The Minäverse

minaversetitlepage

This what a sample title page looks like.

Oso Beñat was born to be a hero. With advanced cognition and an ability to remember the future, he knows he’s meant for more than the subsistence farming his father scrapes out in rural New Mexico. Armed with an education and his best friend, a biotech engineer, he creates advanced biological androids that are awakened with the voice of infrasound.

When his beautifully intelligent androids, known as Minäs, are rendered window-lickers through government mandated lobotomies, his eponymous corporation turns to inventing mindless robotics, leaving the idiot Minäs to roam in a wasted economy.

Even with his future instinct, he fails to foresee this mess. Now that his life is nearly over, maybe it’s not too late to fulfill his destiny by helping someone besides himself. Sometimes, being a hero means passing the torch to his biological creations. His granddaughter seems willing. But what about those Minäs? There might yet be one left in the world who isn’t too stupid to care.

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Book Review: City of Sand

This was my first experience reading Robert Kroese. For some time, I’ve been meaning to read The Big Sheep, but I cringe at the $12.99 ebook price. Generally, I won’t pay more than $7.99 for an ebook. Buying ebooks opened a world to me beyond my small town library due to the low prices: I’ve been able to read a lot of fiction this way, while not stealing from my children’s dinner plates.

Or at least I read them up until about a year or two ago. After that, I just bought them but found I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I don’t know why. Have I become impatient? Has fiction changed? No good answer. Reading solely nonfiction doesn’t quite fill the soul’s need for stories, though. So I continue searching for fiction that will engage me.

Little by little, I’m finding some good reads again. City of Sand is among them. I found it on my Kindle — don’t even remember buying it. However, I’ve become so skeptical of my ability to enjoy fiction that I just ignored its presence until my insomnia was so intense that I clicked on it.

I read it in a few hours. Now that I’ve wasted most of my projected blog word count telling you why I won’t buy expensive books and complaining about fiction (and/or my new inability to focus), I’m going to quickly explain why I liked City of Sand. A. It was a detective novel that B. turned into science fiction (those are my favorite genres) that C. piqued my interest because it was philosophical and a little weird. Think Man in the High Castle weird.

I’m not off in thinking that it’s Philip K. Dick weird, either. He reveals that he had intended for it to be a “Chinatown as told by Philip Dick” in the afterword. In other words, what we have here is a hard-boiled, weird, philosophical science fiction book. Could there be any better fusion of elements?

I didn’t have any serious issues with the plot or writing; I really just enjoyed the read. At first, I thought the detective noir tone was a little forced, but I ceased thinking that as the book picked up speed. And the ending could have been really bad. I’m just stating a fact, a kind of warning. Somehow, the author pulled it off. Some people won’t agree with me, but there are all manner of people who disagree with just about everything I say.

If Kroese’s other books are of this vein, I’ll have to read them, too. There’s one called Schrodinger’s Gat* that I might enjoy.

*I left out the umlaut because I’m too lazy to html it in. Or as friend Jay DiNitto said, “To umlaut or not to umlaut, that’s the question.”** I doubt those were his exact words, but it raises one’s fame status marginally when one is misquoted.

**I wrote a book with an umlaut in the title and would add it in or leave it out at my leisure; hence his response. As I’m not just editing in Sigil, but rewriting whole chapters there, I find myself annoyed at myself for all the obvious reasons. Btw, the main character also has a tilde in his name. ä ñ — … is no way to write a book. Those will show up as the characters instead of the html entities in my blog post. Oh, never mind.

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Pulp vs Literary: there is no opposition

Even the cover is philosophical.

I admit I waded my way through a creative writing program. For the most part, I hated it. I took the bare minimum classes required and spent the rest of my time studying history and Spanish. Not every writing class was terrible all the time. I had one redhead professor who was quite likeable, in fact. And I had a few face-offs with the ones who annoyed me. But let me be honest — I never once had a face-off with a math professor. Well, there was that one time… Okay, so I had some interesting moments with math and science professors, too. Math professors can be a bit misanthropic, but I can deal with curmudgeonly misanthropes. Re math, I earned my grades without opinionated comments critiquing the manner in which I produced the answers.

Writing professors are a type. Instead of misanthropic, they’re prone to being elitist. Unless they’re being intentionally ironic, they’ll never treat pulp fiction with the same kind of profound analysis as they will literary fiction. These elitists sometimes get published. Occasionally, their books hit bestseller lists, but more often than not, they get stories published in literary magazines nobody reads, or they write prize-winning memoirs and/or novels (usually with the denotation “A Novel” to remind us what we’re reading) that sell a few copies before falling into obscurity. There is a divide between what is “profound” and the pulp that will sell on the market.

It wasn’t always this way, though, was it? When thinking about the history of novels, as in, what we think of as novels today, literary and pulp have both managed to stand the test of time. Growing up, I read Dickens and Lovecraft; Hemingway and Brackett; Cather and Bradbury, along with (Edgar Rice, not William) Burroughs and Chandler. I read them because they were recommended to me by people I respected. They were recommended because they’ve stood the test of time to one extent or another. Obviously, Dickens’ novels have proved their worth throughout two centuries, while Brackett’s have, at this point, merely managed to outlive the author.

In light of the lasting nature of both pulp and literary, why is one valued at the university level and the other not? I know — I know. Snobbery. Snobbery for characterization, introspection, reflection. Literary work is deemed more philosophical, a necessary analysis of humanity, society, and its foibles. I would like to suggest that pulp has its own philosophy, and that this philosophy is intrinsic to the story: the archetypes are reflections of who were are inside without ever having to be introspective about it, and the stories of heroes fighting against evil are reflections of what our souls need. Traditional pulp is a reflection of our inner selves (outward looking in), while traditional literary is a reflection of the inner self’s effect on the outside world (inward looking out).

