Month: October 2012

Kafka & Lovecraft : Dreamlands and Nightmares

Kafka & Lovecraft : Dreamlands and Nightmares

Franz Kafka’s reliance on a dreamlike state of existence in his work is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft. Whose work includes several stories based in a dreamlike state. While Kafka is more classically noted than Lovecraft the two share some major similarities in their use of dreams and nightmares in their works. Both have penned some of the most horrifying fiction ever written. Kafka mastery of what can only be called an absurdest reality shakes the reader to the core. You identify with the characters and come to feel his anguish and despair on a personal level that can break you down while reading. There is such a sense of depression associated with works like The Metamorphosis that they become infectious. This is the strength of his writing style. Kafka in his writing tapped into the ideas of Freud and  the symbolic nature of dreams to create works that touch us on a deeply emotional and primal level.

On the other hand  Lovecraft created stories that are horrifying and touch us no less deeply than Kafka but he does not rely on the Freudian symbolic dream. In fact Lovecraft often challenged the very idea that dreams were symbolic. Lovecraft saw dreams as meaningful  and almost as real as the waking world. While Lovecraft seems to reject Freud you can not help but to see the symbolic relationships between the creatures of Lovecraft’s nightmares and the mental problems he faced in his own life.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is probably the one of the most disturbing pieces of short fiction I have ever read. When reading a classic novel or piece of fiction I endeavor to identify with the protagonist or at least one of the major characters. Gregor Samsa’s plight in Kafka’s work hits me at home in so many ways that it becomes disturbing. At thirty-eight years of age I was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. I had always known I was different from everyone around me. I am the only person I know that had to actively teach myself how to smile and I still don’t have a convincing one. I remember my mother’s constant admonition as a child to either smile or to stop grimacing when I tried to smile. So a story about a man waking up to find himself a virtual alien is a story that deeply touches me as someone who feels like an alien at times. I remember vividly realizing I was not like other people and how it felt to be an alien. This story brought so many memories back to me from my childhood that when I read it the first time a few years ago it stuck with me. My copy is now dog-eared and almost falling apart. I have sought to find meaning for my own life in the pages. To write something like this Kafka must have felt much as I have felt about life. This gives me some small comfort that I am not alone and leaves me with some mixed feelings about Gregor.

Unlike Kafka, Lovecraft was often dismissive of Freud and in at least one story mentions Freud in passing while dismissing the Dream symbolism in Freud’s work as “Puerile”. Lovecraft embraced the ideas of Carl Jung. To Jung dreams were based on real things not just symbolic and they represented shared archetypal information. Lovecraft embraced the idea of the collective consciousness that we have racial and subconscious memories that play out in our dreams.Lovecraft wanted to reader to believe that his creatures could actually exist in some dreamlike state or in some archaic half forgotten racial memory of eons past. Like Kafka Lovecraft touches me on a very emotional level. The idea that just beyond our limited perception is an entire world of horror waiting for the chance to step over and engulf us is at its heart the ultimate nightmare.

These two authors use dreams and nightmares to evoke a sense of horror and depression in their readers but they do so using different psychological mechanisms. I think it is important to compare their styles so that future authors can more easily understand the broad panoply of human psychological and subconscious fear. The mind is a wonderful and dangerous tool. Herein lie worlds of Freudian subconscious symbolism and  worlds of Jungian unplumbed instinctual memory. Who knows what may lurk deep in our primitive reptilian cortex.

 

The Freehold Contest- Win a free copy of Sorcery, Steam, and Steel

The Freehold Contest- Win a free copy of Sorcery, Steam, and Steel

That’s right we are running a contest here on the Freehold and the first place winner will receive a free copy of the second SteamGoth anthology. This book was just released today so you will be one of the first people to receive one.  Here is how the contest works….

Listen to the podcasts of the Hungry Angry Show ( http://nukemars.com/?page_id=54 ) then answer the questions below. The first one to email me at jbaird@nukemars.com with all the correct answers wins.

Question 1- What movie does the name of the podcast (Hungry Angry Show) come from?

Question 2- What is Georgia Ballard’s Halloween costume going to be?

Question 3- Why is episode three entitled “Drinking shots from a woman”?

