Archive for March, 2009

The BSG finale: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Friday, March 27th, 2009


With the pressure mounting, Ronald Moore did what most of science fiction’s high-profile series-builders have done: he choked in the clutch. Sure, the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica was spectacular, with plenty of moments to remind us of what made this franchise the most compelling of the decade. . . but it was nonetheless still deeply—massively—flawed, in so egregious a manner that you can only wonder what the fuck he was thinking (besides licensing agreements and royalty checks).

Usually when narrative arcs fall apart, we get deus ex machina.  This time we just got deus.  Battlestar Galactica’s rebooting tried in so many ways to hold up a mirror to our own culture; in so many ways it succeeded, and this was certainly one of them.  Back in the year 2009, our world is moving out of control, and all we seem to be able to do is hope (however explicitly/implicitly) that God will save us from the results of our own decisions—or that the worst and most irrational of those decisions will turn out to be, miraculously, What God Really Fucking Wanted All Along.

There’s a name for this kind of thinking:  infantile.  Moore promised more, and we deserved better.  Particularly problematic was the anti-science back-to-the-land meme that engulfed the ending.  Again, an apt reflection of our own time—a kneejerk reaction against the technology that threatens to overwhelm us.  In our current crisis, science-fiction is the only genre that offers the scope we need to navigate our way forward.  Last Friday, we saw the genre stumble toward wish-fulfillment fantasy.  The scale of the missed opportunity is nothing short of breathtaking.

Let’s see some ID, pal

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Here’s a very cool website/organization: Papers, Please: The Identity Project, dedicated to monitoring and publizing the clamp-down of governments on freedom of movement.

Demands on citizens to ‘show their ID’ have spread from airports to all major forms of long distance domestic public transport. Some of these ID security programs check people against secret government lists. Some of these programs are simply tests of the traveler’s obedience. Dissent through public protest is in danger of being chilled by the fear of ending up on government lists.  We are witnessing the advent of a national ID card, passed by Congress as the Real ID Act. . .

As someone whose name is on the U.S. government’s terrorist watchlist, these are developments I follow with no little interest.  (Turns out there’s a very bad David J. Williams out there.  One of the penalties of having a somewhat generic name.  Or maybe it’s me.  It’s not like they’d tell me.  It’s not like the name’s ever coming off that list anyway.)  Back in my days of management consulting, when I was flying all the time, I always found it weird to be getting the third-degree everytime I crossed the U.S. border, when I’d usually spent the better part of every flight working on a book about a society where identity is the primary mechanism of government control—and the manipulation of identity is a standard tool in every razor’s arsenal. . .

Taibbi tells it like it is

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Matt Taibbi has published another of his great pieces in Rolling Stone; this one putting the AIG bailout in its proper context. Money excerpts:

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron — a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers. . . .

In essence, Paulson used the bailout to transform the government into a giant bureaucracy of entitled assholedom, one that would socialize “toxic” risks but keep both the profits and the management of the bailed-out firms in private hands. Moreover, this whole process would be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of NASCAR dads, broke-ass liberals who read translations of French novels, subprime mortgage holders and other such financial losers. . .

As to how last fall’s money was allocated:  “Another member of Congress, who asked not to be named, offers his own theory about the TARP process. “I think basically if you knew Hank Paulson, you got the money,” he says.

Taibbi concludes:

How much of what kinds of crap is actually on our balance sheet, and what did we pay for it? When exactly will the rent come due, when will the money run out? Does anyone know what the hell is going on? And on the linear spectrum of capitalism to socialism, where exactly are we now? Is there a dictionary word that even describes what we are now? It would be funny, if it weren’t such a nightmare.

I like his suggestion that the traditional left-right way of describing political views is rapidly becoming obsolete.  Yet the games continue as though it was  still politics-as-usual.  It isn’t. Not anymore.

My novel The Mirrored Heavens is now available in mass-market paperback.

