Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Complete Stories of Rudy Rucker
I've just noticed that the brilliant writer Rudy Rucker has released an ebook of his complete short stories. It's available from Amazon here. Rucker is one of the best and cleverest living writers. In fact he's one of the best and cleverest writers in the history of humanity. He's an authentic genius, a genuine ideas writer (quite a rare thing these days) with a comprehensive and profound understanding of mathematics, metaphysics, futurology, artificial intelligence and the paradoxes of space, time and geometry.
My first introduction to Rucker's work was back in the 1980s when I read one of his non-fiction books, The Fourth Dimension, which was an extension of the ideas that I had recently encountered in Edwin A. Abbott's seminal Flatland. In his own book, Rucker adapts and extends Abbott's scenario in an attempt to help the reader visualise (as far as is possible) the fourth spatial dimension. I happily recall hours spent studying Necker Cubes and flipping their perspectives in my mind until they were in both states simultaneously. After that, of course, it became difficult to concentrate on any set of lines that vanish to a distant point (such as the corner of a room) without also seeing that point as being closer than the rest of the shape...
Why use psychedelics when you have hyperspatial geometry... And why read substandard writers when you have Rudy Rucker!
Thursday, February 23, 2012
A Brief Defence of Flippancy
A few days ago, this message popped up on Facebook. A surprising number of my contacts posted it to their walls and other people responded positively to it, clicking "like" and leaving comments agreeing with the sentiment.
Stuff like this makes me cringe for the following very simple reason: such wisdom has been bandied about for centuries but the world's still in a pretty dire state. I don't think that 'wisdom' works, to be honest. This doesn't mean that wise statements aren't true, but that nobody ever really listens to truth and acts on it; and why should they, if nobody else does?
I left two comments in response to the message above. The first was: "I say this to the taxman every year, but he just won't let unpaid bills be bygones!"
That went down well. People generally respond with enthusiasm to straightforward we're-all-in-the-same-boat jokes, especially when they are financial in substance.
My second comment was: "My problem is that I left the advice to leave things in the past in the past! And I never got it back..."
That was appreciated to a far lesser extent. Hardly at all, in fact. Indeed it was greeted with a faint hum of disapproval. But it's a wittier statement by far than my first comment (relatively speaking, of course; let's not be too arrogant). Why then didn't it earn the same plaudits? Because it's paradoxical? I suspect the real answer is because people decided it was flippant.
Now there's a concept that deserves far more investigation that it receives. Flippancy. What exactly does it mean to be flippant? And why are people who make flippant remarks held in such contempt, a contempt that seems to be generated automatically as a kind of reflex?
Flippancy, essentially, is assumed to be an inappropriately shallow response to something serious. The user of flippancy (the flippantee) seems to value the opportunity to make a joke higher than acquiring authentic understanding of some piece of serious information. For example, consider this Milton Jones quip: "I once worked for the United Nations investigating genocides. I was asked to locate a mass grave of snowmen. I did so, but it turned out just to be a field of carrots."
That is a flippant joke. Someone who tells such a joke during a conversation about genocide will probably be rebuked by the sharply barked order, "Don't be flippant!" The person who shouts this out will feel that the joke is making light of a subject (genocide) that can never be used as a basis for comedy.
And yet there's a logical contradiction in there. The command, "Don't be flippant!" is surely flippant itself. If flippancy means to demonstrate a shallow and unfeeling response to something serious, then shouting, "Don't be flippant!" is the ultimate flippancy, because (a) it's a shallow and unfeeling response to something serious (flippancy is a serious subject), and (b) it's ignorant of the logical contradiction it contains, which demonstrates a shallow and unfeeling attitude to logical contradictions.
