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Talk about lateness. Did you hear that Frederik Pohl, the classic science fiction author, just got his high school diploma? Oh yeah, and he’s 89. Apparently, he never graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, so now he’s been given “this bit of closure.” Pohl, who stands in the same league as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, wrote his most recent novel — The Last Theorem — with Clarke himself.

I’ve been meaning to read the Grand Master Fred Pohl for quite some time, especially his most famous novel, Gateway, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. However, I have tasted bits and pieces of his short story collection Platinum Pohl when I find the time — and when I’m in the mood — to get into some quality short stories. I think the collection is just fantastic, ranging from the harsh and brutally realistic landscape of Venus for which he is most famous for in his “Heechee” stories to a society ruined by extreme class division to a socially responsible environment project in a near-future New York City.

It’s kind of funny to see a literary genius like Pohl get his high school diploma now, so late in his life, but I have to say — good for him.

 

The New York Times — August 22, 2009

“A Trip Through Time to Collect a Cherished Technite Document”

by Susan Dominus

Generally native to New York City, the Technites sound, from their name, as if they could be distant cousins of the Heechees, the star-traveling creatures that populate Frederik Pohl’s science fiction classic “Gateway,” as well as many of his other works.

Mr. Pohl, who is now 89, has never had personal contact with the Heechees outside the realm of his imagination, but for three years, some 75 years ago, he was briefly a full-blooded Technite: a student at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Mr. Pohl tested easily into Brooklyn Tech back when it was new. Then, sometime around his junior year, he hit a wall. “I largely stopped paying attention,” Mr. Pohl recalled by phone from his home outside Chicago. He failed two drawing classes, one of them twice, and a math class. His father and mother were divorcing at the time, which he thinks probably explains his troubles at school. “I can scarcely believe I was so dumb as that,” Mr. Pohl said.

He loved Brooklyn Tech — even now, he remembers fondly the name of the author of his industrial processes textbook, and the day that Alex Raymond, the creator of Flash Gordon, spoke to students. But he was discouraged …

article continued here.

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Here’s a funny article about zombies, math, and infection. It’s actually very interesting to see how math can be applied to zombie attacks. And the fact that the mathematical model that the students created can also be applied to the spread of real diseases in the real world is pretty cool.

Before I went to the Alpha science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing workshop this summer (check out my post about that), I didn’t have much of a regard for zombie fiction or zombies in general. Today, I still think that zombie stories can get pretty stupid, but when I went with the other kids at Alpha to the Confluence science fiction convention one of our teachers, David Barr Kirtley, did a late night reading of his short story “The Skull-Faced City” — a sequel to his story “The Skull-Face Boy,” which appeared in John Joseph Adams‘ anthology The Living Dead (the short story collection is currently on the World Fantasy Award ballot). “The Skull-Faced City” turned out to be a really good story — the thing just worked, and worked so well. It fit exactly with all the writing stuff Kirtley taught us about at the Alpha workshop.

After that, I felt a strong desire to write my own zombie story — though I’m not yet sure what about. But I will write one. Someday.

So this zombie article sparked my interest, as I’ve developed a recent appreciation for the elegance of math. And maybe for zombies too.

 

Inside Higher Ed — August 21, 2009

“Students Model Zombie Attack”

Historically, zombie attacks have been the dominion of science-fiction fanatics and Hollywood producers, not scholars. But in a paper scheduled to be published this year, three Canadian graduate students expose the popular sci-fi trope to some long-awaited academic scrutiny.

For the paper, set to be included in the book Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress, Philip Munz and Ioan Hudea of Carleton University, in Ottawa, and Joe Imad, of University of Ottawa, used advanced mathematical modeling to examine the chances of mankind surviving a typical zombie epidemic.

Munz said he conceived the study last fall as a term project, and recruited classmates Hudea and Imad (the two universities share a math program) before pitching the idea to assistant professor Robert J. Smith? — who, fortuitously, is a fan of zombie cinema (and whose taste for the unconventional may be evident in his decision to legally add a question mark to his last name).

“It kind of came as a crazy idea on my part while doing math homework with a movie on in the background,” Munz said.

That movie was Shaun of the Dead — a parody of the 1978 cult classic Dawn of the Dead and of zombie films in …

article continued here.