Question 4- In episode eight how deep does Jonathan Baird say his well is?

Question 5- Name one thing that anyone on the show purchased at the Self Reliance Expo?

If you are on the Podcast (William Mayfield I am talking to you) then you are not eligible to win.

“Virgin Land” by Henry Nash Smith: A Starting Point for the American Steampunk Movement

“Virgin Land” by Henry Nash Smith: A Starting Point for the American Steampunk Movement

 

Virgin Land by Henry Nash Smith is not your typical history text. It is not a retelling of the story of the west or the frontier. It is an examination of how Americans view western expansion through the myths, legends, and symbolic culture associated with it. Smith delves into the topic of what the West and the frontier meant to the American psyche. This is not a book which discusses established history but a book about what people believe about their past. This exploration of the American Western experience is important to the burgeoning American Steampunk movement. Currently the movement revolves around the abundance of Victorian and neo-Victorian British literature, dress, and ideology while the American Steam era experience has been to some extent ignored. Henry Nash Smith gives those interested in exploring the mythology of the West and the American experience a place to start.

 

Virgin Land reads much like an anthropology text. Smith gives us an insight into how people develop their own mythology and how this mythology would affect later historical events. The strength of the text lies in its ability to find relations between myth and the realities to which the myths refer. Smith takes the reader through various periods of American mythology relating to the frontier. We begin with the Lewis and Clark expedition and the search for a passage to the Orient and progress through to the ever expanding Mythos of the Wild West. We find not only these myths expressed in terms of superstitions, and folk tales but also in the form of larger than life heroes and heroines who populate the virtually fairy-tale West. Like the Greek and Roman heroes, the frontier was brought to life with stories of men and women whose exploits are beyond those of normal men, and much like Homer the dime novel author brought these stories to the eastern masses.

Each great civilization creates for itself its own mythical past replete with its monsters, heroes and treasure.  Smith’s book sets the stage for what could be called the American mythological past. Not unlike other more ancient civilizations our American origins have been recast into something less history and something more heroic. The great frontier struggles are seen as struggles between good and evil. Often bad men are recast as heroes of the people and not so bad men are recast as their monstrous enemies. The west of American myth is populated with a menagerie of evil red Indians, larger than life mountain men, sure shot cowgirls, spring fed mountain valley paradises, and later even a masked man toting a gun filled with silver bullets. Smith provides anyone interested in the Steampunk movement perfect examples of mythological characters and situations. There is enough here to provide ample fodder for stories, novels, and more.

 

 

Virgin Land “The American West as Symbol and Myth”, By Henry Nash Smith. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970.

When Heinlein Was A Liberal

 

I have to admit, the book For Us, The Living by Robert Heinlein is a real puzzle.  As a piece of science fiction literature it is an obvious failure from the standpoint of story telling.  It is more of a lecture with a story to fill in the blank spots.  The lecture however is even more disappointing because of the fact it is loaded with liberal tones and to be honest seems very anti-libertarian because of the government being the source of all prosperity.

The economic system proposed is one where each person gets a check from the government and then spends it on their needs.  The system that Heinlein proposes is even backed by a game that the characters not only play in the book but the system is given as an appendix so the reader can try it out themselves.  I did try it once and it does indeed work but it has some fatal flaws; the greatest of which is rampant government spending.  It also has the flaw of thinking that economics is a closed system.  You really cannot create wealth in the system when you look at it nor does it take the creation of wealth into account.

The greatest flaw of the whole book is not the discussion of economics so much as a belief in human nature.  The book seems to say if people did not have to worry about their financial needs, they would naturally want to work and produce for enjoyment sake alone.  With our current welfare state, this does not work out to well.  If we have learned anything about just giving money to non-producers, it is that it encourages more non-production.  Need; like it or not, is what propels people to act and work.

The other part of human nature I don’t buy in this book is that how someday psychology will rid the world of jealousy, greed, strife, etc.  So far, this is still a fantasy.  All these emotions may simply be a part of human makeup because of the needs of humans to survive.  While I respect Heinlein’s belief that man if left to himself can do great things, I reject the idea of some sort of psychological utopia.  That better belongs to the unrealistic Star Trek fantasy.  Great entertainment but not a possible reality.

