of the military-industrial complex is huge. And we see very clearly that the megacorporations which have always been the powerhouses in the defense industry—Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics—they are moving more and more of their business from production to the provision of services—that is, providing staffing for the government. And so, what you see is that we are increasingly a national security establishment that’s producing paper rather than producing weapons. And the question is, with the production of all that paper, whether or not we have either an effective counterterrorism operation or whether or not we’re even safer.
"But there is something fundamentally wrong in America if you have people who are working in a for-profit environment caring for our national security and engaged in what we consider to be the inherent functions of government, " Arkin says, and "I have to say at this point, I feel like the Washington Post has a better understanding of this overall problem than the government does."

Go find out about "Super Users," the few dozen individuals who have access to all the thousands of programs of the government and have no idea about what's going on, because this untended machinery is too vast too oversee. Go check it all out. It feels like science fiction. How I wish it were.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 5: Call for Materials

Nisi Shawl writes:

I am editing the WisCon Chronicles Volume 5. I'm looking for essays between 1000 and 6000 words long, on the theme of "Writing and Racial Identity," with the focus on WisCon 34--panels, discussions, and other events. I want written contributions from people who attended WisCon 34. I will need these contributions by August 27. Photos, drawings, poems, interviews, and (very) short fiction will also be considered for this book.

I will need informal proposals for contributions on or before July 26. Proposals must include the following:

* Your name--your legal name, and any aliases you may have used at WisCon 34 and/or online
* The length (wordcount) of the contribution if applicable
* The nature of the contribution (essay, panel report, memoir, interview, survey, photo, cartoon, etc.)
* A very general outline of the topic covered, running about one to three lines, or approximately one paragraph
* If the contribution relates to a specific WisCon 34 event, such as a particular panel, the bake sale, etc., note that in your proposal.
* If the contribution has appeared elsewhere or will appear elsewhere within the next two years let me know; your piece may or may not be eligible for inclusion, and we'll need to discuss this.

Email your proposals in the body of the email's text by July 26 at the very latest. Do not send attachments. I'm not opening them. Don't send them. Just write (briefly) about what you're going to do in your email.

Please respond to nisisNOSPAM@aolDOTcom. Thanks so much for considering this call. Nisi Shawl

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Keep the Negroes Out of Most Classes Where There Are a Large Number of Girls" -- 1954 University of Texas Registrar Henry McCown

Here in Austin the leadership at the University of Texas (my alma mater) has been shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to learn that one of their men's dormitories was named for a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The Board of Regents voted this week to rename Simkins Hall Creekside Hall. Everybody signed with relief, and that ended the matter.

And even I thought it had, though I had been amusing myself with speculating what the response of the regents during my years at the University would have been if we had happened to notice this history back then and brought it to their attention. I'm sure we would have been accused of wasting time on trivial matters and assured that the man was a distinguished professor, regardless of anything he might have done during that difficult time after the Civil War. I doubt they would have come up with an innocuous name like Creekside.

But this morning I read an enlightening blog post by USC Law Prof. Mary Dudziak that pointed me to the paper by University of Denver Law Prof. Thomas Russell that brought the whole issue to light. And I stopped finding anything at all amusing in this story.

To give you some context: William Simkins was from South Carolina, fought for the Confederacy, and after the war with the help of his brother organized the Florida branch of the Ku Klux Klan. He moved to Texas, and taught at the UT law school from 1899 until he died in 1929. He was known to give lectures on the Ku Klux Klan, but was apparently found loveable by the white, mostly male law students.

According to Russell's paper, Simkins was hired at the law school after the Texas Legislature had come sniffing around to see if the University was becoming too liberal and not educating students to be good southerners. (If you spend enough time around the University of Texas, you know this is not an uncommon exercise in legislative oversight.)

Fast forward to the 1940s, when Heman Sweatt, an African American working with the NAACP, applied for admission to the UT law school. After several years of machinations by the University, which included setting up a separate law school for African Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to the nonsense with its ruling in Sweatt v. Painter. They didn't throw out the idea of "separate but equal," but they did find that what Texas was offering wasn't equal. Sweatt enrolled in the law school in the fall of 1950, one of six African Americans to do so (remember that number).

Sweatt v. Painter laid the groundwork for the landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, which was originally decided in 1954, and then reargued in 1955, leading to a unanimous opinion that included the words "all deliberate speed." And now we get to what's worse than naming a dorm after an unrepentant founder of the Ku Klux Klan: The administrators at the University of Texas did everything in their power to limit the number of African Americans admitted to the University, going so far as to establish an entrance exam that favored white applicants. (The University had been open enrollment up to this point.)

The title of this post, which is also the title of Russell's paper, was said by UT Registrar Henry Y. McCown in presenting his post-Brown plan on admission of African Americans. The history Russell investigated finds efforts by all manner of administrators and elected officials to avoid complying with Brown.

Five weeks later in 1954, the University named its new dorm Simkins Hall. (Apparently his Klan history was not revealed to the committee in charge, even though it had been well known when he taught there 15 years earlier and was easily available.) I don't think there's any question that some of the people behind that decision knew exactly what they were doing.