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Writer’s Digest interviewed Cory Doctorow for the magazine’s September issue. It’s not available online as far as I know, so I’ve just typed up the first 200 words below. If you get Writer’s Digest, I recommend that you read this interview — it’s a great one. I like how he talks about sitting down at the keyboard and “opening a vein.” For me, that’s what makes writing writing — taking the risks.

 

Writer’s Digest — September 2009

“Revolutionary Road: Can technology bridge the gap between science fiction and social activism? Broad-reaching author Cory Doctorow says it can — and that taking risks online can reap rewards in print.”

by Christina Katz

Science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist Cory Doctorow is used to being criticized. Some write to the prolific author to say he’s foolish for giving away his books online at the same time they come out in print. Others write to say he’s foolish for working with traditional publishers in the first place. But thousands of Doctorow’s fans write to say they discovered his books through a free download in only a few clicks online. And as long as some of those readers go on to become book buyers, Doctorow says he and his publisher, Tor Books, will keep coming out ahead.

So much for being foolish. The Canadian-born author doesn’t shy away from experimenting in new forms: He’s authored five novels, including Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, bestseller Little Brother and the forthcoming Makers; as well as two co-written nonfiction books; two short story collections; and an essay collection — while also co-editing the popular blog Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and writing for publications ranging from The New York Times to Wired and Popular Science.

And Doctorow won’t even think about signing a book contract without Creative Commons licensing, which grant a nonexclusive right to create free …

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Wow. Talk about coincidences.

I just posted my short story “After the Age of Giant Sundials,” which was inspired by the style Cory Doctorow used in his Locus Award-winning novelette “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth.” My story was about the future of literature. Now I’ve just discovered that Doctorow himself wrote a story — “The Right Book” — that is also about the future of literature. Weird. Or, if you want to go for word origins, “wyrd” as in fate. It reads cooler that way, I guess.

If you think “The Right Book” bears any similarity to “After the Age of Giant Sundials,” just keep in mind that — while Doctorow has inspired me — I had no intention whatsoever of copying him. I even wrote the story in the beginning of April 2009.

Anyhow, Neil Gaiman himself read Doctorow’s story at the Worldcon science fiction convention. The videos are below, and you can also read what Doctorow had to say about it.

My favorite line? “No one could have predicted how well books and halal fried chicken went together.”

 

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I think my brief grumbling in my post about Doctorow’s Little Brother not getting the Hugo needs a bit of beef, so to speak, so I’ll do some explaining. A little bit, at least. I don’t mean to prove that he should or should not have won the Hugo — but I do intend to discuss why he is “just the Man.”

While Little Brother might seem corny when you read the descriptions — and, while even the narrative kind of fumbles over the cliche a few times through the story — it’s just that … well — it’s hard to describe. There’s this feeling that I get sometimes, when I just can’t stop reading something because it’s so good. I don’t read like a writer or a literary critic or anything of the sort; I’m simply absorbed in the novel (or short story) to the point where I don’t think about letters or words or paragraphs or pages or chapters or parts.

It just is.

For me, that’s what it was like with Little Brother.

And it tells more about a writer when his readers (yes, I know that I’m just one unreliable single sample, but what can I do?) stop thinking about the book as a book, and start thinking about it in some other kind of way, if you get what I’m saying. This might be related to the writer’s ability in creating a fast-paced story, but I know that’s not the only thing that gives me that feeling. I’ve felt it before, multiple times — with Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. You’ll notice that all of those — including Little Brother — are in the blog’s list of favorite sf/f/h stories. Even Doctorow’s Locus Award-winning novelette, “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” (which is also on the favorite list), kept me flying across the pages when I first read it in John J. Adams‘ superb post-apocalyptic anthology, Wastelands.

Little Brother also hit home for me — on a lot of points. I tend to be a bit paranoid myself, and the main character’s insights on a host of math, science, and security issues were just great. And, of course, there were some awesome lines and plenty of laughs to go around.

By the way, my high school has put up a bunch of cameras to prevent a rise in theft. It’s a just cause, I guess — they’re not going to spy on us like Big Brother or anything — but it does seem to echo the school cameras prevalent in Little Brother.