The book was originally rejected and Heinlein did not resubmit it in his lifetime.  It was eventually published posthumously.  I often wonder if an older, wiser Robert Heinlein decided it was a failure on a lot of levels for himself.  I wonder if he looked at it and said: “Oh My God!  What an idiot I was!”  I personally think it did do his writing some good.  Stop lecturing and start storytelling was a lesson I believe he learned there.  Sift the philosophy in subtlety and tell a damn good story instead.  In the end this played out very well over a great and wonderful career.

It seems in the final analysis, that For Us, The Living was the failure that Heinlein needed to learn from to ultimately be successful.  It moved him from trying to hit the home run right out the gate to the simple success of building his craft over time.  The home runs came later but they were far more significant and it was probably because of this failure. Utopia is nice, but in the end it never happens.  Heinlein learned this lesson in this book from a lot of standpoints and it in many ways became a turning point of sorts for him.  A good turning point, I might add.

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author David Drake

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Author David Drake

Known best for his Hammer’s Slammers series and his Lord of the Isles series David Drake has become an icon of military science fiction and fantasy over the years. We are happy to bring you an interview with the creator of the Hammerverse.

The Hitchhiker asks…

 

Question 1- You come from a history and legal educational background how did you end up in the writing business and what advice would you give to a person trying to get into the writing business today?

 

And Latin–don’t forget the Latin background, because it’s very important.

When I was in high school, a teacher (Eugene Olson) was a professional writer on the side. I determined that some day I would sell a story. Writing grew into a small hobby, but I didn’t dream of becoming a full-time writer.

Then I was drafted. When I got back to the World, I used fiction writing as a way to organize my memories and feelings, and to let out my considerable anger in an acceptable fashion.

After eight years of working as a lawyer, I realized that the particular stresses of the legal profession were going to kill me, so I quit and got a job driving a city bus. I spent more time writing because I had more time, and I figured the money would be very helpful. To my utter amazement, my writing career took off and I became a full-time freelance writer.

I didn’t begin writing in order to be a writer: I began writing to learn an interesting skill. I proceeded in a, well, in an obsessive fashion from 1970 on in order to control my anger and despair. I don’t really have advice for someone who Wants to be a Writer–who wants to get into the writing business today or any time–because that wasn’t me.

 

Question 2- How did your experiences in Vietnam prepare you for writing your fiction? Do these experiences show up in any of your books?

 

I served with an elite unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry; the Blackhorse Regiment or 11th ACR. In 1970 nobody I knew believed we were Saving Democracy. I suspect grunts in Iraq and Afghanistan have the same contempt for blowhards speaking similar twaddle today.

But we did our job. Everybody in the Blackhorse did his job. We kicked the ass of whoever they pointed us at, not because we believed in the war or in democracy or in any damned thing: we kicked ass because we were the Blackhorse.

I carried the attitude over into civilian life. My job is writing, and I do my job the best way I can; every time, every day. I’m David Drake, a writer, and I rode with the Blackhorse.

Yes, my military experiences show up in my fiction–even in humorous fantasy short stories. And bears shit in the woods.

 

Question 3- You helped start Carcosa a small publishing company, what are some of the pitfalls of publishing and how have those changed over the years especially in light of the internet. (We are interested because at the Freehold we have our own small press publications that will be coming out this fall)

 

I’ll give you two points; one which you probably think you know.

 

1)         Don’t put in more money than you’d be willing to burn in the driveway. Do not assume that anyone, ever, will buy one of your books.

Jim Groce and I put up all the money for Carcosa. Carcosa books are now sold for considerable sums of money, but Jim and I lost all the money we put in.

 

2)         Be aware that if you’re in a partnership, you may learn more about your partners than you wanted to know.

 

You should be publishing because you want to get certain books that you think are important out into the hands of readers. No other reason justifies small-press publishing.

 

Question 4- Who are the writers that have influenced you and your writing the most over the years?

 

There are a lot of ways to answer that. My prose style owes more to Tacitus than to any writer in English, and translating Ovid has taught me a great deal about the nuts and bolts of characterization.