But while the naming of the dorm for Simkins was a childish insult, the efforts to limit African Americans were all too successful. Remember back there when Mr. Sweat entered the law school in 1950 that there were a total of six African Americans admitted? When I entered the UT Law School in 1972, there were three African Americans in my class of 500 students. That was 18 years after Brown v. Board.

Things have changed somewhat, though I just discovered that the rumor I'd heard about law school tuition is correct: It's now $29,000 per year. To put that in perspective, tuition and fees came to about $400 a year when I was in school, and I got scholarships for it anyway. Even inflation can't account for an increase like that. These days, instead of behind the scenes machinations, finances are insuring that only the right people get to go to the flagship Texas law school, one of the best in the country.

The University is patting itself on the back for dealing with the dorm name change so promptly. Nobody is talking about the history of discrimination that went along with it. At least another generation or two of African Americans were actively denied education in Texas after Brown v. Board. Those were people of my generation and a little younger -- people who are still around. That didn't make the local papers.

Somebody want to explain to me again how racism is all in our past?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Horde of Rebellious Kids

by Kristin King

As I was reading a book on child discipline, I learned something about the role of children in shaping anti-authoritarian movements. (The book is Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., copyright 1987.)

A lot of people in the United States have a vision in their head of "the good old days" when children were obedient and didn't have this teen pregnancy, drug use, gang violence, etc.

Nelson writes:
Remember when Mom obediently did whatever Dad said, or at least gave the impression she did, because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do? In the good old days few people questioned the idea that Dad's decisions were final. Because of the human-rights movement, this is no longer true. When Mom quit modeling submissiveness, children stopped being submissive. Rudolph Dreikurs pointed out, "When Dad lost control of Mom, they both lost control of the children." (9)
My first thought upon reading that passage was: "If only I had been obedient to my husband, my children would behave!" Tongue in cheek, of course.

But my second thought was: "Whoa. As a parent, I'm not providing anti-authoritarian discipline simply because it's the right thing to do. I'm doing it because my children wouldn't stand for the old style of authoritarian discipline."

It's a boring truism that raising kids is hard. Yeah, and what isn't? What's interesting to me is in which ways it's hard. What's hard is to get children to change their behavior without yelling at them, locking them in their room, and taking other authoritarian measures. Apparently, now that the feminist movement has liberated me, it's that much harder.

That is to say, feminist social movements also gave children the tools to liberate themselves. In the broader society, children are extremely disempowered and marginalized, but in the family situation, they have the ability to make their parents' life a living hell. (Or heaven, of course.)

In response, many parents have of necessity adopted an anti-authoritarian style. (Whether they adopt an anti-authoritarian style or an authoritarian one depends partly on ideology and partly on the skills they have on hand.)

Now what gets really interesting here is that once children are raised using anti-authoritarian methods, they become anti-authoritarian adults who participate in social movements.

That is to say, social movements that cause the liberation of adults can cause the liberation of children, and the liberation of children can strengthen social movements. It's a two-way street.


I have a final note about Dreikur's associate Alfred Adler, who made important contributions to positive discipline.

"Alfred Adler was a man with ideas ahead of his time. He was advocating equality for all people, all races, women, and children long before it was popular to do so. Adler, an Austrian of Jewish descent, had to leave his native land during the Nazi persecution in order to continue his work." (23)

I'd be curious to learn more about his history, but I take this to mean that his work was so threatening to fascism that he had to get the heck out of Nazi Germany.

My takeaway is this: if we want anti-authoritarian social movements to be successful, we need to pay close attention to children. They're marginalized, they're ignored, they're disempowered, but they can still sock it to The Man.

Beyond the Pulse

Last night I watched Rachel Maddow's segment on the Man with No Pulse, who has long been unaffectionately known as Darth Vader at least partly because of his metaphorical heartlessness. (You can see the segment here.) Now technology has made him a man the left ventricle of whose heart has become a host to a rotary pump that runs on batteries that have to be frequently charged via a wall socket. (Making him, of course, the Man Who Plugged In-- though not my version, obviously.)

The pump-- known as a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)-- is usually a temporary expedient, pending a heart transplant. No announcement has been made by that, though the doctor Maddow interviewed said it was "not contraindicated." I'm curious about one thing not covered in the interview: does this mean that the blood is pumped at one constant speed, and that the pump is not responsive to input from hormones? And what happens to blood pressure, since blood vessels are continually dilating and contracting in line with local conditions? All I've been able to glean from Google-assisted browsing is that the chief significant side-effects are blood clots and infection, and that people wearing LVADs had improved blood pressure, sodium, blood urea nitrogen and creatine levels. But really, an sf writer would like to know more...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doing the Right Thing

I attended an intriguing panel on Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary F&SF at Readercon this past weekend. Caitlin R. Kiernan, K.A. Laity, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Catherynne M. Valente had a lively discussion about taboos, artists and their responsibility to their audiences, and consensual artistic exchange.
The panelists spoke eloquently against “shoulds,” against telling artists what they should or should not do in their art. From the panel’s perspective, the artist is not obliged to offer role models, accepted norms, or ideas, characters, situations, actions, dialogue that the audience is comfortable with.
A few people in the audience insisted (in question form) that artists had some sort of responsibility toward the “audience” that would read/experience their work. Artists should not violate or damage that audience. Caitlin R. Kiernan claimed to have no audience in mind when creating her stories. She writes to get paid and to express the truth that comes to her. Other panelists noted that the audience doesn’t have to read a book that offends them. The audience is not forced to take in an artist’s work. Works of art can be labeled, tagged, or come with warnings to aid readers in finding what they want or avoiding what they aren’t up for.

