Book Review and Notes on The Science Fiction

Last night I finally finished reading The Windup Girl. This is the first book I’ve read – honestly – in years, a statistic I am slightly embarrassed to reveal. I used to read way more: reading would inspire me, make my vocabulary better, make me think more analytically. But then I went through a phase of either starting books I couldn’t get in to or just being a too-tired new mom to dedicate the time. So I would get my “intellectual” fix from the pages of The Economist and call it a day.

I’m on a science fiction kick. As a genre it is liberating, allowing for adaptability to style and genre, a realm where ideas propel the language. Often I find other forms of fiction restrictive in this way: where I am easily distracted by an author’s choice of words, language before the ideas. With sci-fi I let it slide: I don’t know why, I just don’t really care if the choice of words isn’t executed with laser-like precision. Maybe I find some sort of sense of satisfaction, newly inspired by my own “not-good-enough-yet-now-good enough” writing style. So now I read the sci-fi and I write it. And now I write about it, in the form of this one-paragraph review:

The Windup Girl: Author Paolo Bacigalupi drops us into a world where calories are the currency. A near-future, dystopian Bangkok that is threatened by rising sea-levels and a “gene-hacked” food supply. Oil is out: energy is kinetic. Disease is manufactured, and people live in a caste-like militarised Kingdom. I won’t lie to you: life in this world sucks for everyone. Though it is a city in delicate balance: each character’s life is under constant threat, comforted by any fleeting moment of stasis. Everybody needs each other – as with any society – needs one and other to complete their job, their task, to ensure survival. It is a beautiful, tropical world that has been created by Mr. Bacigalupi, one that is being coaxed by its characters into a continued existence. As a reader, I got familiar with it, intrigued by it. Then, towards the end, this fragile balance is upset in a major, major way: it is fucking destroyed. So awesome, so satisfying. Loved it. Thank you, sir.

Anyhow, selfishly, this book kind of mind-fucked me. I had begun writing a piece of sci-fi last year before knowing that The Windup Girl even existed. There were several similarities to what I was writing – not a totality, but the thread of food being totally industralised, and the world being at the mercy of some forces of nature, were common to my thing. I suppose those themes probably exist in tons of sci-fi: they are prevalent issues in today’s society, and that is was sci-fi does best: critique/troubleshoot our real world problems.

And so, I’ve convinced myself to finish my short story. It is a story that should belong to something longer, but there is still an independent story in there. I’ll make it available on my Scribd page (which is in it’s infancy, I admit). Follow me and get this first piece of writing as soon as it’s up. I’m giving myself one month – until June 4th, 2011. Everyone who follows me on Scribd before then will be rewarded with an exclusive audiobook/podcast version of the story, read by me!

I guess reading books can still be inspiring…

Sci Fi Digest

I recently entered a writing contest at one of my favourite websites in geekery, io9. I also recently learned that I did not win said writing contest. I had a hunch I wouldn’t: the story I submitted was a good story, not so much full-on science. The science was there, it just wasn’t overbearing like it is in the winning stories. Mine was Fiction-Science, more than Science-Fiction.

Anyhow, don’t be discouraged because I’m not. I’ve had loads of ideas coming through, nurtured by all kinds of random things and human interactions – including seeing Lynda Barry speak. She was very inspiring.

This morning I started a story (it’s more of a screenplay than a story) with the tentative title: Higgs Boson Brûlée. It’s about robots wanting social sophistication. In mid-descriptive sentence, I felt compelled to refer to this video from yesteryear:

Yeah, I was imagining “people” like that: half mechanics, half clothing, the way they look and move is human-esque, but their primary reason for being designed and built is something totally mundane and/or inhuman. I further interrupted my writing to share this thought path with you. Here’s an excerpt of what I was working on:

MURIEL and THOM have just finished eating. What have they eaten? We’re not sure, their plates filled with scraps of tentacled sea-creatures oozing black goo, a brightly coloured sponge in gasoline jus with rainbow-sheen. A flat bowl of amoeba risotto, a dark blue lumpy mixture that emanates tiny busts of phosphorescent light.

Awesome, RIGHT?????

P.S. I’m planning on recording myself reading my contest-losing story and making podcasts available soon. Hopefully before February.

