Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 25 Jul 01 20:06
I'm always intrigued by what a Google search reveals about our inkwell.vue guests. In addition to sites in French, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, and Italian and the multitudes in English raving excitedly about Jack Womack's work, I also ran across photos from his wedding last year, at <http://www.sfrevu.com/articles/20000721/20000721.htm> titled "Womack Weds." It contains the intriguing paragraph: "SF Master Jack Womack looks smugly into the camera moments before saying his vows at the NYC Municipal Chapel with fiancee Valeria Susanina. Will marriage ruin Manhattan's archivist of apocrypha? Will Jack share the fate of re-gooded NYC, prophesied chillingly in his novel of New York...Elvissey. Stay tuned, Womack Watchers." Clearly we will have to ask him about this. Jack Womack has worked in bookstores in New York, edited a labor union newspaper, and currently is a publicist at Harper Collins US/William Morrow/Eos, where he is responsible for all SF and Fantasy titles published by them, including those authored by our two most recent notable guests Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. He is also the author of numerous stories and short pieces, and novels including _Ambient_, _Terraplane_, _Heathern_, _Elvissey_ (for which he was the co-winner of the Philip K. Dick award), _Random Acts of Senseless Violence_, and _Let's Put the Future Behind Us_. _Going, Going, Gone_ -- the sixth and final novel in Womack's Dryco series - is set in an alternate-universe 1968. Henry Cabot Lodge is the lame duck president. Richard Nixon, not John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963. And Walter Bullitt is a willing pharmaceutical guinea pig for the U.S. government. Jack will be interviewed by Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and technocrat. He is the author of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," a novel forthcoming from Tor books in 2002, and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction" (co-written with Karl Schroeder) published by MacMillan USA in 2000. He won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards. He co-edits the weblog boingboing.net, and has a horribly out of date vanity site at http://www.craphound.com. He is also the co-founder of OpenCola, Inc., a software company that's making stupendously weird distributed search tools (www.opencola.com). He serves as the company's Chief Evangelist, a combination of spokesmodel and mouthpiece.
Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 27 Jul 01 10:12
Hey, Jack! It's great to get the chance to talk to you here. I've been reading your stuff for, oh, years, and I've just finished re-reading just about everything I could lay hands on, in one massive draught. I did an interview with Gibson a couple years ago, and he immediately mentioned you and your theory about growing up in the South: "...my friend Jack Womack has a thesis that he and I write the way we do because we're southern and we experienced the very tail end of the premediated south. In effect, we grew up in a sort of timewarp, a place where times are scrambled up. There are elements of my childhood that look to me now, in memory more like the 1940s or the 1950s than the 1960s. Jack says that that made us science fiction writers, because we grew up experiencing a kind of time travel. A part of that for me was growing up in a culture that violence had always been a part of. It wasn't an aberration, though I realise that in retrospect. I grew up in the part of the U.S. where all of Cormac McCarthy's novels are set and that's a pretty violent place. There's violence in my culture. It's an American thing, but it's particularly a southern thing, and its romanticization is hyper-Southern. And it's still irresistible to me, even in middle age. There's something that pulls me to that, but at the same time, I have this increasing awareness of how banal it really is -- that evil is inherently banal." Your work revolves around violence: sometimes comedic, sometimes horrifying, sometimes exhilerating. Can you elaborate on the connection between southerness and violence?
