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22 July 2015 @ 10:15 am
I tried to respond on sff.net's Obituary column to the announcement of Doctorow's death, but was reminded that I do not have posting priveleges at that august venue.  So here:

RAGTIME was "The" Great American Novel of my generation -- in grad school in
the seventies.  Still a lovely kitchen sink of a book.  I read it in the Iowa
Writers Workshop in a class taught by Vance Bourjaily -- both of them "obscure
American novelists of the late 20th century" now.  Both of them poetic energetic
novelists not afraid of huge themes.
I guess the best any of us (temporarily popular novelists) can expect from posterity
is an elegaic remembrance in some obscure venue.  Better to have lived in lust
than never have lusted at all.


22 July 2015 @ 08:49 am
A correspondent reminded me that yesterday was Ernest Hemingway's birthday, which I don't often remember . . . not like I remember the anniversary of his death, which affected me, perhaps profoundly.

I'd just turned eighteen, and had ambitions to be a writer – though I hadn't written much, really.  Started a novel but it sputtered out.  That night I staggered out of a bar in Washington, D.C. with some cronies and saw the early headlines of Hemingway's death.  The first story said it was an accident, cleaning a double-barreled shotgun.  How on Earth could that happen?  You would notice when the cleaning rod didn't go through.

The gang I was with were all science fiction readers, but we knew Hemingway, or at least about him.  We sat down in a Howard Johnson's to drink coffee and sober up before the drive home and traded what little we knew about the man, and what little we knew about suicide.

I know a lot more about Hemingway now, but suicide is still a primal mystery to me.  Optimistic me.  Hemingway was a physical wreck from a lifetime of alcoholism and the sequelae of a dozen serious accidents – how many people survive two plane crashes in the same week? – and doctors kept him drugged to the gills for pain and depression.  He tried to commit suicide several times after he left the hospital, and finally succeeded, with a little help from his wife.  Cynics say she was sick and tired of him, and left a loaded shotgun in the kitchen for his convenience.  I don't think it was that deliberate.  (The fact that the shotgun was loaded, some writers don't seem to understand, was unremarkable in their household.  They were both inveterate hunters and had experienced a lot of combat.  The house was and remains isolated and vulnerable.)

The suicide was tragic, but in pharmaceutical and psychological perspective it was unsurprising, perhaps predictable.  Would it have happened today?  Maybe not.  He'd had his skull blasted with line-current electroshock therapy several times and was washing down antidepressants with one or two bottles of red wine a day.  He was sturdy as a bull, but those of us who read Hemingway know that bulls are vulnerable, and fated.

19 July 2015 @ 04:13 pm
Back from England, into the thick Florida heat.  It's been worse, though.  I went out this morning and pedaled around for eight or ten miles, and didn't melt.  Then went into the coffee house Mi Apå for a double espresso, and then on to my regular work space, CYM Café, where I had regular coffee and a beer, first in the sultry porch heat and then in air-conditioning, meanwhile writing 454 words, which is a little more than usual.

I don't mind the hot days, but wish we had some clear nights.  All work and no stars makes Joe a dull boy.  I have a brand-new set-up, a ten-inch RFT (rich field telescope) that I've hardly used.

It's in the mid-nineties now but will be cooling off a bit for the rest of the week, thanks to daily thunderstorms.  That will be the pattern for the next month or so.  Then it will be radioactive meteorites and occasional pterodactyl storms, but <shrug> that's Florida.  Mothers send their kids off to school with "Don't forget your gas mask!" and give them an extra clip of dum-dums for the bicycle commute home.  No, that's not until tomorrow.  Sunday keeps the tough guys off the street, where the parole officers are trolling for truants.  They shoot to kill.

England was relaxing but, you know, nothing has happened there since the Stuarts' heydays.  Well, I'll give you the Beatles.  (Which are nothing compared to Florida cockroaches, the size of spaniels.)

Had a very attractive model for figure studies yesterday.  The moral arbiters of computerland won't let me transmit a drawn image of a nude, but here's a picture of her face.  You'll have to use your imagination for the rest.