But why is flippancy a serious subject, you might wonder? Simply because it has been around since the human race began. It's a part of every culture, every society, every civilisation and every period of history. People have always been flippant, the same way they have always been passionate, lustful, puerile, idealistic, angry, compassionate, ambitious, lazy, etc, etc. Flippancy is fundamentally human; it's one of the things we do that makes us what we are. That's why it's important and why a flippant remark deserves more consideration and sympathy in a response than the flippant brush-off, "Don't be flippant!"
In a nutshell, refusing to take flippancy seriously is... well, flippant.
There's a contemporary writer of talent and integrity by the name of Joel Lane. I'm fairly sure he regards everything I do as flippant. On one occasion, during some banter on a forum, he mentioned to me the French film Ridicule, a historical film set in a period and environment where in order to elevate one's status it was essential to be witty and avoid being ridiculed oneself. At the climax of the film the central character, who is a fundamentally serious chap, shames the others by making a speech denouncing their shallowness and flippancy; then he walks away with immense dignity, the moral victor. He has struck a devastating blow for seriousness.
It's an excellent film and I suspect that Joel mentioned it to me as a sort of rebuke, as a way of saying, "Look what society would be like if nobody was ever serious, if you had the world the way you seem to want it..." And I think that he probably identifies himself with the central character, the Marquis Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy, the only aristocrat who cares about the conditions of the poor, the only serious champion of social justice among a wad of shallow flippantees. I furthermore suspect that Joel also agrees with the analysis of comedy made by George Orwell, that it's a distraction, a palliative, that it diverts the attentions of the ordinary downtrodden people from their sufferings and dilutes their zest for change; in other word, that comedy is a brake on the righteous anger that drives social progress... and my basis for making this assertion about Joel is that although he's a phenomenally witty chap outside his writing, he holds himself back to an extraordinary degree inside it.
Well, that's one approach and a perfectly valid approach in its own way. But it's not the whole story by any means. Despite Orwell's assertion, comedy can be a radical tool. Consider the novels of Rabelais, Voltaire, Zamyatin, Bulgakov... Comedy, even flippant comedy at times, can be more incisive than seriousness. Personally I don't regard the world (as I imagine Joel does) to be full of shallow wits who need to be shaken up by a dignified fellow of seriousness; I regard it as full of humourless grumpy stiffs who need to be shaken up by an ironic jester. More Harlan Ellison's '"Repent, Harlequin!" said the Ticktockman' than Patrice Leconte's Ridicule.
Friday, February 17, 2012
I'm sure I've mentioned that my novel The Abnormalities of Stringent Strange has been picked up by a publisher and hopefully will be issued later in 2012? Two years ago I wrote this extremely absurd science fantasy pulp romp and I haven't bettered it yet, that's for sure! Maybe I never will.
Anyway, the publisher suggested to me that some of the money raised from the book should go to a charity of my choice. I agreed; but it wasn't easy choosing a recipient. Finally I settled on Animal Aid.
Animal Aid aren't actually an official charity but a not-for-profit limited company, which basically means that they are slightly freer than a charity to run the kinds of promotional campaigns they think will be effective. But you don't want to hear about legal stuff like that, probably.
Animal Aid campaign against cruelty to animals. So they are in opposition to vivisection and other forms of abuse: the fact of the matter is that cruelty to animals is gratuitous, pointless and cynical; and it reveals some disturbing psychological truths about the perpetrator. It's a well-documented fact that psychopathic killers generally start with torturing and killing small animals before progressing to humans.
I'm not a fanatic. And Animal Aid only ever supports peaceful methods of opposing cruelty. So they seemed the ideal choice for me...
People have asked me why I didn't choose a charity dedicated to improving the lives of humans. I thought about that, but so many other writers I know are doing excellent fundraising work for homo sapiens that I thought it was right to focus on some other animals instead. So now you know.
Friday, February 10, 2012
More eBook Banter
These days most of my posts seem to be about ebooks. Well, this won't go on for much longer, I promise. There are now a total of seven Gloomy Seahorse Press (a fancy name for me) ebooks up at Smashwords; and I have been busy putting the same titles up at Amazon. It's all done now. Some of the Amazon titles have different covers to the Smashwords originals and mildly adjusted contents too.