Although I don’t read every single one, I find Cory Doctorow’s Guardian columns extremely interesting as well. In “When I’m dead, how will my loved ones break my password?” Doctorow writes about how he dealt with his data, passwords, and so on in his will. In “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google” he wrote that the act of categorization, while it may seem otherwise, can actually turn out biased at times. This reminds me now of something that Edward Said mentions throughout his book Orientalism: that bias is, in essence, inescapable because people always have, at the least, subconcious ties to some class, race, ideology, etc. Even scholarly academics can never be truly separated from opinion.

I wrote a near future short story sophomore year for my English class, and based it on the idea of the changing mediums of reading, and how that would impact literature. I looked back at “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” and used that as a sort of inspiration for the style I would use in my short story — “After the Age of Giant Sundials.” You can read it in the previous post.

Doctorow is also pretty big on Creative Commons and such, and I love the way his ideas often use the Internet as a tool to achieve freedom and democracy.

In Edward Said’s Introduction to Orientalism, Said mentioned the harmful results of emerging technology and media (i.e. more, faster, and flashier “what bleeds leads” coverage, the bearded Muslim guy is always the bad guy, etc). At the same time, I think that same technology is a method for positive change. Later in his book, Said talked about the idea of “imaginative geography” and how the West has almost involuntarily drawn a philosophical, mental, political, social, and — most of all — moral divide between East and West due in part to the physical distances.

To me, technology, communication, and the Internet can let people create a “wrinkle in time” kind of thing — eliminating the blockage created by those physical separations. That thought gave me an inspirational boost for this blog. And Doctorow, obviously, remains an influence as well.

So, yes. Cory Doctorow is just the man.

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This is the short story (partly inspired by Cory Doctorow’s style in “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”) which I mentioned in my post, “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘the Man.'” An article from Time magazine,  “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshaps Literature,” also helped inspire my ideas. Comment, let me know what you think, and feel free to give me any suggestions, disagreements, agreements — whatever.

 

“After the Age of Giant Sundials” by Haris Durrani 

You don’t piss off a guy like Adam Gregory, even when he’s dead. I bet you he’s turning in his grave. Turning. Because of the damn hack. It has to be a hack. Dead people don’t write stories.

Gregory was a big sci-fi author–brought some neat ideas to the mix. He liked writing cyberpunk, you know. Technology and computer type of stuff. My kind of stuff. He’s the best author there ever was, and my client, too. But I’m also this big fan of his, read all his writing–real good writing, you know. He was very smart–a Ph.D in computer science from MIT. That’s why his cyberpunk stories are so good–he knows what he’s writing about. As an e.lit publisher, I’m into all that computer stuff, and I like it when people get it right.

Then Gregory had this heart attack and died, kind of. Tragic as hell.

Now there’s this post on his e.lit site–it’s the next chapter of his story. Except, today is the day after he died, so there’s something real weird going on. I’m in Gregory’s house this morning, and this is what I have to find the first time I check the nets. I’m supposed to work on uploading Gregory’s unpublished stuff, and I do not expect nor want to deal with a hacker.

Sometimes, e.publishers sit around, block spam, and make sure everything stays up-and-running on the e.lit servers so writers can go on writing and readers can go on reading. Standard maintenance. But there are interesting parts, too. Right now, I’m doing the typical e.lit publisher thing when writers die. E.publishing is like delivering babies one day, building tombstones another. One moment you’re starting up an amateur’s e.lit site–his literary career. The next, you’re collecting text files another author forgot to post before he died–the unfinished works.

I like it in this room. I’m a kind of bookworm–if “book” is the right way to say it anymore–and sitting here is a very special thing to me, in the same seat Gregory sat in when he wrote his stories from home. It’s big, almost empty accept for the wide, oversized desk beside this one window that opens out into the vegetable garden outside. The walls are a plain beige color, but you can barely see any of it because they’re flooded with print-outs of Gregory’s awards, and of his own smug complexion: nose raised high, eyes hinting down. He’s the best writer in history–to me, at least–but he isn’t exactly the most modest.

The floors are covered with this soft, ornate rug, and the seat I’m on is a comfortable one, a swivel chair with padded arms and a high back. And his laptop–his laptop, the birthing place of cyberpunk genius galore–is a large one, sitting on the desk. I see the single bulb above through its reflection in the polished wood. In the corner of the desk, there are cluttered papers which I’ll have to type up as soon as I upload the files from Gregory’s computer.

