Fugue

Oh, that I had time to read all the books which arrive at my house, and Oh, that I had the time to write all the stories which are bouncing around in my head.

A small but significant stack arrived this week. On the left is Empire of Gold, the final book in the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, I have unfortunately only read the first in the series. I now have the set, but likely will not have time to read the next until the end of the year.

Second from left is volume 6 of the superb Long List Anthology of Hugo Award finalists. Again, I have the complete set but have only read a few stories from each book. And again, I really need to spend more quality time with the books I already have.

Second from right is the latest issue of Amazing Stories, of which I most certainly do NOT have the entire set, as it has been around since 1926.

And on the far right is the latest issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, the excellent literary magazine published by Small Beer Press. Again, not the full set etc., though as this is issue #42 I could in theory hunt down all the past issues. Hmmm…

In writing news, there is no writing news.

In reading news, I have been catching up on short stories, and will post the list of such which I read in November, at the beginning of December. I am also making my way through Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story, which is brilliant and entertaining and I am slowly working my head back into the space from which stories come, though I doubt it will be in time to make even a bit of difference for NaNoWriMo 2020.

I am also still working my way through Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, which is no longer making me angry. Rather, it is making me deeply, profoundly sad for everyone involved, with a few noted exceptions where obvious sociopaths are involved in the eviction process. Fuck those guys.

The year is winding down and, other than a few Kickstarter rewards, I don’t expect to acquire many more books and magazines before January. Just as well. I don’t seem to have time to read the ones I have already picked up.

Writing or Not

Thing in my life are back to normal in the sense that I am now working long hours and weekends, thanks to a series of miscommunications at work. Each time it happens I say “never again!”, yet when circumstances conspire to require me to work until 20:00 on a Tuesday or something I do it, grumbling the whole time, and invent self-justifications to keep from feeling too resentful about the loss of another chunk of my extremely limited free time. Rinse, repeat.

Another small stack for the library this week – the new issue of Jacobin, and Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig‘s guide to writing, which I ordered during the run-up to NaNoWriMo, only to receive it in the middle of the month when I have given up on NaNoWriMo anyway. 2020 is just not my year.

In reading news, I am working my way through Apocalyptic, an anthology of short stories about (you guessed it!) the apocalypse, which I received as part of a Kickstarter campaign held by Zombies Need Brains. These stories are just what I need right now, and they distract me from the feelings engendered by reading Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, which infuriates me enough that I can only read a few pages at a time before I want to go out an cause an apocalypse or two of my own.

As mentioned above, NaNoWriMo for this year is pretty much a bust, unless I miraculously come up with significantly reduced stress along with vast chunks of free time over the next two week. But I am trying to keep my head in that space. I created a list of twenty (so far) possible topics for short stories, most based on past calls for themed anthologies to which I never actually submitted stories. Though this year has been incredibly stressful, I am still feeling energized by the recent acceptance of one of my short stories. Now I want to do nothing but write, but of course not one writer in a hundred thousand makes enough at their craft to support any kind of stable life. So I write code for money, and stories for pleasure.

If only it were the other way around.

USA Election 2020, etc

I was in the middle of tai chi class this past Saturday, outdoors at Wilcox Park as all of our classes have been since late May, when at about 11:45 suddenly the entire neighborhood erupted in cheers and car horns honking and music playing from open windows as people erupted into the streets on this beautiful, sunny, early November morning. Joe Biden had won the election. Joe Biden was now on track to be the 46th president of the United States.

I voted for Biden in the general election. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, as I had in the 2016 primary. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the general in 2016.

Donald Trump, the gleeful racist and misogynist, is currently squealing and mewling that the election was rigged, that the Democrats and liberals and socialists are trying to steal from him something that he has obviously won. He is explicitly telling the white supremacists, domestic abusers, conspiracy theorists, cowards, christian nationalists, and bullies — which are the entirety of his support network — that they should be prepared to take to the streets in glorious revolution in order to protect the sanctity of the office of Donald Trump.

Naturally the entire world is laughing at Donald Trump. And much of the world is laughing at the United States for allowing to be nominated, much less elected, such a manifestly ignorant, vindictive, petty, incurious fool to the highest office in the land. This laughter is richly earned, as Donald Trump is the apotheosis of the conservative christian capitalist character which has been the only dominant power structure in the territory of the United States since 1492. White supremacy, christian nationalism, conservative oligarchy and colonial capitalism are the entirety of what the United States represents, and Donald Trump is the genius loci of the melting pot which combines these characteristics and labels it “freedom.”

