Showing posts from July, 2011

Catching Up

I was going to write a report on some of my experiences at Readercon 22, but it felt flat and boring, so I've discarded it. It was a great convention, as always, and I got to see all sorts of great folks in the way one does at a convention: too quickly. Panels seemed to go well, I enjoyed the ones I saw, I survived the ones I was on, and I got to see Jeff Ford do a little dance at the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza , so my con was complete. For a comprehensive collection of links to reports on panels and the convention in general, as well as links to various videos of events, check out the official Readercon list . It was a wonderful few days, and I'm tempted to single out particular people who worked really hard behind the scenes to make it a wonderful few days, but really, everybody who volunteers for Readercon deserves thanks. Meanwhile, I have neglected this here blog a bit over the last week, and am likely to continue to neglect it while I work on some writing assignm

Blogging the Caine Prize: And the Winner Is...

The winner of this year's Caine Prize for African Writing is NoViolet Bulawayo for her story "Hitting Budapest" , originally published by Boston Review . "Hitting Budapest" was the first story we wrote about for the Caine Prize blogathon, and it's held up better in my memory than I expected it would. Despite my qualms about some aspects of it, there's a vividness to the language that gives it some freshness. Were I on the jury, it wouldn't have been my first choice (that would be "The Mistress's Dog" ), but it might have been second, or tied for second with "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata" , though that's a story that, unlike "Hitting Budapest", has diminished in my memory.

Old, Weird: Bonus Tracks

My latest column has been posted at Strange Horizons: "Old, Weird" . I probably should have included links to some songs and materials discussed in it, so here are a few to get you started... Some of Greil Marcus's The Old, Weird America  can be read at Google Books. The Wikipedia page on The Anthology of American Folk Music  has some good info and links. At the Folkways site, you can hear clips from each track of Harry Smith's Anthology  and also download the marvelous liner notes as a PDF. You can read some parts of When We Were Good: The Folk Revival on Google Books. I wrote a bit about Todd Haynes's I'm Not There  when it first came out. Tim Lucas posted some interesting quotes about Dylan's song "I'm Not There (1956)" at Video Watchblog  (the link to an mp3 of the song still works, at least as of this minute). You can hear Henry Thomas's sublime "Honey, Won't You Allow Me One More Chance" on YouTube. Some

Born Which Way?

The liberal blog Talking Points Memo, always ready to score points against Republicans (a bit like shooting big fish in a little bowl these days), mocks boring presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for his response to a question about homosexuality and genetics: Pawlenty told Gregory on Meet The Press that when it came to whether homosexuality was a choice or an innate part of a person's character, "the science in that regard is in dispute" and that it was unclear whether it was "behavioral or partly genetic." "There's no scientific conclusion that it's genetic," he said. "We don't know that. So we don't know to what extent, you know, it's behavioral and-- that's something that's been debated by scientists for a long time. But as I understand the science, there's no current conclusion that it's genetic." I've long been an opponent of the "It's not a choice!" crowd, though really my op

The Tree of Life: First Thoughts After a First Viewing

Because I am an unabashed Terrence Malick fan , there was little question that I would find something to adore in his new film, The Tree of Life . Nothing highlights the subjectivity of evaluation to me as well as the fact that I will find a way to appreciate the work of a handful of creators in various media no matter what, because something in my past experience with them has made me assume that they are in some way or another smarter than me, and my job is to learn to appreciate whatever they have created. It's a sort of subservient humility -- anybody who wants to evaluate something honestly has to approach it with at least a bit of humility and try to allow the work to offer as much as it can, but with most things, especially in realms where we have some experience ourselves, humility soon enough gives way to the most basic, brutal evaluation: I think this thing is good, bad, or ugly. Without a sense of differentiation, there is no taste , and anyone who was humbly subservi

