Saturday, January 8, 2011

A few words about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Almost all the coverage I've read and all the people with whom I've spoken have leapt immediately from this shooting to political discussions. I certainly understand that urge, but I think we should resist it. Let's look at the key points.

1. This is a tragedy. As of this writing and using online news sites ( and as my information sources, it appears that a gunman shot 18 people, including Congresswoman Giffords. He killed six of those people.

2. We don't have any data yet that would prove this was a targeted assassination. If you're out for one person, you probably don't shoot 18. Among the six dead people, a group that included a child, was a Federal judge, John Roll, whom President Bush appointed.

3. We don't have any data yet that would prove this was a politically motivated shooting. Sure, it occurred at an event of the Congresswoman, but that could have been because it was an event, something that would draw a crowd. Or not. We don't know.

4. Consequently, let's not blame anyone other than the shooter or any group at this time. Let the data tell the story when it is available.

American political discourse, like so much else of what passes as discussion in our country, has devolved into people repeating their messages, not listening to one another, and fighting to see who can sound more clever or produce a more memorable one-liner or graphic. Let's not use this tragedy as one more topic for such low-end political tussles.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"War Stories" - a snippet

In 1985, I backpacked through Europe for almost two weeks after working for nine days at a trade show. When I returned home, I wrote an essay, "War Stories," that I've never sold. In email the other day, Sam Montgomery-Blinn, friend and editor of Bull SPEC, suggested that I visit the Holocaust Memorial in Boston while I'm at Arisia. His suggestion led me to recall the essay. Here's one small bit of it, exactly as I wrote it then, never before published.

We toured Dachau for several hours on an early May afternoon. The reconstruction was largely faithful to the original, although the old barracks had been destroyed. Two replicas of the barracks stood in the stead of those now gone.

The Dachau museum and grounds were an assault on the imagination. Several months past I had attended a Bruce Springsteen concert. My seat was very close to the stage, and the music was very loud. The music and the feeling of community lifted me into a state of near euphoria. It also left me unable to hear correctly for over six hours. The week before I had learned that the greatest art man can produce can only be absorbed for a sadly small number of hours. After four or five hours in the Louvre I was ready to beg for no more Da Vinci's, no more Raphael. My head and eyes hurt even as my heart rejoiced in the good that man can produce. Both of these were attacks on my senses and emotions. My recovery from each required some time.

Neither matched the gut-level battering that Dachau delivered. I doubt I shall soon recover from it. In self-defense, I seem to let through only a few memories at a time. Still, several images have not left me.

As I walked past the guard towers and into the complex, it began to snow. The temperature was around thirty degrees, and the wind was whipping about small trees like a child playing with a noise maker. I was freezing. The snow was not sticking, but it was wet and cold nonetheless.

Inside, about an hour into my tour and warm and comfortable, I came to an exhibit that explained some of the common prisoner punishments. A first offense, mild reprimand, the plaque explained, was to be forced to stand at attention for twenty-four hours on the parade ground. Thinking about it briefly, that did not seem so bad. I had to stand for long stretches at the trade show a few weeks before, and, while unpleasant, it certainly had not been torture.

On the way out I saw the last of the snow falling. As I opened the door I was hit with the strong wind and was instantly chilled to the bone. It was the third day of May. I was shaking cold in under a minute. I had on a long-sleeved shirt and an old army coat. The average prisoner uniform was a thin gray shirt and matching pants.

Only two images brought me to tears. I covered my face each time, unwilling to share them with my companion. The first was a picture of a room. The room seemed to be about ten feet by about fifteen feet, with a nine foot ceiling. With the exception of a few empty square feet near the ceiling at the front of the room, it was filled with the bodies of dead men. These were the bodies of those who had not yet been cremated in the camp's ovens. They were the backlog. There were two large ovens at Dachau. Both were run around the clock near the end of the war.

The picture alone did not make me cry. However, I later visited the room in the picture. It was scrubbed clean now, its walls eggshell white. It was larger, more like fifteen feet by twenty feet. It was not a reconstruction, but the same room as in the picture. I stood in the middle of it, and then I cried.

The second image required no visit. It, too, was a picture of a room, this time one in Auschwitz. It was a room seemingly nearly twice the size of the first one, filled almost to the point of overflowing with shoes of the cremated dead.

According to the book I bought at the museum, over two hundred and six thousand prisoners were kept at Dachau from its opening in 1933 until its liberation in 1945. Over thirty-one thousand deaths were reported. This does not count those assigned to Dachau by the Gestapo for execution, Soviet prisoners of war who were sent there for execution, or those who died in evacuation transports and death marches.

A sign just outside the museum and at the head of the main parade grounds offers an admonition and a promise. In four languages, including English, it says


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Things I understood better when I was ten

The year I was ten, many bad things happened to me: my most recent father died, I joined the paramilitary youth group, we moved in with another family because we couldn't make it on our own, the daily beatings began--I could go on, but that list seems like more than enough. I certainly remember all of those things, and they have undoubtedly shaped me a great deal, but I more often recall what the world felt like to me back then.

