Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

The World Without Me

I just finished listening to an audiobook version of The World Without Us. Sometimes it was exhilarating, more often so depressing that I finished my commute in the mood to just kill myself and mark on my headstone, “Let the healing begin!” If you find visions of apocalypse compelling, and love your dreams laced with ecodeath and dystopia, you love this book. Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s full of paleoarchaeology, looking at the world before us as well as the world after us, and quite a bit of science fictional thought experimentation. If you can get past the chapter on plastic, there is the occasional spark of hope–or anyway, of color.

J.G. Ballard: Conversations

RE/Search Publications has been publishing amazing books for years, works by and about Charles Willeford, William Burroughs, Survival Research Laboratories, punk culture, urban primitives, the list goes on and on. Their early book on J.G. Ballard had a huge influence on me, probably being the biggest single spark to my first novel, Dad’s Nuke (along with the simple fact that I was stewing in the grey elevated bowels of Pacific Gas & Electric). Of only slightly lesser impact, their hilarious Pranks. Today, I received, courtesy of RE/Search founder V. Vale, a copy of their latest Ballard book, J.G. Ballard: Conversations. A fat collection of Ballard interviews, full of those bright meaty nuggets that spark complete psychic rearrangements and little things like, oh, novels. Many thanks, Vale. I hope this link brings you at least one lucky new soul who had never before known of all the treasures stored at RE/Search.

Tom Disch is Gone


Ellen Datlow has posted the first I’ve heard of it on her livejournal. This is very sad. Disch’s books and stories are remarkable and have been a big influence on me since I was a teenager, plowing through White Fang Goes Dingo. 334 is one of the great works of American sf, although others might pick Camp Concentration or another of his books for that honor. He has always been a writer whose work I looked up to. I only met him once, at a Norwescon in 1982, and my memories are mainly of him looming through crowded convention suites. He had arrived to announce the creation of the Philip K. Dick award, and summed up PKD’s passing with these words (which I believe he cribbed from Dick): “Fucking Death.”


Some months back, I pointed people toward Disch’s own livejournal, where he was turning out poetry at an astonishing rate. It’s all still there, and more besides.

And here is a recent podcast, along with a more recent photograph of Disch.  I remember him looking like the fellow in the photo I posted above, so I’ll leave that where it is.  Today I was in a bookstore buying a used SF Book Club edition of Triplicities.  The cashier said, “That’s a great collection.  He’s a wonderful writer.”  I said, “He just died.  Did you know that?”  And then the most quickly stifled, embarrassed, conversation-ending sort of “Yeah” I’ve ever heard in conversation.  Neither of us knew what to say.  I took my book and left.

Dalai Cliquefest

We just returned from a long morning session at the Seeds of Compassion, the final day of such events held in Seattle. The highlight was the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu joking with one another. The playful personality of the Dalai Lama, so evident in his autobiography, came shining through. Unfortunately, it was very hard to understand some of the DL’s comments due to poor acoustics and his extremely deep, low voice. Even in this company, the most engaging speaker of the group was Rabbi David Rosen (Chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations), about whom I would love to know more. After the panel, the Seattle Symphony’s Pacific Northwest Community Orchestra gave a fantastic performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy with a 600 member orchestra and choir.

China Borrows Terms From U.S. Lexicon

Chinese officials appropriate the “suicide bomber” label. Reminting the oppression of Tibetans in the currency of the war against terror, with a threat of “suicide squads,” they may hope to gain western support for whatever tactics they will employ next. This certainly goes against a discussion in the recent entertaining survey of evolutionary psychology, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, which posits that most suicide bombers are the product of cultures which enshrine the custom of one man taking many wives, leaving a large pool of frustrated young men who believe their best reproductive chances lie with a plenitude of maidens who are only available in the afterlife. The jarring concept of Buddhist “suicide squads” makes no sense except as propaganda. On the other hand, given the Chinese suppression and interference in the practice of Buddhism in Tibet, the culture of peace seems like an inevitable casualty.

Trends in Japanese S.F.

My old friend Yoshio Kobayashi, under his pen name Takashi Ogawa, has written a nice piece on new trends in Japanese science fiction. I’m currently helping Yoshio round up some North American translators to assist with an anthology of short fiction by some of the more interesting new Japanese writers.

The Perfect 20th Anniversary Gift: Lead

As we close in on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, National Geographic is running a feature on Chernobyl today in its April 2006 issue. Their website features a slideshow with many photos not included with the article. This article makes a perfect companion to Martin Cruz Smith’s fifth novel of Russian investigator Arkady Renko, Wolves Eat Dogs. It might also be handy if you’re planning a trip to Chernobyl. Avoid the milk; cheese is safer.

The Hypermodern Muse

People occasionally ask me for a transcript of “The Hypermodern Muse,” the keynote talk I gave at the first Austin Game Writers conference. I went ahead and posted it on the site. I’ve added a few links to references in the text, and will probably continue to do this as I track down related items.