Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester

    “Fondly Fahrenheit” is a classic science fiction short story written by Alfred Bester who wrote two mega-masterpieces of science fiction, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. The Demolished Man shared the #1 spot on my Classics of Science Fiction list with Dune by Frank Herbert and More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, and The Stars My Destination was #13. Alfred Bester was a writer’s writer among science fiction authors. Bester only visited the science fiction field in his long career, just long enough to write a couple classic novels and a handful of equally good short stories before moving on – so he’s not well known to young SF readers of today.

    Wonder Audio hopes to change that by publishing a fine audio presentation of “Fondly Fahrenheit” for the iTunes and Audible.com generation, along with a handful of other classic SF short stories by Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vane, Poul Anderson and Jerome Bixby.

    Alfred Bester wrote weirdly flamboyant styled stories in a field noted for dull writing and far out ideas, and “Fondly Fahrenheit” stands out with its multiple viewpoint POVs. This story, first published in August 1954 in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has been heavily anthologized ever since, including The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 1. Robert Silverberg even used “Fondly Fahrenheit” as an example story to deconstruct in his book about writing science fiction called Science Fiction 101 or Worlds of Wonder. (Don’t you just hate it when they rename a book?)

    Alfred Bester wrote science fiction in the 1950s, during a time when social and psychological issues were just as important as space opera and time travel, and “Fondly Fahrenheit” features a Sweeney Todd deranged android that sharply contrasts with the clean and wholesome Asimov robots. This is a strangely adult story marketed in a genre mainly targeting the adolescent, and in a strange way can be considered disturbing, both in subject matter, but also to the field of science fiction of its day. Like I’ve implied, I considered Bester weird, stranger than A. E. Van Vogt, but not as far out as Philip K. Dick whose career came after Bester’s. “Fondly Fahrenheit” is an android story and pairs well with Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel the brilliant Sci-Fi film Blade Runner was based on.

    I don’t believe in retelling plot elements when recommending a story so you’ll have to go read it, or better yet, snag the audio copy. Pat Bottino does a good job of making the multiple-aptitude android sound crazed, and his reading gives the story a good creepy feeling. Listening really helps accentuate the dual first-person POV, the shifting first-person POVs and the third-person story telling. The story does everything a MFA writing teacher tells you not to do.

    Let’s hope Wonder Audio succeeds and produces a long list of classic short SF on audio. I’m curious how marketing single short stories will work out. Infinivox is also working the same market of audio short SF&F, but with more recent stories, including some longer novella work like “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress. Both are companies that sell on Audible.com, but I didn’t see Infinivox on iTunes.

    I would think short SF&F would be great for the iPod age, but I worry about the pricing. Audio book pricing is strange and inconsistent to begin with. Do you price digital downloads the same way you price cassette and CD collections? Is the three hour “Beggars in Spain” worth $8.81 or 1 credit at Audible.com when the full eleven hour novel Ender’s Game is also one credit, and $19.58, but often on sale for $9.95? Of course Audible insanely charges 1 credit for some audio books that just last a few minutes.

    James Patrick Kelly sells his short stories on Audible.com by the story and by the StoryPod of 13 stories bundled together. I often buy short story collections on Audible.com and I look at the total time to judge how to spend my credit. If a collection is over 8 hours I consider it a bargain. Wonder Audio and Infinivox may need to bundle their stories into theme collections on Audible.com and see how they sell for a single credit compared to selling the stories separately.

    On the other hand, I’ve always wished that short stories would become as popular on the Internet as MP3 songs, so kids would collect them for their iPods and trade them. This doesn’t work with DRM systems, such as those used on iTunes and Audible.com. We’ll have to see if Amazon.com doesn’t develop a market for short story MP3s like they have for music. Publishers need to accept and market to the natural instinct of people wanting to share their favorite songs and stories.

    If audio short stories were sold for $2 in MP3 formats would they become popular enough to make them a commercial success? You can’t charge too much for them – songs go for 99 cents and TV shows for $2, so I doubt kids would value short stories more than an episode of Lost. The classic printed short story is a dying art form. I’ve always wondered if audio short stories could be marketed to appeal to the young and bring back their popularity. With the rise of the MP3 player this makes this idea possible but it’s a chicken and egg problem to solve. Kids don’t know about short stories, so they won’t try them on their iPods.

    People pass around songs, jokes, short films, crazy photos and such in email attachments. I wonder if flash fiction stories can be squeezed into the same number of megabytes as a song or short film and sent as an email attachment which could help seed the idea. Give these away with the encouragement to pass them on but put notices at the end, for longer stories visit our website at such and such. Comedy shorts like David Sedaris would be a good start. It’s just an idea, but I wish some publishers would give it a try.

JWH

Science Fiction Short Stories State of the Union

Before the Internet if you wanted to read new science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) short stories your main venue was the newsstand. As sales of pulp magazines declined new sources of stories appeared in paperback and hard cover with original anthologies and book series like the classic Orbit edited by Damon Knight. For those of you who can’t keep up with the monthly magazines and webzines there are many SF&F annual best-of anthologies to let you sample the high points of the year. For more than two decades Gardner Dozois has been producing the giant The Year’s Best Science Fiction tome and he has a number of competitors. His most recent volume, the twenty-fourth annual collection, came out last July. Along with his exhaustive Summation report and vast collection of stories, it’s the absolute best single volume to stay in touch with the SF short story market.