I think people talking about the artists’ responsibility to the audience were trying to figure out how to undo the damage and violence of patriarchal and colonialist narratives. How do we transform the harsh past/present of negative representation, discrimination, and exploitation based on figments of our collective imagination such as gender and race? Popular mainstream culture has not done justice by all of us. On-going anxiety over how to deal with this results in calls for artists to Do The Right Thing and save us all!

Along those lines—
As I revised my paper critiquing District 9, Nnedi Okorafor, Nigerian author of Who Fears Death, was being chastised and badgered, live and on online, to cease and desist her speculative engagement with African narratives. See Nnedi's Blog.
The logic of this and similar attacks goes like this. Given all the savage imagery, disinformation, and stereotypical refuse clogging up our minds and spirits, Nnedi and other African (or Indigenous, Asian, African American, et. al.) writers should stick to mimetic realism to set the record straight and “uplift the race.” They should also hold off critiquing woman-hating practices, such as female genital cutting/mutilation in Africa, least they contribute to the savage imagery that oppresses colored people.

Women writers are policed for doing dirty laundry in public—an interestingly domestic metaphor for exposing women hating traditions. Colored people are not yet ready for SF&F meta-literature. Look at say District 9! What good does SF&F do us? To the frequent challenge, “What good is science fiction to Black people?” which implicitly demanded a justification for abandoning realism and the honorable labor of racial uplift, Octavia Butler replied: What good is any form of literature to Black people?
Despite apparent similarity, critiquing the stereotypical representations of Nigerians in D-9 is not the same as demanding narrative maid service in the form of mimetic realism. Nigerian writers need not spend their time, their creativity simply reacting to colonial narratives, setting the record straight, cleaning up the mess that has been done to their image. No artists need to be doing maid service. Nnedi certainly doesn't need to be in a constant reactive state to deal with the representational juggernauts trying to wipe her. However, offering complex aesthetic experiences that transform the narrative landscape as Nnedi does, is invaluable.
To Do The Right Thing--we need more stories, not more “shoulds.”

Liveblogging Launch Pad

Hello, Aqueductistas!

I wanted to let you know that I'm liveblogging the astronomy workshop, Launch Pad, which I am extremely lucky to be visiting Laramie, Wyoming, in order to attend.

I'm publishing the Launch Pad posts at Jeff VanderMeer's Blog, Ecstatic Days. So far I've posted:

Launch Pad, Day Minus One
Launch Pad, Day One: Who We Are and Why We're Here
Launch Pad, Day One: Mike Brotherton on the Scales of the Universe
Launch Pad, Day One: Jim Verley on The Seasons, the Moon, and the Misconceived
Launch Pad, Day One: Kevin R. Grazier on the Solar System/Cassini
Launch Pad, Day Two: Origins of the Moon

You can see all present and future posts by going to this link, which will aggregate everything on the blog with a Launch Pad tag. The easiest way to keep up is probably to bookmark that and check back occasionally over the course of the week.

I'm mirroring the posts at the feminist group blog Alas, a Blog in case you find that setting congenial or want to discuss some politics with your astronomy.

Let me leave you with this video on the origins of the moon, courtesy of Mike Brotherton:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Links for a Monday

--Six months after the earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people and left one and a half million people homeless, only 1% of the aid promised has been delivered and 23 of the biggest aid organizations working in Haiti reveal that only 2% of the money they raised from charitable donations have actually been spent in bringing relief to the people of Haiti. 19 million cubic meters of rubble still remains to be cleared. The government has lost one-third of its employees, and the economy is virtually dead. And contemplate this: 1 emergency toilet has been provided for every 200 survivors. See the Independent's article here for more details.

--My review of the new Library of America volume of Shirley Jackson's fiction has been posted at Strange Horizons.

--Joe Keohane's piece at the Boston Globe, How facts backfire, reminds me of our discussion during the WisCon panel "Reducing Global Levels of Machismo" of the problem of disinformation. (Link thanks to Echidne of the Snakes.) Here's a snippet:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
--Rachel Swirsky's Through the Drowsy Dark has been selected for Locus's July 2010 New and Notable Books list.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Games to Be Played

The summer issue of Bookforum has some interesting stuff in it. Two of the pieces are collectively titled "Utopia & Dystopia" and feature an essay on utopias by Paul La Farge and another on dystopias by Keith Gessen. Both of these pieces can be read online (though you'll have to register with Book Forum's site to do it). La Farge discusses a few utopias (both literary and attempts at creating utopian communities in real life) and namechecks numerous others (Sir Thomas More's and Etienne Cabet's get the most attention) but obviously hasn't read any feminist utopias, for he arrives at his interesting conclusion via the assertion that (literary) utopias are "novels without characters." Here's the core of his argument:
I think we err in taking utopia seriously. More's book is strewn with winks at the reader: The traveler who comes back from the New World with a story about the Utopians is named Raphael Hythlodaeus, whose surname means "peddler of nonsense" in Greek; in fact, the Utopian nomenclature is nothing but a string of Greek puns. As several commentators have pointed out, More was an ironist; and Utopia is a work of fiction. So are most utopian writings, with the exception of Fourier's—although Fourier's methodology is so bizarre that it's actually easier to read him as a fiction writer or a deranged parodist. This is, as Louis Marin points out in his comprehensive study Utopiques: Jeux d'espaces (1973), because utopia is not an idea but a space. Its dialectics, such as they are, are in the service not of truth but of description.

