John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Mon 7 Feb 00 13:36
Richard SMoley: You ought to keep in mind, Richard, that people who work for big companies 'humanizing' them will naturally claim--and even convince themselves--that these big companies are comparatively humane. They'd have to be able to maintain that claim to maintain their jobs. They'd have arguments ready and so forth. I think there has been some science fiction, anyway--maybe by Asimov? Pohl? Niven?--in which a giant company is organized with a secret agenda of benefiting mankind. Indeed--such may exist, somewhere, in real life. I'm sure there are some, like maybe Ted Turner, who at least fantasize that such is the case. But there are all too many outfits like Shell oil, which has encouraged third world despots to take environmental protesters as political prisoners, and who knows perfectly well it has created a 'cancer corridor' in various places, eg in Louisiana, where poor or lower middle class black neighborhoods find that Shell refineries are causing generation after generation of early deaths and birth defects. The indictions are that Shell knows, and doesn't care. These people are powerless, after all, what can they do to Shell? So screw em. In the bay area we have a district in San Mateo County, Midway village, where for more than a decade the residents have been suffering with explained maladies, from recurrent rashes to memory loss to infertility to cancer. Cancer deaths are high there. Why? Their housing was erected, unknown to them at the time, next to a toxic superfund site on land taken from a PG&E gas plant that is saturatd with polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons that have been linked to illnesses just like theirs. Their PNA level is 60 times normal and 58 residents paid for their own DNA tests which found high numbers of chromosome aberrations. The EPA has been trying to get PG&E to take responsibility but they deny everything, they stick to their story. PG&E is not a multinational, but it's a big company, and they just don't care. They figure they don't have to. It's not *their* families. RICHARD EVANS asked, to what extent to the characters in my fiction represent my own personality. To varying extents, depending on the work. Sure there's quite a bit of the young Shirley, flaws and twisted-attitude toward women and all, in the rocknroll guerilla Rickenharp. That's why what happens to him happens to him. That exorcised him for me. There's a side of me that, like Swenson, wants to be a part of--a feeling I never was able to get, even with punks and cyberpunks, though I was very involved in those scenes. It's just in my nature, as a recovering addict (even after years clean and sober), to feel excluded no matter what. Other characters sometimes satirize my own bad attitudes--they represent moods and fixations rather than vital aspects of my character. Like the guy who advocates the overnight death-penalty, and public hangings, and so forth, and then gets set up for a crime he didn't commit himself and has to be executed in the way that he blindly advocated (some of my metaphors are pretty out-front and heavy handed! Who's got time for subtlety! Hey, I read a lot of Dickens...)--this satirizes my tendency to go for my gun, to snarl, "Hang em high!" I have been heard advocating that the USA declare war on Columbia and Bolivia, with the rationale that their govts are colluding with their drug cartels, and the damage they do is far more than the Japanese did to us at Pearl Harbor, etc--I'm very fanatically anti-cocaine and anti-heroine you see. But do I really think such a war should be carried out? Not in my saner moments. So I was satirizing that side of myself with that character. And by extension, satirizing everyone who gets caught up in that kind of 'quick fix kill-em-all' mindset. Sometimes I write messages to myself. . .Other characters satirize people I've known, or sketch people I'm interested in.
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Mon 7 Feb 00 13:39
anti-heroin I mean. I'm not against heroines. proof-read john, proof read.
Erik Van Thienen (levant) Mon 7 Feb 00 16:04
>a giant company is organized with a secret agenda of benefiting mankind _Foundation_ by Asimov?
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Mon 7 Feb 00 22:16
I havent read Foundation since I was like 13--was it a company, originally, in the story?