Now in the far future year of 2008, we can still find SF&F stories in magazines and books, but also online, as podcasts, audio books and even ebooks. It’s pretty damn science fictional to read SF&F on a Kindle or listen to it whispered into your ears via an iPod. I used to be a regular subscriber to all the major monthly magazines but I’ve gotten out of touch in recent years. My fellow Clarion West 2002 classmates who have gone on to publishing stories keep finding amazing new markets and I’ve been meaning to try them out. (I still dream of writing science fiction and sadly, I am among the laggards of my class who haven’t published anything so far.)

To get a picture of what’s out there and hopefully inspire me to write fiction again, I thought I’d take a quick look at all the SF&F markets. I do miss regularly reading SF short stories because it’s the short fiction that really defines the science fiction genre in my mind. I don’t have time to keep up with SF novels, and to be honest, they seldom offer the punch as they did when I was a teenager. The short story is different, it still has sense of wonder value and presents far out visions from writers who are working with the rule that the sky is no limit.

My favorite method of “reading” science fiction short stories is with audio editions. Escape Pod is a good free introduction to the concept. Escape Pod offers a great selection of stories so it’s an obvious place to start. The readings vary in quality, but aren’t up to the best work of professional narrators. To understand what I mean requires going to Audible.com and buying a general collection or old issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or the single best-of collections of Analog or Asimov’s. Or going to Amazon.com and buying Science Fiction: The Best of the Year 2006 audio edition, edited by Rich Horton. It’s a ten CD collection of SF audio short stories. I’d pay a lot for the annual Dozois collection if it was done as unabridged audio.

I can’t emphasize how much I love audio SF&F short stories. I even got on Amazon/ABEbooks.com and ran various searches to track down and ordered used copies of all the old cassette editions of SF&F short stories I could find. There’s not that many but I found a lot of gems.

This past year James Patrick Kelly has been selling his short stories on Audible.com in batches of 13 that are released one a week. They are called StoryPod 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. I wish more SF&F authors would do this. Overall I was very impressed with his writing and ideas. His stories are a good introduction to audio SF.

What I really wish is for a regular audio collection, like a Reader’s Digest, but of genre and literary short stories to be sold by Audible.com. Good audio readings absolutely showcase short stories. I’m currently listening to Stories of the South 2004 and each story is like a potent distilled novel, very intense.

Audio productions magnify story telling skills – so bad stories are glaringly bad, but good ones are just damn vivid. If you want to be a writer listen to audio short stories, it’s a way to study how stories work and succeed.

Fictionwise.com now offers F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog and Interzone magazines as ebooks, as well as Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines. Each magazine is available in a variety of computer formats including for the new Kindle reader. If you register your Kindle with Fictionwise, all your purchased books will have an “Email to Kindle” button beside the title. Just press it and go to your Kindle and start reading. Anything they offer in MultiFormat works with the Kindle and Sony readers, as well as a long list of older readers.

Amazon also sells many of the back volumes of the Dozois and Hartwell annual best-of collections in Kindle format, as well as many theme short story collections, and strangely enough, reprints of ancient pulp era science fiction. You could stuff your Kindle with thousands of short stories.

Audio / Podcasts

Magazines

Webzines

Short Fiction Reviews

Annual Anthologies

JWH

Update 12/28/07:  I just discovered that The New Yorker offers a monthly podcast, available through iTunes or at the New Yorker website, that hosts a visiting author who reads a short story he or she admires.  I know this isn’t science fiction related, but if you are used to podcasts, its a fantastic way to bring audio short stories into your life.  I wished the New Yorker would hire professional readers and offered their weekly fiction this way.  Their short stories are the best literary fiction in the world which is validated yearly in the annual Best American Short Fiction anthologies.

Portraits of Reality or Fantasy?

On the Friday before Christmas I was practicing with my Nikon D50 camera at work learning how to use the RAW mode, a technique to maximize details. I’ve become the unofficial photographer even though I have limited photographic skills. This allows me to justify spending a bit of work time learning photography. Coincidentally that day, a lady at work wanted a new photo for our web page and I decided to use her for my tests using RAW mode. I soon learned that the goals of RAW filming conflicted with female psychology and I had to learn to use the Blur Tool instead. Thus photography becomes a lesson in reality versus fantasy.

One goal I have for taking pictures is to capture reality as accurately as possible. Mastering photography should train me see light and detail the same way Monet did for his painting. That might sound like a Zen koan conflict though, since Impressionist paintings seem far from accurate. Monet saw his landscapes with greater detail than any camera sensor and he understood what he saw – he just heavily compressed his final output, creating the essential paint pixels to give the impression of what he wanted us to see.

Monet could give the impression of a pretty girl with just a few strokes of his brush. What the lady at work wanted for her web portrait was just enough pixels to give a good impression of her image. She wanted enough detail so people could recognize her.

It is human nature to want to look good, but philosophically I’m fascinated by the RAW mode of reality, and I’m downright intrigued by our society’s rather neurotic compulsion to change how things look. We want High Definition TV for nature shows, but we want Photoshop photos of people, especially women.

I’m not a good looking guy, and my rosacea makes taking appealing photographs of me very hard. However, everyone I know has to look at me and they see far more detail than any photograph. So why should I pretend to look different and use the clone tool to even out my skin tone? It’s pretty obvious that we don’t look at ourselves, and when women look in the mirror they start dabbing make-up on their faces and when they see photographs they don’t mind at all if the photographer uses some Photoshop make-up on their images.

This is not an ethical conundrum but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a psychological problem. On the web people often like to be anonymous, and prefer avatars or photos of anything but themselves to stand in for their likeness. Yet, try to imagine a world were women’s magazines only used RAW mode untouched photos and movie and television actors and actresses looked real rather than made-up?