....This is utopia: a novel without characters, a visitor's guide to a society that doesn't exist, an irony worked out in the smallest detail. As someone who spent years reading the rulebooks to games like Dungeons & Dragons, I'm no stranger to this kind of writing or to its singular appeal. It is the appeal of the fantasy world minus the fantasy story, of the gameboard before play begins. Hythlodaeus and the other narrators demarcate space and enumerate the rules by which people—or rather, the semi-lifelike figurines that represent people in utopia—move around. Here's the city of Amaurote, its houses, its gardens. Here's the Peppermint Stick Forest and the Molasses Swamp. Land on this square and you lose a turn; land on this one and you become a slave. Utopia is a game, which goes a long way toward explaining why it's so controlling. What is a game, after all, but a set of rules?

Folly, then, to build a utopia. Utopias are meant to be played. The Situationists, a self-dismembering assemblage of French avant-gardists who flourished in the 1960s, came close to figuring this out...
It's a lovely idea. But I think he gestures toward a more complicated way of developing his insight, one that he actually might have been able to flesh out if only he had brought feminist utopias into the picture:
Games interrupt life, but they do not suspend it indefinitely, nor is it within their power to supplant it. To play utopia is to admit its impermanence. In fact, this seems to be the only condition under which utopia becomes a real possibility. In A Paradise Built in Hell (2009), the essayist and activist Rebecca Solnit quotes Charles E. Fritz, a sociologist who studied the effect of disasters on the people who lived through them:
Thus while the natural or human forces that created or precipitated the disaster appear hostile and punishing, the people who survive become more friendly, sympathetic, and helpful than in normal times. The categorical approach to human beings is curbed and the sympathetic approach enlarged. In this sense, disasters may be a physical hell, but they result however temporarily in what may be regarded as a kind of social utopia.
Floods, fires, and earthquakes suspend the normal order of things and allow another order to emerge, in which courage and generosity take the lead over fear and self-interest. Solnit catalogues instances of this phenomenon: the San Franciscans who set up soup kitchens after the 1906 earthquake, the Mexicans who rallied in the wake of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake to secure workers' rights and sturdier housing, the New Yorkers who organized spontaneously to distribute supplies and construct memorials after September 11. In no case did the new order last, yet each disaster left behind an improvement, sometimes in the institutions of government, sometimes only in the memories of the survivors. Solnit argues convincingly that these disaster-born communities are windows into what human nature could be were it unimpeded by the power structures of our society, and she concludes, "The challenge is to make something of it, before or beyond disaster: to recognize and realize these desires and these possibilities in ordinary times." Given that permanent disaster is as undesirable as permanent revolution, what do we do? This, I think, is where the idea of utopia as a game becomes useful.
La Farge then goes to Burning Man as a place for playing the game of utopia, where its impermanence and clear temporal limits, he suggests, make utopia tolerable. It would be interesting to bring other planned, intentional gatherings into the discussion-- WisCon, for instance. I myself would like to see a far-ranging exploration of space-times where windows briefly open to different ways of being-- when the ordinary imperatives, mostly unconscious, that rule us for one reason or another have paused in their functioning. Disasters create such windows, but other sorts of situations do as well. I'd like to see more consciousness about why the windows open as well as why they don't stay open for long (so that perhaps we might figure out how to keep them open for longer). One of the reasons disasters don't often result in lasting change is fatigue and the desire of a sense of "normalcy." The illusion of normalcy can be the only comfort left for those coping with trauma or indeed loss of any degree. But sometimes fatigue with being out of ordinary time can alone be enough to slam the window shut.

Anyway, it's an interesting article, even if it is marked by its enormous lack and its failure to know what it is missing. Do check it out.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I've been mostly offline for the last ten days, with a stiff neck that made work at the computer excruciating. And the reviews of Aqueduct books to report on have been piling up.

Nancy Jane Moore, writing for the Broadsheet, reviews Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal and Gwyneth Jones's Imagination/Space in a thoughtful and provocative essay titled Aqueduct Press Educates and Delights in Two Nonfiction Books on Feminist SF. Here's a bit of what she says:
Perhaps the most intriguing point about the two books — and the reason why I wanted to consider the two of them in one review — is the intersection between Merrick’s last chapter, Beyond Gender (pp. 262-292), and the ideas on gender found throughout Jones’s book. It should not come as a surprise that Merrick discusses Jones’s work — particularly her novel Life, also published by Aqueduct, in which genetic change is likely to push us in to a society that lacks the Great Divide — in that chapter on taking feminism “beyond or outside the terms of the sex/gender system.” (p. 286)

Following on a discussion of criteria for the Tiptree Award, Merrick observes, “From my own perspective, Life was a more radical book by far, both in terms of its feminism and what it did with gender, than either of the two books awarded the Tiptree that year [2004].” (p. 286) She then goes on to explain Jones’s ideas on the Great Divide.

