Certain private conversations…

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I still remember reading David Perlmutter’s first submission to the Pulp Corner. (Note—there is another David Perlmutter—a nutritionist—publishing books. His are science books, not science fiction. Just so there’s no confusion…) I was struck by his story’s inventiveness—using (and re-making) cartoon conventions. Also Davidcertain-private-conversations-perlmutter-cover’s pacing and rhythm are fantastic.

So when he came to me with a whole bunch of stories it made sense to me to gather them into a story collections—and that collection turned out to be the size of an entire book. So with Certain Private Conversations… And Other Stories we produced our first full book. Available on Kindle; available on iTunes.

Available, also, in hard copy—in both soft cover and hardcover editions. Here are the options:

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“Oceana” by Barbara Morris

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oceana-cover-imageHow do you encourage someone to head out to a new world—one where the first settlement had already been devastated by an earthquake? And on the other side—what would keep you on that colony planet once you’ve lost everything?

Those are the questions Barbara Morris addresses in her short story, “Oceana.”

You can find out more at Amazon and at iBooks, where you can get a few sample pages.

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Trilogy, Prequel, Genre

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Are the Star Wars prequels really that bad? Or rather, do people feel that they’re bad because their expectations weren’t met? Specifically—what if the prequels were, in a way, a different genre than the original trilogy? What if you thought you ordered pizza and got lobster instead, when you’re really not a lobster fan? Would that make the lobster bad, or would it make it simply, not pizza?

See, the themes and structures of the two trilogies differ markedly. Looking at them archetypaly, the original trilogy is a very American series, while the prequels are more European in feel. And I don’t mean in terms of cinema technique, but rather in theme. Put simply; the original trilogy is about a handful of scrappy, talented individuals pulling together to fight against the Evil Empire; most of which takes place out on The Frontier—on Tatooine, and in parts of the Outer Rim. The prequels, on the other hand, deal with High Court Drama; the comings and goings at the highest levels of political power, and of wealth. And they mostly (excepting some set-pieces) take place at the galactic core. The key moments of transition take place on Courascant, the heart of the Galactic civilization; a planet we never even heard of in the original trilogy.

And you can’t really have both at the same time. You an have elements of one in the other—for example, Leia through most of the first original movie and much of Empire—really until Han gets captured. But it’s clear even then that in a way she sort of doesn’t quite fit; it’s one of the sources of tension between her and Han.

And independent individuals in the prequels? The only example that comes to readily to mind is Qui-Gon. And he doesn’t quite fit in there, either. Pushed around by the Council, questioned by his apprentice… He is in a way Leia’s counterpart in that sense.

But I digress. Those expecting a very American sort of story in the prequels—a reasonable expectation given the original trilogy—were sorely disappointed in the court-drama set-pieces they got in the trilogies. But that doesn’t make them bad as such. Just not what people had thought of, for 20 years, as “Star Wars”.

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Not Sweating the Small Star Trek Stuff

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So I have seen the question come up—on IO9 for example—about the J. J. Abrams Star Trek re-boot why certain details—like personal appearance, starship design, etc., are different. Which is to say—why are things that developed before the appearance of the Narada changed, when the Narada’s appearance should be the branch-point.

And I thought about this; in terms of all the time-travel hijinks that take place starting with TOS. And even though every instance seems to end with the time-line restored, what if all of the major details of all of those incursions are restored at the end, but little details are altered?

And in the new Abrams-verse, those time travel incursions haven’t happened. And presumably many—even perhaps all of them—may not. And in fact might be replaced by alternate time incursions. And if, as above, while major factors might be restored and conserved, perhaps details—things that add up to planet-bound starship construction, or 1950s-inspired nacelle fins, or glass view screens.

All of which is a way of saying that these little things really don’t bother me. At least. Not nearly as much as “red matter.”

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Evolving to Develop Culture: A Delicate Balance

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How likely are alien civilizations? That’s the question at the heart of the Drake equation. And while I agree with most of the assumptions that Astrobiologists and others make, there’s one—evolutionary question—which I think they haven’t thought through completely.

I agree that life as such is probably ubiquitous in the universe—there’s probably microbial life almost everywhere. I also agree with most that liquid-water planets are probably common enough; and that complex and motile life probably appears on most of them.

And I can even imagine that life with self-awareness—which I would define as the ability to identify ones’ own reflection—is rare, but not extremely rare. Metaphorically, “silver-rare,” and not “platinum-rare.” Even on Earth, with currently extant species, we have at least eight species that can (seven excluding humans): Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, dolphins, elephants, pigs, and octopae. (I’d note here that two of these are aquatic, and as such, could not develop fire as a tool.) So even, just on Earth, self-aware organisms aren’t that rare; although as a proportion of the Earth’s biomass, a really, really tiny slice. But; that aside…

To develop an organism that has to live by its tools—an organism that needs technology to survive… You need an organism that, not only has grasping appendages, probably a form of stereoscopic vision, and a degree of native intelligence (motifs that have arisen several times on Earth, not just in humans), you need something else. You need an organism that has these things, and no other natural advantages. Because if an organism has other natural advantages, it will likely use those rather than developing a culture. And, more often than not, organisms that don’t have any other natural advantages probably won’t survive long enough to develop enough technology—most likely necessarily including fire—quickly enough to avoid being predated to extinction. Or evolving into something else that does have natural advantages.

