Saturday, May 5, 2007

Keeping up with the modern world

When dogs blog.

Terribly geeky things you will want, like a wafflemaker that makes keyboard-shaped waffles.

Are cell phones killing bees?

When I needed I new clutch, I figured it was time to learn how one worked. Here's how.

Sci-fi archive. There are a lot of interesting stories here - far more than you'd want to peruse at one go - but so far I've mostly looked at the "classics." There are a lot by big names in sci fi, and some of them are surprisingly bad. I won't name names, but writers I know and enjoy have some mediocre work here. Reading old sci fi is often an exercise in fitting your brain around yesterday's future, which sometimes works better than others. Futures where all the women are housewives and all the men smoke are one thing; futures where unfunny gender and racial stereotypes drive the plot are another. It's as painful as reading the comic strips in Parade Magazine.

Then again the short story is a very demanding art form. You have little space to convince the reader the characters are real and behave realistically. This is hard enough in stories set in our present world, and it gets harder when writers depict humans encountering something that we never have before. Frequently too the author builds a story around a gimmick and doesn't think the implications through. A story I read years ago - I don't remember the author - had the premise that all the pollution produced in a year could be shrunk down to a doughnut, which could then be neutralized by human digestion - killing the person in the process. Scientific dubiousness aside, I never bought the author's further premise that a random citizen was chosen by lottery to eat it with great ceremony (and why it was done this way was not explained). Why not pick from willing suicides, suffering cancer patients, or death-row inmates? Why not have super-secret agents send it to the slums of a third-world nation to be unknowingly eaten by a waifish street urchin? You'll encounter a lot of these types of gimmicks here. But there is also some good stuff. I had never heard of Ward Moore, and the couple of stories by him are both excellent.

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