01-08-10: NPR Morning Edition Report: Authors Find Fertile Mix Of Science And Religion
Here's where I thank readers and listeners for their support of NPR, which in turn, supports me, and thus, this column. If you want this stuff to keep coming, and I have a lot of great material in the hopper, then the best way to assure that is to go to the NPR websites for the "Science and Religion" report and enter your comments. I'm finishing up the first podcast week of this year with a high-quality MP3 version of the report that recently ran on Morning Edition — on January 1, 2010. Nice way to start the year!
One of the nice things about this report was that it came together after I'd already interviewed Karen Armstrong. I really like her work, it's utterly fascinating. She has a way of synthesizing history and the philosophy behind history that makes her work compulsively readable and consistently entertaining.
But in my queue after 'The Case for God' was 'The Year of the Flood,' and it was only after I'd done the interview with Armstrong that I noticed Margaret Atwood's credit to Armstrong in the back of 'The Year of the Flood,' her sequel to 'Oryx and Crake.' I'd actually read 'Oryx and Crake' before the Armstrong book. I thought that the Armstrong would be a good between-books palate-cleanser.
01-07-10: Thomas Frank and the Populists of the GOP : "The Demented Logic of American Politics"
We apparently live in a world where the past, say, 30 years, can be swept aside with a few bracing words. Thomas Frank, author of 'What's the Matter With Kansas?' and 'The Wrecking Crew', alas, has a tendency to remember what so many would prefer to forget.
In Thomas Frank's latest column for the Wall Street Journal, "Watch Out for GOP Populism," Frank takes aim at Republican Representative Paul Ryan, who authored an article for Forbes Magazine titled, "Down with Big Business." Yes, you read that right. Of course, when you get to the heart of what he wants, it's kind of a "Freedom from Freedom" song. Frank and I start with Rep. Ryan, but, like the populists in the GOP, we really relish our freedom of speech, which you can hear by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
01-06-10: Lou Anders Looks Ahead : The Very Near Future of Science Fiction
As the year unfolds, I thought I'd take the time to check in with Lou Anders of Pyr Books, and talk to him about Ebooks, fantasy, and the near future of science fiction. The near future of Pyr is of course bright. SFReviews.net chose Pyr as their "Publisher of the Decade 2000-2009," as opposed, I guess to the actual decade per the late Arthur C. Clarke. Well, it's ten years, and that's twice what we've got left according to the eternal estimate that, "We've got five years!"
Well, if we do indeed have only five years, you can bet that those years will involve Pyr publishing a lot of fantasy, along with everyone else. In our conversation, Lou and I stgart out with the fantasy, but I had an Ebook bee in my bonnet, as well as a "The Kindle design is really sucky" bee to keep the first one company.
01-05-10: A 2009 Interview With Michael Anissimov: One Less Year Between the Singularity Summit and the Singularity Itself
I've just been reading up, over those pesky Internets, on the ways in which humans are ever so predictable. You know the old saws. I was still in elementary school when I read a book about 'Parkinson's Law' from Cyril Northcote Parkinson ("Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.") in a tattered paperback I bought at the swap meet. It is of course true. (Today's column is an excellent example, which I type at the last possible minute, it having taken me most of the holiday weekend to figure out what I was going to write and then get round to doing so.)
Then there is, of course, another tattered paperback of my youth, 'The Peter Principle,' from Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book of the same name: "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." We need look no farther than our leaders in government to see this at work, but the business world provides plenty of fodder as well. Academia. Entertainment. Wait, where does this not apply?
There is however, another law, pertinent to those of us interested in the future, and relevant to that Big Ol' Boogeyman, The Singularity. That is the Maes-Garreau law, which states that predictions about a favorable future technology will fall just within the expected lifespan of the person making it. And thus the ants look up.
Joining this ant in looking up at the foot that is rapidly descending towards the remains of our Roadside Picnic is Michael Annisimov of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. It's both frightening and kind of funny to think that every Singularity summit marks one less utterly-irrelevant-to-those-whom-it-describes convocation of ants hoping to communicate with shoe leather. I just hope we figure out something that will interest the shoe leather. Here's what we have — just follow this link to the MP3 audio file.
01-04-10: A 2009 Interview with Brian Evenson
"I think it's very useful for a writer to see their language from the outside."
Brian Evenson bridges the unbridgeable, closing the gap between surreal fantasy and literary fiction with novels like 'Last Days' and 'Open Curtain' and story collections like 'Fugue State' and 'The Din of Celestial Birds.' You can see the two sides of the gap in just about any of his works. You find prose so clean a stripped down it seems to have had its skin surgically removed (that's the literary aspect and appeal) immersed in a dark vision of religious intensity. Call it burning bush noir, if you like. Evenson strips power and life raw, in the way that anatomical drawings can have an edge of horror. The truth hurts. A lot.
I was so lucky to get a chance to talk to Evenson at the recent World Fantasy Convention in San Jose. Evenson is actually a very nice and soft-spoken gentleman, very much as you might expect an academic to be. Of course, you might wonder if his area of expertise is flayed humanity or the humanities. It turns out that in the final judgment, something you'll find early and often in Evenson's fiction, there's not much of a difference. Humanity is best flayed and served cold in Evenson's fiction. You might expect that prose as consummately well-wrought as that of Evenson requires lots of revisions, and you'd be right. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]