Wednesday, November 16, 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King is an imaginative and ambitious time travel story. This well-written science fiction novel should get nominated for a Hugo Award.

The story is about a man who goes back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the date that titles this novel. The hero thinks that American history would be vastly better if JFK was not killed: RFK and MLK would not have been shot, the Vietnam war would not have escalated, there would have been no race riots and I suppose Americans would have danced with flowers in their hair as they sang "Kumbaya."

The "rules" of this fantasy world are for the most part well thought out and they provide excellent plot twists. I won't spoil the plot, but I'll say that King is a master of suspense, and he kept me turning the pages, despite a few slow patches. The action sequences are superb.

The characterization is strong throughout. Oswald is particularly good; he is a mediocrity, driven crazy by an overbearing mother, who wants to be a big shot. Socialist literature stokes his resentment and reassures him that his failure is not his fault, but capitalist-imperialist America's. As an Objectivist I loved the scene in which Oswald and an ideological comrade discuss Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. King's knowledge of the period is so deep and well researched that everything has the ring of truth.

The most exasperating thing in this book is Stephen King's politics. Like most liberals, King overstates the importance of race in America. He also forgets that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. The hero tells his girlfriend in the past that in the future America elects a black man as president. She asks if he is doing a good job. The hero says, "Opinions vary. If you want mine, he's doing as well as anyone could expect, given the complexities." Stephen King writes comedy!

Creepy is a trendy word, and I try not to use it for that reason, but when it comes to King, no other word fits. It's way creepy that when the hero gets close to changing the world, time fights back, because as King puts it throughout, time is obdurate. And time has teeth. This makes all of reality out to get the hero; it's existential horror. Did I say it was creepy?

David Farland tells a story of Algis Budrys saying to him that King would never be a great writer because he can't decide whether evil comes from human choices or from the outside. Is it a matter of free will or is the universe malevolent? Judging from the last 50 pages or so, King has still not made up his mind and wants to have it both ways.

Oh, on the conspiracy stuff, King is sane. He believes Oswald acted alone.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

The Nazis scapegoated the Jews; the communists scapegoated the bourgeoisie; the New Left scapegoats the rich. The Occupy Wall Street noise is an attempt by the Democrats to keep the narrative on point: to keep the American people's anger directed at the left's favorite scapegoat, the rich, and to keep the blame away from the Democrats.

Unlike the Tea Party, which was a spontaneous reaction to the Democrats' frightening power grabs, OWS (or the Flea Party) is a calculated movement orchestrated by the leadership on the left. An ad in Craig's List offered people between $350-$650 a week to protest. Behind the ads is the Working Families Party, which is tied to ACORN. The money for the "Occupied Wall Street Journal" comes from George Soros, among others.

So there is something happening here. But what exactly? Here is my explanation, as informed by my understanding of Austrian economics.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blog Update

Well, I sold a story to Daily Science Fiction. I will link when the story goes up.

The writing goes well. Even the stuff that gets rejected is good enough to e-publish myself. The best part is that I'm having fun writing adventure fiction. It exercises imagination and plotting ability. I surprise myself daily by achieving a level of writing I did not know I could reach.

I'll be getting into e-publishing. I've been reading some interesting blogs on self-publishing, such as Dean Wesley Smith's, David Gaughran's and Bob Mayer's.

The great things about putting fiction up on Kindle, Nook, etc. and making POD books are: 1) You get a lot of the money and have total control, because you are the publisher and there is no bloodsucking tic of an agent to take 15%; and 2) Your work stays available forever instead of sitting on the shelf for a month and then being remaindered.

The bad things are: 1) You have to do all the work publishers used to do; and 2) You will never make George R.R. Martin-J.K. Rowling-Stephen King kind of money -- your books will never make it to the tables in Costco.

But smart writers don't miss any option. Try to get a traditional publisher, and if that fails, publish it yourself. Or publish it, then send a letter to a traditional publisher offering them a free copy and saying you will take it down if they want to publish your book. All of this can be done without agents taking 15%.

As I publish, this blog will become part of my marketing plan. I'll have to change the name of the blog to my real name, William Greeley, and blog more actively. Using this blog might not be a good idea, as my views are not mainstream. I offend everyone, left and right. Is that a good marketing strategy?

I would announce the name of my self-publishing house, but I need to get the url first. Do I need to copyright the name? What is that process?

