Who Is Invincible

Who Is Invincible

I have a very short story in the latest issue of Corium. It’s called “Werewolf”.

I finally sent out that Antarctica story. It’s one of the longer things I’ve worked on lately. I am crossing my fingers and toes that it finds a home.

Sometimes in my job I spend a lot of time playing with numbers and listening to music in a haunted mansion. I bought a notebook and started writing longhand again. I have more space in my life to write than I did when I was juggling three jobs, but I’m still learning how to carve out time for myself. I keep taking on freelance projects and side jobs. I spend some nights and weekends writing things for some people and teaching things to other people. It’s difficult to unlearn the perma-hustle.

In between work and work and running around Brooklyn, I’ve been thinking about comic books. I started listening to Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men on my way to and from work. The X-Men are one of my favorite superhero teams of all time, and I am a sucker for completely bonkers continuity. Comics are a huge influence on how I think about fiction, and I am itching to write some superhero fiction after I get done with the tiny haunted house piece I’m working on.

 

Alternate Histories

The Cold War, and particularly the space race, is a period of history I think about quite a bit. So, when I was visiting my grandmother last month in D.C., I made it a priority to get myself to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and see some of their space race artifacts. I had fun.

Here is a Soviet space suit from the moon landing that wasn’t.

Soviet Space Suit

Here are me and my friend T. showing how to properly pose as a space explorer.

explorers

The Air and Space Museum is kind of weird. Its collection of artifacts is stunning, but the presentation is often tonally strange. It’s a patriotic endeavor, funded by the government with the help of large contributions from American air and space companies. There are a lot of sly digs at the Soviet space program. Sputnik may have been the first satellite in space, say the placards, but the Discovery was far superior in design.

I kind of wanted to go through the museum with a fine-toothed comb and a Wikipedia search bar open. The museum didn’t lie, exactly, but it certainly glossed over some pretty critical, if unsavory, elements of the American space program.

One of which is the import of Nazi rocket scientists to the United States after the end of WW II.

The fact that the U.S. poached Nazi scientists to work on American projects is by no means a secret. It was common knowledge even in the 60s. The character of Dr. Strangelove, for instance, is one long joke about Americanized Nazi scientists.

A comic I have been enjoying lately is  The Manhattan Projects,  a mad science fictional take on the Cold War. I have my particular nerdy nitpicks about the series, but overall I think it’s great. The Manhattan Projects is an alternate history that includes aliens, robots, and transdimensional Toji gates powered by death Buddhists.

Wernher von Braun appears in the series with a robot arm.

von Braun w/ robot arm

Wernher von Braun appears frequently in the Air and Space Museum. There is no mention of his Nazi origins, or Operation Paperclip. In fact, it’s never even mentioned that he was originally from Germany. Wernher von Braun suddenly appears in the post-war pictures, with no mention of his origins. For anyone with a basic knowledge of space race history, it’s a pretty glaring omission.

In  The Manhattan Projects, von Braun’s Nazi origins are gleefully examined. Nazi scientists are a staple of the sort of pulp adventure stories the series draws from, and The Manhattan Projects portrays von Braun as a ruthless pragmatist whose primary loyalty is to science.

mp01

I think history is important. American history, in particular, often gets distorted through a patriotic lens. It’s especially telling, however, when an enthusiastically absurd comic book is willing to address elements of history that a national museum is not. The Air and Space Museum tells its own alternate history, one in which Soviet engineering is always inferior, the American moon landing was predestined, and Wernher von Braun coalesces from the ether after World War II and helpfully takes us into space.

The Spaces They Inhabit

Was it overly ambitious for me to set the goal of writing, finishing, and editing a science fictional yarn for the Clarion West Write-a-thon this year?