In the SF/fantasy field, though, Henry Kuttner and Clark Ashton Smith. Kuttner started out as a crude stylist, but he always knew how to tell a story and he always went for the emotional punch. His stories have heart; even the hackwork is written with belief. Further, he kept learning from every story.

Smith’s vocabulary is unfortunate; he gives the impression of having taken it from a dictionary, not from the wide reading that would have permitted him to use the words in the correct context.

Despite that, his settings are gorgeous and his plot development shows that he really understood concepts about which Lovecraft merely mouthed words: his own insignificance and the insignificance of mankind. Smith’s work shows a detachment which I find in no other writer in the field, and the best of his stories are crushingly effective even after multiple rereadings.

 

Question 5- Tell us a little about your political beliefs, You told me in our email exchange that you are not a libertarian. What do you describe yourself as?

I have no ideology. My family in Iowa was Republican, but when I moved to NC I registered as a Democrat so that I could vote usefully in primaries.

I used to describe myself as apolitical, but my friend Eric Flint–a Trotskyist labor organizer–said I was the most political writer he knew, save for himself. It’s true that I analyze human interactions in terms of politics, so politics are at the heart of all my fiction.

I suppose I believe, as did Dickens and Orwell, that a society which ran on Christian principles (note that I did not say Christian theology) would be ideal for human beings. Again like Dickens and Orwell, I don’t believe there’s any possibility of such a society existing among human beings; but I wish it were the ideal toward which most people strove.

I don’t believe that’s going to happen either.

I try to be courteous; and honest; and even kind. I am in despair when I look at the world around me and at my own failings.

 

Thank you for the interview. I know there are several readers here who are ecstatic you took the time to do this for us.

Megatraveller, Megacorporations, and Misplaced Corporate Hatred

Sorry, the mindless drivel of the political ads about corporations has gotten to me.  You know: “He will take on the big corporations and get back what is rightfully yours,” drivel.

In 1987, I was visiting a hobby shop in Kalamazoo, MI and ran across Megtraveller the RPG (original pen and paper stuff) and bought the original boxed set.  I had already been playing Traveller so the transition to a more complex and expanded Megatraveller was a natural fit.  In the world of the star spanning Imperium anything was possible.  You could be any science fiction type role and play multiple different styles of campaigns.  It was a great system enhanced by the fact the record keeping and game mechanics were simple but still allowed so many different actions.

The world of Megatraveller had one other feature, it employed the as part of the world of the Imperium – the megacorporation.  These giant of industry were enormous.  They had an office on any civilized world of the Imperium and often had a home world and star system of their own as a central office.  They employed their own everything including armed forces and fleets of ships.  They wielded tremendous power because of their shear size and wealth. Sometimes this power was used for good, sometimes for evil.  Mostly it was simply used to make more money.  Characters often needed them because they produced products and technologies that could be found nowhere else.  They also were able employers who everyone knew ‘the check would not bounce’ so to speak. The currency of a Megacorporation in Megatraveller was hard currency.  In fact, after the Imperium collapses in the game system, it is the megacorporations that still have value after all else has become worthless.

I point out the benefits because I think in our real world we miss the benefit of corporations.  Businesses become corporations for one simple reason — to make more money.  In reality a corporation is just a vehicle in which people expand their existing business by adding more capital.  By doing this they are able to do more.  Among these benefits: hire more people, expand the business to get more products and services to people, give more to charity, develop new ideas and technologies that benefit people, etc.  I wonder how charities; for instance, would do without corporate sponsorship? Corporations exist to create and generate wealth which they use to generate more wealth.  If left alone, this brings prosperity to everyone involved with the corporation to one extent or another.

When people simply label corporations as bad I am not sure which is at work: stupidity, prejudice, envy or jealousy.  The idea that if we stick it to the rich or corporations that I am going to benefit is intellectually vacant to me.  Just because someone  or something else loses in prosperity does not necessarily mean I am going to benefit.  Sorry all your hatred toward corporations will not get you a single nickel from them. If they are brought to failure by the governing bodies of this country, you will gain nothing. More than likely, it will actually have the opposite effect.

