Apocalypse Is Here, And It May Be More Fun Than You’d Think

Thursday, 14 July 2016, 12:24 | Category : Uncategorized
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Science fiction is on the verge of becoming the mainstream genre of serious literature, and it needs one more step: the natural connection of SF with the ancient global epic tradition. It’s making this connection that has been my life work. The Odyssey, the Japanese Heike, Beowulf, the Mayan Popol Vuh, the Indian Mahabharata, the African Mwindo all chose the vitality and economy of the narrative action poem to carry the core myths of their societies.

My new tale Apocalypse is a hard science fiction epic poem that takes on the greatest challenges we face in this century, envisages a set of ingenious technological responses to them, paints a picture of a global military conflict, and recalls the finest as well as the darkest moments in human history.

“I have read never anything like this before” sums up the reaction of the science fiction writers Kim Stanley Robinson, David Brin, the poets Jan Schreiber and Emily Grosholz, and the SF critics Chris Pak and David Crossley.

Feeling thirty years ago that the SF genre was not yet ready for epic poetry, I published my first two epic SF poems, The New World and Genesis, with traditional highbrow literary presses: Princeton University Press and Saybrook (a Norton imprint). For poetry (which is a small world these days) they were best sellers; they’ve recently been reprinted in second editions by Ilium Press, and are still selling. Genesis, the Mars terraforming epic, was adopted by NASA’s long range futures group as recommended reading, and I was a NASA consultant for some years.

But the connection I wanted hadn’t been made. Science fiction writers read them (and celebrated them) but the science fiction readers that I loved, with their hope and imagination, had been burned too often by unreadable subjective free-verse stuff, and largely missed my work.

But thanks to three visionary book people, my e-editor Tony Daniel (Baen Books), my print editor John Lemon (Ilium Press), and my amazing agent Sara Megibow (KT Literary), and two of the greatest living SF writers, Kim Stanley Robinson and David Brin, the puzzle that had haunted me, of how to bring together the fragmented parts of our literary culture, may have been solved. By means, I might add, that would have been science fiction four decades ago when I first began to write in the genre.

What’s happening is this. On July 15th 2016, tomorrow as I write this, Baen Books, the brilliant, rambunctious cutting-edge unashamed SF/Fantasy press, will start a ten-week electronic serialization of the poem on its very popular subscriber website , one epic “Book” at a time. At the end of the serial, Baen will publish the whole book as an ebook. And—here’s the kicker—Ilium will simultaneously issue the book in inexpensive but handsome hardback and paperback editions. It’s going to be something of a first in publishing history: an epic poem that is fast-paced science-based speculative fiction, published in both the new media and the old and by two different but complementary presses.

Apocalypse is my best work: I think I’ve mastered the combination of easy idiomatic hard-hitting narrative with the poetic resources of passion, image, songlike flow, and richer philosophical significance. I hope you will read it.

PS I’m going to be at WorldCon 2016 (MidAmerCon II) this summer, August 17-21. I’ll be on some interesting panels:
Space and Human Speciation
Futuristic Crime Investigations
Mars Needs Poets
Oh, Goddess!
Science Fiction as Epic

Creating vs. Translating Poetry

Monday, 8 September 2014, 10:38 | Category : Uncategorized
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Creating poetry is very hard at its source, since it means sinking the arms of one’s rationality deep into the tangled, murky and sometimes stinging slough of one’s dreams and creative imagination, and dragging something out. But once one has put in one’s 10,000 hours of work on poetic form, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, shaping that something into words is not so hard.

In translating, on the other hand, the original grab is easier: someone else guides one’s arms and places one’s hands on the right beastie down there. But now the hard part starts: to somehow become the other poet’s voice, to replicate the verse form and twists of implication that are easy for him (or her) but that one must invent in oneself, as a dramatist invents a character.