There have of course been significant in-roads to try to bring equity, justice, fairness, empathy and compassion into the mainstream of American culture, and at the local level these efforts can succeed quite wonderfully. But at a national level, where elderly conservative white nihilism is baked into the political DNA, these gains are subverted, inverted and perverted into shiny rebrandings of old injustices. Slavery becomes Jim Crow becomes the carceral state. And at every step of the perversions of justice, conservative white (and invariably Christian) talking heads spout easily debunked platitudes about how we must pull together to move ahead, while the tendrils and rhizomes of capitalist-enabled bigotry and injustice find new ways to exploit and injure the vulnerable.

Some years ago, in a comment on the excellent Crooked Timber blog, Frank Wilhoit made the following observation about conservatism: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.“ (The full text and context of the quote is here.)

On the surface, this can appear to be nothing more than a restating of tribalism, which has been around for literally millions of years. But tribalism is ingrained, instinctive, as much a part of humanity as our DNA. Conservatism, however, is the recognition, acknowledgement, and deliberate reinforcement of that trait. 

Conservatism is the protection of that which has gone before. Therefore it is by its nature forever reductive and enforces the consolidation of resources, power and belief. “This is the way we have always done it!” yells the conservative. “This way works, why would we change it?” “If they have more, I will have less!”

This is the way conservatism is and has always been, and as Wilhoit points out in another part of his comment, how could we imagine anti-conservatism? What would that even look like? Call this “Conservative Realism.” In much the same way Mark Fisher contemplated capitalism in his brief, magnificent book Capitalist Realism, what does “not-X” look like?

Joe Biden is not a liberal. He is not a socialist of a leftist or any of the words which American conservatives use as smear words but which in reality box in those same conservatives and make them, in their gleeful ignorance and utter lack of curiosity about the world, easy to recognize. Joe Biden is (by USA standards) a moderate conservative with a gloss of liberal (not leftist; liberal) tendencies in that he is not openly calling for the culling of those who differ from him ideologically. By international standards, which are the only standards we should be using to define our politics here in the middle of the 21st century, Biden is significantly conservative. Bernie Sanders is a moderate centrist by those same standards. It says something about the power of conservative realism that anyone on this country thinks there is any such thing as a “radical leftist,” “radical socialist,” or indeed a radical anything in the left quadrant of American politics. In order to find “leftists” as destructive as mainstream conservative American culture we would have to consider the Earth Liberation Front or similar groups. And there are what, maybe fifty members of the ELF? At a similar position on the right side of the spectrum there are literally millions of second-amendment fetishizing, military worshipping, imperialist bootlicking, christian nationalist white supremacists who explicitly and implicitly by their very existence advocate and implement the immiseration, injury and death of anyone who isn’t a conservative white christian man.

America is an overwhelmingly conservative country. This is a description, not an ideal. America is an overwhelmingly capitalist country. This is a description, not an ideal. The simple fact that Donald Trump could be elected demonstrates that the USA is still racist, misogynistic, bigoted and sadistic. The election of Joe Biden does not change these traits any more than the election of Barack Obama changed these traits twelve years ago. However, that people who are not like Donald Trump can be elected show that it is possible to move beyond the racist, money-grubbing version of tribalism which has dominated America for more than 250 years. We haven’t yet, of course, and it will be years or decades or centuries before that actually happens, assuming American ChristoCapitalist fascism doesn’t destroy the country first.

So the election of Biden has momentarily slowed the slide toward the edge of the conservative cliff, but it has not stopped the slide, and it has certainly not reversed it. For that, we need to discover not just not-conservatism and not-capitalism, but actual anti-conservatism and anti-capitalism.

And that will take a collective effort of imagination, ingenuity and will the likes of which the world has never seen.

The Sunny Warm Days of…November?

I took this picture in the late afternoon of Saturday, November 7. At the time the temperature outside was around 70 degrees, Fahrenheit here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The air smelled of dry leaves and moist earth, an odd juxtaposition of the scents of spring and autumn.

Two books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, from an impulse purchase from Subterranean Press. On the left is Seven of Infinities, and on the right is On a Red Station, Drifting, both by Aliette de Bodard. The first was published by Subterranean Press; the second by the now-defunct Immersion Press.

