GUEST INFORMANT: Cherie Priest

November 5th, 2012 | guest informant

On the occasion of the release of her new book, THE INEXPLICABLES, my admired friend (and one of my daughter’s favourite authors) Cherie Priest kindly accepted my invitation to mark this new piece in her groundbreaking steampunk sequence with some thoughts on what it is and how it came to me. — W

When a new book looms, you start to see a pattern early on. You figure out quickly which questions will be asked most often, and which will be hardest to answer; and with regards to The Inexplicables, which lands November 13, I could already see the big ones on the horizon.

In short, people want to know what this steampunk undead Sasquatch book is really about, and they want to know if it’s a young adult novel. So let me try to explain.

* * *

When I began The Inexplicables my husband and I were already planning to leave the Northwest; we were already watching the real estate market in Tennessee, saving up our money, and thinking about what we wanted from our first house. But Seattle was very kind to me, and before I went anywhere I wanted to do one more book … one more Boneshaker, another warped little love letter to the place. The Clockwork Century franchise had wandered far and wide – all the way across the country, East Coast to West, and up and down the continent.

But one more, for the road.

I wanted to tell a story that was uniquely northwestern, while still falling into the niche that’s become my personal tradition: low concept treated with the straight face of high concept. But I drew a blank until a conversation with a friend, wherein she jokingly recommended a Bigfoot story. I doubt she thought I’d take the idea any more seriously than she’d suggested it.

But it festered, and in the end, I wrote it. And although I do guarantee you one undead Sasquatch, mostly this is a story about people who aren’t worth saving.

Worthless, useless, downright destructive people – people who will stab you in the back as soon as give you a hand. Ruthless, selfish, incompetent people who began their miserable miscreant careers as miserable unwanted children, leftover from a disaster they didn’t cause and twisted by an environmental poison they didn’t ask for. They were given nothing, and told to survive – and no one cares if they do.

This book is about them, and the places they find. Places that are every bit as run-down, wrecked, wretched and unlikely to be hospitable as the people themselves.

To be more precise, this is the story of one homeless, drug-addicted teenager in particular – who wanders inside a dangerous walled city full of the living dead in pursuit of a ghost. The Inexplicables is about what he finds there – criminals and fellow villains. Peers and problems. He finds his way into legend.

I’m routinely asked if Boneshaker was intended to be a young adult novel, or if it just turned out that way. I always find that question strange, since most of the book is told from the point of view of Briar Wilkes, a 30-something woman whose teenage son has gone missing. But largely because her son’s perspective is likewise featured … I ended up with a whole new audience: a demographic lovingly euphemized as "reluctant young readers." By which teachers and librarians mean "teenage boys."

(Teenage girls tend to be less reluctant readers. That’s not so much a sweeping generalization as a market trend.)

So ever since that first in the series, people have wanted to know when I’d do another young adult book – when in fact, I never wrote one in the first place. And in keeping with that longstanding tradition, I’ve already heard a number of queries along these lines in the wake of The Inexplicables, for its protagonist is an eighteen year old boy. But these questions don’t bother me in the slightest. In case you’ve ever wondered why I don’t fight the YA label, this is why: Nobody reads a book and says, “That was great. I have read a book. I need never read another, and I shall never tell a soul about it.” And this is particularly true of teenagers.

Let it never be said that I tried to distance myself from them, for they have been some of my greatest advocates. But sometimes adults are squirrelly about reading things intended for young people, for whatever ridiculous reason, so the questions keep coming. And here, now, by way of getting everything (or nothing) straight upfront, I’ll lay it all on the line: This is a story written by an adult, for adults or anyone else, but yes, it’s a story about a kid. He’s kind of an asshole, but I’d like to think that by the end, you can find it in your heart to root for him.

That’s all, I guess. So call it what you want, and thanks for listening to me ramble. But most of all, thanks for reading.

You can find Cherie at her website, and also @cmpriest.


GUEST INFORMANTS: Kim Boekbinder & Jim Batt

October 16th, 2012 | guest informant

This is Warren.  Allow me to present the video for Kim Boekbinder’s new song, “The Sky Is Calling."  Everything that follows is by Kim, and the video’s director, Jim Batt.

 

Inspired by NASA, the Universe, and Carl Sagan.

Kim Boekbinder:

I’m standing on a street corner in New York City with a bit of metal shrapnel clasped in my hand. It feels heavy and important. Once upon a time, billions of years ago, this small piece of 93% iron was the core of a planetary-sized body that collided with another planetary-sized body. These massive, heavenly orbs broke apart on impact, sending pieces of themselves careening through the universe. Some time ago one of these pieces came screaming through our atmosphere, exploding into smaller shards before reaching the Earth.

