Marketing, feh.

M. T. Anderson is one of my favorite authors, young adult or otherwise.  His serious works, like Feed or The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, will radically alter the way you perceive what you thought was established reality. His comic works, like Whales on Stilts and Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, are gaspingly funny.

Since I’ve been retired from checking out books to kindergarteners for six years now, I’m often behind on when YA authors have written something new.  So it was with Anderson’s Landscape with Invisible Hand, which I ordered as soon as I stumbled across it.

It’s a slim volume, only 149 pages, but it is an incredibly tough read.  Not because it’s densely written, but because of the world depicted in the book.

Quick summary: it’s earth, in the future near enough that we can recognize our society, and the aliens who have been buzzing us since the last century have finally revealed themselves to us, bearing amazing technology which they are perfectly willing to share with us.  Our narrator, teen Adam, is an artist.

Here’s my complaint—and it’s not with the book, which is brilliant.  My complaint is with the marketing department: the inside of the dust jacket gives us a plot summary without giving away the nexus of the story, and then it says this:

“M. T. Anderson, winner of the National Book Award and author of Feed, returns to future Earth in this sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.”

No.

That’s not what this book is about.

I mean to say, it’s right there in the title, marketing department!

The aliens—called the vuvv—are perfectly willing to share their amazing technology with us,  for a price. They can cure any disease if you can pay them. They can raise food and manufacture goods cheaper and better than any Earth company, which promptly puts Earth companies out of business, with a staggering loss of jobs and income for most of the citizenry.

The rich, of course, are unaffected: they are able to invest in vuvv technologies.  They live in floating homes/apartment complexes that block out the sun below. Their lives go on much as they do now.

The vuvv are not cruel.  They are simply intergalactic capitalists unconcerned about anything but trade.

And that’s what the book is about: unrestrained capitalism, colonization/imperialism, and the impact it has on the powerless.  Anderson’s socioeconomic logic is relentless and inescapable, and Landscape is one of the more frighteningly disconcerting books I’ve ever read.

But I think there’s more here than meets the eye. Here’s my question to M. T. Anderson: there’s more to come, isn’t there?  We’re actually following Adam’s radicalization, aren’t we? That bucolic ending in Asheville was false hope, wasn’t it?  Jebus.

Gin Number Two

You will recall that I made gin a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t horrible, as the label proudly proclaims, but I wanted to see if I could make a more nuanced version.

To that end, I took one of my new, handy-dandy Field Notes Brand “Dime Novel” editions and began taking meticulous notes—as opposed to just dumping stuff into vodka like I did last time.

With that strategy, I think I was more successful.  I now have a recipe that I can reuse if I decide this is a good one.

Mostly, it is a good one.  Whereas the first one was almost overpowered by the lovage and had a huge bitter finish, this one is more herbal and has an interesting wood note as a finish.

That would be because as I finished up steeping the botanicals (gentian, angelica, lemon zest, lovage, coriander, burdock, and star anise), I rediscovered a jar of what I think is tincture of cedar chips.  I boldly added 30 ml of that to the mix, and lo! it makes a lovely difference.

So here’s Dale’s Gin No. 2.  Not objectionable at all.

A new cocktail, maybe

I made vanilla vodka a while back and promptly stuck it in the hall closet and forgot about it.  I rediscovered it over the weekend and it’s been sitting out on the counter bugging me.

Consider this an abortive attempt.

Vanilla-Suze Something

  • 1.5 oz vanilla vodka
  • .5 oz Suze (gentian liqueur)
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • barspoon grenadine

Shake everything except the grenadine with ice.  Pour, then pour the grenadine in; let it sink.

It’s not bad, but it’s not very distinctive.  Or it may be that I’m not into citrus juice cocktails these days.  More work is required.

Also, I’ve made a second gin.  I need to blog about it.

UPDATE: The cocktail is growing on me.

Unsilent Night!

It’s official—the Newnan City Council has approved my request to stage Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night in downtown Newnan on Friday, December 1.

Here’s what you need to know:

Background

  • Composer Phil Kline composed Unsilent Night in NYC back in the 90s, and it has become a holiday tradition ever since.  He wrote four separate tracks of new age music—people obtained one of the four tracks (on cassette tape in the old days, downloadable mp3s now) and brought their boomboxes to Washington Square on the designated night.
  • On the command, everyone started their boomboxes and then strolled around Washington Square Park.  The four different tracks played against each other in an evanescent cloud of chimes and angelic choirs.
  • After 45 minutes, everyone gathered back and waited for all the music to die away.

Simple, right?

How to take part

  • Go to unsilentnight.com/participate.html and download one of the four tracks.  Don’t everybody download Track 1!
  • Rig up some way to broadcast your sound:
    • Burn the track to a CD and bring your old school boombox.
    • Download the mp3 to your phone or tablet, then hook it up to a portable sound system.
    • Wagons are cool!

