A Musing on the Democratization of Political Discussion

Back when I reviewed Woolf’s feminist classic, A Room of One’s Own, I was delighted to see how measured, logical and calm her arguments were. She was right, and it would be obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in it for some reason that she was right.

When was the last time you saw a political argument online that you could say that about? If you take the recent US election as a benchmark, most of the argumentation on the news and online, which is to say the stuff most people were exposed to, was shrill and alarmist on both sides. You could see the wheels of the propaganda machines turning, demonizing the opponents and trying to limit arguments to what each side wanted their followers to believe about the other. Even supposedly intelligent people bought into the rhetoric of the extremists, a sad situation.

Of course, even back then, it wasn’t a bed of roses, but I argue that it’s gotten worse today, mainly because of something that many people think is good… and I don’t: the democratization of everything.

By this, I don’t mean political democracy. That’s fine and, as they say, it’s the worst system of government ever discovered except for all the others. I’m talking about the democratization of literally everything.

Take taste, for example. It used to be that there was good taste and bad taste, and most people with good taste could tell the difference, and it was fine to laugh. Now, though, social media allows those with awful taste to find their peer group… and they’ve suddenly discovered that people with bad taste outnumber those with good taste. By the laws of democracy, where numbers rule, that means bad taste is better than good taste. And they rest their case.

That’s just one example, but everything works that way. Anything good that few people understand or enjoy is “voted” down by these representatives of the tyranny of the majority. Whether that be art or food or movies or lifestyle choices, the pressure to conform is… just as high as it would have been in a tiny village in Spain in 1850. Which is to say, very high.

Isaac Asimov used to complain about how the ignorant made a cult of treating the intelligent or educated as undesirables, but he never imagined the internet, where the words of a mechanic from Iowa or a hairdresser from Harare (or Seattle) are deemed as important as the informed opinion of an authority figure. Because telling someone that another person is more qualified is elitist.

The attitude spills over into politics. If a lot of poeple think something (maybe that democrats are socialist or republicans are racist, to take a recent example of intentionally incorrect statements that seem to have become bywords among certain groups), then, by the rules of democracy, that’s a valid opinion.

Except it isn’t. It’s just a silly popularization. There’s a saying in Spanish that essentially translates as: “Eat poop. Millions of flies can’t be wrong.”

That is what I think every time someone tells me that I’m wrong because everyone else thinks I’m wrong.

I may be wrong… but that’s not the reason.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who has just released a book where dinosaurs and genetically created monsters attack journalists, scientists and Russian special-forces troops in the Ural mountains. (So if you were thinking he’s elitist for writing the above, you need to consider that). You can check out Test Site Horror here.

Umberto D., or the Redemption of Vittorio De Sica

After suffering through the awful, political Ladri de Bicicletti, I’m actually quite grateful that I only learned that today’s subject, Umberto D. was directed by the same man after I watched it.

If I’d known they were both directed by Vittorio De Sicca, I would probably have suffered through Umberto D’, waiting for something unspeakably awful to happen to one of the two sympathetic characters (or to the dog).

But if you go in blind, the film feels strangely positive. Despite the suffering of the old man (the film’s main character) and the pregnant teenage maid who knows she will lose her position and income once her patroness learns about her condition (the film’s most sympathetic character, even if she isn’t the smartest), it somehow feels like everything will be all right in the end for some reason. There’s a certain fatalistic determination to be as happy as the situation permits and not to brood on the troubles that lifts this one above the usual socially conscious films of the time… and makes it enjoyable.

Of course, the message is still there, but as we always say here: there’s nothing wrong with a message, the problem is when the message is ham-fistedly delivered (if you want to learn about ham-fisted messaging, you can look here or, conversely, pick up any diversity-politics-obsessed science fiction book from the 21st century. You won’t enjoy it, but I did warn you.

This one is done well, however, and is easy to enjoy. Just let yourself be transported to postwar Italy and let your mind wander and just enjoy the texture of the place. The plot is simple enough that you won’t miss much. I linked to the film on YouTube above (that one has English subtitles). I recommend it.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a wild romp through the Ural mountains pursued by monsters. Genetically modified dinosaurs, mutant giant arachnids and monsters in human form make it a deadly adventure. You can check out Test Site Horror here.

