Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Delayed and Rushed Tenth Anniversary Lead Balloon

So it was the tenth anniversary of this here blog back on October 4th, and I missed it. I'm going to blame my (still fairly new) job and commute for that, rather than laziness, video games, or alien mind-control rays, but good cases could be made for any of the above. (Get your tinfoil hats, people! They're coming for your SPLEENS!)

Anyway, this is the post I should have done then, full of the things that happened in this blog over the prior year.

The Long-Winded Introduction:

First up, I need to bore you with the Story of This Blog, which you don't care about and isn't that interesting to begin with. You see, back in the year 2005, blogs were really, really cool. As cool as putting bees on strings and walking them through flower-beds, which is about as cool as you can get. So I wanted one for my own, and, after fighting my way through the Blog Lottery and killing the tributes from all of the other Districts, I was awarded Antick Musings as my reward. (Or maybe I wanted some practice before the SFBC blog had its planned launch in early 2006. You can believe the story you like best.)

I've been blogging here in a desultory manner -- and without ever changing the template, which must be some kind of a horrible record -- since then. Some years there's a post basically every day, and some years (like this one) not.

The Anniversary Linkages:

Amusingly, I've now missed both of the "big" anniversaries of this blog's birth, which makes it look like a weird plan. (It wasn't: life just got in the way, both times.) But here are the links to the prior gala anniversary posts: the plain first, the hoopla of the second, the hullabaloo of the third, the excitement of the fourth, the missing fifth, the razzamatazz of the sixththe fantabulous sevenththe gala eighth, and the splendiferous ninth. Click those if you have a lot of free time, or are even more fond of my Internet voice than I am. (Though I warn you: that would be hard to do; I like my own voice far too much.)

The Presentation of the Numbers:

Sure, I've been blogging for ten years. But what are my metrics? I've been a marketer for most of that time -- and that makes me feel old and tired and out of my element, since I was a SF editor when I started blogging, and wanted to be one for the rest of my career -- and so I have KPIs in my blood and measurement in my soul. Antick Musings posts by year look like this:

  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts

But the great thing about metrics is that they can be manipulated, so let me throw in the fact that I also had a blog called Editorial Explanations, which ran from February of 2011 through the end of 2013, and which started as a series of posts on Antick Musings. So I consider it something of a failed brand extension -- my New Coke, if you will -- and it should be included in the totals.

Editorial Explanations:

  • 2012-2013 -- 560 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 802 posts
  • early 2011 -- 760 posts
And that means, when you put all of the Hornswoggler bloggery together, you get:
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 + 560 =  845 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 + 802  = 1,134 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 + 760  = 1,205 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts

Clearly, Antick Musings has been in a slump since some time in 2009, which has accelerated since then and was only slightly papered over by a bout of Book-A-Day in 2014. Even the rise and fall of Editorial Explanations didn't inject any more energy here; some may say that this is a dying blog. (But, if so, it's taking a really, really long time to die, like a hammy actor in a bad Western. And I can live with that. Besides, isn't "the blog" itself dying to begin with?)

Here, I should re-devote myself to working harder and doing my best, as if I were the hero of a crappy shonen comic. But I'm not and I won't; life gets in the way far too much. But I'd like to type more thinky things into this box, and perhaps that will be enough to make it happen, next year or some time after that.

The Flood of Self-Indulgent Linkage:

Now is the time in The Antick Musings Anniversary Spectacular where I link to blog posts about books -- this has turned almost entirely into a blog about books, if you didn't notice -- with a quote from those posts. It's an overly cutesy idea, but I keep doing it, because I don't have a better idea. This year overlaps with the tail end of the 2014 Book-a-Day string, and overlaps more strongly with the one-two punch of unemployment and a time-demanding new job, which has slowed my book-blogging to a trickle. So these quotes may be from round-ups more often than in the past, and may be fewer in number as well.

You pays your money and you takes your chances -- as I always say.

Those sound like small things, and I suppose they are. But all lives are made up mostly of small things, and the greatest art is the art that can work from the stuff of regular lives.

He can also talk to cats -- they talk back, I mean: anyone can talk to cats -- which seems like it should be important to the story but never is.

The moral of a wish story is always this: the world as it exists right now is the very best thing we can ever hope to have. Any change will make things worse. Trying to escape any aspect of your life will make things worse. All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

The thing about a tour de force is that it can only be done once. Or, at least, that's supposed to be the point.

The air of effortlessness can only be achieved with a lot of hard work and careful planning: the breeziest, lightest entertainments always require a massive effort behind the scenes to hold them up and the frothiest souffles only happen after painstaking care. It's the Ginger Rogers Effect: if you don't even notice the effort, it's only because there's twice as much effort as you'd expect to do the thing and keep you from noticing it.