The last title to go up at Amazon was Tellmenow Isitsöornot, which is by far the longest of the books and therefore was the trickiest to re-format. But I finally managed to do it properly. It has been available from Smashwords since September 2011, but many readers prefer to buy from Amazon, so I can reveal that it's available right here.
The other ebook that has just gone up is a sequence of three linked short-stories about a mermaid. The first tale in the sequence was published in Postscripts #6 back in 2006; the other two parts of this miniature trilogy have previously only appeared in Portuguese in my Sereia de Curitiba book in 2007. This one is a snip at only $0.99 from Smashwords here; or from Amazon here....
Incidentally, I would like to formally thank everyone who has bought one of my ebooks. You know who you are (at least I suppose this must be the case!) I was paid by Smashwords last week for the titles I have sold so far and the amount I received exactly matched a council tax demand that was delivered to me just a few days ago.
Monday, February 06, 2012
Twenty Years Ago Today
It was twenty years ago today that Colonel Bogey taught the brand to bray...
No, wait a minute, those aren't the right lyrics!
Nonetheless it was exactly twenty years ago today, on Thursday 6th February 1992, that I received my first short-story acceptance. As can be seen from this photo, I have kept the relevant letter.
The story in question was 'An Ideal Vocation' and it wasn't an especially good story (but it was inspired by some of Kafka's extremely good microfictions such as these) and the book it appeared in wasn't very good either, a ragtag anthology of brief tales that were badly typeset, but this acceptance did give me a confidence boost that started off a deluge of submissions and acceptances, and so here I am now, 21 books and 628 stories later...
At the time of this first acceptance I had been writing fiction for eleven years but hadn't sent much work to any potential publishers. I was too shy or maybe I just didn't know of any available markets. In fact I never even showed any of my stories to friends or family and I tended the feel the activity of writing stories ought to be kept a secret.
I did try mailing a hastily written short-story called 'The Forever Man' to a magazine when I was 17. The process actually felt embarrassing and when it was rejected a few days later I literally cringed. I also mailed a story called 'Tangents' to a short-story competition two years later. Obviously it didn't win; it was a hopeless and pallid attempt to imitate Vladimir Nabokov, my favourite writer at the time. And, uncharacteristic as it may seem, I mailed a story called 'Secrets' to the journal of the British Fantasy Society, but I never heard back from them; that might have been in 1986 or 1987, I don't really remember. In fact I seem to vaguely recall that I was briefly a member of the BFS back then, rather ironic considering how I have enjoyed mocking literary societies since...
I can't recall what impelled me to submit 'An Ideal Vocation' to the editor of the New Fiction anthology at the end of January 1992, but I'm glad I did; not because of the immediate result but because of the long-term realisation of one of my oldest ambitions, i.e. I became a real author.
Friday, February 03, 2012
Hmm, this is a little bit more complicated than I had anticipated. Because I uploaded Rhysop's Fables to Amazon first and naively opted to enroll the book in something called 'KDP Select' (which allows readers to borrow it library-style) I find that I'm legally obliged not to digitally publish the same book anywhere else. So I've had to unpublish Rhysop's Fables from Smashwords, alter the contents and upload it as a different book.
So instead of announcing that Rhysop's Fables is now ready for download from Smashwords I must announce that Fables of Rhysop is available instead! The contents of this book are different from the Amazon version. The 150 fables (which is what the book is really about) are exactly the same; but the extra short stories aren't. I think that's all above board.
The offer concerning my earlier ebook, The Tellmenow Isitsöornot, still stands. If you buy that ebook for $4.99 you'll get Fables of Rhysop for free; just go to the end of the bigger book to find the relevant code that enables a free download of the smaller book. Alternatively you might just want the fables for $2.99. If that's the case then you can get it from Smashwords right here. Hope you enjoy!
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