In truth, the poor and middle class like to blame corporations and rich people because it takes the focus off their own failures.  Blame never has once solved a problem, it is a tool for those who do not want to take responsibility for themselves.  To be truly free, you must take responsibility for yourself.  It was not corporations, that caused people to spend more than they earn or have debt levels so high they can’t see a way out.  That was a product of each individual’s choices.  Greed may exist but it is a human problem, not just a rich people and corporation problem.  It is a greedy decision to make plans to live off welfare and thus the prosperity of others through taxation. It is just as greedy as any decision that the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world have ever made.

*Sigh*  My rant is over but to say this.  If you want freedom, true freedom, you must take responsibility for yourself.  Blaming anyone for where you are will not help you move forward in your life. I also don’t believe we will go forward as a nation by looking for someone to blame.  We instead need a vision where everyone can profit if they take responsibility for themselves and let things be free to do what they need to do.  That includes corporations by the way.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

I saw Frankenweenie in a nearly empty theater on its opening weekend, and while competition from the already-successful Hotel Transylvania no doubt contributed to its financial disappointment, the morbid subject matter and the unfortunate fact that too many people nowadays refuse to a watch a movie made in black and white no matter what the actual quality were no doubt factors as well. That’s all the more the pity since it’s one of Tim Burton’s very best films, his funniest and most personal since Ed Wood and his most heartfelt and moving since Edward Scissorhands. In a vapid and disappointing movie year, it’s a genuine delight and something worth cheering.

Expanded from Burton’s live-action short, this stop-motion story of young Victor Frankenstein (yes, that’s his name although the movie doesn’t belabor over it the way Mel Brooks did) and his noble attempt to revive his beloved dog Sparky (NOT Frankenweenie- remember, the name of the book is not the name of the monster!) from his eternal rest is a true visual marvel. The character and set design have the same distinct look of other Burton stop-motion films such as The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, but this time, even more care and attention has been taken to the use of detail and perspective; like last year’s Hugo, this is one of the few films where the use of the 3-D format proves to be to the film’s benefit. The usual Burton influences of the horror films of Universal and Hammer Studios and Italy’s legendary Mario Bava are at play again but unlike most contemporary film makers who lazily re-film a scene or recycle particular cliches or motifs and call them “homages,” Burton is a director who realizes that the contributions of Mario Bava (who photographed most of his horror classics) or Karl Freund (Universal’s brilliant cinematographer on most of its horror classics as well as the director of The Mummy (1933) and Mad Love) are lessons for the aspiring film maker to study, not mindlessly ape, and that they can be applied to the medium of animation as well. There are direct homages, of course, not just, obviously, to the Hammer and Universal Frankenstein films, but to Gammera the Invincible, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (what’s a stop-motion film without a tribute to Ray Harryhausen?), Jack The Giant Killer, The Horror of Dracula, The Mummy (both Universal and Hammer versions, apparently), The Devil Bat and even Gremlins, which itself was an homage to Fifties science fiction classics. Talk about recursive.

What sets Burton apart in his homages is not the level of skill in which he accomplishes it or his recognition of historical priority (something which Gremlins director Joe Dante does better than anyone else), but the level of humanity and personal depth he puts into them. Frankenweenie is not merely a tribute to Burton’s favorite films and directors or his own early days as a beginning director and animator (Victor bears more than a slight resemblance to the hero of Tim Burton’s first commercial animated short, Vincent, and Sparky to the eponymous canine of “Family Dog,” the animated episode of Amazing Stories that Tim Burton and Brad Bird crafted), but seemingly his own life and childhood. “New Holland,” the town is obviously based on Burton’s own hometown of Burbank; the New Holland sign that greets visitors may mock the famous Hollywood sign, but the real sign isn’t that far away from Burbank itself. If Victor is anything like Burton himself, than instead of the oddball some may assume he is from his public persona or the characters we usually assume are his proxies, we get a nice normal young man who loves his dog, and just wants him, his own personal “Rosebud” back.