But before it was an exploding meteor, and before it was an exploding orb, this metal was forged in the nuclear heart of an exploding star.

Everything that our world is made of came from the cosmos. The iron in my blood came from supernovae; my heart pumps through me the violently catastrophic deaths of stars.

This knowledge makes me feel so small. And so big. So many things had to go so perfectly for me to be standing on this street corner, holding the metallic heart of the sky.

And perhaps even more staggering is the fact that I am a member of the species that can leave the planet. A species that can look up and think: Yes. We will go there.

A species that can look down and know that our world is unique in all of the known universe. For thousands of planets, millions of stars, billions of light years.

And whether looking up or looking down, in the deep darkest parts of ourselves is a force pushing us further, better, more.

I am writing an album about space. Because.

SPACE.

- Kim Boekbinder Oct. 16th, 2012

More information on the Kickstarter page: http://kck.st/O5D9PK

Jim Batt’s notes on the video:

The video is primarily made up of individual frames of raw data sent back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn. The eerie monochrome glitch aesthetic is the result of various technical factors – data artefacts, exposure calibrations, environmental conditions, and cosmic rays hitting the sensors. The main exception is the stunning footage of the sun, which was captured by another spacecraft.

NASA carefully clean up and calibrate their images before releasing them, but there’s an inherent beauty in the unfiltered footage, driven by the aesthetics of how this spacecraft watches the solar system. A machine-vision perspective on the cosmos.

The overlays are diagrams of humanity’s attempts to understand the universe throughout history, from astrology to the astronomical calculations of Copernicus and Kepler: early attempts at flight to blueprints of the spacecraft that now enable us to reach the sky.

For the final sequence I used footage of the Russian Soyuz capsule resupplying the International Space Station, largely because the Russians are damn good at making a rocket launch look starkly dramatic and appropriately science fictional.

http://www.kimboekbinder.com   @kimboekbinder

http://www.jimbatt.com   @battsignal


GUEST INFORMANT: Chip Zdarsky

August 9th, 2012 | guest informant

Cartoonist and escaped science experiment Chip Zdarsky has an open invitation here.

God knows why.

 

GUEST INFORMANT is where I ask friends and acquaintances to write about whatever they feel like discussing today.  And now you know what Chip wants to say.  He has a Wikipedia entry and everything.


GUEST INFORMANT: Aaron Gulyas

May 30th, 2012 | guest informant

Aaron Gulyas is a historian, teacher and writer in the middle of writing a book for McFarland, and he’d like to talk to you a little about the subject he’s writing on:

Lately I’ve been immersed in 1950s extraterrestrial contact narratives: blonde, blue-eyed space brothers coming to save humans from themselves.  While most historians see these stories as indicative of nuclear fears and anxiety, I see it differently.  I see the phenomenon representing an intensive, species-wide self loathing.  Adamski, Van Tassel, Menger, and their compatriots told tales of space humans who got it all right millenia ago.  Earth humans, divided by racial enmity, class difference, and spiritual depravity may destroy themselves before reaching the level of their interplanetary peers.  Science fiction writers painted a future of techno-ease, the ET Contactees taunted us with the notion that such peace and leisure existed in the now—just not the here.  Magical technology and perfect peace existed, literally, everywhere but Earth.

These men and — less often — women continue to spin tales of worlds far away from Cold War tensions and 21st century fears.  Looking at our planet through their eyes, our wars become even less meaningful; poverty and want sink into incomprehensibility.  We haven’t failed to obtain a better future: we’ve failed to create a liveable present.  And through it all Orthon, Firkon, Ashtar, Hatonn and the other Space Brothers orbit the planet.  Still mouthing their platitudes about the Cosmic Law, smiling their inscrutable smiles, and watching us fail. 

Late at night, listening to the snow and ice pound the side of the house and sitting alone with the Space Brothers, I wonder if the emergence of the blank-eyed Grays, abducting and probing the unwary, was an unconscious reaction against the sweetness and light of 1950s contact narratives.  These people, watching us founder, are not our friends or brothers.  They’re vampires, feeding on our love and hope.

Thanks, Aaron.  You can find him on Twitter @firkon.


GUEST INFORMANT: Justin Pickard

May 16th, 2012 | guest informant

I asked designer, writer and researcher Justin Pickard to write to you about whatever was interesting him currently… a few months ago.  Today, he came back to me with an entire document, entitled A GONZO FUTURIST MANIFESTO.  You will find the link to that document, a free PDF, at the end of what follows.  But he called out the following section as being a nice central piece to run, and I agree.  So Justin Pickard presents to you:

ACTION AND DECISION-MAKING FOR THE PROFESSIONAL WEIRDO

 

In 1991, Bruce Sterling gave a speech in San Jose. Extolling the strengths and virtues of the power weirdo, he urged the audience to avoid the spring-loaded bear-trap of mediocrity:

You don’t get there by acculturating. Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a puffer fish.

