Archive for March, 2010

Doin’ Dune

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Some of you live in a permanent state of it.  Some of you don’t know what the fuss is all about.  images1

I get it every few years.

It’s called Dune Fever.

And I go fucking crazy.

So crazy I start to think the series actually lives up to its promise in the later books.

Actually, my view of the Dune franchise falls somewhere in between (a) those people on the one hand who think the first book ruled and the rest was just a giant drone-on, and (b) those people on the other hand who will buy and read anything as long as it has a sandworm and at least half of Frank Herbert’s name on it.  Specifically, I think DUNE MESSIAH is every bit as good as DUNE —  I could talk all day about how it’s, frankly, the best sequel ever written.

But then cometh the Fall.


Where Herbert’s editors gave up.  And I’m tempted to as well.

But I stumble on, like the dying Planetologist Kynes staggering through the desert . .  I reach GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE, and it all comes back to me in one awesome rush that lasts until . . . oh, about the hundred page mark of HERETICS OF DUNE.  Which I finally finished three years back, in the midst of a business trip abroad where I literally had no other reading and no other excuses.

Now I’ve bought CHAPTERHOUSE DUNE and will be reading it on the plane to Norwescon this weekend.  Stay tuned.

(And no, I don’t think I’m ready to deal with the Anderson/Herbert collaboration yet.  For now, I refer you to my esteemed colleague David Louis Edelman, who’s said it all better than I could.)


Thursday, March 25th, 2010

This movie was trashed by so many people I respect that I never even bothered with it.

But Jeff Vandermeer’s post from earlier this week made me change my mind. And I’m on a semi-nocturnal schedule right now, so it seemed only fitting to fire up a movie about space zombies at an hour when the only sound I can hear is that of the cats.

At least, I hope they’re cats. I don’t dare turn around to find out.

But vis-a-vis Pandorum . . . I loved it.  Plain and simple, I fucking loved it.  I forgot the lesson I learnt with the (astoundingly underrated) 13th Warrior back in 1999. . . never mind what everybody says. . . even if it made only five dollars at the box office . . . if it looks intriguing, go for it.  This is the movie that EVENT HORIZON should have been . .not a plunge into actual metaphysical evil, but rather a Heart of Darkness journey into just what depths people can sink to when they’re cut off from all else.

Some of you had problems with the mutants.  I didn’t.  Like Vandermeer, I ain’t going to parse the science of it. . but those of you have trashed the mutants, please forward me your withering critique of Joss Whedon’s Reavers (whose asses Pandorum would CONSUME), and I’ll be satisfied that you’re being consistent.  Meanwhile, I’m focused on the topography of that spaceship . . the scariest HR Giger acid-trip outside of Switzerland you’re gonna see. And a fitting backdrop to the story, which was a stripped-down mix of in-your-face action and backstory revelation.  There’s such gold in the generation-starship-meme that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been done more often in cinema—I’d love to see Baxter’s “Mayflower II” and Aldriss’ Nonstop, in particular.

Though I suppose the real reason we haven’t had more of them is budget vs. accessibility.  Pandorum cost 40 million to make, and clawed back less than half of that.  It’s tough to make something *so* sci-fi and dark appealing to the broader market, and once the core SF audience had turned against it, Pandorum was as screwed as most of its passengers.  Meanwhile, I’m perusing the script to see if I can uncover any “director’s cut” moments.  But the noises behind me are getting closer . . . .

More thoughts on the Foundation trilogy

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Anyone itching to get obsessed all over again with Asimov’s Foundation series can go check out the post I just made over at Random House’s

Meanwhile, there are rumors that more ARCs for MACHINERY OF LIGHT are on their way to Chez Dave, and that feline units Ajax and Captain Zoom will be orchestrating a contest to determine who gets them.  Watch this space.

Ten books

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

If it’s a viral meme, count me in. Besides, it’s not like I need an excuse to talk about my favorite books. In no particular order:

1. American Tabloid, by James Ellroy. Ellroy’s foray into political conspiracies continued through two more books (Cold Six Thousand and Blood’s a Rover) but this is the standout: a whole new way to view the Secret History swirling around JFK in the early 1960s.  I make a point of re-reading AT every year, and it only seems to get better each time.

2.  Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War. The genius who invented the whole idea that history could be objective. . even though he was one of the combatants in the war he was chronicling.  I recommend the illustrated version, which has a map on every single page.  This isn’t one of those books where you can just put some maps at the beginning, and turn back to them to find the name of that damn town that’s somewhere on this isthmus . . . or maybe over here. . ah fuck it.

3.  V for Vendetta, Alan Moore.  Superheroes have never really done that much for me, which I suspect is one reason why I regard V rather than Watchmen as Moore’s masterpiece.  Btw, have you ever noticed how both graphic novels have a character achieving an epiphany through hallucinogenics?

4.  Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, The Illuminatus Trilogy.  Okay, technically that’s three books, but they’re published as one volume, so there.  Crowley, giant yellow submarines, Cthulu, talking dolphins and the hint that this is more of a gateway than a book:  Wilson and Shea put themselves on the map for good with this one.

5.  Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah.  I may be the only person out there who thinks this is better than Dune (though before you send me hate-mail, I’m obsessed with them both).  Only a portion of the length of its predecessor, the second book focuses on a single problem:  how do you conspire against a being that can see the future?  Messiah also includes the best single quote in SF:  “This whole thing is explosive.  It’s ready to shatter.  When it goes, it will send bits of itself out through the centuries.  Don’t you see this?”