Many years ago, in my late forties, I saw a Playboy Magazine for the first time in a very long time. I was shocked by the photos of the naked girls because they looked like faked photos of Barbie dolls being passed off as real flesh and blood women. And it was more than a visual shock, but a below-the-belt scare that made me feel like I had ED. The instant magic I felt as a teenager looking at Playboy was definitely not there. We knew the girls were airbrushed back in the 1960s, but there was enough impressionistic detail to make the centerfolds trick our brains into thinking we were seeing real girls. Obviously I’m older and my testosterone decline has caused the magic of paper women to fail.

Aesthetically though, at least for me, heavily Photoshopped images of women are no longer beautiful female humans but Jessica Rabbit clones. Not only that, but those cartoon images are what women, and maybe younger men, want to see plastered on the faces of women in reality. What’s Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers terrifying is an ad I saw in a photography magazine for a program that does this same kind of cartooning magic to kids. Talk about pod people!

The desire to make women look good in photos and the mirror is really a deep down desire to look young. So I have to ask isn’t it insane to change the look of actual youth? We’re moving into some weird territory here. We no longer want to pretend to look young, but animated. Is this a rejection of being human? I think we need to get both real and human. Maybe we should even use sexuality as a yardstick. In the real world a good looking women with wrinkles produces wood for me whereas women who follow in Tammy Faye Baker’s footsteps do not.

I think the beauty pendulum needs to swing back towards what’s real. I’m not saying that because I’m homely and want to promote my kind, but because psychologically I think we need to stay closer to reality. Fantasy is fun for Harry Potter books, but acting like magic exists is unhealthy. If everyone grows up seeing non-human fantasy characters in the movies, on television and in the magazines, what is reality going to be like in their mind’s eye?

JWH

How Audible.com Changed My Life

Back at the beginning of 2002, I joined Audible.com, signing up for their two books a month plan and getting a free Otis digital audio player. Audible.com sells audio books online and designed a system so their digital audio books worked with the emerging technology of digital audio players. This coincided with the rise of the iPod and made Audible.com revolutionary in that it made audio books, after the learning curve of setting up the equipment, easier to use than paper books. I now carry my iPod Nano with me at all times, and listening to a book is just a matter of plugging in an ear-bud and pressing play. I never carried a book around like that. I keep a log of books I read and before Audible I was reading on average 1-2 books a month, and after Audible I was average a book a week. Not only that, but I was “reading” from a much wider selection of subjects and genres. So I was improving on quantity and quality.

I’ve often heard people gush about books that changed their life. I always found that hard to believe, but I actually believe my life would be different if I hadn’t joined Audible. Oh, I’d be working at the same job and married to the same woman, but for the last six years I have been more excited about reading than any time in my life. Being a lifelong bookworm, that’s a pretty big statement. Joining Audible.com caused four paradigm shifts in habits.

Learning How to Read All Over Again

Switching from eyeballs to ears as my primary conduit for sending words into my brain taught me I have always been a very bad reader. This was a bit of a shock because I had always prided myself on being a good reader. I believed that because I loved to read, read lots of books and read them fast, it made me a great reader. Boy was I wrong. Switching to audio books showed me I was skimming rather than reading. The dying urge to know what was going to happen forced me to focus on dialog and plot at the expense of narrative details and voice.

Listening to a good book read by a great narrator showed me how much drama and characterization I had been missing. Listening at a reading pace taught me to take in the whole book and I began to value the narrative parts, seeing more details, making the settings vivid and allowing me to imagine what the characters looked like and acted. For some reason hearing words, like the names of colors or the names of objects, made me visualize what those words were pointing to in the real world. The shift was dramatic, as dramatic as being stoned and listening to music for the first time.

It really is a matter of concentration. Listening gave me the time to concentrate on what the author was intending. Since I’ve learned this trick I’ve been able to go back to reading with my eyes and read slower. What I’ve learned is eye reading and ear reading emphasize different ways to learn and experience books. If I want to study a book I have to read with my eyes, if I want to experience a book I listen. For pure reading enjoyment listening is the way to go but if I find a book I want embrace fully, I also have to read it.

Over the years I have also learned that I have been training my ears and mind to audio and I now hear a book way better than I did six years ago when I switched from reading to listening. I’m also improving my reading ability. I didn’t expect that as a person in my fifties.

I would say my old way of reading a novel I took in maybe 10% of what the author intended. Listening bumps that up to 25%. Reading and listening takes things to 35%. Multiple readings, with both eyes and ears, improve on those figures, but I imagine it takes a lifetime of study to really go beyond mining 50% of the gold in a great novel. My guess is there are highly educated readers with refined minds and powerful abilities to concentrate that can do what I do in one reading, but my experiences of the last six years has also taught me my limitations. I am a humbler bookworm.

Learning How to Widen My Reading Tastes

In 2002 when I switched to audio books, the audio book industry was far smaller than it is now. Thus Audible.com had a much smaller selection of books. Best sellers and classics were the top choices for publishers when deciding which books to give the audio book production treatment. When I joined Audible I expected to get the same kind of books I was reading: science fiction.

My first two selections were The Menace from Earth by Robert A. Heinlein and Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, two books I had already read and loved. To say that I was blown away by listening to them would be an understatement. I hate to use curse words in my public writing, but the only way to convey this is to say I passionately thought to myself, “What the fuck!! How the hell did I miss so much? These are fantastic books!!!”

