Sunday, April 28, 2013


Patrick and I agreed that we did not think it was useful to think of individuals as evil, since it pulls them out of context and makes it seem as if the individuals are the entire problem, rather than societies.

Later the same day, Patrick said he had changed his mind. He was able to think of an individual who can be described as evil. Dick Chaney.

I decided he's right, and I would add Margaret Thatcher to the list of genuinely evil people.

I still have very little interest in villains. They should be put in a safe place where they can do no harm, and if neurologists and psychologists want to study them, fine.

Societies that work badly and unfairly do interest me.

Facebook and Computer Solitaire

This is from facebook, responding to a friend who has decided he's spending too much time on facebook and with computer games.

I focused on facebook to break the habit of checking political and economic blogs every morning. The news was mostly depressing and angering. Since a lot of my facebook colleagues are interested in politics, I still get some news, but intermixed with cat pictures and xycd. (I don't have to worry about political disagreements, because I block people whose opinions bother me. For example, everyone who decided that Newtown was a good time to argue in favor of guns got blocked at once. Anyone who doesn't understand good manners in a time of grief and horror is too weird for me.) I do think I spend too much on fb. I'm thinking about ways to move away from it.

I also play a lot of computer solitaire. Sometimes this is useful. I can think while playing, since I am not paying much attention to the game. It's a way of fidgeting while I think. But reading or writing or cleaning house or taking a walk all sound more useful and fun. Life is short, and I am wasting too much of it.

It occurs to me that the other thing I do while playing computer solitaire is listen to classical music. That probably has some value. I still need to spend more time doing other things.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I suspect the storm last night will be the last of the winter. I cancelled an eye appointment today, because the National Weather Service said six to ten inches of snow were possible. But the storm came and went and left only four inches, which has quickly melted. Only a few patches are left. As storms go, it was a disappointment.

To be fair to the weather people, there were accumulations of ten inches north and south of the Twin Cities.

Twin Cities, April 23

This photo is from the Loring Park Gardens site. It's a lovely little urban park at the edge of downtown Minneapolis.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Free Downloads Warning

I mentioned earlier that many of my stories are online. They are at legit sites, posted with my permission: online magazines, Asimov's, my website.

There are also stories at free download mega sites. Be careful of these. First of all, the work was not posted with my permission. Second, another author has suggested that some of these sites may be scams, gathering information on people who visit the sites and including viruses in downloads.

I pass this warning on for what it may be worth.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wiscon Panels +

Class Markers: The Obvious and the Subtle Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm

Vamps, Zombies, Steampunk, Dystopias: Where's the Hope in SF? Sun, 2:30–3:45 pm

Evolution and Cooperation: A Post-feminist View Sun, 4:00–5:15 pm

Overflowing the Aqueduct (READING) Mon, 10:00–11:15 am

The SignOut (MASS SIGNING) Mon, 11:30 am–12:45 pm

Convergence Panels July 4-7, 2013

These are my panels for Convergence, a very large local, mostly media con run by very, very nice people.

I am only going to add that Will Shetterly is on all three panels. I am on three panels with Will Shetterly.

Friday, July 5
Successful and Unsuccessful Alternative History
Creating a Monster: How to Write Villains
Sunday, July 7
How to Write an Interesting Hero

The question that really interests me about alternative history is: why is there so much of it now? I tend to think it's a failure of nerve. Rather than write about the future, which is looking dark and coming at us quickly, we try to rewrite the past. The book I have coming out at Wiscon, Big Mama Stories, is mostly about time travel. There's a connection between time travel and alternative history. How contingent do you think history is? Will small changes cause big results? My stories, both time travel and alternative history, assume that answer is no. But that's only my opinion. I think it's easier to change the future than the past.

As far as villains go, I don't find them interesting. People who are pathological in fiction -- Jim Moriarty in Sherlock, Loki in Thor -- are fascinating and impressive. One is a master criminal. The other is a god. But in real life, we have street criminals and people with bad wiring in their brains and business people and government officials.

Patrick spent years working in locked psych units and met many people who had done terrible things. He said they weren't very interesting. What's interesting about people is their good qualities and how they struggle to overcome problems.