Probably. I’m spending July 3 – July 15 travelling across the country, and before that I packed my entire house into a relocation cube and shipped it off the rural Massachusetts, where I’ll be spending the next few months. Despite all this, or perhaps because of all this, I’ve actually been doing a quite a bit of writing. I have a 6,782 word skeletal draft of “Man of War”. It will probably get longer before it’s done, and then shorter as I edit it down.

I’ve never had much of an interest in writing hard science fiction, though I recently read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and loved it to pieces. Usually, though, I like it when things get weird.

I like the Kirby sort of cosmic. As I visualize the people and places and things in this story I’m writing, I’m finding myself drawn repeatedly to animation and comics. Kirby, yes, but I’ve also been really enjoying the contemporary Prophet and Saga. I’m revisiting shows about sad kids in giant robots and machine ladies.

The nice thing about immersing myself in other mediums, as opposed to focusing on prose fiction, is that I don’t have to worry so much about voice creep. I also find that studying the visual language of comics is very helpful to me as a writer of prose. Good comics are lessons in economy: a single issue can convey reams of information in 20-30 pages. They build worlds, fantastic or otherwise, with incredible efficiency. Comics also remind me to think about physicality more often. What are people doing as they spit dialogue back and forth? Where are they in the spaces they inhabit? What are their bodies communicating that their words aren’t?

Comics are also great about zooming in about mundanities of the fantastic in a way that completely knocks my socks off. X-men has always been as much about interpersonal drama as it is about punching bad guys. Chadwick’s Concrete is certainly the most realistic story about an invulnerable rock man ever written. It always impresses me when a story manages to balance space aliens  and ray guns with unrequited crushes and empty afternoons. I like big ideas, but I like my big ideas mixed with small moments that tell me who these people are and why I’m supposed to care about them.

Anyway, I should really get back to working on this thing. Maybe I’ll just read a few issues of Before the Incal first?

Notebook: Man of War

Once in a while a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go. I’ve been writing stories that are more explicitly science fictional this year, finally shrugging off the “genre fiction can’t be serious fiction” complex battered into me during my 16 years of schooling. It’s been nice. I’m writing a lot more than I used to, because I’m no longer worrying about whether or not I’m writing the right kind of thing. I’m just writing.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to work this pilot and her absurd spacefaring vessel into a story. Originally developed during my frantic Flash Fiction Fight to the Death, this concept has been pulling at me. What is it like to be a ship? How can this character be part of a functional story embryo? How do you force a ship out of its comfort zone?

A few days ago I figured it out, wrote for a heady five hours after getting home from work, and now I have a skeletal rough draft. This is one of the longer things I’ve tried recently, and it’s also the most plot-heavy. The story propels itself. It’s been an interesting piece to work with.

In the tradition of the process posts I wrote while thesising, I thought it might be interesting to post a list of the disparate things I’m absorbing and thinking about as I write this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some gratuitous space battles.

Poetry

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the above Bukowski poem. I think I stumble over microfiction because I keep forgetting that it needs to have the precision, timing, and rhythm of poetry. I haven’t written poetry since I was 17. I keep trying to write microfiction, though, because one day I’d like to be able to tell a story as concisely and brutally as that poem does.

I am working on two pieces of microfiction right now. One is called “Paperback Romance” and the other is called “Mars”.  The first is somewhat satirical, the second is sincere, and both of them are steeped in my usual sort of genre melancholy.

Microfiction is a puzzle I am trying to figure out.  My brain is extending tender new dendrites in its direction.

Hey, Internet: Vol. 2

A litte late this week.  I’d like to get Hey, Internet out on Sunday mornings, so that you can absorb it while you drink coffee and slowly return to consciousness.  Instead, you can read it tonight while you drink beer and decompress from work.  In case you were wondering, the theme song to the Hey, Internet weekly link crawl sounds an awful lot like this.

ボブ (Bob)

A novella published in three parts by The Collagist.  I loved loved loved this thing.  The point of view is particularly neat; I wouldn’t call it third-person so much as wraith-person.

