December 20th, 2006

Shaw

Howard Hughes vs. the Crackheads

I might be awake enough to write this. Maybe. An entry of good things and one very bad thing. At least I have David Bowie and Moby here to buoy my spirits and sing to me and remind me that "Nothing has changed / Everything has changed."

Yesterday evening, right about 7 p.m. (CaST), I was sitting here at my desk. At the back of the house, Spooky was drawing me a much needed hot bath. There was a loud sound of breaking glass, and she shouted. "What was that?!" or something of the sort. I could tell only that it came from the rear of the building. About the time I reached the hallway, she looked into her workroom (adjacent to the bathroom) and announced that her iBook was gone. The window above the table where she does most her doll making had been shattered. She'd left her computer sitting there an hour or so before. I was out the door a few seconds later, half dressed, and I spent, I don't know, maybe half an hour searching the alleys and sidewalks around Moreland Ave. and Euclid and L5P for some sign of the asshole who'd broken the window, but to no avail. When I returned home, she'd called the police and our landlord. I headed out again, walking through Freedom Park (utterly deserted) and over towards North Ave. Nothing but dark and more dark and all the traffic backed up on Moreland because of the frelling Target that opened down towards I-20, so now it seems like every frelling Xmas shopper on Earth has to clog up Moreland.

The cop came and did the little he could do. He took a statement and the iBook's make, model, and serial number. He was heading out to talk to some of the local homeless, to see if anyone was out there trying to sell an iBook. He agreed with us that it was likely a junky, someone looking for something they thought they could snatch and sell quick for a fix, and he told Spooky to call the local pawnshops. And I suppose she will. Cleaning up the broken glass, she found a good-sized rock that had been hurled through the window. It had crossed the length of the room and made a noticeable dent in the far wall. The fucking idiot didn't get the power cord or adapter. The landlord showed up about ten and belatedly installed burglar bars. We had a late, cheerless dinner about 11 p.m.

Spooky was good about backing up her data, so only a little was lost. Some photos, part of a story she was writing, some music. However, she used that iBook to conduct most of our eBay sales and was using it on the website redesign (I haven't enough memory to run Photoshop efficiently). So, the website is pretty much on hold, and we're still trying to figure out what to do about eBay. I think I'm going to make fliers to put up around the neighborhood. They won't get the iBook back, but they might make me feel better. Something goofy like, Hey, crack-addled asshole. You stole an iBook from two grey witches, you dumbfuck, and soon your pecker will fall off and you'll go blind. But that's just for starters. Hope it was worth it, shitstain. Merry fucking Xmas. Of course, I have no actual belief in Karmic retribution or the efficacy of spells as a means of skewing cause and effect in one's favour (right now, I wish I did). But I might get lucky, as the crackhead is probably superstitious. It might give the bastard a good scare.

Honestly, I think I've finally had it with this city. Between greedy landlords (not our current landlord, but the Chengs and the weasels who sold the Kirkwood Lofts off for condos), the thieving crack addicts, the obscene cost of living, and Atlanta's almost complete absence of character, I think it's high time we think about Where Next. Last night, I just wanted to be back in Birmingham. Which is like getting bitten by an alligator and wishing you were back home in the goddamn swamp.

Anyway...

I wrote 1,038 words on "The Voyuer in the House of Glass" yesterday, but did not find the end of the story. That will happen today. It has to, because other things must be written.

Monday night, we watched Jim Sonzero's Pulse (2006). What do you get when you cross a zombie apocalypse film with every visual cliché from the last fifteen years of Japanese scary movies and toss in bits from "The Shunned House" and "The Colour Out of Space"? Whatever you get, at the very least it ought not be dull. Nonetheless, Pulse is, for the most part, a very dull film. The actors are afflicted by that "glamour of dull" phenomenon, all of them too artificially pretty to believe in. The story is rushed. It's hard to imagine that the screenwriters had ever even been near a computer, so bad was the IT science. The soundtrack, which might have saved the day, was entirely lackluster. The cinematography was canned. Yet, there were a few effective moments. The finest bit of the film was a handful minutes of Brad Dourif raving about the end of the world, dropped into the middle of the movie. I'm pretty sure Brad Dourif was the only actual actor in the whole silly film.

