Sunday, August 31, 2003

New Mars article. Enjoy.

(It's still raining . . .)
Let the bidding begin . . .

I just found my to-be-published book, "After the Martian Apocalypse," listed on eBay (!). How can you sell something that doesn't yet exist? Perhaps it's the concept of "After the Martian Apocalypse" that's for sale, in which case I'll happily outdue eBay by offering the concept for free. But you have to pay for the actual book.

Attention, bargain-hunters: my other book, "Illumined Black," is going for $4.99. (Maybe I should order it. I somehow managed to rid myself of 50 free copies.)

Saturday, August 30, 2003

It's been raining continuously all day: an unremitting "Blade Runner"-like deluge. I finished reading "The Communion Letters" and started John Shirley's "Eclipse." This novel is marvelously prescient and stunningly realized; I dare anyone to read this without twitching at the parallels to the situation in Iraq.

Running home from the coffeeshop through the rain, cars like luminous undersea fish. I'm brimming with images for new stories. Mieville's book may have freed me of some of my genre reservations (I typically shun fantasy, as so much of it is formulaic drivel). In the meantime I've been asked to write a final (?) sub-chapter about Mars' close approach.
Edited excerpts from a letter I just sent to a friend and author Whitley Strieber:

I'm a few pages from being finished with "The Communion Letters," a collection of unsolicited correspondence sent to Whitley Strieber since "Communion" was published. The overwhelming tone of the letters, as Strieber emphasizes, is that whatever the "visitors" are, they're deeply connected to the human "spirit" -- to use a clumsy and perhaps obsolete word. He's indeed retracing veins explored by Jacques Vallee and even Dr. John Mack.

Kenneth Ring's work fits into this whole perplexing quasi-physical paradigm. There remain "nuts and bolts" abductionists such as Hopkins and Jacobs, but I find their work flawed. And I'm not just saying that because the scenario they describe is so sinister. Like Strieber, I think the "visitors" use a metaphorical (as opposed to a literal) syntax when dealing with us. They're penetrating our world and forcing us to expand our definition of reality and self. It sounds cheesy and "New Age" but it's happening nevertheless. Quietly perhaps, but I sense an agenda at work.

I don't think the visitors are necessarily altruists; they may need us in some way, so we should proceed with caution. But if they're an interstellar invasion force, it's rather strange they haven't managed to take over by now.

The risk Strieber takes in his periodic online writings is that people will think he's writing about literal "alien invasion" or demonic possession. He's in a very tricky position. The narrative structure in "Communion" handles it well; it's essentially a book of questions. Professional skeptics lashed out at it because it was reasonable -- even erudite, especially among UFO literature -- and true believers were left cringing because he never explicitly stated that he had been abducted by aliens.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Withering insect-reality. Eyes with no luster, brains fastidiously purged of neurons.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Remember "V," the 80s television phenomenon starring Mark Singer and fascistic aliens? I was crazy about "V" when it was on, although I recall being let down by the TV series that followed the original miniseries. I enjoyed "V," in part, because it made pretty good use of its budget restraints to make the aliens seem familiar and intelligible. The insides of the alien motherships, for example, were like spotless, labyrinthine warehouses: places one could actually go.

At the time, "V" was supposed to be a science fiction retelling of Nazi Germany. Now I find it a prescient glimpse of the Bush Regime. (I'm not the only one; nut-case David Icke thinks that world leaders actually are lizard-like alien entities in human disguise.)

Anyway, I bought the original miniseries on DVD and am waiting for a good time to watch it. Oddly, I could almost root for the Visitors if their shocking secret agenda wasn't so damned stupid: to drain Earth's oceans and process humans into the reptile equivalent of beef jerky. Viewers are expected to accept that an advanced interstellar race would do something as inefficient as steal water from a cumbersome planet rather than from a passing comet.

As aliens, the Visitors are failures. But as kitsch, they're sheer genius.
I receieved evidential support for yesterday's space-marginalization theory while listening to NPR on the way to work. A newscaster was declaiming the headlines in perfectly spoken English. Then he arrived at a story about NASA's continued failure to meet safety requirements. He started stammering, as if even speaking the words "space shuttle" was somehow beneath him or extraordinarily taxing. He paused, continued fumblingly, and stumbled over simple words for the rest of the the monologue in a pained "let's get this over with" voice. He was barely understandable.

Apparantly the media is so divorced from anything remotely "futurist" that it has a latent fear of its very vernacular. This is most apparent with the word "alien." Three simple syllables -- you'd think there's no room for error. Yet professional speakers manage to mispronounce "alien" as "ellian." Have you noticed this? Pay attention the next time you're watching a cheesy news clip on extraterrestrial life.

Along with "ellian," there's a depressingly large crowd that calls NASA "Nasaw." Where the hell is the "W" coming from?

Which brings me to another point: groups of letters such as "FBI" and "CIA" are not, contrary to popular belief, acronyms. An acronym is an abbreviation that's pronounced as a word, like NASA or SCUBA or OSHA. I always thought this was pretty basic stuff until I started working corporate jobs, in which any combination of letters is passed off as an "acronym." (Has George Carlin addressed this? He should.)

And let's not forget the contingent that insists on saying "ideal" when it means "idea." I personally don't think a society that literally can't pronounce "idea" will ever come up with any genuinely good ones.

"I could say more, but you get the general idea."

--Morrissey, "Daghenham Dave"

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Jesus goes corporate

Today at work I looked up from a mass of filework to see my supervisor standing next to my desk. "Here," she said. "I thought I'd give you this." Her tone was friendly and I assumed the sheet of paper in her hand might be a brief "thank you" for the punishing amount of work I've been doing this week.

