Posts Tagged ‘Research’

On the evening of November 9th, 1989, the Cold War came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Four years ago another wall began to crumble, a wall that arguably has as much impact on the world as the wall that divided East and West Germany.  The wall in question is the network of paywalls that cuts off tens of thousands of students and researchers around the world, at institutions that can’t afford expensive journal subscriptions, from accessing scientific research.

On September 5th, 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it. . . .  

This one’s a bit weird, that is that I’m picking it up for this blog.  I’m a writer of fiction, so let’s tag this one “science fiction” although it’s actually about real-time research right sci-hub-websitehere and now.  It’s about a worry I have about copyright, that the length a work remains in copyright after an author’s death is far too long.  And the problem is that it’s automatic, it’s not a case of an author’s heir having the option of extending protection for his or her work, but that the protection is in force even if the heir, a grandchild or niece or nephew or even conceivably a great-grandchild, etc., may not even know a work exists.

So now you’d like to republish the thing, and you’re even willing to pay a royalty, but who do you ask to get permission?  And how do you find out?  Or, most likely, if you’re not willing to reprint it illegally, do you just give up, allowing the work to remain in obscurity until even the memory of it is dead?

For me, as an author, I’d rather be pirated than forgotten — that’s my opinion — but I just write fiction, plus some poetry, so who really cares?  But what about published knowledge in general, what about scientists on the brink of an important discovery who need to research other work in their field, perhaps skimming thousands and thousands of pages, some in journals no longer published?  No longer in libraries?  Or if available, at a cost that can’t be afforded, and that’s just to read it?  It turns out academic publishing has its own rules, too, and these may be even more restrictive to the point of preventing research — not encouraging new work and new publication like copyright law was originally intended to do.

Which leads us to today’s email trove, and “Meet the Robin Hood of Science” by Simon Oxenham on BIGTHINK.COM about what the scientists themselves are doing, which in these waning days of an at least politically weird year seems to add some hope — at least for me!  For more, press here.

Thursday night, one may recall, brought readings of poetry.  These were followed a half hour later by a panel on TERRIFYING TROPES:  DARK CARNIVALE:  FREAKS, GEEKS, MAGICIANS AND SPIRITUALISTS covering, well, just that.  “Magic, mystery, and romance” — except you don’t know what hides under the greasepaint.  The panels I got to struck me as quite good in almost all cases, in this case also touching on nostalgia — weirdness and whimsy — and different takes between children seeing the glitter and wonder, rides, excitement, lots to do, versus teens where it becomes highly sexualized, a place to take girls where anything can happen, versus adults who now take their kids.  And the carnies themselves as playing roles, but even after the gates are closed as members of a separate culture (cited here was Tod Browning’s movie FREAKS).

Friday brought more TERRIFYING TROPES:  POE-ETICS:  SETTING SCENE AND ATMOSPHERE IN SUPERNATURAL FICTION, with a note that “The Dark Place” in horror is any place in that it’s being seen through the protagonist’s eyes.  So, in writing, establish the protagonist’s hang-ups — what’s in his mind — and think like an actor to not just see but react to a setting (and don’t forget other senses too, especially sound).  And look for details, especially ones the reader might not expect, as well as picking your own words carefully, also with an ear to their sound and their connotations, in setting a scene in the reader’s head too.   Then WEIRD SOUTH:  FROM VOODOO TO RATTLESNAKE REVIVAL:  SOUTHERN FOLKLORE IN HORROR LITERATURE brought in mixtures of cultures, especially in places like New Orleans, and distortions brought through oral retellings.  Thus the Devil may have been to some people an African god, yet close and personal to a Christian.  In that the South industrialized late, people still live close to the ground, and folk magic plays in people’s minds — the idea of Hoodoo, a large collection of magical techniques, versus Voodoo and Santeria which are actual religions.  But the truly frightening person is not one the Devil speaks to, but the one who says he’s been spoken to by God, because he’s the one who’s going to act on it.  DEADLY DEFINITIONS:  WE ARE BIZARRO!  BEATING ON THE BONGOS AND SCRAPING THE VISCERA OF HORROR’S ZANIEST SUBCULTURE then spoke to “the weird stuff” — Burrough’s NAKED LUNCH, BUBBA HO-TEP, David Lynch movies, THE KAFKA EFFECT.  To try to add something that “completely f ***s up, doesn’t blend in, twists 180 degrees” . . . but still works.  Surreal, or told in a surreal way.  Or, as one panelist put it, think Dr. Seuss, noting that that’s one of the first things, with talking animals, that we give our children.

