Pynchon, Hofstadter, David Foster Wallace and Me: Note on the Frustration of Trying to Create a Pre-Singularity, Post-Postmodern Literature

A little while ago I put out a tweet on twitter asking for advice about how to make my books known to readers who gravitate to writers like Stanislaw Lem, Douglas Hofstadter, Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire in particular), Borges, Pynchon, etc.

Of course my tweet had a purpose and a meta-purpose; the purpose was to actually solicit ideas about how to make my book known to readers of those authors, and the meta-purposed was to advertise my books to people searching for tweets on Pynchon, Borges, Pale Fire, etc. In other words my question was merely a hook into which to insert keywords — a cynical, albeit widespread, practice. In fact, my trolling for tweet-stream readers was my primary aim, I suspect. I didn’t really expect much in the way of answers, or at least of original answers.

But one fellow replied with words to the effect, “Blog about those authors and what you find compelling about them, then tweet about your blog post. People will follow the connection to your novels.”

Now, that is not a dazzingly original suggestion, but oddly enough it turns out that in my hundreds of posts here on Wetmachine and elsewhere, I’ve hardly ever written about what it is in literature that I think is important, and what I’m trying to do with my books.

So, below the fold, a few observations.
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Flag Day Meditation — the American flag and the anti-American (“Confederate Battle”) flag

Here in the USA, Flag Day, a little-observed holiday, has just drawn to a close.

I woke up yesterday & discovered it was Flag Day, which I took to be a little nudge from the universe to go on the record with some thoughts about not only our American flag, but also about the obscene so-called “Battle Flag of the Confederacy”, which I do below. I say Flag Day was a nudge from the universe because I had written a longish/rant essay on this topic two days ago in response to a note from a friend of mine with whom I had been having an email discussion about the horrible Confederacy and its shitable flag. His most recent note was so preposterous that I waited a few months before figuring out how to answer. A few nights ago I finally wrote a reply.  But didn’t send it, fearing it was too incendiary and I was too tired to have any judgment about it. In the morning, out of cowardice, I deleted it. Now I kinda wish I hadn’t. Oh well.

I’m not a flag fetishist. It doesn’t really bother me to see pictures of people with real or imagined beefs against the United States of America burning our flag. Which doesn’t mean that I’m a flag abuser myself; I’m not. I used to have a flag that I displayed on the 4th of July and Memorial Day. But it wore out, so I disposed of it (“properly”) and haven’t replaced it. In other words I’m not much of a flag-waver. I don’t get all weepy at the sight of “Old Glory”.

Nevertheless I acknowledge that the American flag has deep meaning even to non-fetishists like me. Among other things, the flag is the emblem and most serious symbol of respect for those who have given their lives in the service of all of us. A prettily folded flag presumably doesn’t mean a lot to those who are dead. But it certainly often means a lot to their survivors, who are certainly due our consideration. Wherefore I don’t like to see a tattered flag left out in the weather or tied to a car antenna; I don’t like to see a flag touch the ground. I always fold the flag the traditional tri-corner way I was taught in the Boy Scouts, and I handle it respectfully.

A few days ago I was at a party and the paper napkins there had the American flag printed on them, which took me aback. That image didn’t stop me from wiping my nose with one of the napkins, but I thought it was kind of tacky. I thought it was disrespectful, basically, and I wouldn’t purchase napkins like that for use at my house. What I’m saying is that I’m old-fashioned, despite being a pinko commie Massachusetts liberal.

Similarly I think it’s tacky to make American flags into t-shirts or bathing suits or laundry bags or Harley-Davidson paraphernalia. I think it’s tacky to superimpose images — for example, a picture of an American Bald Eagle –over the picture of a flag. I once met a guy, a proud Iranian-American auto mechanic, In Cambridge, Massachusetts, who had in his office an American flag onto which he had stitched a verse from the Koran in green thread. “No Muslim would ever deface that now,” he said proudly. To him, it was a sign of utmost respect to marry the Koran and the American flag. I appreciated his sentiment, but, not being Muslim and not being able to read the verse, I just thought it made the flag look cheesy. (It would be equally tacky to put a bible verse or any other kind of printed statement.) But these are matters of taste, not things I get myself all lathered up about. If somebody were to wipe his ass with the flag I would think it pathetic and boorish, but I don’t think I would experience any violent impulses.

