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The cyborg in a time of prolonged war

A friend recently told me that the old TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, about a grievously-wounded astronaut fitted with human-looking but superpowered prosthetics, was being rebooted. I vented about this a while — I have issues with the constant readaptation of the recent pop-culture past, driven by the marketer’s fear of an unsure product — but a recent panel I had seen at the World Fantasy Convention put me in a kinder mindset.

The panel discussed the rise in European horror fiction after World War 1. Fiction helps us process the world (to a great degree, scientists now think), even the horrors of war, if it can address it. Even today, Outside the Wire’s Theater of War presents Sophocles’s Ajax to communities vulnerable to PTSD. In the US after the Civil War, and in Europe after World War I, horror stories helped society work out the true horrors they had seen and still saw, the desolation wrought around them, and the wounded disabled survivors.

Because of our improved ability to save the lives of the grievously-wounded, our 21st-Century wars are increasing both the number of young disabled people and the public’s frequency and depth of engagement with prosthetic devices. There’s things to say about that, well-suited for telling through a Steve Austin figure.

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On technology in fiction

Modern and future readers don’t need to be convinced that technology will improve to magical levels; we’ve seen it happen in our lifetimes, in our children’s. To explain more than absolutely needed is to write for the past, but the dead will not read us.

So I have become pointedly effacing on the subject of gear. I don’t want to say anything not immediately needed for the story to continue. It is enough that a tool acts; the tool itself should be as invisible as a butler, and the action the thing of import.

This is a stylistic choice, a convention, but it is informed by function. Continue reading


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Optimism and Zombies

Almost fifty years ago, Stewart Brand wrote in the Whole Earth Catalog that we were as gods and that we might as well get good at it.

At roughly the same time, George Romero made Night of the Living Dead.

Guess which one inspires our culture today?

Fifty years from now, the zombie might have the quaintness of little green men, but for now, they are everywhere. Newt Gingrich observed some time ago that for better or worse, the Earth is about human beings now. The zombie is our reflexive response to the disgust this idea rightly inspires: a fear our modern world is a fragile thing that fights nature, enabling concentrations of power that persist when they should rightly decline. The zombie says that we are Greek gods, petty and short-sighted, bad gods. Fifty years ago, our lone Gnostic writer Philip K Dick wrote pulps; today his work still inspires movies.

Perhaps we should be more optimistic. Last weekend I attended Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s inaugural Zombie Workshop, to kick off their spring 2015 satire Zombie the American. Along with zombie movement explorations (we form herds so quickly when we pretend to be dead) and hilarious script scenes, the theater hosted a discussion of “zombie economics” with the law professor Ilya SominContinue reading


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Making a busy life into a busy blog

The blog has been stale although I have been busy.

In posts across the web, that “although” is a “because” — you know you’ve read it, here and a thousand other blogs. Which is a problem. It’s one thing to know silent business is a missed opportunity to self-promote, another to make it an aspect of writing and not an intrusion. With Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife, I am learning how to change that.

I am late to Jeff VanderMeer’s excellent fiction, but when the esteemed Paulo Bacigalupi mentioned VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, & Acceptance) on three separate panels at CapClave, I took it for advice — and I loved Annihilation. (The others wait for Xmastime.)

But, in the dealer’s room at World Fantasy Convention, after VanderMeer signed my copy of Annihilation, I passed a table that had his book Booklife. Just the title made my heart both sink and rise. A booklife? What’s that? I want one. I really do. Continue reading