Should I get a checking account in the business's name? Smith says so. What if a store writes a check to the publishing name instead of my name?

This is an exciting time for writers. The internet has opened more possibilities than any time since the golden age of pulp fiction.

Speaking of which, I just read that H. Bedford-Jones, known as "King of the Pulps," regularly wrote 5,000-10,000 words a day -- on a typewriter -- and was capable of writing an entire 25,000-word novella in one day. That's 100 pages! At a penny a word, he would make $250 for that one day's work. At a time when lunch cost 15 cents, $250 would buy you last year's car.

If he can write 20-40 pages a day on a typewriter, surely I can write 10 on a computer. The key is motivation, and knowing I have the internet self-publishing option is quite motivating.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

10 Crazy Things I Believe

I'm getting it all out in this post. After this you will be certain I am a certifiable lunatic.

I want to emphasize up front that I am not a physicist or scientist in any way. I took one physics class in college to fill my science requirement. As with most of the general courses outside my major, I skipped the classes, showed up to take the tests, and got a C. Then I returned to acting and drinking. I was not a good student.

What follows are my honestly held opinions.

1. The Big Bang never happened. Existence has no beginning and no ending. The universe cannot be measured by place or time, for it is all places and all times. The universe is eternal, which means "out of time." Time is the measurement of motion within the universe. It is impossible to step outside the universe to measure its size or time of existence.

2. Much of 20th century physics is nonsense -- Shroedinger's Cat, super string theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle -- it's all baloney. The problem is that modern physics has gotten away from reality, and is judged only by internal mathematical coherence. So physicists can spend their lives building cloud castles in the air that have nothing to do with the world we live in. Modern physics has been great for science fiction, because the physics theories themselves are science fiction.

3. God does not exist. There is no evidence. People exist, and people can lie. Religions are ancient lies. More recent lies are called cults.

4. Men and women are different. I've lived with many women. Not a one of them ever took out the garbage.

5. Western civilization is superior to all other cultures. This is why they are becoming like us.

6. Curtis LeMay and Joseph McCarthy were more right than their detractors. Unfortunately, history is written by the winners, and the left dominates academia and culture. LeMay was satirized in Dr. Strangelove, but his advice to bomb Vietnam into the stone age would have saved American lives. The Venona files have shown that McCarthy was right: there were communist agents in the US government.

7. The world will be a better place once the Baby Boomers are dead. This might seem cruel, but the death of every aging altruist/collectivist/statist/New Age fruitcake makes the world a better place. The New Leftist cultural revolution of the '60s and '70s left such a profound stamp on the Boomers that most of them are beyond redemption.

8. Some day Rock'n'Roll will be considered barbaric noise by most people. Only a small, drugged-out cult will listen to music with a backbeat; perhaps they will be called Deadheads. The rest will enjoy music that emphasizes melody, and that music will hit beats one and three, without the backbeats on two and four. Backbeat deemphasizes melody.

9. A rocket shot down TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996. I don't believe many conspiracy theories, but I do think Clinton stopped the investigation of Flight 800 before the truth was discovered because he did not want to go to war with Iran, especially not since he was in a reelection campaign. Airplanes do not just blow up in midair by themselves. Witnesses saw streaks of light going up before the explosion. Getting a blowjob from Monica Lewinsky is the least of Clinton's transgressions; ignoring the Islamist threat and giving missile technology to the Chinese are worse. The Clinton legacy will haunt national security for years to come. (To be fair, Reagan and Bush 41 also ignored the threat of Islamofascism.)

10. Environmentalism is not science. Ecology is an invalid concept. Environmentalism is an enormous pseudo-scientific attempt to destroy capitalism. The Old Left said it would be more productive than capitalism. In the 1930's many thought the west was doomed because Stalin had five-year plans, and we had no plan. By the 1960's it was clear that capitalism, without central planning, produces more than communism. (Read Mises.) So the New Left changed tactics and declared that productivity itself was bad; thus was the ecology movement born. Furthermore, there is no such thing as "the environment." There are environments -- my environment, your environment -- but THE environment is as mystical a concept as God.

If my 10 crazy ideas are true, then you can see that what most people take as normal is actually a twisted aberration. We live in a culture of lies and illusion. But when you've lived in a sewer all your life, you get used to the smell, and the air at the top of a mountain smells strange and unnatural.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


My Political Views
I am a far-right social libertarian
Right: 9.96, Libertarian: 8.02

Political Spectrum Quiz

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Epic Fantasies

Spoilers ahoy!

