Anders Monsen

Lost worlds and ports of call

Month: December 2006


Television. I hardly watch any more. First, I never have time. Then, there’s the glaring lack of quality, except on premium channels like HBO, which doesn’t need to stay within the FCC’s lines. And yet, there’s always the rage about ‘reality’ shows, laugh-track ‘comedy,’ and the corpse-fetish shows like CSI, or the current hot drama where the audience is as lost as the cast members. No doubt my tastes are too narrow.

A few people I know recommended Heroes, but due to timing I’ve oly been able to catch the last fifteen minutes of two episodes. I was able to watch 80% of the mid-season finale, and instantly got hooked. I could pay $1.99 for the recap from iTunes, or wait for reruns, but lickly NBC has posted all 11 episodes to date for a limited time. I’ve watched the first four, and while I don’t know how many more I can watch before the freebies are gone, I’m impressed beyond words at this show. I don’t know how long the magic can last, for in my opinion TV shows rarely sustain greatness beyond a couple of seasons, before writers get desparate for attention, and the worm eats itself.

I recently read an essay on expounding an ‘Austrian’ theory of culture, with which I have many, many disagreements. I am mulling over a reply and my own theory. The gist of this essay is the author’s embrace of TV as good culture, especially long-lasting shows and collaborative efforts (Gilligan’s Island, X-Files, and The Simpsons are the author’s favorites). I don’t know about the writers of Heroes, of the long-term plan of the show, but were only to last one season, say 22 episodes, that might be a better thing than drag on for five years. There are well-written shows on TV now and in the past where cast members solve things week after week, but a few hours after the show is over you’ve forgotten everything. Heroes instead layers question after question, with multiple story-arcs, and leaves me wondering after each one what will happen. In some sense I already know, as I read every word at the Wikipedia site, which is rife with spoilers. Perhaps I should have waited until after I saw the shows, but I didn’t think I would have that chance until several months from now with re-runs. Heroes is like a well-written novel, and indeed every show is entitled “Chapter X” (with a number instead of X), much like a novel. Perhaps it’s the geek in my, but the thread with Hiro Nakamura is my favorite. I almost wish the show was a long book, as so far this is the most novel like TV show I’ve ever seen.

Audio plays

Another day, another 1800 words written. I’m actually shocked and surprised how little use I’ve made of my copious notes that I prepared while listening to the three Heinlein audio plays I’m reviewing for Prometheus. Perhaps I’d use more if I didn’t have certain space constraints, but then quite a bit of the notes are just there to remind me of what I heard. I did manage to re-locate today the web page that has all episodes of Dimension X available as mp3 files. I researched the show a couple of years ago while planning this review, as well as the follow-up, X Minus One. The download time from their FTP server is horrible, but I hope it’s worth the effort. Only 500 more words to go before this review essay is done, and then three page remain left to fill. Luckily, two of those pages have other stuff already in place, so it’s more like two pages and a dash. Come January I’ll be buried in books trying to make some headway through the dozen plus review copies received in 2006. And that doesn’t begin to count the books that I want to read. I’ve gone to find a more forgiving habit…

It’s that time again

As editor of Prometheus, the quarterly newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society, I try to stick to a reasonable production schedule. This means that the issues should appear each January, April, July, and October. In order to get the issues out to reader by the middle of those months, I have to get them to the printer sometime in the first week (currently the 5th of each month). I’m now able to play a little with the printer deadline, thanks to reducing my trips there from three to one by emailing the issue as PDF instead of hand delivering the CD and then returning to proof the printed copy and later to pick up the final product. However, this year I’ve slipped a little almost every month, in large part due to the addition of child number two. The day job is draining enough, but by the time the kids are in bed and the house somewhat restored, the night is late. Unfortunately, I currently don’t have as many submissions per issue as I’d like, so I find myself in the position of trying to find the time to read books to review, or conceive of articles to write, and then actually hammer out words that make sense on the keyboard. And believe me, little tends to make sense close to midnight after a long day.

