Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reasons for joy, no. 732

That we live in a society where people have their bodies permanently inked with tattooed images of Patrick Swayze (circa Road House) as a Chippendale Centaur, swathed in rainbow. Roll over, Chiron.

Telegraph, courtesy of the sleepless wanderings of Lawrence Person.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What you need: A post-apocalyptic SUV for Lunar Gurkhas from the future

In yesterday's junk mail, I received a copy of the duPont Registry, which I had never "read" before. As best I can tell, it is basically the mother of all shopper rags ("the world's premier luxury marketplace"), exclusively featuring ads for slightly used supercars, Eastern European mail order brides, hideous houses with pools for the newly bored Ukrainian harem to hang at, and watches that cost more than my truck.

What this delivery says about my demographic placement, I prefer not to ponder.

Flipping through this artifact of a world of idle wealth that is hopefully slipping into the past, my eye caughht a full page ad for the insane vehicle pictured above. The Conquest Vehicles KNIGHT XV.

Conquest Vehicle Inc's flagship vehicle, the KNIGHT XV defines the future of the ultra-luxurious, handcrafted fully armoured SUV. This one-of-a-kind, V10, 6.8-litre, Bio-fuel powered SUV was inspired by the Gurkha military vehicle (built by Armet Armored Vehicles Ltd.) and features security appointments that are unrivaled in today's SUV marketplace. The production of the KNIGHT XV will be limited to 100 vehicles.

Are you ready to be Knighted?

MSRP: $295,000.

(If you want an actual Gurkha vehicle, look here.)

[Pic: Armet Armored Vehicles' GURKHA LAPV.]

Like the Gurkha rigs, this thing is basically the mother of all Ford trucks, an F350 chassis repurposed by some psychotic grandchild of Gerry Anderson. What more perfect expression of the dark GWOT-era manifestations of Anglo-American cultural convergence than an armored SUV that marries Captain Scarlet into the Dixie Chicks? And actually produces this memetic insanity into a luxury product that appears in consensus reality?

The target market? Per the NY Times review:

The Knight XV is aimed at an exclusive international clientele of “high net-worth individuals,” the company said, including “entertainers, professional athletes, politicians and members of Middle Eastern royal families.” Saudi Arabia was specifically mentioned.

I bet some bored member of the Saudi royal family could even afford to load the sucker up with some of these sweet options:

Interior Appointments

Leather 6 way electric conference and cabin seating, total 6 passengers, in hand crafted Andrew Muirhead leather
Wilton Wool luxury carpeting
Spacious extended interior
Alpine AM, FM, CD, DVD, Navigation and Bluetooth equipment
Front power windows
Ultra Suede interior finish throughout
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Interior lighting, map/courtesy and ambient
Dual screen rear console (remote controlled inputs)
Personal rear seat side mounted laptop stations

Exterior Appointments

Stainless steel running boards (side and rear mounted)
Knight XV 20" polished rims, forged from 6061 aluminum
Mickey Thompson 40" Baja tires
Fascia mounted PIAA dual mode fog and driving lamps
Heated, telescoping side view mirrors

Security Appointments

FLIR night vision cameras*** mounted front and rear, on individual screens
Roof mounted rear view camera
Keyless entry system
Transparent, tinted, armour glass throughout
Tandem tinted moon roof panels (transparent armour) with privacy shades
ASC Ballistic run flat system on all tires
Securilok** passive anti theft key system

** Torqshift and Securilok are registered trademarks of Ford Motor Co.

*** The PathfindIR Thermal imaging Camera offers dramatically better performance compared to traditional Night Vision Cameras.The FLIR Systems PathFindIR is a compact thermal imaging camera that significantly reduces the hazards of night time driving. This Automotive Night Vision Systems enable drivers to see much further, with improved clarity, than with standard headlights. Drivers can detect and monitor pedestrians, animals, or objects on or near the road, allowing more time to react to any potential danger. PathFindIR Thermal imager helps to detect and recognize potential hazards in total darkness, smoke, rain and snow.

FLIR PathFindIR is standard equipment on all Knight XV vehicles sold in North America.

What does it say about our world that there are "grown men" who produce and purchase vehicles that simulate the fantastic Dinky toys of their childhoods, vehicles on loan from SHADO? Wonderful crazy things, I suppose, and I look forward to our reunion on the moon base.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Actively deny *this*

Don't worry. It's non-lethal.

At Danger Room, recap of the GAO report on the above-pictured Active Denial System pain ray and other non-lethal and non-fiscally viable next generation weapons programs. Soon to be used at a Mexican border near you.

Even less lethal, and maybe even pleasurable, Subterranean Press just announced its publication of the Collected Stories of Lew Shiner. Pre-order your copy today!

New messages from Spiral Jetty

Brilliant memoir of Ballard by the amazing artist Tacita Dean at The Guardian, drawing out connections I was previously unaware of, like the fact that a copy of Ballard's Voices of Time is on the picnic blanket in the Eames's Powers of Ten, which I pondered countless times in book form as a kid:

My relationship to Ballard had begun a little earlier, with our mutual interest in the work of the US artist Robert Smithson. In 1997, I tried to find Smithson's famous 1970 earthwork, Spiral Jetty, in the Great Salt Lake of Utah. I had directions faxed to me from the Utah Arts Council, which I supposed had been written by Smithson himself. I only knew what I was looking for from what I could remember of art school lectures: the iconic aerial photograph of the basalt spiral formation unfurling into a lake. In the end, I never found it; it was either submerged at the time, or I wasn't looking in the right place. But the journey had a marked impact on me, and I made a sound work about my attempt to find it. Ballard must have read about it, because he sent me a short text he had written on Smithson, for an exhibition catalogue.

It was the writer, curator and artist Jeremy Millar who became convinced Smithson knew of Ballard's short story, The Voices of Time, before building his jetty. All Smithson's books had been listed after his death in a plane crash in 1973 - and The Voices of Time was among them. The story ends with the scientist Powers building a cement mandala or "gigantic cipher" in the dried-up bed of a salt lake in a place that feels, by description, to be on the very borders of civilisation: a cosmic clock counting down our human time. It is no surprise that it is a copy of The Voices of Time that lies beneath the hand of the sleeping man on the picnic rug in the opening scenes of Powers of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames' classic 1977 film about the relative size of things in the universe.