Not so.

The sheet was a prayer guide with all sorts of helpful advice for submitting to Our Lord Jesus before beginning a day at work. I wanted to shoot myself. This wasn't the first time I'd fielded religious drivel from co-workers. If it had been, maybe I would have let it go. But I'd already been through the no-religion-at-work issue; it had raised its head before with predictably ugly results. I had even emailed my supervisor, privately requesting that religion and work be kept distinct. Is she dense?

I promptly photocopied the "inspiring" prayer and gave a copy to our human resources magager. "If she wants to hand out gospel tacts, let her do it outside the Palace Theater on the Plaza," I said. (The Palace is a regular hang-out for brain-dead gospel crusaders and other human refuse.)

I think it's notable that I work for a large corporation where rules and regulations are obsessively standardized and enforced. Loud signs in the break-room proclaim that all employees are entitled to equal treatment. Yet the assumption that all employees are rabid Christians seems strangely ubiquitous and goes conveniently unquestioned. (I was perhaps the only employee to take offense at the hideous juxtaposition of Christian/military iconography that graced our online newletter's obligatory page devoted to the National Day of Prayer.)

"God Bless America." "God Bless This." "God Bless That." Does "God" really want me to perform to the best of my abilities at a corporation that mocks the very notion of "time off" and threatens its employees with termination if they should fall sick? Am I the only one who sees something tragically and fundamentally warped about this?

Apparently so.
Who says politicians are oblivious to space exploration?

"Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."

-- Dan Quayle (former Vice-President of the United States)

Sadly -- and perhaps fatally -- we marginalize outer space. There's an omnipresent "giggle factor" at work that keeps us from dealing with space as the vast, portentous reality that it is; references to spaceships and distant planets inevitably conjure adolescent comparisons to lame science fiction. We suffer from a profound need to keep our reality tidy and anthropomorphic: nothing less than a terminal addiction to a collectively mandated "normality." If experience can't be framed by a TV screen, we grow uneasy. So we spend our lives marinated in a vapid brew of professional sports, predigested "news" and trite "issues."

The media plays along, as usual. Perhaps if we took space seriously, as both a frontier and a potential threat (specifically, in the form of near-Earth asteroids), NASA wouldn't be the malformed, ineffectual entity witnessed by the Columbia crash.

There is another reason we marginalize space: exposure to outer space broadens consciousness. So long as conventional political regimes control access to launch facilities, there will be no manned Mars missions. Seeing the Earth from space shatters the timeless "us v. them" mentality that control systems on this planet rely on. Perhaps the Moon missions were abandoned, in part, because the astronauts who returned from the gray lunar desert returned irrevocably changed, unable to see Earth as anything but a seamless biocosm, unperturbed by humanity's petty agendas.

Right now, Mars is as close to Earth as it's been in 60,000 years. Go outside at night and look at it; imagine looking back at Earth, glowing a faint blue-green in a darkening salmon sky as shadows swallow the Martian surface and all is dark.

As William Burroughs said, "We are here to go."

Onward. Ad astra. Breakthrough in gray room . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

It rained briefly this evening after weeks of record-setting greenhouse heat. My aunt from Chicago is in town; I'll see her Friday. Work has been, for lack of a better term, a drag. I'm really tired of having to effectively split my psyche in two in order to keep up with creative projects. I'm like some pathetic super-hero trying his hardest to keep his two alter-egos as far apart as possible.

If you're wondering what I do, don't bother. It's unspeakably dull. It involves files; I'll leave it at that. (There are only so many things you can do with files, and none of them are exceptionally rousing or interesting . . . except possibly setting fire to them.)

I better stop while I'm ahead or the Karma Police are going to come for me.

Monday, August 25, 2003

It looks like the material I sent to my publisher is OK, leaving me free to start another book if I choose. I have a definite concept in mind. Also, Lowell Observatory wrote back to me regarding my request to use their images, which is more than I can say for Malin Space Science Systems.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I emailed some illustrations, a bibliography, and a proposed sub-chapter insertion to my editor, who returns to work after a vacation tomorrow. I like to think I'm near the point where I can relax and let Pocket Books take over, but I really don't think a project like this will be fully out of my hands until it goes to press. Acquiring and cropping Mars Global Surveyor imagery (and matching up photos to their respective captions) promises to be the confusing part. Speaking of Mars: it's quite visible in the night sky, even in the city. I really wish I could view it with a good telescope, away from the light pollution. Tomorrow it will be as close to Earth as it's been in app. 60,000 years.

I've been immersed in "The Communion Letters," which is unexpectedly fascinating. I'm skeptical but very much sympathetic to the notion of contact with nonhuman beings, whether they're "extraterrestrial" in the popular sense or, more likely, something much stranger. Many of the first-person accounts in "The Communion Letters" describe trance-like sleep-states that could easily be sleep paralysis if not for the attendent weirdness. If "bedroom encounters" are neurological aberrations, then the definition of sleep paralysis needs to be expanded to include some truly bizarre special effects.

I've experienced sleep paralysis once or twice, fleetingly. It was very much as it's described in the popular literature: my mind was fully cognizant but my body was so much useless baggage. Accompanied by hallucinations or lingering nightmares, such an episode could be easily attributed to paranormal forces. Fortunately, I knew what I was experiencing as I experienced it (due in large part to my familiarity with "abduction" research).