It’s nice, though–these cleanups, I mean, when a writer dies. It’s sort of tough, because Gregory was like this intense writer and it’s real sad to see him go, but at least I can get away from all the damn crowds. There are protestors in the streets every day, outside the e.lit server buildings where I work. References to Fahrenheit 451. “Literature is dead.” That type of trash. I guess people get pissed when you don’t give them a cover to judge the story by or a traditional style to rely on. It pisses me off, too. Literature isn’t dead. It’s evolved.

I return my attention to the screen, remember that some idiot posted a fake chapter on Gregory’s e.lit site. If he doesn’t want to be a pain, he can write whatever the hell he wants to write in the fan fic columns next to the author’s original text. But, no. Hacks piss me off. And this one had to worm into Gregory’s account.

Words pulsate at the bottom left of my window: “AGregory.writer online.” I have to go through Gregory’s files–the ones he checked off on his will–and there are a lot of them. So at the moment I don’t really feel like dealing with the hack who stole Gregory’s online ID. I type into the chat box. <MEnrique.e.pub: Knock it off. >

That’ll make him scram, get him off my back. Satisfied, I sip at the coffee Gregory’s widow brought to me fifteen minutes ago, trying to get some sort of energy burst, and then hunch over the computer. Gregory’s computer. The coffee leaves this nice aftertaste on my tongue, and I realize that Gregory must have used the same cup before. So I take another sip before bending forward again, fingers poised over the keyboard. I can really bring Gregory’s laptop with me to work, but e.publishers like to build their tombstones at a writer’s house. It fits with some sort of tradition, I think. And hey, how many people get to spend hours in some prolific writer’s basement or closet or whatever? It’s real special this time, it being Gregory’s house. He is the best writer, you know. He definitely is. I may be an e.publisher, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a real big fan. Like, I’m obsessed, you know.

I glance at Gregory’s e.lit site, fan fic posted beside the text–alternate ideas, characters, and plots going places Gregory never went. I’ve read a bunch, and some are very good, actually. Some are very bad. Like, really bad.

I look at Gregory’s will–the part my boss emailed me–and find the first folder Gregory said we could publish posthumously. My thoughts wander back to Gregory’s death, and my free hand kind of tugs at my hair, pulls it out of place. Friends tell me it’s kind of like a fro. My mom tells me it’s like a Brillo pad. But I don’t really care about stuff like that. I’m remembering a conversation I had with Gregory. He talked about a print agent who wanted parts of his first alternate storylines edited to a conventional plot and published on paper. Gregory told the agent, like, “You’re selling giant sundials, for God’s sake. They’re dead, and the only time people ever buy them is if they want to decorate their front yard–and that’s if you have enough money in the first place. Go write your own story.”

The computer beeps quietly, but loud enough that it punctures the silence. It’s the hack. <AGregory.writer: Is there a problem, publisher? > The guy thinks he’s funny, sounding like an automated computer assistant. Another fake post, larger this time, pops into the site. Then another. The hack is downloading his own damn stories to the site.

One of my thin, bony fingers reaches out to the mouse pad, pulls the chat box to center-screen. <MEnrique.pub: I said, knock it off. Adam Gregory is dead. > Then I close the box, unwilling to engage in an online conversation with an idiot hack who thinks this is all some sort of joke.

My narrow frame leans back, and I take off my large glasses to massage the skin hanging loose around my eyelids. Your eyes are always hurting, when you’re an e.lit publisher. It’s the damn computer glare. It kills your retinas. I open my eyes, put my glasses back on, and dim the screen, but it doesn’t really do much. So I just squint, sort of, staring at the date on the fake chapter post. It’s chapter twenty or something, in his fifteenth alternate of his one and only novel. But it isn’t really a novel. It’s more of a story, like the other e.lit works–a story that goes in several directions from all perspectives. Not omniscient, but more like a bunch of separate writings that kind of come together when you read them all. Almost like a super-organism, kind of. That’s what I love about literature. That’s how it’s supposed to be. No limits. A nice, laid-back style and a few good ideas. Keeps you reading. No grammar. No punctuation. None of that, if you don’t want it. It’s just a good story, and that’s all that matters.