Smithson understood the prehistory of his site. Beneath the Great Salt Lake was, for some, the centre of an ancient universe, and his jetty could have been an elaborate means to bore down to get to it. As if understanding this, Ballard wrote in the catalogue text: "What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty?" He elaborated later to me in a letter: "My guess is that the cargo was a clock, of a very special kind. In their way, all clocks are labyrinths, and can be risky to enter." The two men had a lot in common, and Ballard believed him to be the most important and most mysterious of postwar US artists. My interest in time, cosmic and human, future and past, as well as the analogue spooling of the now, has Ballard at its core.

[Video: Charles and Ray Eames, "Powers of Ten"]

Time to try it yourself:

Odometer readings vary with each vehicle. The distances given below are only approximations. The Department of Natural Resources has posted signs at each turn/fork to indicate directions to the Jetty. PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THESE SIGNS AS SOUVENIRS.

1. Go to Golden Spike National Historic Site (GSNHS), 30 miles west of Brigham City, Utah. Spiral Jetty is 15.5 dirt road miles southwest of GSNHS's visitor center.

To get there (from Salt Lake City) take I-15 north approximately 65 miles to the Corinne exit (exit 365), just west of Brigham City, Utah. Exit and turn right onto Route 13 to Corinne. LAST GAS before Spiral Jetty is in Corinne at the Sinclair truck stop.

Past Corinne, continue heading west and veer left on Highway 83 for 17.7 miles.

3. Turn left onto "Golden Spike Road" and continue 7.7 miles up the east side of Promontory Pass to GSNHS. LAST BATHROOMS before Spiral Jetty are at the GSNHS’s Visitor Center.

2. From the Visitor Center, drive 5.6 miles west on the main gravel road to a fork in the road. Continue left, heading west. (From this vantage, the low foothills that make up Rozel Point are visible to the Southwest.)

5. Immediately you cross a cattle guard. Call this cattle guard #1. Including this one, you cross four cattle guards before you reach Rozel Point and Spiral Jetty.

6. Drive 1.3 miles south to a second fork in the road. Turn right onto the southwest fork, and proceed 1.7 miles to cattle guard #2.

8. Continue southeast 1.2 miles to cattle guard #3.

9. Continue straight 2.8 miles south-southwest to cattle guard #4 and an iron-pipe gate.

11. At this gate the Class D (gravel) road designation ends. From here, four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicles are strongly recommended.

If you choose to continue, drive south for another 2.7 miles, and around the east side of Rozel Point, you will see the Lake and a jetty (not Spiral Jetty) left by oil drilling explorations that ended in the 1980s.

12. Southwest beyond the site of the oil jetty, turn right onto a two-track trail that contours above the oil-drilling debris below. Travel slowly--the road is narrow, brush might scratch your vehicle, and the rocks, if not properly negotiated, could high center your vehicle or blow out your tires. Don't hesitate to park and walk. Spiral Jetty is just around the corner.

13. Drive or walk 6/10th of a mile west around Rozel Point and look toward the Lake. Spiral Jetty may be in sight. The lake’s levels vary several feet from year-to-year and from season to season, so Spiral Jetty is not always visible above the water line.

For more, track down a copy of Ballard's essay for the 2001 Tacita Dean show at the Tate.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Joss Whedon's Bradbury Award acceptance

SFWA announces 2008 Nebula Awards® winners

SFWA announces 2008 Nebula Awards® winners

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., has announced the Nebula Awards® winners for 2008.

The Nebula Awards® are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards were announced at the Nebula Awards® Banquet held at the Grand Horizon Room on the University of California-Los Angeles campus the evening of April 25.

2008 Nebula Award Winners

Powers - Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sept. 2007)

The Spacetime Pool - Catherine Asaro (Analog, March 2008)

Pride and Prometheus - John Kessel (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan. 2008)

Short Stories
Trophy Wives - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes, eds., DAW Books, January 2008)

WALL-E - Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon. Original story by Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter (Pixar, June 2008)

Andre Norton Award
Flora's Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room) - Ysabeau S. Wilce, (Harcourt, Sept. 2008)

Additional Honors
During the ceremonies, Harry Harrison was honored as the next Damon Knight Grand Master, while M.J. Engh was honored as Author Emerita. Joss Whedon was named recipient of the Bradbury Award for excellence in screenwriting and Victoria Strauss was honored with 2009 SFWA Service Award for her work with Writer Beware.

Additionally, SFWA inaugurated the new Solstice Award, bestowed upon individuals who have made a significant impact on the science fiction or fantasy landscape, and is particularly intended for those who have consistently made a major, positive difference within the speculative fiction field. Honorees for 2009 were Kate Wilhelm, Martin H. Greenberg and the late Algis Budrys. Singer/songwriter Janis Ian served as toastmistress.

About SFWA
Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.

Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,500 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coming soon: Taliban with nukes

NYT: Taliban have seized control of Buner District (and may also be occupying the cyberspace of Butner District), 70 miles from Islamabad.

Analysis from the dark prognosticators at Austin-based Stratfor (which is selling some pretty cheap promotional subscriptions right now, if you are looking for three meals a day of geopolitical red meat):

The Pakistanis either can fight the jihadists now, seeking to limit the conflict to the Pashtun regions of the northwest, or wait to fight — while the jihadists move to strengthen their ability to strike in Punjab province, the heart of Pakistan. The state is being pushed toward taking action by both the deteriorating security situation at home and mounting pressure from the United States. But it is not clear whether there is sufficient political will in Islamabad to go on the offensive.

Much of this is because the state is caught between the contradictory needs to combat the “bad” Taliban (those that fight in Pakistan) while still maintaining influence over the “good” ones (those that fight in Afghanistan). This distinction itself is a problem: The jihadist landscape is far more complicated than such neat binary categorizations would seem to allow. The problems Islamabad faces in this regard offer a glimpse of what the Obama administration can expect in its efforts to distinguish between what Washington sees as Taliban it can deal with versus Taliban it cannot deal with.

Overall, Pakistan’s situation is far more dire than the situation the United States will face in Afghanistan as it increases troop commitments and seeks out pragmatic Taliban with whom to negotiate. For Islamabad, the war is hitting home now more than ever.

