Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DigiWriMo 2012

Oh, all right, fine. (That's me agreeing, but in something a huff.) I'll have a go at DigiWriMo, because it'd be nice for a change to get beyond the sense of having recently meant to have written something. I'm interested to see whether and how writing online -- "digital writing," he scoffed, "puh-leeeeze" -- can work as a distinct practice rather than just as a different publication venue.

The primary venue for my writing will likely be three blogs:

  • Not Strategic: dating back to my deep frustration at the draft UVic strategic plan, released in 2011, this blog seems like as good a place as any for me to articulate assorted professional frustrations and questions
  • Book Addiction: this very blog you're reading now, this month should give me a push to make some connections between some of the posts I've written and books I've read over the last several years
  • Ecology Writing Pedagogy: this one may not fly. I set it up as my blog for #CFHE12, a MOOC which started on October 8, 2012, on the Current/Future State of Higher Education, but marking and contract bargaining/mediation meant that I couldn't make time even to start articulating my thoroughly conflicted views on the questions being raised under the #CFHE12 hashtag. Like I said, I'd like to get beyond the sense of having recently meant to have written something.

BUT FOR THE RECORD: people don't need to write more, so much as they need to READ more. I'm opposed neither to Digital Writing Month nor to NaNoWriMo, National (?!?) Novel Writing Month, but there's only so much benefit to having lots of people running off at the finger-tips. Quite apart from the chance of finally achieving the million-monkey Hamlet, the great literacy challenge of our time isn't writing, but reading. There's already vastly more text, digital and otherwise, than can reasonably be read by any one person, and on irregular sad occasions I find myself simply purging my list of online pages to visit and read, out of despair at ever getting the time for them.

So my worry about DigiWriMo, frankly, is that I'll join the hordes of writers for a month, but at the cost of all the reading that I do so enjoy.

And of course the marking has to get done, some way, some time: 75 lecture summaries currently in hand, 75 project proposals arriving in mid-November, grad student supervisions. Somehow I see no cachet or future in DigiMarkMo.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25 - Volume Two

We needed a break from contract mediation this afternoon, so we took a walk -- and then the admin team wasn't ready for us, so off I went to Volume Two for a handful of used books, three of the five SF from the 60s and 70s:

  • Poul Anderson, The Horn of Time ($2.99: "The 20th century played a game of nuclear Russian roulette. And lost.")
  • Poul Anderson, New America (autographed, and yet $2.99: 200 years ago, the 21st-century World State sent the Jeffersonians into exile on another planet - but is the cosmos still big enough for both groups?)
  • Lester del Rey, The Eleventh Commandment ($2.99: "Earth was a teeming, desperate hell-hole... over-populated beyond the wildest nightmare and rife with starvation and disease. And still the people multiplied. They had no choice. The Eleventh Commandment ordained it, and the militant ruling religion enforced it.")
  • Graham Purchase, Anarchism and Ecology ($7.99, from Black Rose Books: "the history of our slow alienation from locale ... [toward] a social-ecological revolution")
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Antarctica ($4.99: eco-sabotage versus corporate plunder, as expiration looms for the international treaty protecting the continent! Oh, shut up, I think it'll be amazing. Shut up! I really do!)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars ($4.99: the second volume in the terraforming of Mars)
Book-shopping didn't calm me down much, but that's okay. I've really enjoyed the experience of contract negotiations, as well as mediation: lack of admin buy-in and movement aside, I'll keep doing this work.

And also keep reading terrible SF. I wonder if there's any connection....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brian Aldiss, Hothouse

There's all kinds of fascinating fiction out there about the end of humanity, with different kinds of terms for the discourse about it: human extinction, Dying Earth, Last Man, that sort of thing. I'm going to have to dig into the different terms much more carefully than I've yet gotten around to, if next year I get to teach the course on this that I expect to. For now, let me say only that these kinds of novels provide some seriously useful perspective that we ought to be drawing on when we think about climate change.

More particularly, Brian Aldiss' 1962 novel Hothouse illustrates - with no scientific veracity whatsoever, mind - just how wildly different the world could become in the future.

The back cover blurb, from my 1964 edition from Four Square:
The sun is going nova.
Its red disc hangs immobile in the sky, showering one half of the Earth with powerful radiation. A fantastic banyan tree covers the sunny side, and in its huge interior the descendants of human life fight their last desperate struggle for survival. Gone is man, the master of Earth: in his place is a small, puny, defenceless creature that has to spend most of its waking hours avoiding giant insects and other deadly traps that threaten its life.
In this inferno of eccentric destruction is Gren, the born rebel, who embarks upon man's last great adventure.
Or as the front cover put it: "In the far distant future, humans are tiny, green-skinned beings living in a vast tree."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sherman Alexie, Indian Killer

WTF German edition cover
In my one-sentence reviews of each story from Michael Chabon's McSweeney's Mammoth Treasure of Thrilling Tales, I thought I made an elegant, understated notation regarding Sherman Alexie's story "Ghost Dance": viz, "let me use capitals, so there's no mistake about what I mean -- HOLY SHIT, WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION ALL ON ITS BLOODY, ANTI-COLONIALIST, ZOMBIE-LOVING OWN."

So yeah, I'm kind of a fan: loved Toughest Indian in the World, too.

Sherman Alexie has a knack for moving along the action in his fiction: Indian Killer is fast, and you meet a lot of characters in a small space. Published in 1996, it's basically a murder mystery with depth, genre fiction that proves the ridiculousness of using the term "genre fiction" as a putdown. Characters keep getting excluded, and whether or not they deserve shunning, it's painful every time, even when you find yourself pushed to laugh. It's funny, Indian Killer, which might be a surprise if you started the book hearing only about the violence, the urban poverty, and the intensely colonialist oppression that shapes the lives of Alexie's Indian characters. All that stuff's there, but ....

An example. Aaron Rogers is a young man involved in the random, extreme beating of Indians in downtown Seattle, and at one point he gets some advice from his father -- Buck Rogers. (You may have heard the name before.) He's not the smartest guy, but actually Buck's advice to his angry, racist son is sound: in answer to Aaron's complaint about things changing for the worse, and blaming Indians for it, Buck replies only, "Son, things have never been like you think they used to be" (p.387).