Because they are both honest, albeit different, ways of telling the human story, I don’t view them as being in opposition to one another. With one big exception. Going back to my days slogging my way through creative writing classes, I have to admit that something shifted in literature at some dismal point in the 20th C, when the literati sort lost their faith. They became cynical. They gave way to nihilism. They went modern, then postmodern, then post-postmodern, and then gave way to irony.

As I said earlier, Unless they’re being intentionally ironic, they’ll never treat pulp fiction with the same kind of profound analysis as they will “literary” fiction. There’s a good reason for that. When nihilism takes hold, and nothing means anything, then concepts like hope, joy, and heroism mean whatever they want them to mean. Archetypes don’t matter. Honest reflection doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, which is why skewing the narrative to be ironic or cutting edge has become the new benchmark for success. It makes a pretense at being introspective, but the reflections don’t ring true.

Still, they call it literary and call it good, as though they are gods of their own creation. No, there’s really not a “versus” between pulp and literary. Rather, the opposition is between what is real and meaningful and what isn’t.

There are many, many good posts on pulp fiction over at Castalia House, which have inspired me to add my post-creative-writing-slog thoughts on the subject. Thanks for reading my contribution.

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Steam Powered Robotics: Mr. Steam Man

The steam engine, however viable (it is), has become an anachronism in retro future fantasies. Of course, the steam engine was quite popular up until about the 1940s, when the diesel engine became de rigueur due to economics; diesel engines were cheaper to operate. That was then. The steam engine could still make a comeback, if consumers could be convinced that the technology is neither dangerously explosive, and neither is it tediously slow to get going for the morning commute. Meanwhile, the steam engine gives rise to Victorian images of women in corsets and men in coattails, wearing goggles in their magic flying vehicles — also, machines using intricate clockwork as well as steam. Unless the fashion changes considerably in the future, nobody will be wearing goggles or corsets in their steam powered hybrid cars. But, honestly, just as steampunk authors do, I’m imagining a future which doesn’t exist…or doesn’t yet exist.

When looking at the steamy past and all its magical elements  (the past holds a kind of magic, living as it does in mental time travel) what captures my imagination the most is Mr. Steam Man. Yes, Mr. Steam Man. He was invented by one Mr. Dederick in 1868. In reality, he was simply a steam engine cloaked as a man, who could pull along a phaeton. The engine was given a humanesque appearance, apparently, so as not to scare the horses that would be pulling along the usual carriages dashing up and down the streets. Mr. Steam Man had a driver, of course, who could turn the contraption or alter its speed. In the book image below, the driver appears to be holding reins — as if a steam engine would need reins. What Mr. Steam Man did require was steam pressure that was built up through the use of coal. Mr. Dederick made a number of fancy claims about his invention, e.g. that it could step over small objects in the roadway and that it could cover a mile in only a couple of minutes. The inventor also had plans to create a steam-powered horse, to be used for farming, etc. Sadly, his invention never really took off.

As if to codify steam power into the popular imagination, however, the author Edward S. Ellis went ahead and wrote a sci fi book about a steam man. In the novel, a crazy inventor by the name of Johnny Brainerd invents a rotund steam man to pull him along into a world of adventures. You can find a copy of The Huge Hunter or, the Steam Man of the Prairies at Project Gutenberg.

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The God Who Made Robots

Let’s remember for a moment that there must be a difference between a Creator God who creates intelligent beings who possess free will, and a lesser god who creates automatons — animated statues — that are essentially magical robots of ancient lore. If there weren’t a difference, we’d all be robots. There would be no separation between us and animated statues. That would also put us in the peculiar position of becoming our own minor deities as we create animated automatons for ourselves, as this Chinese inventor has done. Perhaps he sees himself as a minor deity among men, as he has programmed her to demurely ask, “What can I do for you, my Lord?” Sometimes, a man must have respect, even if only from an automoton who’s compelled by creation to give it.

Hephaestus was a crippled god. Like men with limitations, this Greek god became a skilled inventor and creator, using metal to craft armor, chariots, bows and arrows, and many other implements, suffused with his own godlike powers. He was, in fact, the foremost smith of Mount Olympus. For example, it was Hephaestus who created Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals. What it must have been like to be the crippled god crafting the magical devices of more attractive and powerful gods!

That’s how the world works, though. He was rejected by his own mother for his shriveled foot, originally exiled from Mount Olympus. In one story, in which the goddess Hera had rejected him, he forged her a throne that would ensnare her when she sat on it. The other gods, wanting Hera released from her snare, begged him to come back to Mount Olympus. He refused, and eventually was forced back to his origins via Dionysus getting him drunk and strapping him to a mule — to the Place of Gods that had rejected him.

Because of his difficulty in moving around, he invented metalwork automatons, such as tripods to carry things to Mount Olympus and back. And then, in perhaps the ultimate expression of the Greek concept of Ekphrasis, he also created golden maidens who could speak and learn and move about, waiting on their master. What we see in the god Hephaestus is the image of a broken man who used his skills to improve his mobility, gain him approval from his peers, and make himself more desirable to females. We also see his dark side: the rejected genius who invents tools to wreak revenge on those who’ve hurt him.

The motivations of human inventors no doubt varies, mirroring Hephaestus’ complex image. According to Jungian theory a la Campbell, men are inspired to create because they can never be fulfilled in the way women are through childbearing. And so they throw their genius in the creation of art and technology. It’s an interesting theory, in any case. There are women who are tinkerers, but they’re rare. From that Jungian perspective, man’s desire to create automatons makes sense. Even deeper, from a creation perspective, humans are compelled to create because of God’s image stamped on their souls. The woman bears the fleshly child; the man forges children from metal.

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