Ron Hogan (grifter) Mon 7 Feb 00 22:24
More like a think tank, is my recollection.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 8 Feb 00 08:01
From the Net: > From: John M Alacce [mailto:email@example.com] > Sent: Tuesday, February 08, 2000 7:29 AM > To: firstname.lastname@example.org > Subject: Please post to Conference #65 (John Shirley conf) > > > > Briefly, the Foundation trilogy is about a "psychohistorian" who predicts > the fall > of a vast intergalactic Empire and sets up a Foundation to help reduce the > long > term damage that this fall would cause. Titles of the trilogy are (not > necessarily in order): > Foundation > Foundation and Empire > Second Foundation > > I first read the trilogy when I was 8 or 9 and learned a lesson about > loaning > books you cared about when a physics prof of mine failed to > return the cheap > binding of the trilogy a couple of years later. > > I think that Greg Bear is continuing/expanding the story (not sure), but > he's tying R.Daneel Olivaw (I think, its been a few months since > I last read > one of that series) and some of Asimov's other robots into the mix. >
Richard Smoley (smoley) Tue 8 Feb 00 08:33
An interesting bunch of my responses to my little idea of a beneficent corporation. I certainly won't back myself into the position of defending any company's policies and practices, but I do think it fascinating that even the idea of a large beneficent organization seems to push buttons. This points up a split in the American psyche (and I in no way want to exclude myself from this dilemma). We live in a nation that has given the world the corporation as we know it. And yet internally we are a nation of cowboys; we imagine ourselves as restless loners always skirting on the edges of "sivilization." Cf. all those movies about the maverick cop who is always on the outs with the chief, but who somehow manages to get the crook through his various unorthodox ways...Some of what you're saying about your own characters, John, the "hang-em-high" guy vs. the perennial outlaw, is similar, I suspect. But being acutely sensitive to the opinions of others as I am, I don't want people on the WELL thinking I'm a corporate sellout, so I will leave you with this bumpersticker idea I had: EAT SHIT. 75 million corporate employees can't be wrong.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 8 Feb 00 09:59
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 8 Feb 00 10:58
I used to think of corporations as these gigantic invisible parasites. Huge monsters sucking up human energy and planetary resources, only looking to the next quarter, not caring a fig for the long future, but sometimes living for many human generations. However, another way to look at a corporation or large organization might be the reverse: a conglomeration of energy upon which humans may be parasites, and through which now and then the smaller humans may even have some influence. Making it relatively symbiotic. The almost romantic view of this is found in Art Kleiner's 1996 book, The Age of Heretics: " The greatest asset that heretics have, these days, is that there are so many of them. They exist in every organization, balancing the imperative to do good works with the imperative to keep their jobs and keep earning a living... Their greatest dream is to bring their work lives in tune with their personal hopes and dreams. They want to earn a paycheck, and yet accomplish their own goals. And they recognize that they can only do it by changing the systems of the world around them, one piece at a time. Perhaps a corporation exists, in the end, precisely for its heretics. Perhaps its purpose, in the long run, is to help people expand their souls and capabilities -- by giving them the venues within which to try things on a large scale, to succeed and fail and thereby change the world. " A bit grand, and certainly many of the non-heretics do little to relieve the wage-slave sensation other than steal a phone call or some office supplies now and then. Still, people do exploit their employment in many ways, sometimes idealistically, and some definitely do more than simply mitigate the damage of short-sighted, ravenous invisible critters.
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Tue 8 Feb 00 12:10
Big Corporations mostly want employees that they can plug in and unplug like disposable solid-state parts. You don't have to worry about the families of the solid state parts--just whether there's still room at the landfill. Hence the growing reliance, at many such,on temp employees--who are paid little and given no benefits to speak of. And who are disposed of with no hassle. Why do corporations increasingly use foreign labor? If it isn't always sweatshop labor (in the case of Starbucks' economic partners, the coffee growers of Guatemala, the employees are often very small children, underfed, under cared for, overworked)--because they can pay little, because they don't have to give benefits or none to speak of, because they're disposable. Multitudinous are the stories of people higher in the companies, too: middle management people, even execs, who give decades of their lives and who are tossed aside at the convenience of the corporation.
