Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Half Past 2015

Firsts of July always strike me as offering an opportunity for planning, for reflection, for projection and preparation. The first of each month offers the same, of course, in smaller scale, as does the first of each week.

But the First of July provides larger perspective, extending both ways. We are mid-way through the year, and, depending upon our nature (both in general and at the moment) we may ask:

Is this year half-over, or only half-begun?

The answer differs from year to year, but more often than not, the older I get, I choose the latter,

I've had easier years than this one, but this one's only half-started.

Plenty of 2015 tomorrows ahead, after all.

Half a year's worth.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Occasion of Arthur C. Clarke's Birthday

Today would have been Arthur  C. Clarke's 96th birthday, not that the calendar or any other excuse is needed to celebrate his life and achievements.

In the five-and-a-half years since he died, Clarke's achievements seem to me only to have grown.  Looking back now, four years shy of his centenary. I'm beginning to get a real sense of just how large that achievement is. And this after a lifetime of reading him (and even knowing him, a little, during the years I edited OMNI).  Not many writers' accomplishments actually seem to enlarge after their death. Arthur Clarke's do, at least to me.
I think I was eight or nine the first time I read one of his novels --A Fall of Moondust in a Reader's Digest Condensed Books version. (I think that was the one and only time pure SF was tried by the company.)

It didn't take long for me to seek out  -- and, happily,  find -- more by him. In pretty quick order I worked my way through the first round of classic Clarke:


The City and the Stars

The Deep Range

and, best of all for me, and best of all of his books:

Childhood's End.

By the time I was eleven or twelve, I had made my way through these -- and  through Childhood's End more than once -- as well as most of his short stories.

On the horizon even then, and gradually rising above it as I entered adolescence was Clarke's collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, which was released in the summer of 1968.

2001: A Space Odyssey remains, to my tastes (nor do I think I am alone) the finest science fiction film ever made, and one of the dozen or so finest films of any sort, it also served as a calling card introducing Clarke to an even larger audience than he already enjoyed. One grew accustomed to seeing him interviewed on television; he was a constant sage presence a year later during coverage of the first moon landing.

Other SF writers would make a large cultural impact -- Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, to name the other two of the "Big Three" as they are still known; Frank Herbert with the phenomenal success of Dune; Ray Bradbury for being, well, Ray Bradbury; Philip K. Dick posthumously and mostly through movies that misrepresent his books and vision.

But it was Arthur C. Clarke who broke through to the large mainstream media audience first, and remained through the rest of his long life a wise, bemused, funny, and insightful ambassador for SF, as well as for the enlightened use of technology to help rescue the world and its peoples from the situation(s) it found itself in and still does.

Weapons and weapons systems and warfare were definitely not among Arthur's visions enlightened applications of science, in the world or on the page. The best science fiction film of all time doesn't have a single gun in it. Nor do his novels contain the vast space battles that still afflict far too much print SF and virtually all filmed SF. Of his novels only Earthlight contains a space battle and, considering its author, you can be assured that it remains one of the best such battles ever set down.

After 2001 and Apollo, Clarke could have rested on his laurels -- his achievement was already immense -- and on the income produced by his speaking engagements, royalties, and the nonfiction that flowed steadily and always provocatively from his typewriter. But then he wouldn't have been Arthur C. Clarke.

Through the Seventies and beyond , more novels, ambitious ones, appeared:

Rendezvous With Rama (many people's choice for his second best novel)

Imperial Earth

The Fountains of Paradise (my choice for his second best novel)

The Songs of Distant Earth

Not to mention the other volumes in what became the Odyssey Quartet -- 2010, 2061, 3001, as well as several smaller novels that lacked the ambition of his major works but carried the distinctive Clarke touch admirably.He remained a working writer through the last three decades of the Twentieth Century.

I leave aside the fact that over the last couple of decades of his life Clarke participated (that, I think, is the right word) in the creation of quite a few books with collaborators whose appearance did little to enhance his reputation. The best of these -- his collaborations with Stephen Baxter -- are honorable explorations of his ideas and themes, as was his final novel, The Last Theorem, written with Fred  Pohl (that "with" is tricky: Fred did virtually all of the writing on this one, as I understand it). Theorem turned out to be not a particularly good example of either Clarke or Pohl, but it wasn't as bad as many thought. The collaborations with Baxter are, in their own way, excellent.

Of the other collaborations, licensings of his name, participation (there I go again) in television explorations of unexplained phenomena, and etc., not much to say. Most of these ventures have already faded or disappeared; most of Arthur's best books, fiction and nonfiction, continue to shine brightly.

