A Mirror Full of Noir: Tyador Borlú Gets Lost

illustration by Lex Berman

Just finished China Miéville’s The City and the City, a very satisfying, even inspiring, book, rich with metaphor and symbolism.  It is like a film noir, set in a mythical Eastern European city — I’m convinced it is partly based on Prague — where populations living in mutually incompatible paradlgms “unsee” each other.

The beauty of this idea  is that, (quite beyond the metaphor,) it could be almost any *real* city; with populations that are utterly invisible to one another. Old and young, rlch and poor, leftist and fascist, black and white: there are, in fact, far too many axes of unseeing in our everyday lives

Continue Reading »

Unboxing a 1964 Smith Corona Sterling

It would be great if everyone was as lucky as I was today when unboxing a Fedex carton containing a used manual typewriter.   The typical horror stories of rattling loose pieces and totally broken machines could be greatly reduced in number if people were careful packers, like the “secretagent” who sold me this beautiful old typer!

Continue Reading »

Readercon 24, Where did we go from here?

Last year at Readercon, there was an emotional dust-up over a sordid harassment incident, in addition to a scary and unexpected medical emergency for one of our favorite editors. At this year’s Readercon, we were spared this additional drama, and found ourselves sailing through a very mellow and enjoyable con.

Of course, it was great to catch up with other fans and pros, like Alan Hanscomb, who finished his novel Sharon of Two Salems, and Mark Borok, Dianne Weinstein, and the whole Readercon gang; and also great to make some new acquaintances, like some writer named Seamus who was wearing a little black straw fedora, and a couple of mathematics and linguistics-loving commedia dell’arte performers.

Most surprising for me perhaps, was to hijack a moment of John Shirley’s time, reminiscing about his gigs at CBGBs back in 1980, where I saw him stripped to the waist and flailing around like a maniac singing “I am electricity!”   Now that was a memorable night.  Probably Shirley will scratch his head and wonder just who the heck I am and how I knew him well enough to be on the guest list… but I was gracious enough not to mention in public some of the other crazy shit that we both witnessed in Greenwich Village back then.    Like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice, those were some nutty times…   

So where did we go from here?    Yes, the panel sessions.

Continue Reading »

Down and Out in Paris and London, Ch. 22

Most of George Orwell’s classic, Down and Out in Paris and London, is a first person account of near-starvation and slaving away as a dishwasher in the bowels of a French hotel.   But there is one section, Chapter 22, which raises the issue of poverty and useless toil to a philosophical level.

Judging from my own useless toil in the sink at the Village Inn, among other venues, I can say the Orwell has certainly framed the problem well, and that not much has changed.   Men and women everywhere must scrub and slave away like serfs, while a disinterested class of wealthier individuals sniff at their plates of nouveau-drizzled crocquettes.   Personally, I do not believe we can eliminate toil from human society, just as much as we are incapable of eliminating the parasitic class.  But I do believe that we could do a better job of spreading the wealth and spreading the burden…what we don’t want is the often-repeated model of raising the standard of living of one class, while pushing the burakumin, untouchable tasks onto some other less fortunate human beings.

Isn’t it time for human society — at long last! — to develop sustainable methods and technologies for our basic needs, and to stop pouring the wealth of nations into bottomless pits of weapons, “intelligence,”  ”security,” and allowing a tiny minority of sociopaths, the King greedheads of the 1%, to suck up all remaining treasure?   Can’t we just try?

By the way, the French quote from Villon (no doubt unintelligible as I have pronounced it) is from the poem La Testament:

Et pain ne voient qu’aux fenestres

which I think means something like “(those who) see bread only through shop windows.”    Which brings to mind the lyric of Bertolt Brecht:  ”Make sure those who are now starving, get proper helpings when we all start carving.”    Sadly, the American society where I live is more insanely obsessed with sporting events and driving their cars in pointless circles, then they are in seeing the simple virtue of making sure that their fellows are not driven by hunger into serfdom.    Let’s fix that!

Down and Out in Paris and London, Chapter 22 (14:15), Diamond Bay Radio, Episode 8, Jul 2013
download mp3 (14MB)

50 Years Ago: the first woman in space!

On June 19th, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova returned to earth after three days and 49 orbits. making her the first woman to travel in outer space.

Her landing near Baevo, Altai was quite rough.   Since the parachute canopy was huge and lines very long, there was hardly any way to control it as she hit the ground.

I had to stand on my head for a little bit,” Tereshkova recalled.   “Finally I unstrapped the parachute but ended up with a big bruise on my nose.   I landed on my back.  Some people ran up to me and tried to help.  The spacecraft was 400 meters away.   A jet came in an hour, two parachutists descended.  In three hours, I was on the phone with Khruschev, reporting the successful completion of the flight.”

Yes, Tereshkova is made of the right stuff!

The details of her landing remind me very much of the landing sequence in the film, Baikonur, in which a French cosmonaut lands in the Kazakh steppe and is found by a local villager.   An interesting movie that you might want to watch.

Unfortunately, owing to the tragic death of Yuri Gagarin in 1968, Tereshova was ordered never to fly again, either as cosmonaut or pilot.

See:  First Lady of Space: Tereshkova’s flight Timeline

Also:  Cosmonaut Postcards featuring Tereshkova


Food From Outer Space

Now that we are vegetarian, Sophia invents some interesting dishes just for fun.