The movie continually surprises and delights us with the twists of its story as well as its visual ingenuity. Considering that Edward Scissorhands, after first establishing itself with a truly novel lead character and a beguiling mixture of both whimsy and visual inventiveness in the initial scenes, disappointed when it followed a painfully predictable story formula, the unexpected plot and character turns in Frankenweenie are most welcome, and credit must go to John August, probably the best scenarist Burton has so far worked with. When a student resembling Dwight Frye is introduced, we fully expect him to become Victor’s assistant, and he even attempts to badger Victor into making him so; instead, he winds up being one of the film’s main antagonists. This is true of the other kids in the neighborhood as well who, despite their own status as morbid outsiders, are not embraced as such, as one would expect from a viewing of the Burton canon. Instead, they’re treated rather like South Park‘s Goth Kids, viewed contemptuously for thinking that their acts of rebellion should be treated as anything other than acts of selfish petulance, in contrast to the obedient and compassionate Victor’s genuine sense of caring. In fact, they’re much like the children August adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he wrote the adaptation for Burton, with Victor playing the role of Charlie Bucket. Victor’s parents, voiced by SCTV veterans Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara (both do multiple voices for other characters) aren’t allowed to fall into stereotypes either; instead of becoming subjects of mockery through depiction as bland 50s sitcom types that illustrate contemporary ignorance and prejudices rather than that of a previous era, they’re depicted as fully formed characters (no pun intended) who genuinely love their son and want the best for him. That includes letting him pursue his own interests but also letting him learn about the harsh realities he will face in this world, even if it will inevitably mean heartbreak and disappointment. Even the seemingly evil town Mayor (named “Burgermeister,” yet another Universal horror reference) is a character lent to surprises. When he is introduced, threatening to castrate Sparky with a pair of garden shears, and being nasty to his niece (Winona Ryder, who deserves a comeback, Robert Downey Jr. style), we fully expect him to be the lead villain, but his role in the denouement is not what one would expect. Yes, Victor may be misunderstood by grown-ups, but we later realize that grown-ups just want to be understood as well, and that learning to understand about life and death and other people is part of what this whole journey is all about.

The theme of understanding is wonderfully conveyed through what for me was the best and most refreshing part of the film: the avowed pro-science message. Frankenweenie celebrates scientists of all ages everywhere, and urges them persist against all odds. Victor gets his inspiration to revive Sparky from the school’s new science teacher (the delightful Martin Landau, again doing a Hungarian accent but not imitating Bela Lugosi this time) when he demonstrates Galvani’s electrical experiments on frog legs (which allegedly inspired Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein). When a subsequent attempt to revive a different animal fails, his teacher tells him “Science isn’t just a matter of up there,” pointing to his head, “its a matter of right here” pointing to his  heart. Science requires intellect, but it also requires hard work, ethics, and commitment to a job and field you truly love.

The pro-science message takes a satirical edge when two of Victor’s classmates injure themselves working on their project, resulting in a PTA meeting where they decide that it’s not parental negligence or even the stupidity of their own children that’s at fault but science itself for injuring them! One parent bellows “Pluto was a strong and robust planet when I was a kid! Then science had to ruin it!” Landau’s teacher does nothing to help his cause, however, scaring them with his raving and ranting and insulting them by boasting that he will ensure that their children “will not be ignorant like YOU!” When Victor tries to comfort his dismissed teacher, Landau sadly mutters “People do not love science, yet they love what science brings them.” Watching these scenes, I was reminded of a friend of mine who built a homemade Tesla coil that lit up his small-town Wyoming neighborhood with six-foot tall arcs of electricity. That was in the early sixties; today, he’s a radio astronomer at one of the world’s leading observatories. A child today who attempted what he did would be in trouble with who knows how many safety and environmental laws. Not only is Landau’s teacher all too correct (check out how everyone from anti-evolution proponents to anti-GMO activists have used the Internet to spread their anti-science propaganda), but his explosive reaction at the PTA meeting also serves as a demonstration as to exactly why those of us on the pro-science side have failed to make an adequate dent with the public. Too often, we have resorted to ridicule, contempt or sheer nastiness instead of understanding and engagement, which only results in further estrangement from potentially receptive audience members. A movie like Frankenweenie that does embrace science and scientists and encourages its audience to do the same is a rare thing, and it’s a true pleasure to find such a message in such an unexpected place.