Inspiration to Write Science Fiction

Currently, this photo in a recent edition of National Geographic magazine is inspiring me to write a short story of the science fiction genre. Tentative title: “Migrant Robot Worker Fantasy” (hommage to a joke by the GREAT Paul F. Tompkins, but not topically related).

Delinquent Blogger

Feels like weeks since I’ve been here. I keep meaning to write something, then I get distracted by something else that has to be done. We’re in the final stages of production of The Dears album, and I’m pretty much completely psyched about it. Also, I’ve been working on my science fiction novel which is coming along nicely but is a real drain on the wordsmith portions of my brain. Thus, explaining my absence here.

Saturday night, just before bedtime, my daughter pulled out three of her stuffed bears and asked me to make two of them some clothes so they could be more like the third, red-shirted Winnie the Pooh. I’ve made low-rent bag-shirts out of felt for her bears before, so I told her we could do it in the morning and sent her off to bed. First thing Sunday morning I was requested to make good on my word and produce aforementioned bear clothes. Really? I negotiate to have coffee and breakfast first and decide to go for it: I busted out the sewing machine. I did not go for it that far, since I didn’t bother trying to change the colour of the bobbin thread. Gauche, I know.

I was instructed to make two shirts: one blue and one yellow. I found scraps of fabric I’d used for other projects and started in, first making a blue shirt for the panda bear (accented with a bowtie made from gingham Mokuba ribbon). After making the yellow vest for the second “Snowy” bear, was feeling a little confident and added a skirt with ruched front. That’s right. From scratch, patternless, using mismatched threads and crappy scissors.

May I present to you, four hours later, Snowy and The General in their Sunday best:

Apathetic Art World

I found this “inspiring” lamentation on Tavi’s Style Rookie blog. A vintage interview, Kubrick in conversation with Playboy:

While I don’t feel particularly in a “style rut” – as Tavi cites – (when am I not in a style rut, BTW), I can pull creative rut-ness from it. Recently my friend Stacey started a blog called Points of Entry, a novel posted in 49 parts. It’s inspiring, as I’ve been working on my own sci-fi dramedy on back-burner terms. Oftentimes I get ideas for creative projects: some are musical, some writing, some visual, and I usually turn an apathetic eye to them. In my mind, I am full of self-doubt: not about the end-product, but about the necessity of the project.

I really feel the entire art world is saturated with, well everything. Too much music – especially and immediately from where I’m standing. Too much prose, too many words, too much art, too many photographers, filmmakers, painters, illustrators. It seems that everybody with a laptop is an “artist” these days. One half of me, the hardened half, takes this saturation at a definitive sign that my “art” is not required. While the other half, the recently awakened, newly positive half, feels that everybody’s artistic expressions are absolutely needed. Why self-filter? And what’s the point of automatically rejecting everything else?

I don’t want to be a snob, a hater, a disabler – and basically that’s what the hardened half of me sounds like.

When I was teenag’d, everything was inspiring: shitty art and amazing art. I produced some shitty stuff and some amazing stuff. Insider and outsider. I was a writer, illustrator, photographer, musician, digital-to-analogue-cut-and-paste rebel. Fifteen years later, I wonder where all these ideas have gone. Have they gone? I don’t think they’re gone, they’ve simply been reallocated to the other creative things I do in my life; like being a mother and being in The Dears.

But then why now? Why at this point in my life am I turning in this direction? And why, absolutely, am I questioning this when in reality, I’m loving it. As Kubrick mentions, we get older and fear deafens our perception of the world. The End outweighs the existence. I think my loss of “faith in the ultimate goodness of man” has reached its pinnacle, and I’m ready to start shaping something ultimate. I’m now entering the Masterpiece years.

I, Teenager (Pt. 2)

OMG you guys. After rifling through university applications, essays on the feminist narrative, portfolios and letters of intent, 3.5″ floppy disk backups, zines and magazines, templates, sketches and notebooks, and everything related to my “photography phase,” nothing supported my claim that the questionable Wu-Tang review was ever published. I found newsprint copies of Vice from 1998, but nothing pre-dating that (save for the standard adolescent sketchbooks and diaries).

