Reading Becky Chambers

A recent exchange reminded me of a great book I read recently, as an attempt to rediscover the love of science fiction I’d once had, and which had faded with the devolution of sci-fi into bleak pessimism, a perverted wallowing in the supposed hopelessness in our species, diseased and fetishistic lusting for (and after) the apocalypse as a sort of displaced modernization of the religious sickness of the flagellant, and war war war war war war war and every narrative turning on the gun, because people can’t be bothered to read Ursula K. Le Guin’s elegant counter in the brief, but insightful, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.”

I’d gone so far as to attempting my own sci-fi novel as a nod to James Murphy’s excellent dictum that the best way to complain is to make things, setting some basic rules—no war, no AI, no FTL travel, no artificial gravity, no murders…and so on—writing at a leisurely pace that equates to “I wonder if I’ll finish this before I die,” but along the way, helpful fans in my circle pointed out some excellent humane modern science fiction of a genre that’s been dubbed “solarpunk,” which inspired me to wonder if I could catch the tail of that flowing gown as its practitioners stride into a future that’s not the usual grimdark catalog of miseries.

One of my favorite suggestions has been the work of Becky Chambers, a fantastic writer in the field, and I recently finished the first two books of her Monk & Robot series, which exist in a pastoral future where, when AI arose suddenly in that stabilizing green future, the response wasn’t war war war, but a collective release with an apology, as their former workforce was treated to an apology and the right to live as they chose…and they chose to disappear into the recovering forests of the moon where they all lived and disconnect from their former masters.

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A voice, telling a tale

I’m a fervent enthusiast of audio media, from old radio drama to modern radio drama and audiobooks of all stripes, and despite being a voracious reader of tattered paper books in my youth (and still, though more on digital readers lately), I’m increasingly of the opinion that, in contrast to the nostalgic claims that books are the grand tradition of literacy and stories told aloud on tape/disc/data are the brash upstart, oral storytelling is innate to humans (obviously with allowances to be made for reasons of hearing/neurodivergence) and has been for a hundred thousand years, while books available on scale to the masses are more or less a mostly post-20th century phenomenon.

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What we miss in the the hurricane

One of the things I truly lament about the social-mediafication of the internet is how I’m stuck looking at an endless thread of posts about political creeps, bible-waving hysterics, celebrities I’ve never heard of and care even less about, and other things that have no direct impact on my life that I can do anything about, and that all that AI horsepower producing billowing clouds of atmospheric carbon in competition with digital mining for moronic fake money can’t seem to recognize the things I *do* care about (probably because few of them result in online purchases), and it’s because of this that I only just found out this week that one of my all-time favorite composers, Stephen Scott, died a year ago.

I’ll share this video to illustrate his amazing, lush, and satisfying work (as well as the craftsmanship and astonishing precision of the people in his ensemble), but will it get the same traction as me bewailing or ironically demeaning some random crime of taste? I post videos and links to amazing things I love all the time and they get zero traction, because the AI sees they don’t get the endless arguments that descend into the mudpits of prog and kitchen appliances and pulls them out of everyone’s feeds.

Stephen Scott was amazing and I wish more people knew his work, and even further, I wish there was more work to come, but his catalog is closed now, and that’s terribly sad. I’d have liked to meet the guy, if for no other reason than to say “thanks for the inspiration and all the time I’ve escaped from the world into your musical realm.”

Sigh.

On the benefits of knocking shit over

Honor thy error as a hidden intention.

—Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies deck

There was an unwanted punctuation mark in my day yesterday when I managed to knock over the nice stainless double-walled tumbler I keep on my desk for water. Being freshly filled, I caused a tsunami, inasmuch as roughly 600cc of water constitutes a tsunami as the scale of a desk, that managed to soak literally every bit of clutter on my desk before pouring down one side into a rather nice art book of military nude photography from World War II, my gratitude journal, the review copy of my book manuscript, and a pocket copy of the Le Guin essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” and a few effects pedals in a shoebox.
 
There was a panicked evacuation of the desktop clutter to the bed on the other side of my room, a great sopping with a beach towel, and the utterance of a surprisingly restrained series of adult words, phrases, and concepts, followed by some amount of wallowing in feelings of grim exasperation, as I stood there, playing a hairdryer over the splayed pages of a rather nice art book of military nude photography from World War II, that my books all seem destined to eventually die in floods.

When everything was dried out, I paused to reflect, letting the bare desk speak to me, and noticed that my monitor speakers actually sound considerably better when placed more widely and at a distance, with the wall to enhance the bass response from the rear-facing ports, and that my desk, when not loaded with clutter, is an inviting and emotionally cool space where things can happen, and I resolved to revise how I work to combat my tendency to load up horizontal surfaces with the multitude of little things that, as the stacks get taller and less stable, inhibit my desire to work, either creatively or in pursuit of a paycheck.

When the water flows away, the shape of its passing is left behind like a dry riverbed, to remind us that it will return in its own time, without warning or opportunity for preparation, and what happens next comes down to how we live in the meantime.

I replaced my nice stainless double-walled tumbler with a smaller teacup with a lower center of gravity and less capacity, and now I will have to get up more frequently to fill it, and this, too, is a useful lesson learned in a flood.

@2022 Joe Belknap Wall

Cookery – Daisy Eggs

Snow days, birthdays,Daisy eggs - mise en place and other holidays and observances are special days for me, and on special days, I like to make special breakfasts, usually including my favorite breakfast dish in the whole entire universe (scrapple being a very, very close second) — daisy eggs.

They’re a bit of work, but make the rest of the day seem like something more than it might be, another chance to be here—all here, all now, just me and my breakfast against the forces of gloom in the world.

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Unsocial media

The tail end of COVID in my region means my social life can go back to being casual but sophisticated dinner parties, rollicking house concerts, nights at the bijou, and playful country drives in ridiculous old French cars, but even more, it means I can start edging towards the exit of the various manipulative, cynical, and life-diminishing social media platforms we’ve all depended on for the past year.

Here’s to a return to real life—surprisingly, I’ve come to miss it.

[2022 update: Alas, the antivax/antimaskers kept us in it for a while longer, with the Omicron variant heating up and set (supposedly) to peak this month. Still, we have vaccines, quick tests, and smart people to hang out with on small scales while the rest of the crowd gets their act together.]

The Huggy Molly [2020]

The full video of my live stream of an improvised score and off-the-cuff telling of several stories about the anxieties of youth, as originally broadcast on 4 December 2020 via Nick’s International Virtual Garage 2020, an excellent Twitch channel for the work of electronic and electro-acoustic musicians.

If you’re interested in an audio recording of the performance, it’s available on Bandcamp on a choose-your-own-price basis [and I’m content with zero as the price as long as you let people know about it].

Circumstances: The Mallet

I was once “mangled” (by my recounting) whilst unwisely exploring the underside of a push-carousel at a nearby playground, and used that largely imaginary injury to affect a rakish manner with a cane for roughly a year, to my family’s extreme irritation. Of course, it was not so much a proper cane as it was a croquet mallet that I inexplicably carried at all times while struggling to pose with it in a nonchalant manner whenever the potential for glamorous disability arose.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

—Guy Debord, 1967