Accounts of childhood encounters are uniquely interesting. If consciousness is as strange as modern physics suggests, then it seems weirdly reasonable to expect communication with nonhumans at a young age. Ever since encountering Strieber's books, I've idly fished for anomalous memories that might reflect a "buried" close-encounter episode but haven't surfaced with anything remotely conclusive. I recall some seemingly weird phenomena from a very young age, but the chances of any of it being other than memorable dreams or waking fantasies are preposterously slim.

I have a vague "memory" of playing with a diminutive helmeted figure in the woods. But as far as I know, I was never anywhere where this could have happened. Some die-hard theorists would insist that my memories were intentionally scrambled. But it's far more likely that an early childhood dream took on a life of its own, escaping my neurological filing system. After all, memory is not a reliable filmstrip; it's amorphic, malleable and, for all of its assistance, remarkably unreliable (hence my extreme skepticism toward "hypnotic regression" as a method of uncovering distant events).

Then again, the mostly unrecognized universal nature of the "visitor" experience makes me question the barrier Western ontology has set up between "dream" and "reality." My subconscious insists this delineation is too binary, like most intellectual constructs. Like David Bohm, I think reality is holographic in nature. Our brains are limited to peering at the universe's outermost skin. When we finally tunnel deeper, I predict we'll discovery a riot of nonhuman consciousness.

A few recommended books:

1.) "The Holographic Universe" (Michael Talbot)
2.) "Communion" (Whitley Strieber)
3.) "Passport to Magonia" (Jacques Vallee)
4.) "Equations of Eternity" (David Darlington)
5.) "The Abduction Enigma" (Kevin Randle, et al)


Saturday, August 23, 2003

Along with the "Sobig" virus scourge that threatens to flood my in-box, there are also some interesting anonymous political messages circulating (under hijacked email addresses). I just got this one, seemingly from a proprietor of a website devoted to weird Mars images:

Personal Message:
Terrorist sympathizer, you are being watched.

With Regards,

One theory about "Sobig" and related plagues is that they're permitted to roam free so that Bush Regime cohorts like John Ashcroft will have a ready-made excuse to advocate increased Internet monitoring. The "terrorist sympathizer" message now making the rounds is just menacing enough to accelerate plans to crack down on Net traffic. Ultimately, of course, the Department of Homeland Security will be satisfied with nothing less than hidden webcams in the homes of computer-users everywhere.

I started reading my autographed copy of Anne and Whitley Strieber's reprinted "The Communion Letters" tonight. It's fascinating stuff. I should finish "Perdido Street Station" tomorrow.

On the way out the coffeshop tonight I saw the Kansas City Star's front page: this week's squalid heat was -- surprise! -- a new record. Of course, in twenty years people will look back on 110+ degree weather with utter, consummate longing. This is nothing.

Friday, August 22, 2003

My email account was spammed beyond capacity again last night. I've been so long now that I really don't want to change. For one thing, it would require manually changing the HTML code in every one of my Web pages. And it's logical to assume I'd get the same damned junk mail even if I switched user-names. Hopefully Yahoo! is aware of the problem and can put an end to it. If not, spam tends to come in waves; it's the online equivalent to a short-lived but tenacious predatory insect. In this case the insects are locusts.

A more unsettling possibility is that Yahoo! has deliberately reduced my email storage capacity so that I'll buy more disk-space from them. That's basically what they did when they realized that their free website hosting was too good to pass up -- they decreased the data transmittal so that anyone with any effort invested in a GeoCities site pretty much felt compelled to upgrade. (For nine dollars a month, it's not a bad deal. But still . . .)

NASA fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request I had filed by sending me a videotape taken from a space shuttle. It clearly shows unidentified targets veering away from a flash of light. The best analysis to date casts pretty grave suspicion of NASA's claim that the objects are ice particles close to the shuttle. Lan Fleming, a researcher and NASA employee, has been waging a quiet battle with Jim Oberg, a journalist who functions as NASA's quasi-official debunker. The debate gets confusing, but in the end there's a solid case to be made for intelligently controlled UFOs in near-Earth space. The nagging question: are the UFOs ours or someone else's?

My birthday was Wednesday; I'm 28. I think tonight I'm meeting my parents for dinner. Also, I'm going to return my year-late library books and cough up a check. My plan to sneak the books back into the library never materialized, which is probably a good thing.

The weather is outrageous. My car's thermometer registered 112 F last evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Last night I dreamed about a five-star restaurant that served "gourmet breakfast cereal." Everyone raved about it. My curiosity picqued, I dropped by one morning for breakfast. The inside was cathedral-like, with lots of gold trim. Well-dressed waiters carried glass carafes of chilled milk. Although I had been assured the place was incredibly popular, I seemed to be the only customer. I stood at the counter near the foyer and tried to read a tiny menu attached to the opposite wall. I hesitated, then asked, "Do you serve Cap'n Crunch?" The man behind the counter nodded indulgently.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

"Hail to the Thief"

A democratic government has one defining function: to protect the rights of its citizens. The President is the human extension of this philosophy and nothing more. For all of the grandeur attached to the position, the President is, ultimately, a public servant.

But look at the god-like power we entrust to our Presidents. They're enamored of special interest groups to whom the "public good" is a laughable fantasy. They think nothing of committing the lives of men and women younger and smarter than they are to pointless death in the service of thinly concealed corporate machinations. And we let them get away with it.

Short of replacing the President with an impartial artificial intelligence (which, in the long run, seems imminently sensible), there are ways to counteract the petty dictatorship the office of President has become.

Consider locating a doctor. Communications technology has made it relatively easy for prospective patients to choose a doctor best equipped to their needs. Careful searching can locate the most qualified physicians for the malady in question. This freedom to choose has saved the lives of discerning patients who would otherwise find themselves at the mercy of incompetents.