This alien platter is a weird masterpiece!   A bizzare bitter melon, with a texture like an alien lizard, is hollowed out and stuffed with mashed purple sweet potatoes & bamboo shoots, then baked crispy with red Korean chilis that we dried from our garden.     Tastes good, too!

Exposing the Dirty Wars

Sophia and her new pals, Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill

Great book launch at the Harvard Science Center yesterday, featuring Jeremy Scahill on his new book, Dirty Wars.  After his excellent work on exposing Erik Prince’s fiendish company Blackwater, Scahill pursued the covert wars, targeted killings, and drone wars that the U.S. engages in around the world.   In his speech, Scahill said that he started out in journalism by pestering Amy Goodman constantly, offering to feed her cat, wash her car, etc, if only she’d take him on as an intern at Democracy Now.    It got to point where Amy had to choose between taking out a restraining order on him, or letting him join the team.

Good thing she brought him on board, because Scahill’s journalism (for the Nation, Democracy Now, and other agencies) has been courageous, hard-hitting, and shining with moral clarity.    Scahill’s field work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia shows the sort of backbone we wish other journalists would emulate, so we can finally kick the host of ass-kissing slime-bags who have been posing as journalists (shall cite as an example, Judith Miller or Tucker Carlson?) out on the curb.

If anything will save us from the lying obfuscations of the so-called “main stream media” it will be a new generation of real journalists, who aren’t afraid to reveal the truth and who are persistent enough to be heard.   Right on, Jeremy!   You deserved a standing ovation!   Now if only the power-mongers and their cringing sycophants can be pried away from those kill lists and drone buttons, we can move on to a better, more humane future.

The warm stream conquers the cold

Харийс Брантс (Harris Brants) illustration for Picnic on Paradise in Издательский дом Дейч --- Коллекция «Фантастика» Аркадий и Борис Стругацкие 2008

Reading “The Second Marxian Invasion” about the Strugatski Brothers by Stephen W. Potts. Apparently this was Potts’ thesis at UC Berkeley and it is fascinating reading indeed. Tracing the utopian, socialist, and totalitarian themes in Russian fantastika literature from it’s earliest origins in the late 18th Century, the author describes how various Russian writers reacted to events such as the failed revolution in 1905, and the victory of the communists in 1917. For every utopian vision of the early Russian SF, there were dystopias, horrors, and complexities. Zamaytin’s We, published in 1921, is considered the classic tale of dystopia under totalitarianism, but according to Potts, it was not a counter-revolutionary work so much as a complaint that the Bolshevik utopia had not gone far enough towards the total liberation and union of personal and political interests.

The modernist craze of the Leninist years eventually was constricted by Stalin’s paranoia, resulting in a number of science fiction authors vanishing to the gulags. Only writers like Belyaev, who could “reduce their technological miracles to the level of fairy tales, and inject their work with starkly ideological plots” were able to survive. When the “thaw” finally took place in 1956, the subsequent launch of Sputnik propelled Soviet SF into a new hard science phase that eventually was characterized as “cold stream” SF. This cold stream was one in which SF was narrowly conceived of as optimistic, science-oriented, and upbeat; similar to our sense-of-wonder space opera days, but one emerging from the constraints of Stalinist censorship and therefore self-consciously regulating itself and focused on a sort of vanguard of hard science futurism. The Strugatsky brothers, whose themes were more diffuse, more challenging, and informed by anthropology, psychology and the “soft” sciences, as well as the nascent New Wave, were seen as “warm stream” writers.

In the 60s there was an ideological battle between the cold stream and warm stream, which was conceptually decided when the warm stream became more popular and when important critics advocated for science fiction with a purpose that transcended mere prediction and imagining of future technological advances. Here Potts quotes some criticism from 1968 about SF, but which raises some interesting thoughts about the purpose of writing in general:

…we take as a criterion in assessing the value of a work everything that promotes the development of the human personality, extends its horizon, inspires it with lofty ideals, ennobles it morally and intellectually, improves its aesthetic preception [sic] of the environment, helps to gain an insight into the good and evil of this world, and to respond to them more keenly — in short, it is everything that promotes the truly human in man.

 (E. Brandis, V. Dmitrevsky, “In the Land of SF,” Soviet Literature (no. 5, 1968): 148)

This strikes me as just a brilliant way to write anything!

Continue Reading »

Jung on Freud


I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between Jung and Freud, especially from the perspective of Jung, as related in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  There are certainly plenty of outsider opinions:   ranging from the breezy website where I found this odd photo of the two men on safari in sub-Saharan Africa, to the mystical musings of Miguel Serrano in The Hermetic Circle.

Just how did Jung reflect on Freud’s obsession with sexuality?   What was the meaning of Jung’s dream, as a result of which he discovered the collective unconscious?   And above all, what about the bog mummies and the two skulls?

All of these are answered in Jung’s own words.  Though you will hear them in my voice, as I read most of Chapter 5 from Jung’s classic memoir, and which I dedicate to my lovely wife, BwukGwei, (who asked me to make more recordings!).

Hope you will enjoy it too!

Jung on Freud (47:21), Diamond Bay Radio, Jan 2013
download mp3 (45MB)


larger image

In the light of recent tragedies and difficult times, let us get on with healing ourselves.

Go ahead and let that nasty world of vampires and lunatics disappear!

Time to patch together a new reality and keep on trucking!



Happy New Year, everybody!

archive of New Year’s cards