Also on Friday were several showings of short films that I got to, in whole or in part, plus PANEL/READING:  DARK POETS FACE TO FACE in which a group of poets (one, though, in absentia whose plane hadn’t come yet) read one another’s works, explaining why they chose that particular poem and commenting on it.  This was a repeat of a panel I was on in New Orleans two years before (cf. June 19 2013) and then, as now, it was interesting as a look into the poets’ minds as well as just fun, whether as audience or at the table.

Saturday’s fare included more panels, with DEADLY DEFINITIONS:  WHEN THE WEIRD GO PRO:  EXPLORING THE PARAMETERS AND CONSIDERING THE DIRECTIONS OF A LITERARY RENAISSANCE concluding that maybe the “new weird” isn’t that new.  There’s Lovecraft too, where when you end with a monster too big to kill, that’s “weird, not horror.”  Post-Lovecraft we’ve become more self-absorbed, but the knowledge at the end of a story that here’s a thing we’ll never understand, that’s weird.  Giant butterflies that will eat your soul . . . a magician with a spell that will destroy everything . . . that’s weird as well.  But there’s always been weird fiction, it’s just that we’re talking about it in a perhaps new context.  Also weird fiction “works better in short form, while longer novels need to include redemption.”  WEIRD SOUTH:  I WILL NEVER GO HUNGRY AGAIN:  WHY ARE SO MANY CONTEMPORARY VAMPIRE NOVELS SET IN THE SOUTH spoke of Southern traits, as surface politeness that may mask darker feelings underneath, as well as the South’s dark history in general (“that’s why we fear clowns, they have smiles painted on and you know it’s hiding something”).  Thus vampires, beautiful people, cultured, walk among us and, unlike, e.g., zombies, we don’t smell the rot that lies underneath.  Then add tradition, strong religious feelings including the darker parts of the BIBLE, resistance to outsiders and “foreign” ideas (such as fearful Counts from places like Transylvania), master/slave relationships which the South still has trouble handling, and like the South, lush and green where everyone flourishes except the outsider, like kudzu and vines that grab hold and won’t let you go, so is the vampire both beautiful and grasping.

Earlier Saturday but to the point too, was SPECIAL PRESENTATION:  DACRE STOKER:  BRAM STOKER/TRAVEL GUIDE NEW DISCOVERIES 118 YEARS LATER, a PowerPoint presentation by Bram Stoker’s grand-nephew on Stoker’s life and experiences that led to the writing of DRACULA, with places and backgrounds, plus some recent discoveries adding to our understanding of the novel; plus a presentation, MEDIA:  WHCFILM:  SKIPP’S SATURDAY SINEMA FUNTIME, in which Director John Skipp showed a short film and possibly pilot for a TV series, BOMBO AND FLOPSY IN “AN HONEST MIS-STAKE.”  Clowns . . .  and vampires.

And then Sunday, finally, brought WEIRD SOUTH:  THE DEVIL CAME DOWN:  GROWING UP LOVING HORROR BENEATH THE MASON-DIXON LINE which amplified several themes from the days before, on the South’s unique features, but authors too including Edgar Allan Poe (though born in Boston, brought up in Virginia), story-telling traditions that affect all classes, folk expressions and word choices and multiple meanings and high-context cultures.  Then, one hour later, from noon to 1, TERRIFYING TROPES:  THE DEATH PANEL:  FUNERALS, CEMETERIES, BURIAL, AUTOPSIES, AND DECOMPOSITION brought the convention for me back to DEATH TO DUST (as in my mis-citation in my Friday panel) with many excursions from mourning customs, to green burials and “death composting,” uses of cremains, paintings and photography of the dead, “death cafes,” food used in funerals, medieval medicine, books bound in human skin, and other objects preserved in museums.

After which time it was time to go.

Travel times were good for a change, partially due to Atlanta being a hub for the airline I was using.  That is, virtually all flights passed through Atlanta anyway, thus I arrived in early afternoon Thursday, and left the hotel for public transportation via MARTA to the airport, and home, at about the same time Sunday.  I was armed with a list, the five things I must be available for, one Thursday evening — plenty of time for the ride from the airport, lunch, registration, settling in — two Friday, one each Saturday and Sunday mornings.  So duties, below, were evenly spaced, with much time left for other activities to be taken up in tomorrow’s post.