Personality Test: Top 10 Directors

It's summer and I don't feel like writing a post of substance, so here's some fluff. On Facebook*, someone I know (who is welcome to out himself here if he so chooses), posted a fun exercise: "Apparently somewhere on facebook there's a challenge to name your favorite ten movie directors off the top of your head, no research or googling," adding: "It's an interesting personality test." It is indeed. I'm going to be brave and see what I come up with this morning... Rainer Werner Fassbinder Howard Hawks Alfred Hitchcock Werner Herzog Stanley Kubrick Terrence Malick Anthony Mann Michael Mann Jean Renoir Francois Truffaut The list itself took all of one minute (alphabetizing it and finding appropriate links for each took longer), and is probably one that would be similar were I to do it on another day -- certainly, there are a bunch of directors who I thought about including (Orson Welles, David Lynch, Wong Kar-Wai, the Coen Brothe

A Numerological Note

The previous post, "The Sokal Hoax at 15" , was number 1,500 here at The Mumpsimus.

The Sokal Hoax at 15

What, you ask, was the Sokal Hoax? [...]New York University physicist Alan Sokal, having read [Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s]  Higher Superstition , decided to try an experiment. He painstakingly composed an essay full of (a) flattering references to science-studies scholars such as Ross and Stanley Aronowitz, (b) howler-quality demonstrations of scientific illiteracy, (c) flattering citations of other science-studies scholars who themselves had demonstrated howler-quality scientific illiteracy, (d) questionable-to-insane propositions about the nature of the physical world, (e) snippets of fashionable theoretical jargon from various humanities disciplines, and (f) a bunch of stuff from Bohr and Heisenberg, drawing object lessons from the uncertainty at the heart of quantum mechanics. He then placed a big red bow on the package, titling the essay “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The result was a very weird essay, a heady mix–and

Blogging the Caine Prize: "The Mistress's Dog"

(This is the last in a weekly series of posts about the short stories nominated for this year's Caine Prize for African Writing . For more information, see my introductory post . Special thanks to Aaron Bady for coming up with the idea for this blogathon. Check out Aaron's post on this story for an updated list of other writers' responses , or follow #cainepr on Twitter.) David Medalie's "The Mistress's Dog" (PDF) is a subtle, quiet, and profoundly sad story, easily the highlight of the Caine Prize nominees for me. It's a story in which nearly all the events have happened before the time of the first sentence, and this is what allows it a classic iceberg effect -- the story benefits from the characters' lifetimes of experience, yet takes place over the course of only a day and a half. Of the characters, only one has a name -- Nola, the protagonist. The other characters are named by Nola's perception of them: the powerful man, the mistr

Avatar: A Contradictory Text

from "Race and Revenge Fantasies in Avatar, District 9, and Inglourious Basterds " by John Rieder , Science Fiction Film & Television  vol. 4, issue 1, January 2011: The stupendous commercial success of Avatar  may have been achieved in spite of its ideologically retrograde character, as many of its early reviewers seemed to think, but it seems more likely that its revivification of old-fashioned, reassuring exoticism is one of the principal reason for its popularity. In a contemporary economy whose financial, political, and commercial core continues to rely heavily on resource extraction from peripheral sites, Avatar  offers a painless adjustment of colonial-era fantasies of appropriation to contemporary ecological and political conditions. Its vision is essentially akin to the widespread contemporary ideology -- arguably the dominant coprorate and political vision of the present-day US -- of a "green capitalism" that keeps the flows of resources and syste

Help Writers Decorate Their Hovels! Buy E-Books!

The only e-book device I have other than my laptop is an iPod Touch, and neither the laptop nor the iPod is anything I want to read an entire book on (reading on the iPod is only slightly more comfortable than reading the The Compact OED  through a magnifying glass), but I very much like the idea  of e-books, even if I don't read them, and one of these days perhaps I'll break down and get one of them there gadgets that's designed for the durn things. Anyway, as a public service announcement, here are some recent e-book announcements that piqued my interest: Minister Faust's new novel, The Alchemists of Kush , is now available for $2.99, and it broke the Amazon Top 1,000 on its first day, which moves it closer to reaching the goal of breaking the Top 100, at which time Minister Faust will donate $500 to send textbooks to university students in South Sudan . For more info, check out  this interview of Mr. Faust by Jeff VanderMeer . Speaking of Jeff VanderMeer, he