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Fri 27 Jul 01 16:42
Hi Cory, And at last I'm finally here. Many thanks for the copies of the IDIOT'S GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION you were good enough to contribute (or have contributed) to my students, who like me are presently recovering from a busy week. The connection between southerness, and violence, has always seemed pretty clear to me for a variety of reasons, most I suspect historical. A) The South was where, prior to the American Revolution, England tended to send quite a number of transportees, convicts, etc. many of whom would possess the essential skills for committing violence & carnage on both the personal & institutional levels. (After the US secured its independence Australia became the lucky dumping-ground). B) Slavery. Inherently violent in every possible way -- emotionally, psychologically, sociologically, physically. After emancipation, targeted violence was used to keep African-Americans in place, especially post-Plessy v.Ferguson. Societal sadism in a very distinct and very real form developed among those who took it upon themselves to defend what they convinced themselves most needed defending. C) The Civil War, and the fact that the South lost. Lots of guns left around to be used by a lot of essentially disestablished characters. D) The tendency of Southerners to overdo anything they set their minds to, whether it be writing, cooking, or violence (notably, referring to point B, lynching). E. Drinking. There is, or has been, lots of it down South. Drunks are more liable to get into arguments, pick fights, lob vicious punches, bite off noses & ears, kill strangers, kill their friends, kill their families, kill themselves. F. The aformentioned romanticization. Southern gallants, defending the homestead, getting into duels, dying, or killing, admirably. Imbeciles every one but so be it, the tradition takes shape. From this springs the basic American notion, live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse. For a much deeper delve into why, precisely, the South & violence go hand in hand, I'd recommend the books ALBION'S CHILDREN and REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE. I am not working from home, presently, and I forget the names of the respective authors, but both are serious historical works written, blessedly, with a minimum of jargon and a maximum of information. Both Bill & I had our first pocket knives, I believe, by age six. Never know when they might come in handy, I suspect the thinking went. Violence in literature is of course where I should prefer to keep it, in real life. Violence in real life happens much, much faster, and no one talks while it's happening; and it takes a long time to come down, after the fact. None of this is particularly workable, in lit. A certain level of mental activity on the part of either participant or onlooker must take place, in writing, which ordinarily would not be occuring. Those in its midst would either not be aware of anything else in the first place, or else would have better things to be thinking about. One of my personal favorite depictions of violence in lit is the first hallucinatory attack of the (North American) Indians in the first part of McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, which Bill gave to me the first time I met him, noting that it would be sort of thing he figured I'd like. He was right. And (a potentially useful note here), in rereading my books (or at this point reading them) in one massive draught, read them in this order if you want them to make the most (or any) sense: RANDOM ACTS OF SENSELESS VIOLENCE, HEATHERN, AMBIENT, TERRAPLANE, ELVISSEY, and GOING, GOING, GONE. My Russian novel, LET's PUT THE FUTURE BEHIND US, can be read whenever you want to read it independent of anything else.
Life in the big (doctorow) Sat 28 Jul 01 14:27
Good answer, Jack! Thanks for the pointer to Albion's Children and Regeneration Through Violence -- I'll keep an eye out for 'em. Your novels have two things that unite them overall: violence and idiom. I want to get back to violence, soon, but let's talk about idiom now. Idiom's hard. It's hard to do "street" idiom when you're not on the street -- you risk coming off stilted in the fashion of an LDS morality- play/commercial ("Gee, Tommy! You think I can still be hep even if I don't puff reefer?"). It's hard to use invented idiom without losing your readers in the density of the prose ("I shoulda flippered the muzz-buzzer, but I dasn't for fear that his gum-buggers would look askance and invite me to the pheasant's grotto for light conversation and hot lashings of well-all- reet"). It's hard to do historical idiom without drowning your readers in the accuracy of your historicity or coming off as facile and glib. And all of them are risky because it's hard to tell if the thing that's making the story interesting is the *story* or the wordplay, hard to tell if you're drawing characters or using funny vocabulary. Yet, you manage it. You use invented idiom, street idiom and -- in Going, Going, Gone -- historical idiom, blended throughout your work. In Random Acts, the POV-character's idiom works like a scorecard, letting us know how far she's slid into barbarism as the novel progresses. What do you find so fascinating about idiom? Is it another Southern thing? A New York thing? More importantly, how do you know when your ear for idiom is true, when your words go from illuminating to obscuring?
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Sat 28 Jul 01 20:39
Idiom's easy, comedy's hard. The main reason I throttled English into so many different variations is simply because it seemed to me the easiest way to both provide the implication that the characters think in the same way they speak (I was once told that my people sounded believable as future-speakers in that they all spoke "as if they were binary." I have absolutely no idea what he meant) and, at the same time, a method through which I can employ any number of otherwise unobtainable literary effects. RANDOM ACTS is the first title, chronologically, in the series and through the voice of the narrator Lola the reader becomes gradually able to follow the language shift, and should thereafter shouldn't have trouble (or as much trouble) understanding the narrators in AMBIENT and TERRAPLANE. (HEATHERN is told entirely in English, although the conversational shift is underway, in places) ELVISSEY is the language at its deepest development, and will probably always be the most challenging. Sometimes even I have to look twice to see what I meant. The only guideline I can give as to how do I know when the thing sounds right is that when it does, it does. It's like jazz, if you can't hear it the way you should, then you won't. Accounts for quite a number of tone-deaf writers past and present. Accounts for a lot of dialogue in the old TV show DRAGNET along the lines of "Acid is groovy,kill the pigs." Accounts for a lot of would-be Raymond Chandlers who wind up more like would-be Harry Stephen Keelers (with as much success). Accounts for why Republicans who try to sound like Democrats, and vice versa, never quite do. Although my love of fiddling probably originated with my fondness for Joyce, the ultimate source of my love of idiom, argot, jargon, nonce words, slang, etc. arises from George Herriman's KRAZY KAT and Walt Kelly's POGO.