Thinking about it, about him, about all he produced in fiction and nonfiction, all of the help he extended to his adopted Sri Lanka (and by extension to the rest of the emerging nations of our world), not to mention his genuine contribution to science and global communications -- not for nothing are the orbits our comsats, as they used be called, known as Clarke Orbits -- and all of the speeches and television appearances, I find myself actually amazed that he was only in his early 90s when he died. That much accomplishment in nine short decades? How is that possible? 

Actually, it's pretty easy -- if you're Arthur C. Clarke.

Which he was.

And still is and, I believe, will remain to be.

Happy Birthday, Arthur -- nice to know that in so many ways you're still here.

Monday, September 02, 2013


Almost as thrilling as the news that Pat Cadigan has just won the Hugo Award for her novelette "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out forSushi" from the anthology Edge of Infinity, is the realization that this is Pat's first Hugo. Well-deserved, and damned well-earned!

As hard to believe as that is, it's equally hard for me to believe that her career now extends more than  a third of a century , back to her first stories in fan publications. Her career, like most writers' careers, has had its ups and downs, but the trajectory of that career -- always a different thing from the temporal reality of any writer's career -- has remained in the ascendant.

That she was -- and is -- a writer of large ambition has been clear from the moment, in the early '80s when her "Deadpan Allie" stories began to appear, although it was probably her "Pretty Boy Crossover" that really began her breakout from new writer to major writer.

The Allie stories formed the kernel of her first novel, Mindplayers (1987), with its killer opening:

I did it on a dare. The type of thing where you know it's a mistake but you do it anyway because it seems to be Mistake Time.

No mistaking that voice and what it had to say -- there was a writer in the room.

It was around this time too, maybe slightly before, that she became known as the "Queen of Cyberpunk." That she was, but so much more as well. Just how much more would begin to made clear as her second and third novels appeared, a year apart, in the early '90s.

That second novel, Synners (1991) pushed cyberpunk -- and then some -- in half a dozen simultaneous and simultaneously different directions, a huge leap in both craft and art over Mindplayers, and a major novel by any standards, not just those of cyberpunk.There was not a more complex, or more complexly provocative SF novel in the 1990s. It is the richest of her novels so far.

Her third,  Fools (1992), pushed matters of identity (real and virtual) even further. Though smaller in scope and girth than Synners, Fools marked another advance in Pat Cadigan's craft, not to mention her art, and may be the best of her books (ditto "so far"), although Synners may still have the edge for me in the sheer size of the ambition that powers its narrative..   

Throughout the 90s she continued to write exceptionally good short fiction, for OMNI and elsewhere. She proved herself a fine nonfiction writer as well, as her 1995 "Carnival Diablo" piece, written for me at OMNI (actually it was written for OMNI's readers, who were the prime beficiaries as they were of the Cadigan fiction OMNI and OMNI Online published, but I'll bask in whatever reflective [sic] glory I can). 

Approaching and then entering the new century/millennium, Pat Cadigan began ringing changes, some subtle, some audacious, on her explorations of  virtual lives (and deaths) and virtual responsibilities, not to mention the nature of the virtual world's effects on the real world we were increasingly using our virtual connections to distance ourselves from. Her set of matched novels, Tea From an Empty Cup (1998), and Dervish is Digital (2001), marries -- and consummates the marriage! -- of cyberpunk with procedural noir. The novels have a gritty reality and an even grittier virtual reality. They deserve to be better known than they are. Caveat (sorta): I am one of the dedicatees of  Tea, which doesn't affect at all the esteem with which I regard that novel.

Throughout all of this, Pat Cadigan was (and is) a working writer as well as a gifted and ambitious one. Much of her work over the past decade has been on assignment, movie tie-in novels, movie tie-in nonfiction, round-robin fiction, and more. She brings to each of those projects an impressive professionalism, delivering precisely the goods and then some that the publishers commissioned.

Throughout all of this, too, Pat has continued to produce a body of short fiction that is among the very best of her generation -- and any other for that matter. Her stories continue to be highlights of the magazines and original anthologies in which they appear, as they are of the best of the Year anthologies they also inevitably (well, almost inevitably) appear in.

"The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi," in fact, can be found in Gardener Dzois' latest Best Science Fiction of the Year, along with a couple of hundred thousand words of other terrific SF.   

Her gifts for short fiction are even larger than her novelistic gifts, as any reader of the collections Patterns, Home by the Sea, or Dirty Work discovers quickly. It is high time for a collection or two of her recent work, and past high time for a Best of Pat Cadigan

What sets Pat's fiction apart is that for all the sharp edges, unflinching toughness, awareness of just how rotten humans can be, there is a humanity, a heart, that is most often revealed in a blood-fierce anger and rage at what we do to each other, and what our creations are doing to us. She hates much of what she sees in the world around her, and transmutes into the worlds she builds, but she hates it with love, and not gently.

