My friend Jordan Chase-Young, a 2027 Hugo Awards Winner and a stud, has one of my favorite minds out there. His twitter account is prone to convey interesting and pertinent questions and prompts on hard issues from the near and distant future. It’s fun to irresponsibly address such questions and prompts with speculations that tend to be as wild as they are brief (it’s twitter after all). However, for his last prompt, I just felt that I couldn’t irresponsibly speculate briefly, so I’m typing my meandering take on this blog.
Okay, two sentences to unpack here, I will start with the second one: I believe doomsday devices will be easier and easier to build, and that process is happening in a geometric progression, i.e., the past progress is cumulative. Think about ballistic weaponry: we came from the arc and bow made by an artisan to the pistol that required mass production to the gun that can actually be 3D printed at home. Why couldn’t someone do that to a nuke at some point? Yes, you will never be able to print the fuel for that nuke, but that takes me to the second point.
We also tend to disregard the progress of social technologies. The conundrum of mass media and online social networks encouraged and allowed a small segment of fringe extreme-right men and women from extremely distant parts of the United States to assemble in Washington DC on 1/6/2021 and take over the Capitol. It was a coup attempt that had all the ingredients to succeed. Social technologies like that revolutionize trade and its variant known as smuggling, thanks to dark web shops and cryptocurrencies, which, just like any other technology, are evolving at a faster pace they can be controlled: buying a chunk of a fissile material without being caught will be easier and easier.
Now, let’s go to Jordan’s first statement: “(there is)… no foolproof way to prevent a doomsday devices.” Yes, although yes, we can also say that, in the Stone Age, there was no foolproof way to prevent someone to club someone else to death. Hell, I think even Vladimir Putin’s compound has a 0.00000000000000000001% chance to fail to protect its prestigious resident if someone attempted to club him to death.
How to make these odds small though? It’s doable for a small group with lots of economic resources: a loyal regiment of heavily trained security guards and a couple of strategically placed shark tanks hidden under trap doors might do the job to protect Vladimir Putin if the QAnon Viking decides to invade his compound with a club, but what can it do if hundreds of 3D printed nuclear bombs explode around the globe, triggering a nuclear winter, or a homemade virus ravages the world? Let’s assume that Putin and his servants have enough stocked food, and maybe a nuclear powered underground farm, to feed them for centuries, power struggles are a likely hazard, death by old age a certain one. And the biggest point is: society would have collapsed. If you are, like me, not in position to build a compound, you might be more interested in preventive measures that protect the whole society. That’s where I would like to offer a general hypothesis:
“It’s easier to destroy than it’s harder to build.” is a premise we can all agree upon. It’s easier to harvest/burn a wheat field than it is to grow it. It’s easier to plunder a stash of good than it is to assemble such stash. It’s easier to terminate life than to create life. It’s easier to nuke a city than to build one. Systems that prevent destruction need to be build whereas destruction… just needs to be performed. In the Stone Age, you needed 2 persons to build up the intent to effectively halt the destructive action of 1. That ratio became wider with technological progress. And today one might need thousands of intelligence agents to track an individual attempting to perform a terrible and extensive act of destruction. It is reasonable to believe that, based on the geometric progression principle I mentioned before, at some point we will not have enough human population to for such tracking. Are we doomed then? Not if you fight fire with fire. Besides building structures of prevention, one can incur in acts of counter-destruction. The premise works both ways: it’s easier to destroy a terrorist cell than it is to build it. The problem is, such acts of destruction are not akin to democracy. That’s where things get particularly grim for me, personally, as I see China excelling at counter-destruction, but with a huge civilization cost. The best things of social life are things that are built with refinement, which is inherently fragile, and fragile thing are the easiest to destroy.
I have the idea for a novel based on the 3 sociological laws for sustainable civilization in a context of advanced technology. I shared the first one here and I’m saving the 2 others if I decide to write this novel, what will probably not happen considering that it’s not worth it to put out your work when the main distributor can’t even bother to correct a typo on the cover that is killing your sales. That’s the lesson I learned from the release of Terminal 3, when you put an effort to build an intricate narrative that is easy to destroy (in my case, by just sabotaging the cover), you can just choose to simply not build anymore. The beauty will remain preserved, inside your mind, away from the clubs of a society that is descending into barbarism.
I recently mentioned to an American acquaintance the fact that Gabriela Mistral’s “Puertas” (Doors) is my favorite poem. “Puertas” is a poem that gives me more existential support than Catholicism ever did during the decades when I was into it. Simple as that. We often conceive walls negatively, suggesting that doors might redeem the vices of a wall. Mistral’s poem decries precisely that: the separation, blocking, isolation is a product of doors, not walls, as the latter are just blunt passivity, while the former convey intent.
