In 1936 John Maynard Keynes, the most important economist in the history of economics after Adam Smith and Karl Marx, published a book called The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. The book is highly technical and difficult to follow for a non-specialist. I have read it, but had a very difficult time getting through it. Luckily for those of us who are not economists, there are many very bright people who devote their lives to this stuff and many of them have done a very good job of explaining it to the rest of us. The key insight of the book, despite the book's difficulty, is relatively easy to understand. In it Keynes argues convincingly and at length for the thesis that full employment, meaning the economic state where everyone who wants to work can find work, is not a function of the price of labor, but of the aggregate demand in the economy. Even as I rephrase that I can't help but notice how it's rife with jargon, shibboleths and mathematical concepts that are beyond the high school mathematical education of most American adults.
So think of it this way: suppose the economy consisted of just four people. One of those people is a consumer, one is a capitalist, and two of them are workers. The consumer pays the capitalist for the things the consumer wants and the capitalist sells them to him. The capitalist pays his workers to make the things that he wants to sell to the consumer. The workers do what the capitalist tells them to do. The consumer is independently wealthy. The capitalist makes money from profits that are the difference between what he has to pay the workers and what the consumer pays him for his goods. Got all that? Ok good.
The latest hubbub in the nerdosphere is an absurdly stupid article from Leo Grin that basically says that fantasy was much better in the good-old days when JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) walked the Earth, and that since then fantasy has succumbed to liberal elite moral relativism to give us gritty, "nihilistic" fantasy writers like Joe Abercrombie, who naturally, by extension, represent the Decline of Western Civilization. Forget that Conan was an amoral figure who basically killed anyone who got in his way and took any woman he saw, and was in turn a send-up of what Howard saw as the namby-pamby chivalric knights that were popular in historical writings at the time. And forget that the morals in Tolkien's work have (pretty deliberately) the complexity of a fairy tale. But then that may be the point; the author wants to see beautiful, noble good up against ugly, traitorous evil and anything more subtle, more realistic than that is somehow the End of Civilization. In other words, he wants the kind of shoehorning of everything into a reductionist, black-and-white worldview typical of right-wing ideology in general.
There is nothing more hopeful than civilian unrest against an autocratic dictatorship. Some of my earliest memories of the world as a political environment were formed in April of 1989. I was eleven years old and didn't fully understand the backdrop of what was happening in China as the Tienamen Square protests turn violent and ugly as the Beijing government unleashed the power of the military agains its own people who were demonstrating for more dramatic reforms. Five months later, I remember watching the news full of hope and fear as the Berlin Wall fell and Germany began the process of reunification. A little over a year later, I found my first contemporary political hero in the person of Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity movement had succeeded in ending Poland's satellite relationship with the Soviet Union. That same year as Nelson Mandela was released from prison it became more and more apparent that the Soviet union was crumbling and the order of the old world was done as Belarus and the Balkan and Baltic states began breaking with the Soviet Union. By the end of the year, Stalinism in Eastern Europe was more or less done and we were entering a new world.
Another Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza this Sunday!
Join us for steampunk western magical realism in a novel thats garnered rave reviews from Ursula Le Guin, The Onion AV Club, Locus and more, Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World. Join us for New York Times Notable and multi-award-winning writer of the unsettling and sublime Jeffrey Ford. Join us for flarf poetry with Fullbright scholar and New York Foundation for the Arts fellow Sharon Mesmer, author of Annoying Diabetic Bitch. Join us for music once more by the miraculous John Pinamonti and the Atomic Nevada Two. Join us! Resistance is NOT AWESOME. Hosted by Eric Rosenfield (that's ME!)
The Morning News announces their long-list for the Tournament of Books and once again there isn't one book that was published specifically as a genre novel. Though that doesn't mean they don't have any genre novels; Charles Yu's excellent How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is there, but it was still published by Pantheon and not Tor which indicates to me that the TOB people just aren't trying very hard. Where's The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi? Where's China Mieville's Kraken? And yet somehow I find myself too weary about the whole thing at this point to even work up a proper blog post about it. So here it is in the Weekend Reading.
Seattle's famed "superhero" gets his face punched in. You know this is the thing about trying to be a vigilante in real life. You're probably gonna get your face punched in.
A fascinating essay by Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America and how American companies have intentionally tried to remake themselves as marketing names that leave the actual creation of products to other—usually out-of-country—companies.
Meanwhile, here's the Atlantic on how the rich who have gotten richer while the rest of us have gotten poorer don't understand or care about how we all feel, and have no conception that times are bad for most people.
From my writing blog, an interesting excerpt from Tom Bissell's book about video games, Extra Lives, in which contemplates how he feels about art and gaming and how that relates to "high" and "low" art.