I don't think I believe in personal evil. Most bad behavior takes place within a social context, and it's hard to separate the behavior from the context. When you spend a lot of time looking at personal evil, you are likely to ignore social evil. You are focusing on the people who act out in obvious and usually fairly petty ways: street criminals, hackers, the homeless who camp in empty lots in violation of the law, gay people in a homophobic society. The police pull them in; we say they are bad or evil.

But you are not seeing the white collar criminals who are comfortable in the system. The harm they do is systematic and done in such an ordinary, everyday fashion that it doesn't seem like a crime. The CEO of Nestle has said that water is a commodity like everything else and should be bought and sold. People have no right to enough water to survive. If you denied water to someone dying of thirst, asked him for money when he had none, that would be a terrible evil act. But if you do the same thing to the planet, it's business.

As far as heroes go, I set out to write about people I like and who interest me. Why would I want to spend time with boring or depressing people? I do my best to avoid them in real life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Twin Cities, April 19

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Dream

I was in a less than good mood yesterday, went to bed early and dreamt. Patrick and I had moved to south central Minneapolis. It was a neighborhood full of bungalows with a huge park. Neither the neighborhood nor the park exist in reality. We were walking in the park, which was flat and full of ponds and lakes. The water was covered with duckweed and water lilies, so I couldn't tell where the land ended and the water began. The day was sunny and lots of kids were fishing. We saw a couple of guys -- adult men -- with strings of good sized fish. One guy had northern pike. The other guy had fish I didn't recognize. This is interesting, because I know the local game fish and pan fish.

Then we saw a guy walking a miniature bison, which came up to his waist. I asked if the bison was going to grow more. The guy said, yes. It would grow to full size. But he wasn't worried. The bison was friendly and well behaved.

That was the dream. It was oddly reassuring. Maybe I will be in a good mood today.

I did finish proofing a 16,000 word story yesterday and am working on a new story about valet parking in space. It's my attempt to write something short and funny and working class. There's a dream in it, and I think I know how to write the dream now.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I am doing something that I think is sane. I have been in the habit of beginning the day by reading political and economic blogs. The news on them is usually depressing and angering. Now I am trying to start the day by checking facebook, my various email accounts and my blog. My facebook colleagues tend to be political and progressive, so I get a lot of news there, but it is intermixed with cat photos and links to xycd. I have liked Curiosity's facebook page, also the facebook page of Idle No More, the First Nation movement in Canada. So I get inspirational photos of Mars and native people marching. Much more cheering than the usual news.

Fan Fic

I just sent another essay off to Strange Horizon. It's about fan fic, and I ended up wondering why I don't write fan fic. Friends do. I have in the past, the distant past at this point. I have written fiction about people who write fan fic (the hwarhath playwright in Ring of Swords) and people who cosplay (the hwarhath translator in "Holmes Sherlock"). But I have some kind of hostility to writing within a copyrighted universe.

I would hate to believe the reason is snobbery.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Buckminster Fuller

This is my half of a conversation on facebook, which began when I wrote the following:
I remember once, when I was a high school kid, coming home and finding Buckminster Fuller in our living room, holding court among adoring college students. The memory is vivid. I guess he was impressive.
One of my facebook colleagues asked, not unnaturally, what Buckminster Fuller was doing in my family's living room. I wrote:
My father was director of the Walker Art Center, back when it was not the huge and famous place it has since become. Fuller must have been there giving a lecture. I remember a geodesic dome was built behind the Walker, I think by the college students.
The facebook colleague then asked what it was like to be the daughter of the director of the Walker. I replied:
I met a lot of artists, most of them local to the Twin Cities, and most of them pretty interesting. I got to hang out in an art museum. It was not as glitzy as museums have since become -- a strange mixture of the founder's eccentric collection and contemporary art and design. T. B. Walker's Chinese jades are now at the Minneapolis Art Institute, and the jade mountain is in a glass case. When I was a kid I used to walk my fingers up the mountain's steps.
She asked if I had kept in touch with any of the artists.
No. They were my parents' friends, not mine. Most are gone now. For me, they are fragmentary memories. Some brief meeting or other that stayed in my mind. I guess what I got from them was the idea that art was serious and worth doing -- and being smart and arty and intellectual and eccentric was rather neat.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Short Fiction

From facebook:
It's miserable outside, rain that is predicted to turn to wintry mix. I have to proof a story. 16,000 words. It just printed out. Even typeset, it occupies 42 pages. This may not sound like a lot, but today, with wintry mix outside the window, I am not in love with my fiction. Why are my stories so long? I'm going to write tiny, gem-like short stories of a few thousand words in the future. Maybe I'll switch to short-shorts. Or haiku.