John M. Ford (johnmford) Sat 28 Jul 01 22:49
Hello, Jack. Been a while. 'Scuse me for nodding in, but I think the first book you mentioned is ALBION'S SEED, by David Hackett. And REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE is the first volume of a trilogy by Richard Slotkin, on the Myth of the Frontier. The later volumes are THE FATAL ENVIRONMENT and GUNFIGHTER NATION. All the books mentioned are excellent reads, and I think Slotkin is extremely important with a President who thinks he's the Man With No Name ("My mistake. -Four- billion coffins"), though he sometimes makes his case at great length.
Life in the big (doctorow) Sun 29 Jul 01 12:46
Comedy's hard! It sure is. The Ambient books are alternately funny and deadly serious. Comic premises (like Elvis being worshipped as a saviour who will return some day) are turned into springboards for serious drama about faith, love and redemption. Does the comedy get away from you? That is, do you set out with an idea that sounds like good yucks, but find yourself caught up in the lives of your people? And on that note: what's the difference between writing a violent scene for comedic effect, for catharsis, for plot development and for horror? I'm asking you a lot of technique questions here because you just got back from teaching Clarion. Can you tell us a little about your week there? How did you prepare, and how did those preparations pay off? What were your objectives going into the week, and did you meet them? I've been a Clarion student, but I've yet to go and teach a week there; I know what it feels like to be under the gun as a student, but I'm only coming to appreciate how scary and exhilerating it must be to teach. Did you have a mentor who taught you? Did that mentor come back to you as you tortured^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H taught your own students last week? What was the substance of your instruction and advice? What did you learn in the process of teaching?
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Sun 29 Jul 01 17:03
Just got back to NY and am in the midst of getting things back in order; and will reply at full length to all yr questions first thing tomorrow. Wanted to make sure all involved knew I hadn't disappeared, mid-route.
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Mon 30 Jul 01 09:59
I don't think the comedy ever gets away from me, as in most cases I try to have it arising naturally from the situation(s). If I didn't get caught up in the lives of my characters from the start I don't believe they would ever come across as more than simple templates. Writing violent scenes: 1) For catharsis: violence should be extreme. In GOING, GOING, GONE I deliberately contained the urge until the midway point of the book, save for quick flashes at the end of chapter one, and again equally briefly in later chapters -- three and four, I think, although I'm working from memory on that. I needed to obtain in fact such a level of violence in this particular instance that the only way I thought I could make it believable was to have my narrator, who is watching the proceedings, be experiencing the effect of an extremely powerful hallucinogen at the time. Hard to pull off otherwise and keep, barely, believable. 2. For plot development: see aforementioned brief scenes, especially in chapter one. I would however in most cases think of these scenes as primarily developing character, in more ways than one. These occur in all my books. 3. For horror: my most disturbing scenes, I think, are among the quietest in each book. The racist toys eyed in passing in both ELVISSEY and GOING, GOING, GONE. The ad for Kure-A-Kid in RANDOM ACTS. I've never actually written a scene specifically for the gross-out factor. 4. For comedy: there are comedic aspects to some of my violent scenes, again arising from the situations themselves, but the laughter inspired by these scenes is very dark laughter indeed. I suppose the best example of this would be in TERRAPLANE, where my character Jake, immediately following his dismemberment of two detectives, follows with the line, "modern times, postmodern reaction." My week at Clarion West was very good. The students were very tired, as it was the sixth and final week, but all were extremely capable in both their writing and in their criticism, and I expect a number of them will go on further with their work, to considerable critical success (financial? who knows--?)It's not scary to teach, at all, especially to a class whose members specifically want to be there; in terms of preparation, I read all available work done by the students prior to my meeting with them and then try to focus on what they want to find out. Most things have been gone over by the sixth week, so it's a question of discovering what's been missed. I inevitably focus on the creation of characters, how to do so, and specifically how to make them believable -- context, dialogue, etc. I had no mentors, as such. After a certain point, writing can't be taught. It didn't take me long to reach that point, I guess. In the process of teaching I always remember, or re-remember, that there's always room for error.