Despite my giving Frankenweenie my highest recommendation, I should give parents a warning. The movie will probably be too intense and scary for very young children, especially when seen in the 3-D format, and furthermore, those who own pets may wind up feeling extremely saddened or disturbed by some scenes in the film (and that includes those who own cats as well as dogs). It still may be a useful film to discuss such issues as death and mourning with your children.

 

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Dr. Gregory Benford

The Enquiring Hitchhiker Interviews Dr. Gregory Benford

 

This week the Enquiring Hitchhiker has several new interviews. The first of these is with  Dr. Gregory Benford. Dr. Benford is one of the leading authors of hard science fiction working today. His novel In the Ocean of Night was one of my first introductions to the idea of artificial intelligence.

 

The Hitchhiker asks…

Question 1. Ben Bova has commented that there is too little science fiction about scientists, their lives and the work that they do. Clearly, you are an exception to the rule but why do you think this is the case, even among scientists who write science fiction?”

 

Writing well is hard, and scientists are often single-minded, so never develop the narrative skills to really enjoy writing, as I do. I realized early on an advantage: You get to use material from part of life that few know and few writers attempt.

 

Question 2. You come from a science background how did you end up in the writing business and what advice would you give to a person trying to get into the writing business today?

If you possibly can, don’t write for money. It’s too hard to make it work, especially full time. I’ve always been a hobbyist and think that gives you freedom to enjoy it more. I’ve been very lucky in timing, coming in as the New Wave energy lapsed and there was appetite for more traditional, Campbellian sf. I added some literary graces to hard sf. Many have done this now of course.

 

Question 3. Who are the writers who have most influenced your writing?

The usual: Hemingway, Faulkner, the great English poets pre-Shakespeare, & in sf, Clarke, Heinlein, Disch, Russ, Silverberg, John D. Macdonald, Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler. I learned a lot from them about narrative craft.

 

Question 4. This is sort of a personal question so bear with me on this. You and I are both from the South and we both work in a science field (albeit archaeology isn’t exactly a hard science). When I first started I moved to the border area of New York and Pennsylvania to work on a multi-year dig. I experienced a massive amount of anti-Southern bigotry not from the local people but from my fellow archaeologists who tout themselves as paragons of civility and liberalism. Did you experience anything similar as a Southerner turned scientist?

 

I changed my Alabama accent to a flat California one first year of grad school at UCSD…for good reason. Liberals aren’t really liberal, though they’re blind to that–they’re in love with a value system that needs villains. Be aware. When I taught in the English Dept. at UCI (honors program, and upper division journalism), I noted that American literature has been strongly Southern (Twain, Faulkner, Welty, both Tom Wolfes etc) but literary theory has a Northern cast. Many think it odd that I’m from the South, but that just reflects the monoculture of academe—which desires diversity in everything but opinion.

 

Question 5. Can you tell us a bit about your role at Reason Magazine and maybe a brief run down of your political beliefs?

I’m a Contributing Editor. I write a piece for the magazine when they bring me an interesting topic. I used to help shape issues, writing cover stories, but in recent years do much less. I’m a middle level libertarian. Don’t believe in open borders, as some do. Prefer some aspects of old line, cultural conservative views, which note the importance of continuity and community in shoring up liberties. Dislike our militarist impulses of late, though my father was a professional who fought in WWII and Korea and retired as Commandant of the artillery school, Ft. Sill. (I and my identical twin brother were in the reserves but never served.) I grew up in occupied Japan and Germany and saw the aftermath of that colossal struggle. A list:

1. I don’t think trying to manage Arabs or others is our proper job. Our Navy should keep the sea lanes clear for trade, but policeman is not our role; doing that endangers the structure of our Republic, as Eisenhower pointed out.

2. Nor do I like borrowing money from China to give it to people who hold us in contempt, hoping to curry favor.

3. I’d like a simple tax code and an end to the long-ago lost War on Drugs.

4. In law, change the costly legal rules from “discovery” to disclosure, as the Brits do.

5. I would consider advocating that California leave the Union, since it is simply too large an entity to run its affairs without being able to control its borders, make most of its laws or print its own money. We see now the limits of the Federal Republic model.

These ideas put me outside most political movements, of course.