I'm not entirely serious, by the way. Don't rush to reassure me. I just don't like proofreading. I'm not good at it, and I keep seeing sentences that need fixing, but it's too late.

I like the early stages of writing, the first draft when I look at blank paper or a blank computer screen and think, "I am going to write something fabulous. A work of genius. And it will be funny."

Every once in a while, I write a story that's in the range of 1,500 to 6,000 words. I think they are always folk tales. Though when I started getting published, 40 years ago or whenever, all my stories were 3,000-4,500 words and science fiction. These are lovely lengths. I wish I could get back to them more often.

The shorter a story is, the better it has to be, because there isn't room of mistakes. A novel can have chunks that don't really work. A novelette or novella can have some weaknesses. But a short story... No.

Monday, April 08, 2013


For some reason I thought about this poem this morning, maybe because it's a cold spring day. I was thinking of traditional Chinese poetry, especially the poems in The Book of Songs, when I wrote this.

“Caw! Caw!” sing the crows in the bare spring branches.
“Honk! Honk!” call the geese in the cold spring sky.


At twenty-one my hair began to silver.
At the age of forty it was completely grey.
At sixty-five it’s white and thin.
I wear it short, my hair clips put away.


At twenty-one I had ambition.
At the age of forty I wondered what I’d done.
At sixty-five the days move quickly.
I try to pay attention. They are too soon gone.


“Caw! Caw!” sing the crows in the bare spring branches.
“Honk! Honk!” call the geese in the cold spring sky.
I may have posted it on the blog before. If so, here it is again.

Weather Report

Drizzle right now. Rain predicted for today, rain or snow tomorrow, snow Wednesday and possibly Thursday. I love Minnesota.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


The Monthly Review is calling what we are now in stagnation. But it's stagnation with a large amount of unemployment. The U-6 rate for February was 14.3%, which strikes me as way high. That means one worker in seven is unemployed or under employed.

The above chart is from the blog of the economist Brad DeLong. It shows a severe drop in the percentage of the population in the labor force. This happens when people can't find jobs. They drop out entirely and live with relatives or live under bridges. Some go to college and run up student loans, hoping to find a job when they graduate. Some retire, if they are 62 or over. A few may be able to get on disability: people who are genuinely disabled, but would find work in a high-employment economy, which utilizes every possible worker. Some may make money doing odd jobs and getting paid in cash.

A healthy economy is supposed to employ 65-70% of possible workers: that is, adults of working age. That's where we started in 2000. We keep going down.

Factories (we still have them in the US) have unused capacity, and corporations are sitting on mountains of cash, which they don't put into expanding production, because they don't see a market for more goods and services.

Because there is no reason to invest in anything productive, that might create jobs, money tends to go to speculation: the kind of Wall Street scams that caused the 2007 financial crash.

I don't call this stagnation. I call it recession or depression. It's different from the Great Depression, because there is this huge froth of speculation on top of a real economy that is barely moving.

Remember that the entire US infrastructure needs to be rebuilt.

Remember that we need to move to different kinds of energy and to energy conservation. Solar power. Wind power. Better mass transit. Buildings that use less power and radiate less heat.

Remember that we have to face global warming: more storms, rising sea levels, more flooding and more drought. All of this requires changes to infrastructure.

If we don't do this, our entire society will crumble like the I-35 bridge.

So, there's plenty of work to be done, and a world full of people who need jobs. What is holding us back?

A society dominated by the rich and financial speculation.

Don't ever believe we can't afford to do what must be done, if society is going to survive. The rich pay far little in taxes. We can raise their taxes and rebuild America. Or we can let them keep their money and watch our society fall apart.