The Epic of Clair

Monday, 1 September 2014, 15:41 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’ve just read an engaging “Young Adult” long poem about a post-apocalyptic Minnesota-St. Paul in which the consequences of a major economic collapse are imaginatively evoked. The scenario is more convincingly devised than the ones seen in the Hunger Games movies and in Divergent, and it makes room for a fascinating variety of characters and ideological groups. The heroine, Clair the runner, is quite captivating, and I was charmed by her sweetness, toughness, and heart. It’s by Eric Charles Hanson, just out with Ilium Press.


Thursday, 7 August 2014, 17:43 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’m turning into a sort of connoisseur of lies: the lofty legalistic generalizations of Israeli politicians that skate over the ugly facts of what they are doing, the blatant lies of the terrorists that actually are a kind of boasting, the slick imitations of pious responsible journalism by the toadying Russian press, the amateurish version in the Ukrainian press (where little islands of truth poke up naively amongst the garbage), the self-serving lies of the Gaza street, which cooperates in putting its children in the line of fire to make propaganda, the deliberate promulgation of conspiracy theories by the middle eastern intelligentsia, the systematic murderous lying of Hamas where lying is a consistent policy even when it does not serve their interest (the general damage done to reason and logic is worth a bit of friendly fire), the uttermost lie to oneself that has been committed by the suicide bomber, the cowardly lies of nations like the US who are too afraid to be of any help, the sanctimonious lies of the religious Jews in the Settlements who are exempt from military duty, the convenient masquerade of measured responsible policy in European nations that are addicted to Russian and Arab oil, the two-faced bland lies of the Arab nations that would be happy to see Israel do their dirty work for them, the malignant lies of the Jew-haters and the Arab-haters, the half-truths and prevarications of the diplomats, the shocked hypocrisy of the highbrow press, the “moral equivalence” lie by apologists for the terrorists and separatists… The only people who are not lying, it sometimes seems, are the most evil of all–the jihadis of ISIS, which is sincerely committed to bringing about hell on earth and doesn’t care who knows it.

Really a merry cavalcade. But they are shitting on something that I love and honor, which is language, the sacred material of poetry.

More on the Wealth Tax

Friday, 27 June 2014, 9:05 | Category : Uncategorized
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A couple of postscripts to the last post, to try to answer the question why it would be such a bad thing for money to lose part of its meaning as naming the difference between the benefits provided to the public by the possessor of the money, and the benefits received by the possessor from the public at large.

Going back to Steve Jobs, it is clear to me that when I bought his products (with the exception of the Newton!) I was getting very much the better of the deal. I didn’t exactly cheat him, but the extent to which they have transformed my life in a mostly beneficial way far outweighs whatever benefits in terms of teaching, writing, and so on that my money names. Part of the reason why this imbalance didn’t impoverish him (and reduce back to peasant famine conditions the Chinese urban workers he employed) is the use of money itself, with all its necessary adjuncts such as banks, fraud laws, and so on. If my iPhone used the technology of ENIAC,IBM’s early computer, it would weigh around five million tons, take up around 300 million square feet of floor space, and cost about 67 billion dollars, by my estimate, for its memory and processor alone. The change this represents, the staggering increase in human welfare, was driven by the fungibility and stability of money and its role of naming and providing knowledge to the marketplace.

If money were to lose its meaning–by widespread theft, corruption, state or private currency manipulation, sumptuary laws, legally-permitted rent-seeking, or high levels of taxation–then that benefit would be lost. And the wealth that Piketty hopes would be shared would simply go elsewhere, to a sounder currency–as it does in any country where vendors at borders buy and sell hard currency. And if all national currencies would lose their naming value, then the wealth would go into something else, far less fungible and available for use by the many–airline miles, precious metals, real estate, bitcoin, works of art from Sotheby’s, or class markers like the accent one gets in a finishing school. Wealth would then become sequestered and the velocity of its exchange would be slowed, resulting in ossified sociopolitical structures. Arguably, the feudal systems of Europe, and its present persistent class systems, were precisely the result of a flight from the Roman Denarius because of its misuse.

A sensible international inheritance tax would avoid many of these problems, it seems to me. The only bad effect might be to diminish the sense of duty one has to one’s ancestors, and to render less reliable the extent to which any person could represent, stand for, or be the agent of another.

