June 27th, 2007

Down on the . . .

On my continuing journey through lands of snail-paced Internet connections, visiting my friend Gary and his gracious wife Karen in the hills of Powhatan, outside Richmond, I chanced to pass an amazing scene, captured below:

 Of course, just as I prepared to snap the picture, the woman depicted therein emerged from the side of the house to plant herself directly in front of the Confederate flag and inquire as to my business.  I snapped the shot and skedaddled.

A Confederate flag is obviously not a rarity in the South, or even the North, for that matter.  But what is unusual even in the South these days is the presence of a black lawn jockey.  Most such blatantly racist artifacts have been painted white.

Even more unusual is the small figure to the right of the lawn jockey.  This is a Confederate soldier.

A black Confederate soldier.

Okay, what message is being sent here?  Is it that even the "African-American laborers" (Southern newspeak for "slaves," a word scarcely to be found in Richmond's Museum of the Confederacy) fought for the Grand Cause?  Some did, actually -- or wanted to; there was a proposal to free any slaves who fought for the south, but the Confederate government resisted to the bitter end this pragmatic if self-contradictory suggestion, championed by, among others, Robert E. Lee. 

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    The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
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John Kessel news

The intellectual and pleasure content of televised SF has just jumped several quantum levels!

From John Kessel:

To those of you who may be interested:

I hope you will excuse the broadcast nature of this email, and any possible duplications. Knowing how annoying spam can be, please feel free simply to hit the "delete" key and move on.

ABC has finally set an air date for the new series Masters of Science Fiction, including the first episode, "A Clean Escape" based on my story of the same title. "A Clean Escape" will be broadcast on ABC on Saturday, August 4 at 10 pm eastern.

Here are a website for ABC on the series, and a second run by the show's producers:



All best,
John Kessel
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Having honed your abilities on SF stories consisting of six words only, it's time to move up to the big leagues: stories consisting of 1000-words-or-slightly-under.

That's what you'll find in the fascinating volume above, compiled by the impeccably astute editor Henry Gee.

As a sample, here's my entry from the book.


Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla
February 10, 2036

The substrate for the cultured human-mouse brain cells was a highly reticulated wodge of aerogel contained in a homeostatic capsule big as a human’s thumb. At this moment the naked capsule sat in a dock, tethered by a GliaWire connection to a Brooksweil 5000 running at 100 petaflops. The parent machine was the size of a credit card, its “monitor” and ”keyboard” hologrammatic projections.

Two people stood by the setup. One, a genially abstracted man approximately thirty years old, wore intelligent otakuwear, full of membraneous pockets, organic sensors, interface patches and invisible circuitry. The other, a hard-eyed woman with some grey threading her bronze hair, wore the dress uniform of a Marine major, including ribbons from the Caracas campaign.

“I don’t understand,” said the woman, “why the drone can’t be governed directly by the Brooksweil. Surely there’s enough Turingosity there.”

“Plenty,” replied the man. “Near-human levels. But there’s no love.”

“Love? What’s love got to do with it?”

Filtering the conversation in realtime, the man’s clothing prompted him through an earbud with a cultural referent to a pop song over fifty years old. But he chose not to utter it. Didn’t seem likely this hardcase would appreciate any such trivial allusion. Intelligence amplification still required human discretion.

“Love is the driver for the mission. Love will supplement the drone’s heuristics in instances where lesser imperatives would collapse. Without that emotion, the failure rate goes up an order of magnitude. And we can’t simulate love yet in the purely moletronic minds.”

The major looked suspiciously at the little pod full of wetware, as if it might suddenly start spouting poetry through its as-yet-unattached peripherals.

“Well, so long as it follows its directives….”

“Need I remind you of our past successes? DARPA and BARDA just renewed our funding at double the previous annual budget.”

“I know, I know. But there’s so much riding on this mission. If we don’t stop this bastard Kiet the Mousekiller, we stand to lose most of the West Coast.”

The man shuddered at the thought, and his clothes perfused his skin with some soothing neurotropes.

Kiet the Mousekiller had begun his infamous career as a simple Thai pirate, preying on international shipping. Radicalized by the anonymous contamination of Mecca with a GPS-circumscribed green goo, he had become a terrorist, earning his sobriquet by his cunning destruction of Hong Kong Disneyland. Kiet’s latest scheme, not yet known to the public, involved a retired Japanese deep-sea drilling ship, the Chikyu, which Kiet and his backers had purchased on the open market under a false front. Now docked in the Indonesian port of Balikpapan, the ship was believed to be due to sail imminently, according to best intelligence.

Kiet’s plan was to drill down deep into a tectonic subduction zone close to America and plant and detonate a small nuclear bomb, thus triggering a tsunami larger than the one that had caused so much damage thirty years before.

