Anders Monsen

Lost worlds and ports of call

Month: January 2006

Prometheus Award nomination deadline looms

February 15 is the deadline to nominate novels for the 2006 Prometheus Award. Eligible books must have been published for the first time in 2005 (or November/December 2004). If there’s such a book should think deserves the Prometheus Award for best novel, please email me at editor AT lfs DOT org.

Perhaps truth matters

Cynicism takes a blow to the chin? In a follow up to my last post, I need to remark that Oprah changed her mind at long last, and today railed against James Frey for the lies in book. What took so long? Perhaps some backlash and negative comments from her listeners (but not critics and other commentators) convinced her that truth does matter.

When the art is more important than truth

Queen Midas poo-poos the controversy surrounding James Frey’s (fictional) memoir, A Million Little Pieces. The story came to light recently from the Smoking Gun that Frey’s best-selling non-fiction book, propelled to fame from joining Oprah’s book club list, and thus converted to gold, contained a few, well, inaccuracies. Oprah calls a few lies “much ado about nothing,” citing the powerful message of hope in the book. Quite telling is the fact that Frey “originally tried to sell his book as fiction.” When publishers failed to bite, a simple switch to non-fiction was all that it took. Frey’s actions have drawn ire from other non-fiction writers, been parodied in the Foxtrot comics, but with Oprah refusing to back down from endorsing the book, appears to have just as much life as lying politicians forgiven again and again by voters and the media.

So, is this really “much ado about nothing?” Two other recent scandals also have surfaced. Fake Navaho writer, Nasdijj won awards for brutally honest portrayals of Native American hardships. JT Leroy, another media darling, appears to be an entirely made up persona created by two writers, using a relative as a front for media appearance. Could this be the tip of the iceberg? Can readers now really trust non-fiction as truth? Memoirs are tricky, as most of the deal with events happens years in the past, usually with little or no verifiable records. And yet, somehow all these pieces need to fit within the constraints of a story. Even if that that story is supposed to be true, the narrative must flow in order to sell and market the book.

If writers at major publications such as The New York Times and The New Republic can manage to sell lies, why not major publishers? In the end the truth does come out, and just as Nixon shook the faith of the American public, and showed that politicians are in general lying crooks, even among those at the top (especially those at the top), these scandals should act as warnings. Be careful of what’s packaged and sold. Oprah, that purveyor of populist hope, gives not a fig for thr truth. What’s import is the effect of the message, not the content.

As far as this reader goes, truth does matter.

Call for articles

With the January (slipping into February) issue of Prometheus working through its tortuous process at the printer (I drop it off, show up a couple of days later to approve the pages, and pick it up a few days after that), it’s time to think about the next issue of this quarterly newsletter. If you have any reviews, essays, articles dealing with books, movies, music, etc. and liberty, I’m always open to submissions. As an indication of what usually appears, here is a list of the contents of the current issue (each issue runs to about 16 pages):

Reviews of fiction by P. Bagge, Greg Bauder, Scott MacKay, John Meaney, Richard Mgrdechian, Charles Stross, Michael L. Wentz,
and Claire Wolfe & Aaron Zelman;
Review of non-fiction by Ray Kurzweil
Movie review: The Island
Eric S. Raymond on Rudyard Kipling’s SF
Letters; Editorial; Prometheus Award update

Also, if you’d like to subscribe to Prometheus or you’re thinking about joining the Libertarian Futurist Society, send me an email at ” editor ATMARK lfs DOTMARK org ” and I’ll mail you a complimentary copy of the newsletter and point you in the right direction to join.

Death of creative animations?

Disney buys out Pixar in a 7.4 billion dollar deal. There were rumblings about this for several weeks, and now it appears official. I’m a little wary of this, as Disney really showed little creative output since 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Lately they have re-issued updated prints of their classics on DVD, alongside releasing clunkers at the box office. The failures largely suffered from a lack of story, followed by senseless sequels, which has has not been the case over at Pixar. Even their lone sequel, Toy Story II, stood head and shoulders above anything, um, original that Disney produced. Nor have I been impressed with DreamWorks, where all they do is produce re-treaded ideas then sold to the public by over-hyping the names behind the voices. I doubt we would have seen The Incredibles emerge from either Disney or DreamWorks. No new titles had been announced by Pixar beyond this year’s Cars, (which originally was slated for 2005 and then pushed back to mid-2006). Still, maybe with a new boss at Disney and John Lasseter still in charge things might be different.

Brief comments, and a review

After almost four weeks without posting, it seems strange to write again here. I’m breaking a rule about not posting on a borrowed computer, but there’s some light ahead in the tunnel of computer despair so I’m taking that silly risk anyway. Looks like a hardware issue brought down my Mac (after fourteen years of using Macs, it’s the first time such an event happened), but no indication as to the cause or solution yet. I’ve let a multitude of posting opportunities go by, and if I write about them now they’ll seem dated (though I really do want to address a recent study on music availability and apathy, and list books received for review). Blame at least one week on my first vacation in two years, a brief sojurn in Southern California without any computer access. I decided to give up sodas of all kinds for 2006 (in particular Coca Cola), but I’m not sure if giving up computer access was harder, since I had fewer temptations while away. We hung out near Palm Springs for a couple of days, then drove to San Diego for another three. That latter part was mostly for the three-year-old in the family, and so the days were spent at the zoo, Legoland, and on the beach. This was only my second time in SoCal, and quite unlike Anaheim at the Worldcon in 1996, ten years ago. I had no idea the desert played such a huge role south of LA, nor that San Diego was that hilly, though I can see why people flock to San Diego, as it’s a beautiful city. Maybe next time I can hit some of the book stores we spotted along the way.