When/where

  • Friday, December 1
  • 7:00–7:30, gather in Greenville St Park.  Do not plan to park at Newnan Theatre Company—they have a performance that night!
  • 7:30, we start our music and begin moseying up to the Square.  You may head up either Greenville St or LaGrange St, on either side.  Stay on the sidewalk and obey traffic signals—this is not a parade, it’s a promenade.
  • 8:00, when the Courthouse chimes the hour, begin to mosey back to the park
  • 8:15, we stand until all the music has died away
  • 8:16, we whoop and holler for a job well done

But wait, there’s more!

  • On the first three Wednesdays of November, Backstreet Arts will host a lantern decorating workshop.  Come and make a lantern to go with the music! Details to follow.

All ages are welcome—let’s make this the first of a new annual tradition!

A free idea

If you’re sitting there trying to come up with the central idea for your next science fiction novel, have I got an idea for you!  Feel free to use it.  If it makes you rich, invite me to your yacht sometime.

Imagine a planet like Saturn, with huge gorgeous rings.  They would have to dominate the sky, right?

But imagine that this planet has a smallish continent at one of its poles.  (It’s close enough to its sun that it’s warm, etc.)  It’s isolated enough that they’ve never had any contact with any other cultures on any other continents on the planet.  And they cannot see the rings.

Viz.:

So they hit their Age of Exploration, and an expedition sets out.  (No, I don’t know why they’d go sailing off the edge of the world if there weren’t pepper involved, leave me alone.  I’m not going to do all your work for you.)

What happens when they sail south and these rings begin to slide up over the horizon?  What is their reaction?  What do they tell people back home? How do they explain and incorporate this thing? Is there religion involved?  How much might this affect their society and its worldview, so to speak?

Anyway, there’s the idea.  That’s all I got: the look on their faces when they first encounter the rings.  (Or maybe the entire novel plays out on ship, their society in microcosm…)

Funeral oration

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to celebrate the life of Bill Jones, who had a great life, one of the best, believe me. Didn’t he have a great life?

I’d like to just say that Bill’s cousin Edna has been very appreciative of all I’ve done for the family in this difficult time. And she doesn’t even go to my church, and she’s telling me what a great job I’ve done, isn’t that great? Thank you Edna for your kind words.

I’d like to have gotten by the house for a visit, but honestly I just couldn’t. Y’all live on the other side of the interstate, and it’s much more difficult—so much traffic, you wouldn’t believe the traffic. So big.

Bill Jones was born June 16, 1952, and died last Thursday of a heart attack. So sad. Not as sad as Ed McClintock’s pancreatic cancer, now there was a sad death, a real disaster. You should all feel proud of Bill’s heart attack.

This is a great funeral, isn’t it? One of the best, believe me. I know people are talking about how will the family pay for it—I know y’all’ve been struggling—and I don’t even want to think about how it will impact your contribution to the church. I know we’ll have to have some discussion about finances, won’t we?

Speaking of finances, did you see the new church vans? Air-conditioning, cruise control, they’re the best. We got such a deal on them, a great deal, the best. I know they’re a comfort to you in this time of grief.

Thank you all for coming. I gotta be going—I’m heading out to Vegas. Got some funerals to do there, too!

An open letter to my legislators

Dear Senator Johnny Isakson, Senator David Perdue, and Representative Drew Ferguson:

I’d like to thank you for your unwavering support of the man who shot 600 party-goers in Las Vegas. Your principled stance to support his actions has not gone unnoticed.

By standing athwart any attempts to prevent a recurrence —or by simply saying nothing— you have guaranteed that it will happen again. This is what America has come to expect from you, and I say well done!

I appreciate that you feel required to express regrets over the “senseless deaths,” and to offer your “heartfelt prayers and sympathies,” because certain things have to be said. The forms must be observed, after all. But I can tell that your true “sympathies” lie with the man who smuggled an arsenal into a hotel room and opened fire on the crowd below. If they didn’t, you would be joining those who call for prompt legislation to combat this so-called violence.  But don’t!  Stand firm!

It’s okay, too, if you feel compelled to use counterexamples and analogies that deflect the naysayers, like “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” That’s a good one! I also like the one about people using knives and fertilizer bombs—also effective when you don’t really want to stop the “senseless deaths.” Keep that up—we love it!

Oh, and the whole “now is not the time” or “we shouldn’t politicize these deaths”—I think those are very effective!  They buy you time to wait for all the sturm und drang to die down so you can get back to business.

I’m sure there are those who hope to influence you to do something—anything—to prevent another lunatic from shooting more U.S. citizens than have been killed in any one day in Afghanistan or Iraq, but stand firm! Keep doing what you’re doing! I understand your position completely, and I support you.

Yr obt,
Dale Lyles

KENNETH!

Recently I have been asked by a couple of people: whence Kenneth, the guy I’m always yelling at in my blog.  I thought I had already written about his origins here, but I can’t find it and I need a blog post for today anyway, so here we are.

In 1986, CBS broadcast journalist Dan Rather was attacked by a man who was convinced that CBS was beaming signals into his head.  For some reason, the man kept calling Rather “Kenneth,” demanding to know the frequency of the signals so that he could adjust his tinfoil, I guess.