May you live in interesting times.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Return of Dr Zavos

The Independent reports on the latest documentary on Cypriot-Kentuckian physician Panayiotis Zavos, who is busy developing human clones at his secret fertility lab in an unnamed country in the Middle East:

Fertility expert: 'I can clone a human being'
Controversial doctor filmed creating embryos before injecting them into wombs of women wanting cloned babies

By Steve Connor, Science Editor


This is the first film of the creation of a human clone designed to be transferred into a woman's womb

"In the future, when we get serious about executing things correctly, this thing will be very easy to do," he said. "If we find out that this technique does not work, I don't intend to step on dead bodies to achieve something because I don't have that kind of ambition. My ambition is to help people."

Dr Zavos also revealed that he has produced cloned embryos of three dead people, including a 10-year-old child called Cady, who died in a car crash. He did so after being asked by grieving relatives if he could create biological clones of their loved ones.

Dr Zavos fused cells taken from these corpses not with human eggs but with eggs taken from cows that had their own genetic material removed. He did this to create a human-animal hybrid "model" that would allow him to study the cloning procedure.

Dr Zavos emphasised that it was never his intention to transfer any of these hybrid embryos into the wombs of women, despite Cady's mother saying she would sanction this if there was any hope of her child's clone being born.

"I would not transfer those embryos. We never did this in order to transfer those embryos," Dr Zavos said. "The hybrid model is the thing that saved us. It's a model for us to learn. First you develop a model and then you go on to the target. We did not want to experiment on human embryos, which is why we developed the hybrid model."

Dr Zavos is collaborating with Karl Illmensee, who has a long track record in cloning experiments dating back to pioneering studies in the early 1980s. They are about to recruit 10 younger couples in need of fertility treatment for the next chapter in his attempts at producing cloned babies.

"I think we know why we did not have a pregnancy," said Dr Zavos. "I think that the circumstances were not as ideal as we'd like them to be. We've done the four couples so far under the kind of limitations that we were working under.

"We think we know why those four transfers didn't take. I think with better subjects – and there are hundreds of people out there who want to do this – if we choose 10 couples, I think we will get some to carry a pregnancy."

The little girl who could 'live' again

Little Cady died aged 10 in a car crash in the US. Her blood cells were frozen and sent to Dr Zavos, who fused them with cow eggs to create cloned human-animal hybrid embryos.

These hybrid embryos were developed in the test tube and used to study the cloning process, but were not transferred into a human womb, despite Cady's mother saying she would sanction this if there was a chance the clone of her little girl could be born. Dr Zavos said he would never transfer hybrid animal clones into the human womb.

However, cells from Cady's "embryo" could in the future be extracted from the frozen hybrid embryo and fused with an empty human egg with its nucleus removed. This double cloning process could produce a human embryo that Dr Zavos said could be transferred into the womb to produce Cady's clone.

Hmm. Recall also the reports a couple of months ago about the increasing enthusiasm among dog breeders for using the frozen sperm of champions to sire show dogs of the future.

We have all experienced, if at the margins, the extent to which the frustrated human instinct for procreation, when married with the most advanced contemporary fertility technologies, produces results against nature.

We know how people love to harvest every opportunity for putative self-expression, pseudo-creativity through consumption that thinly masks our infinite variations of juvenile Narcissistic display.

And we know how feelings for loved ones can drive pretty crazy obsessive strategies.

Beyond the previously discussed opportunities for the superrich to grow their own status display children from the frozen genetic material of dead celebrities, one has to wonder: if the mad doctor has already created embryos resurrecting the life of the dead girl by merging her genetic material with a cow embryo, how long before some well-heeled and slightly deranged parent persuades him to try to bring such a chimera to term in some circumstance where that's the closest they can get to erasing the child's death? In terms of the weird mutations of human psychology, it could totally happen. Envision the strange-looking house pet that is a living homage to the life of a lost child. Mooo. I bet Mom and Dad will let it sleep on their bed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Memos from Room 101

I've read the memos. I previously read all the amazing Mark Danner pieces in the New York Review of Books (and the book compiling the first phase of his work), the result of immense investigative effort that has essentially forced the release of the memos. Without a doubt the most hard-boiled invisible literature I have ever read.

My favorite part of the memos is where the DOJ lawyers evaluate the legality of a plan wherein the interrogators and the pet psychologists, having deduced that Abu Zubaydah has an intense fear of insects, put Zubaydah in a box with a caterpillar that they have convinced him is a poisonous mystery bug. How about that: Orwell's scene from 1984, in which Winston's fear of rats is exploited by the device that puts the hungry rodents next to his face, lives on and is reenacted by actual torturers!

I've also read Cheney's counter-p.r. campaign interviews, arguing that if the government is going to release classified GWOT memos, it should also release the ones showing what they learned and what they prevented. Seems like a reasonable point, and the more of this stuff that becomes public, the better.

(By the way, thanks to whoever in the Obama White House figured out how to keep the cyborg veep in the press every day. I was starting to miss him.)

I have read the reports of Obama's nervous head-patting speech to the C.I.A. employees yesterday.

This thing is really building toward some kind of public war crimes trial of the dark events of the GWOT. At what point do the aggrieved dark practitioners unleash their tradecraft against their own state, playing out some bizarre Kiefer Sutherland version of consensus reality?

And what happens if we actually do get attacked? Maybe the torture trials will provide the perfect venue for the next global guerilla warporn intervention.

What will make a better postmodern Law & Order hack: the torture trials of our own intelligence agents and Chicago school-on-steroids Federalist Society lawyers, or the Kafkaesque saga of the surviving Somali pirate from the Maersk Alabama/Captain Richard Phillips lifeboat affair (the one who didn't get tagged by the SEAL snipers), Abduhl Wali-i-Musi, who just showed up in Manhattan for his trial? Maybe he can get interviewed by Anderson Cooper, and take Anderson hostage live on CNN. That would rock.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Now begins "the Recess."

Times: Author J.G. Ballard dies after lengthy illness.

Baghdad vice

Sunday's NYT brings news of the new order:

Men gather in cafes to smoke a hookah and gamble on dice and domino games. On weekends, the Mustansiriya Coffee Shop’s back room is crammed with low bleachers set up around a clandestine cockfighting ring. On one recent day, the 100 or so spectators were raucous while watching the bloody spectacle, but they placed their bets discreetly.

Gambling, after all, is illegal.