It’s an extremely delicate line. And looking just at biohistory on Earth, many of the same factors have come together in other organisms in the past (Raptor-based dinosaurs come to mind) but all of those had built-in natural advantages (raptor-based dinosaurs come to mind).

So the question about alien civilizations (as opposed to alien life and alien intelligence) is this: Exactly how delicate is that line between being delicate enough to need technology to survive and not surviving it? How rare or common is it that such an organism would evolve in the first place; in great enough numbers to have a genetic and intellectual pool? And avoid extinction long enough? I don’t know the answer to that, but it seems to me relatively unlikely.

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Child Stars and Time Off

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I read an article in the New York Times recently about the film Spring Breakers, and about how this film is an attempt on the parts of Selena Gomez and Vanesa Hudgens to shed their Disney images. There was then a riff on the problems that child stars face when they try to transition into adult roles.

This got me thinking about, at least, a handful of performers who have successfully transitioned. I thought of, for example, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, Emma Watson, James Franco, and even Drew Barrymore*. And I realized that most of these examples had one thing in common (and the asterisk has a related factor). The common factor? They all went to college. (Except for Barrymore, who, instead, went to rehab. More on that below.) Gordon Levitt went to Columbia, Foster to Yale, Portman to Harvard, Franco to a number of institutions. Partly, I think, the college experience helped give these performers a perspective on reality that those who try to keep their careers going don’t get.

But, more than that, they went away. Maybe not entirely, in the case of Portman and Watson and Barrymore. But they did significantly reduce their public profiles (and I don’t only mean in tabloid terms, but in work terms). Barrymore only made a handful of films during that period, re-appearing later. Gordon Levitt focussed entirely on his education; Portman, on summer break, made only the Star Wars prequels. Basically, these performers largely disappeared during those years, re-breaking in as adults.

Perhaps Gomez, Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, et al., if they are really interested in re-appearing as full adults, could take a page from that history, and take some time off. And, for my money, some time in college. I know that the idea os skipping college has gained currency in certain (coding) circles, but personally I found the college experience essential.

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Featured Stories at PulpCorner.com

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So, as one of the points of this blog is to interlink with the PulpCorner.com site and the stories we publish there, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about some of what we’re publishing there.

Always popular, and a Pulp Corner exclusive—the first new original short story by Barbara Walton since her 1996 Quantum Leap tie-in novel, Odyssey. It’s a great fantasy coming-of-age story called “In the Shadow of the Watch”, and I’m sure you’ll love it. I did, and I don’t usually go for fantasy.

Another popular story—a science fiction mystery from Ken Lizzi called “Murder Extempore”.

And a great story about the hazards of Faster-than-Light travel by DeAnna Knippling, who’s first book, Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse was recently published by Doom Press. Her work has also appeared in Three Lobed Burning EyeSilverthought Online, and more. Click here to read more about it!

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The 2000-Year-Old Art of Page Design

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So, this guy, Jani Patokallio, asserts that people will want to read books rendered in regular HTML in a browser. Which is to say, he is dissing ePub as a format.

He also dismisses DRM (I agree) and paid content (I don’t agree). I don’t intend to spend much time on the paid content argument as I’m more interested here in the aesthetics of rendering books rather than business models. But I would only point out that the assumption—that “electronic” and “web” mean “free” is an assumption and not an argument. And as evidence that this will turn out not to be true, in addition to the paywalls sprouting up around premium content all over the web, I’d just present one empirical fact: Music revenues—on the back of digital salesrose this year. Nothing like an ugly fact to kill a beautiful hypothesis.

No, rather, what I want to talk about is the assertion that ePub as a format has no value; that browser-HTML or PDF are better. First; about PDF—PDF is a great screen representation of a print layout; but it’s static. It cannot re-flow for different screens. It is inherently inflexible. Readers are interested in more flexible formats for digital reading.

But, secondly, about rendering “books” in browsers in regular HTML… Here’s the thing—the thing that Patokallio might not know: Page design pre-dates printing.

Think about what that means.

The digiterati assumption seems to be that the codex-book format and type design that we’ve inherited came driven by printing technology, and that if printing technology is a legacy technology, when we go digital, we can abandon it. But this assumption is historically and empirically false. (Again—nothing quite like an ugly fact…) Codices appeared around the year 1 BCE. Modern type design (in terms of public lettering) around the same time (although done by hand and obviously not by moveable type). Page design—rendered by hand—followed the codex format.

