Monday, December 31, 2007

The Eternity Artifact Review

I mostly don't review the books I read. Most are simply not worth the effort, for me at any rate, of writing down what I feel about them. They're sorta . . . average, hehe. But every so often I read something that is so good or bad that I feel motivated to comment about it.

I'm most of the way through The Eternity Artifact by L. E. Modisett. On Amazon it has four stars. It makes me wonder the criteria that people use to review books.

Roughly speaking, the book is a waste of paper. It's bad in a complex and multi-faceted way that I'll try to get across. I'm going to say what the book is about, now, so this is a spoiler alert. Stop reading now if you don't want to have the plot sketched out for you. The book is about four people, an artist, a pilot, a professor-slash-commando who has kept up with his "commando moves" and a fundamentalist Christian spy and assassin who are part of a mission to outside of our galaxy because there's a stray planet that has an ancient alien city on it. Humans are the only known sentient life in the universe, and their culture is riven by conflict between secular and religious societies.

Calling it "slow paced" isn't accurate. The word is "boring". The story is told from four different first person perspectives, each perspective obviously and consciously attempting to give a different and distinct voice to the characters. Which, I guess, is successful (tho' I'll be talking a bit more about that later), but it means that almost everything that happens in the book is repeated four times. So, for instance, there is a space battle. It is first narrated by a shuttle pilot who is tangentially involved in the fight, but at least has a good seat for it. Then, in the next three chapters, the battle is narrated by the other characters, none of whom are involved on any level, and none of whom have even a good seat for it. It is literally them sitting in couches fiddling with controls or doing something else to distract them from the fact they have nothing to do during the battle. This is not a joke. This happens in a variety of ways with a variety ways, such as finding an alien city with nothing in it it is nevertheless important for three different characters to describe the various details of this alien city with nothing in it.

Indeed, whole chapters pass by, the upshot of which is they find nothing in this alien city. When something "exciting" happens it is literally finding out how the alien windows work for finding a shallow depression in the floor. But many of the chapters are quite literally the characters finding nothing of interest, but doing it from multiple perspectives!

I wonder at the narrative justification for this. I understand the urge to describe things, but he's open that nothing is happening, which makes me wonder why he's writing it down, then.

Part of the problem is, of course, the multiple and redundant points of view. Fairly recently, I posted about one of the cheap tricks writers will use to pad books is multiple points of view. This book is the patient zero of that behavior. One would think that the point behind having multiple points of view would be to illustrate different aspects of your story, and with one of the character's that's almost true, and the characters do, largely, have distinct personalities - but there's nothing to really illustrate because nothing happens. I mean, it's hard to say how little happens because it isn't happening! That the book takes a hundred and twenty pages to even start the expedition to the focal point of the story, that they spend another hundred and twenty pages finding nothing, with a couple of brief action scenes. For the differences of the characters to illustrate different things the story would have to have things happening. It doesn't. Those distinct voices have nothing to say.

Or, more precisely, very little to say. At a number of points the characters make absolute pronouncements. With writers it is, of course, often difficult to tell when it's the character or when the author is using a character to express a personally held point of view. But in any event, these pronouncements are often silly to the point of being juvenile. One of the more remarkable ones is the false dilemma that Modesitt brings up with education. One of the characters is a college professor and he says that individual computer education was a dismal failure, even as he teaches in a lecture class. His justification is that computers present a one-size fits all educational paradigm. This is downright goofy in two different ways. The first is that computer education is already as good as teachers in some subjects, and is rapidly improving. So it's observationally wrong. Second is the notion that a computer teacher would only have one educational strategy, which is nonsense. Different students would be able to use different programs and models to get results, and with even modest levels of learning the robotic teacher would become increasingly better at teaching a particular student. But what really, really made me laugh is that Modesitt's character praises lecture hall. More than any other kind of education, lecture hall is one-size-fits-all education, and it's pretty much the worst way to teach a given subject - indeed, it's often worse than no formal education at all. So, to say that computer learning has failed (when the evidence suggests the contrary) while praising what we know to be the worst system of education that there is . . . it's daft, and shows that author is sounding off when he should be shutting up.