Both Merrick and Jones provide challenging feminist thought for demanding readers of science fiction. But be forewarned: Once you start considering the ideas in these two books, you may find yourself spoiled for “feel-good science fiction,” even with women in the starring roles.

The truth is, despite all the talk about post feminism and retiring feminist science fiction “to the agenda farm,” feminist ideas in both theory and fiction have grown into something far more complex than equal pay for equal work or even reproductive freedom. And they are no longer important only to women; as we begin moving beyond gender, society will change.
Be sure to go read the whole piece.

Another review of The Secret Feminist Cabal, this one by Adrienne Martini, was published originally in Locus Magazine a couple of months back, but is now available through Locus Online here. Rereading it just now, it resonated with Nancy's review:
While Merrick does an amazing job of tracking the rise and fall and rise again of feminism in the genre and its attendant fan communities, what strikes me most as a reader is that her analysis could also be applied to feminism in society as a whole; that is, genre plays out as a microcosm of greater political thought. Which isn’t really a surprise, since SF is made up of people who interact with the larger world – but it hammers home again that these sorts of analyses are not only a history of a community but of a larger movement as well.
Last week, Strange Horizons posted a review by Paul Kincaid of both Imagination/Space and Ursula K. Le Guin's Cheek by Jowl (which was nice timing, really, given that the latter had just won the Locus Award). Kincaid talks in detail about the centrality of feminism to the essays in both books. His conclusion is one that most readers of this blog would likely agree wholeheartedly with:
But what is most interesting about both these books is the centrality of fantasy and science fiction, not just in their careers but in their political (primarily feminist) consciousness. Or, at least, that is one partial reading of the books.

And finally, the July issue of Locus Magazine has a lengthy review by Russell Letson of Eleanor Arnason's Tomb of the Fathers. Here's a taste:
As with A Woman of the Iron People, I kept thinking of Larry Niven at least as much as, say, Ursula K. Le Guin. Not for the specifics of gender politics, certainly, but for the plot-framework of the semi-involuntary exploration of exotic environments coupled with considerations of species biology and social/cultural dynamics. (I suppose this reaches to the roots of modern SF, through Stanley Weinbaum right back to Stapledon and Wells. It's a sturdy and inexhaustible branch of the tradition.) In fact, Arnason seems to be looking for ways out of the various traps and the dead ends that biological determinism offers when thinking about gender relationships-- or any other important area of human (or intelligent alien) activity, for that matter.
Letson characterizes Tomb, by the way, as a "yummy appetizer that leaves you hungry for more."

And finally, just today, at Blog of the Fallen, Larry reviews Rachel Swirsky's Through the Drowsy Dark. Here's a taste:
Swirsky's characters feel so "real," with their frailties and insecurities bleeding through, that often there is a heartbreaking quality to several of these fictions. Swirsky is a damn fine writer and considering how she has already been nominated for several awards and had some of her fiction chosen for anthologies such as Best American Fantasy 2, she will almost certainly continue to be an outstanding writer, whether she continues with short fiction or if she branches off and writes novels as well.
He discusses a couple of other Aqueduct Press books too.

ETA:Oops-- I forgot one!

Lambda Lterary posted Meredith Schwartz's review of Centuries Ago and Very Fast earlier this week. She picks up on the aspect of the book that I personally found most fascinating: "It is Vel’s relationship with the generations of his mortal family that is Ore’s most original and charming departure."

Jeff VanderMeer Helps Aqueduct Press Celebrate

Jeff VanderMeer has thrown a virtual party for Aqueduct on the occasion of our having reached the 50-book mark. Everyone's invited, so please drop by and join us. Though I'm a bit late arriving to it myself (our modem, which is up on the third floor in Tom's [attic] office overheated), I see the party's well on its way. Thank you for your felicitations, Rochita, Shweta, and Larry! Thank you, especially, Jeff! Thank you, everyone! As I say in my interview with Jeff, you all are part of the reason for our success.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adventure in Journalism

A breakdown in my health that lasted from mid-2009 to early 2010 left me unable to submit an interview I'd conducted with Jennifer Egan to the academic journal it'd been destined for. To my delight, the editors of Guernica Magazine expressed an interest in the piece, contingent on my trimming it from 9,100 words down to about half that length. It appeared in that venue a week ago, adding to a long line of worthwhile Guernica interviews, and has already been linked by feministing and Silliman, among others.

An uncomfortable moment occurred when an editor asked me to talk about her good looks in the introductory passage. I'd hoped we'd come a long way from Harlan's "Not only is she a fine writer, she looks great in a bikini" forty years ago: I mean, would I have been asked to write about Colson Whitehead's good looks? Ah well, she's survived that journalistic formula before. But I tried to camp it up, with references to a gay novelist's aesthetic and the effects of horizontal stripes: see my Jennifer Egan interview here.