The Everglades, that Mysterious Park

I’ve written before about my tendency to grab old guide books of the kind you’d pick up at a random visitor center from my parents’ house, and I’ve also mentioned my delight with books about lands I don’t really know.

Well, today’s entry does a bit of both.

Although I’ve lived in Miami, and been to many other places in Florida, I have no real knowledge of the Everglades. Evidently, though, my parents must have been in or around the park in the early 1980s because they grabbed the book above, Everglades – The Story Behind the Scenery by Jack de Golia. Knowing my parents, they likely grabbed this one on their visit to the Park (and they probably took me with them, but I was too young to remember, apparently).

Though the book is still in print, the version I read is the Second Printing from 1979, so much of the human impact on the Everglades that it describes is likely out of date, but the new version (pictured and linked) likely addresses this shortcoming.

But this book isn’t about the activist portion, at least not for me. The magic comes from reading about the unique geographical, hydrological and ecological attractions of the Everglades and the National Park that protects the ecosystem.

Perhaps the most important thing about this book is that it demystifies a landscape I never think about in the least, and brings it to life, creating a much richer picture in my head to fill in one of the blank spaces on my mental map.

I’ll probably keep grabbing those travel books from that old pile. They are nearly as good at transporting me to a different time and place as any novel… and I learn stuff, too.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a romp through the Ural mountains with hungry monsters on your tail. Whether those monsters are genetically modified dinosaurs, enormous arachnids or something else, they’re all out for one thing: human blood. You can check out Test Site Horror here.

Starting off 1975 nice and varied

As it’s the year of my birth, I entered my reading of the 1975 R&Ts interested to see what was happening in the automotive world, and the first two magazines in my pile of 75s, March and April, did a good job of that.

The first piece of welcome news was that the Energy Crisis was over, and some of the more outlandish legislation was being revisited–at least in Europe. Speed limits were being returned to slightly higher levels and Germany went back to unlimited highway speed, which is logical considering that it was proven that most of the reduction in road deaths during the crisis months had little to do with reduced highway speed limits. In fact, an interesting article in one of these magazines highlights the fact that, even with the unlimited speed limit reinstated, Germany had the one of the highest reductions in road deaths.

Unfortunately, the US ignored the data, bowed to those who went with their feelings and retained the imbecilic 55 for another two decades in one of the dumbest examples of the tyranny of the majority ever seen. But the editors of the magazine didn’t know that at the time, and the text was rife with hope that sanity, as opposed to parsimonious big-brotherism, would prevail.

Another interesting thing discussed in these issues was the Bricklin, a now-forgotten safety sports car that attracted plenty of attention in its day and then sank without a trace. The first drive here gives a few good reasons for the debacle… and the nice thing about 1970’s automotive journalism is that there’s little need to read between the lines: the build quality and some of the design decisions were utterly awful.

In other news, this was the era of the launch of cars that would become juggernauts (the VW Golf) and cars that were heralded as the next great thing and sold really well, but are now reviled (the Triumph TR7).

And they’re the years of Porsche coming to maturity. After being the enfant terrible of the racing and production car circles for years, the company now had to navigate a fuel crisis while selling only expensive sports cars and also wait for the top class of GT racing to evolve to the point where they could truly compete against others.

We now know that the 935 was coming, but Porsche didn’t, and they were understandably nervous. And yet… the tiny company always took up an amount of space in the pages of this magazine that is truly disproportionate to its size.

These two make a good ’75 sampler.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is an entertaining romp through the Ural mountains… which have become infesed with genetically-modified monsters. Test Site Horror has everything for both the horror lovers and the thriller enthusiasts among you, and you can check it out here.

Zombie Novellas x 2

Those following news of my writing adventures will recall that my latest book was Jungle Lab Terror (news to come on that front soon!). Well, the world isn’ t all about solo novels. And though I normally don’t talk about my shorter work here (there would be too many posts about my own writing, which is not the point of this particular blog), I make an exception for novella-length work (mainly because novellas take a long time to write, so I’d love for people to read them!).

For those unaware of what a novella is, it’s a narrative length that falls between a short story and a novel. It’s said that these are the ideal length for speculative fiction because they give the author space to build their world without using genre shorthand and assuming the reader is familiar with the tropes.

Anyhow, I’ve recently published a couple of these in three-novella works along with two other writers.

The first is Sha’Daa Zombie Park, in which my novella is the middle story, sandwiched between the work of two writers I admire a lot: Eric S. Brown and Jason Cordova.