I mean, to say it differently, the characters are just dumb. For instance, the book revolves around finding this "eternity artifact", the product of a highly advanced civilization that is no longer around, in the form of a city that is abandoned. The characters all seem to believe, for instance, that the aliens that created the city are "gone" because they haven't found any "evidence" of them in the centuries of human colonization of the galaxy. And I found myself thinking, "If they're able to build artifacts that work after billions of years of inattention, why are you presuming that they're gone? I'm pretty sure that if they don't want you to find them, you won't." All of this while the characters are even guessing that that aliens are from a different galaxy. OK, then you're basically saying that, yeah, you have no way of knowing if they're around or not. But then they turn around and make these presumptions about them. (It turns out that that the aliens left because the universe had changed. So they made a new one and went there.)

Annoyingly, it's also obvious that whenever a character admits that they're making a wild, specious guess that they'll be almost 100% right. Ugh. But, generally, if you're going to have your characters make absolute pronouncements, it might be a good idea to have at least basic reasoning skills, which the book does not demonstrate.

The book is also flawed with those individual first person voices of the main characters. In particular, one of the characters really leans on his thesaurus and his first person voice is this pretentious and stilted narrative. The character never uses a small word when a big one will do. The upshot is that one of the voices of the narrative is downright ugly. One-fourth of the book is quite intentional uglification of language in order to create an individual voice for the character. Well, okay, success in the sense that the voice is immediately identifiable. But like fingernails on a chalkboard, there's no compelling reason for it. It would have been splendid if instead of wearing out his thesaurus that Modesitt had instead insured what the character said was worth saying. (The character is also supposed to be quite clever, but when a person uses big words on one hand and fails repeatedly at basic reasoning skills on the other hand, what comes across is very far from intelligence, but idiotic pretense.) So, bad literary decision. It's generally a good thing to avoid making 1/4th of your book ugly to read.

The author also has the (fairly standard, alas) sci-fi praise for the military. "Military" as short-hand for "competence" is pretty vexing. Military training isn't better than other training (and in some ways it's worse - military education is . . . I mean, if viewed in terms of educational theory, pretty much the worst of possible models - long, authoritarian based lecture sessions is basically anti-education). Military people aren't any more moral, or responsible, or "honorable" than civilians (indeed, poverty, crime and rates of mental illness are lamentably higher amongst soldiers than the general population). But, again and again, sci-fi authors treat the military like the best depository for a society's cultural values, and as a short-hand for honest, honorable and competent, and it vexes me.

In particular, the military sci-fi shorthand of "commando" for "invincible in combat" is annoying. Elite soldiers are, of course, going to be pretty tough, but they're trained for fairly specific sorts of combat - small unit tactical combat with advanced weapons against military targets. You know, go behind enemy lines and blow up a bridge scenarios. It is what they train to do. (I won't opine about the effectiveness of commandos, generally. I know that there are two schools of thought on the subject - one is that they're absolutely necessary and the other that they're a waste of resources. I suspect the latter is more true than the former, but it's only a suspicion, hehe. I do know that their effectiveness, itself, is in doubt by experts in modern military theory. Even in the real world the correlation between commando and unbeatable badass is questionable even for those situations for which they are trained.) Most commandos are not martial arts experts, for instance. Martial arts plays, at best, a tangential role in commando actions. They have guns. The Rangers, for instance, during training spend two hours practicing what could broadly bet termed "martial arts" during their training. But inevitably these commandos are expert martial artists, tho' that style of fighting has almost zero place in a modern (much less futuristic) battlefield.

The professor-slash-commando character is problematic for me on a lot of different levels. Not only is he given the absurdly pompous voice, and commando is used as a generic term for competent (ugh, literally in the last twenty pages the author invents a new commando competence for the character as a pathetic deus ex machina, it is just magically revealed, so the author can now explain the parts of the plot that made no sense rather than having them be revealed over the course of the novel, which is a bit of crappy writing right there, but to have his explainer explain things the commando has to magically get another complex and technical skill which really has nothing to do with being a commando; it turns out that in addition to everything else, commando means "computer hacker" - no kidding, in the last twenty pages it's revealed he's a computer hacker, ugh). But the character is also involved, in a banal and predictable way, with the female pilot of the story. The romance between the two characters is . . . terrible. It is dull and neither of the characters show anything like real human emotions. But the most frustrating moment is when the characters realize that his arrogant langauge and her terseness are a way to keep others away from them, that they're defense mechanisms to protect their hearts. I started to get interested. A good turn could make me completely re-evaluate the characters. In particular, the awful langauge of the professor-commando needed to come apart. At some point in the book, in battle fury or lust, his voice should have changed into something barely human, I felt, because it was obvious that all of his exercise and mental discipline was to control himself. The ugly language might have been justified if it broke down, if the character cut loose or was torn apart. And then, in this banal romance, the pilot asks the professor-commando, "Why did you stop being a commando?"