Walid Brahim, 25, a bomb disposal expert with the Iraqi Army, and his brother Farat, 20, an electrician, recently sat side by side at a table in the Nights of Abu Musa bar, on an alley off Saddoun Street, working their way through a bucket of ice and a bottle of Mr. Chavez Whiskey, an Iraqi-made hooch.

“This is great,” Walid Brahim said. “We used to buy alcohol and just drink secretly in our house.”

The bar is men-only, as pretty much all respectable taverns are, but the brothers look forward to an even brighter future.

“If this security continues,” Farat Brahim said, “within a year all the waiters will be girls.”

The local police, weary of years of dodging assassins and cleaning up after car bombings, are blasé about a little vice.

“Today we are dealing with more normal things. All the world is facing such problems,” said Col. Abdel Jaber Qassim Sadir, assistant police chief in Karada, a central Baghdad neighborhood.

“Prostitution, this kind of behavior cannot be stopped,” Colonel Sadir said. “It’s very hard to find it in public; it goes on in secret, isolated places.”

Actually, not so secret. There are a half-dozen night spots in Karada now where the entry fee is $50. With $150 a week considered a good wage, customers would not pay that much merely for the privilege of drinking.

At the Ahalan Wasahalan Club on Al Nidhal Street one recent night, the owner, Tiba Jamal, was holding court, as she usually does, on the dais at the front of a room with a mostly empty dance floor and lots of tables.

Ms. Jamal calls herself the Sheikha, or a female sheik, an honorific title she has apparently adopted. She dresses in a head-to-toe, skin-tight black chador, and she is adorned with several pounds of solid gold bracelets, pendants, necklaces, earrings and rings, her response to the financial crisis.

The cyborg veep may be gone, but his dream of a Middle Eastern Hooters franchise is on the verge of being realized.

You can read an excerpt from my own vision of Baghdad vice here.

Also in today's paper, on the backside of the sports section, is Lawrence Ulrich's hard-boiled review of the new Camaro:

In Detroit around 1980, my friend Donnie and I borrowed his dad’s hopped-up Camaro from the early 1970s. We were about 17, so you can guess the rest. Donnie lost control and bored straight into a parked car on Gratiot Avenue, but I never looked up because I was biting into a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme. My head flew through the windshield, but aside from some decorative glass in my forehead, I was unscathed.

I stumbled from the car, and a woman on the sidewalk screamed in horror. What she assumed were my leaking brains was in fact the exploded burrito — a primitive air bag? — whose refried shrapnel also covered every part of the car’s interior.

That’s the kind of story you won’t hear from Prius owners.

Jack Womack illustrates the appropriate response to the economic meltdown

Get laid off from your publishing job, take a trip to Barcelona, and repurpose it as the metropolitan Innsmouth. Genius hilarious photoblogging @ William Gibson blog.

How eldritch would HPL have found Barcelona?

1) Enough so to prompt the writing of a short 78,000 word letter to Clark Ashton Smith.
2) Worse than Iggy's Clam Shack, just outside Warwick, RI.
3) "Howard Lovecraft awoke one morning to find himself transformed into a resident of Brooklyn."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday morning psychogeography

On foot from downtown Austin as the world emerges from 36 hours of thunderstorms. Breakfast, bookstores new and used, and overflowing urban creeks.

Sweet boogie van, yours for eight k.

Poster art of 12th and Shoal Creek.

Entry to the apartments at 12th and Shoal Creek.

Ugandan trailer trash (Dukes of Harare). Yes, another boogie van.

Free man in Pease Park, leafing through damp back issues of The New Yorker.

New book = happy boy.

Fearless Twits (NFOTF on Twitter)

Even more gnomic variations of NFOTF here:

Chris Nakashima-Brown >

Jess Nevins >

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

National devolution, in progress (aka, liberty's natural manure)

Walking home from work in downtown Austin this evening, I saw a variety of Austinites heading north from a libertarian protest on the shores of "Lady Bird Lake." Plenty of white male curmudgeons, a notable share of body art laden-bohos, and even my son's earnest and kind orthodontist. When prosperous suburban orthodontists want to revolt, one can reasonably wonder whether some fundamental fabric in the nation has been torn. The report from our less weird neighbors in Dallas:

Perry fires up anti-tax crowd
Dallas Morning News

By KELLEY SHANNON / Associated Press

Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states' rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!"

An animated Perry told the crowd at Austin City Hall — one of three tea parties he was attending across the state — that officials in Washington have abandoned the country's founding principles of limited government. He said the federal government is strangling Americans with taxation, spending and debt.


Perry called his supporters patriots. Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

He said when Texas entered the union in 1845 it was with the understanding it could pull out. However, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas negotiated the power to divide into four additional states at some point if it wanted to but not the right to secede.

Texas did secede in 1861, but the North's victory in the Civil War put an end to that.


After praising veterans in the cheering crowd Wednesday, he said: "I'm just not real sure you're a bunch of right-wing extremists. But if you are, we're with you."

Perry said he believes he could be at the center of a national movement that is coordinated and focused in its opposition to the actions of the federal government.

"It's a very organic thing," he said. "It is a very powerful moment, I think, in American history."

To understand this, you have to recognize that Texas has a stronger national identity than the union of which it is a member. The entire social studies curriculum from early elementary school through middle school, whether in private or public school, is devoted to Texas history. Some teachers, like my son's, use this curricular mandate as an opportunity for a socialist critical approach to Texas as a Latin American studies laboratory. But even when subverted like that, it's still all about Texas, the only state I have lived in that has its own indigenous forms of national dress, music, literature, and cuisine. The sign of the National Guard base visible from one of our main freeways reads "HEADQUARTERS — TEXAS MILITARY FORCES." And while one may have an intuitive averse reaction to the right wing nutjob factor in all this, when you see the over-tattooed members of an imaginary Warren Ellis underground and the post-Willie stoner cowboys in the mix, you are reminded that there is a wonderful idea of almost anarchic freedom running through it. I can't stand Governor Rick Perry, but I love revolutionary orthodontists, even when their main bitch is having to pay Uncle Sam too much of their personal profits from straightening American teen smiles.

Many of these folks no doubt are listeners to "Radio Free Austin," the almost-pirate micro-FM that broadcasts from relay transmitters located in populist backyards all over town, sometimes with freeway-facing improvised billboards, carrying the paranoid rants of homegrown conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a kind of GWOT-era Bill Hicks crossed with Network's "mad as hell" broadcaster Howard Beale. (See. e.g., the post on Jones' Infowars site tonight attacking Perry's "cynical effort to exploit the tea party movement and states' rights.")