The band R.E.M. picked up the phrase and turned it into their song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”  From there it entered the public consciousness.

At least it entered mine.  I will confess that I don’t know R.E.M.’s song, but the Rather attack and the song both made sure that a crazy person without a firm grasp on what we laughingly call Facts yelling at KENNETH stuck in my head.

A second piece of Kenneth comes from the hysterical, vulgar, and deadly snarky Wonkette blog, in which house style creates an acerbic Valley Girl voice which takes, for example, half the nation opposing the GOP’s efforts to kill poor people and asks “how is that even fair, even??”  Again, the humor comes from the gobsmacking (assumed) cluelessness of the speaker.

The final piece of Kenneth comes from the Monty Python characters they called “Gumbies”:

“My brain hurts!”

So all of this gets combined into my head into a voice that, when faced with the inexplicable inability of amygdala-based lifeforms to grasp very plain reality, or when very plain reality has become gobsmackingly preposterous, has no recourse but to yell at KENNETH in a deranged, Gumby-esque way.

It helps if you read it with your head cocked a little to the side with your eyes wide open and glazed over.

Wanna quickie?

Too bad. You’re getting one anyway.

Steven Mnuchin, who is the Current Secretary of the Treasury, has made a name for himself defending U.S. citizens’ economic rights asking for a government plane to take him on his honeymoon and for marrying a woman who probably pays $1,795 for t-shirts.

And now with his boss being hilariously on the wrong side of the Colin Kaepernik racial justice issue,[1] Mnuchin has jumped feet first into the deep end. Here, go read.

Here are some thoughts.

1.

“On their own time”?  Like ESPN’s Jemele Hill did on her own Twitter account?  And your orange boss still called for her to be fired?  Let me say that again for the hard of thinking: the President of the United States called for a citizen to be fired for disagreeing with him.  On her own time.

2.

“The owners should make a rule”?  I think I might steer clear of the word owners in this situation, Steven.  It’s terrible terrible awful optics.  Which, Steven, because you’re rich and white and completely insulated from everything that is not rich and white, you will never see, Steven.  Can I call you Steven?

3.

“…this is about respect for the military…” THE MILITARY? How godfupping Fascist can these people get before we vomit them out of our system?

Okay, I’m done.  Thank you for listening.

—————

[1] Among other things.

This is offensive.

Not the photograph, certainly.  This is the inestimable Jon Hamm, star of Mad Men and general all-round very handsome guy. (Personally I value his talent for comedy over the much-vaunted Mad Men.)

No, the offensive part of this is the shirt.  It’s made by some concern named Berluti, and it costs $730.

The New York Times did a profile of Mr. Hamm—can I call you Jon?—which was innocuous enough: he talks about his rehab, his recent movies, and the death of his dog.  A general puff piece for Baby Driver and the upcoming Marjorie Prime.[1]  And salted throughout are the typical fashion shots of a good-looking celebrity wearing nice clothes comfortably.

But.

The $730 shirt (and $85 tank top) was just the start.  We also got:

  • $560 shoes
  • $1,795 t-shirt
  • $7,995 jacket

(It was noted that Jon was wearing his own jeans, label unidentified.)

I have issues with you people.  A world in which someone can charge $1,795 for a t-shirt and then someone else can take a photo of that t-shirt and publish it as a clear advertisement for that item is not a equitable world.  My presumption is that the New York Times does this sort of thing because it has readers who will pay $1,795 for a t-shirt.  Readers who can pay $1,795 for a t-shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I doubt the contents of my closet add up to much more than $1,795 and they are certainly not equal to the $7,995 jacket.  If I were ruthless and gave away all the suits and jackets and dress shirts/slacks/ties that I am not likely to wear any more, my entire wardrobe could be replaced for less than $1,000—and even that’s excessive in my eyes.[2]

My Lovely First Wife and have often tsked over clothing like this through the years and joke that even if we won the lottery we’d never pay that much for clothes, and I like to think we mean it.  Because in our souls we know that to pay $1,795 for a t-shirt means that you have so much money that cost means nothing to you.  Money means nothing to you, and that’s dangerous in a world where money means life and death for most of the people in it.

Yes, paying more for an item because it’s well-made and likely to last makes sense. (See the Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ Theory of Economic Injustice.)  But paying $200 for a jacket that will last you 10–20 years is one thing; paying $7,995 for a jacket because it has a specific company’s name on it—that’s problematic.

So when you hear the Republican Congress talk about “tax reform,” understand that what they really mean is cutting the taxes of the richest among us: giving more money to the people who can and will pay $1,795 for a t-shirt.

$1,795 for a t-shirt.

—————

[1] Marjorie Prime is a play I have proposed directing at NTC since it premiered; it is not yet available for the likes of us.

[2] Although I will confess that the zippers on $10 shorts from Rose’s are not well-made.  So I’ll pay $30 for decent shorts—but not for a t-shirt.