Stopping him by overt military means was politically contra-indicated by the terrorist’s current refuge with an ostensible ally. Thus, this black budget project.

After regarding the Brooksweil’s display, the technician began disconnecting the GliaWire. “Okay, we’ll be ready for the sample in a moment. You’ve got it?”

The major hand strayed instinctively to her sidearm, before she reached into her pocket and removed a glassine packet. “Several hairs reclaimed from Kiet’s last visit to his favorite whorehouse.”

Handling the homeostatic capsule nonchalantly, the man walked toward the drone.

A stealthy tortoise with a MEMS shell, powered by the same pocket fusion reactor found inside NASA’s Sedna probe, the drone rested on a table, as innocuous as any lawn-mowing bot. A small hatch gaped in its shell. The technician installed the pod inside and closed the hatch. He took the packet, extracted the hairs, and pleased them in a small perforated depression on the front of the tortoise.

“Okay, we’re live.”

* * *
When I came fully awake the essence of my beloved was already integrated into my soul. His beautiful face filled my inner eye, and I could taste his genome, sweeter to me than the power that flowed from my atomic heart. I wanted nothing more than to be with him, to merge my soul with his, to shower him with my love.
Nothing else mattered.

And I would let nothing stand between us.

I immediately extended my senses, sniffing the air, but met disappointment. My beloved was nowhere within range. But knowledge in my memory informed me of where I might find him! How I quivered with eagerness to race to his side! But where was the exit from this place?

Suddenly a passage to the open air materialized above me. I activated my ventral lifter fans and rose upward.
My lover called!

Banda Sea
February 14, 2036

I had sustained extensive damages during my voyage to my mate. He was surrounded by vigilant outlying duennas, brutish entities similar to myself who guarded him jealously. Every step of my route during the last day had been fraught with challenges. But I had met them without hesitation. Because that was what lovers did.

My aerial capacity was now severely diminished, limited to short hops, and I currently traveled underwater, using my magneto-hydrodynamic systems. My signature across the spectrum was that of a school of fish.
All my telemetry said abort. But I would not.

Ahead of me loomed the vessel that I had previously verified held my beloved. I knew I would have to surface to unite with him, and prepared myself.

I shot out of the water alongside the ship, lurching evasively, to be met quickly with a hail of small-arms fire from those who were not my beloved. I triggered my infrasonics, and all my rivals collapsed in bowel-spasming pain.

Crashing through the window of the pilothouse, I sustained further injury.
But nothing mattered.

For I was finally in the presence of my beloved!

An expression of terrible ecstasy filled his face, and my soul melted with joy.

I initiated the destabilizing quench on the magnets surrounding my fiery heart, giving him all my love at last.

* * *
An evanescent fountain of multi-million-degree plasma bloomed briefly aboard the Chikyu, in the fierce and tender shape of a heart.

(no subject)

My pal Mark Jacobson's article about Frank Lucas, the black gangster who was the guy who started smuggling heroin into the States inside the bodies of dead soldiers is coming out on the silver screen this fall, called American Gangster, starring Denzel and Russell Crowe, directed by Riddley Scott. According to Mark, they've turned it into a hideous buddy movie of sorts, put the heroin in coffins and pretty much taken out every cool thing he wrote. One of the great things in the article was the blaxploitation movie that Frank and his criminal associates tried to make in the 70s. They hired a Hollywood director, played all the parts. It fell apart when Frank tried to kill the director...It's not in the new flick.  Frank is a thoroughly bad guy, but apparently in the movie he has a heart of gold and was a victim of his environment. Jesus.

Larry Fessenden, who made three decent horror films, including Wendigo, has a new film callled the Last Winter, with Ron Perlman, which had me excited until friends of mine saw it at the Seattle Film Festival and said it was predictable and a real letdown.  I'm still planning to see it, but with lowered expectations. 

I've had good reports on A Mighty Heart, the Michael Pearl movie directed by Michael Winterbottom.  His dystopian SF flick, Code 46, has grown on me.  I gave it a tepid review, but I think I really missed the boat on this one.  I've seen it twice since and liked it better each time.  Anyway, I'm going to try and catch A Mighty Heart this weekend before leaving for Readercon.

In an effort to see every movie the late punker Ian Drury (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll) made, I watched Split Second starring Rutger Hauer, a not-too-bad B movie set in a globally warmed London circa 2008.  Not much of a part for Ian--they always stick him in as a lowlife club owner or black marketeer, and give him a couple of throwaway lines.  This also featured that 60s icon Michael Pollard as the Rat Catcher--bonus cool points.  Pete Postlewaite (In the Name of the Father) also in it.  Chasing mutant serial killer through the flooded London Underground.  Really crummy ending...The things I do for Drury.