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Notes from Córdoba, 2016

On the day we visited the Mezquita de Córdoba, the place was full of people both living and dead.

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In addition to the tourists roaming hither and yon amongst the seemingly endless recursion of pillars and arches, at every turn one finds centuries-old inscriptions that mark the eternal resting place of some duke or bishop or some other wealthy corpse.

The first one I noticed bore this crude image of a skull:

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The second was more stylized, cartoonish even, and included alongside the skull and the scythe a ‘winged hourglass’ motif. Tempus fugit, memento mori, etc., etc. etc.:

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The last of these images I photographed that day was another skull, this time lit up in the rainbow colors streaming down through a stained glass window of the Cátedral–as all the official communication takes special pains to remind you, this is indeed a Cathedral and most definitely no longer a mosque, despite everything you’ve ever read or heard about the place calling it ‘the Mezquita‘. Somewhat difficult to appreciate the colors in this photo, but still an interesting contrast of brightness and gloom:

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The starkest, most surreal contrast I found in that cathedral-cum-mosque, was inside the Capilla de Benditas Almas del Purgatorio(!), next to an ossuary containing the skull, femur, and other remains of some important figure. There, alongside these remains left for centuries on display in this sober iron box, someone had accidentally(?) left a humble coathanger made of clear blue plastic:

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The contrast of old and modern, ceremonial and workaday, unearthly and mundane…something about it spoke to me, and asked me to document and share it.

I knew as soon as I snapped the photo that it would most likely spawn a post on this long-neglected blog of mine. You know, a few photos with a few jokey and affectionate comments about the Mezquita and all its interesting juxtapositions and what not, nothing too transcendent.

What I didn’t know was that the next morning I’d be laying in my hotel room watching news about a terrorist attack of Brussels killing dozens of people and injure dozens more, and thinking: Fuck.

And later, as we visited the ‘Museo Vivo de al-Andalus’ located in the Torre de la Calahorra and sat in the tiny Sala 2 staring at wax figures of brilliant philosophers like Averroes and Ibn Arabi and watching their eyes glisten in the spotlight as readings of their texts played through our audioguides, I couldn’t help thinking how little mankind has advanced in the last thousand years.

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In the face of events like the terrorist attacks in Brussels (and in Paris, and in Lahore and Turkey and all over the Muslim world), and of the often rash and uninformed responses they inspire–the moronic, knee-jerk xenophobia of Trump & co., the wholesale bombardment of thousands of innocent victims, the often shameful handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, etc.–my instinctive response has always been a retreat to the sort of misanthropic atheist position that I’ve always found most comfortable.

Namely, the conviction that mankind is, generally speaking, doomed. That if, in the 21st century, we’re still slaying each other for the same idiotic reasons moros and cristianos were doing so a millenium ago, then as a species there really is no hope for us and we deserve to perish forever from this earth.

But no, I tell myself. That’s an easy out. Because how many of us have that luxury of burying our heads in the sand while the world burns around us, and crossing our fingers and hoping for a quiet death from natural causes before we too are consumed in the flames? And those of us who do have that luxury, for how much longer…?

Tempus fugit. Momento mori. Etc.

On a lighter note, Virgin Mary says Haaaaaaaay

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Us and Them

Apropos of nothing, I present without further comment the following handful of quotes from The Politics of Experience by Scottish psychologist and author R.D. Laing.

“Only when something has become problematic do we start to ask questions. Disagreement shakes us out of our slumbers, and forces us to see our own point of view through contrast with another person who does not share it. But we resist confrontations. The history of heresies of all kinds testifies to more than the tendency to break off communication (excommunication) with those who hold different dogmas or opinions; it bears witness to our intolerance of different fundamental structures of experience. We seem to need to share a communal meaning to human existence, to give with others a common sense to the world, to maintain a consensus[…]

“The group, whether We, or You or Them, is not a new individual or organism or hyperorganism on the social scene; it has no agency of its own, it has no consciousness of its own[…]

“The group is a reality of some kind or other. But what sort of reality? The We is a form of unification of a plurality composed by those who share the common experience of its ubiquitous invention among them.