Particularly interesting to me is this mass popular resurgence of the idea of the right of revolt, expressed in Texas (the only state that was an independent nation) as the right to secede from the national union. As previously noted here, the highest courts in the land have recently cited this extra-Constitutional, natural law (Declaration of Independence) right of revolt as the political theoretical underpinning of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. What would John Roberts do if someone actually tried to rely on that purported right to take arms against the government? As a federal Constitutional mater, the right of secession is unfounded — Texas purportedly has, at most, the right to subdivide into four or five states and thereby increase its federal representative power. But if the legislature passed a resolution asserting such a right, citing some more theoretical source of law, how would it play out? Could the Obama:Lincoln analogies be tested more precisely than anyone imagined? Could Indian-American Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal be the 21st century Jefferson Davis? Gone with the Wind remade real-time in consensus reality as a Sterlingian Bollywood song and dance dystopia?

Lots of intriguing science fictional scenarios. I mean, if the Ukrainians are free to do it, why aren't we? And if the crazy ass Texas government and people actually asserted their putative right to secede, what the hell would happen? You know, other than the fact that all the other states that endured eight years of postmodern W. Texana would say good riddance. Maybe we can all get in Howard Waldrop's truck and invade Oklahoma or something. Or ally with Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon and start our own guns and drugs and live music libertarian narco-paradise. ¡Viva!

Really Alternative Cinema: the return

Sorry I haven't been around much lately: my wife and I bought a science fiction bookshop last year, and between that and teaching and other commitments, I've had very little time for writing. I started a review of Alternities in January for the 'Lost Books' series, but haven't even had time to re-read it to make sure I have the names correct.

Needless to say, I haven't wasted what little time I have reading any of the Twilight books (though I have sold a disturbing number of them), nor have I seen the movie... but it did just occur to me to wonder what the movie might have been like if the studio's greenlight guys had given the job of adapting the novel to devotees not of Stephenie Meyer, but of Russ Meyer.*

Now, that's something I want to explore if/when I get some writing time again. Watch this space!

* Stranger things do happen in Hollywood. After all, Akiva Goldsman is still being hired to adapt comics and sf novels.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pirates of the Somalian Coast

Okay, now I know this is treading dangerously close to Chris Nakashima-Brown turf, but this Somalian piracy plague is becoming quite the melodrama, what with all the hand-wringing in the aftermath of Captain Richard Phillips' rescue. Piracy always seemed cut-and-dried to me, so imagine my surprise to come across this particularly juicy quote:
One official said bluntly that piracy is a crime, not an act of war or even terrorism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made, including about whether to expand or change the military's current role in fighting piracy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the seafaring nations of the world have always classified piracy as a particularly heinous act that transcends mere criminality or acts-of-war. Historically, the military might of afflicted nations has served as the front line in the fight against piracy on the high seas, not the FBI, not Scotland Yard and not Interpol. Methinks the unnamed official hasn't ever listened all that closely to the Marines' Hymn-- the "Shores of Tripoli" ain't included simply because the lyrics fit. You know, the infamous Barbary pirates that plagued U.S. shipping and prompted the two Barbary Wars in the 19th century. Unless my reading of history is in error and repeated viewings of Pirates of the Caribbean have led me astray, this problem is very much a military issue.

Listening to the talking heads on NPR, CNN or MSNBC (and presumably Fox News, although for all I know Bill O'Reilly could be advocating a blanket nuclear barrage) you'll likely hear someone--possibly trying to start a drinking game among college students--repeat that the Somali coastline is almost as long as the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and impossible to fully guard against pirates. Which is patently bullshit. The second part, not the first. The U.S. Navy has close to 300 ships operating, which includes roughly 11 carriers, 22 cruisers, 52 destroyers and 30 frigates. We could lock the Somali coast down if we chose to. And that doesn't count the British, French and other navies. The real issue here is that, from a cost-benefits standpoint, it's not particularly attractive to commit the resources necessary to do so. In short, the shipping nations of the world want to stop the pirates, but they want to do it on the cheap. In this particular scenario, the long-neglected Corvette class of small fighting ships, so effective in World War II against the Nazi U-boat menace in the north Atlantic, would seem to be particularly suited for anti-pirate duty. While the U.S. has only the Littoral combat ship on the drawing boards, the stealthy, fast German Braunschweig seem ideally suited for this kind of anti-pirate work. Pair a handful of these small, fast warships with this little bit of musical wisdom dating back to the '70s, and I'd wager dollars to donuts that the incidence of successful pirate attacks around the Horn of Africa dropped precipitously in a matter of months.

I wonder if President Obama is familiar with the works of C.W. McCall?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Okay, but where are the dang squids?

io9 reports that self-proclaimed non-science fiction writer Margaret Atwood's latest is a near-future tale of economic dystopia, as also revealed in her interview in yesterday's NYT. No talking squids in outer space, alas, but it does have chimerae! Yes, wacky manimals! And Ren and Stimpy, only now they're girls, and one of them is locked in a post-apocalyptic spa! Like The Road, except with cute fuzzy creatures to eat! Stay tuned for future interviews in which she explains how this is *not* sf. From the Amazon description:

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners-a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life-has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers...

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can't stay locked away...

I recently gave a talk in which I lauded work like this, in which late literary modernists like Atwood and McCarthy explore science fictional scenarios as the laboratory to spelunk a deeper sort of psychological realism than can be achieved in conventional settings. What I chose not to mention is how often these efforts manage to be more unintentionally self-parodic than the pulpiest redigested space opera. While, as I wrote, McCarthy in The Road "applies Hemingway logic of brutally honest reductionism to discover, counter-intuitively, that the world is most accurately depicted as a minimalist post-apocalyptic cannibal zombie novel," he also, you know, wrote an Oprah-worthy post-apocalyptic cannibal zombie novel.