This is in striking contrast to electing a worthy President. A typical election presents us with two idealogues who, we're reassured, want only the best for the country they've chosen to represent. Most of the time voters vote for a particular candidate not because they think he's particularly savvy or competent, but because he is simply the lesser of two evils.

Our current President has committed the U.S. and its reluctant allies to an Armageddon-style shoot-out with the Islamic world, as witnessed by the social, political and intellectual grievances precipitated by "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Thousands of the Iraqi citizens he sought to "liberate" died within the first weeks of conflict. Now, months after the obligatory "victory" photo-op in the ruins of Baghdad, casualties are escalating. Yesterday the United Nations embassy in Iraq was bombed. A few days before that a gas-line line was bombed, resulting in $7 million a day in lost revenue. Iraq's cities, patrolled by an occupation force with a curious penchant for opening fire on unarmed protesters, are waterless and without electricity.

Even a good President can miscalculate. But our current President acted both aggressively and mulishly against the best advice of the world community, of which the U.S. is an inextricably entrenched participant. The decision to "liberate" Iraq, founded on the "threat" posed by nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with the U.S.'s offensive against "terror" or with disposing Saddam Hussein from power. It most certainly had nothing to do with the best interests of the American people. We're left to confront a President whose ties to industrial interests and Christian Fundamentalist ideology are blindingly obvious. His actions are not remotely consistent with the public service role epitomized by his station.

How do we prevent future Presidential debacles? Simple: subject candidates to the same psychological screening processes enforced in the private sector. If a would-be President plans to use you or your children as human fodder in a spurious war, shouldn't you at least have the right to gauge his/her mental profile sans the boorish spin-doctoring that typifies election year politics? If contenders for the role of President are the altruists they expect us to believe, they should have no qualms about publicly submitting to lie-detector tests and stringent personality profiling.

This isn't to condemn the prospect of genuine leadership; a President need not be selfless. Ego and ambition are healthy traits that can be harnessed by a strong administration to institute change for the better. But, overwhelmingly, Presidential wannabes share the same tepid, myopic outlook. They offer more of the same and deliver the worst. Autographing flags and delivering speeches in military raiment may rouse some twisted variant of "patriotism" among the "Love It or Leave It" contingent, but it solves nothing. It doesn't absolve atrocity.

If we're to maintain a pretense of democracy, the office of President demands mutation. America cannnot withstand an endless procession of frauds.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Today my Yahoo! Mail account was pounded by a deluge of virus-ridden spam, so if you sent me a message and it was returned to you, that's why. My in-box was 117% full; I'm not even sure how that's possible.

I occurred to me this morning that the argument over the nature of consciousness (whether it's an epiphenomenal by-product or the reason for our existence) is basically a dumb, binary way of approaching the subject. Consciousness might be both a side-effect of cognition and a pivotal evolutionary development.

Yesterday I caved and ordered "The Communion Letters" from Strieber's site. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Appalling greenhouse heat. Brush Creek is almost completely overrun with vomit-colored algae. Typical Monday.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Return of the bat!

I was on my computer waiting for a pizza to arrive when I noticed that Spook, my oldest cat, was unusually interested in the window above my air conditioner. I followed her gaze.

The bat from the previous night was hanging from the blinds! Inexplicably inside my apartment!

It immediately started flying all over the place, coming perilously close to the ceiling fan. I ran to the phone and called my apartment's emergency maintenance number and was told that a loose bat in my apartment didn't constitute an emergency. I told them it fucking well did and that they better send someone to help me trap it. (None of this was the bat's fault. I actually like bats; I just don't like sharing my living room with them.)

By this time both my cats were chasing the bat with gleeful abandon. The phone rang: the pizza guy calling from the lobby nine floors down. I grabbed my checkbook and met him at the door just as a maintenance guy and my building's new manager began conferring about the Loose Bat Situation.

The bat, probably exhausted and starving, flew into the kitchen as we walked into my apartment, and the maintenance guy was able to trap it in a towel. It made angry buzzing noises through tiny fangs as he escorted it into the hall. Fortunately, he had every intention of setting the bat free outside.

Now my cats are listless and forlorn. At first, Spook diligently kept looking for it and meowing plaintively. I think the realization that the bat is gone is finally hitting home. But it was certainly fun while it lasted.
Winged mammal alert

I live on the top floor of an apartment highrise originally built in 1928. If you look carefully, the flowered decorations of the original masonry can be seen protruding through multiple layers of paint, a fading veneer of elegance. Tonight when I exited the elevator I saw what I originally thought was some sort of massive insect clinging to the Victorian trim above the door to my apartment. I took a closer look. It wasn't a bug; it was a roosting bat. How's that for Gothic?

I called a friend with experience caring for wild animals and she referred me to a bat expert. I attempted to catch the bat in a bath-towel, but it took off and flew soundlessly up and down the short hallway, grazing my head. I gave up trying to herd the bat into my towel and took some pictures of it in flight, then phoned the apartment's front desk. With any luck, they'll call the bat expert whose number I left on the answering machine. If not, it's only a matter of time until the old woman next door sees the bat and has a damned heart attack. (She once about lost her mind at the sight of Burroughs, my now-deceased ferret. A flying, taloned thing with pointed ears and sharp teeth might push her totally over the edge.)

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Getting these Mars illustrations in order is a damned headache. I wish Pocket Books would send a company helicopter to land on my roof to disgorge a selfless assistant. I hand over everything -- finalized maniscript, bibliography and photo captions with relevant URLs -- on the 25th. I'm almost finished with "Perdido Street Station." Next up: possibly Stephen Baxter's "Vacuum Diagrams" or Robert J. Sawyer's "Hominids."