“From outside, a group of Them may come into view in another way. It is still a type of unification imposed on a multiplicity, but this time those who invent the unification expressly do not themselves compose it. Here, I am of course not referring to the outsider’s perception of a We already constituted from within itself. The Them comes into view as a sort of social mirage[…]

“All those people who seek to control the behaviour of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people. Once people can be induced to experience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways. Induce people all to want the same thing, hate the same things, feel the same threat, then their behaviour is already captive–you have acquired your consumers or your cannon-fodder[…]

“As war continues, both sides come more and more to resemble each other. The uroborus eats its own tail. The wheel turns full circle. Shall we realize that We and Them are shadows of each other? We are Them to Them as They are Them to Us. When will the veil be lifted? When will the charade turn to Carnival? Saints may still be kissing lepers. It is high time that the leper kissed the saint.”

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Ornette Coleman, RIP

At some point in my early-to-mids 20s, I came into possession of a saxophone.

I won’t detail the circumstances that led the instrument to me.

In fact, I should probably apologize to my friends and roommates and anyone else who suffered through that period, as I was never very good at playing the thing.

One of the tunes that I liked to noodle around on was “Congeniality” by Ornette Coleman.

I could only do the first few bars of the tune, as I never had anywhere near the chops I’d have needed to actually play the whole thing. Again, I was very bad at playing the saxophone.

Still, it seemed like an Important Thing to me, to learn to play, or at least to try.

Or, as Ornette said back in 1966:

“To be a man, whatever a man is…there’s something that’s very important about being a man, and it’s not necessarily your honesty or your philosophy, but it has more to do with you being able to get away with what you can do and someone else saying, ‘Well, that’s him.'”

(Mr Coleman was one of my ‘idols’, if such a term is even appropriate here, which it probably isn’t. An inspiration, an example, more like. R.I.P.)

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My nominations for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Related Work

God, I wish I didn’t find this stuff so fascinating.

My last post way back in January went something like this: “hey, you know, I had a couple stories published last year, how’s about y’all nominate them jokers for an award”.

Obviously no one did so, because no one cared. I didn’t care enough to nominate anybody for anything, either.

Flash forward to April, when the 2014 Hugo nominees are announced. Kerfuffle ensues. Rampant point-missing and reading-comprehension fails overtake various comments sections across the internet (but then, what else is new).

For various reasons that I won’t go into here, I won’t go into the subject of this year’s awards.

I would, however, like to go ahead and make some recommendations for next year’s awards. (And for anyone reading this who might be suffering from the aforementioned issues of point-missing and reading-comp fails, I should probably spell out that no, this is not a ‘voting slate’.)

To wit, my nominations for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Related Work are:

“A Detailed Explanation” by Matthew David Surridge in Black Gate

http://blog.sadpuppies.org/ by ‘Noah Ward’ (get it…? eh…?)

Granted, the second of these is a piss-take that flirts dangerously with Poe’s Law (i.e., that “without a clear indicator of an author’s intention, it is often impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of such extremism”).

The first, however, is a thorough and well-reasoned dissection of ideology and notions of literary quality in ‘genre’ fiction, awards, and popularity in general. Indeed, the most thorough and well-reasoned piece of writing you’re likely to see on those topics this year, methinks.

I will now returned to my regularly scheduled rubbernecking. This trainwreck isn’t going to gawk at itself, you know. Or is it.

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fiction, news

2014 in review

Hello there, and welcome to what’s become one of the cherished classics of blogging genre writers, the thinly-veiled “hey, go nominate me for a Hugo” post. Make of it what you will.

Last year I completed six new short stories, two of which are currently on submission. Not the most prolific output. Or maybe it is. I don’t know, leave me alone.

Of those six stories, exactly one has been published: “Chatarra”, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction 13.3 (Sept., 2014).

A few months earlier (June to be exact), another story of mine “Hacking ‘Wilkes-Barre PA, July 2001′” appeared in the anthology Master Minds (Third Flatiron Publishing, available from Amazon (print or Kindle) or Smashwords (other ebook formats)).

Sooo, on the off-chance that anyone out there reading this is or was a voting member of the 2014, 2015, or 2016 Worldcons by the end of the day (Pacific Time/GMT -8) on January 31, 2015–it’s a longshot, I know–why not take a minute and nominate one or both of the above-mentioned stories for a Hugo Award? Honestly, what could it hurt? Huh?

Not that I actually expect anyone to do so. Really it’s just another opportunity for me to post links to these two humble li’l pieces of genre fiction, in hopes that you might ‘Like’, comment, or even ‘purchase’ and publish a favorable review of either. So, y’know, you’ve got options.