P.S.: I wrote, let the rich keep their money. In what sense is it their money? Property is theft, as Proudhon wrote. Great wealth is the result of an unjust and irrational allocation of resources, of laws that favor one group over another and of governments that enforce unfair laws. One person is rich because many others are poor.


It's a glum, gray day. I am going to a meeting of my poetry workshop in an hour or so. I spent yesterday inputting an old, old story for which I had no e-file. It's rough in places; I am a better writer now; but I think I can fix it pretty easily. And I went over the next essay for Strange Horizon, which is due at the editor any day now. It's about fan fiction.

Next on the list is getting two stories out to editors. That leaves three Lydia Duluth stories which need light revision before going out. And the novel, which was supposed to be done in May, but other things came up.

I feel restless, which is probably spring. I want to write something new, not finish old work. Maybe "The Herman Melville of Brooklyn." Or a light YA fantasy adventure. I think the very wet noir planetary romance could be expanded into a novel, but it would require a lot of work. A new short story or a light YA sounds better.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


Rain this afternoon. I was out in it a while. I wanted to stand on earth and raise my arms, until they turned into branches and produced leaves, while my feet sank into the earth and became roots. This is an over reaction to spring.


I've gone through again and trimmed or deleted some of my recent posts. Less is more.


I read Paul Park's "Ragnarok," because it was mentioned in Paul Cook's essay on why science fiction poetry is bad and in F. J. Bergmann's response. Both Cook and Bergmann said "Ragnarok" is based on the Icelandic sagas.

Yes, but...

"Ragnarok" is a poem, and the sagas are always prose. One reason I read "Ragnarok" was to see if Park was basing his poem on Eddic poetry. He is, sort of, though his stanzas run on. Eddic poems are more like ballads. Each stanza is complete.

I haven't checked to see how closely he follows the meter and alliteration of Eddic poetry. This is an example is from the Waking of Angantyr, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Vaki, Angantýr! || vekr þik Hervǫr,
eingadóttir || ykkr Tófu!
Selðu ór haugi || hvassan mæki
þann's Svafrlama || slógu dvergar.

(Awaken, Angantyr! It is Hervor who awakens you, your only daughter by Tófa! Yield up from your grave the mighty sword that the dwarves forged for Svafrlami.")
I don't know if you can tell through the foreign language, but the verse has a beat like a hammar. The language is spare and compressed. This is my word-by-word translation of the above stanza:

Wake, Angantyr!// Wakes you Hervor
only daughter // by Tofa.
Give from grave // sharp sword
That for Svafrlami // forged dwarves.

I have added one word, "for," in the last line. It is implicit in the case-ending of Svafrlami. Notice that the Wikipedia translation adds a lot of words and makes some of the words fancier. I rooted around in my Old Norse dictionary, looking for the word "hvass" meaning mighty. I found "hvass," which means sharp or prickly.

Also from Wikipedia:
Fornyrðislag (the verse form) has two lifts per half line, with two or three (sometimes one) unstressed syllables. At least two lifts, usually three, alliterate, always including the main stave (the first lift of the second half-line). It had a variant form called málaháttr ("speech meter"), which adds an unstressed syllable to each half-line, making six to eight (sometimes up to ten) unstressed syllables per line.

So, a fairly tight structure, based on meter and alliteration, which reinforce each other, thus the hammar-like beat.

Because of the run-on narration, Park's poem reminds me of English translations of Beowulf.

As for the content of "Ragnarok" -- yes, Park has clearly used the Icelandic sagas. Though I found his story far more brutal and ugly than the sagas. They, after all, were written by educated Christians living in the 13th and 14th centuries, who were influenced by European literature of the time. Compared to the sagas, I find Park's story a pointless description of violence, which has no resolution -- only praise of revenge. Well, he warns us about this in the title. This is about the end of order.

The conventional end of a saga is an ending of violence. The blood feud finally winds down, and the survivors make peace. The great, violent, dangerous hero finally dies and is replaced by men who are less heroic and more reasonable. Park's story reverses this. It begins with a precarious peace and ends in full-bore war.