Richard Evans (rje) Wed 9 Feb 00 02:01
Thanks for posting John Alacce's description of Assimov's FOUNDATION in post #31, Reva. And just a reminder that comments and questions non-WELL members may have for John Shirley can be sent at any time to email@example.com
Richard Evans (rje) Wed 9 Feb 00 02:05
The issues of corporate exploitation and deception as well as associated inequities also inform a number of your non-fiction essays, John as Brian Slessins mentioned back in post #11. Do you have trouble distinguishing the essayist from thenovelist or do they provide distinct yet complimentary frameworks in which to explore a given issue? One of the most disconcerting aspects of the current corporate culture is complicity, not just in terms of how one pays the rent but what one consumes and this, unfortunately, encompasses everything from food to film. the entertainment industry in particular is dominated by a few multinational corporations which, despite exceptions, are not overly fond of things that do not sell squillions. The internet is frequently hailed as the potential saviour of independent expression as a medium for both publicizing and providing acccess to works which may not otherwise have the potential to reach a large audience. in this context, John, how have you found your own experiences with online publication? And do you think this medium is more suited to specific kinds of publishing than others? Speaking of corporations, Gail, I like your description of business in gnostic terms, especially the image of "short sighted-ravenous invisible creatures," which conjured up an image of some Lovecraftian entity lurking above the boardroom, tendrils drooping. In many respects the gnostic notion that the material world is but a mask for some deeper reality can, in metaphorical terms, be directly applied to contemporary cultures. The rich might as well be Gods from the perspective of the poor, just as models might as well be angels from the perspective of the overweight corporate drone. There is a gnostic inflection to much of your work, John, ranging from the malignant creatures in WETBONES, to the short story from NEW NOIR "Jody and Annie On TV", which relates the exploits of a teen couple who believe that something is only real if it is on TV. Are you attracted to gnosticism as a belief system or as just another interesting way of constructing the world? Gnostic ideas have also influenced other horror and science fiction authors, notably H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. To what extent if any have such authors shaped your own interest in and understanding of gnosticism?
Lenny Bailes (jroe) Wed 9 Feb 00 02:05
Perhaps it would be useful to remember that corporations have human owners (or majority stockholders) and it's ultimately people with money interested in making more money who toss other people aside -- not some mysterious, invisible AI.
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Wed 9 Feb 00 12:42
Do I have trouble distinguishing the essayist from the novelist--I'll be some people think I do, now and then! But I emulate or at least admire people who have some kind of polemical engine at the heart of their drive to write, like Dickens and Steinbeck and Vonnegut, and those people have no trouble entertaining and gripping us as well as sending a message--I'm not saying on their level of quality, I'm saying that's what I aspire to, those are my models, and they prove it can be done. In science fiction I think of STAND ON ZANZIBAR and THE SHEEP LOOK UP by Brunner and Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD and TIME MUST HAVE A STOP and CS Lewis' THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH and Wylie's THE DISAPPEARANCE. Online publication--so far, not good. I don't think people read much online. Most places online, if I go on too long having a *real* thought, which to me is extended, I'm pretty sure I lose people--this is not because they're lazy or whatever, but because people online like to browse, they're in a hurry. These same people will doubtless read hundreds of pages of a book all at one sitting--but *online* they will graze here and there, and they will surf, and they will dip in. They may *speak* at length but I suspect few read at length. I have a column at www.spark-online.com and the latest one (Behind Blown eyes under Trends) is about some of these issues. But I doubt anyone reads it! Yet if i had this same column in a magazine, I think people would read it. People will however read online at length about their fave things, like, what, the Smashing Pumpkins or whoever their favorite band is. The only fantasy author I've read who knows anything about Gnosticism is Phil Dick. Do you have some reason to believe that Lovecraft was aware of gnosticism? My guess is he