I thought, this is it! Here's where he breaks down! But . . . I was wrong. He went on a scholarly tirade about how effective violence encourages power structures to more violence, which is true, but it isn't a human emotion. I waited for him to say, "They turned me into an attack dog. I left because I hated kill people" but it never came. And then they "made love", by which I mean they literally held hands and started into each others eyes. So, in addition to being emotionally retarded, they're also eunuchs. (I'm not sure they actually have sex in the entire book. They hold hands and gaze longingly at each other, and they cuddle, but I don't think they ever actually have sex.)

So the character, who is supposed to be the hero of the book, breaks down on every level. It's rather sad that this is the standard of characterization of award-winning science-fiction novelists.

The book is also supposed to be about fundmentalist religion, in part. But it's not. All the religious characters, so far, have been either literal suicide bombers (and Muslim, at that, ugh) or hypocritical murderers. It presents a powerful false dilemma. You go out of your way, on one hand, to emphasize the honor, egalitarianism and fairness of secular society by presenting the best of that society, while on the other hand show their foes as being little more than orcs. Holy false dilemma! I mean, it is legitimate, of course, to talk about the narrowmindedness and violence of religiously fundamentalist societies But it sort of ignores that even in most fundamentalist societies that the overwhelming majority of the people are, themselves, victims of the religion and the leaders. That most of them accept it because they literally have no other choices than obedience to their theocracy or death. (Which is a far greater horror than the violence they externally impose, I feel.) It's like . . . to make the point that "religions are bad" he has to create these straw men that are virtually caricatures of what they are supposed to represent.

You might want to think about what I said in that previous paragraph - think about it is that it is I who said it. Even fairly casual readers to my blog must get it that I'm not particularly religion friendly. But the way that Modesitt represents fundamentalist theocracies is downright childish.

The other major theme of the book is the dangers of any single-mindedness. When the professor-commando is revealed to be a crackerjack hacker to compel the explainer to explain things, it's all supposed to be dramatic and cool and demonstrate the author's political awareness or whatever. It ends up being pretty goofy. I mean, any time there's an explainer . . . that's generally a bad sign. If you've got to have the last twenty pages filled with a character filling in the plot holes, you're doing something wrong, and when you've got to whip out a deux ex machina to get the explainer to explain, and have the character spew out his plot like he was a comic book supervillain, you might want to rethink your profession. But, anyway, the explainer is a spy who has manipulated the fundamentalist religious forces to attack this alien world and seek the alien artifact knowing that it would destroy the fundie's fleet and provoke a big war with them that the secular forces could win. Wow. Something actually interesting. Too bad it happens only in the last twenty pages of the book, and then instead of being revealed it's just explained. Then there is some tsking and the explainer gets to go free. After all, as he points out, he did nothing illegal. Which is true. He didn't make the fundies attack anything, he just let them know that their enemies were going to make a discovery which they author believed would COMPLETELY CHANGE THEIR SOCIETY FOREVER . . .

Oh, yeah, the discovery of aliens is predicted by the characters to utterly and forever change fundamentalist society or something. It was pretty stupid, and one of those cases where the author doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. The reasoning here is that if becomes common knowledge that aliens exist, technologically superior ones at that, religion could collapse because of the evidence that humans weren't special. Because, as we all know, that's what happened when science proved that life evolved naturally, or the universe was created without divine intervention, religion just collapsed and died off. Right? Religions would not merely form specious arguments to justify away the find, nope, while maintaining all the cherished religious truths. Ugh. It's idiotic. Long before we start exploring outside of our solar system, religions are going to have in place all the arguments they'd use if we find a technologically advance alien species.