Which brings us to the Confederate flag, or as I prefer to call it, the flag of the disloyal states, the anti-American flag, the Jim Crow flag, the flag of all the worst that is within us Americans.

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Remembering Tom West, the Original Geek Rock Star

I was saddened to learn of the passing last week of Tom West, the engineer/hacker who was the main focus of Tracy Kidder’s 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine. Tom was 71. published a nice obituary; there were also notices in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other places.

From the article:


Thirty years ago, Tom West was thrust into a category of one, a famous computer engineer, with the publication of “The Soul of a New Machine.’’

Tracy Kidder’s book, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and is taught in business classes and journalism schools, chronicled Mr. West’s role leading a team that built a refined version of a 32-bit minicomputer at a key juncture for the computer industry and his employer, Data General of Westborough.

The book’s success turned a quirky, brilliant, private, and largely self-taught man into a somewhat reluctant guru.


I call Tom by his first name because I knew him, and that’s what I called him. In fact for a short while early in my career I worked quite closely with him — at the tail end of my four year stint at Data General.

As Soul of a New Machine amply demonstrates, West was a compelling figure. Everybody agrees he was quirky and brilliant; some people have mentioned his  being difficult or “prickly”. I have to say that I don’t remember a prickly side to the man. He could be abrupt, sure. Direct. Economical of speech. But if he had a temper or was harsh or unfair, I either never saw it or have since forgotten about it. I just remember that I really liked him.

Although I can’t claim to have been great friends with the man — I don’t know if he would even have remembered my name — he made a deep impression on me. When I wrote the novella Cheap Complex Devices in 2003 — about twenty years since I had worked with Tom West at Data General — a quirky, brilliant and (I think) extremely funny character named Tom Best showed up all through it. I can’t take much credit for Tom Best’s funny lines, however, since I stole most of them from Tom W. Continue reading

Cage Match! Late to his Own Funeral!

So today’s my day in the Blog Tour De Force Cage, and I overslept! Oy! What a way to start one’s mixed martial arts career! So, without further ado, here’s a big hello and best wishes to my esteemed opponent Kimberly Kinrade and her poignant story, poem, dream collection about a love gone violently off the rails, Bits of You & Pieces of Me.

Blog Tour de Force Cage Match

Hope I don't get my lights punched out

Representing me in the ring is my Acts of the Apostles, a nanopunk biopunk cypberpunk thriller in the “Neal Stephenson meets Flannery O’Connor and Michael Crichton and Joseph Conrad” tradition, or as Hemos said on Sashdot oh so many years ago, “What Tom Clancy would write if he were smart”.

I’ll update this post as the day goes on, after coffee, but I think I’ had better get this up on my site soon, lest I lose this match by default!

Everybody who comments here today gets a free ebook version of Acts. Be sure to leave me an email addy. One lucky reader gets ebook versions of all three of my books, and a signed, printed copy of any one of my titles. More anon! Let the pummeling commence resume.

UPDATE 4/21: My day in the cage is over. I’m grateful for all the love in the comments. It was quite a showing of support. Alas, I did get my ass pretty roundly & soundly kicked by new Champeen Kimberly, but all in all I’m happy with the turnout. I’ll be sending out coupons today to people who posted yesterday. You can redeem them for a free ebook version of Acts of the Apostles from in the ebook format of your choice. Free ebook giveaway is now over; if you missed out feel free to buy a copy. They’re cheap!

How the NAACP Saved America

Cover of the book "Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement"

Read this book

Patricia Sullivan’s history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a book every American should read. My review below the fold.

I was born in 1952. I grew up on a small farm in New Jersey. My parents and three brothers and three sisters and I resided on the second floor of a small farmhouse; my paternal grandfather, an immigrant from Finland, and grandmother, an immigrant from Ireland, lived on the first floor.

One night in 1964 I was watching television with my grandfather, and as I recall — the details are a bit foggy — we stayed up until way past midnight, watching the debate and vote on the floor of the Senate about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

My grandfather’s invitation, in his heavy Finnish accent, went something like this. “You stay up and watch this, Yonny. Now we gonna see if the United States is full of beans or not.” When the bill passed, he said something like, “Well, OK. I guess not full of beans.”

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He wakes up, only to jump into deadly cage!