Perhaps the antimatter missing from this cultural stew is more science fiction writers writing mainstream novels. Something that would rupture the fabric of consensus reality like some Bruce Sterling chick lit — you know, 70,000 words of young professionals in contemporary urban Chicago exposing their *feelings* to each other? Or maybe an Ursula K. LeGuin epic about building a high school football program in a small-town in Hawaii? A Greg Egan mind-bender about the mid-life melancholy of a suburban Dallas real estate agent? That would totally rock. Especially if they all insisted that these works were works of *science fiction*.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dystopia before Adbusters

Speaking of branding of the future, Den of Geek! has a great collection of advertisements from science fiction film: things like the promo reel for Westworld, the Orwellian billboards from Brazil ("Happiness — We're all in it together"), the vintage magazine ads for utopian pharmaceuticals from Scanners, and, embedded above, an official endorsement of Soylent Green.

Remember, "Tuesday is Soylent Green Day."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brain-scanning the Christians

At AdAge today, a new video about a bizarre experiment in which Martin Lindstrom of Buyology scanned the brains of people of religious faith while exposing them to a mix of images of their faith and images from leading consumer brands to determine the extent to which the psychological drivers of brand loyalty and religious belief overlap. The video is worth the three-minute viewing just for the segment about the earnest young English Catholic fellow being pulled into the MRI for his Clockwork Orange mindfuck montage of Rolexes and rosaries and Mother Theresa and dudes on Harleys and communion wafers and Amex Gold cards.

The results? Turns out the leading "cult" brands like Ferrari, Harley-Davidson and Guinness highly correlate with the world's great religions in the following sentiments of their believers:

A sense of belonging - 85%
A clear vision - 82%
Power from enemies - 74%
Sensory appeal - 89%
Storytelling - 79%
Grandeur - 88%
Evangelism - 93%
Symbols - 92%
Mystery - 74%
Rituals - 90%

In contrast, weaker brands produce much lower correlations. Marks like KFC, AT&T, Microsoft and BP yielded scores in the 30% range.

Lindstrom suggests this gives marketers an idea of what the successful characteristics of the brands of the future will look like. I am immediately reminded of Michael Burleigh's amazing recent history of The Third Reich, that freshly confronts Nazism as a messianic totalitarian religious faith, and the lessons of what happens when a quasi-religious political movement gets a good branding strategy. I am perhaps not as interested as what the messianic *consumer* marketing brands will be in the future (which may after all be a post-consumer (and definitely post-AdAge) economy. What it really makes me wonder is how the advancements of consumer marketing (yes, roll over Philip K. Dick, Madison Avenue is actually scanning our brains to divine how to commercialize our religious yearnings) will impact the development of organized religion and political brands. If Obama is our Pepsi-branded secular messiah, what happens when the image makers have this kind of data to work with? Thank God the "mass media" is dying before they can go to the next level in manipulating us as a mass...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Buscando le nouveau Weg (or, ¿Donde esta el Journal of Twitter Poetry?)

[Pic: Los Pikadientes de Caborca]

I recently spent a week in Mexico with a bunch of English-language writers and a wonderful collection of Mexican writers, editors, and arts management folks.We spent a lot of time talking with the moderators about the role of sf as literature. In our downtime, one of the contextual themes was the business of writing, and the sense that the business model for writers is increasingly fucked. One or two members of our collegial group support themselves as much through speaking gigs and honoraria as words in print (not unlike the musicians who make the money off concert performances in a post-Napster world), some supplement their writing income with day jobs, and a couple are far enough along in their careers that they seem to have escaped the famine (though they still have strong feelings about protecting traditional copyright). While I think we mostly avoided overt discussion of the subject at any length, the question of what's the business model for a twenty-first century writer loomed over the bar all week.

In the future, science fiction writers will be like poets, only a lot nerdier. (In fact, there's a pretty good case they already are.)

So as I troll through the Sunday paper (yes, in my secret fidelity to the old ways, I still have a home delivery subscription to a daily newspaper), perhaps I should not be surprised to see clues to the answer coming back at me from Mexico. Consider this Arts Section story from Josh Kun about how a rural Mexican band hit the charts:

ONE of the biggest Latin hits of the past year arrived on the Billboard charts all the way from Caborca, a small desert hill town in the Mexican state of Sonora, mostly thanks to a cellphone.

Last year Los Pikadientes de Caborca recorded “La Cumbia del Río” — a bare-boned singalong about dancing and partying by the side of a local river — on a home computer, uploaded it to their cellphones and, with help from Bluetooth and Memory Sticks, shared it with friends. The song quickly went viral, and its grass-roots popularity led to heavy rotation on radio stations across Sonora; before long, cellphone videos of people dancing to the song were flooding YouTube.

Los Pikadientes had no record label, but suddenly they were the digital darlings of regional Mexican music, with a hit on both sides of the border.

Sony offered the band a record deal and rereleased “La Cumbia del Río,” which spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Regional Mexican chart. The song’s ring tone sold more than 150,000 copies in the United States, and the band released a debut album, “Vámonos Pa’l Río,” which was nominated for a 2008 Grammy. The song is still on the Latin charts.

“We have to be honest; we wouldn’t exist without cellphones and ring tones,” said Francisco Gonzalez (who goes by the single name Pancho) of Los Pikadientes, whose new album is scheduled for June, complete with an elaborate ring-tone marketing plan. “We ended up doing eight months of promotion in the United States because of that one song. We’re the ultimate cellphone success story.”

One of the things Bruce Sterling riffed on during his talk in Mexico City was the idea of a regional literature (and music and other arts) where the region is the planet. Ergo, Mexico City is "the global capital of Latin American globalization," and Mexicans have more standing to write about future Torino than a contemporary Turinese like, say, Bruno Argento. While La Cumbia del Río seems distinctly regional, revealing a lifestyle an attitude about life in rural Sonora, you can see the future unreeling in this viral meme, as you imagine what's going to come back at these guys from other cultures, and how it will start to change what they do and how they situate themselves in the world.

See, e.g., Spin the Roti and Rap Raga Polski, regarding the strange discovery of Polish hip-hop in a Bollywood style.

How long before there is some South Asian rhythm running through the mixes blasting from the pickups parked by the river in Caborca? Before the ladies in town are watching South Korean telenovelas like Winter Sonata. Before the world experiences the strange congruence of North Korean Norteño?

The next story in the thread comes from the "SundayStyles" section, in a very well-researched piece by Jenna Wortham. About how to make a killing writing a killer app, for, naturally the phone.

Is there a good way to nail down a steady income? In this economy?