After a couple of efforts at jacking up the page length of the issue to 20, time and lack of original material has brought me back to reality and 12 pages; the year 2007 may see Prometheus fall even further, to eight pages. It’s now December 26. My deadline for the January issue looms closer and closer, and only six pages of content are set at the moment. One of those pages I wrote today, but that still means I have six pages to write in one week, then rewrite the pages into somewhat coherent prose, proof and re-read all the pages again. Errors always creep in, sometimes small typos, and sometimes huge gaffes. You’d think, why not space it out over months, instead of fretting at the last minute. The answer is that I have been doing just that, as I needed two months to read the material that makes up my contribution for this issue. I worked under the assumption that I have to create 50-80% of the issue, although I would prefer 0-5%. In order to write one brief review, I’ve read a long work of fiction, a critical biography, and some other source material. In order to review three audioplays (actually seven, on three CDs), I’ve spent several hours listening to the works, looked for artwork to accompany the pieces, and jotted notes throughout the process. In order to review another book, I’ve read several interviews, the book itself and a related novella, and the author’s autobiography. Not everything that I read makes it into my reviews, but in the end I find the process necessary. Those digressions often end up quite rewarding as well, but send me down raods quite unrelated to the actually production of the newsletter.

I do find myself wondering if it’s all really worth it, though. I’ve now completed two years in my second stint as editor. I have less time in the past for this sort of stuff, but at least it forces me to write something. I often feel that I might not write anything without a literal gun to my head. Witness this rarely updated blog, where 90% of the time I post only brief, newsy snippets and links. usually, after each is issue is mailed out, there is only silence. I assume most of the issues find their addressees, though one or two come back return to sender. I can only hope for the possibility down the road of more contributors, as I know there are people out there with interesting things to say. But perhaps in the age of blogs and the internet, an old-school print newsletter is just heading down the same road as the dodo.

Grim futures

Reason Magazine writer David Weigel rips into a trio of right-wing fictional dystopias. There appears to be little of interest to libertarians, but it’s interesting to see how all the talk on right-wing radio and blogosphere about culture wars is leaking into fiction. I’m glad a libertarian writer like Weigel has made a pre-emptive strike on these books, as I am sure that somewhere, somehow, some critics will lump these books and writers into the “libertarian sf” camp.

Piper Gutenberged

Via the RSS feed from SFSignal, news that H. Beam Piper’s awarding winning novel, Lone Star Planet is available online at the Gutenberg Project. Nice effort, though I question the people at Gutenberg’s statement that this work is not copyrighted in the US. Piper died 40 years, so he doesn’t need the income, and his book is online for free, but I was under the impression Piper’s copyright still was held by someone. Perhaps my information is outdated.

The Mount

One of the several books that I’m currently reading is a curious novel by Carol Emshwiller, called The Mount. The version that I have was published in 2002 by Small Beer Press. It received a Nebula nomination for best novel in 2003, and won the Philip K. Dick Award that year. Emswhiller’s style flirts with postmodern/slipstream methods, meaning for me it takes a while to adapt to the novel and writer. The Mount deals with a future Earth enslaved by small creatures called Hoots who enslave and ride people as beast of burden. I’m only a few pages into the book, which I picked up by chance at World Fantasy Con in November, yet already I wonder if this was a Prometheus Award nominee in 2003. So far it certainly fits the typical nominee profile (as much as there is one), but I shall have to see where the book leads. Emshwiller’s been writing for decades, but is one of the many names so far that I’ve just missed, as there are now so many books published each year in sf.

The expanding Firefly ‘verse

From Wired magazine, word that soon you will be able to inhabit the vrtual world of the Serenity crew. No word on the timeline or whether you can play a reaver, but part of me wonders, “enough already.” I guess I’m not a browncoat, as I tru;y enjoyed both the TV episodes and the movie, but beyond that am unwilling to commit myself to that world. Then again, I’m not a serious games, played Warcraft when it first came out as a solo game and against one other person on a local network, and prefer the virtual world between the pages of a good book. MMORPGs may be the future of gaming, just as social sites like MySpace may be the future of the web. In that case, I’m a dead-end branch on the vast electronic tree of the future.

L. Neil Smith interview

Colorado Freedom Report has a new interview with Prometheus Award-winning author, L. Neil Smith, dated December 7.

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