I have not read much of de Bodard’s work; a handful of her many, many short stories, probably in one of the superb Long List anthologies. With these books I will begin my 2021 reading project early, to wit: exploring the novella, much as I spent the first few months of 2020 exploring the short story.

Speaking of novellas and short stories and the like, NaNoWriMo 2020 for me is on the very cusp of crashing and burning. I started strong, with 2,000 -3,000 words a day for the first four days, but the election, work, family, and life in general sapped my time and energy and I am several thousand words behind schedule with little time available to make up the lost ground. I will keep writing, however, and if I can get back to 2,500 words a day for the remaining days of the month I should be able to squeak through on the 30th.

In reading news, I finished the Sealey Challenge (referenced in my previous blog post) and in the midst of all that read the publishing memoir For Exposure by Jason Sizemore, head of Apex Publications, and Road to Heaven, Bill Porter’s magnificent travelogue of searching for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits of rural China, back in the 1980s. These nonfiction works, plus 31 poetry books and chapbooks, helped me keep my head in a good place for emotional and psychological stability during the run-up to, event of, and long, torturous denouement from, the 2020 presidential election. Joe Biden won, and while things are far, far from good, at least they are not getting bad quite as quickly as they were last week.

Whether that changes remains to be seen.

The Sealey Challenge 2020

The Sealey Challenge for 2020 is complete. 31 poetry books and chapbooks in 31 days. These are the books, in the order in which I read them. I listed them on Instagram and Twitter as I read them, but this is the the first and only photo of all of the books in one place. According to the statistics at Library Thing I have just over 270 poetry books and chapbooks in my library, and the 31 I read over the past month have put a significant dent in my TBR pile.

Traditionally the Sealey Challenge is held in August, so I have eight months to collect 30 more poetry books so I can go into the challenge with a new stack of unread material. Or maybe I will just hit a few used book stores and buy 30 back issues of Poetry magazine, since each issue is essentially a good-sized anthology of contemporary poetry.

I regrettably do not have any books by Nicole Sealey, the founder of The Sealey Challenge, but I hope to remedy that before the end of this year.

Here is the list of titles, in reading order, with links to the author’s information pages:

2020.10.01: Rogin-Roper, LeahTwo Truths and a Lie
2020.10.02: Danos, StephenMissing Slides
2020.10.03: Mandelstam, OsipVoronezh Notebooks
2020.10.04: Almeida, AlexisI Have Never Been Able to Sing
2020.10.05: Kaneko, W. ToddThis Is How the Bone Sings
2020.10.06 – Coolidge, Sarah (ed.) – Home: New Arabic Poetry
2020.10.07 – Cooper, WynChaos Is the New Calm
2020.10.08 – ortiz, mónica teresaautobiography of a semiromantic anarchist
2020.10.09 – Brace, KristinThe Farthest Dreaming Hill
2020.10.10 – de Alba, Cassandrahabitats
2020.10.11 – Le Guin, UrsulaWild Angels
2020.10.12 – Matthews, Airea D.Simulacra
2020.10.13 – Rogal, LisaFeed Me Weird Things
2020.10.14 – Amezcua, EloisaOn Not Screaming
2020.10.15 – Stafford, WilliamMy Name is William Tell
2020.10.16 – Stack, GarrettYeoman’s Work
2020.10.17 – Brandt, EmilySleeptalk or Not At All
2020.10.18 – Olszewska, DanielaAnswering Machine
2020.10.19 – Marinovich, FilipWolfman Librarian
2020.10.20 – Harris, JosephLogically Thinking
2020.10.21 – Harrison, JimCollected Ghazals
2020.10.22 – Bettis, ChristineBurnout Paradise
2020.10.23 – Gleason, RachelNew Kind of Rebellion
2020.10.24 – Khayyam, OmarThe Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
2020.10.25 – Cáceres, OmarDefense of the Idol
2020.10.26 – Chang, KristinPast Lives, Future Bodies
2020.10.27 – Goff, NicholeAluminum Necropolis
2020.10.28 – Gurton-Wachter, AnnaBlank Blank Blues
2020.10.29 – Burns, MeganSleepwalk With Me
2020.10.30 – Trier-Walker, Amy JoTrembling Ourselves Into Trees
2020.10.31 – Harrison, JimLetters to Yesenin

And now, time to put down the poetry books and pick up the pen for National Novel Writing Month, which starts in just under six hours.

