Jeff Spevak, Writer

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The Critical Mass

Ray Bradbury’s worlds were never this bad

images-slides-1960_2Bad news today. I could be moaning about the failed attempt to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. That news only confirmed what I’ve already known for a while. That the most-important election demographic isn’t “undecided” voters, but what’s charitably called “low-information voters.” Dumb people who can be convinced to vote against their own self interests. And I already knew that the most-important tool in any election is the lie. Walker lied his way back from the brink.

No, the bad news today was Ray Bradbury has died at age 91. He wrote 50 books in his day, and two of them I remember quite well from my younger reading: Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. I read others as well, but those two stick out.

He seemed literary to me, where a lot of science fiction does not. It’s unfortunate that, politically he evolved into a bit of a right-wing political parrot in his later years – he thought George W. Bush was “wonderful” – but Bradbury earned a little wiggle room in his time with us. I picked this quote off the Internet, in which he defended science fiction in an interview:

The mainstream hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time — developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species — have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery.

That’s the truth. Fiction is often more honest, and generally gets to the heart of the matter, with more clarity than non-fiction, with all of its official filters and biases.

Science fiction looks forward, and tries to guess where we’re heading. It tries to warn us where we’re heading. The future looks bleak. I find it it amazing that this country is stumbling backward on so many fronts. Serious political ideologies are being set in place by leaders who act as though they don’t have to live here; they’ll keep their heads above water while standing on the backs of the rest of us.

Last week I counted three news stories about separate incidents of cannibalism. As dystopian a world as Fahrenheit 451 was, Bradbury was never as outright shocking and nauseating as the real world can be.

The Critical Mass

My six-week vacation

A creepy and beautiful morning in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

A creepy and beautiful morning in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

As I haven’t blogged in six weeks, a lot of people – literally half a dozen – have been asking if my computer is broken. That’s not the case. Nor have I been conducting a sociological experiment in social media deprivation, as tempting as that sounds. None of that. Without trying to sound as haughty as Brett Easton Ellis, I’ve been using the time finishing up the writing of two books.

One is a biography of an interesting fellow that a local family is paying me to write. The latter is a novel, co-written with a dead man.  As the former is nearly complete and the second is in the hands of a New York City agent, I am now free to resume writing The Critical Mass. Yes, that means all of the left-wing, pseudo-intellectual, faux-philosophical, sociopathicultural smart-assing that any human can handle. And it also means the resumption, this Sunday, of the greatest time-saving device since the Slap Chop, “I Read the Sunday New York Times, So  You Don’t Have To.”

In the meantime, this post is accompanied by a cool photo I took in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery while walking my dog one morning. I’d meant to put it on the site with my next blog. And, as you can see by the lack of snow on the ground, and green leaves still on the trees, I’ve kept my word.

The Critical Mass

I have stories to kill for

Here’s an excerpt from an unpublished novel, Amazon Fever:

Olivia sat up in the water. “In apartheid South Africa, I would have been consigned to Soweto. In pre-Civil War America, I would have been a slave – a house slave, but a slave nonetheless. So I am black.”

Elizabet rolled her eyes. “You are a crazy blonde with a very nice tan.”

“My color is not a tan.” Olivia lifted her shirt, revealing small breasts that were the same coffee-with-cream color as the rest of her.

“Wow! You’re almost as dark as me!” Elisabet lifted her shirt and hitched up her bra, and underneath were ample breasts, with the copper of her Indian heritage sneaking through.

The writer is Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama neuroscientist who went on a shooting rampage in February after she was denied tenure. So I’m reading this crap – she actually uses the word “bespoke” – in Harper’s, a very smart and literate magazine that represents the very height of western civilization, leaving me thinking: “What do I have to do to get published in one of these high-minded magazines? Kill three people?

It’s not a first.  The New York Times and The Washington Post did allow “Industrial Society and its Future” to hit the presses after its author, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, promised he would end his campaign of terror if it were published. Most writers don’t work that way, although I do have some questions about Hunter S. Thompson.

Last weekend, I spent a few hours in one of our chain bookstores, a supermarket of publications that are as bright and shiny as the waxed cucumbers in your grocer’s vegetable section. Browsing the  highbrow section, just a few degrees of separation from the bodybuilding mags, I sat with a handful of these things, surprised at how inaccessible the fiction can be. Too dry. Where’s the humor? Where are the interesting characters? Where are the great ideas, the satire, the hypocrisies laid bare? Is your navel really that interesting? I won’t name names. OK, here’s one name: The Objective Standard, supposedly inspired by the philosophies of Ayn Rand. The cover should come with a fine layer of dust. If you’re going to publish a magazine with its main themes established by a famous writer, try the Marquis de Sade.

Finally, I tugged Lapham’s Quarterly from the rack, lost behind The Weekly Standard, like a child hiding behind its mother’s leg. I flipped open to a page with a quote from Hippocrates. “Life is short, art is long.” I scribbled that in my notebook. Here, at last, is a magazine that I can aspire to. Contributors to this “Arts and Letters” issue included Pliny the Elder, John Ruskin, Louis Armstrong, George Orwell, Alexandr Pushkin,  Vasily Kandinsky, Vincent Van Gogh, Billie Holiday and Kurt Vonnegut. Not a killer among them. But dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. So, I’m getting closer every day.

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