Lifestyles of the Rich and Stupid

by wjw on October 22, 2018

One of the joys of reading contemporary literary fiction is enjoying the wealth of close observation that literary fiction demands.  Close observation, done right, is delightful, but you have to hope that whatever is being observed is worth the effort, and so often it isn’t, as (for example) when the subject is adultery among the white American upper middle classes. (If you’re going to write about sex, why set it among the most boring people in the world?  But I digress.)

I recently read a novel that brought this issue into sharp relief.  (No, I won’t mention the title, because guess why?  Nobody’s paying me for a review, that’s why!)  The book started with a good idea, which is to say, to follow a number of characters through a world-shifting crisis of the sort that seems to occur every couple years these days.  The characters aren’t important players in the crisis, but are linked to the players in various ways, either as family, colleagues, friends, or rivals.  They’re connected to the crisis emotionally and in other ways, and their loyalty (if any) to the perpetrator class will be tested.

I call that a pretty good premise, even if the entire cast was East Coast white upper-middle class (which is one of the rules of literary fiction since the CIA’s cultural coup in the 1950s, meant to assure that serious writers would not insert political content into their works).

But, having started with this excellent premise, the author then made all the characters, well, stupid.  These people really had no clue.  They spent pages and pages not paying attention to what was going on, and being bewildered, and gathering together in groups to talk about how little they knew, and to try to draw conclusions based on facts they sort of made up, and trying to figure out who to scapegoat.

Do you have any idea how excruciating it is to read pages and pages of nothing but closely observed dunderheads?  My god!  I kept urging the author, Please for Christ’s sake give these people a clue!  But no clues had arrived by the halfway point, at which point I gave up.  I knew what was going to happen to everybody, which was that reality would catch up with them, and the results would not be happy.  Possibly some might learn a lesson or two, but that seemed unlikely.

How much more interesting the book might have been if the characters had known a few things, maybe just enough to get themselves into serious trouble.  But they didn’t even know that much.  They didn’t even know enough to be spear carriers.

I wish they’d all gone to the country club and stayed there.

So, for those of you writers who want to make us pay close attention to your characters, please make the characters worthy of our attention.  Is that too much to ask?

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One-Act Play

by wjw on October 18, 2018

SCENE:  I (hereafter ME) am driving down the freeway in my car.  The phone rings.

ME: Hello?

RUSSIAN ACCENT: Hello.  Where are you right now?

ME: I’m in my car, driving.

RUSSIAN ACCENT:  Can you pull over?  This is an important message.

ME: No, I can’t pull over.

RUSSIAN ACCENT: Are you sure?  This is very important.

ME: I can’t pull over.

RUSSIAN ACCENT: You have just [inaudible].

ME:  What?

RUSSIAN ACCENT: You have just won Publisher’s Clearing House!

ME:  I’ve just won Publisher’s Clearing House?

RUSSIAN ACCENT:  Yes, you have won!

ME:  Great!  Have Ed McMahon bring the money over in the morning!  (Hangs up)

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Sunshine Superhouse

by wjw on October 17, 2018

IMG_4918Last autumn we decided to install solar panels on our home.  We got bids from three solar companies, but SolarCity’s bid was so much lower than the others that I never even went back to the others to see if they could put in a competing bid.

Installation was delayed because we needed to replace an old roof before putting solar panels on it, but SolarCity paid for the part off the roof their panels would sit on, so that helped.  The roof installation was delayed by bad weather, and by the fact we had to get a crane to take the air conditioning unit off the roof while the installation went on.

I was inclined to distrust the various mortgage schemes used to finance solar these days— if the house was sold, the new owner would have to assume the mortgage on the solar panels— and so we purchased the solar panels outright, and got a nice tax rebate from the government.

The financial hit was softened somewhat when Tesla took over SolarCity, which caused such disorganization that four or five months went by before we were asked to pay for the work.

No, we didn’t buy the PowerWall, the big storage power battery.  It costs something like $6600 with all the hardware, and if we went off-grid we’d save only the $7.50 monthly hookup fee from PNM.  Plus it’s only good for a few hours.

