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The Critical Mass


photoThe morning walk with the dog is generally uneventful. I do keep watch for the woman walking her dalmatian.  He’s fat, his body shaped like an overstuffed Navy duffel bag, and he never looks happy. I usually cross over to the other side of the street with Abbie when I see the dalmatian and his handler heading our way. But sometimes an encounter is unavoidable. As we approach, he is at the end of his leash, straining hard, a low, diesel-like rumble coming from behind bared teeth. “Oh, they really want to play!” she says.

“Yeah. well….” I move on, pulling Abbie along behind me.

A couple of mornings ago, we came upion what I thought at first was a massive trash pile at the end of someone’s driveway. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a yard sale. We paused. Abbie sniffed at an old coffee pot. I walked along the tables, examining the family detritus. Sports equipment, board games, odd pieces of wood, shoes, baseball caps, pens, exercise DVDs… you know what it looks like. Every item appeared to be broken or missing a piece.

Except this. A familiar face. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., staring at me from  the cover of a vinyl record album. A 1973 spoken-word recording of the author reading from his greatest work, Slaughterhouse-Five. It had one of those heavy plastic covers on it like libraries used to do to help preserve their records, with a slot for the check-out card in the back. In fact, I could see from the markings that it used to belong to the Monroe Community College library. I was ecstatic. I paid the lady a buck and almost skipped home the rest of the way.

It’s just one record, so most of Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t there. I put it on the turntable and set the needle in the groove. The speakers crackled, and the words came to life. He starts with the book’s seventh paragraph: “I would hate to tell you what this lousy book cost me in money and anxiety and time….” Vonnegut, speaking from the dead.

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.

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