Monthly Archives: January 2009

Short Story Review: Be Jadeses Whipt

An anonymous commenter suggested I review a piece by Jay Larkcom (a pseudonym). He even provided a link. So I went there. If I were you, I wouldn’t. Here’s why:

Yer jehosephat mud havin’ hogs, mud stinky weren’t, heap, throwed hee-haw ain’t fixin’ grandpa rottgut. Outhouse, gritts buy dumb in redblooded sheep pudneer, firewood spell feud havin’.

Yeah. If life is too short for bad books, it is definitely too short for short stories like this. Possibly there’s something I’m not appreciating here, like not appreciating that time you stumbled home drunk at dawn and puked on your boots going upstairs. The cleverest thing on this page is a comment by a reader: “This is like Joyce for the iPod generation.”

It’s not. Or if it is, the iPod generation really is going to stop reading. And I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

I hope to say something positive about the next story I review here. Anyone got any candidates?

Pretty much all you need to know about life is …

… that it ends. As this chart illustrates:


Image via Boing Boing. The post goes on to advocate more research into life extension. Which I do not. There are plenty of us on the planet as is. Sack up. Get a memento mori. You’re going to die. So is everyone you have ever known or will know. That’s how it is. That’s alright. Take the cure of the ancients: Are you afraid of what was, before you were born? No? Then why be afraid of what will be after you die?

A DRM dilemma

Came across a book I’d really, really like to read: Agincourt, by Bernard Cornwell. (Titled Azincourt in the UK.) This review says:

For every English boy, there is an instant when it’s two o’clock on an October afternoon in 1415. … Agincourt stood out for its brutality, its heroism, its impossible result. God must have had a hand in its outcome. So they wrote at the time … With his novel “Agincourt,” Bernard Cornwell leads us into this world with the hypnotic skill of an old seer seated about an ancient campfire. Of course Shakespeare, with “Henry V,” has already taken us on this journey …Mr. Cornwell selects for his protagonist a man as lowly as the king is exalted, as powerless as the king is omnipotent.

I trace the origins of my Shakespeare-homage to reading and then seeing Henry V in college: “And gentlemen in England now-a-bed, Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” (Get it for free at Manybooks.)

And now here is a novel about that same set of events, from a commoner’s perspective. What’s there not to love?

The DRM that will come with the Kindle version of the book, that’s what. I mean, not only will it come DRM-encrypted, which places it firmly in the dustbin of history, but it costs $15.11. That’s a 46% savings over the hardcover, but still. At that price I’d rather have the actual book. I could wait to get it in paperback or used, but, darn it, I want to read it. Now.

So what do you think? Should I just fork over my fifteen bucks to Amazon and get to reading, just this once? Or should I not let Amazon railroad me with my own literary hankering? My finger is twitching over the 1-click button on Amazon, telling me I can be reading it in under a minute …

Resistance to e-books is futile

Further anecdotal evidence that resistance to e-books is futile:
Gareth Powell tells how he bought iPod the Missing Manual (O’Reilly, Amazon) by J.D. Biersdorfer and David Pogue for $3.50 as an iPhone download. A bookseller in Sydney wanted $27 for it (though Powell notes it sells for $20 in the US). Powell holds this as further evidence that the paper side of the publishing industry is dying.

Down in the comments, one of the authors, David Pogue, chimes in. He indicates that he has no control over who releases the e-book or how. Scroll further. A representative of Pogue’s publisher and “person responsible for the iPhone App” chimes in. Here’s the best part:

“I can say that the data is clear: David’s print sales are not negatively affected by the iPhone App …Your concerns are only warranted if you assume that a $4.99 app sale means a lost $24.99 print sale — our data suggests the opposite: that $24.99 print sales are unaffected or increase, and that a $4.99 app sale is instead of no sale at all.”

He provides this link as evidence that e-book sales are not a drag on p-book sales. Powell ends the comments by confirming what advocates of the e-book already know: after buying the iPhone app, he bought the print book, at full price.

(Note: This post is also up at TeleRead.)

From global warming to a society that makes sense?

I want to connect a couple dots here. First, not only is global warming real, but it’s going to be with us for the next thousand years:

It appears that we’re locked into sea level rises and droughts for the next thousand years as a result of past greenhouse gas emissions. … even if policy makers and the general public get on board with drastic CO2 emission cuts, it’s already too late to prevent serious changes to the planet’s climate, and those changed will be remarkably persistent.