Blog Tour de Force Cage Match

Hope I don't get my lights punched out

For a bunch of reasons, most of them bogus, I haven’t been around this here blog too much lately–as all 7 of my regular readers know.  Please expect some more posting soon, but meanwhile, just wanted to give you a heads up about a so-called cage match that I’ll be jousting in next week.

It’s a simple contest: on each of  five days in a row starting Monday, a pair of authors will put up blog posts on their own sites about the cage match. Whichever of the two authors gets the most comments on their blog wins that day’s match. On the sixth day, the two highest vote getters go against each other in a championship. Every visitor who makes a relevant comment wins a free ebook from that site. One grand prize winner will get a Kindle preloaded with 12 ebooks.

My match with be on Wednesday, April 20th, where I’ll be going against Kimberly Kinrade, whose debut work of fiction, “Bits of You & Pieces of Me“, is a kaleidoscopic collection of stories, poems and fragments informed by a deep emotional melange of loss, betrayal and hope. Anybody with a heart will relate to it.

Most of the other writers taking part in this promotion are using an amped-up Mohamad Ali -type patter talking about how they’re going to win their competition. That’s fun enough, but not really my style. I do hope you’ll stop by Tuesday Wednesday and leave a comment; I’d appreciate it. If you comment you’ll get a coupon for a free ebook, and some lucky person will get one of my signed (paper) books & copies of all three of my ebooks. Check out the BlogTourdeForce website for more on the other books and authors. Hope to see you Wednesday.

UPDATE: in an earlier draft I said my cage match bout on April 20th would be on Tuesday. But it’s Wednesday. One of these days I’m going to learn to read a calendar. Really.

Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen — an economical reposting

I don’t think I can say it any better than I did last year, so without further ado, our best Wetmechanical salute to brave St. Urho, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland, the land of my (some of) my fathers. And mothers.

Grasshopper, Grasshopper, buzz off why don’t ya?

That special time of year, when St. Urhu’s day elides into the name-day of St. Padraic, is again upon us. Longtime readers know that here at Wetmachine we have a special place in our hearts for this great Finno-Irish-American festival–mainly on account of I started this site and I’m a Finno-Irish American, of which there ain’t too damn many offer dere, as my late Grandfather “Pop” used to say.

Ode to Saint Urho

Ooksie kooksi coolama vee – Santia Urho is ta poy for me!

He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds – Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen – Braffest Finn I effer seen!

Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes – Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour – Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.

Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles – What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay – On Sixteenth March, St. Urho’s Tay!

P.S. The Irish, sure, will take care o’ temselves on the morrow; of that I’ve do doubt.

Pioneering Fantasy Author Brian Rathbone talks with Wetmachine about the Future of Publishing

I met Brian Rathbone, author of the World of Godsland fantasy series,  on Twitter. I posted something relating to self-publishing, he answered, and pretty soon we were exchanging emails. I found that although I had learned a lot in more than ten years of self-publishing, there were lots of new trends that I had kind of missed. One of them being Twitter itself, which I was not making very good use of, and another being ebook publishing & distributing (when I met Brian, I had about 250 followers on twitter and he had 15,000. I had given away tens of thousands of free ebooks but sold only a few dozens of them). It was Brian who turned me onto Smashwords, which I now use to distribute my Acts of the Apostles to half a dozen ebook retailers, including Apple and Barnes & Noble. (See my interview with Smashwords founder Mark Coker here).

Brian is a very creative user of social media, and also of “podiobooks” — self-recorded audiobooks (which he explains below). He’s not only a good writer and creative self-publisher, he’s also an extremely nice fellow. I encourage you to check out his interview below the fold, and by all means, buy one of his books!

Brian joins the roster of luminaries interviewed here on Wetmachine about the future of publishing that includes Smashwords’ Mark Coker, Writer’s Digest honcho emeritus Jane Friedman, book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks.

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You’re Right, Bruce Sterling: I *am* the future of printed fiction. Let’s discuss at SXSW!

A few months ago I blogged about my ten-or-so year long [career|hobby| pipe-dream|unhealthy obsession] as an itinerant peddler of my self-published nanopunky cyberpunky biopunky novel and novellas. That post was called Traveling Self-Publishing Geek Novelist Blues: the Defcon Variations.

A few weeks after I had posted this bit, the cyberpunk celebrity/novelist Bruce Sterling picked up on it, writing in an entry about me in his beyond the beyond blog entitled “The Future of Printed Fiction“. (Actually he didn’t write a blog entry about me — he copy/pasted my Wetmachine post and inserted into it a few oracular comments of his own.)