Life in the big (doctorow) Mon 30 Jul 01 10:32
So, give us a freebie, or a refresher course: What's the Jack Womack spiel on character-creation? On another note, tell us about your day-job. You're a publicist for HarperCollins, which must mean that you're immersed in publishing bizlore, and probably cherish fewer illusions about the noble craft of bookmaking than many writers. What are the misconceptions that the writers you work with/know espouse most frequently, and what hard truths are you most frequently exposed to? Also, for me the standout horrorific violence scene from your work will always be SPOILER ALERT Lola's revenge against her father's boss in RANDOM ACTS. I know, it's cathartic, too, but it was such a point-of-no-return for what was really a very sweet and empathic character that it churns my guts up every time I think of it. The horror wasn't so much in the depiction of the violence (which, as I recall, was quite delicately handled), but in the knowledge of what it must mean to Lola.
Berliner (captward) Mon 30 Jul 01 11:21
And Jack, fess up: didn't you coin the phrase "to go postal" in Random Acts? I'd never seen it before then, and then about a year later everyone was using the term. But it just seemed at the time I read the book like it was consistent with the way the character talked.
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Mon 30 Jul 01 11:54
First of all, for Berliner: I'm happy to confess. Yes, I used it first, although my version was "going post office." RANDOM was published in the fall of 1994 in the UK, but didn't come out in the US until fall 1995; by which point somebody else had come up with "going postal." I have no idea what the OED states, etymologically speaking. As for publicity in general, almost all of the authors with whom I worked have expressed pleasure that a)they have a publicist in an unexpectedly advanced demographic group; b)said publicist knows what it's like from their point of view. As a rule I think most authors become very realistic about their expectations as soon as their first books are published. All of my life I've worked in book-related jobs, beginning at the public library back in Lexington, Ky.; then at various bookstores, one in Louisville, three in NY (as well as at one book wholesaler here in NY). For six years I was the editor of a labor union newspaper (Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union), and prior to this job was the assistant project director for the German Book Office, which is part of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and which basically tries to get more German books published in English translation. CHARACTER CREATION: 1) Start with yourself. All of my characters are ultimately autobiographical, unlikely as it may seem. Each of us has many parts. Sometimes the parts to which you don't admit (or are in fact unconscious of)are the most useful. 2) Continue with your friends. The bits and pieces of behavior that can be taken off and reapplied to your character(s). 3) Continue with people whom you know, or of whom you've read. 4) Take all the aforementioned, put into Internal Character Blender, hit Liquefy. 5) Let it settle. See who's there once the dust clears. 6) Copy him or her (or them) down on the page, put them through their paces and then let them go. Make sure you know where they're supposed to wind up, at the end. In a nutshell: put yourself as deeply inside the character as you possibly can. I always find first person narration to be the best way to go about doing this although some are able to do it with third person. But *consciously be your characters while you are writing them,* as ultimately they are you, anyway.
Tara Gillet-Liloia (taragl) Tue 31 Jul 01 12:49
First, thanks for the suggestion about the order in which to read your books. I was warned not to start with GOING, GOING, GONE, but it was sitting in front of me and I couldn't resist the allure of a fresh novel. Coming at this as someone unfamiliar with the Dryco books, I'll admit that I was thrown by Walter's alternate-dimension jive. But I liked it and I look forward to starting the series from the beginning. Second, I have learned of writers who do years of research and have tomes of cross-referenced material for each novel they create while others just wing it. Where are you on the scale of pre-novel preparation?