simply thought that way to an extent. Though he may have been influenced by Edgar Allen Poe's long mystical quasi scientific essay/fiction "Eureka"...something much overlooked. I'm interested in certain kinds of mysticism, as people call it, which parallel some kinds of gnosticism (there are several kinds) in certain ways. I doubt that there literaly is a demiurge-God and an "over-God", as some gnostics believed. Nor do I think (despite my stories TEN THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR and V, H, & YOU) that the material world is inherently evil. I do think that we have within us something that the gnostics called 'sparks' which have become, for certain reasons, separate from the Absolute, the Most High, and are semiperpetually in a process of finding their way back, in some sense; that it is possible to become more conscious, more awake to our true nature, to the nature of reality, to our false selves and our real selves, and thus to obtain 'gnosis': direct knowledge of the divine. I think there are some very remarkable statements by Jesus of Nazareth found in the Gospel of Thomas, which are not found in the ordinary gospels (there is much overlap between the two). But I will also say that I do not think that one has to believe in God or a spiritual reality to benefit from a process of increasing one's consciousness. Lenny - you're quite right. Stockholders and their demands are to some extent the cause of corporate dehumanization and indifference to those they hurt; CEOs, boardmembers also make policy and must be held accountable. But somehow there's a strange corporate equivalent to 'mob mentality'--a kind of very slow, tacit and largely *unconscious* COLLECTIVE process of excluding any considerations that arent expedient for short-term profiteering. Obviously businesses must make money and be competitive--but they don't have to, for example, spew cancer causing pollutants. They can still make a good profit if they invest in scrubbers, cleaner manufacturing processes, better monitoring, etc. Starbucks doesn't have to buy its beans from outfits that use forced child labor. There are profitable alternatives. It's just that they'd have to take,s ay, (to play with figures somewhat promiscuously) a twenty billion dollar profit instead of 20.7 billion. This *collective* excluding-of-negative-consequences process is not something I know how to define--I just know it's real.
Thomas Armagost (silly) Wed 9 Feb 00 16:46
<scribbled by silly Mon 9 Jul 12 16:00>
Ron Hogan (grifter) Wed 9 Feb 00 17:29
The Bank of America or a Bank of America *building*?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 9 Feb 00 17:54
The whole BofA. Old news.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Wed 9 Feb 00 18:03
Yep. They're still calling it BofA here, but the top brass is all in North Carolina now.
Ron Hogan (grifter) Wed 9 Feb 00 18:56
Ah, because we call it Bank of America here in Seattle, too. It was the "San Francisco's BofA" that threw me. Anyway, I'm going to Elliott Bay for a book reading tonight, and will see if they have the reissue of ECLIPSE. If not, I intend to find out why!
Daniel Blanchat (dblan) Thu 10 Feb 00 00:21
Yup yup, NationsBank (formerly North Carolina Nations Bank) bought, and took the name of, Bank of America, sometime last year
Richard Evans (rje) Thu 10 Feb 00 12:42
I can't believe that we've managed to get this far into a discussion touching on issues of corporate control and global government without someone raising the notion of conspiracies, of some kind of hidden cabal whom are the true source of control and power. In SILICON EMBRACE, John, you satirise a startling number of popular theories and beliefs including the whole Alien abduction meme, resulting n a very funny, very incisive yet very odd book. You have also written a series of essays debunking and challenging a whole series of "new age" type beliefs from Alien contact to channelling and other spurious notions. At the same time you also seem to have a belief in some kind of strong spirituality, as touched upon during the discussion above. In this context does the satire of SILICON EMBRACE permit you to exorcise the temptation to believe in some of these claims? And how do you balance scepticism with belief? Earlier in this discussion you mentioned that attending Clarion made you genre orientated. But what attracted you to writing SF in the first place? And how did you come meet and become involved with the so-called cyberpunks? I believe that you met William Gibson, for example, at a SF convention but bonded over a discussion of a certain non genre author. Has the re- publication of ECLIPSE and CITY COME A WALKIN' rekindled a desire to write more SF and do you still enjoy reading genre SF, or do you just let you imagination and tastes wander?