One of the members of OK Go! talk about the future of the music business and why they dropped their record label. This is really interesting stuff in terms of the future of media and commerce.
The web is a customer service medium. Really there's nothing I can say that encapsulates how brilliant an analysis this is of what the web is and what it isn't and why so many companies go so wrong. Go read it.
And as always, FICTION TIME
"Secret Life" by Jeff Vandermeer is as brilliant as anything he's written, and revisits a lot of the conceptual material of his previous dissection of corporate, white collar cubical life, "The Situation".
"The Silence of the Asonu" by Usula K. Le Guin. It's Le Guin. Formally, it's along the same lines as her most famous short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". You know you want to read it.
"I, Cthulhu" by Neil Gaiman is Gaiman's humorous take on the Lovecraft mythos, and is funny as He... I mean, R'lyeh.
"Understanding Human Behavior" by Thomas M. Disch... you know, all these stories this time around are by pretty legendary people and you should just read them, okay? Because they're awesome.
If you're wondering why my Wet Asphalt posting has been relatively sparse, most of my writing energy lately has been going into my fiction, which I feel is going really well. I may just opt for shorter posts for a while. Anyway, I think Quackenbush has some things in the pipe to entertain you...
The Disembodied Standpoint; or Why I Don't Take Certain Parts of the Leftwing Blogosphere Seriously and You Shouldn't Either
So I haven't been following #mooreandme closely, because as I've stated before I don't think twitter phenomena are things that really happen, but apparently there's been a dustup in certain quarters based on Sady Doyle's protest over Michael Moore posting bail for Julian Assange. There are a few points I would like to make about this whole crop of nonsense that to me underline my general larger refusal to take those certain quarters seriously.
Point 1: It is fundamentally unjust to draw conclusions about the criminality of a person's actions based on news reports.
If you click over to the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza website you can get video of the reading that myself and Ed Champion hosted here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, including Cat Valente reading from The Habitation of the Blessed which explores the myth of Prester John, Brian Francis Slattery and the West Constantinople Squeezebox Orchestra and sexy dancing!
There's also information about our next event in Januray, featuring Felix Gilman, Jeffrey Ford and Sharon Mesmer!
I've mentioned before Bruce Sterling's famous essay from 1989, in which the science fiction author laments that "mainstream" (read: "literary fiction") writers are writing speculative fiction better than the genre writers are, citing examples like Margret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Don Delillo's White Noise, and suggests a new category, called "Slipstream," which would include literary works with genre elements and genre works with literary feel (or more precisely, "a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility"). (There's an interesting digression I could go into about how literary fiction people think of themselves as marginalized while genre fiction is "popular" and "commercial" and genre fiction writers think of themselves as marginalized while literary fiction is "mainstream". In fiction, everybody is second class.)
Sterling's attempt at rebranding was marvelously unsuccessful: while a small group of genre writers occasionally identified themselves as Slipstream, most genre writers ignored the term while literary fiction writers never learned it existed. Some people missed the point entirely and thought the term just meant combining two genres together, and there was at least one "Slipstream" anthology filled with cowboy werewolves and noir detective vampires.
We begin with a very long and fascinating analysis of the colonialist tropes and building blocks of Science Fiction, especially early SF courtesy of Science Fiction Studies.
Related, China Mieville (who may be the finest fantasy writer working right now) talks about the colonialist and childish underpinnings of the man whose shadow falls over all modern fantasy, JRR Tolkein.
Jason Scott, director of long, independent documentaries about Bulletin Board Systems and Text Adventure Games discusses your Roger Corman future, where people's expectations of not having to pay for content lead to cheaply made content. (Not sure I agree with this entirely, but his analysis is interesting, as is the one documentary of his I've seen, the Text Adventure one, Get Lamp.)
An absolutely riveting BBC documentary about the history of psychology, propaganda, advertising and public relations which traces modern advertising ideas to Freudian thought as filtered through his nephew, Edward Bernays, who wanted to create a rebranded propaganda for the corporate age, and so defined our contemporary ideas of individuality and the replacement of the citizen with the consumer.
Interview with Brian Francis Slattery
An interview with Wet Asphalt favorite Brian Francis Slattery, who talks about how the shadow economies he observed in third world countries informes the shadow societies in his fiction.
And as always:
Standard Loneliness Package by Charles Yu, a wonderful short story by the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe in which folks are hired to experience unpleasant events in place of rich people.
Detective of Dreams by Gene Wolfe, a bizarre surrealist detective story by a master writer.
James Stokoe, one of the "weird comics" creators I wrote about for comiXology released 100 pages of awesome science fiction comics online for free and you should go read them. The work is called "Murder Bullets".
And if you're looking for more short fiction, this site has links to hundreds of stories for your pleasure.