My other reservation about the interview is that, thanks to the abridgment, there's not a lot to contextualize the references to her fiction that I make in our conversation. So here, an Ambling Along the Aqueduct exclusive, is a paragraph I wrote for the intro explaining who's who in Egan's Look at Me:
Egan’s second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award finalist in 2002. The novel is an epic fable about identity, credulity, and what an understanding of postindustrial America can do to your head. Among its enduring strengths is its gallery of deeply imagined characters, including such satirical figures as Paparazzo Spiro, a fashion photographer who believes he can literally cut through the inauthenticity of the world by slicing into his models’ flesh with razors, and Thomas Keene, an insecure Berkeley graduate who becomes a ruthless entertainment executive upon finding that his métier is putting ordinary people’s lives on the Internet. The novel’s most sympathetic adult characters are a terrorist and a psychotic, both of whom find themselves working as teachers in Rockford, Illinois while trying to understand the “conspiracy” that they see in history. The terrorist, Michael West, gradually discovers that his talent for disguise and imitation can be put to more lucrative uses than political violence. The psychotic, former high school football star Moose Metcalf, has already committed an act of terror: he conducted a pedagogical experiment at Yale using “enough explosives to blow [his classroom] and everyone in it to high heaven, presuming there was such a place.” Incarcerated and then reduced to an adjunct instructorship at Winnebago College, Moose struggles with the stigma of mental illness that keeps him at a distance from his family and colleagues, and yearns for a disciple to share his transcendent vision of history. Like Bleak House, Look at Me is intermittently narrated in the first person; but its fairy-tale heroine is a caustic has-been model, Charlotte Swenson, whose journey from New York back to her native Rockford connects her to all of the other disparate characters.
The Paris Review has another fine Jennifer Egan interview, which complements mine in interesting ways.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

In 1952, Lion Books published Jim Thompson's first paperback original, The Killer Inside Me. This noir Western is told from the point of view of Texas deputy sheriff Lou Ford, a sadistic psychopath who tries to hide his homicidal career behind a slow-witted, folksy, generous façade. Like many of Thompson's first-person narrators, Ford is a wry, witty, and cultured man with a clear view of society's ills and a gift for rationalizing murder. The Killer Inside Me ruthlessly parodies pulp clichés, among them the heroic masculinity of the Western marshal, the homespun simplicity of the populist leader, and the sexual conservatism of the hard-boiled detective. Ford blames his homicidal nature on sexual proclivities that he traces to a childhood trauma, but the story raises the possibility that his murders are completely calculated and self-serving acts of vindictiveness, independent of his sexual outlawry.

The Killer Inside Me
is so dependent on the first-person point of view and on being part of the genre it parodies that it really can't work outside the print medium. So it should come as no surprise that the new movie version of the novel is directed by Michael Winterbottom, the man who brought the equally unfilmable Tristram Shandy to the screen. Nor, given the subject matter, should it be news that siwoti in response to it (one commenter wrote, "To regard women as eager to be beaten to death is to regard them as other than human." I think it unlikely that women in JT are indeed "eager to be beaten to death," although a number of them are too trusting of men whom they know to be violent--a problem that does occur among human beings in real life). I found the film to be okay but far from brilliant: here are thoughts on its achievements and its major faults, with a note or two rebutting some claims that are wrong on the internet.