My immediate desire was to buy all my favorite books in unabridged audio and listen to them. The trouble was Audible didn’t offer them. I got Starship Troopers, another Heinlein novel, and Seeing in the Dark by Timothy Ferris, a nonfiction book about amateur astronomers. I discovered the magic worked just as well with nonfiction.

Okay, with my next two monthly credits I decided to be brave and just try something other than science fiction. What the heck, two books were only $16 at the time. I selected Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier. I had been forced to read the Dickens book in high school and it was my model when I thought of classics. I had no idea who Tracy Chevalier was or what her book was like, but it came highly recommended. Well Mikey liked it! Turns out, Great Expectations is one of my all-time favorite books – what a discovery.

Then I tried White Noise by Don DeLillo and The Western Canon by Harold Bloom and I began to get the big picture of what I’d had been missing all my life by living in the ghetto of science fiction. Being a hard-core science fiction fan had always prejudiced me against fantasy. I got His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman on Audible and paid a rather large sum for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on CDs from Amazon.com. I was happily eating crow.

I then tried books I would never have thought to read, like Moby Dick, Sister Carrie and Pride and Prejudice. I’ve always hated long books, but I discovered I could handle long stories if I listened to them, like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. These really are books I would never read in book form. I never had the patience for classics or long books. Audio changed that.

Finding New Times to Read

Then I discovered The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I had bought the hard cover edition when it came out because it got such fantastic reviews but I never found time to read it. It was about then I discovered listening allowed me to “read” far more books than I could read with my eyes. Finally I had time to read best-sellers and all those books on the front tables in my favorite bookstores. I had always assumed best-sellers were the fast food of the literary world, but again I learned I was wrong, at least some of the time.

Those by-the-door display tables held the books people were talking about at work. The ones that got reviewed and their authors got to appear on TV. I finally tuned in and found what I was missing. I got to do this because I was now reading a book a week by multitasking with listening.

I cut off one earpiece to my stereo headphones, so the Y-shaped wire was now one straight wire. I kept my player in my shirt pocket from the time I dressed until I got undressed to go to bed at night. I wrapped the wire around my neck and dropped the ear bud end back in the same shirt pocket. It was my new geek tie. My wife thinks I’m dorky-looking and gets embarrassed seeing me in public, but the people at work didn’t complain. I’m a computer guy, so they don’t expect much from our attire.

From then on I learned how to read on the run – to multitask. I listen to books whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t require my full mental attention. I listen when I walk and exercise. I listen when I eat alone or wait in line. I listen when I do the dishes or pick up around the house. I listen when I drive. Using only one ear piece makes this much safer. I listen at work and while doing boring tasks like reformatting a hard drive and reinstalling software, or setting up a new server, or running around putting patches on fifty machines.

I got so good at multitasking reading I was even interviewed for the New York Times and got a tiny mention in the paper where they noted the number and variety of books I was reading because of Audible.com.

Connecting with Other Readers

Finally, Audible.com has brought me together with a lot of other readers, both online and at work. Because I wore my dorky wire tie, people would ask me about it. When I explained they were amazed and many of them joined Audible. They became pod people too and we ended up reading the same books. Audio books became the focus for a lot of new friendships. I also joined a Yahoogroup for Audible fans and met other audio book fans and even some of the people who publish and narrate audio books. We even got up a book club at work. Now when I go to parties I have a lot more books I can talk about. When I meet new people I’m willing to buy and listen to books they suggest and this opens up new lines of communications.

I used to be mostly a solitary bookworm, but now I’m a social bookworm. That’s a big difference. If I had stuck to science fiction as my main reading all of this wouldn’t have happened. I had science fiction reading friends, but they were few and far between. Actually, this shift in taste has moved me away from my science fiction world. I’ve encouraged some of my old SF buddies to try other books but they haven’t. You’d think reading with an iPod would be science fictional but that geeky quality doesn’t appeal.

Most people don’t want to change. I have found changing can be exciting.

I would say the majority of readers I know stick to paper books as their main source of reading. Some have added audio books as supplemental reading and some are half and half readers and listeners, usually reading at home and listening in the car. I’ve yet to meet anyone who carries their iPod with them everywhere.

I’ve also tried to get some of my hardcore bookworm friends to multitask so they could consume even more books, but audio book magic doesn’t work with everyone. A few are learning to multitask read. It’s the books and stories that are making me more friends. So I have to give Audible.com credit for helping me try a great selection of books that helped me connect with other people, and not being a cyborg bookworm.

Adapting to the Future

I’d like to think I could learn from this unexpected discovery and apply it to new experiences. Blogging is helping me learn to write and think, but I don’t know if it will have the transformative changing power that shifting to audio books have had. Strangely enough, writing is an anti-social activity, even though it’s all about communication. A blog is like a public diary, but few people read mine, and it generates little social communication. I value blog writing as a way to practice concentration and help fight off Alzheimer’s.

Computers and the Internet have made a major change in my life but it’s more about how I process information. I don’t think computers have made me see cognitively different like switching to listening to books. I’ve been reading with an eBook for years, and I now have a Kindle but I don’t think that will be revolutionary either. The Kindle is like a magnifying glass that lets me read easier, but I don’t read more. I am experimenting with putting Audible.com books on my Kindle and reading and listening at the same time to see if it causes better memorization.

Becoming a bookworm when I was a child was the major transformative experience of my life, but I’d have to credit Audible.com as a powerful second stage booster that has launched me into orbit. It’s hard to imagine another new technology coming along like it, but imagine what it would be like if my reading was moved from orbiting Earth to trajectory to Mars.