Back to topic: I also mentioned to that acquaintance that I wished I was able to translate Puertas it to English, alas I wouldn’t make it justice as I’m neither a poet nor a translator, much less a poetry translator. That’s when he shared with me an excerpt of the poem he found online, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin no less. However such excerpt lacked the last two stanzas.
I decided to buy the book that contained the poem: a bilingual anthology translated by Le Guin. Obviously the book a a whole is of great interest for me, but I was particularly curious about how Le Guin had translated the last 2 stanzas of Puertas. The task seemed impossible to me. For example: Mistral evokes the following imagery: “el cardumen vivo de mis muertos que me llevan”, which is breathtakingly beautiful in Spanish, but would be literally translated as “the living school* of my dead persons that take me”. (*school here as in a school of fishes). Le Guin translated this bit as “the lively wake of my dead, who take me with them”, which is powerful, close enough to the original meaning Mistral conveyed, and understandable in English. Le Guin also took the liberty to, rightfully, bring certain updates in language that Mistral would have certainly approved if she had lived enough to see how society evolved in gender issues by, for example, replacing the word “hombres” (men) with “people”.
Since it’s my favorite poem and the full version is not available anywhere online, I first considered just typing Le Guin’s translation here. But then, there’s the thing: there are things in Le Guin’s translation that bothered me. Most stanzas were brilliantly translated, others just so-so and the third stanza is really bad. She also oversimplified many verses and even changing the number of verses in each stanza, preferring clarity over lyricism. Mistral’s original poem starts like a whisper and ends like yelling. It feels like a song, but I don’t get that vibe from Le Guin. So, I decided to do something that may be dishonest, but why not, this is the poem that saved my life more than once, so I feel weirdly close, hence entitled, to it: since Le Guin did the heavy lifting that I wouldn’t be able to do, I will just go through her version and make the changes I see fit. Some might think I just butchered the poem/translation and they are probably right. I’m not a poet, and neither the original Spanish nor the translated English are my native language. Anyway, there’s the product of my experiment:
Poem by Gabriela Mistral, Translated by Ursula Le Guin, butchered by Illimani Ferreira
Among the gestures of the world
I’ve noticed those of doors
I’ve seen them in broad daylight
closed or half-open,
shrugging with their backs
the same color of vixens.
Why did we make them
to make us their prisoners?
They are the mean rind
of the great house-fruit.
They won’t let the street share
the kind fire that warms them.
Their wood deadens
the songs we sing inside.
They don’t offer their plenty
like the open pomegranate:
dust speaking sybils,
never young, born old!
They are like hollow seashells,
without tides, without sand.
They look like storm clouds
drifting over a frowning face.
Their similarity oozes down
Death’s long, rolling toga.
When I open and go through them.
I shiver like a reed.
No! they say to the morning
tenderly bathing them.
And No! to the sea wind
stroking their foreheads
and the fresh pine fragrance
blowing from the mountains.
Like Cassandra they know what’s coming
yet don’t prevent it.
for my hard fate, too,
came in by my door.
To knock on a door disturbs me
every time I do it.
The dry threshold glitters
like a bared sword,
the panels quicken
into fleeing antelope.
I come in as if I were lifting
the cloth from a covered face,
now knowing what narrow kernel
my house holds for me,
wondering if what awaits me
is my salvation or my ruin.
I want to go away, to leave
this dull ground on Earth,
this horizon like a stag
dragged down by sadness,
and the doors of mankind
sealed up like reservoirs.
I want never to hold again
their keys, dead-cold as eels,
never to hear their rattle
stalking me every way I go.
I shall pass through them
for the last time, silently.
I’m going to get away,
rejoicing like a slave set free,
following the lively wake
of my dead, who take me with them.
There they won’t be denied
into blocks and blocks of doors,
there walls won’t shame them
like bandages on wounded men.
They’ll come to me, unhidden,
gilded in eternal light.
We’ll sing in our station
between earth and heaven.
The passion of our song
will break down the doors,
and people will come out of them
rubbing their eyes like children,
as they hear the doors crumbling,
falling down and dead.
Today is the 2 months aniversary of the release of Terminal 3 and… it feels like I have both of my arms tied to my back and my feet buried in cement shoes while I’m sinking in a tank full of sharks. The sharks are the nay-sayers out there, but I won’t spend time talking about them.
Let’s start with the cement shoes instead. The cement shoes are COVID 19. And… that’s it. You got it, right? No need to draw a picture on that matter.
