Bitchy Boss, Rebellious Employee (or both)?

Learning to Love (and Leave) Deadlines

Many creatives and entrepreneurs, especially in the early part of their careers, are working for themselves, in every sense. They are working without the benefit of anyone else’s expectations; they are working without the benefit of pay; they are working for their future or for love for the craft.

When you’re working for yourself, at some point, you may find that you need to set some deadlines. At another point, you may find you need to break them. But how do you decide when to be the bitchy boss, and when to be the rebellious employee? Read more »

Freaks’ Amour, by Tom De Haven

Mutants on the Outside, Looking In

Hardcore. That’s the word that comes to mind. But not just because Freaks’ Amour refers to a XXX rated show where Normals go to watch mutant men rape their wives and girlfriends (and for a finale the Normals pelt them with rotten fruit). The sex scenes are not particularly graphic, and they don’t need to be. The idea itself is hardcore enough… and that’s just the beginning.

This powerful novel takes place in a world where a small nuclear explosion in Jersey City has created a race of mutants with a wide variety of bizarre attributes: fur, gills, bird claws, misshapen skulls and limbs. Animals, too, mutated, including giant gold fish that produced tiny, hard-shelled eggs…Death Eggs, so named because they seemingly kill anyone who consumes them. Read more »

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine

This novel, which received a Nebula nomination for Best Novel, takes place in a post-war landscape. The particulars are left vague: we know that there were bombs and radiation, followed by smaller wars for control, and the creation of city-states. Outside of these, borders have become fluid, and life brutal.

To stay out of trouble, the Circus Tresaulti travels a wide circuit; the towns they visit may not exist by the time they return. Those who join the circus are looking for a measure of security, or a job that doesn’t involve killing. Most were soldiers once.

In this world, people don’t live long. So, for a select few, the idea of having boss (the powerful woman who runs the circus) replace their body parts with metal gadgets seems like an attractive option, even if that means becoming something no longer quite human. Read more »

A Visit to La Casa Vieja, San Antonio de las Minas

Last week I wrote about the town of San Antonio de Las Minas (in the wine country of Baja California, Mexico), but I have one more highlight to share with you: an old ranch called La Casa Vieja. The historic adobe home dates back to at least the 1800s, and the rhythm of this place still seems to move at the slower pace of a bygone era.

The ranch has been owned by the same family since Don Agustin Toscano and his wife Dona Petra moved there to raise their three sons in the 1950s. Locals would congregate at the adobe house to buy queso fresco and fresh tortillas, mebrillo, oranges, table grapes, olives, and jams and preserves that Dona Petra made at the ranch – all of this without the benefit of electricity. Read more »

Touring San Antonio de Las Minas, Baja California Wine Country

One of my favorite places in the Baja California wine country (along Rt. 3 between El Sauzal and Tecate)  is San Antonio de Las Minas, named for the mines where prospectors once hoped to find gold.

Alas, they mostly found chalk. The true gold of the region lies in its rich soil, abundant water and Mediterranean climate. This area, often called Valle de Guadelupe, is actually six valleys. Together they form one of the few places in the world capable of growing premium wine grapes. Read more »

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

An Alien Anthropologist Visits Planet Earth

I’ve read quite a few of Vonnegut’s novels now, and I’ve decided he is, in fact, an alien observer of a strange and dangerous race: humans.

Vonnegut’s stories show us our every shortcoming without rancor. Like a good anthropologist, he’s neither angry nor particularly compassionate. He doesn’t make excuses about how some of us have our hearts in the right place, but are undone by this group or that group. He simply observes and reports.

You might think his dispassionate narration is a stylistic decision but I’m pretty sure it’s not. Under Vonnegut’s impartial gaze, humanity as a whole has been fairly assessed — and found desperately lacking.

So thoroughly did The Sirens of Titan expose our collective failings, a thoughtful reader might be forgiven for falling into a nihilist funk and concluding that we should be done away with as a species, immediately and for the greater good.

The one redeeming factor, the only finger in the leaking dyke of our despicability is the power of friendship and loyalty. Unfortunately this is demonstrated by only three of the main characters in the book, and one of them is a robot.

The novel does not leave us without a beacon that might lead us out of the darkness, however. That beacon is found in the prologue. Here the narrator, speaking presumably from the future, informs us:

“Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them…Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward—pushed ever outward…These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth …empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death…Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions. Only inwardness remained to be explored. Only the human soul remained terra incognita.This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.”