Stay tuned for more in 2015.

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current events, news

‘Enhorabuena’ #lnpabloiglesias #’borchenoso’

Os parecerá mentira, pero alguna vez me han preguntado que porqué no escribo más en este blog.

Pues la verdad es que hace falta algo como la ya famosa entrevista de Sergio Martín a Pablo Iglesias en el Canal 24h el pasado viernes para inspirarme.

Yo ya conocía el programa, a diferencia de la gran mayoría que lo vio hace dos días y posteriormente puso al Sr. Martín y a todos sus colaboradores a caer de un burro. Solemos verlo mi mujer y yo, los viernes sobre todo, pero algún que otro día también cae. Básicamente por dos razones: uno, porque resulta menos vomitiva que la bazofia que dan los canales de Mediaset, Atresmedia, et al. Y dos, porque sinceramente la alternativa mayoritaria–léase, ponerse a ver todas y cada una de las series de moda con los que la peña está permanentemente dando el coñazo que porqué-no-ves-tal-y-cual-serie–me produce una pereza tremenda.

En cuanto a La Noche en 24h, me pareció desde el principio una tertulia distinta a los de la tele privada–La Noria, La Sexta noche, et al. Sin gritos, sin insultos. El grupo de los viernes–los Sres. Palomo, Papell, Expósito, y Herrero–me despertaba simpatía por su forma distendida y entretenida de desgranar los temas de actualidad. Argumentaban las cosas sin aspavientos, sin estridencias innecesarias. Uno podía no estar de acuerdo con las opiniones (como yo muchas veces no lo estaba, sobre todo con las de los Sres. Palomo y Expósito), pero la discrepancia no estaba reñida con el respeto y la cordialidad.

Por eso me quedé sorprendido al ver la faceta agresiva de Sr. Martin en su entrevista. Tenía el gesto un poco torcido, parecía nervioso. Quizás la figura de Pablo Iglesias le imponía, o quizás el hecho de que nada más empezar el encuentro Iglesias rompiera una lanza a favor de los trabajadores de RTVE (quienes sostienen que han tenido que ‘imponer’ la apariencia de Iglesias en contra de lo que querían los ‘jefes’–lo cual Fernando Jauregui pone en cuestión aqui en su blog)  trastocó su planteamiento. Por eso empezó un poco acelerado, planteando su primera pregunta sobre las propuestas para el programa económico de Podemos en términos un tanto despectivo–parafraseando, ‘que si, si, el envoltorio muy bonito–¿hay algo dentro?’ No digo yo que la pregunta no sea lícita. Por supuesto que lo es. Pero, tal vez la formas no fueron las idóneas para marcar el tono de la entrevista.

Más sorprendido me quedé con las reacciones en Twitter, tachando al presentador de ‘facha’ (como no), comparandolo con Urdaci, etc. Llamarse ‘facha’ unos a otros hoy en día es deporte nacional aquí. Por ahí, pocas sorpresas. Pero como seguidor del programa desde hace un tiempo, nunca me ha parecido que Sergio Martin fuera el perro adiestrado del PPismo, ni mucho menos, y creo que hablo con conocimiento de causa. A lo mejor se me han escapado detalles, frases que revelan un sesgo ideológico ‘fascista’–tampoco veo el programa todos los días–pero no me consta.

Eso sí, estoy totalmente de acuerdo con los que le afean esa pregunta que le hizo al Sr. Iglesias sobre los etarras que salieron de la carcel días antes. “Hemos visto a Pablo Iglesias defender la salida de los presos de ETA de las cárceles,” dijo. “Esta semana está usted de enhorabuena, entonces…” Fue, francamente, bochornoso. O como diría Cañitas Brava:

Mención aparte merece la figura de Alfonso Rojo. Anteriormente me he referido al Sr. Ángel Expósito, colaborador en ‘La noche en 24h’ hasta julio de 2014. Expósito–ex del ABC, ahora del COPE–representaba el ala derecha, digamos, de la mesa del programa. Aún así, presentaba sus argumentos educadamente (sus ideas tampoco eran siempre tan, tan retrogrado que viendo su curriculum, uno podría suponer), y guardaba las formas. Su sustitución en setiembre por el Sr. Rojo a mí simplemente no me gustó.