I listened to Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World at It's the first book I've listened to. The method worked well with a story written in clear, fairly simple prose.

The story is good adventure fiction. Jordan combines the epic quality of Tolkien with the pulp action of Robert E. Howard, and achieves both wonder and suspense. He never goes long in this story without giving readers something to worry about, conflict or battle action.

This is a book for young people. The POV characters are teenagers, and it's about teenage concerns: striving for self-definition and flirting, mostly. You know the phrase, "he thinks the world revolves around him." Well, here it is literally true, with the main character discovering he is the one prophesied to save the world. That's a powerful adolescent fantasy.

Like Lord of the Rings this story involves a wizard who goes to some country bumpkins and orders them to follow. The group of kids go on a long quest across the world, and they are special because "the blood of the old ones is strong in them." If this sounds outlandish to you, then you probably want to return to your mystery or romance novel.

Th quest involves staying at an endless number of inns along the way. The group is chased by a variety of evil beings such as trollocs, who serve as Jordan's orcs. When the three boys sleep at night their dreams are troubled by an evil dark lord called Balthamel, who wants the boys to submit to him. "Luke, embrace the dark side."

The army that supposedly fights for the good side, the Children of the Light, are as much a nuisance as the dark ones. The Children of the Light, like the Inquisition, torture people until they confess they serve the dark side. This is one of the more original twists in the novel -- and it comes straight out of history!

My biggest problem with the book is that the magic is too easy. Moiraine, this story's female Gandalf, bails out the group at least a half dozen times, and her powers seem to expand each time. In Act II there is a long stretch in which the boys are separated from Moiraine; it had to be done to keep up the suspense. Otherwise, readers would think, "Oh, Moiraine will pull something out of her hat."

Staying at inns gets a little repetitive. Also, whenever the group needs information, one of the knowledgable characters explains what happened 1,000 years ago during the time of legends or whatever. It gets a little tedious, but I suppose this can't be avoided in epic fantasy.

Will I go on to book two? No. I'm not that interested in the story -- certainly not for another, what? 13 books? But then, it was not written for me. Had I read the book 40 years ago, it would have blown my teenage mind, as did Lord of the Rings, Dune, Foundation, Stranger In a Strange Land, Rendezvous with Rama, Way Station and Riverworld.

I learned a lot studying Jordan's pacing, his dramatization, his characters, and so on. I don't think listening is the best way to study writing, but it's good for a different perspective. (BTW, Michael Kramer is a talented reader.)

If you want to write an epic fantasy, you must study the important books in the field today -- not just the ones from the golden age -- in order to understand what the market wants. Jordan is a thoroughly competent professional, and a huge influence on the field.

Personally, I think the story template of the young bumpkin who discovers he has special powers and saves the world is tired. Epic fantasy needs to find something new. Admittedly, it is hard to find something as powerful as the classic "hero's journey" of Joseph Campbell.


I finished all five books of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire last month. I did it the old fashioned way -- reading books made of dead trees. And those books are some doorstops! Martin has cleared a forest with this series.

I read the first one back in the 20th century, then started the second one, but got bored and put it down for 10 years. The HBO series of "The Game of Thrones" reignited my interest, and in a marathon of summer reading I finished book two and then blew on through the next three books.

Martin is a brilliant writer. He keeps you turning the pages. He writes the set pieces as few can. Unlike Jordan he trades the classic quest template for something more modern and naturalistic. In Hollywood-speak the Song of Ice and Fire series is War of the Roses meets Lord of the Rings. Instead of good vs. evil, Martin's story seems more like gang warfare, albeit one gang (the Starks) is more honorable and sympathetic than the others. His characters are famous for all being shades of gray. Most reviewers take for granted that this is a sign of sophistication, but I'm not so sure. There is evil in the world, and just because "everyone has his reasons" does not make Hitler less evil.

It is also considered sophisticated to have profanity and graphic sex. It makes all the characters seem to dwell in the gutter. There is little romance in Martin's vision.

Martin's naturalistic, brutal world seems fresh for the same reason the naturalism of the 20th century did. Just as romanticism had become stale, today's epic fantasy is hackneyed.