After all, the Bible contains numerous non-human intelligences, already - angels and demons. Islam has angels, demons and djinn, who are capable of being good Muslims; Islam already has a position about aliens, functionally. They should be Muslim, hehe. Which is what universalist Christian religions would agree on, too, once they agreed the aliens had a soul, which would almost certainly happen because they'd be technologically advanced and at least as smart as we are. Dead aliens, like in the book, might keep the question up in the air, but fundies would go, "So what if there was life before humans? It says in the Bible there was. Humans were created last. Next question." It wouldn't be much of a big deal. But it gets invented into this HUGE, ENORMOUS THING and I'm scratching my head about it because it isn't that difficult a question to address, theologically speaking.

But . . . I'm done. The book is actually worse than this. There's the whole business with the fundie spy that I won't get into, tho' the upshot is that the character is meaningless. Just . . . meaningless. The whole story that involves the character sputters out to a stupid conclusion. The character could have been totally removed and the book would have lost nothing. So, it's worse than even my review suggests. It's bad. Don't read it. And I'm going to smack the guy who gave it to me, hehe.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Defending Christianity and Christmas

Part of the reason I wrote Simon Peter is because a lot of atheists have this respect for the person of Jesus that I find bizarre. Even when they reject the supernaturalist claims of religion, they often think that Jesus is this wise man, or legitimate social reformer, or all these high sounding positions with all these lofty goals. In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus is just another fake as liar pretending to have supernatural powers to satisfy his ego, who (like most other "messiahs") committed suicide by challenging the state to a contest of wills. And when atheists and those opposed to the inevitable excesses of Christianity then turn around and support Jesus they're supporting Christianity.

Now, the same seems to be true with Christmas, too. If a person actually rejects Christianity, why do almost all atheists I know, usually without any real comment, celebrate the chief religious holiday of the Christian faith?

When pressed, the only even semi-good answer that is given is that Christmas is actually pretty secularized. (The answer that it is tradition is nonsense. At one time, for all atheists, all of religion was traditional, and there are lots of things that were traditional - slavery, monarchy, whatever - that we're better off without. The answer of "it's tradition" is, to me, deeply . . . ill-considered.) Of course, to some extent that is true. But it's like atheists who take Jesus "seriously". Sure, you can secularize the message of Jesus, claim he was a wise man social reformer against Jewish and Roman corruption who spoke in religious terms because that's the paradigm he existed in. And, yes, Christmas can be secularized to be about . . . whatever it's supposed to be about. Honestly. I can't take seriously that it's about anything other than greed once divested of religion.

But at the same time that we're secularlizing Christmas, Christians are using that as a justification to intrude their religion into public social spaces, for instance. Because Christmas is for "everyone" - because non-Christians have bought into it being "secular" - you have public nativity scenes, Christmas trees, a complete barrage of religious themed music that permeates every level of society, and a whole month where religious people are allowed to shove their faith down everyone's throat.

It seems to me that if atheists are serious about rejecting Christianity, they should be serious about not celebrating the primary religious holiday of the Christian faith. And I think that this is a no-brainer. I've even got some suggestions about the subject.

First, tell your friends and family about your disinterest in celebrating the holiday. Second, suggest an alternative. Say . . . New Year's. It's as celebrated as Christmas is, in the same season, all that.

Some people will argue that it's about "family". It's a time for family to get together. That's an argument of emotional blackmail, I think. And, let's not forget, that just a month earlier there was another family holiday in the US, Thanksgiving. And a week after Christmas there is another holiday that could easily be turned into a family holiday, that being New Year's. It would be trivially easy to make any one of another holidays about the same bonding issues that happen in Christmas, say Labor Day. I like Labor Day. People could get together in a spirit of solidarity with their friends and family to exchange gifts, emotionally bond, all that, in peace and harmony. There is no good reason, I think, for atheists to continue to celebrate this overtly religious holiday that, even when secularlized, gives Christians a justification to thrust their religion onto our public life and society with atheists aiding and abetting them.

Down with Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas is a lousy time of year - objectively!

I don't like Christmas. Not just because I'm an atheist and I dislike, intensely, how often this holiday gets shoved down my throat - even by non-Christians and other atheists - but because it objectively sucks. There. I said it. Christmas objectively sucks.