(Sterling, 1991)

With an idiosyncratic outlook and skill set, the power weirdo — and its subset, the gonzo futurist — is particularly well-placed to deal with a turbulent decade. With an eye on the road ahead, she can meet or dodge situations as they arise, charting a clear course through the VUCA battlefields of a turboparalytic world. One thing we can say: in 5-10 years time, ours will be a world of ubiquitous computing (in some form). When sensors are everyone, and the ‘big data’ of the post-normal threatens to bury us all in a torrent of noise, finely tuned sense-making capabilities may prove to be your greatest asset. For futurist Scott Smith, ‘warehousing massive amounts of data is simply an exercise in hoarding if we can’t see, contextualize, and use the patterns in the noise.’ (Smith, 2011) The pattern analyst is less likely to find her job outsourced or automated, but, to effectively lever the patterns in the noise, we have to be able distinguish between real patterns and the faces in the clouds.

We need pattern recognition. Pattern Recognition. The protagonist of William Gibson’s 2003 novel of the same name, Cayce Pollard, though something of a ‘self-facilitating media node’, provides a model for the gonzo futurist. For Cayce, the lived experience of 9/11 flipped a switch somewhere, hyper-sensitising her to the aesthetics of corporate branding. By the time the story begins, she’s found a niche as a coolhunter and creative consultant, exploiting her body’s physical, pre-cognitive reaction to logos (the bad ones induce nausea and panic).

Dorotea removes an eleven-inch square of art board from the envelope. Holding it at the upper corners, between the tips of perfectly manicured forefingers, she displays it to Cayce. (…) There is a drawing there, a sort of scribble in thick black Japanese brush, a medium she knows to be the in-house hallmark of Herr Heinzi himself. To Cayce, it most resembles a syncopated sperm, as rendered by the American underground cartoonist Rick Griffin, circa 1967. She knows almost immediately that it does not, by the opaque standards of her inner radar, work. She has no way of knowing how she knows.

(Gibson, 2003)

Though Cayce’s ‘base’ of domain-specific knowledge is both wide and deep — note the reference to Rick Griffin — she has no way of knowing how she knows. She’s aware of an ‘inner radar,’ but, as something separate from her conscious mind, has no idea how it works. Though Cayce leverages her capacities as a source of income, her role of sensitive-slash-coolhunter is more bodily disposition than career. Unpicking the details and implications of Gibson’s novel, literary theorist Lauren Berlant describes how Cayce’s disposition allows her ‘to ride the wave of the moment, to make her situation what it is, a thing to live through, be embedded in, and feel out’. Sounds a bit gonzo, doesn’t it?

Lacking Cayce’s near-supernatural capabilities, our gonzo futurist needs a prosthetic substitute; some kind of cognitive aikido. This would be a general framework that would allow her to easily grok the dynamics of the post-normal world, and identify the key sites and tipping points for action. To my knowledge, the closest currently existing equivalent is the OODA loop. Originally devised by US military strategist John Boyd, the OODA loop is a rolling heuristic cycle, a structure for those who need to make quick decisions under pressure. OODA. Observe, orient, decide, act.

The gonzo futurist is a super-empowered hopeful individual. She may have been a ‘graduate with no future’ (Mason, 2011), or the victim of public sector cuts, but has since grieved and moved on. She plays, tests, and play tests; making the best of the tools and technologies at her disposal. Comfortable calling on (and being called on by) her friends, peers, and tribe, her sense-making skills are social and connected. Her thinking may, occasionally, ‘be located inside the brains of other people.’ (Wheeler, 2011)

The gonzo futurist is a ‘deep generalist’ (Cascio, 2011) and ‘analytical polyglot’ (Smith, 2011). She has an ‘almost supernatural awareness of impacts and implications … [is] ready to adapt when necessary, building long-lasting systems when possible.’ (Cascio, 2011) Like Cayce Pollard, she is a ‘woman of affect, not of feeling (…) [an] empress of the amygdala.’ (Berlant)

The gonzo futurist is resilient. She works smart, not hard. She has one eye on the ‘adjacent possible’, switches codes, and contributes to the commons. She may be privileged, but has no time for competition, alpha male dick-waving, or beggar-thy-neighbour. Her success does not come at your expense.

Bombarded by stimuli, the gonzo futurist is an OODA cyborg. Observe, orient, decide, act.

 

Justin Pickard is a self-described ‘gonzo futurist’, freelance researcher, and associate at London-based design practice Superflux.  You can find him on Twitter @justinpickard.

And this is the direct link to A GONZO FUTURIST MANIFESTO.