(Of course you're only two clicks away from live bestiality, or one away from Ann Coulter.  But the Internet knows what's good for you.)

(Which might be a powerful argument for privatization.  How much would you pay to see Ann Coulter bite the head off a live (liberal) chicken?)

Better withdraw that offer.  Don't want to overload my server . . .

13 July 2015 @ 06:48 am
All day yesterday was given over to transportation, leaving the Dublin hotel right after breakfast and taking a succession of taxis, trains, and ferries to wind up in Chester after 11:00 p.m.

The ferry ride was very smooth, only a little rocking and swaying.  We didn't opt for a cabin, but the main area wasn't crowded.  Big wall-sized teevee screen showing interminable golf.  Misting rain most of the time.  I only went out on deck a couple of times, to accompany Wendi on her cigarette breaks.  (Wishing I was still smoking my pipe!)

We had a nice meal on the ferry, Swedish meatballs with loganberry sauce.  Free wine in first class, pour your own.  I enjoyed reading the book from the conference, The Impossible Craft, Scott Donaldson's long personal essay on the challenges of writing literary biography.  (Donaldson wrote landmark books on Fitzgerald and Hemingway, among others.)

It was interesting to compare that genre with the problems of writing fiction, which are surprisingly similar.  (If your characters' descendants could sue you!)

The sun has come up on Chester, a town with a lot of medieval ruins that still has an intact Roman wall.  Hope to have some spots of clear weather for a watercolor.  The town looked pretty picturesque in the darkness last night.

02 July 2015 @ 11:50 am
Last night Gay and I went with her sister Wendi and Judith Clute to see the new rendition of the musical High Society at the Old Vic, a stirring recreation – resembling the 1956 movie more than the 1939 stage play (The Philadelphia Story), experts say.  Good enough; that was a great movie.

A note to myself – when I get back to the states  want to rent or buy the 1956 movie, which has Louis Armstrong as the musician character.  He was played by jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe in the play last night, absolutely smooth and jazzy.  There was an eye-popping four-handed windmilling performance with Stilgoe twining arms impossibly with the Musical Director Theo Jamieson, standing behind him – that tour de force was worth the price of admission alone.

We had a sturdy pub lunch beforehand with cocktails in the interval, but were too tired to make a whole evening of it.  Age and travel fatigue – Cole Porter would have just popped another bottle of champagne, I'm sure, and partied into the night.  But they were built of sterner stuff back then.

He chain-smoked nonfilter Camel cigarettes and boozed constantly and lived to be 73.  Just think of how long he might've lived if he'd entered a monastery instead.  His music might have been less interesting.

Last night we went off to see "Invasion of Privacy," a very interesting play about the life of Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, author of The Yearling and other regional fiction set in Florida.  (She hated that "regional" label, but it does fit.)  The play was about a lawsuit that Rawlings got stuck with, when a local character – quite a character, it turned out – sued her for invasion of privacy.  After a long and (for Rawlings) grueling court battle, she wound up paying one dollar.  But it sapped her strength and spirit, and she left Florida, her writing career essentially over.

I read The Yearling when we moved to Gainesville thirty years ago, and found it a worthwhile YA novel, but I've always liked her chatty cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery, more.  I've visited her well-preserved cottage many times; it's a great place to take visiting writers.  Until a few years ago, they kept one of her typewriters on the porch, and maintained it in working order.  So you could sit where she used to sit, and type your own deathless prose.

It's still one of the best literary tourist spots in Florida.  People who don't care for literature can still enjoy the Yearling Restaurant nearby, with all kinds of Rawlings memorabilia. and dam' fine southern cooking as well.  A good place for alligator, now that it's off the endangered species list.  Cooter (freshwater softshell turtle) is wonderful, but rarely available.  Catfish and trout are fine, but I most love their frog legs and quail.  And atmosphere.  They sometimes have a black guy who fingerpicks a wonderful steel guitar and sings murky lyrics.