Tesla tells me that in slightly less than 11 months we’ve saved over $1200, and conserved 6.9 tons of CO2.  The system should pay for itself in 12-15 years.

June is the hottest month here in New Mexico, and with the AC running during all daylight hours and most of the night, our electric bill last year was over $400.  This year it was $75.

So far, a good investment.  Stay tuned.

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Special Shapes

by wjw on October 11, 2018

IMGP7690Morgan Stanley keeps thinking that if I just give them enough stock tips, they’ll become as rich as me.  So they bribed me with tickets to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on Special Shapes day, and maybe in return I’ll give them a little advice concerning penny stocks.

Attending involved getting up at 3:30am— I’d only got to sleep at 1:30— and then driving for the better part of an hour to the balloon field north of town.  When we arrived, dawn wasn’t even a mere hint on the horizon.  Fortunately Morgan Stanley provided breakfast burritos, green chile stew, coffee, donuts, and fruit.

Dawn Patrol, which should be called Pre-Dawn Patrol, lifted off when it was still night, to sample the winds and radio advice to the shot-callers on the ground.  Next were balloons full of tourists, and then the Special Shapes began to inflate.

IMGP7703The inflating balloons began to jostle.

IMGP7706The Stork was enormous and quite impressive.  I believe it’s sponsored by an obstetrician.

IMGP7719The Cool T0urist Penguin meets Carmen Miranda.

IMGP7727 2And the Grenadier encounters the Goldfish.

There were something like 700 balloons I believe, most of them of standard shape and size, but there was plenty of whimsy on display.

Plus there was quite a lot of duplication.  There were at least three flying pigs, three penguins, and a couple Humpty Dumpties.  A Darth Vader Head rose next to a Yoda head, but this was some distance from me, and I failed to get a good picture.

There was also a Big Van Gogh Head, though I thought maybe Magritte would have been more appropriate.

Because so many balloons went up before the sun had quite risen, and when the sun rose it rose into clouds, these photos have been lightened quite a bit, because otherwise they’d be dark blobs against a dark sky.  The result is a little Kodachrome-y, but I hope it gives you an idea of the mad, joyous tangle when cartoon figures rule the sky.

Thanks to Brian Bower of Morgan Stanley for his hospitality, and for the breakfast burritos.

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Hardware Hack

by wjw on October 10, 2018

Now it looks as if the Chinese have managed to do a massive hardware hack into thousands of servers used by government agencies and major corporations.

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.

I had this in my 2011 novel Deep State, though I was a little more optimistic, and gave the tech magic to the US government.

Clearly some of the wrong people are reading my books.

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I Am Inevitable!

October 7, 2018

I will be interviewed on KKOB radio in Albuquerque on Monday, October 8, at 6pm Mountain Daylight Time. If you live outside the area, you can stream the broadcast live. On Friday October 12, I’ll be speaking at a speculative fiction panel at the meeting in Denver of the Mountains and Plains Independent Bookseller’s Association.  My […]

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Viral Video

October 2, 2018

In celebration of the publication of Knaves over Queens, the 26th(?) Wild Cards book, I offer the following video. It catches you up on the first 25 books, so you can start with the latest right away! Plus— catchy tune, ne?  

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Resisters

September 29, 2018

This last week marked the death of Freddie Oversteegen, 92, the Dutch resistance heroine who at the age of 14 joined a resistance cell dedicated to sabotage and assassination.  (She would meet German soldiers in bars, lure them to a secluded place, then shoot them.) She sabotaged railways, killed soldiers and collaborators, and sheltered Jews, […]

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Sekrit Island Bases

September 27, 2018

Friend of the blog Marcus sent this article about Russian real estate agents who purchase islands in strategic shipping lanes and then turned them into Bond-villain lairs. Airiston Helmi Oy was founded in 2007 as a non-public stock company for trading in real estate, and a number of the key persons behind the company were […]

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When It Goes Wrong

September 27, 2018

Dish Network decided to give me Showtime for a week, and I recorded some movies that I hadn’t seen in theaters.  Viewing them made me think about ways that creative projects can fail, and how the failure can be in the writing.  So I thought I’d share my thoughts, that being what these blog-things are supposedly […]

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