Now… for the arms. The rope tying my right arm is Amazon. You see the beautiful cover up there? That’s not what Amazon has. My publisher lost the cover just when he was assembling the mobi version and rushed to rebuild it. That resulted in typos in that blurb in the cover, what is effectively driving away potential readers (why bother to spend so much money in a book that can’t spell Pratchett and Iain M. Banks properly on the freaking cover?). And it’s pretty much impossible to make Amazon update the metadata from Ingram in order to correct that issue. Publisher can’t do anything. I tried to use my membership at the SFWA to activate the association’s Amazon liaison, what was per se a quite difficult process since the guy is busy and the whole process he asks Amazon to do something is rather secretive… and irresponsive on Amazon’s side, since nothing is happening. Amazon makes it impossible to request directly if you submitted your book through Ingram (they will keep pushing you around different departments instead of pushing the button that would solve the issue).
Now, the rope tying my left arm is my publisher. After 2 months I haven’t received my author copies yet and there is at least one person who pre-ordered the book on the website (Jason Sanford, of Genre Grapewine fame) who never got the copy he BOUGHT. It seems that things are normalizing, I talked to another person who bought through the website and got their copy and my publisher ensured me that copies are going out (and the issue with Jason was that the copy was returned by his workplace), but I would still encourage people to buy on… Amazon. Yes, the same Amazon that is not updating the cover. Leviathan at least will deliver his book for sure and in time. Just don’t judge a book by the cover, I guess?
I really believe in this book and in its capacity to give solace to readers through cathartic humor. But with so many hindrances trying to promote it is both impossible and unwise. I was invited to a podcast to talk about Terminal 3 and decided to cancel until I can be sure why the publisher keeps saying that he’s sending me the author copies, but never actually performing the act of sending it. It could be that he is using pony express to send it, or it might be that he’s waiting to get copies without the typos on the cover (if that’s the case he could just say it to me as we are both adults), or he might be just gaslighting me about that, for whatever reason. The guy went through hell this year, and I hate to complain, but it’s my book. I offered him to revert the contract and in exchange he wouldn’t need to pay the second half of the advancement. Minutes after that he paid what was left of the advancement. So yes, it might not be gaslighting but it sure feels like it and I’m not gonna suck it up anymore.
In the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the top 2 contenders for the Ladies’ Singles Category were Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. Both had the same coach, as they were part of the Russian delegation. The coach discovered that the stupid routine checklist that the athletes had to go through and exists to punish creative individuals that tried to push for new moves like Surya Bonaly, could potentially be rigged to reward more mediocre athletes. Medvedeva was the best, Zagitova was the second best among others. The coach decided to train Zagitova to perform all the checklist movements in a big explosion, as it turns out that performing the in such way is easier. The athlete just needs to robotically train for those few seconds of complex movements, and the rest of the routine can be just soft skating. Medvedeva went for the traditional, harder, actually beautiful routine. She got a loser’s silver. Zagitova got the winner’s gold.
Traditional publishing used to reward Medvedevas and punish Bonalys. Now they reward Zagitovas and punish Medvedevas. The Indy lane was always the refuge for the Bonalys, and it’s becoming the place-to-go for the Medvedevas. Except that the rink is made of fire and your skates are filled with nails and your coach is Jeff Gilloly.
I’m quite bummed by the whole ordeal that Terminal 3 has been so far. From people who pre-ordered the book only getting their copies now to very embarrassing typos in the blurb featured on cover (which I didn’t notice until later since the first version of the cover didn’t have these typos, and since then the blurb became a visual element for me), to a Kafkian process to get the SFWA to use their channel with Amazon to update the cover on their website so the typos won’t shoo away prospective buyers (it will be too late if anything happens anyway, not sure if my novel could bounce back).
So I’m giving up on prose writing for the time being and will be only working on screenplays. I may go back to prose. Dunno. What I like about writing screenplays is that at the end I have this awesome blueprint to move forward with a work of prose (Terminal 3 was originally a teleplay).
Dear Chinese Reader,
I am aware of your existence. From time to time you just show up in this blog that nobody reads, always through a Baidu search. You don’t linger long or click on anything. You are probably a bot cruising through the magical world of Western Internet to assess the availability of the domain. But still, I decided to think you are human. You are the Chinese person who is interested in what I have to say. That’s it, there’s nothing you can say to change that. Not that you are going to say anything. You are probably just a bot.
I wish you could say something in the comment session. I wish we could talk. I adore the culture of your country. I want to learn Mandarin someday (started taking classes a while ago but had to quit due to clash with my work schedule). I lived in Vancouver for a while, a city with a huge, thriving Chinese population. I used to eat at a small eatery of homemade Chinese food near the train station. I would eat there every time I was in the area because it was so damn good and cheap. My eyes would water when the food was too spicy – I’m a wimp when it’s up to spicy food -, but I would just chug down some water and get going, because the cuisine of your country (in this case, in the regional Cantonese homemade tradition) is so damn good. I wonder what you would think of Brazilian cuisine, especially from Central Brazil (where I’m from). You’d probably find it bland. That’s fine. It is kind of bland and you need to grow up eating it to appreciate how the rice-and-beans repetitive combo in all its glorious monotony.