They say when Hemingway drove down toward Key West in the thirties, he took a detour to see Rawlings and Cross Creek.  I'm not sure that's true, but it should be, and you should do it, too.

17 June 2015 @ 08:30 am
Yesterday we fled the record-breaking Florida heat for the airconditioned screamfest of Jurassic World, which I think was the same story as Jurassic Park, with similar but different dinosaurs.  Handsome leading man, check; sexy female scientist who shucks her lab coat as quickly as possible, check; adult scientists and other authority figures for comic relief and villains, check; young boy and girl as bait, check.  No  gross-out dinosaur-shit jokes; they must have scored low on the audience response surveys.

One real improvement was that this time they had good-guy and bad-guy dinosaurs.  The scientists had scientifically implanted morals in some of them, but alas, some of these got the bad kind of morals.  Two hundred tons of surly rabid carnivore – maybe we should think this through, Jim. An antepenultimate scene where the good dinosaurs defend the humans against the bad dinosaurs –

Jesus.  I just realized that I wrote that as a comic book when I was eleven years old.  Then frittered away the intervening six decades having a life!

I coulda been a contender.  But I read some actual science fiction, and then got infected by a liberal arts degree . . . .
16 June 2015 @ 09:59 am
Sorry to see that Wolfgang Jeschke has died.  He was seven years older than me, born three years into Hitler's reign.  I remember sitting with him on a kerb in Ireland maybe thirty years ago, talking about his childhood.  He could remember searchlights scanning the midnight skies as American and British bombers droned overhead, dropping clusters and strings of bombs that boomed and crackled in the distance.  He and his friends were too young to be afraid, and marveled at the powerful beauty of it all.   Of course their parents found them and scooted them into the nearest shelter.

He was my editor and sometimes translator, and we raised many a wrist in our mutual hatred of war and love of science fiction.  Grüß Gott, mein alter Freund.
16 June 2015 @ 09:20 am
Relaxed for a bit with the Questar last night.  Got a quick glance at Jupiter before it set and then Saturn came up in the east.  (Unsurprising.)  As usual it was hauntingly beautiful, a golden orb in impossible balance, huge forces spinning in apparent tranquility on the frozen edge of the classical solar system.  The air was still enough for me to use 350X.  The Cassini Division was clear, a fine black line splitting the large ring system, and the Crepe Ring was visible as a slight smudge against the pale yellow of the planet's atmosphere.  Three moons visible, with Titan showing as a tiny circle at that power.

Good job for the Questar, almost 60 years old, pushing a hundred power per inch.  And these eyes, rather older.

02 May 2015 @ 06:07 pm
While we were in the air between Poland and Florida, this story unfolded–
Thursday, 11:18 AM: EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros. and Sony are battling to set up
the feature adaptation of the popular sci-fi actioner The Forever War with Channing
Tatum attached to star and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers)
scripting. The Forever War, written by Joe Haldeman, is considered one of the
best science fiction stories of all time and won numerous awards. The book,
which also was continued in two sequel novels, was written in 1974 and also
spawned a graphic novel. The story is an analogy about the Vietnam War, a endless
war where soldiers fight with no clear idea about why they are engaged in combat.
So something indeed has happened/is happening.  I await word from my agent (who
alerted me when the first story broke) and of course a line of sweating minions
pushing wheelbarrows full of money up my sidewalk.
UPDATED, Thursday, 6:15 PM: Warner Bros outbid Sony late Thursday after a spirited
negotiation and is now in business with a new possible franchise, The Forever
War with Channing Tatum on board to star. The script is being penned by Jon
Spaihts and will be based on Joe Haldeman’s book. Richard Edlund had the rights
to the book for 27 years, and it had been at Fox for the past seven with Ridley
Scott, but after several scripts, it never made it to the big screen. Hopefully,
this time, the 41-year-old classic sci-fi novel — said to be one of the best
books of the genre — finally will get made.
Fingers and toes crossed!