And I can see that it might not involve technology too. I’ve often thought if I could train myself to write a good novel or short story it might teach me a lot more about reading. That would take a lot of discipline I don’t have. I try from time to time, but can never achieve escape velocity.

As a new humble bookworm I know I might not ever get any better at reading and comprehension, but then I never expected digital audio players and audio books to come along and change things. Who knows what the future might bring.

JWH

Personality and Pop Culture

Recently, while cleaning out my old LP collection, I decided there were a handful of albums I wanted to convert and keep on MP3. The two rarest albums in my collection were the soundtrack to the 1966 film, Our Man Flint and the original cast album to the 1967 ABC-TV Stage 67 musical television special On the Flip Side, staring Ricky Nelson. I call these albums rare merely because I have never met anyone else who owned or liked them. I had to sell my record collection in 1970 to pay for my first attempt at moving away from home. In 1989, I found out how rare they were when I bought them for a second time. They weren’t expensive, just hard to track down. I was also able to find the two The Man from U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack LPs on a 2-for-1 CD, as well as many of the James Bond movie soundtracks. That told me there were enough people out there that loved old 1960s spy movie soundtracks to make a market for it. How many of those people also loved a long forgotten Ricky Nelson TV special?

While listening to these two albums as I recorded them with Audacity, and I wondered just how many people in the world also owned this odd pair of LPs. And if there were any, would they be like me in any way? Would we share personality traits? If I listed my Top 100 works from the vista of pop culture I treasured – books, movies, albums, television shows – on some computer system to match my list with other people’s favorites, would people whose lists overlapped with mine, be a lot like me? I’m sure such a test would be more scientific than astrology, but how much so?

The baby boomers I grew up with all listened to the same Top 40 radio during the early and mid-sixties, and we often loved the same TV shows and movies into high school. Shared books were not a common thing – I seldom met other bookworms. Sharing music, movies and TV shows didn’t make us alike but it did make us feel like a cohesive group, even though we were tens of millions of individual personalities. As FM radio came in, and album rock became popular, everyone split into different musical genres. High school gave the illusion we were all alike because we clung together in cliques that shared similar interests. By the time we went to college we realized even our friends we shared everything with were really very different.

Now I’m wondering if we worked backwards, cross-tabbing our lifetime pop-culture favorites, would we discover any statistical revelations about our personalities. I often meet middle-age boomers, generally male, whom I can strike up lively conversations with a drop of a couple names. I know a number of Bob Dylan fans. I know a fewer number of Bob Dylan and Philip K. Dick fans. Getting it down to Dylan, PKD and Jack Kerouac and that makes me wonder about the relationship between personality and pop culture.

I’m going to make a list of my major pop culture landmarks and if you, the accidental browser, stumbles upon this page and share a love for many of these works, zap me a communiqué. Also, if anyone knows of a website or study that works with this idea, also let me know. I was born in 1951, so items before then were discovered later in life. These are movies and television shows I’ve watched many times. The books, except for the ones after 2000, which I’m just now feeling like rereading for the first time, are ones which I have read many times. Many of them I’ve also gotten unabridged audio editions to experience these novels in a new way. And I will watch any and all movie versions made from these stories. These are works that I also read about and study. All of these works are ones I could write thousands of words about. They each have a personal story behind them. This list is just an odd fraction that could be used in the theoretical personality matching system I mention above.

  • Portrait of Marchesa Balbi by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (painting 1621)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (novel 1813, film & TV many)
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (novel 1861, film many)
  • Paris Streets, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte (painting 1877)
  • Treasure Island (novel 1883, film 1934)
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (novel 1895, film 1960, 2002)
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (novel 1902, film many)
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel 1912, film 1932)
  • Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (novel 1912)
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum (novel 1913)
  • Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924)
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (novel 1926)
  • City Lights (film 1931)
  • Grand Hotel (film 1932)
  • The Wizard of Oz (film 1939)
  • The Maltese Falcon (film 1941)
  • High Barbaree (novel 1945, film 1947)
  • Battleground (film 1949)
  • Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (novel 1949)
  • The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1952)
  • Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1953)
  • Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1955)
  • Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1956)
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (novel 1957)
  • The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1957)
  • Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (novel 1958)
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (novel 1962)
  • “The Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire (song 1965)
  • “Stop in the Name of Love” by The Supremes (song 1965)
  • “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (song 1965)
  • Our Man Flint (film and soundtrack 1966)
  • Star Trek (TV series 1966-1969)
  • Mindswap by Robert Sheckley (novel 1966)
  • “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany (short story 1967)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (novel 1968)
  • “Cowgirl in the Sand” by Neil Young (song 1969)
  • “Fresh Air”/”What About Me” Quicksilver Messenger Service (songs 1970)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Persig (nonfiction 1974)
  • The Big Chill (film 1983)
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (novel 1985)
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (novel 1985, TV miniseries)
  • Replay by Ken Grimwood (novel 1987)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV series 1987-1994)
  • Northern Exposure (TV series 1990-1995)
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (novel 1992)
  • Tombstone (film 1993)
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (novel 1995, film 2000)
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (novel trilogy 1995-2000)
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (novel series 1997-2007)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series 1997-2003)
  • The Matrix (film 1999)
  • Freaks and Geeks (TV series 1999-2000)
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (novel 2001)
  • Positively 4th Street by David Hajdu (nonfiction 2001)
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (novel 2002)
  • Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett (memoir 2004)
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (memoir 2005)
  • Lost (TV series 2004- )
  • Heroes (TV series 2005- )


The Kindle is My First Portable Auxiliary Memory Device

My Kindle started out as a crutch for my handicaps, but it’s becoming a cybernetic tool to supplement my brain. Necessity really is the mother of invention. The Kindle has come at just the right time to be a multipurpose tool.