  1. Lou Ford. Casey Affleck is in fact five years older than Lou Ford. But he does a very good job, as do most of the other performers, except possibly Jessica Alba as a whore whose interest in masochistic sex seems to rekindle Lou's long-dormant insanity.
  2. Violence. The movie depicts violent crimes and their consequences in a very literal manner; it shies away from trivializing portrayals of violence; it never invites the viewer to say, "Fuck yeah!" to or laugh at the violence. Indeed, the casting of screen idols Alba and Kate Hudson as the victims of the most brutal aggression helps to make the already-appalling violence even more disturbing.
  3. Setting. Nice design and cinematography. The mid-fifties Texas boomtown is depicted in loving detail. The credits suggest that Oklahoma, proud of having given the world Jim Thompson, helped a lot.
  4. Fidelity. The screenplay is a very literal, almost scene-by-scene, adaptation of the novel's plot, with a bunch of dialogue and some voiceover taken directly from the book.
  1. Tone. The objectivity of the film medium makes it less flexible in tone than a first-person print narrative by a psychotic, or perhaps psychopathic, killer. Plus there's the issue of how flexible the imagination of today's audiences can be. Someone being wrong on the internet wrote, "Evidently most Americans can identify with a psychopath: I cannot." In other words, a moviegoer expects not just to be interested in or curious about movie characters but to "identify" with a movie's central character, or find that character "relatable"; and once you "identify," you're supposed to be in sympathy with all of a character's actions.* So, if the movie had included more of the cutting social criticism from Lou Ford's speeches, or even such witticisms as "It's as easy as nailin' your balls to a stump and fallin' off backwards," I guess the "identifying" audience would too easily cheer for his murders. But the wrenching sense of seeing an attractive and intelligent guy whom you've been sympathizing with do awful things to people is an important part of reading Thompson; and the movie ends up diluting that aesthetic feature.
  2. Context. A 1952 reader would know about Mike Hammer and John Wayne and Philip Marlowe and could recognize what kind of masculinity was being parodied. Cowboy hat notwithstanding, I don't know whether today's viewers have those kinds of referents.
  3. Textual Politics. When you deal with a story in which the use of misogynist violence is so central, you have to know how to make antimisogynist decisions so that depictions of misogyny don't become manifestations of misogyny. It seems to me that the filmmakers fail twice on that front: in the novel, not only is Lou's "sickness" called into question, his father plays a role in his initial trauma. In the movie, all we see of his origin story involves a woman whom filmgoers will assume to be his mother: cherchez la femme. And they put some dialogue into a female character's mouth toward the end that could be taken to reinforce misogynist victim-blaming.
  4. Argument. Jim Thompson was a socialist who liked to depict how capitalist society fucks people up and/or empowers fucked-up people to hurt others; he was most often interested in how men were given few options other than to become victims and agents of the system, and how the ethos of competition distorted people's understanding of each other by promoting a "get them before they get you" attitude. In the absence of Lou's inner monologue, I don't think one can convey those ideas too well. Some of the plot, involving Lou's double-crossing the construction magnate whose negligence killed his brother, suggests a social critique; and there's nothing to prevent a viewer from seeing how almost everyone's working solely for his or her self-interest (or perhaps being stuck in a one-dimensional social role--in the final scene, Lou does get to comment on how clichéd all the people around him are) is what enables Lou to do the harm he does. But one ends up more focused on how evil Lou Ford is. Paradoxically, while unable to stick with the pov of the nihilistic central character, the movie ends up enforcing the nihilistic world view that, in the novel, is only one of a few possible interpretations.
So: Good-looking and at times witty movie, reverent toward its source material, with many good performances, that works as a mood piece and a character-study but not as social criticism, unless you regard misanthropy as a critique. And be aware if you plan to watch it that the filmmakers have decided to render two scenes of violence against women very vividly. There is decent commentary here and there in the review media: Not Roger at the Chicago Sun-Times has some thoughtful (and some thoughtless) remarks, starting with a nice account of what noir fiction feels like; but more interesting than the review itself is his discussion with the commenters: "To say that the movie doesn't explain murderous sociopathic behavior is . . . not the same thing as saying this movie offers no insight into Lou's character." And I very much liked the review in the Everett Herald (Go Aquasox!).

*The practice of writing characters for audiences that make simplistic judgments also creates a problem in the presentation of one of the women in the story. The Thompson protagonist, in The Killer Inside Me, in After Dark, My Sweet, in Savage Night, and in A Hell of A Woman, goes through an anagnoresis where he realizes that the woman he's regarded as a threat and a harridan (and in some cases killed) was a regular, struggling human being like anyone else. But the movie cannot, for example, present Amy Stanton as particularly annoying, lest it signal to the audience that they're expected to sympathize with Lou's wanting her out of the way. So we get less understanding of Lou's perceptions, and she gets very little in the way of a personality.

Oh Natalie Merchant No!

Thanks to the ever-tasteful coffeeandink, I've been reading recent blog posts by ephemere and littlebutfierce, both of whom, it turns out, have strong opinions on David Byrne & Fatboy Slim's Here Lies Love: A Song Cycle about Imelda Marcos & Estrella Cumpas. The subtitle is a misnomer: Estrella, Imelda's childhood au pair whom the Marcoses put under house arrest for contributing to an unauthorized biography of Imelda, appears in less than 25% of the songs and as such is a supporting character like Ferdinand Marcos and Benigno Aquino. Byrne's goal, as I understand it from his website and the album notes, was to explore the self-image and self-justifications of the powerful in a danceable fashion.

Imelda Marcos is said to like what she's heard from the album.

The ephemere post linked under "strong," above, points out that the U.S. and U.K. tend to remember Imelda as that woman who stole lots of money from her country and used it to buy shoes: there's very little sense of the horrors of the Marcos regime. Byrne has offered a number of rationales for paying little attention (maybe two out of twenty-two songs, with a line or two in others) to those horrors: at one point, he writes that the crimes of the Marcos dictatorship are "in the historical record," and that's not part of his project on Imelda's inner life. The problem is that, as the ephemere post and the discussion in comments argue, that "historical record" is not gonna be generally known. Without it, we're hearing a rather clichéd story about a woman who rises from poverty to marry a powerful dictator and is still in thrall to past bitterness and resentments*: Benigno Aquino is imprisoned because he broke up with Imelda in their youth.

I don't mean to suggest that the record could be fixed by adding an opening number with some incarceration and torture, so that a listener could begin to understand what the focus on Imelda's inner life was meant to be explaining. The problems go deeper than that. Throughout the album notes, Byrne repeats that "the people of the Philippines continue to support the Marcos government" until the Aquino assassination, which "serve[s] to shock the Philippine people out of their complacency." I suppose it's good to be reminded that dictatorships often have popular support. But where did Byrne find "the Philippine people" to ask them about their views? And if they supported the regime, where did the insurgents and dissidents whom it was oppressing come from? Macedonia?

Even the song about martial law, "Order 1081," has lyrics that could be read as an ordinary Filipina's endorsement of the terror. It's partly Natalie Merchant's gripping performance that allows the song to come across as an elegy for lost freedom and a menacing harbinger of bloodshed to come.