Try writing a successful program for the iPhone.

Last August, Ethan Nicholas and his wife, Nicole, were having trouble making their mortgage payments. Medical bills from the birth of their younger son were piling up. After learning that his employer, Sun Microsystems, was suspending employee bonuses for the year, Mr. Nicholas considered looking for a new job and putting their house in Wake Forest, N.C., on the market.

Then he remembered reading about the guy who had made a quarter-million dollars in a hurry by writing a video game called Trism for the iPhone. “I figured if I could even make a fraction of that, we’d be able to make ends meet,” he said.

Although he had years of programming experience, Mr. Nicholas, who is 30, had never built a game in Objective-C, the coding language of the iPhone. So he searched the Internet for tips and informal guides, and used them to figure out the iPhone software development kit that Apple puts out.

Because he grew up playing shoot-em-up computer games, he decided to write an artillery game. He sketched out some graphics and bought inexpensive stock photos and audio files.

For six weeks, he worked “morning, noon and night” — by day at his job on the Java development team at Sun, and after-hours on his side project. In the evenings he would relieve his wife by caring for their two sons, sometimes coding feverishly at his computer with one hand, while the other rocked baby Gavin to sleep or held his toddler, Spencer, on his lap.

After the project was finished, Mr. Nicholas sent it to Apple for approval, quickly granted, and iShoot was released into the online Apple store on Oct. 19.

When he checked his account with Apple to see how many copies the game had sold, Mr. Nicholas’s jaw dropped: On its first day, iShoot sold enough copies at $4.99 each to net him $1,000. He and Nicole were practically “dancing in the street,” he said.

The second day, his portion of the day’s sales was about $2,000.

On the third day, the figure slid down to $50, where it hovered for the next several weeks. “That’s nothing to sneeze at, but I wondered if we could do better,” Mr. Nicholas said.

In January, he released a free version of the game with fewer features, hoping to spark sales of the paid version. It worked: iShoot Lite has been downloaded more than 2 million times, and many people have upgraded to the paid version, which now costs $2.99. On its peak day — Jan. 11 — iShoot sold nearly 17,000 copies, which meant a $35,000 day’s take for Mr. Nicholas.

“That’s when I called my boss and said, ‘We need to talk,’ ” Mr. Nicholas said. “And I quit my job.”

Compelling stuff. The Twitter-ization of copyrighted content, perhaps? In an ADD world, content (mostly) does better in more digestible chunks. Songs, applets, cheap little content subscriptions, all supported by micropayments. And in an economically distressed world, micropayments may be the right price.

The third story in the thread comes, unexpectedly, from the Week in Review section, a piece by film reviewer A.O. Scott on "Brevity's Pull" — the postulate that the publishing industry's marriage to the monolithic novel is about to break under the pressure of external change.

To call an American writer a master of the short story can be taken at best as faint praise, or at worst as an insult, akin to singling out an ambitious novelist’s journalism — or, God forbid, criticism — as her most notable accomplishment. The short story often looks like a minor or even vestigial literary form, redolent of M.F.A.-mill make-work and artistic caution. A good story may survive as classroom fodder or be appreciated as an interesting exercise, an étude rather than a sonata or a symphony.

A young writer who turns up at the office of an editor or literary agent with a volume of stories is all but guaranteed a chilly, pitying welcome. That kind of thing is just not commercial. Contrary examples like Raymond Carver, who wrote almost no piece of fiction longer than a dozen pages, tend to confirm the rule. Carver, who died too young in 1988, was praised for his reticence and verbal thrift. He was a great miniaturist whose work grew in an anxious, straitened era, whose virtues lay in going small and staying home. But the conventional wisdom in American letters has always been that size matters, that the big-game hunters and heavyweight fighters — take your pick of Hemingway-Mailer macho sports metaphors — go after the Great American Novel.

But this maximalist ideology may be completely wrong, or at least in serious need of revision. The great American writers of the 19th century, whose novels are now staples of the syllabus, all excelled in the short form. Herman Melville’s “Piazza Tales” are as lively and strange as “Moby-Dick”; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales and sketches are pithier than “The Scarlet Letter”; Henry James’s stories, supernatural and otherwise, show a gift for concision along with the master’s expected psychological acuity. And the first great American fiction writer, Edgar Allan Poe, secured his immortality by packing more sensation into a few pages than most of his contemporaries could manage in a volume.

The near-simultaneous appearance of three new literary biographies offers a powerful and concentrated challenge to the habit of undervaluing the short story. The subjects of these lives — Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever and Donald Barthelme — all produced longer work as well, but their reputations rest on shorter work. And this work, far from being minor, is among the most powerfully original American fiction produced in the second half of the 20th century.

Much of it, indeed, makes the novel look superfluous. The literary landscape of the 1950s and early ’60s was thick with Southern writers, Roman Catholic writers, writers who dabbled in the gothic and the absurd, but none came close to the blend of grotesque comedy, moral seriousness and steel-trap intellectual rigor that courses through O’Connor’s tales of wayward Southerners. And no sprawling, anguished epic of marital unhappiness or suburban malaise can match the insight and elegance of, say, “The Swimmer,” Cheever’s perfect parable of affluent anomie.

As for Barthelme, he not only brought the energies of the indigenous avant-garde to the pages of The New Yorker, but also somehow married high-powered experimentalism with middlebrow entertainment without betraying either. If the big, anti-realist novels of John Barth and Thomas Pynchon are giant machines — more than a little imposing, perhaps a little dangerous — Barthelme’s sketches are ingenious gadgets that rest comfortably in your hand, throwing out sparks and shocks.

Reading through their collected stories, you wonder if novels are even necessary. The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose.

I completely agree, and then hasten to say I've heard (and said) it all before. But considered in the context of these other trends, I can't help but wonder whether there isn't something more to it now.

Writers probably neglect the extent to which their forms are dictated by technology. Printing words on paper is a technology, as is the physical transportation and distribution system used to get the words to the readers. Though I'm not ready for a Kindle, and my room is piled with big fat books and pulpy little paperbacks (some of them kind of smelly), I can't help but wonder whether the form, and the example of some of these other arts, isn't pointing the way for us.