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Tue 31 Jul 01 13:39
Hi Tara, I'm glad you enjoyed GOING; certainly the very last pages will make the most sense, once you've read the rest. In terms of research, I usually do that as I'm going along. The most research I've ever done for my books was for LET'S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIND US, where I read a fair amount of contemporary news etc. about Russia (I'd only visited there for one week, prior to my writing that book -- my longer trip in 1996 occured after the book came out. While writing the other, interrelated novels, I would check the ones earlier written as I needed to, for continuity's sake as regards the bigger storyline. As far as writing the books goes, I usually come up with the beginning and then the ending and then fill it in. If I know where the narrative should start, and should end, then I find that enables the storyline to go where it needs to go as it gets there, while allowing me at all times to remember where it all eventually needs to lead. I realize this is not a method that will work for everyone.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:32
Hi Jack - I'm must curious about whether your interest in Russia came about before or after you met your wife? And I hope that at some point you will respond to the question I implied in the intro to this topic. If you want to, of course.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:33
E-mail from Keith Schuerholz: Your writing so often deals with racism and its effects. What attracted you to this theme and why is it important to you? "Terraplane" really made me sit down and confront slavery the same way "Amuse" made me look at the Holocaust. Why does this subject speak to you as much as it seems to?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:51
<scribbled by castle Tue 31 Jul 01 18:21>
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 09:40
First of all, for Linda: in response to your earlier question, I have been considerably regooded by my wife Valeria Susanina; and am told my apartment is now barely recognizable (save for the books) now that it has been color-coordinated and otherwise domesticated. As it was during bachelorhood, I remain on trash and garbage detail. My interest in Russia was actually initiated by my *first* wife, who was from New Jersey but who had been a Russian major, and had been twice in the late 70s. Her accent, I now know, wasn't very good. In 1990 I was approached by a representative for a Kazakh director, Rachid Nugmanov, whose first film The Needle (about drug addicts and their lives in what was then still called Alma-Ata)had come out to considerable acclaim in the perestroika-era Soviet Union. He wanted to do an SF film set in near-future Leningrad and had already been in touch with William Gibson, who'd recommended that I also be brought in on it. (Though Bill had written blurbs et. al. for me earlier, this caused me to first get in direct touch with him; and we've gotten along fine, ever since.) Somehow we managed finally to convince a producer to send me to Moscow to hang out with Rachid for a week soaking up atmosphere and writing up a treatment, which happened in late March 1992, immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which of course was about as science-fictional an event as has happened in the past fifty years. I immediately realized that Russia was, indeed, the Parallel World par excellence. While nothing ever happened with the treatment we wrote (the main thing I remember now is the Little Tsar Ice Maker going berserk and firing off cubes at such a rate as to cause some sort of hideous industrial accident leading to, well, you get the idea) and Rachid has moved on to work, I gather, with the Kazakh political opposition: a)Bill & I stayed good friends, b)I got enough material and enough interest was piqued that I was led to write LET'S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIHD US, c)Spin magazine thought it was a good idea thereby to send me back to Russia for three weeks in June 1996 to cover that year's election, during which time I discovered Moscow had changed to such a degree that the only society with which I could compare it, in many ways, was the one I'd created for my Dryco novels, d)I realized I actually felt comfortable being there, as if I fit in, a fairly unnerving reaction under the circumstances, e)my interest in Russia remained so elevated that I was more than open to meeting Russians here, one of whom was f)my wife. That's what I call the kind of extrapolation science-fiction writers just can't pull off. Keith, I'm going to answer your email in my next post, as I've got to run now, and this is a question I want to answer at length. Jon, did you actually leave a message???
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 1 Aug 01 10:18
My family still lives all over the former Soviet Union -- my great uncle Beryl (who looks like a barrel, as do all of my grandfather's brothers, who you could stack like nesting matrioshke in polyster pants pulled up to their nipples with 8" suspenders) in Alma Ata, a bunch in Belarus, Poland, and the former Leningrad, where my great aunt and great uncle were recently expropriated from the dry-cleaning shop they ran by the mafiyeh, with an abrupt phone call that went, essentially, "Hi, this is the mob. Your dry- cleaners is in a great location. It's ours now. If you ever go back again, we'll shoot you." LET'S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIND US was a pretty personal book for me.