And, later, printers developed their technology around the existing forms. This means that readers selected the codex—over the scroll—well before Gutenberg developed latinate moveable type. This means: People like pages; they don’t like scrolling; and this human factors development pre-dates printing, and logically will outlive it, too.

Not that I would expect people who want to “move fast and break things” to know this history, or to know the value of the things that developed before them…

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English Flexibility

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English is my favorite language. I think it might be the best language. And I’m not saying that “jingoistically” or “patriotically”, and I’m not saying that only because it’s my native language and the only one I use fluently.

I say this because of its structure and history, and because of the flexibility, vitality, and unboundedness. Because—what is English?

At its root, English is a mash-up of French and German; it’s the language that resulted from the French Norman invasion of Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxon-Land. The common folk spoke Germanic Anglo-Saxon; the Court spoke French. And the two came together and made English.

In fact, one can see this, to a lesser extent, in another language that evolved—this one in between French and German areas—Dutch. Dutch (i.e., “Deutsch”) is Germanic, and the Netherlands exist wedged between Germany and France and French-speaking parts of Belgium/Luxembourg. As such, to my native-English ear, hearing German and Dutch, Dutch sounds like it falls somewhere between German and English. And that makes sense to me. If the Dutch live between German and French areas, and French influence seeped in—if they lived on the outer edge of these two linguistic weather fronts, then Britain sat right beneath the frontal boundary; where the mixing was much, much greater.

But there are consequences to this cross-breeding. One such consequence—English absorbed romance structure—Greek and Latinate influences—from French, while also retaining the Germanic structure and vocabulary. Pronunciation evolved to include the sound palette from both influences (losing, primarily, only the KH/CH “Chanukah” or “Jorge” sound). This means, also, that English vocabulary draws on three linguistic sources instead of just one or two. (English’s confusing and often seemingly contradictory rules and spelling—which make learning the language difficult—results directly from this, too.)

But the most important aspect, in my view, is that this mixing makes the language, and the linguistic mind-set, open to continued outside influence. Anything can be made into English. Heck, half the American food-nouns come from outside English proper, and many from outside Europe (tomato, potato, maize…) English users don’t avoid “foreign” words—we embrace them—we assimilate them, and without a second thought.

And that—more than anything else—is why I love this language.

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Obama and the Long Game

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I think Barack Obama must be a chess player. I think he must play chess because he is very good at playing the long game—at setting pieces and gambits in motion that play out years later—beyond the time horizons of most in politics. Take the recent Cliff Diving episode, for example. Or, more precisely, how Obama set up this episode back in the Summer of 2011; and how it’s resolution—complete with another debt ceiling debacle hanging—is setting up the 2014 mid-terms.

Flashback to Summer 2011 when, during the last debt ceiling fight, Boehner’s House GOP tried—really hard—to torpedo the entire world economy. The resolution was an agreement to raise the ceiling for now, constitute a debt-fighting committee to negotiate, and failing to adopt the recommendations of the Commission, to face the Cliff—but only after the Election, and with the promise of no debt ceiling fights, also, until after the Election.

How did this play out? The GOP appointed (among others) Paul Ryan to the committee—essentially dooming its negotiations to failure, before they even began. And in one sense, there wasn’t a viable way that the GOP could not appoint Ryan to that committee, meaning it was doomed before it began. Obama won, and the Democrats retained control of the Senate, and the Bush tax cuts—all of them—were going to expire. Coupled with the sequestration spending cuts—including deep Pentagon cuts. Leaving the House GOP caucus with no options—except bad ones. Collapse the economy? Or choose between (from their perspective) bad or worse deals. They picked a bad deal rather than a worse one. With the thought that they can now go back and get what they want by, again, holding the entire world economy hostage.

So: How does this play out? The Republicans have three options, all of which end up, in 2015, with an Obama advantage (of greater or lesser extent).

  1. Go down the debt ceiling suicide road. Try to tank the world economy. Get hammered by a new Blue Dog Democrat resurgence in the general election in 2014 for having done this. (See: Gingrich: Government Shutdown; and Obama: Ground Game.)
  2. Don’t go down the debt ceiling road. Get primaried; have the GOP run Tea Party radicals in the 2014 general election; get hammered by a new Blue Dog Democrat resurgence in the general election. (See: Obama: Ground Game.)
  3. Don’t go down the debt ceiling road, and make a stand against the Tea Party in the 2014 primaries. Keep control of the House, but as a caucus that can stand up to its radicals, can negotiate responsibly with the Democrats, and can appear ready to govern. IMHO, this GOP is the one that Obama expected to get—one that can serve as a foil for himself, one that he can use against his left flank; one with which he can deal.

Only option three works out for the GOP—and not coincidentally, for Obama, as well. It also represents Conservative’s and Republican’s best chances at getting the best deals they can during a Democratic Administration where the Democrats also control the Senate. Obama knows this. But I don’t think that either the GOP nor the national or Beltway media do.

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