Yesterday afternoon, Bill Schafer sent me the Booklist review of Daughter of Hounds. I quote: Kiernan's storytelling is stellar, and the misunderstandings and lies of stories within the main story evoke a satisfying tension in the characters. Maybe that will sell a lot of copies to libraries, if nothing else. If you've not yet pre-ordered, please do (just follow the link above). Thank you.

Also, I made the Syntax of Things 2006 List of Most Underrated Authors. I'm pretty sure this is what is meant by dubious distinction. Which is to say, I'm oddly honoured. And in good company. Iain Banks, Jeff VanderMeer, and Elizabeth Hand, three authors whom I greatly admire, also made the cut. My thanks to Jeff Bryant, and also to Gwenda Bond, who wrote:

"Caitlín R. Kiernan has been writing the most unsettling short stories and novels out there for years now. With each book, I expect her to become known to a larger readership. Her voice is like no one else's and her evolution as a writer over the past several novels has been nothing short of jaw-dropping. These novels are set in a shared world, but in a way more Jonathan Carroll than series; each one stands completely alone, but together they enrich and comment on each other, revisiting themes, and sometimes even stories. Her next novel, Daughter of Hounds, comes out in January — let's all cross our fingers that this is the one that makes people "discover" her unnerving and lovely body of work."

Not much else to say about yesterday. A stolen iBook. That sense of violated personal space that will be with us for weeks, at the least. The writing. A little critical praise. I was in bed by 2:30 a.m. and passed out and slept eight full hours. The dreams are blessedly and entirely forgotten.

Also, today is the Carl Sagan blog thing. I'll get to that this evening. I'm not gonna miss.
europa

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

So, yeah. To quote Yervant Terzian, the David Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and former astronomy department chair at Cornell University (taking the position after Sagan's death), "Carl was a candle in the dark. He was, quite simply, the best science educator in the world this century. He touched hundreds of millions of people and inspired young generations to pursue the sciences."

I discovered the works of Carl Sagan when I was still in high school, probably around 1980 or so. PBS was airing Cosmos, and it absolutely blew me away. I even went out and bought the Vangelis soundtrack (on vinyl; I still have it). At the time, I was in the middle of that messy divorce from the Xtianity that had so dominated and stifled my childhood, and I wanted nothing in the world but to spend my life studying the genuine mysteries of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. And, along with Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan gave me the road map I needed. After the wonders of Cosmos, I backtracked and read Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1974) and The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1978). Contact came along in 1985 and pleased me immensely, as it articulated so many of my hopes and curiosities. Only recently have I read Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), published only a month or so before his death, and I still haven't gotten around to the posthumous volume, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996).

Sagan's work — as a scientist, as a humanist, as a rationalist, as an enemy of ignorance and superstition, a peace-activist, and freethinker — had such a profound and far-reaching effect upon me that I cannot possibly hope to sum them up here. He showed me that there's good reason to believe that life is common in the universe, and that even our own solar system may harbour it in places other than the Earth. He helped me to see the beauty of Nature and that there is no greater wonder. He helped me learn the difference between science and pseudoscience. Very few men or women have had such a tremendous influence upon the path my life has taken. Ultimately, I think the best I can do here is to provide a few of my favorite quotes from Sagan. He will always speak for himself better than anyone else might speak for him:

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.

from "Wonder and Skepticism", Skeptical Enquirer Volume 19, Issue 1, (January-February 1995)

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and, I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994)

The choice is with us still, but the civilization now in jeopardy is all humanity. As the ancient myth makers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure of this planet we've accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we've also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars. There are not yet obvious signs of extraterrestial intelligence, and this makes us wonder whether civilizations like ours rush inevitably headlong to self-destruction. I dream about it, and sometimes they're bad dreams.

from Cosmos (1980)

Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.

from Cosmos (1980)

—————

That says a lot. More wonderful things than I shall likely say in all the years of my life. And I just want people to remember this man who was worth remembering, who showed me that we really are, all of us, star stuff.