I miss my epic bookworm days of youth. Most of my current reading is done in front of my widescreen LCD monitor because my greatest source of reading material is the Internet. Fiction usually enters my brain via my ears with books bought at Audible.com and played through my iPod. I plug into my audio book whenever I find myself doing something that doesn’t require my full attention, like doing the dishes, exercising, or eating alone. I get about fifty books a year read this way – far more than I read in paper form, which only averages about four books during the same period. I’m still a bookworm, but a strange technical geeky bookworm I guess.

I’m not quite becoming the bionic man but I need gadgets to supplant what my body used to do. One reason why I don’t read as many books is because my eyes demand large print despite my thick prescription reading glasses. The reason I ordered my Kindle is it’s a high-tech magnifying glass that instantly makes all my Kindle books into large print editions.

Another reason why I don’t read like I did when I was a kid is my back and neck can’t take hours and hours of holding a book. To read I must sit in my La-Z-Boy with a swing-arm book holder. Reading is no longer casual, but a strain I must gear up for. I bought the Kindle because it promised a wider selection of large print reading material, including magazines and newspapers, in an easier to hold portable format.

This blog is named Auxiliary Memory because that’s my dream gadget – a device to carry around everywhere that helps my brain function better. I’ve always considered my computer and the Internet my first auxiliary memory, but I’ve wanted a smaller more portable edition. The Kindle is the first of many machines that will ultimately fulfill this dream. It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.

While sitting in my La-Z-Boy with my cats, Nick and Nora, in my lap the other night, I struggled to recall facts in my failing brain which has an average seek time that varies from microseconds to hours. The cats were sleeping so peacefully that I hated to disturb them by getting up to go over to the computer. Google and Wikipedia are great for free association to improve my neural access time. Then I saw the Kindle, and luckily, it was within arm’s reach. I thumb-typed into the search box and bingo I was on Wikipedia recalling forgotten knowledge. This was when I realized the Kindle was my first portable Auxiliary Memory Device that I could carry with me everywhere. The Kindle offers limited access away from the computer, but it also means reading for fun away from my chair and bookstand too.

The Kindle isn’t the perfect reading machine but it’s a start. Breaking the tether from my desktop computer means a paradigm shift. Laptops are portable but not that portable. I was thinking about buying an Asus Eee PC just before I bought the Kindle, and I still might, but the Kindle trumps the Eee PC with its free broadband cellular wireless. I also considered buying an iPod touch, Nokia N800 or a Palm TX all of which also depend on the less universal Wi-Fi for connectivity. On the plus side these devices offered better user interfaces to the Internet. On the third hand though, is the fact that the Kindle is very readable.

My penultimate science fictional auxiliary memory would store a copy of everything I’ve ever read and it would help me call up ideas and reference them when I needed. My ultimate auxiliary memory would record everything I see and hear for ready reference. At fifty-six memory loss is a regular problem and scares me about the future. The idea of having a little device I carry everywhere that helps me remember produces a warm fuzzy feeling. The Kindle is my experiment expanding on that idea.

I bought a 2 gigabyte memory card for my Kindle and that will allow me to store about 2,000 books. I only want to store books and articles I’ve read on that memory card and use the built in memory for books, periodicals and audio books I’m currently reading.

Moving ahead poses many interesting obstacles. I don’t think I’ve read 2,000 books, but I’m sure I’ve read more than a 1,000, but finding them in Kindle format will be tough. Even though Amazon crows about the 90,000 Kindle books available through their store, it’s really just a page in the Encyclopedia Britannica compared to how many books are out there on the world wide bookshelf. Also, 2 gigabytes of memory is skimpy when it comes to audio books, which I’d also like to store in my auxiliary brain.

Nonetheless, the Kindle is a great start. The internal memory allows me to listen to a book while reading one on screen. Now that might sound silly, but it’s a useful function for memorizing stuff. I took a series of Shakespeare courses in college and I would read the text while listening to recordings on LPs (it was the 1970s). I aced every exam for remembering details. I recently bought A Midsummer Night’s Dream on audio but found it extremely difficult to follow the details. I plan to get a Kindle edition to follow along while I listen. I’ll supplement my reading and studying by connecting to Wikepedia. Not only will the Kindle be a reading and external memory device, it will also be a study device that helps reinforce my real brain’s ability to think and remember.

For a future Auxiliary Memory Device I’d love to store all my music and audio books on it. Hell, at the science fictional level, I’d like it to be a black hole of personal experience and include everything I’ve seen or heard, thus all movies and television shows I’ve seen and any book or article I’ve read and all my photographs. But that’s too much to expect of the current generation of Kindle.

The 1.0 Kindle will store books. I’m also thinking of going through My Documents folder and looking for stuff that will help my faulty memory. I think I’ll start making memory lists. People gripe about the ten cent fee Amazon charges for converting documents for the Kindle, but I’d gladly spend a dime rather than hooking the Kindle to the USB cable. What I’d like to see is the equivalent of the RSS symbol on Internet pages, so when I read a good article or essay I can zap it over to the Kindle to live on my Auxiliary Memory and recall with a quick search.

I’m even thinking about cutting and pasting all the stuff I read each day into an email, adding comments and thoughts and then emailing the results to my Kindle. For three dollars a month it can become a diary.