6.  John LeCarre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Another book focused on a specific problem:  how do you find a double-agent when that double-agent works in your own counterintelligence department, and by definition will be aware of any investigation?  The climax is all dialogue and all the more devastating for it.  My agent actually pitched my work to Bantam as “LeCarre on sci-fi crack”; hype, sure, but hey, that’s what you have an agent for.   But I guess it’s fitting, as I probably read more LeCarre than I did science fiction while I was working on the first Autumn Rain novel.

7.  Edward Gibbon, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  What I love about Gibbon is that he just doesn’t stop; he kept his history going all the way up to 1453, when the Turks overran Constantinople–three volumes across a few thousand pages, and not once does his style falter.  Virginia Woolf called his sentences “finely crafted jewels”; they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

8. Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger.  Here Wilson throws off the fiction guise and talks directly and dispassionately about what’s really going on, politically and metaphysically.  Best line:  “study enough conspiracy theory and you ultimately become either paranoid or agnostic.  I became agnostic.” It’s also fascinating for what it tells us of the man’s own life story; not your typical entry into the counterculture, that’s for sure.

9.  Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel.  The third history book I’ve listed, but if you only read one, read this one.  For me, this was a whole new way of looking at history. Did you know it all depends on how many types of domesticated animals your civilization has?  Me neither.

10.  Isaac Asimov, Foundation and Empire.  The great thing about Asimov is that he didn’t dumb his stuff down; instead he pulls the audience up to his level. And I guess FAE would have to be my favorite; not only do we have the dapper wonderkind general Bel Riose, but the novella involving the (first) search for the Mule has an ending that blew my eighth-grade mind, and still does today.

Peter Watts Convicted

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Peter Watts was convicted this past Friday of obstructing a border guard. His own post on the matter is so stoic as to verge on the heroic; I seriously doubt were I the one to be punched in the face by a border guard that I’d be as calm and dispassionate as Watts.  Worth noting, too, is that he wasn’t convicted of the assault charge, even though the press continues to report it in those terms. Given that members of the jury have written to Watts expressing their dismay at the wording of the statute under which they were forced to convict him, one can only hope that the judge sees reason, lectures the cops from the bench, and hands Watts a suspended sentence.

One thing I find fascinating about how all this has played out is that it’s very much a Rorshasch test for one’s own proclivities.  The law n’ order anger-management types out there are crowing about how Watts Got What He Deserved, while those who think Uncle Sam Sucks are damning the “stupid” jury for not engaging in jury nullification while they rant on about how awful and corrupt America has become.  I’m certainly not going to claim any special objectivity on this; Watts is a good friend of mine, not to mention the reason I’m in print.  But as the man’s noted in his work, we don’t make as many conscious decisions as we might like to think; we simply ratify decisions already made for us by our subconscious/hindbrains.  Much of the reaction to his own ordeal is a case in point.

The origins of Homeworld

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Gaming goddess Roz Clarke has posted an interview with me about my part in the first Homeworld game, and the relationship between gameplay and narrative.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone on record regarding my experiences with Homeworld, beyond simply saying that it changed my life.  But now the full story can be told.

“I have never heard anything like it on Earth”: Yuri Gagarin speaks

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Neil Tyson reminded folks on Twitter that today is Gagarin’s birthday, so I went and looked up an old book I’ve got on the early Russian space program in search of his description of man’s first journey into space (1961).  There’s a stereotype that astronauts aren’t too articulate in describing the wonders of space; if that’s the case, Gagarin was definitely an exception:

The roar was loud, but not really any louder than what you usually hear in the cockpit of a jet plane.  Another interesting thing is that a great many new musical nuances and timbres can be heard in that roar.  I have never heard anything like it on earth.  I got the impression that the powerful rocket engines were creating the music of the future—perhaps more moving than the music of our time.

Happy Birthday to ME

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I’m 39 today.

People keep asking me how does it feel to be old?

The scarier question is how does it feel to be middle-aged?

Pretty good, actually.

Especially since right now I’m having coffee while watching Captain Zoom lick his ass with the carefree abandon of a creature who cares nothing for birthdays, and is, as Borges pointed out, effectively immortal, given that he knows fuck-all about death.

I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.  I said, “Captain Zoom, death will come and wrap you in its steely arms, hahahaahahahahaahahaha.”

He pondered this, and then continued to lick his ass.

The Ghost Writer

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

In many ways, Ghost Writer is a throwback to paranoid 70s thrillers like THE PARALLAX VIEW, yet it couldn’t be more timely, both for the headlines that Robert Harris’ book generated (thanks to its thinly veiled allusions to Tony Blair), as well as for its take on the war on terror. Ewan MacGregor is self-effacingly brilliant, whereas Pierce Brosnan is a hell of a lot of fun to watch as the disgraced ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang.  I kept expecting him to have to deal with a giant laser gun in the sky, but alas, that scene never happened.

But the real star—and ghost—of the movie is director Roman Polanski.  One can bet that the irony of the movie’s location was not lost on him—Lang is writing his memors on Martha’s Vineyard, and is on the verge of being trapped there rather than return to face a war crimes tribunal in Europe.  But of course, since Polanski can’t go to the U.S. lest he be busted for his own sins, “Martha’s Vineyard” ends up looking somewhat German.

The movie’s final revelation is as provocative as it is sensational—I might even say unlikely—and left my hypersmart friend gnashing her teeth about the movie’s “conspiracy theory” interpretation of history.  I’d love to discuss exactly that, but I haven’t declared this post to include spoilers, so it looks as if for now I’ll have to save it for a later date.  Hopefully the Men in Black don’t get to me in the meantime.