As some of those memories hit me earlier today, I realized that the younger me understood a great many things better than I do. For example, at ten I knew that

grass smells amazing after an afternoon rain

if you cut that grass right then, it smells even more amazing

people with nothing to share will usually give you more than those who have more than they need

on a hot day, the first sip of cold water from the spigot in the shade of the house is as delicious as anything could possibly be

you + your friend + an afternoon = infinite possibility

building a fort is insanely great

a fort you've built is as good as any castle

if you're sad, go outside and play. It's hard to be sad when you're running around like a mad thing

laugh when you run. Everything's better when you laugh

a butterfly that lands on you is a touch of heaven

superheros are the best

walking into an air-conditioned building after hours in the hot sun is like getting to eat dessert first

they really did play that song on the radio just for you

rock and roll can fill you up so much that you just know you could explode and blanket the whole planet with your energy

pie is awesome

when you bite into that cheeseburger and the juice runs down your chin and they tell you to wipe it off, ignore them, take another bite, and, man, is that great

being able to make the Tarzan yell would be like having a superpower

hiding in the branches of a tree is almost as good as being invisible

books are magic

it was a mistake to give up your invisible friend
I was so much wiser then.

Maybe, as Dylan wrote and the Byrds sang, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The source of the title, The Wild Side

(Warning: adult content in the video)

When Publisher Toni and I were first discussing this anthology, we both thought the title's source would be obvious. I've since learned that a great many people have never heard of the Lou Reed song from which we took the anthology's name.

If you're one of those folks, check out this video, which does a decent job of showing some of the song's background while playing a decent recording.

If the video worries you, relax; all we took from the song was the name. Each of the book's stories is its own thing set in its own world.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My 2011 awards self-pimpage post

Like many writers in the science fiction and fantasy area, I'm aware that the awards nominating season is upon us. In particular, the Hugo awards, the fan-voted accolades that are a centerpiece of each year's World SF convention, are now open for nomination. (For more information on this year's Hugos, see this page. To learn more about Renovation, the 2011 WorldCon, go here.) To help those interested in supporting my work, and of course to beg as gracefully as I can manage, here are the works for which I'm eligible this year:

Short story: "Lobo, Actually."

This piece appeared in my Jump Gate Twist omnibus. I like it quite a bit; after all, how can you not like a Christmas story that stars a heavily armed, hyper-intelligent killing machine? The fact that it's only in that volume, however, does mean not that many folks saw it.

Novel: Children No More

If you've read this blog for any period of time, or if you've seen this book, then you know how much it and the topic it addresses--child soldiers--means to me. I think it's a good book, my best yet, and of course I'd love for it to win a Hugo, but what writer wouldn't love that for any of her/his books?

Now, a more important plea: Whether you nominate my work or someone else's, please nominate.

If you're an attending member of the con, you already have the right to nominate for free. If you're not, you can buy a supporting membership for $50, support the con, get its publications, and have the right to nominate. Yes, you can help decide which books have Hugo Winner! on their covers.

Here's the amazing thing about the Hugos: in any recent year, a fiction work of any length will make the final ballot with 60 or more nominations. Yes, just sixty. So, if you love a book or story or movie or many of those--mine or anyone else's--please consider nominating it.

As my final bit of self-pimpage, I will note this: If I make the ballot, I'll show up for the ceremony in my tuxedo, and I'll post pictures here. So, those who want to see me in a monkey suit in public, here's your chance.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The cover for The Wild Side

A while back, I mentioned that I had seen the final cover art for my upcoming (August) anthology, The Wild Side, that it was amazing, that artist Dan Dos Santos had done a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the book--and that I couldn't show it to you.

Now, thanks to the kind permission of Publisher Toni, I can. Check it out (click on it to see a much larger version).

Any bookstore that will turn this one face-out can be sure that a whole lot of potential buyers will notice it and check it out, which is exactly what a cover should accomplish.

I'm pleased as punch to have it on the book.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Assault Girls

As regular readers know, each time Kyle visits, we splurge on bad movies in late shows. In each of those splurges, some movies stand out. Last night's feature, Assault Girls garnered the prize for the single weirdest and worst film in a crop of strange, bad movies. It was bad enough that even though it is Japanese and lasted only 70 minutes, Scott bailed early, and we were all convinced we'd been sitting for hours.

The summary on the box looked interesting enough: three hot Japanese women fight strange creatures in a more-or-less download-your-brain video-game world. What's not to like?

For starters, the almost 20 minutes of prologue before the title, during most of which time an overly dramatic voice-over narrator recapped the history of the previous several decades and the rise of a Pax Technologica.

The endless walks through a boring desert also didn't help, nor did the largely tedious male character; his best moment came when he was eating a snail--an important moment in the film, sadly--and chowing down on bacon and eggs.

I could go on, but you get the point: Unless you simply want to bathe in the weird waters of strange Japanese cinema and have exhausted every other available film, give this one a wide pass.


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