 

Dr. Benford thank you for the interview.

Freehold Radio and the Hungry Angry Show Podcast

Freehold Radio and the Hungry Angry Show Podcast

If you read the Freehold regularly you may be aware of the podcast we do live every Sunday at noon. If you are not a regular reader it may come as a complete surprise. If you have not listened to the podcast please take few minutes and see if you like what we are doing. I get frenetic during many of the podcasts and I am not sure if it is because we are talking about my favorite subject matter but I seem to have a very spastic approach to podcasting. My other two hosts are a little more sedate, although William Mayfield (Rob) has his moments. Georgia Ballard is our anchor. She sometimes keeps us from going off the deep end. This is not like other podcasts you will hear. I don’t think a  hillbilly nerd, a geeky Cajun, and a cosplay Grrl have ever met each other on the microphone before. Come join us.

There are now over nine hours of content in the podcast vault and we discuss the entire panoply of geekdom. From literature and television shows to the prevalence of the hipster nerd crowd in today’s culture. Check us out…. The Hungry Angry Show

Book Review – A Canticle for Leibowitz

Canticle – song used in liturgical services

When looking through the Hugo winners of the past I discovered this book as a winner. I wondered because one of the other nominees that year was Deathworld by Harry Harrison.  It seemed strange to me that Deathworld would lose to a book which I had never heard of at the time.  Having read it now for the first time, I would say I can understand the dilemma.  For my part it would have been close as both books are not only well written but imaginative as well.  A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. ultimately would have prevailed; I think, because it dealt closer with real life issues at the time.

The book opens after the nuclear holocaust that was so feared in the 1950s.  In many ways nuclear war at the time was not a mutually assured destruction thing.  It was not until the massive proliferation of ICBMs and multi warhead missiles that the nuclear war people theorized became the complete end of human existence.  In the days of bombs and bombers, most people thought humanity would survive but not civilization as we knew it.

The book takes place mostly around an abbey dedicated to Leibowitz who was an electrical engineer and a survivor of the holocaust.  The monks seem to indicate that he turned to religion after this to save what knowledge could be saved after the nuclear war.  The book is three parts that are separated by centuries of time.  The first part deals with the issue of getting Leibowitz canonized as a saint.  The second part deals with the opening of the knowledge of the abbey to the intellectual community.  Part three deals with the abbey and the church dealing with the fact that this opening of knowledge has led humanity back to the same end of nuclear annihilation.

From a literature point of view this is a remarkable well written book.  Its use of Latin and Hebrew is superb and adds to the charm of the book.  My Latin is not at all that good but I understand the beauty of it in this story.  The story is engaging although one character is never resolved – Lazarus the Hebrew.  Other than that, the book flows well and does not insult your intelligence.

The central theme is the interplay between science and religion.  The issue addressed is knowledge verses wisdom.  Sure we can do things with science, but does that mean we should do those things.  Asking the question of are we ever going to be wise enough to stop history repeating itself is one of the great things that kept me going in this book.  Tons of other sub themes and I strongly suspect that every time I would read this book I would pick up something new.  It is that good.  The ultimate saving grace of humanity is that the colonization of the stars saves the race from itself.

As a libertarian, I dislike it when people keep knowledge from advancing and yet at the same time I also know humanity enough to realize that at times we are not wise enough to handle what we know.  I think the book addresses this issue well and does not so much offer answers but gets you to think about the issue.

As a theist but Non-Catholic, I felt like someone who (because of ignorance) does not always get the joke but understands the message. Religion has at times been the preserver of knowledge, but it has also been a source of misery for not being practical enough or being too overly superstitious to realize when that knowledge needs to be released to alleviate human suffering.   At the same time, religious figures often cause people to ask themselves whether things are being done with moral understanding.  Double edged sword.

I definitely would recommend this book. It has an honored place on my shelf.  It is simply a very realistic view of  the science verses religion dichotomy during the rebuilding of society after it is destroyed by nuclear war.  It is intelligently written and I suspect I would like it even more if my Latin was better.

Next Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin from A Song of Ice and Fire.  Yes, I am reading something fairly new and I will probably pick up the first season of the series from HBO to watch and review as well.  After I read the books of course.