I avoided getting into any of that archival stuff too deeply, knowing that I could get sidetracked for hours, reading short stories and gasping at, well, myself. I’m certain that if I let myself go there, this post would be chock-full of endearingly embarrassing things. I’d still be scanning the stuff. So I’ll save that for another time, when there really is nothing left to say.

For now there remains marginally enough to share.

And the quick gumshoe work of reader Helenoe confirmed that it would have been impossible for Weird Al to have been in Toronto, since he was performing his own concert in Wilkes-Barre, PA, kicking off his Bad Hair Day tour.

Lucky for the rest of us, I initially forgot to type in “tour” after “Bad Hair Day” in my Google search box and the first thing that came up was this image, which left me quite speechless.

SCIENCE!

2010 might more approproately be described as the year for Science. Presently, we are all waiting with bated breath for the Apple tablet announcement, right? We can only hope that that shit will be useful. At least that’s what I hope. Or maybe because I am embroiled in the writing of the greatest sci-fi story of all time, or because my peers send me shit like this:

Or because Murray is re-watching episodes of LOST. Or because my Twitter idols are 1) a former TNG actor (@wilw), 2) fake TV scientists (@grantimahara (probably a real scientist), @donttrythis (definitely fake)), and 3) the first dude to tweet from space (@Astro_TJ).

Or all of the above. Science – factual and fictional – is on my mind.

Next week, I have to enroll my kid in public school. I recently noted to Murray: “You know, if Neptune doesn’t learn basic HTML code at school by the age of 16 then there is something seriously wrong with the world.” And I am totally serious. I think every literate person in North America below the age of 30 should know, at least, how to code a link in HTML. That’s probably why I let (and encourage) my 4-year-old watch BSG, Star Trek, and Star Wars with us. Better that than the news. SRSLY.

There’s hope in fantasy, in a better society, in a place where money has been eliminated and people seek power for power’s sake (or usually because they didn’t get enough hugs when they were growing up…AND they really, really, really have it out for Captain Kirk). Hugs can go a long way. Hugs lead to love. Love leads to loving yourself. Loving yourself leads to self-confidence, which leads to self-empowerment, which leads to hope.

Under the expert counsel of @sebby_g via an impromptu Facebook chat, I was instructed to watch Zeitgeist. Albeit about five years after that shit was hot. I watched Zeitgeist: The Movie which, once you get past the first 20 minutes, was neat. But not – in my mind – revolutionary: I am already skeptical of organizations, institutions, corporations, major labels, religion, government, etc. I know money is evil. I know most people don’t question the things they do each day. I grew up on Street Cents feat. Jonathan Torrens. My step-dziadzia used to feed us host wafers (aka ‘ostie) and ginger ale as a snack. My grandmother used to read the newspaper, decrying and denouncing…basically, um…everything she read. She hated politicians, especially. Mine was a totally secular, speculative upbringing.

Also, I moved out of my bubble that was the town (Toronto) in which I grew up. I think it’s really important to shake your life at its foundation at some point: either by choice or by consequence. Move away from the comforts of home, take a leap of faith, knowing it is only yourself that is waiting at the bottom to catch you.

Get it? Anyway. There’s so much more to say. I should continue this thought later. In the meanwhile, check out The Venus Project.

New Fiction

I started writing a piece of fiction today. I’m really very excited: in what feels like ten years I’ve found inspiration to write something that is not based on my personal and demented reality. I don’t know if it’s the marathon BSG sessions – watching four episodes a day for the past few weeks – I’ve submit myself to, but something sci-fi is coming down the pipe. Its just the way of 2010: everyone is looking to a future of some sort, looking for things to settle down and work themselves out. Anyway, we’ll see what happens; with our lives, and with this story.

(Hardly) Tragic Life Stories

This morning my brain woke up at 7:15AM, exactly 45 minutes before my body was ready. That was just enough time to lay there and start over-thinking things: Was the car going to get a ticket? Did I remember to lock the door? Am I catching cold? What’s wrong with me? Why does winter suck so hard? Etc, etc. In that time, my mind wandered, and got all self-critical of my 20’s. You know, the university years. The stuff of which nightmares are made. The conscious moments between longer periods of being drunk prior to graduation.