This is why I love that the Kindle supports magazines and newspapers and has the save clippings feature. Many of my conversations with friends involve starting my conversation with, “Well I read this cool article…” and then stumbling over the details, forgetting the source, and like telling a joke badly, not quoting the essential facts correctly. If I carried my Kindle everywhere, I could pop open the article and just quote the damn sucker.

Here’s where the experiment needs real world testing. I’ve been so afraid of hurting my Kindle that I don’t carry it everywhere. I’d hate to smash up a $400 device. If it was a $100, I’d wouldn’t worry because I’d gladly rush out and buy another. But I just don’t know how many $400 readers I want to buy and how often. (My friend Linda knows the sick feeling that comes with smashing an ebook reader.) Not only do I need to get over my fear of taking it out of the house, but I need to get over my fear of carry it everywhere in my house, including the bathroom. (Is that too much information?) For an auxiliary memory device to work it needs to be by my side constantly. (Note to Jeff Bezos, how about adding a voice recorder – that’s another device I carry everywhere now.)

The current 1.0 version of the Kindle is not grab-and-go friendly. I’m constantly pushing the wrong button and so does everyone I let play with it. To make me feel better about carrying it around I keep it in its cover. I think I’d prefer a hardened Marine version designed for combat in all-terrain conditions. Something my cats could puke on and it would survive. Something that I could drop several times a day. Like a cell phone I expect to upgrade regularly and carry with me 24×7.

That brings up how to carry such an Auxiliary Memory Device. I keep my phone in my left pants pocket and my iPod in my shirt pocket. The Kindle isn’t quite pocket-able or even purse-able. I do carry a messenger bag, but not around the house. I do have a potbelly big enough to make a kangaroo pouch but that might make some people squeamish. I can picture a flat purse like holder to be worn around the neck, but when it comes down to the realistic nitty-grity, the Auxiliary Memory Device might be something we constantly carry in our hand. That means it needs to be rugged, waterproof and food-proof, and handle extremes in environment. The Kindle isn’t that device, but I not saying don’t buy one because it’s not. The Kindle is more than good enough to start practicing on having an Auxiliary Memory Device, and there’s plenty of room for inventors to make clever holders for it.

The idea now is to explore the ramifications of having an Auxiliary Memory Device, and you can’t do that without road testing something. The Kindle may be the best device to start with because of its broadband communications and combination of features.

JWH

Morality in Knocked Up Places

    You never know where you will find your philosophical inspiration – I recently watched Knocked Up and can’t stop thinking about it. This film was odd, because on the surface it had everything to offend any league of decency citizen, but on the other hand it totally affirmed the conservative view on family and right to life. Despite what the right would like to think, few people on the left are anti-family or advocate baby killing – this probably explains why this movie was so popular, it’s positively pro-baby.

    Knocked Up was such a success in the summer of 2007 that I have to wonder if these pro family values didn’t help make it a success, even though it’s obviously not aimed at the moral majority. Studies of literature have shown that people love stories with happy endings and in particular, stories that affirm the status quo. Thus part of the huge success Knocked Up achieved was by appealing to the common good. No one watching the movie had to be an Oscar winning screenwriter to predict the ending – and the plotting was standard romantic fare, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to win girl back, boy succeeds when he remolds himself into the girls expectations.

    While Knocked Up had its sentimental side, it also had a raunchy edgier side that turned off a lot of people. I’ve talked to many women who hated this movie and many of their comments parallels Michelle Alexandria’s review in Eclipse Magazine. I identified with the Seth Rogen’s pudgy geek romantic lead, but found it hard to believe that any woman would love this bong sucking schmuck whose ambition in life, along with his crew of omega males, was to start a web page that help guys find the boobs and bush scenes in movies. Nor would I believe that any amount of beer, pity and pithy lines would cause the Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) character to unzip her jeans for the Ben Stone, the character Rogen plays with such realism.

    I’m partial to romantic comedies with multiple couples, and Knocked Up’s contrasting romantic duo is Debbie and Pete, Alison’s sister and brother-in-law played by Leslie Mann, Apatow’s other half, and Paul Rudd. Debbie and Pete have two adorable daughters, and we later find out that Alison and Ben are having a girl, so this movie has a lot of girl power. Knocked Up has a modest unfunny premise, but builds its humor by contrasting the male ambitions with female biological imperatives. Several women I asked about Knocked Up actually made the L sign on their forehead when we discussed Ben Stone – in other words Seth Rogen was hugely miscast as a typical target of the feminine biological imperative.

    I have to ask, is Judd Apatow making philosophical cultural theory here, and even suggesting a social paradigm shift? Ben Stone seems to be your typical modern young man, one who works diligently to avoid growing up, highly skilled at video game play, obsessed with the female form but clueless about the womanly mind. Is Apatow speculating that these young men will do what’s right when the time comes but to accept them as they are until then? Is this film one big rationale trying to sell geeky guys to beautiful gals? That’s the odd thing about this movie. It is pro family, but it’s also pro get high, get drunk, have sex, act gross, be a slob, avoid growing up at all cost film – not the kind of male women are programmed to seek out.

    Women constantly complain in our society that men are clueless, but both of the main male characters in this movie persistently express their true feelings and it goes in one ear and out the other for their respective female partners. Since Apatow casts his wife as the shrew who can’t be tamed, I’ve got to wonder if this story isn’t their personal expression of an ongoing family argument. The Debbie and Pete characters are better acted and show glimpses of hidden depths that I wished had been explored. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd show a lot of anguish in their characters that could make a whole other non-comedy movie.