So far, no buzz about UFOs screwing with the United States' energy grid. But I'm still predicting that someone will make the connection.

My birthday is in four days; I'll be 28, which is depressingly close to 30.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Here's an idea: Why not make it a law that a former U.S. President's son (or daughter) cannot be elected to the same office? It sounds kind of silly until one remembers that the official reason the United States was formed was to break away from the tyranny that typically accompanies a ruling monarchy. If you argue that such a law is "un-American" and an insult to individual freedom, remember that persons born in countries other than the United States are not allowed to be President. If that's not an insult to individual freedom in a so-called "land of opportunity" in which "all men are created equal" I don't know what is. So at least there's a similarly contradictory precedent for my proposed law. Of course, this presupposes a fair, valid voting system.

I just realized that for all of my political diatribes, I've never commented on my own voting preference. I'll be honest: I didn't vote in the 2000 election. Partly because it was intuitively clear to me that Bush would be appointed President regardless of the actual outcome and partly because Al Gore -- certainly the lesser of two evils -- struck me as a worryingly bizarre and uniquely pathetic person. I thought Gore's campaign antics were whorish; Dubbya talks religion, so Gore proclaims on "60 Minutes" that he, too, is a "born-again Christian." Give me a break. And his infamous Internet and "Love Story" statements were disconcerting as well. I think it takes a generally misguided ego to enter the political arena in the first place; Gore seemed not only starved for votes, but possessed by an inflated, fictional counterpart a la Walter Middy.

Will I vote in '04? Somehow I really doubt it.
I tried to log in to my MSN account last night but was promptly disconnected. My troubleshooter drew a blank, so I'm hoping I was knocked off because of a surge of user traffic (probably Web surfers looking for more information on yesterday's blackout) and not something wrong with my machine. I'll find out this afternoon. Evidently Blogger and Yahoo! are up and running, which comes as a relief.

Although I don't profess to know anything about it yet, I'm interested in the power failure. This is as big -- or quite possibly bigger -- than the famous 1960s (or was it 1950s?) blackout Donald Keyhoe attributes to UFO activity in "Aliens from Space." A conclusive explanation was never found, leading some investigators to wonder if there had been interference from an external electromagnetic source.

I find it interesting that the contemporary blackout coincides very closely with Mars' closest approach to Earth in 70,000 years. As Jacques Vallee has shown, Mars' close approaches to Earth are accompanied by UFO "flaps." Coincidence, or some weird mechanism at work behind the curtain?

Whitley Strieber has been rallying for mass meditation in case this year's Mars approach signals an opportunity to interact with alien beings. One possibility -- albeit not a very plausible one -- is that the power failure was an attention-getting ploy by the UFO intelligence. I'll be extremely interested to scan the preeminent "fringe" sites and see how many others have arrived at this idea independently.

[I could wax really theoretical right now, but I'll resist the temptation. Let's wait and see.]

Thursday, August 14, 2003

A giant insect that inhabits its own liminal imaginative reality, uncoiling only to eat or copulate (which it does seldomly and unknowingly). It feeds off the ectoplasmic potential of human flesh, using gnarled, bladed limbs to eviscerate its victim while glands near the thorax emit an odorless, paralyzing gas. The minds of its infrequent meals find themselves uploaded into the insect's cognitive matrix, trapped in a web-like dream of harshly illuminated corridors, bland corporate art and unfathomable appliances. Unruly pipes depend from the walls, stenciled with entomological hieroglyphs. The laws of physics are routinely bent or violated, filtered into abstractions in the insect's unsensing mind. Time is made malleable. The insect sleeps and dreams endless dreams, its captives actors in unscripted Kafkaesque dramas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Hectic day at work. I'm slowly but surely assembling official permission to use contributors' illustrations in the Mars book. MSSS still hasn't written back, which really bugs me. I know for a fact that other commercial publications have used MSSS images without "official" written consent. This is what you get for playing it by the book. I'm awaiting advice from my publisher.

Google "Cydonia" and you'll find my Mars website, the Cydonian Imperative, at the top of the heap. I've been in the running for a long time but I guess the site's reached a critical mass of reader popularity, which is heartening.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

I found yet another Chick tract in the men's room at Borders. This one's not nearly as funny as most. It's less of a story and more of a thinly veiled threat that if you don't believe the Bible literally you're going straight to hell (where I assume dumb-looking goblins with cucumber-noses say things like "Gotcha, sucker!")

The company I work for has this truly hilarious Web filtering software. It's supposed to keep prurient cubicle-drones from looking at Victoria's Secret catalogues and living it up in chat rooms, but all it does is get in the way. For example, I tried accessing a site that lampoons Republicans and the "Religious Right" and was denied access because the content was "tasteless." (Curiously, I seem to have no problem at all viewing authentically offensive sites praising Bush and advocating prayer as a method of keeping "evil-doers" at bay; my company's own online newsletter is slavishly sympathetic to dirtball "God and guns" ideology.) And it goes without saying that many sites dealing with esoteric science are labeled "cult." (Kurt Jonach's Electric Warrior, largely about technology and art, falls in this category for no readily discernable reason.) I think it would be a great hack if someone could lock out access to business-related sites with a screen that says "Forbidden: Mind-Numbing Bullshit."

Still no response from the dedicated staff at Malin Space Science Systems.
I found Jacques Vallee's "Anatomy of a Phenomenon" at Half Price Books. As soon as I finish acquiring permission to use graphics in my Mars book, I'll probably read it in one sitting. I've already gone a few days without a fix from China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station," which I'm aching to get back to.