Es verdad que desde sus comienzos en La noche en 24h, Rojo venía presentando una faceta mucho menos pendenciero que en sus apariencias en las tertulias de la tele privada (a las que hizo referencia Iglesias: “No voy a hablar de que el 24 de noviembre de 2010 fuiste condenado por mentir. Es tremendo que en la televisión pública que pagamos todos vengan periodistas condenados por mentir y denunciados por la Federación de Periodistas”). Pero el viernes, a Rojo se le vio el plumero. Se empezó a gritar y descalificar, y el programa respetuoso y desenfadado al que me tenían acostumbrado se convirtió durante unos minutos en La Noria. Lo dicho: ‘borchenoso‘.

Al final, del aluvión de críticas vertidas sobre el programa del viernes, creo que la mayoría fueron merecidos. No tanto las descalificaciones a los colaboradores. (Aquí no voy a entrar a valorar el asunto de que “en plato [no había] ni una mujer“, como algunos han señalado; otras noches hay mucha más presencia femenina en las tertulias, y en ese desequilibrio de género no creo que el programa en cuestión sea único).  Dudo que la mayoría de las personas que seguramente veían el programa por primera vez (tal es el enganche de una figura como Pablo Iglesias) conocieran bien el ideario de los ‘analistas’. En cuanto a los Sres. Papell y Herrero, no creo que quedasen tan mal como le pintaron en Twitter. Discrepo incluso con los que critican al Sr. Palomo por su pregunta–“¿Es usted comunista?”–puesto que considero que es lícito que pidan a un lider político que concrete su ideologia, si bien peca bastante de reductio ad absurdum. Y los que ven en su ademán alguna agresividad o chabacanería, creo que ignoran cómo es el ‘personaje’ en cuestión, su forma de ser y su afán por llegar a lo que él denomina ‘el pueblo llano‘.

(Que conste que a mi parece fenomenal lo que está haciendo Podemos, y si tuviera derecho a votar, casi seguro que les votaría, ¿eh?)

Pero en fin, estamos hablando de Twitter. Solo dispones de 140 carácteres. Asi que es mucho más fácil poner ‘todos fachas’ y santas pascuas.  Lo que no es fácil, querido amigos, es hacer reflexiones serias y profundas sobre un asunto, explorar las matices, documentarse y contrastar hechos, etc. Lo bueno de Twitter–la inmediatez, el poder comentar la actualidad ‘in real time‘–encierra de alguna forma lo malo que tiene (que lo tiene).

De ahí, el pedazo ‘thinkpiece’ que me estoy marcando ahora. En vez de responder en caliente con lo primero que se me ocurre y lanzarlo tal cual al mundo, he preferido pensar, reflexionar, ya sabes: esas cosas que parece que hoy en día (cuando comentan los tweets hasta en los telediarios) han pasado de moda.

Asi que, si me preguntan que porqué no escribo más en este blog, ya los sabéis.

Y si no estáis de acuerdo, házmelo saber en los comentarios. O, si no, llamadme ‘facha de mierrrda’ en Twitter, como queráis.

 

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Hey, check out this review of my story in Tangent Online

So, here’s a first for me. An opinion about a story of mine in Tangent Online, self-proclaimed as “the genre’s premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993.”

Reviewer Martha Burns writes:

“It’s a surprise that no story in the collection addresses the effect gaming has had on humanity, especially considering that right now, people spend billions of hours each week in those virtual worlds. The story that comes closest to addressing our interaction with gaming is “Hacking ‘Wilkes-Barre PA, May 2001′” by NM Whitley. In this story, it isn’t humans who play a game, it is a computer system that engages in a form of the 1990s favorite, The Sims. The computer chooses a real town to start its simulation, but the realities of that time period keep intruding and ruining the fun. The story is enjoyable, sometimes grin-inducing, and does a good job demonstrating how, to borrow the title of Jane McGonigal’s famous book on the positive insights to be learned from gaming culture, reality is broken.”

Not bad, right? And lest you think this is some feel-good, I’m-OK-You’re OK puff piece (it’s not), I’d encourage you check out the rest of the review at Tangent Online.

Ah, did I mention that the aforementioned story and anthology are available in dead-tree format? Photographic evidence below:

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Dead-tree format available from Amazon; for e-books etc try Smashwords, and I’ll see you at the movies…

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