Daily Archives: April 1, 2005

Bits and Pieces

No, I’m not doing anything clever for April Fool’s Day, although if you like you can hear me get frustrated when Athena doesn’t fall for my April Fool’s Day prank. Kids can be too clever sometimes. Grrr.

In other news, Tor’s ordered a fourth printing of Old Man’s War. As the kids say: w00t!

Also, Old Man’s War gets what I think is a really very good review by Russell Letson in Locus this month — good in the sense of very well-considered, not in the sense of “uniformly positive.” Indeed, the version of the review I’ve seen (graciously forwarded to me by the reviewer at my request, since I don’t yet subscribe to Locus) begins “Once in a great while I find myself reviewing a book that annoys me…” which was enough enough to make me laugh out loud (the second part of the sentence is a little better for me: “… or, to be precise, a book that I enjoy enough to finish even though I might spend a lot amount of time arguing with it.”

I enjoyed this review because the reviewer got into a dialogue with the book, and I think it’s interesting to have someone feel like he wants to keep reading even when from time to time he wants to hurl the book across the room; what I really like is the suggestion the book had him spending time thinking about the issues it raises. To be sure, it’s not an unqualified rave; it’s not even close (the reviewer has a headful of nits to pick), but perverse fellow that I am, I don’t mind mixed or even negative reviews if the review is thoughtfully done, and this one is. Naturally, I encourage you to seek it out.

Also noted in the April Locus: Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered at #3 on the paperback bestseller’s list. Rock on, Ms. Bear! No, Old Man’s War is not on the bestseller list. I’ll make it through the pain somehow.

On a completely unrelated front, I’ve decided that I’m going to go ahead and get myself a Mac. Because, you know, I want one, and since none of y’all picked up the hint to buy me one, I guess I’ll just have to get it myself. My thought was to buy one in time to start writing The Ghost Brigades, but the complication here is that Apple is very likely to announce upgrades to its OS and possibly new models within the next few days, and it makes no sense to buy the current models until the updates are announced. Stupid product cycles.

In case you’re curious, the Mac I have my eye on would be the 20″ iMac, which is in the sweet spot for me in terms of price and power (this is one of the models they’re likely to upgrade this month as well). As I mentioned previously, this doesn’t mean I’ll have “switched,” since I intend to keep my current PC up and running because the PC universe still has a number of advantages, and at some point (probably a year to 18 months from now), I’ll probably upgrade on the PC side as well. I’ll be proudly biprocessorial. I swing both ways!

That’s what’s going on my world.

Bits and Pieces

No, I’m not doing anything clever for April Fool’s Day, although if you like you can hear me get frustrated when Athena doesn’t fall for my April Fool’s Day prank. Kids can be too clever sometimes. Grrr.

In other news, Tor’s ordered a fourth printing of Old Man’s War. As the kids say: w00t!

Also, Old Man’s War gets what I think is a really very good review by Russell Letson in Locus this month — good in the sense of very well-considered, not in the sense of “uniformly positive.” Indeed, the version of the review I’ve seen (graciously forwarded to me by the reviewer at my request, since I don’t yet subscribe to Locus) begins “Once in a great while I find myself reviewing a book that annoys me…” which was enough enough to make me laugh out loud (the second part of the sentence is a little better for me: “… or, to be precise, a book that I enjoy enough to finish even though I might spend a lot amount of time arguing with it.”

I enjoyed this review because the reviewer got into a dialogue with the book, and I think it’s interesting to have someone feel like he wants to keep reading even when from time to time he wants to hurl the book across the room; what I really like is the suggestion the book had him spending time thinking about the issues it raises. To be sure, it’s not an unqualified rave; it’s not even close (the reviewer has a headful of nits to pick), but perverse fellow that I am, I don’t mind mixed or even negative reviews if the review is thoughtfully done, and this one is. Naturally, I encourage you to seek it out.

Also noted in the April Locus: Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered at #3 on the paperback bestseller’s list. Rock on, Ms. Bear! No, Old Man’s War is not on the bestseller list. I’ll make it through the pain somehow.

On a completely unrelated front, I’ve decided that I’m going to go ahead and get myself a Mac. Because, you know, I want one, and since none of y’all picked up the hint to buy me one, I guess I’ll just have to get it myself. My thought was to buy one in time to start writing The Ghost Brigades, but the complication here is that Apple is very likely to announce upgrades to its OS and possibly new models within the next few days, and it makes no sense to buy the current models until the updates are announced. Stupid product cycles.