Malin Space Science Systems requires written consent to use Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) imagery. Considering that the MGS is a NASA mission, launched with tax money, this seems decidedly unfair. The images belong squarely in the public domain; I shouldn't have to ask anyone's permission. (And before Dr. Mike Malin was handed largely unconditional access to the Mars Orbiter Camera, I wouldn't have had to. MSSS' "ownership" of Mars data is a legal charade and one of the countless flaws with the NASA bureaucracy.)

In other news: has reconfigured their single-item sale referral system, which means that unless I can think of something clever, I will no longer be able to post individual book covers on my book review pages. Instead, I'll have to settle for Amazon's really ugly "improved" interface. The difference is totally cosmetic but it's still annoying.

Oh, yeah -- not only does my PC's DVD player not work, but neither does the CD burner. The computer fails to recognize it; it might as well not exist. I'm going to have to send the damned thing back to Radio Shack's "service" center sooner than I had planned. But at least I have my laptop as backup this time.

Monday, August 11, 2003

I visited a grocery store a couple weeks ago, and over the weekend I spent some time in a Wal-Mart "supercenter." I'd forgotten what depressing places these are. Is it just me or does Hy-Vee cater to would-be circus freaks? I saw some real specimens. The book selection at Wal-Mart is especially intriguing; there's a vast selection of Tim LaHaye titles, including (my personal favorite) "Are We Living In the End Times?," a companion volume to the sickeningly popular "Left Behind" series.

The "Left Behind" thing is primarily disturbing because of the blurring definitions between reality and entertainment. In the post-September 11 zeitgeist, isolating truth is just too difficult and confusing for most people. The military-industrial-entertainment complex's answer is to bind politically expedient myth and pre-digested "facts" into an unenlightening but market-friendly chimera. It's cheap, vulgar candy. But man, does it sell.

Physicist Bernard Haisch is working on a series of science fiction novels specifically designed to counter the appalling idiocy that fuels the "end times" craze: a seemingly workable exercise in meme-warfare. The trouble is, Haisch's premise is basically intelligent. As such, his fiction is effectively satire -- and satire's main demographic is the already-convinced. The "masses" (in this case, the drooling savants toting wooden crosses across town and handing out Chick tracts) will be bypassed completely. One glance at an intentional subversion of the cosmology cooked up by the likes of Bush, Robertson, Falwell and LaHaye and they'll scream "blasphemy." Fundamentalists hate scientists anyway -- unless they're the sort who cite "Piltdown Man" as "proof" that evolution is false.
Yet more greenhouse effect fun. You thought 9-11-01 was shocking? Get some perspective: that was a couple airplanes slamming into a couple buildings. Wait until the world's oceans are so thick with excess C02 that they finally start outgassing, leaving coastal cities as sprawling, biohazard graveyards. Cheney's undisclosed location better have plenty of oxygen tanks.

I keep seeing this great patriotic slogan on bumper-stickers: "9-11: We Will Never Forget." But that directly implies that we're going to be here forever, which we're plainly not. Ultimately, no one's going to care because there won't be anyone left.

Sheesh, you're thinking. This guy's overreacting! Am I? Look at the surface of Mars. There used to be oceans there. Not anymore. Something happened, something almost unthinkably bad.

I fear the 21st century is going to be one prolonged atrocity. The hideously backfired spectacle of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" will be less than a footnote compared to the eco-disasters we'll be contending with in the next few decades. Take a deep breath.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Interesting article on applied neurotheology. Dawkins' estimation of religion is right on-target.

(With thank to Chris.)

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Pocket Books needs written (snail-mail) permission from the various illustrators who have volunteered their graphics for my book. Damn. This is sort of a pain in the side, but it must be done.
"Tomorrow" morning I take my kitten, Ebe, to the vet's for her third (and final) booster shot. That gives me just enough time to come home and talk to my editor about illustrations for my book.

I spent tonight reading "Perdido Street Station." This is the best book I've read in memory. Outstanding on every level.

On the way to the coffeeshop I saw another idiot shouldering an almost true-to-life-size cross. Fortunately for both of us he didn't attempt to engage me in conversation.

Col. Philip J. Corso

I spoke with author Joe Lewells on the phone today. His anecdote about Dr. J. Allen Hynek, recounted in passing in his book "The God Hypothesis," makes me wonder if the Army colonel who told Hynek about the recovery of alien bodies at Roswell, NM was none other than the much-maligned Philip Corso ("The Day After Roswell"). I suppose I'll never know -- Hynek died in 1986 and Corso only recently -- but Lewell's second-hand account argues that a UFO indeed crashed in 1947.

That's it for tonight. I'm exhausted.

Friday, August 08, 2003

That stern, paternal visage, icy yet paradoxically tender and knowing . . . That heroic stance, defiant and proud . . . It can only be action hero George W. Bush!

(With thanks to Jason.)
I return to the notion that our evolution has been modified by a nonhuman intelligence. There is a node in our brains that exhibits spikes of electrical activity when the subject is experiencing religious ecstasy. An instant God-fix. As Burroughs would have said, "a man within." Darwinism explains our propensity for religion as a mechanism for maintaining solidarity among members of a tribe or group. It might be this simple, or the node studied by neurotheologians might be a genetic graft designed to keep us Earth-bound. Our species' violent history is a reflection of our devotion to Belief and the power if wields over us.

Charles Fort: "We are property." Religion is an invisible fence, trapping us on an increasingly hazardous planet. Perhaps the only way we can conquer it is by daring to modify the holy scripture of our own DNA.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

A last-minute addition to the Mars book. (You read it here first!)