Call it the Alien from LA rule: if the civilization in your SF story doesn't make at least as much sense as the worst movie Kathy Ireland ever made -- if the city in your SF world is less plausible than an underground '80s style boiler-room called "Atlantis" and populated mostly by Australians -- then you've got a problem.

Hardly anyone interesting will admit to having a happy childhood: that's the marker of stupidity, conformity, and the boring. We were all outcasts, rebels, loners, burnouts, stoners, band geeks, ordinary geeks, losers, poor kids, from the wrong side of town or stuck wearing hand-me-downs during those important years.

I've seen Finder described as a far-future story, but I think that's by people who don't understand just how much future there will be. It's set on a planet named Earth with mostly normal biological humans, and I doubt it's more than four or five thousand years up the line at most. (For me, you don't hit far future until our sun has noticeably changed in size or demeanor.)

I don't think men have actually gone mad trying to review Jim Woodring's books -- but if I said so, you might well believe me: that's how phantasmagorical and elusive those stories are. Usually, we just point at a Woodring book and make appreciative noises, like the apes around the monolith in 2001: we know it's an impressive object, carefully constructed for a specific and complex purpose, but all we have are bones and our poor brains to make sense of it.

In literary fiction, there's a strong tradition of the magnificent asshole: the guy so charismatic and interesting that the reader mostly ignores that he's an absolutely horrible human being.

Someday, someone will write the true history of strip cartoons, and will describe in precise detail how the complex alternative-paper ecosystem of the '90s was destroyed and replaced by an equally complex ecosystem on the Internet that included (as far as I can tell) exactly none of the same cartoonists.

To answer the question no one actually asked: of course a series of steampunk detective thrillers in graphic novel form, set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, would eventually have a Christmas episode.

But just because something is good doesn't mean it can't be problematic, or that it couldn't be better somehow.

We think we know how comics work: panels are placed in sequence on a page, and the eye tracks from one to the next. Each panel is a moment in time, and the moments connect to each other to show a sequence of events. There can be flashbacks or flashforwards or fancy page layouts, but there are always panels in a sequence, right?

Originality is a sliding scale: it depends entirely on context. In the world of fine art, after a century of conceptual and site-specific and performance and found, it would take a whole lot to be original. In superhero comics, though, a Muslim teenager with the powers of Elongated Man is a blazingly new concept.

France has played only a small part in that war: in real life, as in Weapons, they tried to be the sensible adults and were ruthlessly attacked by American fools and charlatans for their reward. So this is yet another story of a campaign that failed: valiantly fought, certainly, but completely lost.

Evil is such a loaded word. Axis of Evil, Evil Empire, Doctor Evil. Most of the time, what it really means is "those guys on the other side of this current battle" -- it's a way to keep the lines clear between Us and Them. Everybody is somebody's Ultimate Evil, somebody's Great Satan.

I personally am mostly in favor of porn, though it can be disconcerting to come across it unexpectedly while reading on a train

People have been eavesdropping on each other ever since the invention of language, but it took the Internet to make that a business model.

Lemony Snicket is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and then double-dipped in bitter chocolate.

One of my favorite quotes from comics is "The valuable lesson is that you can get what you want and still not be very happy." It's not a usual sentiment for adventure stories about thickly-muscled fellows and the psychotics they pummel, but it's deeply resonant with those of us who live in the world that really is.

Being a teenager is the worst thing that everyone has to live through. And if being one weren't bad enough, inevitably teens have to live among and with other teens, who are at best half-socialized animals on their way to actually becoming human beings one of these days.

Perhaps I'm a cynic, but I've never been all that impressed with the supposedly awesome tales of great explorers. Most of the time, they seem like bull-headed men who tried to do something just this side of suicidally stupid, and are lauded for either managing to barely succeed at that stupid thing, or for dying in the process. None of that looks to me like behavior I want to encourage.

Maybe all we previous generations know is that you don't get what you want, or what you're aiming for, or even what you hope you won't have to settle for. You get what you get, every minute of every day, and it's a surprise more often than you'd ever expect.

If Newt Gingrich is famously a dumb guy's idea of what a smart guy sounds like, then Chuck Klosterman is a shallow guy's idea of what a profound guy sounds like.

Doesn't every grown man secretly want to be Calvin's Dad? Oh, sure, we know we should be good role models and teach kids things that will be useful in the real world -- but isn't making up crazy stories and tricking kids just that much more fun?

Like everyone else, I want the things I like to be better than the things I don't like: to be blunter, I assume that's the case anyway, so it's flustering and depressing when reality doesn't conform to my model of it.

One of the most unsettling feelings for an experienced reader is that insecure unsureness that strikes at the end of a highly-lauded novel that fall flat.