Se can also be a very funny writer, and also not gently.

A wonderful writer, and a magnificent human being, one whom I am proud to call friend, as I also call her equally magnificent husband, the original one-and-only-they-broke-the-mold-when-they-made-him Christopher Fowler. Theirs is one of the best marriages I know of. Pat's son Robert Fenner is a grown man now, but based on who I to got know a little when I spent some time with him when he was a boy, I have no doubt that he is a fine man.

Now Pat is a Hugo winner, and about damned time. "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi" (love that title!) may signal a new direction in her work, being set in a meticulously built and vividly realized outer solar system some time from now. It is interesting to see Pat working in space, as it were, and working it and its venue(s) as thoroughly and as originally as she has every other venue she has turned her talents to. Check out the story's opening:

Nine decs into her second hitch Fry hit a berg in the Main ring and broke her leg. And she didn't just splinter the bone -- compound fracture! Yow!

No mistaking that voice either -- it's Pat Cadigan's.

It is clear that after three decades of gathering strength and power as a writer, Pat Cadigan is in the springtime of her career.I look forward to the blossoming and growing seasons ahead.

Still known as the "Queen of Cyberpunk," my own feeling is that Pat Cadigan is the Queen of whatever she wants to choose to become the Queen of, and long may she reign.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Window on the World

There comes a moment at my desk every year when I glance out the window to my right and see that the trees' progression toward spring is complete.

This year's progress was slow, even fitful, and for a time I wondered -- as I have before, probably most years -- if some of the older limbs would bear leaves again.

Some of them haven't this year, and may not last through the next heavy storm.. But the ones I have been most concerned about appear to be doing fine.

I love the view during all seasons.

And during all seasons, today's season most definitely included, it is a view that calls for me to step away from the desk, to get outside, to take a closer look at the world the trees live in, and be reminded, as always anew, of the ways in which that world informs and expands whatever world or worlds I am engaged with at this desk.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

IVY 1998 - 2012

Facing the new year without our Ivy, who passed away peacefully two weeks ago. There is a great, loving empty space that this good dog filled for so long.
I can see her there, and feel her there, and I am sure that I will always be able to.
She is at rest now, next to Holly, on this land that was, from the time she was six weeks old, the only home she ever knew.
And how wonderfully she graced it.
Goodbye, little Ivy. Goodbye, our good girl.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Brian Aldiss Reflects Upon Russian Literature, Leading Me To Reflect Upon Aldiss

Brian Aldiss briefly (to say the least) on classic Russian novels in today's Telegraph.

Yet in even in the three paragraphs the Telegraph allowed for his comment, Aldiss manages to remind us of several Russian classics we've meant to read or re-read, and to refer us to one that may be unfamiliar.

His comments on Dostoesvsky, Gogol. Tolstoy pack much resonance into few words, and will have me revisiting both House of the Dead and Resurrection in the near future (the Tolstoy probably  nearer than the Dostoevsky).

But it is the author Aldiss leads with, Marie Bashkirtseff, who will be the the large discovery for many readers. Aldiss writes of the powerful effect of Bashkirtseff's diary on him at 14 -- an effect that has lasted for nearly 75 years!

Marie Bashkirtseff died at 25 after a remarkably productive decade of writing and painting. At 87, Brian Aldiss is still vigorously producing novels, stories, essays, poems, paintings.

I realize now that I was around 14 when I first encountered Aldiss's work, and have myself remained  enthralled with this elegant, energetic, intellectually and stylistically adventurous and audacious writer ever since. While that's far less than 75 years, it's somehow closer to 50 than to 40, a reminder of the ruthless accuracy of the title of Aldiss's superb autobiography, The Twinkling of an Eye.

There is nearly always some Aldiss reading or re-reading going on at this desk or in my reading chair. He is an imminently re-readable author, always offering new levels to discover when one brings new perspectives (if only those of time passed) to familiar pages.

And through those pages Aldiss has always been generous in introducing readers to other writers. Had I not read Brian Aldiss, would I have discovered Kinglake's Eothen -- to name only one of a hundred or more books I came to through the pages of Brian Aldiss.

Now I will be reading Marie Bashkirtseff -- and looking at her paintings -- as well as adding House of the Dead and Resurrection to my re-read list.

No need to add Aldiss to either my re-encounter or new encounter plans. On the former front, I dipped back into Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (originally known, with slightly different cintents, as The Canopy of Time) just a few a days ago, and found myself recaptured with some of the same intensity, though far larger perspective, as when I first read it as a teenager.