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 11:51
Cory, hadn't realized that you had so many family members still in the former SU. A friend of mine in Moscow, a former raver who became the editor of Russian Playboy last year, was shot three times in the back this past spring when he refused to put a gangster's moll on the cover. He's since gone back to work, I've heard. Russia's state structure and urban society (specifically Moscow & Petersburg) is presently, I think, about as inherently gangsterish, in every conceivable manifestation, from top to bottom, as any organized society has ever been. Keith, to get back to your question. I'm just old enough to remember separate restrooms, and separate water fountains, and even (I believe) separate reading rooms in the public library. These are memories that stick. Lexington, KY, where I grew up is actually in the middle, and not the Deep South, but prior to 1864 the town was one of several centers of the Southern slave trade, and tradition dies as hard as its victims. In a very real way I've always felt my hometown to be cursed, and I think that arises from the mile-long chains its ghosts drag behind them. My family, on my mother's side (the side with whom I grew up) believed and spoke in accordance with those traditions, although my mother's point of view has shifted considerably over the years. My father and stepmother, on the other hand, were deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement in Louisville from the late 1950s on. Intuitively, I suppose, I knew from a very young age that my father was the one who was right. This of course would have been in the early sixties, when TV actually became a presence in our house, thereby letting the world in where it had never been let in before, certainly not down in those parts. As noted earlier in this conversation, Bill Gibson and I have often discussed how in so many ways both of us feel as if we grew up in the 1930s and 40s, for that was the existing mindset in the societies in which we lived. TV, and the dying off of what Bob Dylan once called the traditional people -- our generation's grandparents, and great-grandparents, all of whom had been born in the 19th century -- changed that. When the levee breaks, as it were. Some have commented that to some degree in the Dryco world, for all its horror, at base everyone realizes they're in the same boat (but only to some degree, as Isabelle comes to understand in ELVISSEY)and this is true -- as awful as the Dryco world is, I wanted to show a society where the only color that ultimately, and *really,* did matter is green. One of the things I wanted to show, in the Parallel world, was not that slavery, and segregation, and their ultimate ends, were worse in that world; in that world, they simply continued, and came to fruition. (I wanted to keep things as close to the bone as I could: the racist commercial imagery -- the awful toys, the ads, etc. I use in TERRAPLANE, ELVISSEY, and GOING, GOING, GONE is taken directly in nearly every instance from actuality, as any collector of African-American memorabilia could tell -- and show -- you.) Something I wanted to demonstrate in the course of these novels in which the parallel world is foremostly featured, employing African-American narrators in all three, was the way history could very well have gone; and show what the emotions of these characters would be, exposed to or living within such a society. (So far as I was able to imagine; but for me the ultimate point in writing, after all, is to climb into another skin, and see through another's eyes -- thereby see what I might otherwise be missing.)And considering U.S. history as it actually occurred, it wasn't so much of an extrapolation to imagine how things might have turned out. With Walter, in GOING, I wanted to show what the ultimate result would have been -- scattered individuals forced into a forever undercover existence, required by necessity to make themselves as soulless as the America in which they live if they are to be allowed to live. Walter is a black man pretending to be white, pretending to be black). There is much missing in his America and in him, and he knows it; there's simply no longer any point in asking why. There'll always be the records, or so he thinks. That way, at least, he always remembers. Memory is a curse, but can also be a blessing, if you don't forget what should be remembered. (My record collecting pal Johan Kugelberg has insisted I note this, somewhere: Yes, in the *final* world, which is to say our world, Walter is still a record collector. At least once a month he takes the ferry over from Vachon and goes to Fillipi, on Olive Way, and spends hours going through the 78s.)
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 1 Aug 01 12:17
Wow. What a post! The Dryco world really fascinates me. I'm traditionally interested in sfnal worlds that attend to some kind of plausibility, even if it means a great deal of hand-waving to get there. At first, the Dryco world didn't seem to be pl;ausible to me -- I just couldn't believe in a world where life was *so* cheap. Reading the scenes where salaryman commuters were falling off the sides of busses and being killed in traffic without attracting notice or comment made me wonder what their offices did in the morning when key personnell didn't show up because they were killed on the way home the night before. The more I read, though, the more plausible it all became, especially when listening to family stories from Russia and friends' tales from Africa. To what extent is Dryco modelled on the former SU? If not there, then where? Do societies really function when life is so very, very cheap? (As a sidebar, I was in Munich last month, and at the Deutschemuseum they had a display on the slave labor camps where the Nazis were doiong their rocketry R&D, and it was pretty clear from the exhibits that it's pretty damned hard to do science when your lab assistants are all three quarters starved, subject to summary execution by the camp-guards, and actively opposed to your goals. All moral questions aside, it seems like running an effective concern is best served when your skilled and semi-skilled workforce has some chance of showing up at work in the morning.)
