BOOK REVIEW: Lynda V. Mapes’ ‘Witness Tree’ gives you new eyes to look at the world around you

If humanity doesn’t immediately reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate-warming air pollutants, global temperatures could rise by as much as 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most pessimistic forecasts.

For some reason, this knowledge isn’t as frightening to us as the prospect of a Cold War-style apocalyptic thermonuclear exchange — in the same way that the inevitability of lung cancer from smoking tobacco isn’t as frightening as the idea that, hypothetically, electronic cigarettes might have a one in 100,000 chance of blowing off their vaper’s head. Our risk assessment faculties aren’t adapted to gradual but certain peril the way they ought to be. So here we are.

In that context comes Lynda V. Mapes’ book Witness Tree. The Seattle Times reporter spent a year studying a particular hundred-odd-year-old red oak in north-central Massachusetts while researching its surroundings, using it as a lens to view the effects of global warming and ecology in general.  Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: Lynda V. Mapes’ ‘Witness Tree’ gives you new eyes to look at the world around you

‘Why is “Lolita” considered a literary classic?’

I wouldn’t consider Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a classic or say there’s more value to it than in a Michael Bay film.

It’s an impressive technical achievement, and it’s formally beautiful; if that justifies its existence, I don’t see how that’s enough to justify its study.

I once read an essay arguing that if there were a story about someone obsessed with chopping off dicks, it wouldn’t matter how gorgeous the prose was: no one would assign it. Instead, this is about lusting after and raping a young girl, so we can call it literature. If hedged, ‘provocative literature’.

There’s a lot of literature that’s beautifully written. This one in particular is studied because it allows people to lust after a teenage girl under the pretense of art, from within the gaze a sexual predator they’re allowed to empathize with without feeling guilty of it themselves.

Continue reading ‘Why is “Lolita” considered a literary classic?’

A Social Justice Society would be a lot more interesting

The other day, I made a long and nerdy social justice warrior post on io9 in response to Evan Narcisse’s article about the hero Nighthawk.

My response doesn’t cover any new ground, and it certainly won’t change anyone’s minds, but I spent some time on it, and it’s as close to writing fiction as I think I’ve got in me these days.

With some revisions, here’s my case for retconning and reinterpreting more characters to have diverse backgrounds:

Continue reading A Social Justice Society would be a lot more interesting

‘You Can’t Win’: A Journal of (Not) Murder

Jack Black is why we have William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs read ‘You Can’t Win‘ as a young teenager. It hit him at the right time and possessed sufficient quality to be one of the transformative creative works of Burroughs’ life, and heavily influenced Burroughs’ semi-autobiographical book Junky.

After reading both of them, you can see it. For Black, his opiate addiction is an ancillary fact of his (criminal) life. As an outside observer, the effect of his taste for ‘hop’ probably motivated him more in his immediate actions than he tended to admit in print, and Burroughs certainly corrected that when he wrote his own book about addiction and the struggle to get free of it.

But Burroughs was a man born into a wealthy family, and he always had that to fall back on.

Continue reading ‘You Can’t Win’: A Journal of (Not) Murder

By 2016, we realize the machines don’t need a war or Matrix to enslave us

The other day, I replied to a forum thread about The Matrix series, and gave a longish response tangentially related to the topic.

But! it captured an idea I’ve often thought about without expressing in writing before: Continue reading By 2016, we realize the machines don’t need a war or Matrix to enslave us

Fear is the mind killer, so burn brass

I recently read two books back-to-back and ended up comparing them the way you do when things are sort of similar and still fresh in your mind.

I first read Frank Herbert’s Dune. Somehow — or rather, intentionally to make it easier to sell posthumous related-media — the brand of the author has gotten ingrained in the culture enough that it takes quite a lot of effort to state the title or franchise any other way.

It is an amazing work of science fiction, but shares as many elements and tropes with fantasy that when I next read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire, I kept drawing parallels.

Continue reading Fear is the mind killer, so burn brass

‘Panzram: A Journal of Murder’ & light in the darkness

‘There is nothing to history. No progress, no justice. There is nothing but random horror.’
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Carl Panzram is one of the worst human beings ever to have lived.

If I were asked to name the face of evil, probably I’d say something like Adolf Hitler or if I were feeling more clever, Joseph Stalin or someone else universally considered a despicable human being who was responsible for the deaths of millions or tens of millions of people.

Stalin seemed to have been deeply, genuinely in love with his first wife. Hitler seemed to have a place of sincere kindness in him for dogs and secretaries.

Continue reading ‘Panzram: A Journal of Murder’ & light in the darkness