What Piketty Leaves Out

Thursday, 26 June 2014, 13:09 | Category : Uncategorized
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The more money a very rich person has, the smaller the percentage of his or her wealth such a person can actually spend and consume. You can’t eat a hundred meals at once or drive a hundred cars at once or get a hundred PhDs. So the wealth has to go somewhere, i.e. to other people in one form or another, as wages, investment capital, or lower bank interest rates. Even if you just hide your money under the bed, that constitutes an interest-free loan to the Treasury and to us, the people. In other words, rich people are already paying a wealth tax, i.e. all the capital they did not manage to destroy by consuming it.

If justice were to be served in terms of reward for services rendered, someone like Steve Jobs should have been able to consume a million times as much stuff–clothes, entertainment, information, food, etc–as the average person. But he probably couldn’t consume much more than about ten times as much. What he did for others was so much more valuable (in terms of the demand) than what others could do for him that it would have been hard for him to find anything equal to it for himself to consume. Maybe he could look at lots of great works of art, but the rest of us do have museums. Maybe he mightn’t be as stressed as someone working hard at a repetitive job. But like all humans, he had plenty of stress already, like dying of cancer.

A world wealth tax would be a bad idea, because money is an illocutionary act or performative statement, in this case an act of naming. An amount of money is a name for the amount by which the bearer of the money has done more good for other people (in their opinion) than they have done for him or her. A wealth tax is a way of falsifying that act of naming, as if a meter or a pound or a liter or a degree of temperature were by law bigger or smaller for rich people than for poor ones, or as if, having been taxed at say 50% by the government just for being rich, every dollar of his represents twice as much benefit to others and half as much benefit to himself as does the poor man’s dollar.

Where Piketty may have a point might be with inheritance taxes. I certainly owe Steve Jobs much more money than I have ever spent on Apple products, but I don’t feel that I owe his heirs anything at all. I am willing to concede some transferred obligation to them because of my respect for his will, but not much. And as for their heirs, very little at all. I think the obligation implied by money, let’s say, is not very transferable to a representative or beneficiary. So an inheritance tax would actually reinforce the illocutionary force of money, rather than damaging it.

Maybe Obama Should Go to Tehran

Thursday, 26 June 2014, 12:59 | Category : Uncategorized
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Maybe President Obama should take a leaf out of Nixon’s book and go to Iran. That would really dish Putin, put Iran in charge of our mess in the Middle East, and get Iraq off our hands. It would also mean supporting an imperfect but fairly stable democracy rather than having to choose either military dictatorships like Egypt and Syria, or fanatical proto-theocracies like ISIS and the Taliban. Iran could pay for the privilege of having its own sphere of influence by recognizing Israel.

An Exciting Symposium on JFK and Dallas

Tuesday, 15 October 2013, 10:54 | Category : Uncategorized
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I’m going to be participating with the likes of Jim Lehrer, Richard Rodriguez, Lee Cullum, Mayor Mike Rawlings, Krys Boyd and other luminaries in a very promising day-long symposium in Dallas on November 2. It will be held in the Southside Ballroom (1135 S. Lamar, Dallas), 10am-4:30 pm. The basic focus will be on the assassination and its aftermath, through the lens of tragedy, in the Greek and Shakespearean sense.

Are You Stupid?

Thursday, 18 July 2013, 9:37 | Category : Uncategorized
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My brilliant friend Mihai Nadin has a new book, Are You Stupid? ( www.areyoustupid.us), that promises some fireworks.

Epic Is In Print

At last my big book on the epics of the world is out: EPIC: FORM, CONTENT, AND HISTORY. Transaction Publishers have done a nice job with it. Virgil Nemoianu, literary scholar extraordinaire and past President of the International Comparative Literature Associations, says “it is the best study ever composed about this foundational literary genre” and Robin Fox, one of our leading evolutionary anthropologists, calls it “a tribal encyclopedia for latter-day tribesmen.” It can be found here.