Thursday, 8 to 9:30 p.m., brought Linda Addison’s READING:  HORROR POETRY OPEN MIKE, with a fairly good crowd with almost everyone with poems to read.  Quality varied as would be expected, as did themes and styles as people read one poem each in turn, one actually a humorous song, with time enough to allow about half of us to do an encore.  Linda read an opening poem herself, followed by G. O. Clark, followed by . . . me with what I introduced as a sports poem, “Godzilla vs. King Kong” (“It came to this, finally,/ the fight of all fights/ Godzilla against the King. . .”).  And who was the winner?  Well, fortunately there’ll be a chance to find out as the poem has been accepted by British ezine GRIEVOUS ANGEL (cf. March 30 – GRIEVOUS ANGEL was also publisher, last year, of my Rhysling-nominated “Beware of the Dog,” see September 11 2014).  More information on that available as it becomes known.

While not reading themselves, Bruce Boston and Marge Simon were also present, with whom Gary Clark and I made a quartet during the brief times when none of had other obligations.  Gary was also present for my last scheduled item, my otherwise under-attended  9-9:30 Sunday morning reading  (that is, at a time when most conventioneers who were up and sober were most likely attending church) at which I presented two stories, “Casket Girls” from DAILY SCIENCE FICTION (cf. April 28, et many al.) as a curtain raiser and, having by then picked up the other half of my audience, “River Red” from THE TEARS OF ISIS as the main event.

I had two panels, the first being SCAREBIZ:  JUST THE FACTS, MONSTER:  HOW TO DIG DEEPER THAN THE INTERNET FOR ACCURATE STORYTELLING, on Friday 5-6 p.m.  For those present, this was the one where I cited a book several times as DEATH AND DYING  (the actual, not misremembered title is DEATH TO DUST, by Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D.) as, among other things, the inspiration of the story that opens THE TEARS OF ISIS, “In the Octopus’s Garden.”  Indeed, as a short story writer I gave a fair bit of emphasis to serendipity in research as a source for ideas.  But, idea in hand, research is also needed to get details right, whether from living, e.g., in an area or thoroughly reading tourist guides, using internet, print, recordings and films, in addition to personal experience to add more verisimilitude.  My sum-up was from a TV producer who had been advised by a local expert, filming a miniseries in the then USSR, that it’s the small things that must be gotten right, because these earn reader/viewer confidence that allows you to slip in the Big Lie — that is, the story itself when one is writing fiction — with practically no one noticing.

Saturday, 9-10 a.m., brought my second panel, TERRIFYING TROPES:  URBAN FANTASY:  IT’S SELLING LIKE HELLCAKES, BUT IS IT HORROR?, which was well attended despite the hour.  Much involved panelists’ definitions of what urban fantasy is in the first place (my quip:  “Imagine Woody Allen directing NOSFERATU”); whether there was urban fantasy prior to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER; distinguishing the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance by whether it’s a sexily attired woman or man on the cover; and whether it must actually involve a city, or if suburban or even smaller town settings still qualify.  I cited my VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE) as being perhaps 75-percent urban fantasy poetry, involving  vampires in ordinary societal problems (e.g., what gift to bring to a newly married vampire’s reception?), and there seemed to be general agreement that, as opposed to high fantasy, urban fantasy involves the supernatural within a societal background that readers can identify with.  And to answer the question of the panel’s title, yes, it should involve horror, often perhaps tending toward the mild side, but that’s up to the writer (or perhaps more to the point, the writer’s editor and/or publisher) — there’s no definitional reason why it can’t be more intense.

And then, finally, there was the MASS AUTHOR SIGNING Friday, 6:30-8 p.m., to which, in part because I generally travel light, I had brought only three copies of THE TEARS OF ISIS (one with the old cover, and with a turned up corner) along with maybe half dozen of the smaller poetry book VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE).  Business was pretty brisk as these things go, though, with people bringing their own materials to be signed along with actually buying books there.  And the bottom line was:  I sold one copy of VAMPS and, offering a dollar discount on the damaged copy, sold out of the others.

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