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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Desert Island Challenge, Updated

Yes, I know, it sounds like a golf tournament, but it's actually a creative exercise. Here's the setup:

You are marooned on an uninhabited island, somewhere in the tropics or subtropics. You have the clothes on your back and are uninjured and in good health. There is fresh water in adequate supply, and, while it's not exactly the Garden of Eden, there appears to be food available if you know how to find it. So now you face three questions:

1. What is the one tool that you would want to have with you, and why?

2. What is the one book that you would want to have with you, and why?

3. Who is the one person that you would want to have with you, and why?

Ready? Set? Go!

UPDATE: Well, it seems as if Bane is a man after my own spleen, but before I get into that, I want to spend a few moments on edged tools. As you might expect, being an outdoorsy sort of guy, I have what is perhaps a somewhat larger than average collection of knives. For my money nothing beats your basic Boy Scout knife for sheer utility, but lately I've been rather fond of this particular toadsticker —

— which I got from a Glock rep. Nicely balanced, great grip; it takes an edge sharp enough to shave with, yet tough enough to butcher an entire deer without rehoning.

Unlike most knives of this type the sawtooth back is actually useful —

— but that strangely hooked fingerguard had me baffled for the longest time. What was its purpose? Does Glock make a pistol that takes a bayonet? And then one day, in a critical wilderness survival situation, miles from civilization, the purpose of that hooked fingerguard suddenly became absolutely clear!

Ah, the crafty and practical Teutonic mind!

Anyway, kudos to Bane, who seems to be the only one here living in the 21st century. I agree with his first two choices (and if you want to know what they are, you'll have to read the comments), and only disagree with his third choice to the extent that I would pick Paris Hilton instead, because:

a.) she probably doesn't eat much,

b.) there is absolutely no risk at all of my going all "Swept Away" with her, and

c.) if Ms Hilton were to suddenly disappear from the face of the Earth, there are a lot of very, very, very rich people who would spare no expense to find her.

And there's your free story idea for this week. Give me a one-page treatment for a remake of "Six Days Seven Nights," only this time with Vince Vaughn instead of Harrison Ford, Paris Hilton (in a great twist, playing Paris Hilton) instead of Anne Heche, and try to make it funny this time.

Ready? Go!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The October Surprise Contest

UPDATE: I'm using my awesome site administrator powers to bubble this one back to the top, because, what the heck, October ain't over yet. While October Surprises traditionally appear in the month of the same name, in recent years the final chance for an October Surprise has shifted to become the time at which 60 Minutes airs on the last Sunday before the election, and that falls on November 5 this year. So don't despair just because you haven't been playing all along; there's still time to get your entry into the contest!

It's October 1st in an election year, which means it's time once again for that grand old American trick-or-treat tradition, The October Surprise!

What will it be this year? A network anchor risking his career over a story based on a clumsy and obvious forgery? An administration official coming up with a signed and dated photo inscribed, "Saddam, Thanks for the WMDs, we'll put 'em to good use! Hugs, Osama" ? Who knows? All we know for certain is that it will happen, and that there is no limit to the self-serving silliness that politicians will attempt to pass off as news in the next 31 days. And, crazy as it sounds, some of these stories might even turn out to be true!

Ergo, to help you develop the properly jaundiced and cynical attitude about all this, I hereby announce The October Surprise Contest. They're all fair game; any race, any candidate, any party. What is your idea for the most effective, outlandish, or downright ludicrous October Surprise that will be unleashed in the next 31 days? Let it rip, and remember, politics is a full-contact sport!

As usual, the prizes are books. (I'm a writer, my wife runs a bookstore, got nothin' but books around here. I don't tell cute cat stories 'cause the cat choked to death on a book.) In this case, there are TWO Grand Prize categories: one for the story that's just plain the most entertaining, and another for the most outlandish story that actually turns out to be true!

Ready? Set? Go!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I read the news today, oh boy

UPDATE: Okay folks, let's make it official. Please, no more hostile phone calls or emails to Tad Vezner. I just had a nice long conversation on the phone with him. He's a good guy, and, as he pointed out, it was Robert Jordan who made the claim that Ford was the guy who coined the c-word.

So lay off Vezner, okay? Personally, I think it's great that Ford's obit made the front page, and wasn't buried in some little three-column-inch piece fill back on page 39Z. Ford deserved it.

Of course, so did Sladek, and Dickson, and Simak...

Front page of today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, lower-left corner, real nice obit for John M. Ford. Then I read the continuation to page 5A and was stunned and surprised to learn that the guy who coined the term "cyberpunk" and wrote one of the first cyberpunk novels had also died.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? It's on the front page of the Press, man. It's got to be true! Had I died in my sleep and failed to notice it?