So, if there are any authors out there contemplating putting together a book of funny stories, my big advice would be to use several jokes.

There is a particularly resilient and ubiquitous lie about the creative life: that it can only be done in splendid isolation, far away from the corrupting everyday world, because creative people are special snowflakes who must be coddled and swaddled and carefully kept away from the hurlyburly of commerce and real life. And they must especially be kept away from things that are similar to their creative muses: novelists must never write ad copy, painters will be destroyed if they do advertising layouts, symphonic composers risk their sanity altogether if they deign to write a jingle.

It definitely has its strong points, but it also manages to combine the most audience-alienating aspects of both the adventure story (a complete lack of women and domestic life) and the literary story (deliberately difficult-to-understand dialogue and unpleasant characters).

An irregular heartbeat can completely freak out doctors, and doubly so if the patient seems to be perfectly normal while the expensive machines are beeping like crazy. And I think my heart reacts badly to beeping machines, so there's a whole unpleasant feedback loop thing going on there.

Books, like any artform, are about all of life, and you can't arbitrarily cut yourself off from life. You have to embrace it, in all its wonder and surprises.

There's a kind of literary novel where antecedents don't follow proper names the way you expect. In a normal book, if the first sentence of a paragraph has a character speaking, and the next sentence begins "He," the reader knows its the same guy.

If I wrote a similar book, I'd want to talk about reading Raymond Chandler at thirteen, sitting beside a pool in a Florida summer that I could squint and pretend was LA in the hot '30s. I'd want to admit to reading piles and piles of junky SF and fantasy in the early '80s, Piers Anthony and Jack Chalker and many more -- and to turn and argue that Thieves' World, coming right out of the middle of that milieu, was actually something much stronger and more exciting. I'd want to talk about discovering Gene Wolfe and "The Book of the new Sun," and how I'm sure I still haven't gotten to the bottom of those wondrous books. I'd want to mention Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny and Kurt Vonnegut and the early cyberpunks and boatloads of private-eye novels, Lawrence Block in both noir and funny modes, Donald E. Westlake in ditto, dozens of Hugo and Nebula and Asimov and Silverberg anthologies. I'd probably want to write about books I was forced to read -- discovering the wondrous language of Shakespeare and the joy of saying it out loud from memory, the corny charms of Our Town, the depth and breadth of Huckleberry Finn, how three or four books would be dull misfires and then one would be perfect, the precise right book at the right time, like Trollope's The Warden. I'd have to mention The Science Fiction Book Club, obviously, but because it introduced me to Mikhail Bulgakov and Haruki Murakami. I don't see how I could possibly condense down a decade or more of reading into a few small examples, and hang so much development and thought and reading on barely a dozen books.

I found it very slightly disappointing -- it has a deflating ending rather than a bang -- but it is bright and crisp and dangerous, like a day sailing in pirate-infested waters.

No, this will be a poorly informed review, quick and slapdash and lazy, written more than two months after reading the books.

Young women, in the first three or four decades of the last century, standing outside in their nice or everyday clothes, squinting or smiling or glaring, posing or just standing there, as someone unseen clicks the shutter and saves that image forever.

Nightwork is the kind of book that makes you wish you'd worked harder on math and science early in your life, so you could be the kind of person who does things like this. (Or, maybe, quietly proud that you are that kind of person.)

The Thin Attempt to Pretend This Blog Has Other Subjects:

Other things I wrote about here over the last year include...well, hardly anything, really. I do still pump out a weekly Reviewing the Mail post, with all of the books that showed up the previous week. (In the increasingly anachronistic way of old-fashioned print publishing.)

This was the year a pack of various Puppies made a mess all over the floor of the SF world, and I wrote about that twice: once right when the nominations came out, and again to point out that it was the Rabid strain that actually "won" that nomination process.

In related news, I also proposed several Hugo Categories We Probably Don't Need.

I discovered that a lot of people were Doing Reading Wrong, in a post I had to call What The Hell?

I realized I was typing words someplace else and not linking here, which is antithetical to the idea of Antick Musings as the one true home of all things me. So I posted about my newfound dalliance with Quora.

About once a year, I run a bunch of song lyrics under a pretentious blog-post title. This year, it was Things Linell & Flasburgh Have Taught Me.

The Floundering Gesture Towards Closure:

That was the tenth year of Antick Musings; I'm already more than two months into Year Eleven, because time just will not stop, no matter our hopes or desires. So, even if I'm hit by a bus tomorrow, there has already been a Year Eleven. Is that uplifting or depressing? I really don't know.

But good luck with all of your endeavors in the next year, and remember that you can always pretend that you're going to get back to that thing you haven't done in a long time, or that you're going to start that new thing Real Soon Now. It might even happen.

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