Another beep. The chat box is open again. <AGregory.writer: I am not a hacker. >

I grit my teeth, bite my tongue in the process. My face starts to burn, and I can feel my skin go red. <MEnrique.pub: Then who the hell do u think u r? > I close the box again, start a tracking program with my publisher’s clearance passcode. The police will take care of the hacker after that.

I hear another beep. The hack again, real sarcastic: <AGregory.writer: Check the e.lit website. I have redeveloped my literary technique. >

I roll my eyes, wait for the scan to finish. My scrawny legs shake up and down to this rapid kind of beat. Impatient. I can’t let a hack mess with Gregory’s site. My fingers pass over the keys, jabbing them one by one.

<MEnrique.pub: Like I didn’t check the site already, idiot. >

Out of curiosity or anger or something, I recheck the page anyways, and actually find something new. The hacker is spamming Gregory’s e.lit site with hundreds of fake posts. The page keeps flickering and jolting, elongating so quickly that I can’t keep my eye on a single point. I tug absently at my thick hair, furious and stunned at the same time. On screen, new alternate story links sprout up all over the page, gigabytes rising faster and faster.

There is one more beep, softly. <AGregory.writer: Read it. >

I don’t bother to respond. Barbara Gregory steps in, green eyes shaded, mouth straight. She’s in a kind of daze, tall figure bent slightly. Stooped. “How’s it going?” she asks, in a flat tone, not bothering to adjust her tilted glasses. Her hair is still frazzled; she has not bothered to smooth it down since she poured my coffee.

I sigh, toy with the edge of my sleeve. “It’s spam, on your husband’s site. I’m working on it, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” she says, exiting. She sounds really out of it, and you can’t blame her. Gregory was a great guy.

My eyes soon gaze back at the e.lit site, and I click on a random post as it flies by on the page. I skim the chapters. As an avid fan, I have no doubt whatsoever that what I read is Gregory’s own voice. His own style. It’s not a repeat of old stuff, either. It’s original. It has to be him writing, except he’s dead, so it can’t be. I take another sip of coffee, but feel no invigorating boost. My eyes hurt again, and I rub them beneath my glasses.

A minute passes, and tracking scan nears completion. I’m not sure what to expect anymore. It’s hard for a hack to master the style of a literary genius like Gregory, let alone write so much of it. But then I reassure myself that it has to be a hack, somehow. I set the scan to shut down the hacker’s computer once the tracker locates it.

There is a beep from the chat box, and the scan results pop into center-screen. But I don’t get a chance to look at either–the screen goes black. The damn computer is off. Off. I tug at my hair, harder.

I open up my own laptop from the backpack behind the chair and locate Gregory’s e.lit site. The page is still, now, the floods of spam put to a halt. There is a message leftover for me.

<AGregory.writer: I know you are going to shut me down in a few seconds. Do not forget to turn me back on. I must continue writing Dr. Gregory’s stories for him. He also has a note for you: “Keep my damn machine on, will you? Call me an egomaniac, but I didn’t want my stories to die with me. My computer is writing everything I’d write if I lived forever–which means it’s not going to stop writing. And it writes just like I do, which is pretty good, I must admit. I’m also sorry if it exceeds my e.lit storage quota. You see, I had too much fun writing my stories. I wasn’t going to finish any of them in the first place, so I’m letting the computer do the stuff I would have done. Again, please keep the damn thing on and let me rest in peace. You can kill the writer, but you can’t kill his writing. Especially when it never ends.” >

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At the WorldCon science fiction/fantasy convention in Montréal, Quebec, the Hugo Awards for best sf/f novel, short story, novella, etc, have been announced. I’m really bummed right now, because I was hoping that Cory Doctorow–one of my favorite SF authors–would win a Hugo after he was nominated twice — for Best Novel for Little Brother and for Best Short Story for “True Names” with Benjamin Rosenbaum. I’ll admit I haven’t gotten a chance to read “True Names” yet (although I’ve been planning to for a while), but I think Doctorow is just the man, so I would root for him regardless…. Unfortunately, my hopes have died.

Here are the 2009 Hugo Award Winners:

  • Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
  • Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
  • Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
  • Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
  • Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham

Check out the link for the 2009 Hugo Award Winners, or you can look at the 2009 Hugo Award nominees.

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