October’s Waning Daylight

The slide from October to November continues, accompanied by a rapid reduction in both daylight and warm outdoor air. I can no longer sit outside for an hour every morning before work and read and write without being attacked by Poe the Ricochet Kitten. I must now take frequent breaks to play with her lest she make of my toes a sampling of ors d’eouvres.

Just a small stack of new reading material this past week. On the left is the November issue of Poetry. On the right is Harmada, the latest work from Joao Gilberto Noll, published in translation by Two Lines Press.

Writing has fallen by the wayside due to upheavals in my personal life, though I have thought through the narrative blockage in the book and should be ready to hit the ground running on November 1. In reading news I am keeping up the pace for the Sealey Challenge and with six days left and reading list planned out I will easily make it to the end, assuming certain looming family issues don’t come crashing down before the end of the month.

That’s all for now. 2020 is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Re-centering Poetry

One of the advantages, if you can call it that, of working at home in the Days of COVID is that I can see the day-to-day progression of the diminishing daylight as we move from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. When I close down my laptop at the end of my shift the sun is just a little closer to the horizon, the light a little more golden – or red, depending on the drift of smoke from the west coast. And each day it is just a little more difficult to pull myself from bed early enough in the morning to complete my morning routine.

Two things are helping keep me on my game as winter approaches: Poe, who still insists on being fed at 5:00 every morning, and a large stack of poetry books and chapbooks to read through as part of the Sealey Challenge. I am managing to stay on schedule, mostly thanks to a large pile of unread chapbooks which have arrived over the past four years as part of my subscriptions to Horse Less Press (currently on indefinite hiatus) and Ugly Duckling Presse, which is still going strong though I had to let my subscription lapse for financial reasons. I note that traditionally the Sealey Challenge has run during the month of August, so next year I will align myself with the rest of the poetry universe and complete the challenge in the appropriate month.

An excellent pile of books arrived this week at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the top left is a new one from Subterranean PressEdited By, a collection of stories which have been edited by Ellen Datlow. The collection itself is, well, edited by Ellen Datlow. So there’s a lot of meta going on with this one.

In the top middle is Francesco Verso‘s Nexhuman, the latest delivery from Apex Book Company, to which I have a subscription through Patreon. Editor Jason Sizemore was kind enough to reach out to me when the original print run for this shipment ran a few short and he allowed me to pick any title from the Apex catalog. This was my first choice, and it was fortunate they had copies in stock, as I am slowly picking up every book Apex has published, thanks to Patreon, Kickstarter, and purchases at various ConFusions over the past several years.

On the top right is Road to HeavenBill Porter‘s beautiful travelogue/story of wandering the mountains of China looking for the Buddhist and Taoist hermits who maintain a tradition once much revered in Chinese culture.

Bottom left is The Collected Ghazals by the late, great Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press recently released this collection, as well as the book in the bottom center, Letters to Yesenin. I have been a fan of Jim Harrison since a college professor turned me on to him back in 1993, when he picked up a copy of Wolf. Since then I have read almost everything Harrison wrote, and have bookshelf dedicated to his poetry and prose.

On the bottom right is the new collection from Garrett Stack, Yeoman’s Work. I first heard of Stack when we published a few of his poems in an issue of The 3288 Review. This is an excellent collection, and well worth seeking out.

In reading news, I have so far read 18 poetry books and chapbooks, and am keeping a running tally of the list up on Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t taken a deep dive into poetry like this since the late 1990s, unless you count the thousands a year I read as editor of The 3288 Review, which is not really the same thing. The Sealey Challenge has been a wonderful experience and with 13 more books to read my mind will be in a wonderful place when NaNoWriMo starts on November 1.

I just finished reading For Exposure, Jason Sizemore’s brilliant history of Apex Publications, with contributions by half a dozen or so of the editors and other contributors, employees and supporters of his wonderful company. I picked up For Exposure at ConFusion back in, I think, 2015, when I managed to spend a few minutes talking to Sizemore about the trials and tribulations of running a small independent publishing company. He is a Righteous Dude, as the kids say these days, and I offer all the kudoes to him and his team for the work they do in the literary world.

Writing hasn’t been going as well as reading, though I managed to put down a couple hundred more words in the book as I try to work through this one lynchpin chapter and scene, from which the rest of the book will flow, which tells me I may need to just mash my fact against the keyboard until something clicks and I can move ahead. The goal is still to complete a first draft this year, and with luck even complete the draft during NaNoWriMo, though I am having more and more concrete thoughts about a series of short stories which might eventually become chapters in a new book. All I know is that I will spend a lot of time writing in November 2020, assuming the slings and arrows of the mundane world allow me the mental space and emotional clarity to do so.