Cielos Reflejados

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Via Magna is releasing the Mirrored Heavens in Spain! And check out the trippy cover—one of the best attempts I’ve seen so far at capturing the mindset of the book’s razors as they traverse the zone (aka cyberspace), and chow down on their various combat drugs. It’s also nice to see something that I don’t have to immediately start obsessing over, compulsively looking for potential errors and typos, because yanno, I don’t speak Spanish.  And hey, apparently you can buy the book herecielosreflejados-compl-lr

But I do seem to recall that “caelum” is sky in Latin.   Which led me to investigate . . . according to my handy Yahoo Spanish dictionary, “cielos” can be translated as either “sky” or “heaven.”  Anyone out there care to tell me which is the more standard usage?  BONUS QUESTION:  if the title of my second book is BURNING SKIES, would they just have to use the word “Cielos” again if that one also gets published in Spanish?  Uh-oh . . .

Secret assassination squads?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Looks like legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh may have (inadvertently?) let the cat out of the bag, alleging that former VP Cheney was using the Joint Special Operations Command to terminate people on the presidential hit-list: “under president Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.” In theory, of course, the JSOC is under congressional oversight; Hersh’s allegation, though, is that Cheney was running select parts of it out of his own office.

There are a lot of things I could say about this; I’ll go where you might not be expecting me to, though, and say that the irony here is that targeted wet-ops campaigns are a damn sight more rational than most of the War on Terror strategies we’ve fooled around with. Hit-teams make a LOT more sense than invading and occupying real-estate.  Iran, for example—taking out the scientists working on the nukes would be a far better option than bombing the place (which is probably why those scientists never leave the thirtieth floor of the underground bunker they’re in). As to Al-Qaeda in general, by all means go after them Mossad-style, but don’t fall into the trap of occupying failed states to get at their operatives/operations.

From a tactical perspective, the real problem is keeping this kind of thing deniable.  This is an issue that I deal with a lot in MIRRORED HEAVENS, because as a problem in dirty politics, it fascinates me:  run them all through cut-outs and there’s that many more layers that might get interrogated by some pesky congressional oversight committee, but run them through you, and it’s really hard to maintain deniability.  Guess we’ve got yet another reason why Cheney was so adamant in destroying his files when he left office.  We’ll see what Hersh can dig up/prove.


Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Ok, ok, ok, it took me till yesterday to see it, but I’ve been #$# swamped trying to figure out how to get the Operative and a bunch of other guys off a spaceship (i.e., working on book three). Anyway, I loved it. Sure, it wasn’t as good as the graphic novel—how could it have been?—but this will be the definitive film version; there’ll be no remake decades from now while our kids’ kids tease us for our questionable fashionable choices.  Others have dealt with the big picture; I’m going to tell you the details I appreciated the most:

1.  The fight between the Comedian and Ozymondias:  finally we get to see the WHOLE FUCKING THING.

2.  The credit-sequence in general, and the bit where the Comedian blows away JFK in particular.

3.  The capturing of that paranoid, Cold War feel. Charlie Jane Anders over at io9 had a great piece on this, btw.

4.  And speaking of. . love the Doctor Strangelove war-room.  That #$# ruled.  And it makes us realize, too, that the one thing the original war-room lacked was . . . Nixon.

5.  Snyder kept Bubastis the Technicolor Lynx!!!  And wasted him too.  Alright.

6.  Rorschach.  They had so much less time/bandwidth to develop him here, but they kept those prison scenes, so it’s okay by me.

7.  The ending. I’d love to have been a fly in the wall during the script rewrites on this one, while they specced out the budget for 20,000 tons of squid, and their ability to reach an audience beyond the fanboys . . . . and considered that the only way to make it work would be to simultaneously pump airborne LSD into the movie theaters.  Maybe they should have gone for it, but I can see why they didn’t.  Framing Dr. Manhattan was an elegant solution.  It wasn’t the optimal one, but like I said, that would have involved acid.

Anyway.  It’ll be interesting to see how the movie does this weekend.  The smart money is saying it won’t have staying power, in spite of David Hayter’s desperate plea for the faithful to get in there and do their duty to Moore and country.  I know I’ll be back in that theater, though.  This one rocked.