More specifically, I was feeling embarrassed to have spent several years as a creative writing major: all the poor things I not only wrote but shared with my classmates. I was writing from nowhere, from a life part-lived. Essentially I was making the shit up as I went along…which should be the goal of creative writing, otherwise they would call it plagaristic writing. I think art schools and especially the creative writing major should be abolished. What a way to commodify art…guised as education. Art should be workshopped, never graded.

The point: sometime in the late 90’s I took a class called Creative Writing: Memoir Fiction. Or something like that. I was so into it: what could be more awesome/easy than writing about my life? At the time, I thought I was amazing. I was invincible. I was 22. I was totally lost in life but having a great time. So I wrote a story about it. I seriously thought: “I – hands down – have the most interesting life out of everyone in this class and my story is going to BLOW THEM AWAY.” I was conceited. Did I mention that?

My only caveat was one particular classmate who was actually a good writer. She had had her work published and shit. We had mutual friends and at the time I thought it was likely that her life might be more interesting than mine. She was also a few years older. And this morning, in my momentary post-dawn panic, I realised it was the possibility of her opinion that embarrassed me. Like my “tell-it-like-it-is life story” about going to bars and having dinners at fancy restaurants was remotely intellectual and engaging. It totally was not. That story was a bona fide piece of garbage.

The largest tragedy here was that I ever thought the drivel I put out there was appropriate to share and discuss with others. Yikes, anyone?

A final thought: how depressing and morally crushing would it be, being a creative writing teacher? Not trying to be offensive to creative writing teachers out there, but the amount of pure rubbish you would have to process: read cricitally, comment on and grade. All the while, your internal dialogue being: “This is the future of English literature. Fucking hell. Can I murder myself now?” Thus, possibly, the genesis of a new genre.

Books

The other day I formulated an extreme thought on society and culture. This is one of my classic thoughts (reminiscent of last year’s post: Poetry is Dead), something that I might believe in but could never commit to. Its just interesting, a “what if.”

The thesis: Do we need fiction anymore? Remember a few years ago when the soft-memoir was all the rage? Until the Oprah-fueled debacle over the fictionalization of an apparent memoir: “A Million Little Pieces”. That was disappointing: not because moments of the book were fictionalized, but that people cared more about whether or not it was true hard fact, rather than the idea that they just read a well-written, inspiring story (though I never read it, but you get the point).

The other night, looking at a small stack of novels I have piled at my bedside, I wondered why I find it so difficult to get into a book? Why don’t I read anymore? There are certainly enough books worth reading, and also a near-equivalent number of books I haven’t read yet. So my bedside booklist sits, glowing with good intention, but rarely ever beating out the back pages of The Economist or a rousing game of Sudoku on the DS: both wonderfully sedating by being boringly-interesting (or interestingly-boring?).

I love reading: it fires up my brain, reminds me of the words I know but that I never use, makes me think of all the things I could communicate properly instead of calling them “great” or, quite simply, “radz.” I am also reminded of my poor command of the English language, my grammatical laziness and slothful attention to usage. Ah, but I’ve digressed.

I thought of how I often feel uninspired to read, unwilling to immerse myself in a story, in something dense and complicated, with characters both likable and not. When I realised this is it: I am resistant to investing my time in people, in the protagonist and the antagonist and their little dilemmas. The mere idea is entirely exhausting.

Why would I study, commit, connect to characters when this is what I am doing all day? I read people’s blogs, their Facebooks, their Twitters; somehow I know what people across the continent have done in a day, where they’ve gone, how they feel, how the weather affects them, which YouTube videos made them laugh, the news they’ve read, the music they’ve listened to, the things they like/loathe. I know the intersections of myriad characters: hundreds of people and the minutiae of their every single day. Aren’t these the very elements that help us learn and understand a character in a novel? The threads that weave together a personality? Their relationships and how they interact with the world? This is my new fiction, my neo-memoir: via social networking, I am reading dozens of life stories every day. The only difference is, unlike reading a book, I cannot control how quickly I get to the end. I am also never guaranteed a prefect story arc or meaningful closure. If I don’t like someone’s story, or the way they are telling it, I have to wait years to see how it ends: do they stay together? Lose the house? Get the job? Succeed wonderfully? Fail miserably? Stay happy? Stumble into a crippling depression? How will I know? I have to be patient.

I’ll get to the end of every story, sooner or later.