We know that less is generally more. That a short poem can pack in a lot more meaning (or at least raw linguistic power) than an entire book. And a Borgesian ficcion or a Ballardian "condensed novel" or a Barthelmian power chord riff can unpack wonder with more potency than any novel constrained by the rules of bourgeois narrative. The maximum mindfuck explodes from narrative acts of nuclear fission.

I read written works on my iPhone. The public domain pulp doesn't really do it for me. The complete Shakespeare in a single applet, on the other hand, does, especially in small doses — as much as a scene and as little as a single passage.

Have you ever looked at one of the mainstream commercial science fiction magazines on the newsstand, at your favorite bookshop? Do you think anyone who's never been to a filk would ever buy a thing that looks like a cross between Reader's Digest and soft tentacle porn? The stories inside are better, but even they are following the old form of the old medium. The literature of the future, alas, is trapped in the technology of the 1930s.

So as I think about this, I can't help but wonder if the next important literary magazine won't be a magazine at all, but rather some sort of cell phone/PDA applet that loads fresh content in digestible chunks to the user's client device. With a (tentacle-free) graphical interface that amplifies the prose. One can even imagine a journal constrained by the 140-character Twitter box. What more perfect container to pack herds of smart gnomes and breed some 21st century post-haiku?

Language is a virus from outer space, right? So why can't it go viral like La Cumbia del Río?

Thursday, April 2, 2009



The militia bodyguards shoved the Empress and her handmaiden roughly through the gaping window. An instant later, an explosion of white-hot plasma geysered out. The concussion threw Flavius to the ground.

“Ach! God... damn!” he muttered, blinking streaks away from his eyes. “Who’s the mad bastard what gives militia weapons that can wipe out a whole battalion if they get knocked about?”

He staggered up, using Memory for support. Acaona lay dazed a short distance away, but apparently unhurt. The force of the blast had snuffed the fires she’d started amid the bloodnettles, but that same blast seemed to have stunned the wretched plants as well.

The several of the militiamen stirred. Several others did not. Flavius picked his way over them to the crumpled forms of Empress Malinche and Papantzin.

“Stop...” demanded Captain Pacal in a wobbly tone. Blood streaked his face. “Don’t you dare--”

“Dinnae be a git. I was nae ever going to hurt them. Well, nae the Empress at any rate,” Flavius answered, then frowned. “It’d help if ya could understand me, though.”

He knelt down over the still forms. The Empress and Papantzin had landed at odd angles, but the bloodnettles appeared to have broken their fall. At least they were breathing and didn’t appear to have any broken bones.

The thunder of distant explosions echoed across the gardens. Smoke billowed out of the ruined apartment above. More smoke rose from various points around the palace, dark streamers against the starry sky. The ground underfoot shuddered urgently.

“Right. That settles it. Up ya go.” Flavius scooped up the Empress’ inert form and threw her over his shoulder.

Papantzin grabbed his leg. He kicked free.

“I’m nae about to hurt yer Empress, but I’m nae going to carry ya as well,” he snapped. “Come along if ya want, but yer on yer own to keep up. And that goes for ya too, Captain.”

Papantzin caught Captain Pacal’s questioning look. “Follow him,” she said. Pacal nodded.

“Why?” Acaona fell in beside Flavius, his pack balanced awkwardly across her back.

“Why didn’t you leave her?”


“That’s not an answer.”

“Because... I dinnae leave behind women, that’s why.”

“You were perfectly willing to leave Papantzin,” Acaona pointed out.

“Yeah, well, I havenae been naked with Papantzin, have I?” Flavius stopped as he reached the footpath through the gardens, kicking away a last, die-hard bloodnettle tendril. “And God help me if I ever am... Where the hell are we? I’m turned around.”

“A better question is where are we going?” Acaona said.

“Right. Finding a Nexial gap is my priority now. Parric’ll meet us there. I hope,” Flavius said, scanning the grounds for signs of the Crafter. “If we cannae get to a gap, then my second choice is one of those flying things.”

“A wej?”

“Aye. Can ya pilot one?” he asked hopefully.


Flavius sighed. “Nae matter. There’s always a first time for everything.” He looked back. Papantzin, Captain Pacal and three stood warily watching him. “Lass, translate for the captain here. We’re going to try and find some shelter, someplace safe--” The ground lurched again. “--nae that I’m confident that’s possible. I give ya Her Imperial Majesty here, and ya let me and Acaona here be on our way. Agreed?”

Acaona repeated Flavius’ ultimatum. Captain Pacal swallowed uneasily, then nodded.

“That’s a smart man. Let’s move.” As they started down the trail, Flavius bent to Acaona. “First likely spot, eh? She’s damn heavy, and my back’s killing me where that bastard speared me.”

Acaona nodded and pointed to an ornate archway ahead. “That’s the palace opera hall. There’s a direct hall leading to the Imperial wing, and backstage we can--”

The entire façade collapsed outward. Dust billowed up, a thick cloud obscuring the stars above. Through the destruction lumbered a massive, many-legged form.

“Bugger me,” Flavius whispered. He sloughed the Empress off his shoulder and pressed her into the Captain’s startled arms. “She’s all yers, now. Good luck keeping her safe with these bastards roaming about.”

“Flavius, what is that thing?” Acaona whispered.

The moironteau had stopped moving. Three of its footheads scanned the gardens. The dust obscured the party for the moment, but it was quickly settling.

“That nasty piece of work is evil incarnate, so far as I’m concerned. Killed me a hundred times or so. I’d like to not make it a hundred and one.” He swapped Memory from right hand to left and back again. “Lassie, that beastie is hunting me, and it’s going to spy me any second. You need to get yerself as far away from me as ya-– Too late. Here it comes.”

Flavius pushed Acaona along the path after Captain Pacal, who’d already begun retreating with the Empress. The moironteau stomped inexorably toward Flavius, unsure of its quarry, but gaining confidence with each step. It stopped abruptly, it’s great bulk looming above Flavius, two great footheads clicking their teeth as the rings of black eyes studied him.

Feet planted apart, Flavius stared up at the moironteau. He flexed his fingers along the hilt as he held his claymore ready. “Memory, I ken we two’ve faced down worse than this in one life or another. But yer still new to me and there’s a lot in ya that’s still foggy to me... so if ya’ve any past experiences what are particularly relevant to this situation, now’s a good time to share.”

Without warning, a foothead stuck. The lightning-quick blow hit with such force to send up a spray of dirt and gravel as it swallowed Flavius whole.