Checked my pulse, reassured myself that I was still alive, had another cup of coffee, and thought it over. Let's see: what exactly has being the author of "Cyberpunk" done for me? There was the $250 or so I got for the original story. The $100 I got from some Greek publisher for the only time the story was ever legally reprinted. (Excepting the copy on the Infinity Plus website, all the other reprints, translations, and such floating around out there are bootlegs.) Minus the several thou it cost me to get out of the c-word book contract. Minus the almost incalculable cost of the marriage I wrecked trying to play the role of Bruce Bethke, internationally semi-famous sci-fi writer.

Know what? Let Ford have the credit — or the albatross, as the case may be. The guy who coined "cyberpunk" is dead. Which means I get to skip writing today and go walk some cornfields with my dog and a shotgun, which is what I really wanted to do, anyway.

I've got to tell you, I feel so liberated right now.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Earth, Mk. II

According to a rather alarming press release from the World Wildlife Federation:
Current global consumption levels could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by the middle of the century, environmental group WWF has warned. The group's biannual Living Planet Report said the natural world was being degraded "at a rate unprecedented in human history"... It warned that if demand continued at the current rate, two planets would be needed to meet global demand by 2050.

I don't know about the rest of you, but to me, the implications of this are unmistakably clear. There's no time to lose. If we're going to need two planets by 2050, we better get cracking on that Mars colonization program right now!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Saved by Serendipity

I was deep in the throes of a major piece explaining why I no longer write political commentary when I found it necessary to take a breather, so I grabbed a book of Mark Twain's essays and articles off the shelf, flipped it open at more or less random, and found:
"Two or three weeks ago Elinor Glyn called on me one afternoon and we had a long talk, of a distinctly unusual character, in the library. It may be that by the time this chapter reaches print she may be less well known to the world than she is now, therefore I will insert a word or two of information about her."

Good call, Mr. Twain. I wound up having to do a bit of searching to find out who Glyn was, but I'll save those findings for the comment thread. Suffice it to say that in 1908 she was the author of a book that had generated considerable controversy, and she showed up on Twain's doorstep one day hoping to enlist his support in her defense. This he declined to provide, for reasons explained in the essay, but for me the pay-dirt was this paragraph:
"The lady was young enough, and inexperienced enough, to imagine that whenever a person has an unpleasant opinion in stock which could be of educational benefit to Tom, Dick, and Harry, it is his duty to come out in print with it and become its champion. I was not able to get that juvenile idea out of her head. I was not able to convince her that we never do any duty for the duty's sake but only for the mere personal satisfaction we get out of doing that duty. The fact is, she was brought up just like the rest of the world, with the ingrained and stupid superstition that there is such a thing as duty for duty's sake, and so I was obliged to let her abide in her darkness. She believed that when a man held a private unpleasant opinion of an educational sort, which would get him hanged if he published it, he ought to publish it anyway and was a coward if he didn't."

Smart man, that Mr. Twain. And the crazy part is, the older I get, the smarter he gets.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Local Boy Makes Very, Very Good

From today's St. Paul Pioneer Press — and strangely enough, from the Business section, not the Books section:
Minnesota native gets book deal to explore 'new black overclass'

What are Newbos?

Find out in a book being written by Minnesota native Lee Hawkins, a 35-year-old reporter for the Wall Street Journal who lives in New York. He has a $250,000 advance from Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Publishing, to write a book about black professionals.

"America's New Black Overclass," Hawkins' first book, is expected to hit bookstores in 2008...
I really wanted to post the entire article, but I know I shouldn't, so follow the link and read it. And then prepare yourself to be amazed: a quarter million dollar advance for his first, as-yet-unwritten book about a bunch of rappers, athletes, and Oprah Winfrey?

Am I in the wrong racket, or what?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Night of the Orionids

Our good friends at remind us that the Orionid meteor shower peaks this weekend:
One of the year's best displays of meteors will occur this weekend. Called the Orionids, the meteors are bits of rocky debris shed from Halley's Comet that burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

The display will be visible for both northern and southern hemisphere observers and should produce 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Friday night and Saturday night should be best, especially very early in the morning.
They further advise that the best meteor-watching strategy is to lie on your back in a large field, as far from city lights as possible. Wear an eyepatch over your dominant eye, so that if any bursts of hitherto unknown forms of cosmic radiation suddenly render you blind you can remove the eyepatch and use your remaining eye to find your way home. And as always, report any strange behavior by the local vegetation to both civilian law enforcement and military authorities as soon as conveniently possible, even though they won't believe you at first.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Elusive Nature of Timelessness

Didn't feel like thinking tonight; was too tired to read; I decided I just wanted to take my mind off the hook for a few hours, so I stepped into the family room and surveyed The Permanent Collection.