In case you’re curious, the Mac I have my eye on would be the 20″ iMac, which is in the sweet spot for me in terms of price and power (this is one of the models they’re likely to upgrade this month as well). As I mentioned previously, this doesn’t mean I’ll have “switched,” since I intend to keep my current PC up and running because the PC universe still has a number of advantages, and at some point (probably a year to 18 months from now), I’ll probably upgrade on the PC side as well. I’ll be proudly biprocessorial. I swing both ways!

That’s what’s going on my world.

Bits and Pieces

No, I’m not doing anything clever for April Fool’s Day, although if you like you can hear me get frustrated when Athena doesn’t fall for my April Fool’s Day prank. Kids can be too clever sometimes. Grrr.

In other news, Tor’s ordered a fourth printing of Old Man’s War. As the kids say: w00t!

Also, Old Man’s War gets what I think is a really very good review by Russell Letson in Locus this month — good in the sense of very well-considered, not in the sense of “uniformly positive.” Indeed, the version of the review I’ve seen (graciously forwarded to me by the reviewer at my request, since I don’t yet subscribe to Locus) begins “Once in a great while I find myself reviewing a book that annoys me…” which was enough enough to make me laugh out loud (the second part of the sentence is a little better for me: “… or, to be precise, a book that I enjoy enough to finish even though I might spend a lot amount of time arguing with it.”

I enjoyed this review because the reviewer got into a dialogue with the book, and I think it’s interesting to have someone feel like he wants to keep reading even when from time to time he wants to hurl the book across the room; what I really like is the suggestion the book had him spending time thinking about the issues it raises. To be sure, it’s not an unqualified rave; it’s not even close (the reviewer has a headful of nits to pick), but perverse fellow that I am, I don’t mind mixed or even negative reviews if the review is thoughtfully done, and this one is. Naturally, I encourage you to seek it out.

Also noted in the April Locus: Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered at #3 on the paperback bestseller’s list. Rock on, Ms. Bear! No, Old Man’s War is not on the bestseller list. I’ll make it through the pain somehow.

On a completely unrelated front, I’ve decided that I’m going to go ahead and get myself a Mac. Because, you know, I want one, and since none of y’all picked up the hint to buy me one, I guess I’ll just have to get it myself. My thought was to buy one in time to start writing The Ghost Brigades, but the complication here is that Apple is very likely to announce upgrades to its OS and possibly new models within the next few days, and it makes no sense to buy the current models until the updates are announced. Stupid product cycles.

In case you’re curious, the Mac I have my eye on would be the 20″ iMac, which is in the sweet spot for me in terms of price and power (this is one of the models they’re likely to upgrade this month as well). As I mentioned previously, this doesn’t mean I’ll have “switched,” since I intend to keep my current PC up and running because the PC universe still has a number of advantages, and at some point (probably a year to 18 months from now), I’ll probably upgrade on the PC side as well. I’ll be proudly biprocessorial. I swing both ways!

That’s what’s going on my world.

Rerun Week: I Second That Emotion

I’m still in rerun week although I will actually be posting a real entry not too long from now (probably). And depending how my weekend goes I may have a few more reruns next week. Happy April Fool’s Day!

BEST EMOTION OF THE MILLENNIUM

Angst. And I’m pretty bummed out about that.

Let us stipulate that “angst” is one of those words that people use a lot but which they don’t really understand; in today’s nomenclature, it is a trendy synonym for fear or even annoyance (e.g., “I went to Starbucks and my latte was mostly foam. I was filled with angst.” Aw, poor baby). This dreadful misuse of the word is problematic, but in one way it’s indicative of the fundamental nature of the concept of “angst,” which is, like diet-related obesity or supermodels, a leisure society’s affliction. Poor, ill-educated serfs didn’t know from angst. They didn’t have the time, or the inclination.

Which is not to say that didn’t have fears, of course. To a poor, ill-educated serf, the world is full of fear: Fear of one’s feudal lord. Fear of the Plague. Fear of the that witch down the lane, you know, the one with all the cats. Above all, a fear of God, He who could squash you in this life and the life everlasting, thank you very much. The point here is: Fear had direction. It was like a sentence; there was an subject (you) and an object (the thing that was gonna get you), and the verb “fear” was adequate to describe what your typical serf had going on in his brain, such as it was.