Alpha 60 Speaks of Fear

A poem, also from  The Collagist.

FLOWCHART: Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

I have a lot of new things to read now, though I was surprised by how many of these I’ve already read.  I looked over this flowchart and thought, “Wow!  I am a pretty big nerd!”

The Books Business: Great Digital Expectations

I continue to be obsessed with the digitization of literature, despite the fact that I don’t own a digital reader.

Black Lodge: Twin Peaks Video Game

I am absurdly excited to play this.  “A day in the FBI was never like this before! You are Special Agent Dale Cooper and you’ve found yourself trapped inside of the Black Lodge, a surreal and dangerous place between worlds.”

The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines

I could write an essay about the DC reboot, except I’m never going to go read the DC reboot.  That, and Laura Hudson already did it for me.  There’s a reason why I tend to follow my favorite writers around the legacy series rather than following the series themselves.  One of the many, many things I love about Grant Morrison?  He writes female characters like a champ.

The Libertine Adventures of Scott and Jean, or Genocidal Orgasm and Mystical Unions in the Dark Phoenix Saga

Speaking of female comic book characters, Christopher Lirette wrote a really neat essay about the Dark Phoenix Saga over HTMLGiant.  Despite the essay’s long title, it’s readable and not excessively wanky.  He also points out something I really should have noticed before.  You guys!  CYCLOPS IS THE MALE GAZE!

American Juggalo

When will I stop being endlessly fascinated by juggalos?  Not today.

Hey, Internet: Vol. 1

Homesense Bikemap

Dear reader, part of my job now is to read blogs.  Really.  Fantastic, but true.  When I’m not reading the slush pile or schilling magazines or writing e-mails for ASF, I’m reading blogs.  I’m supposed to stay knowledgeable about the current discussions and trends happening in the great big world of writing.

I thought you might enjoy seeing the more interesting things I found over the last week.  Some of this is pulled from lit blogs, some of it is courtesy of friends, and some of it comes from my personal explorations.  I have, magpie-like, collected the shiny bits and arrayed them for you, dear reader.  I’ll try to make this a regular feature.

This week I have a couple stories, some internet objects, a short critical history of fandom, and, of course, David Foster Wallace.

Concerning the Bodyguard

Donald Barthelme is very high on my list of favorite authors.  And this is one of my favorite Barthelme stories.  With bonus Salman Rushdie!

The Astronaut

This story was published a few months ago, but I’m still reading it and thinking about it.  Melissa Goodrich does exactly what I want to do.  She takes something speculative and renders it in a way that is very ordinary and true.

The Internet with Things

Russel Davies on the Internet of/with Things.  This article makes me want to build personalized LED-and-paper maps that can tell me exactly what I need to know.  Though Davies says I might need to find a tame programmer to help me with the code.  “They’re turning from mucking about with the web to mucking about with the real world because there seems to be a whole new set of interesting things to invent, unoccupied, uncolonised space.”

Reading and Writing Electronic Text

I really wish I could take this course. Developing algorithms to randomize and cycle text seems like it could actually motivate me to learn Python.

Guest Informant: Jess Nevins

A very short critical history of fandom. Specifically, commonplace books of the 19th century.  Apparently Byron used to write poems for his nubile young fans.  Oh, Byron.

Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace

Maude Newton takes on the rhetorical gambits of DFW. An interesting critique.  I often think about whether my online voice is consistent or not and, lately, as I’ve been producing content for other people, about writing in a house voice versus my own voice.  Whether I’m writing as a magazine asking you to subscribe, or as an individual asking you to read me, I’m still, essentially, trying to get you to like me.

Charlie Rose Interviews David Foster Wallace

I rarely watch or listen to interviews with David Foster Wallace, so it’s strange to hear his voice in real time as opposed to in text.  It may have made me weep a little into my Saturday morning tea.  The DFW segment starts about 23 minutes in.  This is particularly interesting to watch after reading the Maude Newton article.