The good news is that I did manage to restore and complete the January issue of Prometheus, which goes to the printer next week and almost a month behind schedule. This issue contains 16 pages of reviews, letters, fiction, news, and an editorial. For now, here’s a brief review as an example.

3000 Years
By Richard Mgrdechian
iUniverse, 2005, $16.95
Reviewed by Anders Monsen

3000 Years is a sharp thriller, one that at times sent my heart racing with excitement and anticipation. Richard Mgrdechian’s first novel blends scientific speculation with elements of the near-future thriller genre. Ostensibly the novel deals with a sort of time-travel, but the underlying focus really deals with human society and how individuals acting in certain, often narrow ways leading to far-reaching implications and unintended consequences.
Professor John Bennett is driven to find ways to cheat death. Motivated by the death of his dog during Bennett’s childhood years, and later his much-admired grandfather, he pours all his energy into physics. He also is a man with many heroes, studding his walls around his punching bag with images of boxing greats like Ali, Dempsey, and Marciano, and his office walls with Einstein, Newton, and other scientists. Bennett’s mood upon discovering a startling new application makes him almost ebullient. By slowing down the speed of light, Bennett is able to place living tissue in a stasis field, preserving youth over great lengths of time. He stands at the cusp of changing the world, granting him instant acclaim and recognition. He’s blessed with admiring students, a wonderful girlfriend—Dawn Whitmore, a cultural anthropologist—and a wide open future at PacTech; all seemingly intended to keep him anchored to the present.
Tom Walsh, the arrogant bureaucratic president of PacTech, despises Bennett for his success. In the aftermath of a bar brawl when Bennett protects one of his star students, Paul Branning, Walsh gets his chance to publicly humiliate Bennett. Yet instead of going down meekly Bennett resigns; he has other plans. He decides to make personal use of his discovery, placing himself into stasis. While the outside world continues along its unabated pace, Bennett will sleep for decades at a time, appearing briefly to witness the progress of history, skipping like a pebble across the river of time. When he finds out that Dawn suffers from incurable ovarian cancer with scant years left, he hatches a plan to place them both in stasis and leap forward until they find a future with a cure. Along for the ride is Sam Tobin, one of Bennett’s old college friends. They fake their deaths and enter stasis in an abandoned missile silo that they bought on the cheap from the government, setting the timer for fifty years in the future.
They arrive into a fragmented America, with California split in several parts, none of which seem enticing or welcoming. They still manage to somewhat adapt themselves into society, with a few mishaps along the way. Bennett secures a visiting professorship at a local college, while Tobin hooks up with Linda Moreno, an attractive attorney after he spends some time in jail for the unpardonable sin of the times, Abhorrent Vocalizations. Speak ill of anything, or have someone find offense in your words, and you end up jail. Farewell free speech. Political correctness runs amuck.
The second act of the novel thus deals with how the trio handles the fifty year leap into the future. Friends and family left behind now are dead, or aged naturally into post-retirement years. Almost alone they face a two-pronged threat: how can they integrate themselves—even temporarily—into a culture of fear and social repression, and also deal with an escalating threat of nanotech hackers bent on tearing apart integral communications technologies?
In their new world, the trio seeks others of like minds, from Sam’s attorney friend, to a student (who later proves false), and another professor that Bennett meets at his new university. Against the latter they team up with a former hacker, Harold Fu, who immigrated to America from China on the advice of his brother.
With Harold along for the ride, the novel takes on a thriller aspect, as they race to locate the nano-hackers, only to discover a ghost from Bennett’s past. Can they defeat this threat, and is there a chance of saving Dawn from her cancer? Indeed, the effects of the statis appear only to have accelerated her illness, and instead of a possible cure, time grows ever shorter, with another stasis trip seemingly impossible, even fatal. The twist thrown in here certainly highlights how deep-reaching a simple event can become, even decades after the cause.
Some of the secondary characters encountered in the novel receive short treatments. I expected more about the young boy, Tommy Vesely, who Bennett befriends as a fellow science fan. The swift transformation of Tinny Morrison, from flirtatious student to predatory troublemaker, took me by surprise, but played out well in showing the interplay between Bennett and Dawn. It also makes for one of the more interesting scenes in the book, in the virtual global “mood-bar.” Linda Moreno, the attorney who latches onto Sam, also is dropped later in the book, but not before she walks us through some of the stranger new legal aspects of this society.
Despite these few misgvings Richard Mgrdechian succeeds in writing a convincing thriller rooted in present day technological, social, and legal trends. Blending moments of fast-paced narrative with occasional and brief info-dumps, Mgrdechian crafts an enjoyable work that I believe many libertarians and futurists will enjoy. In fact, I felt many of the chapters were too brief, leaving some threads unfulfilled. I felt the title of the novel to be a little misleading, although the novel certainly leaves open the possibilities for sequels. However, writing about how present day people deal with events fifty years in the future probably is quite different from one hundred or one thousand, but not altogether impossible.

Why We Fight

Why We Fight may well become one of the most interesting and controversial documentaries of 2006. The trailer itself is a chilling insight into the current state of the growth of the American war machine. The website advertises the movies as “a bipartisan inquiry into the workings of the military industrial complex and the rise of the American Empire.” I did detect a focus on profit as the main motive, but sure there is more that this at work.

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