Claims of life on Mars are given further weight by the presence of monster-sized "black spiders" spreading over the planet's surface. Intrigued by the tentacular features, often seen bunched together like nerve ganglia or trees in a macabre forest, Mars enthusiast Greg Orme began a careful study of the many enticing features, amassing dozens of examples on his website. Intrigued, Arthur C. Clarke cited the spidery outcroppings as possible smoking-gun evidence of life, and acted as consultant when Orme co-authored a paper on the "spiders" for Mark Carlotto's online journal "New Frontiers in Science."

Whatever the spiders are, they appear to have no earthly counterpart, raising the possibility of bizarre, uniquely Martian geology. As Orme notes, the spiders look overwhelmingly like living things. But looks can be deceiving, especially in black-and-white orbital photos. While most skeptics have been curiously silent on the subject, some have chosen to attack the messenger by insinuating that Clarke, famous for his prescient scientific predictions (including plantlife on Mars), is simply musing a bit too loudly in his old age.

Along with the "banyan trees" advocated by Clarke, the spiders challenge conventional models of both Mars and life itself. If the spiders are enormous, ground-hugging trees, then exobiology must allow for relatively complex organisms on the Red Planet, drawing official science one grudging step closer to the prospect that Mars was habitable in the not-too-distant past. Such thinking, heretical by JPL's standards, may loom on our horizon as NASA concocts new instruments to send to Mars to test for subsurface water.

Eventually, the question of Martian plantlife must be faced squarely. If the spiders are alive, how do they manage? The tangled "legs" responsible for their nickname (offered by NASA itself in evident befuddlement) seem to snake directly into the surface. Perhaps the spiders have adapted to the Martian cold by producing an enzyme that lets them thaw permafrost into life-sustaining water. On the other hand, Martian biochemistry may mock terrestrial analogy. It would be marvelous discovery if Martian organisms avoided conventional photosynthesis altogether; we would be confronting truly alien extraterrestrial life. Given the biotech revolution, a discovery of this sort may even have practical benefits for humanity.

Studying such specimens would ultimately force us to reconsider the prevalence of life in the galaxy and beyond. The spiders, if they are indeed organisms, may come to remind us that our preconceptions of what life can and cannot be are woefully narrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

"Fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable, not drinking too much
Regular exercise at the gym, 3 days a week
Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries at ease
Eating well, no more microwave dinners and saturated fats
A patient better driver, a safer car, baby smiling in back seat
Sleeping well, no bad dreams, no paranoia . . ."


Information overloaded? Wracked with anxiety? Zippy the Pinhead's advice: Bury your face in two dozen Krispy Kreme "glazed" and think about Hello Kitty . . .
I transferred Morrissey's "Southpaw Grammar" to cassette last night (along with some R.E.M. rarities and Vangelis instrumentals) and listened to it on my drive to work. "Southpaw Grammar" is the overlooked masterpiece of Morrissey's career. It's lyrically spare but it's a damned good listen, touching on everything that makes Morrissey's music compelling: raw angst, revenge, spite, oddball humor and self-reflection. "The Boy Racer" is one of his all-time best. It rocks yet it's deceptively subtle.

I ate southwestern fusion last night, then drained an espresso con panna at Starbucks, which was amazingly uncrowded. The typical residue of students was there poring over laptops. I think I may start going there again, if only for the change in scene.

This Saturday I'm going to talk with my editor about illustrations for the Mars book. I'm quite set on doing the expository sketches myself; I'm not a bad artist and I'd rather not pay a professional (who probably wouldn't know what to make of my requests anyway). I'll have to see if my scanner is up to the task now that I no longer have PolyView (a freeware download I used to have before my system crashed in '02). I had the computer repaired and the technicians replaced virtually everything -- including the DVD player, which they unfortunately forgot to connect. I'm very close to buying a TV and a DVD player; watching movies on a computer monitor is kind of shoddy.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Ranting (and some raving thrown in for good measure)

The "world situation" has become so overwhelmingly repugnant -- thanks in major part to World Leader Pretend Bush, Jr. -- that I can almost sympathize with the growing hordes of masturbatory "end times" junkies. The United States has spawned an ever-escalating Orwellian drama that will only end in catastrophe. It's nastily ironic: we make it through the Cold War and breathe a furtive sigh of relief at the prospect of not disintegrating into radioactive ash at any given moment . . . and then Dubbya gets his hands on the control panel. That good old Cold War sense of imminent apocalypse is back, this time with a walloping dose of postmillennial paranoia just to make things interesting.

And that's merely the political end of the spectrum. While we try to ignore the near-daily headlines about dead Americans in the anarchic wasteland that used to be Iraq, the climate's going fucking crazy. Europe is burning as I write. (I bet you didn't know that. I'm not making it up; do a Google search, for Christ's sake.) Our polar icecaps are actively melting, like the prelude to a particularly lame Kevin Costner movie. Yet somehow we're still enamored of patriotically themed cellphone faceplates and macho bumper-stickers.

The United States is in the throes of a profound disorder, dutifully obliging every attack on decency and human freedom doled out by the insane asylum formerly known as the White House. We have lost our capacity for wonder; we are pragmatic, gutless drones in a windowless neocon hive. We die and we are replaced. Some of us may kick and scream, but in the end it's futile. So we stand on the beach and await the fallout from overseas, readying our syringes behind the wheels of our SUVs and fume-belching pick-ups.