Angst is something else entirely. If fear is hard working and has a goal, angst is like fear’s directionless cousin, the one that has a trust fund and no freakin’ clue what he wants to do. Angst by definition has no definite object; it is formless and ubiquitous, and it just sits on your head and freaks you out. Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote the book on angst (“The Concept of Dread,” 1844), believed that dread was a desire for that which you fear. This led to sin; sin leads to guilt, and guilt leads to redemption, preferably (at least from Kierkegaard’s point of view) through the good graces of Christianity. God always gets you, sooner or later.

Martin Heidegger took angst even further, suggesting that dread is fundamental for a human being to discover freedom, as dread can lead to a man to “choose himself” and thus discover his true potential. When you’re full of angst, you see, you tend to concentrate on yourself and not to sweat the little stuff — say, everything else in the entire universe (to say this is a massive simplification of Heidegger’s work is to say you can get a cup of water out of the Hoover Dam). Embracing oneself brings one closer to embracing nothingness, and thus full potentiality of authentic being.

Confused? Join the club. Heidegger’s writings are so famously impenetrable they could be used by SWAT teams in place of Kevlar; to the uninitiated, he sounds a little like the self-help counselor from the third circle of Hell (“Love your Dread! Embrace the Nothingness!”). Left unsaid is what happens after one has in fact embraced the nothingness; one has the unsettling feeling that it’s difficult to get cable TV. Also, there’s the question of what happens when one has reached a state of authentic being, only to discover one is authentically an ass. Heidegger is unhelpfully silent on these matters; he himself embraced the nothingness in 1976 and will have nothing more to do with us inauthentic beings.

Angst is probably best described not through words but through pictures, and fortunately we have a fine illustrator of angst in Edvard Munch. Munch knew all about dread; first off, he was Norwegian. Second, he was a sickly boy whose family had an unfortunate tendency of dying on him: His mother when he was five, his sister when he was 14, then his father and brother while he was still young. His other sister? Mentally ill. Munch would write, quite accurately, “Illness, insanity and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life.” They weren’t no bluebirds of happiness, that’s for sure.

Munch’s art vividly showed the nameless anxiety that Munch felt all around him. The most famous example of this, of course, is “The Scream,” in which a fetal-looking person of indiscriminate sex clutches its head and emits a wordless cry. The weird little dude is Munch himself:

“I was walking along the road with two friends,” he wrote, “Watching the sunset – the sky suddenly turned red as blood – I stopped, leant against the fence, deadly tired – above the blue-black fjord and the town lay blood and tongues of fire – my friends walked on and I was left, trembling with fire – and I could feel an infinite scream passing through the landscape.”

Perhaps the infinite scream was the knowledge that one day his painting of the event would become such a smarmily iconic shorthand for angst that it would lose its power; its hard to feel dread when the screaming dude is on some VP of Advertising’s tie. More’s the pity.

Fortunately, there is other, less exploited, Munch work which still packs a punch. “The Scream” is just one element in Munch’s epic “Frieze of Life,” a collection of 20-odd canvases jam-packed with angst: One of the four major themes of the work, in fact, is “Anxiety.” But even the more supposedly cheerful theme of “Love,” features paintings swaddled in depression and dread: check out “Ashes” or “Separation,” and angst leaps up and hits you like a jagged rock. Don’t even view the “Death” pictures if you’ve skipped your Xanax for the day. Viewing any of the pictures, you immediately grasp the concept of angst; it sits on your chest like a weight, pressing the air out of you. Edvard Munch himself suffered a nervous breakdown, a fact which anyone who has spent any time with his work would find entirely unsurprising.

The irony about naming angst as the emotion of the Millennium is that at the moment, most everyone who can read this is living in almost entirely angst-free world. The economy is booming, people are well-fed and cheerful, most of us are safe and content. This is surely a switch from most of the 20th Century, the Century of Angst, which opened up with the perhaps the most dreadful war of all time, World War I, and then hunkered down under two decades of global depression, followed by a genocidal holocaust, a cold war, the cultural malaise of the 70s and the unvarnished capitalist ugliness of the 80s. Ask anyone then what the 90s would be like, they would have suggested more of the same, but without trash service.

Instead we have Britney Spears, SUVs and 28-year-old stock millionaires; our most difficult decision is whether to buy a DVD, or just stick with the VCR until we go and get an HDTV. Oh, sure, we think we feel angst on occasion, but closer examination reveals it to be irritation, pique or annoyance. I wouldn’t suggest that this is a bad thing — nameless dread can really crap on your whole day — but I might suggest that the absence left by angst ought to be filled by something more than the luxurious malaise of sated comfort. What that something might be, I’ll leave to you. Hint: It’s not a “Scream” coffee mug.