For those of you unaware of the concept, the Sha’Daa series is a long-running shared world project that has had countless spectacular writers involved over the years… and it’s a huge honor to be a part of a “reduced” antho. The central concept here is that, once every 10,000 years, the gates of hell open up and evil sweeps the Earth. These three take place in Central Park, and there are zombies… lots of zombies.

My second novella also contains a zombie story, this one taking place in the same universe as my novel Ice Station: Death. Unlike the Sha’Daa series, these are unlinked, and Foul Womb of Night is the first volume in the Midnight Bites anthology.

The other authors, likewise, are new, which means that, when I get the time to read the book, will be an extra treat.

Best of all, there are zombies galore in this one, too, and the Antarctic setting pits the heroes against both the undead and the elements. Only the reader will have a good time in this one.

Anyway, if you do buy one of these (and I really think you’ll like them), let me know what you think!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. He owns no cats, which is officially frowned upon by the Guild of Real Writers, but he promises to hold the line for all other non-cat-people.

Death and Rebirth – The 1950s at Le Mans

Le Mans is my favorite auto race. It competes for that position with the Indy 500, but it wins because it’s an entire day on a long, challenging, character-filled track. Yes, the chicanes on the line droit des hunaudieres are a travesty and those who approved them in the 90s should be retroactively shot… but even with that, it’s a beautiful thing. I’d love to see it in person someday.

So Quentin Spurring’s wonderful decade-by-decade look at the race, including the organization, each entrant and the events of the race itself, represent my absolute favorite piece of nonfiction reading. I like these even better than the Collector’s Press Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy of the 20th Century series, and that’s saying a huge amount.

The 1950’s are not my favorite Le Mans Decades (those would be the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s), but Le Mans 1949-59 is a truly wonderful book anyway. The best thing about it is that it dedicates few pages to the 1955 accident.

For those of you who are new to this, that race is infamous because a Mercedes 300 SLR driven by Pierre Levegh crashed on the pit straight, got airborne and landed in the crowd, killing the driver and 84 spectators.

Cue the immediate overreaction in which several countries banned motorsport outright. Most countries saw how ridiculous that was almost immediately–only the dorky Swiss still insist on keeping the ban around.

Worse, however is the fact that so much ink has been spilled, all the way to the modern day, about that crash, as if it was a difficult phenomenon to explain. Essentially, it can be summed up in a few lines–in an era where speeds were increasing faster than most people expected, and crowd protection was laissez-faire, to put it mildly, something like this was in the cards. To a certain degree, considering that a lot of races were still run on open roads with people wandering in to see race cars capable of nearly 200 mph flashing past, it’s unfair that it happened to Le Mans.

Unfortunately, it did, and the French, to their credit, ignored the initial overreaction, corrected the public safety issues and went on with the race the next year.

What I love about this book is that the 1955 race report is not about the accident. It’s about the race and the drivers and the cars, which is how it should be. The accident is given its own section, much smaller than the race report proper. It was an important event (the deadliest motor racing accident in history, and a real tragedy), so ignoring it would have been just as bad as giving it too much space. Spurring got the balance exactly right.

Which is pretty much what I’d say about the rest of the book. It’s a hefty tome with a lot of minor teams and entrants profiled, yet it never bores the reader because there’s always something interesting about every last entrant… and I can’t even imagine what kind of research was involved in getting that data on obscure teams.

When you remember that this decade represents the rebirth after the destruction of WW2, one can only be thankful the race survived, and came back stronger than ever.

Anyhow, I can’t recommend this one to the general public because I fear a lynch mob as much as the next man. But if you’re a motorsport enthusiast, these are not only indispensable but fun.

Get them. Read them. You can thank me later.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a monster romp through the Darien Gap. It’s fun, too, and the title is Jungle Lab Terror. You can check it out here.

Local Poetry: Boiling Waves

As someone who doesn’t read poetry all that often, I’m always amazed by how relaxing it can be to read bite-sized slices of life, full of emotion.

I received a reminder of this recently when I picked up María Evangelina Vazquez’s book Ese oleaje hirviente (translated — loosely — as Those Boiling Waves).

Longtime readers of this blog will remember the author as our guest blogger who educated us about Blake. Now, for those among you who can read Spanish, you’ll discover that she is a very talented poet, someone whose command of the language allows her to turn emotion into words much more effectively than mere prose writers–which is the point of poetry, after all.