The science is not in doubt, folks:

Skeptics and denialists often bring up the topic of consensus in an attempt to muddy the waters surrounding climate change. Fringe voices are often bandied around, but of more than 3,000 earth scientists, 90 percent agreed that yes, global temperatures have risen, and 82 percent agreed that the cause was man-made.

If you hear otherwise, someone is suckering you, or is in denial, or trying to sell you something, or all of the above. If 90% of scientists told you that neckbelts were a bad idea, you’d only remain a skeptic until your first fender-bender. Well, not to worry. The granddaddy of doom James Lovelock thinks after a 90% culling of the human population, humans will carry on at the poles. How cheering.

Second, see this hagiography for the 6-hour workday. Not only is it possible, but it’s actually been profitably done, by the Kellogg Company in 1930. (That’s the Great Depression, you’ll recall.) It’s not impossible to work less and still turns a profit. It just requires some vision.

By 1991 the amount of goods and services produced for each hour of labor was double what it had been in 1948. By 2006 that figure had risen another 30 percent. In other words, if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.

The fact that our society is so stressed, overworked, indebted, and uber-consumptive is because we choose it to be. To opt out of the craziness, you have to go live in the woods with survivalists and religious crazies, or live in a closet-sized apartment in San Francisco with 20 of your like-minded best friends, or go abroad. If you do this last, the American lifestyle follows you over. I wear a tie to work. I have a 9 to 5er. I have a house and a car. In short, I fit in pretty well with my rural Thai neighbors. Sure, there are peasants living remnants of the traditional lifestyle, but, believe me, they don’t do it by choice. They’d be jostling for inches of asphalt on my morning commute if they could.

My point: we could have made better choices in the past. So we could do better for the future. I’m talking a radical reworking of our society. Tear down the gods of workplace and money and the pursuit of gadgets from their altars. Replace them with family and a committed citizenry, liberty and justice, and the pursuit of (creative) happiness.

Look, I’m not a bleeding-heart socialist pinko. Actually, I’m a conservative, in the true sense of the word. Money, the workplace and the pursuit of gadgets have their place. Just one much lower in the hierarchy. I’m hearkening back to the earliest values of the American republic and Western civilization. Where an individual enjoys rights and liberties but these rights and liberties are not more important than the good of the polity. Where money does not trump justice, nor economic “growth” the value of a decent life. Our endless pursuit of material good is destroying our ability to have a civilization. You can’t have a free market, or a nationalized market, or any other market, if you don’t have a society that goes to the marketplace. It is time to stop taking the short view. If we want to our grandchildren to live in a civilization we recognize.

As far back as 1835, Boston workingmen striking for shorter hours declared that they needed time away from work to be good citizens: “We have rights, and we have duties to perform as American citizens and members of society.” As those workers well understood, any meaningful democracy requires citizens who are empowered to create and re-create their government, rather than a mass of marginalized voters who merely choose from what is offered by an “invisible” government. Citizenship requires a commitment of time and attention, a commitment people cannot make if they are lost to themselves in an ever-accelerating cycle of work and consumption … We can break that cycle by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need. … We can create a society where people have time to play together as well as work together, time to act politically in their common interests, and time even to argue over what those common interests might be. That fertile mix of human relationships is necessary for healthy human societies, which in turn are necessary for sustaining a healthy planet.

What would such a society look like? Couldn’t tell you. Is BHO going to do it? Not a chance in hell. Are we going to collectively make any of these changes without being forced into them? I’m not so naive as to hope so.

But we could. We could start right now.

The greatness of The Beatles

I was pleased to note that my favorite Beatles song, “In My Life”, played by the valiant writer and musician Brenton Rossow at our wedding, was rated the 7th-best Beatles song of all time. Talk about a never-ending topic. I wouldn’t rate “I Am The Walrus” as #2 by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s a travesty that “Hard Day’s Night” (#50) and “Help!” (#54) aren’t in the Top Ten. There’s a debate that could go on all day and night.

But that’s only one measure of the greatness of the Beatles. Look at the other end of the spectrum. What I consider their worst song, “Honey Pie” (#184 of 185) rates this comment:

For what it’s trying to do, “Honey Pie” isn’t terrible. It’s just that it doesn’t belong … The White Album, with a few notable exceptions, is split pretty evenly between hard-rockers and gentle folk songs. When “Honey Pie” enters that mix, with its Prohibition horns and Paul hamming it up with embarrassing scatting and loopy falsetto, it’s jarring in the worst possible way.

If that’s the worst thing you can say about a group’s worst song, then what you’ve got is the best group ever.

It being a free internet and all, I’m willing to brook opposition, but I sure do draw a blank when confronted with the category of “Better Than The Beatles.”