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 14:05
No, it wouldn't be the wisest way of running a business, or country, or world. And the average person in control is smart? When a business (or country) controls (in fact, is) the world in which its employees live, a certain unavoidable lack of concern on the part of the head office naturally arises. None of the people falling off the buses in my books are key personnel in the first place, however important they may be to their families and co-workers. There are always new kittens to drown, as Conrad Black might put it. In my books, Dryco quite literally is the world, in all its unfairness. And let's remember in most of the world, today, life is pretty cheap. In the broadest sense Dryco is every job you've ever had that you've hated. (In this regard it functions predominantly as I intended, as a metaphor.) In more specific senses, Dryco (in Ambient) is every incorporated entity that kills, however quickly, its employees (uranium, asbestos, coal)or customers (tobacco) or bystanders (chemicals, automobiles)or populations in toto (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Khyber Rouge Cambodia, etc. etc. etc.) In the most specific sense, Dryco is the corporation where the seventeen right hands have never seen the seventeen left hands in twenty years, and neither have seen the right and left feet, and the heads are inevitably looking to the stars, or to entrails, hoping therein to divine a future that can only be positive, except when it isn't. It does what it does because it knows no better and the machinery, once in motion, won't shut off. Dryco, post-regooding (see ELVISSEY), is the corporation that conceives of itself as green, humancentric, enlightened, so on, so forth, yet manages to be as bad and in many ways worse than the places that simply send the workers out to the killing floor. (Fill in your own blanks, here, but most of these places have come into existence within the past twenty-five years.) John Clute (my favorite critic, and a longtime friend) has said more than once to me, in person and in print, that I seem to imagine that Dryco functions without an infrastructure. And I have said to him multiple times, *of course* it has an infrastructure, but were I to describe it I'd be commiting that most egregrious of SF sins, pointing to a refrigerator and then describing, in lengthy multi-sentence dialogue, how nifty the freon tubes were, adding a jargon-laden explanation of what freon is and how, precisely, the tubes work in order, eventually, to shoot out those Little Tsar ice cubes and accidentally bean an old lady walking by in the temple, killing her. (From the aforementioned extrapolation you'll gather that another comic strip that played a key role in the development of my weltanschaung was Chester Gould's DICK TRACY, during the truly delirious early to mid '60s period). On a more realistic level, speaking of corporations, I work as a publicist for HarperCollins/William Morrow/Eos, which is part of HarperCollinsPublishers, which is part of NewsCorp. I have no idea what is going on at Harper San Francisco or at HC Australia or, save for the fact that my books have long been published by HC UK, at HC UK. Not the foggiest idea. And there'd be no reason, on a day-to-day basis (or within a certain period of plot-time), for me to know what was going on there, or to point it out, or to note it somewhere. Working from the point of view of any of my characters, who speak always in first person, they see exactly where their jobs take them within the company, and no further. Not that they don't want to see -- sometimes they do. But they couldn't if they tried. In the sense that Dryco is the final commodification of the world and all within it, with past, present and future all equally adaptable to the needs of the moment, Dryco is growing into adolescence even as we watch.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Wed 1 Aug 01 18:34
Sounds weirdly like the spooky last chapter of THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE. "All that is solid melts into air." Jack, you leave most SF writers in the dust when it comes to rubbing our noses in the weirdness of what is to come, possibly because you have such a well-cultivated sense of the weirdness of what already is. Certainly it's hard to spend more than five minutes in your apartment without noticing that you have a gourmet's taste in crank literature. How long have you been collecting books like that, what got you started, and what do you get out of them?
Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 20:58
Hi Patrick, First though I want to thank Mike Ford (and say hello Mike as well), for his correction of a couple days ago re: ALBION'S SEED. This being an eminently sensible book, I naturally forgot the title. However, I'm infallible with titles such as WALLED UP NUNS AND NUNS WALLED IN and RUBBER BIZARRE LIFE. This leads me, naturally, to Patrick's delightful question. The first book in the Womack Collection of the Human Mind at Work and Play that I picked up was the Ace paperback edition of Frank Edwards' STRANGE WORLD, in 1964, after I saw the two hosts on a local TV morning show talking about it (and clearly, I'm now sure, not because a publicist such as myself had sent them a copy with press release, but because one of them had spotted it on the rack at Rexall's and picked it up -- the Gone World, indeed). Sure enough next time I went with my grandmother around the corner to Rexall's on East High St. (Gone now, like everything else in Lexington that was there when I was too)and it was there. I still have it, of course, although I have obtained a first edition since. Not difficult to do, in the case of Frank Edwards' works; he sold hundreds of thousands of books, most notably the major popular book on UFOs that appeared in the 1960s, FLYING SAUCERS -- SERIOUS BUSINESS. I have no idea how many millions of copies sold of this title (this was in the day when VALLEY OF THE DOLLS sold *20 million* in mass market pb)but it would have made any publisher, these days, grin. STRANGE WORLD, like STRANGER THAN SCIENCE et. al., was a compilation of short pieces -- originally done for radio, I suspect, he'd had a show sponsored by the AFL/CIO of all things -- retelling the classic weird tales: the Barbados coffins, the purple blob found in the streets of Cincinnati by two policemen, the legend REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR written on the sidewalk in front of a Texas school in 1939, and the appearance of the station call letters KLEE-TV on the screen a television set in a faraway city, three years after the station's call letters had been changed. I found his other paperbacks and highly enjoyed them, and then found on the racks a new Ace book, a republication of an older book. On the back I found a listing within the blurb of what I would find therein, and midway down I saw something that immediately caught my attention: The Cow That Gave Birth to Two Lambs. I bought it. Fifty cents well spent, I thought. The book, of course, was Charles Fort's LO! His best, I've always believed, certainly from the literary viewpoint. But if Frank Edwards was Kentucky field-grown marijuana from the pre-hybridization days, Charles Fort was (and is) pure Owsley blue. I've talked to David Hartwell and others about the sense of wonder so often inspired by the reading of science fiction at a young age; but my sense of wonder was stirred by Charles Fort, who to this day I will happily admit to as an influence, a very real one. LO! terrified me, really. Fort pulled the rug out from underneath everything, or appeared to, and did it so extremely well. I hid it at the bottom of the drawer, as if it were pornography. Pulling it out occasionally, drawn time and time again to the lovely notion of steam-engine time, and such lines as "All of us are skating over thin existence," and "I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and at the back door extend a welcoming hand to little frogs and periwinkles." The latter line is the guiding motto of the Womack Collection, which will be further described in a latter post. (I no longer have my original copy of LO! Last year I bought from Lloyd Currey an absolutely lovely first edition, with dust jacket, in near perfect condition, from the collection of the late magician Joseph Dunninger. It is autographed by Fort, I suspect on the evening the Fortean Society was founded, in NY, at the now-razed Savoy-Plaza. If I could take only one book with me, in one of those unfortunately conclusive situations, this would be the book.)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Wed 1 Aug 01 21:46
Science fiction insiders are, of course, habitually sniffy about this stuff. I am; and I remember being a kid in the 1960s with my own copy of FLYING SAUCERS: SERIOUS BUSINESS. Probably that's why. But Tom Disch writes (in THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF, his annoying and wonderful overview of the field) about how one of SF's dirty little secrets is the extent to which the people reading Asimov and Clarke, Le Guin and Delany, are also the people reading Edgar Cayce. And the paperback of LO! that you bought was probably the edition published by Don Wollheim and Terry Carr. Do not delay further description of the Womack Collection. No one but its curator could possibly do it justice.
John M. Ford (johnmford) Thu 2 Aug 01 00:33
>> Do not delay further description of the Womack Collection. No one but its curator could possibly do it justice. Indubitably true, since Jorge Luis Borges is dead (alas). I vividly recall reading Edwards, but after I'd read several of what we'd call "debunking" books these days -- including, of course, de Camp and Silverberg. Edwards's account of John Keely, read after Bob's, probably turned me into a skeptic. (Ten years later I gave Keely his own religion, but that's for another time.)
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