It’s all about being a make-do gypsy at the fringes of the web conference scene,” Sterling said in his prefatory remarks. “Gothic High-Tech, Favela Chic”.

I’ve been pondering that pronouncement (and others like it that he sprinkled through post by way of annotation) for a few months now (his post is dated October 14, 2010). Below the fold, I make an attempt at parsing them. I do detect a general tone of condescension in Sterling’s comments. Which, y’know, who cares. And furthermore I’m not even sure about that, that his comments are condescending. It seems like he’s making fun of me, but maybe he’s doing straight reporting or maybe he’s free-associating/scat-singing, like a jazz musician or person with Tourettes; I can’t really tell and anyway I’m not well-placed to judge, inasmuch as the subject is my life’s work. Mostly I’m grateful that Sterling blogged about me at all, because he has legions of fans & I got a nice jolt of web traffic and a mini-spike in book sales after he anointed me The Future of Printed Fiction. So thanks, Bruce.

In related news, both Sterling and I are slated to be in Austin, Texas next March for SXSW, the mega indie artist hipster conclave, at which event he will be giving a keynote talk to the multitudes and I’ll be on a panel (presumably before a much smaller and less adoring audience than Sterling’s) entitled “The Self-Publishing Novelist: Report from the Trenches

Since Bruce & I will both be at SXSW, maybe I’ll get a chance to chat with him & ask him what his comments meant. Or, maybe, just maybe, when I get to SXSW & plop myself down in a chair to listen to his opening address I’ll discover that I’m the subject of his keynote talk, which will be about nothing other than, yes THE FUTURE OF PRINTED FICTION & how I, Sundman is it! And I will find myself thereby catapulted into cyberbionanonovelist superstardom, right alongside Bruce Himself and William Gibson and what’s his face, who wrote Cryptonomicon and is now working some newfangled space-age post-fiction with my friend Nicki Galland and that other guy who wrote the book about little nanomachines taking over your mind — no, not Acts of the Apostles , the other one. Probably not, I realize that. But if you’re reading this, Bruce, and would like to join me for a cuppa whatever, please do  have your people call my people.

While I do confess to a bit of bewilderment about what Sterling is actually saying about me in his post, I think the gist is that printed (fiction) books are rapidly becoming “collector” artifacts for niche and rapidly shrinking communities of readers, like classic 35MM film cameras (Pentax, Minolta, Leica, Hasselblad. . .) that once commanded premiums in specialty stores and now go for a few bucks at flea markets.

Who knows, he may be right about that.

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Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks talks with Wetmachine about the future of publishing

Today Wetmachine talks with Geraldine Brooks, whose novel March won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006, about trends in publishing. She joins the roster of Wetmachine “Whither Publishing?” interviewees including Writer’s Digest impresaria Jane Friedman,  ebook pioneer Mark Coker of, and book designer extraordinaire Joel Friedlander.

I met Geraldine Brooks when we were seated next to each other at a small dinner party about two months ago. (Geraldine and her husband Tony Horwitz (also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize — his is for journalism) and I have many mutual friends, including my wife Betty, who directs the lecture series at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, where Tony has been a speaker and Geraldine is on the hook for a talk next year.)

At that dinner party Geraldine and I discovered that we had many similar interests, including a shared taste for dystopian science fiction novels — the very kind of book I write. I offered to drop off a few copies of my books at her house and she said, “Oh, please do.” So the next day I hoped on my bicycle and rode to the address she had given me, and that’s how I discovered where she lived and that I had met her young son Bizu some 9 months earlier, when the fire truck to which I’m assigned, T___ 651, was parked in front of their house during a routine “furnace backfire” call. When I got home from dropping off my books I sent Geraldine the write-up in my diary about that fire call, and she was thrilled to get it, saying “That’s fantastic.  Thank you so much for sending this. I remember that day quite vividly.  I thought, that’s a very nice man out there, letting Bizu ramble away at him..”

Since then Geraldine & I have become  pals. I think the moral of the story is, if you want to get on the good side of a famous writer and get her to answer questions for your insignificant little blog, let her observe you being nice to her child without having any idea who he is or that she’s observing you through the window.

I’ve attached that diary entry at the end of the interview. Continue reading