Scientists have begun predicting our species' extinction with a certain morbid glee. Stephen Hawking gives us a thousand years, tops. Others, no less informed, offer us 100 years. Or even 50. The unsettling truth of the matter is that we deserve to perish. Not because of Bush, but because our capacity to tolerate Bush and so many others like him is, apparently, inexhaustible. The only hope left to us is that we can turn the tide of obsolescence in our favor, so our postbiological descendants can, in some sense, take us with them. Otherwise the human experiment, so profound from ground-level, will have been as quaint as a bloom of mold in a petri dish.

The level of sheer terror infecting every waking moment of our lives, as evidenced by the news media's increasingly idiotic and obvious evasion tactics, is stunningly revealed in the film "28 Days Later," in which a virus dubbed "rage" obliterates an entire country in a month. Most of the survivors -- if that is the proper term -- are savage zombies who feed on the virus' human aftermath. I cannot think of a more relevant analogy for the Bush Regime's treatment of human life in the gut-wrenching wake of its invasion of Iraq.

For whatever it's worth, I add my voice to the small fugue on horrified onlookers: the current administration must be stopped. Our government's imminently casual approach to wholesale murder and environmental abuse is not an ethical abstraction. Maybe once it could have been, and we could have afforded to view the world political stage as a reassuringly nebulous entity. But times have changed. Time itself is accelerating. The shadow of climatic plunder and biowarfare hovers over our cities like the malignant motherships in "Independence Day." Only the aliens aren't monstrous amalgams of insect and reptile flesh; they're smiling politicians and aspiring technocrats. They run our corporations, our medical care system and our schools. They profess to fervent religiosity, yet they nurture war and relish destruction. The takeover isn't imminent; it's over. Decency has never been much of a contender, and the invasion spearheaded by our unelected "President" stifled even the mildest show of dissent within seconds.

We are approaching the end of history in recognizable form. The new world will require its own ontology, its own schematics. We must bravely face the fact that we may or may not be included in its plans.

Monday, August 04, 2003

My concept of hell: being strapped to a chair in a room filled with Precious Moments figurines and forced to listen to Bette Midler's "From A Distance."

Last night I dreampt that I was hanging around with William Burroughs. Only it wasn't William Burroughs; it was an impersonator of some kind, although at first I refused to accept it. Instead of books, the pseudo-Burroughs "wrote" ingeniously haphazard, ink-blackened pamphlets (possibly inspired by the underground press depicted in "Perdido Street Station"). Mental snapshots of nonexistent locations, all tarred by dilapidation. I remember a particular rural mansion with crumbling walls and ugly green paint. Strange empty rooms.

I have a barely concealed interest in architectural entropy. It flavors my dreams and haunts my fiction. For more on this bizarre preoccupation, see The site's author introduces our collective fascination with derelict structures with the following:

Today, the pyramids of the industrial revolution just uselessly stand in the way, they're a scar in the landscape. The deafening noises have been replaced by silence, but if you listen carefully they will tell you their story.

Abandoned hospitals where you can still smell the anxiety of the ill, where you can hear the coughing of the TBC infected and where once doctors and nurses walked through the shiny corridors.

A 100 years old hotel, standing proudly at the waterfront, arrogantly overlooking the beach and fiercely withstanding all the storms of the past century, a decayed symbol of wealth for the rich.

When a friend first pointed this site out to me, I took a virtual tour of an abandoned hotel and remembered it quite clearly from a recent dream. Decidedly eerie. I've experienced enough episodes of this sort of precognition to almost convince me that there's something to it. Perhaps consciousness is holographic in nature, accessible to humans and non-humans alike. In a holographic model, past and present are meaningless; they're products of our meat-based brains, which evolved in a harsh and mercilessly causal environment.

I'd like to shed my body, if only to taste a moment's raw, unobstructed experience. In my dream of the abandoned hotel, I was surrounded by frollicking humanoid forms. There was something beautifully insubstantial about them. They were somehow diaphanous, child-like, otherwordly -- yet paradoxically perfectly at home among the ruins. I'm not suggesting this was anything other than a dream. But it was a uniquely affecting one, possibly laden with subjective meaning.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

I just finished the second editorial pass at the "After the Martian Apocalypse" manuscript and emailed it to my editor. I think I did a good job. There's new material on Percival Lowell's "canals," the Martian moons as presciently depicted in "Gulliver's Travels" and improved chapter and sub-chapter endings. I had to move a lot of text around, but I think the book reads easier for the effort. This is load off my mind. And the day is still fairly young.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

"Perdido Street Station" is everything I hoped it would be. It's a grotesque allegory, one of the most distressing, lyrical depictions of urban sprawl that I've read. It rivals "Blade Runner" and has a visceral sensibility that even most good science fiction lacks.

I'm enthusiastically recommending this one even though I'm far from through with it.

Friday, August 01, 2003

William Gibson's staggeringly good short-story collection "Burning Chrome" has been released in a new trade edition, featuring a new introduction by Gibson.

In terms of style and verve, "Burning Chrome" is one of the best books I've ever read, and certainly one of the most important SF anthologies ever written. ("The Martian Chronicles" isn't as consistently good, nor is it as ground-breaking, but it has the same memorable quality.)

The title story is a literary nodal point.

See my cyberpunk reading list.

More fear and loathing in Kansas City

I got a letter from the Kansas City Public Library today. It seems I've had some books of theirs for over a year, and they're prepared to get tough (if a library can be said to "get tough") if I don't give them a rather large sum of money. Naturally, I called the library and feigned outraged indignation. (I fully intend to give them their books back, but damned if I give them cash.) The next logical step is to sneek into the library and put the books back on their respective shelves. Wish me luck.