Learning Japanese possibly provides adequate stimulation

I learned a lot of interesting things studying Japanese, but I confess I never came across anything as downright attention-grabbing as this:

As I was looking up the word 電動 (electric) this afternoon, the dictionary I was using came up with this example:

電動じゃなくて手動のマスターベーションでは十分な刺激が得にくい
It’s difficult to provide adequate stimulation through manual masturbation.

If all the textbook examples had been like this, maybe I would have gone on for a PhD. Thanks, Idle Monkey Trainer.

Short Story Review: “The End of the Line”

Pondering my 101st post, it occurred to me that though I have posted links to my short stories and indeed even posted short stories, I haven’t reviewed any. Seems pretty rude of me. I’m asking you to read my stuff, right? So I ought to point the way to other people’s as well. I’m going to start setting things right as of this post, in what I hope will become a regular feature around here.

Considering how much fiction is out there, this is going to be a crapshoot. If you come across anything worth reading, please pass the link on to me and I’ll see if I can’t get it reviewed.

I start at Pindeldyboz, because the good folks there put up my first short story written from abroad back in 2004. From their front page, I selected a story based on the title that appealed most: “The End of the Line“, by Chelsey Flood.

At 720 words, this story falls firmly into the Flash Fiction category. Meaning it will take you a mere two or three minutes to wing your way through it. Unfortunately that’s about two or three too many. For flash fiction to work, it has to be sharp-edged as filed glass. Every single word has to count, and count hard. You can be understated, but in a ninja star sort of a way. “The End of the Line” doesn’t get there. It’s a muddled musing on a relationship which may or may not have been a one-night stand, which may or may not be ending. A sampling:

I rolled you over, shifted my weight so I could slide down your white body, thinking I can’t believe I am doing this, as my finger tips and lips drew lines down your sides.

If you’re going to write about sex, you’ve got to do better than this. Striving to be clever does not clever prose make. Other near-cliches include, “I meet your eye, smile like a man who has options”, and “‘You’ve cured me!’ I said and you smiled like that was impossible.”

It’s got to work better than this, for this to work.

Grade: C-

Note: the link to Ms. Flood’s blog is down. If it comes back up, I’ll post it here.

Short Story Review: "The End of the Line"

Pondering my 101st post, it occurred to me that though I have posted links to my short stories and indeed even posted short stories, I haven’t reviewed any. Seems pretty rude of me. I’m asking you to read my stuff, right? So I ought to point the way to other people’s as well. I’m going to start setting things right as of this post, in what I hope will become a regular feature around here.

Considering how much fiction is out there, this is going to be a crapshoot. If you come across anything worth reading, please pass the link on to me and I’ll see if I can’t get it reviewed.

I start at Pindeldyboz, because the good folks there put up my first short story written from abroad back in 2004. From their front page, I selected a story based on the title that appealed most: “The End of the Line“, by Chelsey Flood.

At 720 words, this story falls firmly into the Flash Fiction category. Meaning it will take you a mere two or three minutes to wing your way through it. Unfortunately that’s about two or three too many. For flash fiction to work, it has to be sharp-edged as filed glass. Every single word has to count, and count hard. You can be understated, but in a ninja star sort of a way. “The End of the Line” doesn’t get there. It’s a muddled musing on a relationship which may or may not have been a one-night stand, which may or may not be ending. A sampling:

I rolled you over, shifted my weight so I could slide down your white body, thinking I can’t believe I am doing this, as my finger tips and lips drew lines down your sides.

If you’re going to write about sex, you’ve got to do better than this. Striving to be clever does not clever prose make. Other near-cliches include, “I meet your eye, smile like a man who has options”, and “‘You’ve cured me!’ I said and you smiled like that was impossible.”

It’s got to work better than this, for this to work.

Grade: C-

Note: the link to Ms. Flood’s blog is down. If it comes back up, I’ll post it here.

Shakespeare handles my 100th post

Now, I like me some Shakespeare, enough to rely on him for life advice. So I was going to devote my 100th post to wishing the Shrub a fond farewell with a little help from the Shakespearean Insulter. Until a sober-minded friend convinced me that wasn’t such a hot idea. (Thanks, Meg.)

Now isn’t the time to go hooting and hollering and jumping up and down in the empty space left behind by the vanquished. BHO did say we ought “set aside childish things,” so alright. I’ll look to the future, from the bounds of my little family to the fortunes of the great nation we’re bound for. And let Shakespeare settle the matter thusly:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Thanks for reading. Hope you stick around for the next hundred.