    Long ago I read a fascinating scientific experiment about ovulating women where scientists studied them at discos. They measured two things: the amount of skin showing from their outfits and whether or not they were ovulating. It turned out the women showing the most skin were often ovulating. When asked if they were at the disco to seek a father they said no, and many said they had husbands and serious boyfriends elsewhere. Despite what their minds said, their bodies were putting them into ideal positions to make babies. Knocked Up works perfectly off this experiment. Katherine Heigl’s character was not thinking about getting pregnant but she was ovulating when she felt the need to get out of the house. One bit of scientific info from the study is ovulating women are more attracted to strongly masculine faces, again making Seth Rogen unrealistic for the role. Maybe they should have used Martin Starr with his caveman grooming.

    And does the same experiment explain the scene where the two sisters again return to the trendy disco, this time to be rejected from the line because one was pregnant and the other was too old? Debbie had dragged them out due to a frustrated need to prove something. On the surface we think she still wants to prove that she’s young and pretty and can still compete on the dating scene, but is her body also wanting her to make another baby? Is she ovulating this time? Is the doorman actually judging the women and only letting in the women who are physical perfect for baby making? Consciously we say no because we know the doorman is supposed to only let in beautiful women, but the same study says the attributes that men list for female beauty also reflect baby making ability. Just how many humans come into being from disco encounters?

    What is driving the women in this movie? We know what the men want, both before and after marriage. To the two men, magic mushrooms and Vegas lap dancers represent freedom. Debbie’s husband Pete is hated for wanting some personal time. Debbie tells him taking a night off from the family is worse than cheating on her with another woman.

    What are the movie makers saying to us? The closing credits feature photos of cast and crew with their own babies. Is the philosophy of the picture that it’s okay to smoke pot and goof off until you knock someone up but then it’s time to grow up? Older pro family pictures advocated that men would grow up when they started dating, or at least by the time the wedding bells rang. Are Apatow and company promoting a new ideal? Some of these geeky guys in this film do have girlfriends – which affirm their lifestyle. Even the more grown up and career successful Katherine Heigl character is shown in a romantic interlude helping hapless Seth Rogen count exposed female body parts.

    Is Apatow offering a compromise for our society by telling us it’s cool to be liberal until the girl gets knocked up but then it’s time to become conservative and flush the dope down the toilet? Both of the young fathers in this movie have to make a lot of sacrifices. Like the Beauty and the Beast myth that young girls love so much, the young men are transformed from beasts into prince charmings by end of the film – but what transformations did the women go through? The less stated myth, but affirmed here is beautiful women are transformed into nagging beasts.

    My women friends don’t buy the beautiful Katherine Heigl hooking up with the homely Seth Regen. I think women want all there romantic comedy heroes played by Colin Firth acting like Mr. Darcy. Has Apatow targeted this film to geeks, giving them a romantic fantasy that tells them if they give up their childish ways they can have sex with a real live beautiful blonde. Or is he selling to the women of the audience asking them to believe that geeks are lovable and easily house broken and make good fathers?

    I know I over analyze stories too much, but I can’t help finding a wealth of questions and observations in this one. My women friends hated the way men behaved in this movie, but I can’t help but think it was an accurate portrayal of young male behavior. I accused one of my lady friends of not remembering what guys in their youth were like, and she readily agreed. Does Knocked Up show the side of men that women refuse to see? The standard romantic story requires the man to be good looking, successful and agile at saving young damsels in distress. Apatow is selling a much different romantic male lead. And this is different – I mean Kevin Smith never tried to make Jay and Silent Bob the romantic male leads?

    I know this film won’t be taken seriously by conservative America but if you look deeply it makes some serious observations. The fish out of water is a standard trick for comedy movies, but during the laughs we see so much about our cultural habits. I have to ask how many mothers and fathers from the right-to-life movement wouldn’t consider abortion in the back of their minds if their beautiful daughter brought home the Seth Rogen character? This movie is seriously unrealistic because no woman as successful and girl-next-door beautiful as the Katherine Heigl character would ever spent two seconds with Ben Stone. She worked in an industry where male ambition is paramount and I’m sure the males there never would have given her the opportunity to meet Ben Stone. Nor would the inner baby making imperative that drives all women allow an Alison Scott like person even see a loser like Ben Stone, no matter how powerful her beer goggles were.

    Sure a Seth Rogen movie star guy could catch such a girl, but not the Ben Stone character. If a merely pretty Alison Scott who worked at Ben Stone’s Blockbuster had been in the screenplay, would that film have been just as successful? We could also solve the realism problem by casting the Ben Stone character with some pretty boy face and have the screen writers give him a decent job. If such realism had been written in the story I don’t think I would be thinking so much about the movie and writing this essay, so I give Apatow a gold star, probably five of them. But I’m not the average movie goer. To me movie enjoyment is how much a film makes me think and question.

    If Knocked Up is a breakout of story convention then we should expect action movies for male audiences to soon feature female equivalents to Seth Rogen in the token babe roles. Is that too radical? Such a film will probably need to be written and directed by a woman. Is this the beginning of the end of the beauty myth? I doubt it – Knocked Up is probably just a fluke. Would Knocked Up have been a success if the lead actress looked like Seth Rogen’s twin sister? Okay, that would just be your typical art film or foreign film – ordinary people falling in love.

    We’re looking at two powerful forces colliding. The power of the male sex drive is well known, but its power is more like a fission A-Bomb compared to the overwhelming personality altering fusion H-Bomb power of the female sex drive. In the end this film shows this because the men are crushed by the force of making babies. The biological imperative that women must live with is overwhelming and watching Knocked Up makes me wonder what women would want if they weren’t possessed by this power.

JWH