And on the new encounters front, I have been making my way slowly, though only because I am savoring the experience rather than devouring it, through Walcot, Aldiss's massive and massively audacious (to repeat, deliberately, that word) novel of the last century and then some. Beautifully if a bit obscurely published by Goldmark, Walcot deserves a large audience which I am certain it will ultimately find -- a prospect made easier, and I hope likelier, by the ongoing republishing of most of Aldiss 100 books in e-book format. Not clear yet when Walcot will be made available as an e-book (but one hopes its title will be correctly spelled, unlike its mention in the publisher's press release). I'll have more to say here about Walcot in the future.

And there's a new science fiction novel, Finches of Mars, due soon,  a new collection of essays, An Exile on Planet Earth (which I have probably longed for more than any book in a while), and more --

Including, as if he didn't have enough work (not that there's any such thing) coming out, a new series of daily short stories appearing on his Web site.

An incredible writer, still in his prime. The dilemma -- and I am endeavoring to say this without irony, though not, I hope without self-mockery --  is that Aldiss's admirably brief piece in the Telegraph managed to nod at four writers and a huge nation's literary history, offering some insight and depth on three of the writers, while this long piece barely skims the surface of Aldiss's own work.

I will have still more to say about Aldiss and, clearly, I am confident that Brian Aldiss will as well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

H. G. Wells And The Intolerant Future

Toleration to-day is becoming a different thing from the toleration of different times. The toleration of the past consisted very largely in saying. "You are utterly wrong and totally accurst, there is no truth but my truth and that you deny, but it is not my place to destroy you and so I let you go." Nowadays there is a real disposition to accept the qualified nature of one's private certainties. One may have arrived at at very definite views, one may have come to beliefs quite binding upon one's self, without supposing them to be imperative upon other people. To write "I believe" is not only less presumptuous and aggressive in such matters than to write "it is true," but it is also nearer the reality of the case. One knows what seems true to one's self, but we are coming to realize that the world is great and complex, beyond the utmost power of minds such as ours. Every day of life drives that conviction further home. And it is possible to maintain that in quite a great reminder of ethical number of ethical. social, and political questions there is no absolute "truth" at all -- at least for finite beings. To one intellectual temperament things may have a moral tint and aspect, different from that they present to another; and yet each may be in its own way right.
-- H. G. Wells, Mankind in the Making, 1904

The first futurist -- I called Wells the"First Citizen of the Future" in my biography of him -- understood, at least early in his career, that he was not a prophet. Rather in books such as Anticipations and Mankind in the Making, he was developing a sophisticated and exuberant schema for thinking about change and its consequences, which is the first key to thinking seriously about the future or possible futures we may inhabit.

Yet in those early books he was also something of an optimist, or at least a hopeful social critic as the passage above indicates. Wells held real hope, even belief, that the spread of education and literacy, culminating in a universal encyclopedia that made the whole of human knowledge available to all the world's citizens, and in doing so would make possible a true global dialogue.

For with such dialogue came the possibility of true hope. Its cornerstone was to be a further refinement and enhancement of the toleration he writes of in the opening of Mankind in the Making. In that book, even as his larger vision of education was taking shape, he wrote of his hope that readers who disagreed with him would

exchange a vague disorderly objection for a clearly defined and understood difference. To arrive at such an understanding is often for practical purposes as good as unanimity; for in narrowing down the issue to some central point or principle, we develop just how far those who are divergent may go together before separation or conflict becomes inevitable, and save something of our time and of our lives from those misunderstandings, and those secondary differences of no practical importance whatever, which make such disastrous waste of human energy.

Wells's vision darkened as the years passed -- the passages quoted here appeared a decade before World War I began; he lived long enough to see the Second World War with its horrors, culminating in  atomic energy used to devastating military ends.

He did not, obviously, live long enough to see more than the first hints of the promise of computers and telecommunications.

Yet I wonder, were he able to see the Internet, with its ability to provide virtually any piece of knowledge to virtually anyone on the planet, and at the same time see or even experience how as one consequence of the Internet's universal accessibility of public communication, just how very much of that conversation and commentary on "ethical, social, and political questions" is presented only from a perspective of "there is no truth but truth" -- and presented so in the harshest, most condemnatory and derisive, even hate and loathing-filled tones and tenors, I wonder ----.

I wonder if presented with our modern world and even an hour of political, social, ethical chatter and cant, I wonder Wells would view his younger self as a naif, even a fool for having held out hope for reasonable dialogue, debate, and accommodation, or his older, bleaker self as the truest Cassandra, the realer prophet. 

Or both.