I read the Eddic poem about Volund the Smith recently, because I was putting Volund in a story. Now, there is a brutal and ugly tale, much closer to what Park is doing. The Eddic stories have the savagery of myths: Cronos eating his children.

The great message of the sagas comes from Njals saga and the wise and noble legal expert Njall: "By law the land is established, and through lawlessness it is destroyed." This is not the message of the Eddas.

So, final conclusion: Park is using both the Eddas and the sagas. His poem is a tour de force. I don't like it, because he is doing horrible things to Iceland. But I think his story makes sense, given where we are now: in the early 21st century, with the breakdown of human civilization due to global warming evident on the horizon.

Friday, April 05, 2013

More on SF Poetry

This is a response to Paul Cook's very wrong essay on science fiction poetry: Here.


Another comment from facebook. This obviously derives from the discussion on flying that I posted yesterday.
Another clear sunny day. I was going to sleep in, because I have a slow day ahead of me, but I ended in one of those dreams where you are running to catch a plane and aren't going to get it. It was the Pittsburgh airport, I think, which I may have been to, but I don't remember it. The concourses were gigantic and looked like an old train station or maybe a factory and were very complex, rising into various levels, and very badly marked, so we couldn't find our gate. Patrick and I lost the rest of our party, and then I realized I didn't have my baggage. And then we ended at a TSA checkpoint.

It was running to catch a plane in an Escher print with the TSA.

So I got up.

Most of the dream was ordinary, but the building was remarkable: huge and complex and old and dirty with lots of bare girders visible. The TSA agent who was giving Patrick a hard time had a computer out of the 1980s.
This is the police dystopia which flying is becoming. Flying as it would be done in 1984.

Thursday, April 04, 2013


From a facebook discussion of flying:
I still fly maybe once a year. I hate it. For me all the problems come before I get on the plane. I hate undressing in public. I hate the porno scans. I have not had a really bad experience with TSA yet, but friends have, and I live in fear. I almost lost jewelry in the last rush to undress and dress at security. Once I am on the plane, I relax, though I usually fly into Hartford, which means an Embraer or Bombardier mini-plane.

I can remember flying Northwest Orient between Tokyo and Seoul when I was a kid. The pilot came out and chatted with us. Like us, he was from Minneapolis. The planes were big. They served meals. Flying was exciting and futuristic, rather than a depressing visit to a police state dystopia. It was never as nice as the Twentieth Century LImited between Chicago and New York, but you can't take a train from Japan to Korea.

Iain M. Banks

The wonderful British science fiction writer Iain Banks has announced that he has cancer of the gall bladder, which has metastasized. He is not expected to live through this year. He is 58 and went in to the doctor in February because of a persistant backache. This is what he found out.

He writes non-science fiction under the name of Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks. I have read only the science fiction, which is far-future space opera about a society called the Culture. I find his work too violent, but it is remarkable. To give an example: in The Algebraist, he has a species of blimp-like creatures, who inhabit the upper atmosphere of gas giants. They are intelligent, and their society -- we realize as we get to know them -- is an anarchist utopia, with one small quirk. They hunt and kill and eat their children. The children live in packs well away from adults until they are old enough and large enough to be accepted as non-edible. Everyone in their society -- adults and children -- accepts this as perfectly normal, correct behavior. It's what is done.

Banks is a fine, funny and bleak writer. All his utopias -- the Culture is one -- are ambiguous. But he argues that utopias, albeit ambiguous ones, are possible. We are not stuck where we are. Society can be improved. He is a socialist.

Two of his novels take their titles from Part Four of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. I just found the entire poem online. This is Part Four:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
Blogger's accursed program is left-hand-justifying all the lines, thus damaging the layout of the poem. I'm sure there is an easy way to fix this, but I don't know it. Most likely you can still see how beautiful this is.

I post it in honor of Iain Banks and because we are all mortal.

More on SF Poetry

Another facebook post on SF Poetry:
Well, I suppose I ought to think a moment before I rant. I just realized that Paul Cook is a facebook friend of mine, though he will probably defriend me sometime today. On the other hand, since I and my friends write science fiction poetry, his essay did not make me happy at all. I flat out don't think he's right. English language poetry has a long tradition of fantasy, which continued right through the 19th century, when realism dominated fiction. Walt Whitman is pretty grounded in the real world, but Emily Dickinson uses figures such as Death, who is not entirely realistic. Don't get me started on Tennyson.