Two words: Christmas depression. Rates of depression skyrocket at Christmas. Two more words: Christmas crime. Crime rates also skyrocket during Christmas. Two more words: Christmas accidents. Lots of boozed up motherfuckers are on the road getting into deadly accidents. Every year, "Christmas cheer" is bought in the lives and blood of other human beings, makes others madly depressed, and also creates the environment for seasonal crime sprees.

The cheer of Christmas is forced. It's a stressful, ugly time marked by increased fighting, mood swings, recriminations, theft and bloody accidents. Everything that Christmas is "supposed" to be about, well, it is about none of those things. It is not a time of happiness and joy for large portions of the population, and the brief joy it does bring is attended by misery.

Equally frustrating is the denial people are in about these simple truths. OK. It's merely fact that Christmas is a time of depression, crime, auto accidents, family arguments, money stress, blah, blah, blah. But it is my experience that when you bring this up, people still cling to Christmas. It boggles me. If we stopped "celebrating" this season - or at least changed the way it was celebrated - people would be happier, there'd be less crime, fewer accidents on our roads, less money stress and things of that nature. Weirdly, this is at least as true of most of my atheist and agnostic friends as the religious people I know. I mean, I know why Christians won't abandon the holiday, it's one of the key holidays of their religion. Sure. I get that. But even people without religion, who have no religious connection to the season, almost inevitably defend the holiday - even tho' it objectively sucks. Which I admit to finding somewhat frustrating.

Anyway, that's my yearly "I hate Christmas" post. I don't hate it merely because it is shoved in my face, though I hate that, but also because because even amongst those that celebrate it it is a season of misery.

Conflicts between science and religion - bring 'em on!

Adrienne said something particularly clever about religion and I'm going to pass it on. We were talking about the touch of flames on this post, the fiery touch being about, unsurprisingly to those who read my blog, intelligent design. Which I, of course, think is deeply stupid and a pretty pathetic attempt to insert supernaturalism into science.

For my part, I was opining why intelligent design folks decide to take on the best scientific theories. In the above discussion, the point wasn't evolution, but cosmology. The gent with whom I was talking was making some bizarre points like . . . because physical laws are uniform throughout the universe that's proof of intelligent design. Which is a bizarre argument. I mean, also false, but additionally bizarre. Even if it was true - and it's not, say, inside a singularity, or in the very early universe, or the differences between quantum effects and relativistic effects, there's plenty of reason to think that the universe isn't the same everywhere - I don't know why that's suggest an intelligent designer. I mean, couldn't the same reasoning be applied regardless of how the universe is? But one of the specific things that the person said is that there is no scientific theory, even a bad one, that explains the origin of the universe. This is very wrong. Not only does science have a theory about the origin of the universe, the big bang, but it is amongst the strongest theories in science. The big bang theory is science working very much how science "should" work - the theory of general relativity suggested that far enough back in time that all matter and energy would achieve infinite density and there would be a beginning to space and time. From that reasoning, there have been numerous experiments that validate the big bang. There are few scientific theories with the level of proof we have for the big bang, both theoretical and observational. The same is true of evolution. The proof for it is staggering, overwhelming. If supernaturalists want to challenge science these are not the theories they should be challenging. I mean, much better would be . . . gravity. We don't know what the fuck it is, hehe. It's downright confusing and there is simply no connection between quantum gravity and relativistic gravity theories, and gravity behaves in certain unique ways that make it the odd-man out of physics. Or electricity. Or turbulent motion. All these things science is having trouble addressing. But, no, they always go after evolution and cosmology, which are particularly strong as theories go. Adrienne opined, certainly correctly, that the reason they go after those two is because they challenge the narrative of religion.

Then Adrienne said, and this is the clever thing, that some religious apologists will try to reconcile religion and science by saying that they cover entirely different subjects, different parts of the human experience, but that's a lie. And it is. The reason why science and religion are brawling is because both of them talk about . . . how humans came into existence, how the universe came into existence. No major religion lacks a creation myth. But this isn't discussed very well, that so long as religions have creation mythology there is going to be considerable antagonism between religion and science. Because, y'know, science says that the universe came into existence because of quantum flux in an instanton around fifteen billion years ago causing the big bang, and religious folks say that a supernatural being that transcends time and space willed the universe into existence. These are conflicting narratives, mutually exclusive, so the people who say that religion isn't about the same things as science are wrong. They are, and evidently so, and people don't much talk about that as being the essence of the conflict, because it is a conflict. Science says one thing, religion says another.