Yet Another New Old Project : Procedural Terrain

[CLICK HERE to see the Procedural Terrain Explorer]

From 2004 to about 2009 I spent a lot of time playing around with procedural generation, generative art, and game design and development. Naturally at one point all of those interests came together and I began to research ways that game maps could be built using procedural generation techniques. I started several games but they never went beyond the planning or rudimentary prototype stage. I learned a lot about programming and wrote a lot of code, but never really had much to show for it.

In November 2007 I successfully created a 3D-ish height map using Perlin Noise as generated by the built-in Actionscript functionality. Since a grayscale image is made up of 256 possible colors, it is simple to interpret the values as heights. And with 256 values to choose from it is simple to come up with color substitutions so that instead of something which looks like clouds you have patterns which look like lakes, plains and mountains.

Now I have successfully recreated and expanded upon that experiment, using plain Javascript. Instead of Perlin Noise, this version uses Simplex Noise, though if I move toward turning this into a full game I will switch to OpenSimplex or something, because Perlin Noise and Simplex Noise are copyrighted.

With the basic generator in place you can add whatever colors you want, to make the height map look like whatever you want.

More blog posts and detailed instructions will follow, but for now head over to the labs and enjoy the experiment!

 

 

The Warm Days of October

We are in the middle of a gorgeous mid-October heat wave, with temperatures in the upper 70s during the day, and abundant sunshine and a light breeze which makes the autumn trees shimmer like kaleidoscopes seen through a good dose of psilocybin.

Only one book arrived at the house this week – Recognize Fascism, an anthology of resistance-themed short pieces edited by Crystal M. Huff and published by the always-excellent World Weaver Press, from a recently-completed Kickstarter campaign. This is a follow-up to the 2018 anthology Resist Fascism, also edited by Huff. If you think you have noticed a theme in the books which I have collected over the past couple of years, well, you are not mistaken.

In reading news I have managed to keep up the book-a-day pace for the Sealey Challenge, and having this volume and density of poetry in my life is doing wonderful things for my state of mind.

In writing news, I have done almost none over the past week though I think I have figured a way through the snarl which kept me from completing the current scene in the book. I will hit it Monday morning and see if my idea will play out on paper.

In other exciting news, I was just notified that a short story I had submitted back in January of this year has just been accepted for publication! The issue in question will go live on January 1, 2021, and at that point I will announce the venue and post the link and all other sorts of fanfare and information.

In all the chaos, misery and uncertainty abundant in the world right now, this was a very welcome piece of news.

Challenging Poetry

The nights are definitely longer than the days now, and the days of October are so far mostly filled with clouds and rain. I would like to say that this means more time to read and write but unfortunately (or not) my schedule is not at all dependent on the whims and uncertainties of the weather.

Three new tomes to add to the collection this week. On the left is the newest from Michigan author Jim C. Hines, Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen, from Hines’ recent Kickstarter.

In the center is W. Todd Kaneko’s new poetry collection This is How the Bone Sings. I met Todd a couple of years ago at a Caffeinated Press event, and have been a fan of his poetry ever since.

On the right is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine, back from their summer hiatus.

In reading news, On October 1 I began The Sealey Challenge, wherein participants try to read a book or chapbook of poetry a day for a month. As luck would have it I have a great many unread poetry books and chapbooks, so coming up with a list was not a problem. I can set aside enough time in a day to read up to about 100 poems, though I may have to sacrifice some sleep in order to complete the requirement. I selected as many shorter works as I could, because I don’t want to just slam through the books without taking the time to appreciate and enjoy the works therein. I am posting updates to my progress on Instagram and Twitter, and will probably post collected updates here at the 10, 20, and 31 – book increments.

Nothing much to report in the writing department. I am stuck on a scene, and since I am only planning one scene ahead in the writing process, I need to see how this one turns out before I can lay out the details of the next one. I have given up on trying to force it, and instead in my free moments let my mind wander in that general direction and let my subconscious do the heavy lifting. Looks like NaNoWriMo will be a catch-up month for the novel, rather than a collection of new short stories. Of course it could also be both.

That’s all the literary news for now. Tune in next week for some new and exciting sameness.