It's like impersonations. When some water cooler clown says, "you dirty rat," he is not actually doing James Cagney. He is imitating his father doing Frank Gorshin doing James Cagney. No one impersonated George H.W. Bush until Dana Carvey did, and then everyone imitated Carvey. Likewise in fantasy, the hacks are not even imitating Tolkien at this point; they're imitating Dungeons and Dragons. The spirit of the original is a pale palimpsest when you've got writers inspired by a game based on a novel written 70 years ago. Studying Dostoyevsky and Flaubert prepares a writer to write great prose. Role playing games prepare a writer for nothing.

Martin does use such classic fantasy tropes as prophecies from the past and dragons -- there is even one dwarf -- but he refreshes them. This is certainly not the paint-by-numbers fantasy of Forgotten Realms.

The story loses steam in books four and five. The plot advances a few inches maybe in these books. Martin says he is a gardener as opposed to an architect, meaning, I think, that he writes without an outline. Books four and five could be subtitled "The Dangers of Gardening." I'll read the sixth book when it comes out, but I'm losing confidence in this series.

The problem is that Martin sets up certain expectations -- most notably involving the character Daenerys and her dragons. I want her to get to Westeros, kick ass and chew bubble gum, but instead she is dicking around in eastern countries. Who cares if she frees the slaves in Timbucktoo? When an author sets up expectations and then the characters do not make purposeful progress toward those goals, a story is just treading water. Not good.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Mother's Day Massacre

At one point Ron Artest stole the ball at mid-court and broke to the hole, looking to score an easy breakaway basket. He jumped to dunk the ball... but could not get it over the rim. That was the story of the afternoon for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers looked exhausted and confused, as they have looked for most of the games since that splendid 17-1 run after the All-Star break that had us all convinced the champs were the team to beat. They looked like they were already booking their hotels in Hawaii and breaking out the fishing rods.

The Mavs shot lights out. The final score was 122-86.

It was the most painful game I think I've ever watched. Odom and Bynum got ejected for cheap frustration plays. Bynum's flagrant foul was especially ugly, as he slammed his forearm into Barea's exposed ribs when Barea went up for a basket in the paint. Then Bynum took his shirt off as he walked out, looking like a punk with no class. As a Lakers fan, I was embarrassed.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reported before the game:
Magic Johnson, who has sold his minority ownership of the Lakers to Patrick Soon-Shiong but still has a title with the team, made strong comments Saturday on ESPN about the need to break up the team if it is eliminated from the playoffs.

Johnson alluded to needing to find players hungrier for championships and trading either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.

“Group has probably been together too long. … Probably have to blow this team up,” Johnson said.

Phil Jackson responded Sunday about the comments: “They were uncalled for at this time. Not surprised.”
Phil is not surprised that Magic made uncalled for comments. Phil is right: if the Lakers were to attempt a comeback, they didn't need comments about blowing the team up. But Magic is right also: changes must be made.

Why did the champions implode? I have to go back to George Karl's diagnosis of mental fatigue. I also suspect Kobe is injured more than we know; he has finger injuries, knee problems and a sprained ankle. The big question is whether there is something more going on in the locker room.

This was not the way Phil Jackson was supposed to end his career.

Throughout the season people talked about the Lakers "flipping a switch." Don't worry about unexplainable bad play -- the Lakers will flip some magic switch and play well. Right. The switch has been flipped, the lights are out and it's dark in here.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Lakers Poised to Make History

In my last post I was realistic about the Lakers, who lost last night to the Mavericks and are now 0-3 in the series. To hell with realism, now I will be a homer, a fan.

The Lakers could win. They need four in a row. No team in NBA history has come back from 0-3, although as Kobe quipped, it happens in hockey all the time. This is highly unlikely, as the Lakers have been playing horribly while the Mavs are firing on all cylinders. Dirk Nowitzky is playing like a superstar.

The Lakers just need to look at the game on Sunday this way. Can they win a game against the Dallas Mavericks? Of course, they can. They have done it before. A game is a game. They can win a game.

Most of all, Pau Gasol must find himself again. He's been a face on a milk carton during the playoffs. No team can lose its second best player and win. (What if the rumors are true that Pau is playing bad because his girlfriend dumped him? Dude, that is so... beta male.)