I finished yesterday the vomit draft of a short story inspired by your country. Not the beautiful things, I’m afraid. It was inspired by the current situation faced by the Uighurs in the area your government calls Xinjian. But also the one endured by other Latin-Americans like me in the country where I live right now (the US), where the government recently forced sterilization procedures on women locked in a concentration camp near the city of Atlanta. A little like your government is doing with Uighurs.
I wonder if the mention to these ongoing acts of genocide will make my blog blacklisted by the Great Firewall, what may prevent you from coming over from time to time. I’m a Science-Fiction writer and China is becoming a huge market for literature, movies and TV shows in this genre, although you guys have great homemade fare and don’t need Western content. Some would consider the mere mention to Xinjiang unwise. Apparently if one mentions Tibet they can get in a lot of trouble as well. But see, I’m not known for my wisdom, that’s the first thing you’d learn if we ever met.
I wish we could meet someday. I wish we could be friends. But you are probably just a bot, and I happen to be a human prone to reckless behavior.
The other update is that I will be a panelist during the very first Fiyahcon, a convention celebrating BIPOC+ persons in speculative fiction. My panel is called “Yes, representation is actually fun” and it will happen on October 18 at 6pm.
That’s right, the ebook version is out. The print version is slightly delayed due to issues to Ingram Spark that may or may not be related to the pos-Covid printing market issues (short version: big printing facilities closed doors and Ingram started getting huge assignments they were not designed for, what means delays for Indy published novels like mine).
The main point of this post, however, is not to talk about the book per se. You can read a summary on the Amazon link above (or here, if you don’t want to go back). You can see this review published on Tor.com a few weeks ago. You can see the reasons how and why I wrote this novel on Latinx Heritage Month Book Fest Instagram. What you are not going to find anywhere is why should you bother to read a dark satire when we are going through a historic moment that feels like a dark satire. Wouldn’t that be a downer and exhaust you emotionally when you already have so little emotional energy to spare? A little like being asked to play with a toy garbage truck when you are currently trapped in the crammed container of an actual garbage truck, as you try to stay afloat amid all the filth while, at the same time, you are giving your best to not allow the trash compactor within the container to turn you into mush.
Well, there is the thing: reading satire when the world is burning isn’t redundant. Think about how successful Jordan Peele’s Get Out was just after the Orange Fuckturd got elected, or, if you are old enough, the success of 9 to 5 back in the1980s, just before the Reagan administration started, or, if you are really, really old like Charlize Theron in The Old Guard, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata during the pinnacle of the Peloponnesian war. What these two films and one play have in common? They provide the viewer with a sense of catharsis, as you can release, through the investments in the narrative, your restrained emotions and let them burn and explode. Because shielding your mental health against a morally warped power structure in place that is deliberately trying to corrode your mind through social gaslighting can only get you so far. You need a release: satire, which is not a Carnival mirror labyrinth reflection of a social problems. Satire is the antidote. It conveys truths, perspectives and angles that you probably didn’t consider before as satire – or at least a good satire -, is counter-intuitive.
This is an old insight of mine, from the years I wasted writing screenplays. As it is the case now with prose, some of my screenplays were comedies, some not. As I received rejection after rejection, I noticed a certain pattern: some of the rejections recurrently suggested that the readers found the screenplay too raucous and pedestrian for their expectations, while a second group of rejections suggested that the readers found the screenplay too sophisticated, hence not marketable enough for the masses.
I realized with that the world of comedy, at least as we know it today, is composed by two boulders separated by a rift. Let’s call one of the boulders the Snob Rock. That’s where highbrow comedy and the likes of Wes Anderson dwell and thrive. The other boulder is called Slob Rock. That’s the den governed by lowbrow comedy and every film Adam Sandler made after 50 First Dates and before his Netflix deal. Snobs hate Slobs. Slobs hate Snobs. There is only one thing they hate more than each other: anything that is in the rift in between them. There used to be a bridge connecting the two rocks. They burned it. It’s a shame, because at some point there wasn’t a bridge for the simple reason it was not necessary. There was no rift. Comedy works with a harmonic combination of low brow and highbrow comedy were the norm.
One day the boulders will crumble and the pebbles will cascade toward the rift, filling it. On that day I, a dweller of the depths of this rift, will ascend. I just need some matchsticks. It’s dark in here, but I’m pretty sure I found some TNT in this hole.