Though Sirens depicts a technologically advanced culture capable of deep space travel, multi-dimensional beings, and super-intelligent machines, the morals and behavior of humans still reflect all the bumbling evil and poor judgment of a people with “their souls as yet unexplored.” Sound familiar?

Many people call this science fiction; I call it metaphysical fiction.  We have seen the enemy and they are us.

Though this Hugo Award nominated novel was published in 1959, it is a spiritual call to action that is as relevant today as it was then. Technology, or as Vonnegut puts it, “pushing outward” will not save us; our only hope is to journey within.

more literary fantastic fiction, recommended reading from The Metaphysical Circus

Labor Day and The Pursuit of Happiness

Ahh, Labor Day, the day where we do as little as possible. Grilling food, drinking beer, playing frisbee, hanging out…

Is that all we strive for the other 250-260 working days per year? As the decades pass, do we comfort ourselves with the vision of retirement, when presumably every day will be like Labor Day?

I consider myself a pretty big risk taker in life, but one risk I’ve never been willing to take is to spend 40 hours a week for 40+ years, doing something I detest or that bores me silly in the hope that by the time I reach age 65 I’ll still have the urge and capabilities to pursue my real dreams.

Not only am I afraid that boredom and frustration will have broken my health and sapped my creativity by then, as Veruka Salt said, “I want it NOW!”

But how? Read more »

Review of Illyria, by Elizabeth Hand

An Elegant Explosion of Repressed Creativity and Desire

This is beautifully written, Romantic (in the 18th century sense, not the Danielle Steele sense) novella about soul mates, forbidden love, and being a magical child in a family that’s lost its mojo. It’s also about talent, both the kind that emerges full-blown and the kind that must be cultivated.

Maddie and her first cousin Rogan have been in love since they were children. Their connection, though sexual, seems to be less about incest and more about the Platonic idea of twin souls. Heightening this impression, Maddie and Rogan are the children of identical twins, born on the same day, and in love since they can remember.

Now in their teens, Maddie and Rogan’s forbidden love comes to fruition. And in their love nest they discover a magic relic hidden in the wall. Read more »

Review of Osama, by Lavie Tidhar

Wishing Terrorism Was Only Fiction

Many people have compared the novel Osama by Lavie Tidhar to books by Phillip K. Dick. It is similar in that the main characters come to realize that reality is not at all what it seems, and that there are those who would stop them from learning the truth. However, Osama is much more beautifully written, and without the heightened paranoia of many of Dick’s works.

This is not a difficult book to read, but it is a very difficult book to discuss. I finished it over a month ago and I am still trying to articulate my response.

It starts out simply enough. The first couple of short chapters are beautifully atmospheric. We see Joe, a loner, having his morning coffee, watching the sky and the people in Vientiane, Laos. But this is an alternate Laos, in a more peaceful, less technologically advanced world. A world without global terrorism. Here Osama bin Laden is just the hero of a series of violent pulp novels which Joe enjoys reading in his downtime.

At first Joe seems like a cliché private detective, complete with an anonymous office and bottle of booze in the drawer. A mysterious woman literally appears in Joe’s office and hires him to find Mike Longshott, the writer of the Osama bin Laden:Vigilante books. She presents him with a strange black card that provides a seemingly inexhaustible supply of credit.

Joe begins a quest that leads him from Laos to Paris, London and New York, pursued by some “men in black” types. So far, so typical… but as Joe drinks and smokes his way across continents, following clues, noir-detective style, his sense of identity and purpose begin to unravel. Read more »

Step Right Up and Write Some Crap!

Image credit: <a href=''>xochicalco / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

How to Get the First Draft Done.

Hemingway famously said “The first draft of anything is shit.” So what do think when you hear about people writing novels in a couple of months or even weeks? Hmm. Well, to be fair, maybe they’ve been thinking about it a really long time… or maybe they are just extra special geniuses.

I’m not one of those special types. I slave and sweat and revise, and that’s just emails.

I think most writers have to revise quite a bit to get to the good stuff. True revision is not just about and prettying up the outside; it’s about digging deeper into the story, finding the unexpected, the nuanced, and if we’re lucky, the mythic.

Maybe we feel like we should be able to spit all that brilliance out at the first go. However, for most of us, that fantasy is not only unrealistic, it’s potentially destructive. Read more »