This monolithic view of a people, a good strategy for exorcising from history its oppositional forces, is not a case of chauvinism on Byrne's part--he feels the same way about the U.S.** The sole song on the album that Byrne sings himself is an indictment of present-day consumer culture called "American Troglodyte." Unlike some of the more self-critical or tongue-in-cheek lyrics of his Talking Heads days, this one makes it clear that those contemptible "Americans" are not David Byrne and his hipster circle, but people who work day jobs and don't recycle their trash.

There's a line from Byrne in David Bowman's history of Talking Heads that made an impression on me. Something along the lines of "So we spend a few hours jamming and trying out different things, and before I know it I've written a song." That shift from plural to singular, which Bowman uses to illustrate how poorly Byrne ended up treating his bandmates, is a wonderful emblem of the artist's solipsism. Or maybe grandiosity. If a guy whose world view tends to devolve into "there's the unwashed masses, and then there's me" decides to make an album about the self-image of a ruthless dictator, he runs a lot of risks.

My question, to parallel one of the comments on littlebutfierce, is, What the heck is Steve Earle doing here? Does he too just imagine that the horrors of the Marcoses go without saying? Jebus. I'm afraid it's a point that has to be argued. Even in the Philippines (to say nothing of the pinoy diasporic community), they still have many fans. But the big disappointment is Natalie Merchant. It may seem that, given the song she performs, she acquits herself just fine in this project. But if this Times article*** is accurate (and I mean that as a serious caveat), Merchant says “Aspects of the way she lived her life were utterly despicable . . . But in other ways it was a fairytale life, a bit pathetic in its origins and very emotionally ambiguous.” I think a point is being missed here.

Still, I look forward to Byrne and his collaborators on their next album exploring the bittersweet struggle of Mullah Mohammed Omar.

*Byrne says he's never seen Evita. Maybe Hal Prince and Andrew Lloyd Webber are too subtle and urbane for him.
**Indeed, he seems to think Filipino "complacency" under martial law was not unlike U.S. acceptance of the Bush regime, an analogy which, although well-intentioned (he doesn't want U.S.ians to feel smugly ahead of the Third World), contains a certain quantity of fail.
***That's the article, noted on ephemere, that says, "Compared to some of the other truly scary foreign autocrats America has supported or created in recent decades, Imelda’s crimes against human rights and good taste seem relatively harmless by comparison now," a sentence which should arouse both ethical and aesthetic horror in any thinking person.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"the ordinary frame of reference for political judgment has skewed so far to the right that reality is standing sideways."

In other words, as my father once said while trying clumsily to use sci-fi lingo, "I want to be in a perpendicular universe." Essayist-at-large Scott McLemee uses an appreciation of Irving Bernstein's newly-reissued books on labor history as an occasion to discuss how worker consciousness, popular rage, and the range of the conceivable differed in decades past from what we live with now.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

More Chandler Davis

With Chandler Davis's generous permission and Ray's help, I have posted an editorial Chan wrote in response to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Holder v. HLP, which in effect creates (or legitimizes) a new "Attorney General's List" of criminalized affiliations. Here's Chandler Davis's The Defendant Is Not Important.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Chandler Davis Online Archive

Readers who made it through my introduction to It Walks in Beauty: Selected prose of Chandler Davis were rewarded by a passage saying, The release of this volume will be accompanied by the launching of a website that offers links to several Chandler Davis pieces for which this volume lacked space. So I think I've completed the website in question: The Chandler Davis Online Archive is up and, I hope, running. Three stories and four essays by Professor Davis, plus links to Related Books from Aqueduct and Similar Works by Me.

More specifically:

To Still the Drums. A 1946 suspense story that predicts guided missiles and nuclear escalation. The piece is much admired by H. Bruce Franklin; it's also been praised by David Seed. Chan thinks it's not much of a story.

The Journey and the Goal. A 1947 interplanetary conflict piece that begins a promising story and then just kind of stops. Maybe Chan had a deadline.

Hexamnion. I'm ambivalent about this story, which Chan wrote in the 1960s, as I indicate in my Afterword to It Walks in Beauty: Selected prose of Chandler Davis. But I have to admit that the attempt to write lush Sturgeonesque prose and to explore the question of sexual object-choice is worth a look.

So You're Going to Prison! Chandler Davis in The Nation! A wonderful autobiographical essay that can't be read without nostalgia for how different U.S. prisons were back in 1960.

The Purge. Davis's definitive statement on the academic blacklist. Read it alongside "From an Exile," the second essay in It Walks in Beauty: Selected prose of Chandler Davis.

What Might Sex Mean? Chan never got this provocative late-seventies essay published: it was limited to samizdat circulation. Today's sexual libertarian readers, weaned on "Times Square Blue" and The Trouble with Normal, might be tempted to dismiss the essay's association of sex with affectionate relationships between individuals. But maybe that's why it has to be part of the conversation.

Science for Good or Ill, complete. Davis's great essay on the social responsibility of scientists. It Walks in Beauty: Selected prose of Chandler Davis includes a sexy excerpt thereof.

The presence of a work in The Chandler Davis Online Archive should not be taken to preclude the possibility of its appearance in a future volume of Chan Davis's works.