Jump, you fuckers

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Those immortal words, flung in abuse by a protestor on Wall Street last fall, also constitute the title of Dan Hind’s essay on the economic crisis. Hind, the author of a book on our use/abuse of the Enlightenment, seeks to get to the root causes of the accelerating economic downturn, and finds them in the dismantling of the Bretton Woods agreement, which allowed the U.S. to run up massive debts even as the rich became disproportionately richer—and the overall system became ever more unstable amidst the orgy of profit-taking green-lighted at the very highest levels of the political/economic elite, all at the expense of the Average Worker.  This is the kind of explanation you’re unlikely to see much of among the elite’s Tame Intellectuals (as Hind so aptly calls them), who are charged with continuing to proclaim their Faith in the Free Markets, as well as “let’s not blame the system for a few bad apples”, but it’s one of the more compelling arguments I’ve read thus far on what we’re facing.

It also gets at one of the things I thought about a lot while writing MIRRORED HEAVENS:  the notion that our civilization is heading rapidly toward some kind of mega-discontinuity/overhaul out of which something new will emerge, for good or ill.  Again, our Tame Intellectuals don’t help us here—they’ve encouraged us to believe in our current Way of Life as the culmination of everything that went down before (see, Fukuyama, Francis). But imho science fiction is all about this discontinuity, whether it comes in a month, in a decade, or in a century. It’s about somehow unshackling our minds from the tyranny of the now—that mindset that literally can’t envision anything else. We’ve got a long way to go here; preoccupied with its own petty infighting, SF is largely absent from serious debate on the causes or ramifications of our current crisis. One hopes this will change as the situation worsens (as it assuredly will); now, more than ever, we need to take the long view.

It can’t happen here?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

In the world of THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, America is a dictatorship—or more precisely, a military autocracy with the trappings of democracy. This is a vision of the future that I can’t say I’m thrilled about, but it’s one I stand by. I don’t see our republic as surviving more than a few decades into the 21st century, and I think there’s a decent chance it may be all over within the next few years, particularly when you keep in mind the following things:

1.  Extreme economic conditions breed extreme politics.
2.  The average voter has the logic/reasoning abilities of my cat
3.  The Right is totally blind to its own autocratic tendencies, and totally demonizes the Left.
4.  The Left is totally blind to its own autocratic tendencies, and totally demonizes the Right.
5.  Extreme economic conditions breed extreme politics.

In short, we’re entering a high-tech version of the 1930s, and God only knows what could emerge from the other end of it this time.  It seems pretty clear at this point, though, that when the delicate equilibrium that’s the Constitution finally collapses, it will be in favor of some kind of executive-branch-on-steroids, and so that’s what I created in MIRRORED HEAVENS.  The agents and soldiers in the book colloquially refer to the president as the Throne, which (to my surprise) some people took literally, assuming that now America had a monarchy.  Yet the whole point of dictatorships, as Caesar recognized so long ago, is that you don’t need to put a crown on your head. And as Orwell observed more recently, if you keep the basic loyalty-symbols in place (flags, etc.),  you can do anything you want and people will get in line like lemmings.  Someone will get us all in uniforms before too long, I suspect.

BURNING SKIES and the rest of the story

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

A reader writes in:

Ok, you _could_ have made it harder to find out: 1) IF you were coming out with a new novel 2) IF your next novel would be a sequel or in the same universe… 3) When the next novel might be available. .  . . I’m glad you are releasing “The Burning Skies” soon, but it took me 5 WHOLE minutes to find the information on this site! I just finished “Mirrored Heavens” (about 6 minutes ago) and I needed to know how long I’d have to wait for more.

Of course, he’s entirely correct, and this is a good wake-up call for me to update this #$# site.  In the meantime, here’s the lowdown on the sequel to THE MIRRORED HEAVENS:


When Is It Available?:  May 19th

What’s It About?:  Autumn Rain’s plan to nail the president at the secret summit conference he’s holding with the Eurasian leadership.

What Comes Next?:  The last book in the trilogy:  THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT (May 2010)

Stay tuned. . .


Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

One of the agonizing/tense things about being a new writer is the Desperate Need to Secure Blurbs (aka Promotional Quotes).

One of the weird things about being a not-so-new-as-you-used-to-be writer is People Actually Asking YOU for Blurbs. Yesterday a manuscript showed up on my door from Random House; a book that Bantam is bringing out next year, and they want ME to take a look at it. That’s really bizarre. Excuse me while I go blow my mind now.

My novel The Mirrored Heavens is available now at all fine bookstores (and probably a few crappy ones too).