And even beyond cosmology and the origins of life, there are still conflicts. Religious people all make supernatural statements. Even if you're the species of religious person who says that the big bang and evolution are the way that god created the universe, almost all of those people will still cling to supernatural events to justify their belief. So a Christian might say that evolution is the method that god created life, but what about Jesus rising from the dead and physically ascending into heaven? Even religious folks who are willing to concede the creation myths are allegorical or whatever nevertheless make statements of fact. They say, "Jesus rose from the dead". They say, "He physically ascended into heaven." Even when they avoid the biggest issues, they make all these statements that simply cannot be physically true. They still are saying that supernatural agents are at work amongst us.

Which is back to intelligent design. That's what intelligent design is - saying that supernatural agents work amongst us, but do so invisibly. In the case of ID, the invisible is the bogus concept of irreducible complexity. Otherwise, it is invisible amongst the annals of history - which are, of course, woefully incomplete. A Christian says that, you know, supernatural events are only recorded in religious texts because they are otherwise lost to history. Sometimes they can sorta get away with this, like the census that supposedly took place at the time of Jesus' birth. We know the Romans did a number of censuses whose records did not really survive. It becomes less plausible, of course, when you're talking about the graves giving up their dead and zombie prophets walking around Jerusalem, or the Nile turning into fucking blood, or the destruction of two large cities by angels, or . . . you see the point by now, I think. That the only records of the innumerable supernatural events that occur in all religions seem to be recorded only by members of that religion. So, we entirely lack Babylonian accounts of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or any other of these supposedly supernatural events (save when one religion copies a story from a second religion, like with the Biblical Flood).

(Yes, I know there are a smaller section of Christians who believe all supernatural events in the Bible are allegorical and treat Jesus simply as a wise man or whatever, but this isn't really addressed at them and they are a very, very small portion of Christians and most other Christians would say that they're not Christians, so even calling them Christians is fairly problematic.)

I think that non-religious people should stand up more to religious people who are trying to slip it in, then, that "science and religion aren't about the same things". They are. Religions have creation myths that explain the origin of the universe and of life, and these are in direct contradiction to scientific theories. Religions also include supernatural events which also contradict science in a number of ways (being that science, by definition, can't have supernaturalism in it). The people who say that religion and science are about "different things" are ignoring the cases when science and religion do discuss the same topic and are at odds.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Stew over at A Night on the Tiles tagged me for this, like, two months ago. I am slow, but I get there, hehe. ;)

Eight things I am passionate about

1. My wife. I love her with a deep and abiding passion.

2. Writing. It's the about the only thing I'm really good at, which is OK because I'm really good at it. It's one of the few things that I can keep up with, including finishing big projects with it. In some fashion or the other, I'm really writing all the time. Even when it is about some of the other things I'm passionate about, I often do it, or over-do it, through writing.

3. Role-playing games. We're being honest here, and this is my oldest hobby, and I'm still strong at it. Between writing and role-playing games you might have an idea that I've got an involved fantasy life. Oh, wait, there's more, there's more, hehe.

4. Reading. Which kind of goes with writing if you think about it. I can get really worked up about books. I was going around in a daze for days after I finished A Deepness in the Sky because I knew that there was something I was missing and I needed to work out what it was. (As it turned out, what was working me up is that it wasn't really a very good book, but it wasn't a very good book in a complex way. I had to think it out.)

5. Politics. Adrienne knows I'm actually up when I start to bitch about politics. I have to limit how much news I read or I'll spend all day getting upset over the crap I read in various papers.

6. Weight lifting. All these other things I'm passionate about take a great deal of mental energy, and I can obsess and dwell on them. Weight lifting is how I clean out all that crap. A few minutes with the weights and all I'm thinking about is the next set. And between workouts there's all this planning and such to do! New exercises to sort out, new routines, all that fun stuff.

7. Comic books. Boy, I spend a lot of time reading comic books, and talking about comic books, and generally doing stuff related to comic books. Not "graphic novels", comic books. The medium has created some of the most enduring icons of American culture - more people know who Batman is than know Santa Claus. Mmmm. Comic books.