The minute you start using metaphor, which poetry obviously does, you begin to move away from realism. A lot of what you do in science fiction prose does not happen in lyric poetry, since you don't have the room. You aren't going to do science fictional world building and extrapolation in ten lines. Instead, a science fiction poem is likely to be either (a) a poem about science or (b) a poem about the images of science fiction. There is no reason why science fiction images and references can't be used as effectively as images and references from Greek and Roman myth -- or as effectively as Emily Dickinson's image of death as a person. Among other things science fiction imagery is more modern, more a part of our contemporary real world.

I get back to my original point. The boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, realism, surrealism and so on can be drawn in prose fiction. They get very fuzzy in poetry, because the history of modern poetry is not the same as the history of modern fiction.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

SF Poetry

A guy named Paul Cook posted an essay on the Amazing website on why science fiction poetry is so awful. Amal El-Mohtar, who edits a fantasy poetry magazine, posted a reply to him on Apex. My friend Catherine Lundoff alerted me to El-Mohtar's post, which I read and liked. Then I clicked the link to Paul Cook's essay and got thoroughly pissed.

Remember that I write poetry as well prose, and I belong to workshop of poets who write science fiction and fantasy poetry. I think our best work is pretty darn fine. I don't like someone dismissing what we do.

I posted this at the Apex site:
Thank you for replying to Paul Cook. I found his essay wrong and angering, much like the literary critics who explain that science fiction is not real fiction. There are all kinds of blurry lines here. Science fiction poetry and fantastic poetry are not, it seems to me, sharply divided. Nor is SF poetry sharply divided from poetry about science. Nor is fantastic poetry sharply divided from “literary” poetry that draws on fantasy, romance and myth. I don’t know enough to carefully divide all these categories and compare them. I don’t think Cook has done the job.
But then I wanted to post on the Amazing site, home to Cook's irritating essay, and their anti-spam defense won't let me register. This meant I had a rant without a home. So I posted it on facebook.
Cook wrote: "I was inspired to write this essay because David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer decided to include a poem called “Ragnarok” by Paul Park in their Years’ Best SF 17 that was written to mimic the Icelandic Sagas. Setting aside the fact that English does not have the same kind of syntactic cadences that Icelandic does, thus dooming the poem, Park nonetheless tells a tale that could just as easily have been written out in prose in a story."

The sagas are prose, not poetry, and their syntax is pretty straightforward: subject-verb-object. Because the language is inflected, this structure can be altered for effect. If you want to emphasize the verb, move it ahead of the subject. "Struck he Thorvald in the head." Not a big deal. You can do it easily in English. I use these sentence structures fairly often in my fiction. "Then came fall, when the days shortened and the sheep were gathered in, then winter, dark and long."

I don't know what Cook is talking about here. If Park were imitating the sagas, he would be writing prose. My best bet is he is imitating Eddic poetry, if he is imitating anything, though the stanza Cook quotes does not sound much like Eddic poetry. I'd have to read the entire poem to be sure. I'm not sure what a syntactic cadence is.

Eddic poetry has more tangled sentences than saga prose, but it's not really bad. You can figure it out, unlike skaldic poetry, which is crazy. And it has cadences, if this means that it has a meter. However, the marked stresses and alliteration of the Eddic line can be reproduced in English. People do it when they translate the Poetic Eddas -- or Beowulf -- into modern English.

The short form is: I don't know what Cook is talking about on a topic that I know a little. I suspect I would find other problems with the essay, if I looked at it more closely. But maybe I am simply crabby.


I sent the very wet noir planetary romance to its editor yesterday, feeling uneasy. My writing group liked the story, especially the Autonomous Leica (a robot videographer) and Baby, the pseudo-pterodactyl. I like the setting. But I am not sure about the story line.

Today I am doing a wash. When Patrick gets back from a meeting, we will go out. The day is bright and sunny and fairly cold.