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Thu 10 Feb 00 14:54
Richard E asks - "In this context does the satire of SILICON EMBRACE permit you to exorcise the temptation to believe in some of these claims? And how do you balance scepticism with belief?" I think you may have found me out there, Richard E: that Silicon Embrace is a bit of an exorcism for me. You see, I had a devastating (though only one-day-long...a very toxic, thoroughly debauched one day) relapse into narcotics about six years ago, and in recovering from that my bent, detoxifying mind was looking for something to keep it busy, between writing fits, and I hit on looking into a boyhood fascination, UFOs. Flyin' Saucers, boys. When I was in my early teens, very early, I was a dues paying newsletter-reading member of the National Investigative Committee on Aerial Phenomena, a reader of UFO books, etc. Then I realized it was probably bullshit. But at the back of my mind it always nagged at me--what if some of it was true? In a semi psychotic early-recovery state, a very suggestible state, I saw some lame tv doc on Roswell and thought, well--maybe. So I decided to try and find out if there was anything to it. It became a hobby. I always erred on the side of skepticism however,even though I *wanted* to believe. I read deeply into the whole current-day ufo mythology. Then X Files came along, and it was well done and spurred me a bit more, and I began to make contact with some of the major figures in the UFO field. Most of whom are sad, credulous, grasping sort of people, usually with something to sell. There are some others who are intelligent and honest, though--I admire Kevin Randle, and James Moseley. Randle recently published a book showing what the *real* causes of so called UFO abductions are--psychological, and hoaxes--and though he does believe we're being visited (I doubt we are), he also believes that Travis "fire in the sky" Walton, for example, is a hoaxer. And he's a former career Air Force officer, with an intelligence background; he's a pretty sound guy. But...then there's almost all the rest... So I quickly came to see that what people offered as "evidence" was just supposition or hearsay, much of it arising from fantasy, from having seen the wrong movies; that believers will believe with very little reason; that the field was pervaded with channelers and con artists like Derrel Sims (who produces bits of coca cola glass he calls 'alien implants' etc) and people like Art Bell who promote any idea so long as it gets them ratings--even at the cost of stoking the fires of the "Heaven's Gate" mass-suicide cultists... So I was very disappointed, despite there being a few well documented UFO reports by multiple witnesses under good circumstances (see my most recent Skeptical Believer column at www.darkecho.com/johnshirley )...on the whole there was nothing you could rely on and ever so much to make you roll your eyes. Hence I decided the UFO mythology could be plundered freely, and I did it, with a lot of wryness, in SILICON EMBRACE, getting much off my chest, but also using the two contrasting sets of aliens in the book as a metaphor...the "grays" in their conspirac with the military-industrial complex represent the worst aspects of human beings, and the Meta represent our higher selves. You may regard our 'higher selves' as hypothetical, if you like. The Meta do nothing without reference to their relationship to wholeness, to the cosmos. I also used a lot of playful pop media references to television, movies, and 'new age' ideas in order, I hoped, to draw people in who're sort of attracted to those things, in a moth to lamp kind of attraction, so as to lead them to more interesting metaphysical and social ideas. I melded all this with a scenario in which the United States has broken up, in the near future, due to ecological-breakdown-induced famine and political-extremism polarization, and with ideation about "urban gods", Jungian archetypes finding expression in postmodern tropes. Now some may suppose that I've welded too many disparate things together in this book, and maybe I have, but I mostly managed to make it seamless, at least to my satisfaction--and I have a history of trying to create unique syntheses from wild combinations. This is partly the Frank ZAPPA influence. I wanted to write novels that were like his Uncle Meat and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, with that much variety of approach, and contrasting experiences in the listener (reader). And the influence, too, of, say, the Velvet Underground, who would fuse all these different approaches into songs, albums. And then again I suppose William Burroughs' Naked Lunch could be invoked here, though I was always very much more structured than William Burroughs. I had occasion, for the first time in twentysome years, to re-read large portions of my early science fiction novel THREE RING PSYCHUS (aka "UP!"), a truly strange concoction, that book, in