8. Cooking. I am a goddamn good cook. I used to be a pretty lousy cook, but when we were in Maine I often wanted Indian food and there was no place around that made Indian food, so I started to make Indian food. Now I can pretty much make anything, but prefer, like, this band of food that starts in Greece, goes through the Middle East, picks up India and Southeast Asia, zooms across the Pacific to get Mexico, the Caribbean and the American South. Also, Russian food. Russia has really great cuisine, hehe.

Eight things to do before I die

1. Live long enough not to die. No, seriously! There's a pretty good chance that people that are alive today will see every medical advance that extends their life to the point to the next medical advance that extends their life! I want to be one of those people.

2. Get a goddamn novel published. I'm working on that one - indeed, I'm doing this as a break from doing that - but it'd be nice if it actually happened, y'know? In the end, I write for myself, but some recognition would still be pretty spiffy.

3. Settle down. It'd be nice to be part of a community and know you were gonna stay for a while, hehe.

4. Learn to make efficient use of my time. Ohmygod, I'm so mentally disorganized it hurts.

5. Travel extensively. I mean, there are so many things I want to see but haven't. And things I've barely seen that I want to see more of. Glaciers and mountains and monuments and architecture, you name it, I probably want to see it. And I want to eat their food. Food is very important to me. See above.

6. Write something that will last the test of time. Now, I know that the "test of time" is largely determined by a bunch of white middle class guys for whom I have more than a trivial contempt. But it'd still be nice to write something that people, centuries from now, will still talk about. They'll say, "Oh, but Bradley" - you always talk about writers using their last name like that - "added a quivering nuanced realism to the art" or something like that. It'd be cool.

7. Calm down! I can get worked up. I've made good strides towards calming down, but I have many yet to make.

8. Tell a head of state - preferably a monarch - to fuck off. I really want to do this. You have no idea. I plan for it in my head. ("Why are you talking? Kings are about as useful as tits on a bull. The decadent remnants of a pathetic and discredited political system with no use or meaning in the modern world, childishly clinging to archaic titles. Fuck off, 'your royal highness'." Like that, hehe.)

Eight things I say a lot

1. "D'oh!"

2. "Fuck off."

3. "Well, really . . ." Followed by how absolutely wrong the other person is. Probably about something that's deeply important to them, hehe.

4. "I'm bigger than you." One of my humorous arguments of last resort. We should do what I want because "I'm bigger than you". Meant as a joke.

5. "I'm right because I'm a philosopher." Another humorous argument of last resort, usually ironic because I think most modern philosophy is pretty cowardly.

6. "In [insert place I used to live] . . ." I am always comparing where I once lived to where I currently live. So, I'm always, "In Las Vegas" or "In Maine" or "In South Carolina" or whatever, hehe.

7. "You suck."

8. "Don't make me kick your ass." I have several humorous arguments of last resort, and this is another one of them, hehe.

Eight things I have read or am still reading

1. The Legion of Superheroes. Who doesn't love Braniac 5?! If you don't who Braniac 5 is, you suck! See? I told you I said it a lot.

2. Probability Sun. By Nancy Kress. That's the list of things I'm currently reading, so I guess I'll just list my favorite types of books, then, hehe.

3. L. A. Confidential by James Ellroy.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert.

5. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

6. Watership Down by Richard Adams.

7. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

I could go on this vein, but I shall stop, hehe.

Eight songs I listen to over and over

An ever changing list if there ever was one! But I shall name the eight that come to my head.

1. Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull.

2. Fly by Blind Guardian.

3. When Will They Shoot by Ice Cube.

4. Shut 'Em Down by Public Enemy.

5. One by Metallica.

6. Veteran of the Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult.

7. The Anvil of Crom by Basil Pouledoris.

8. Battle Without Honor or Humanity by Tomoyasu Hotei. Preferably the extended remix.

Eight things that attract me to friends

1. Humor.

2. Intelligence.

3. Contempt for religion.

4. Ability to endure my whacky political and intellectual digressions.

5. Laughs at my jokes.

6. Shared hobbies.

7. Being a geek.

8. Likes eating my food.

Eight people who should do this

Oh, golly gee, I don't know eight people online anymore! Hehe. I will leave it up for people who read this to just assume that they're selected. This does mean you, hehe.