Tough choice.

I mean, there are so many movies I could watch, and I know I'd enjoy watching them again even though I've seen them uncounted times before. No, I don't mean movies I just want to watch over and over again until the images are burned into my retinas, the way my daughters watched The Little Mermaid when they were young. I mean movies that are like old friends, who you love to visit even though you know they're just going to tell you the same old stories and crack the same old jokes every time. Still, you indulge them, because there's just some charming je ne sais quois at work.

Some are "special occasion" movies. For example, every June I get a strange compulsion to sit down with The Kid and watch The Longest Day all over again, and right about this time every year we usually dig out the old VHS copies of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ghostbusters. Other movies have key scenes that I look forward to every time, even though I know down to the SMPTE timestamp the exact moment it's going to happen. For example, Tremors: "YOU PICKED THE WRONG G*D D*MNED REC ROOM TO BREAK INTO, DIDN'T YOU?!?!"

And then there are other movies that I just plain lose myself in for the entire duration, and don't begrudge a single slack moment, clunking line of dialogue, or lead-footed musical number. Number One with a bullet is Casablanca. I don't believe I will ever get tired of that one, no matter how many times I see it. Oddly enough, my next four choices are probably Star Wars, 1941, The Right Stuff, and lately, Team America. There's must be some kind of commonality at work here, but I have no idea what it might be.

How about you? What's your pick for the movie you'll never get tired of, no matter how many times you see it?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Department of Shameless Self-Promotion

Okay, I just received my author's copies of Investigating CSI, so presumably this means the book is either in stores now or will be arriving shortly.

I'm decently pleased with my contribution to this one. It's not the most scintillating essay I've ever written: I kind of over-thought it, definitely over-researched it, and I'm still disappointed that I ended up unable to use all that material I wrote drawing erudite comparisons between CSI and Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol —

Let that be a lesson to you. Never love a paragraph, or even an entire scene, you've written so much that you are unable to jettison it in order to improve the whole.

But on the other hand, I *did* manage to find an excuse to sneak in the first few pages of my pilot script for CSI: Duluth, which if I dare to say it, is absolutely brilliant and will no doubt have Hollywood ringing my phone off the hook.

Right about the time that flock of pigs out in the pasture takes off and flies south for the winter...

Monday, October 09, 2006

World War V

In 1985, Canadian historian Gwynne Dyer posited that world wars happen about every 50 years, like clockwork, and that the root cause of a world war is always (despite whatever the participants might claim) the imbalance between the relative political and economic powers of the nations involved. Further, he went on to define the five world wars that had occurred thus far in modern history as the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years' War, the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars, and the Great War, parts 1 and 2.

Then he jumped the shark, and came to the cautiously optimistic conclusion that, while we were due for one, another world war would not happen in the foreseeable future, as there were four highly unlikely conditions that would need to be met before such a war could become even remotely possible. These conditions were:

1. The reunification of Germany.

2. The decline of the Soviet Union to the point where it could no longer maintain control of its empire.

3. The repudiation by the Japanese of Article 9 of their 1947 constitution, followed by rearmament.

4. (And Dyer considered this to be an extremely long-shot) The emergence of China as a great economic power.

You may take a moment now to go refill your coffee cup and shudder, and while you're doing so, take a look at what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been saying lately about recent developments in North Korea. Then, when you're done with all that, let's consider the question from the fiction writer's perspective.

One of the things that has always bothered me about science fiction is the implicit assumption that the future will grow in a simple and linear fashion from the present. Typically, this results in a future world where either: a.) Western (read: American) liberal democratic civilization has ascended, values intact, straight to the stars, or b.) after some sort of brief interregnum, (i.e., Star Trek's "Mad Wars"), the world is rebooted in a western liberal democratic mold, and everything proceeds nicely from there.


But according to a recent article in The Economist, (yes, we subscribe to that, too), their projections for the year 2040 indicate that the world's dominant economies will be China, India, and Brazil, in that order, with the EU and NAFTA duking it out for the coveted position of Distant Fourth Place. Can you even imagine what it will be like to live in such a world?

And that's this week's assignment. If Dyer's theory is correct, right about the time the Economist's projections hit home, we should be ramping up for World War V. Who will be the major powers in the Great War of 2045? Who will be allies? What will be the unimportant backwaters? And what will life be like after the war?

Now put your imagination in gear, and go!