which I tried to make the surreal completely logical--and this is an illogical thing to attempt. But that never stoped me...In some ways SILICON EMBRACE interfaces thematically with THREE RING PSYCHUS. The forthcoming DEMONS (Cemetary Dance publications) is also a strange meld--supernatural bizarrity set in the future. How do I balance skepticism with belief...? I don't believe very much, very definitely. Most of my beliefs are conditional. I use 'models' of reality as Robt Anton Wilson and others recommend. I believe that skepticism is a *spiritual tool*. When you're traveling through a jungle, you need a machete, you need to cut away the underbrush so you can get to that lost temple...Some of my ideas about this are in an essay at the aforementioned site under "Is there a God?"... However there are some things I've come to over the years through a kind of slow accretion of understanding, through certain practices I have confidence in--refined mindfulness practices that have no reliance on superstition. Skepticism is part of mindfulness and mindfulness will set you free. What attracted me to Sf in the first place, you ask--and how did I fall in with the cyberpunks...? First there was my older sister's box full of old Galaxy magazines, discovered in the attic, and, frankly, that other Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs' martian novels, these drew me into science fiction as a boy....Then Jack Vance...Why was I attracted to science fiction? Because I wanted off this planet, I wasn't happy in it. I was the Poster Child of Escapism. And maybe on some level I perceived the lies, the fallibility in our society, and wanted to see some alternatives, that were forever being modeled in science fiction. Cyberpunk--? Oh, I read and admired Sterling's early work. I had written CITY COME A WALKIN' already, it was a proto cyberpunk work (coming back into print from Four Walls Eight WIndows), and was already in that randy, rascally, rushin', energized, rockin', angry, street oriented state of mind. Drugs didn't hurt either. Then somehow I started corresponding with Sterling and that led to my getting involved in the movement which was, as a defined thing, really his concept, I think. In those days, people still corresponded, a great deal, in *actual letters*. Shit I sound like an old fart. I met Gibson on a panel at V-Con in Vancouver, as I recall. You know, I was the one who got the editors at OMNI to read the stories that broke him, and who told Terry Carr about Gibson, told him he should do Gibson's novel and Carr published Neuromancer (Terry Carr was an important figure in SF and should be remembered with appreciation)... Met Sterling in person, I think, when he offered to let me stay at his place when I came to Austin to attend the hip con of the time, the Armadillocon,. . .SLept on his couch, or maybe I was on the floor and Rudy Rucker was on the couch...Yeah he probably gave Rucker the couch--because Rucker's a SCIENTIST. You can't make a scientist sleep on the floor--even a STONED SCIENTIST... I have the urge to write SF all the time,yes, but I FIGHT IT because I don't really fit into the field very well, I'm a square peg, and I'm not that marketable in it, and I support a big, big extended family and must make significant money writing. Probably if I write SF it'll be for movies. . . I don't read much fiction at all, I just don't have time for it, as I have so much nonfiction to read, years to go, but sometimes I take a break and read a little. The only SF people I read anymore are Sterling, Rucker, Laidlaw and Jack Vance. I'll re-read Jack Vance endlessly. I read all those Patrick O'Brian historical novels about the Royal Navy, at one point, rather compulsively. The 'other worlds' I'm more likely to explore in fiction are now in historical fiction. I'm sure there are lots of great SF writers out there however.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 10 Feb 00 15:25
Couldn't get into Patrick O'Brian. A friend gave me the first one and I made it about halfway through; perhaps because I was reading it on a transcontinental flight with a terrible cold at the time. It was a bit too "avast ye swabs" for my taste. I certainly enjoyed Silicon Embrace. The thought of Our Lord and Saviour reincarnating as a gay encephalopod is indeed a droll one...don't do any readings of those passages in rural Texas, old boy. But then you know that. But one of my favorite things of yours, John, is the story "Brittany? Oh: She's in Transcendent Blue" in Really, Really, etc. Could you tell us a bit about the genesis of that one?
John Payne (satyr) Thu 10 Feb 00 17:31
<scribbled by satyr Sat 12 Feb 00 16:14>
Richard Smoley (smoley) Fri 11 Feb 00 08:28
Interesting UFO story, John. What defines a UFO? It's something that you see flying but can't identify. So, yes, I would say that you indeed had a UFO sighting. What it _was_ of course remains open to question.
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