If the Lakers win on Sunday, they return to Staples Center (not "the" Staples Center, BTW), where they could win again beneath Jack Nicholson's benevolent gaze. Then they go back to Dallas for game six, where the Mavs feel the pressure to win, return to form and collapse. Then it's game seven in LA, the series tied, and the Lakers win a game against a nervous Dallas.

It's as easy as that. The Lakers have Dallas right where they want them.

First, the Lakers need to play for 48 minutes on Sunday, something they have not done. They must find a way to surmount their mental fatigue. They will have to reach down deep and take their execution up a step.

They need to find the heart of a champion. The eye of the tiger. (Have I missed any cliche?) If they find the will to win, it's not impossible that they do it.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lakers Run Out of Gas?

The 2010-2011 Lakers are the most frustrating team I have ever followed closely. When they show up they are unbeatable. There are too many games, however, when they seem to check out mentally. They don't play with energy and focus, and lose to teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now in the conference semi-finals, they are down 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers lost the first two games at home. Mark Medina of the LA Times says the Lakers are done. It's hard to disagree.

On the Stephen A. Smith show a few weeks ago George Karl said the Lakers' problem is mental fatigue. You see, a season is 82 games long. When a team goes to the finals three years in a row, they play extra games. The Lakers have played four seasons in three years.

In this time the Lakers have gotten three years older, too. Kobe's body is banged up after 15 years in the league. Earlier this year he said his knee is bone on bone -- no cartilage left.

It looks like it's all catching up with them. Now on top of it all we hear the team has "trust issues." They don't trust one another. This too might be the result of mental fatigue.

If this series were a Hollywood movie, it would be set up for a big Act III thrilling comeback. The Lakers win three games to bring it to a game 7 and then win on their home court. It could happen. I believe three teams in history have come back after losing the first two at home. Maybe Phil Jackson has some Jedi mind tricks he can play.

I'll be rooting for them on Friday, but realistically, I think Mark Medina is right. The Lakers could show all the heart they can muster, but they just might not have it. You can push the accelerator to the floor, but if there is no gas in the tank...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recent Reading

I'm reading two boring novels.

The first is They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy. You've never heard of it for the same reason there are two baffling accent marks in the author's name – it's Hungarian. Hungarian is a strange tongue in the Finnish-Estonian language group, which is not related to romance languages or Germanic languages. If you hear white people speaking and you have no idea what language it is, they might be Hungarians.

The story is set in Transylvania in 1905. It shows life in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. There are lots of counts, balls, servants; many vapid people, and a few deep people.

First I must give my opinion that the title is one of the worst ever for a novel. War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, The Man Who Laughed – these are splendid titles that promise both drama and food for thought. But They Were Counted? What's that about, math class?

Worse, the book is the first of a trilogy that has two names, The Writing On the Wall and The Transylvanian Trilogy. Since Bram Stoker's Dracula, Transylvania has come to mean the silliness of Halloween. It's a section of Central Europe that Americans cannot take seriously. The other two books are called They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided. The titles seem to promise a story about a people who get screwed by history. It all sounds deterministic, but we'll see.

I'm reading this as part of research for a novel I'm planning set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I just finished page 87. Here is what happened in the plot in 87 pages: The hero, Balint Abády, is in love with a young married woman. He tries to kiss her on page 87, she gets angry, and he thinks he has lost her forever. The rest of it is filled with a ball in which a vast array of characters, from the nobility to barefoot servants, are introduced.

I'm holding out hope that the novel will get more interesting. Sometimes old-fashioned novels start out boring but pick up once the plot gets going.

The second novel I am reading is Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. We're told this novel is brilliant, one of the greatest ever. Both V.S. Pritchett and Somerset Maugham loved it. Pritchett called it the ancestor of all British novels. If he's right, that might explain why I prefer French and Russian novels; it's in the genetics.

I've read about 200 pages. This novel was written before people knew how to write novels. The dictum "show, don't tell" was unknown. Fielding writes his story as if he were telling an after-dinner anecdote to his friends. He'll digress for a chapter on some matter that has nothing to do with the story, then sum up in a paragraph what should have been dramatized at length. It's all done in windy 18th-century prose, replete with semi-colons, parenthetic phrases, dollops of latin and assurances to the good reader. Few of these sentences could fit into a Tweet; some might find this a blessed relief from modern manners.

I can't read more than a chapter a day, and I'm having a hard time forcing myself to read even that much. I'll let you know in a future post if it gets better.