I’m probably not the person best qualified to evaluate poetry (prose writers tend to think in terms of words to tell a story, with emotions present to bond the characters to the audience, but not necessarily as the central motor of the text), but I found Vázquez to be particularly strong when her poems give us a glance into a snippet of daily life particular to a social class and situation. Good examples of this can be found in the poems in the first third of the book that deal with her experiences in high school.

I also particularly enjoy the fact that her poetry is not opaque. The meaning is either right on the surface or buried under just one layer of metaphor… and that makes it much easier to connect to the emotion contained within each piece.

I recommend this one to lovers of poetry and to lovers of prose who want to take a break to read and savor something different.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His work spans every genre imaginable. Lovers of poetry will likely enjoy his book Love and Death, a series of very short stories, each standing alone, but which linked together for a single continuous narrative that not even the characters know about. It’s a secret between the writer and the reader. You can check it out here.

Closing Out 1974

We continue our run through 1970s Road & Tracks. Though I don’t have all of them (will fill gaps once I get through the current pile and have a good handle on which ones I’ve got), 1974 was a very full year (just scroll through the older posts to see the ones I’ve been reading).

But now, with the November and December issues, it’s a year we’re closing. To be honest, it’s a great way to end the year. The covers have a McLaren sports car (unlike the new ones, this one never went into production) and a Ferrari GT. Much better than econoboxes and downsized Detroit barges.

There’s actually a reason this happened towards the end of years for R&T back then, and that’s because road tests of cars for each model year were performed towards the beginning of that year so consumers could evaluate a car they might want to purchase before the new models started arriving. With the loss of the yearly model changes (think ’57 Chevy vs. ’58 Chevy to understand what I’m talking about), this has become less critical today.

In the mid seventies, next year’s cars were also a problem. Due to regulatory overzealousness, each successive year’s vehicles were heavier, slower, less fuel-efficient and uglier than the previous year’s crop. So getting late road tests was a real problem.

By the time November and December rolled around, there were no more consumer-relevant vehicles to feature, so one could go out and do track tests of road vs. race Ferraris for the cover, or feature the only road-going McLaren available to the public until the F1 debuted over twenty years later.

That hedonism is much more fun than dreary socially-conscious drudgery…

The one concession to the times was an article about electric motors which pretty much was summed up by the phrase: electric cars are fine for short distances, but destroy your capacity to move long distances in the way you’re accustomed to doing.

I’ve seen that California will mandate zero emissions vehicles in the next couple of decades which might mean (unless things change) that driving across the country will be a thing of the past for the citizens of that particular state. If that freedom is removed, then the US will need to remove “the land of the free” from any communication. Any country that includes a state that legislates away its citizens’ capacity to drive across the country cannot call itself “free”.

Anyway, next report will be from the wild confines of 1975, which is a special year for me… because I was born in ’75!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose novel Incursion starts off with a suicide mission in deep space that gets even more complicated, and soon becomes a desperate battle against an unexpected enemy. You can check it out here.

Why Self-Publishing Hurts Real Writers*

I wrote this for the old Apex blog in 2010 (before being expelled after the very whiny pushback following an even more controversial–but perfectly accurate–post that came after this one), so this is its 10 year anniversary. While I recognize that there are many excellent writers who self-publish, I stand by the major points and the role of gatekeepers. At the very least, it’s good to talk about these things. Always happy to discuss disagreement in the comments.

The last couple of weeks seem to have had a single hot-button issue.  Unlike many of the topics that get discussed in the genre, this one is truly relevant: publishing is changing, and no one really seems to know where it’s headed.  Will all print books disappear?  Or will ebook readers only destroy the mass-market / airport reading paperback business?  These are valid questions, and I’d like to take a shot at it.

But today, I’d like to address the other component that gets discussed when talking about worrying future trends: self-publishing.

The discussions generally go something like this:

Self-publishing proponent: Self-publishing and especially electronic self-publishing are great!  We don’t need to worry about those pesky agents and editors any more!  We can print our excellent work without interference and Amazon will even let us into their shop without all this insistence on having grammar and plot!  Finally, we can let readers decide what is good or bad!

Anyone who loves literature: Die! Die! Die!

And the people who self-publish are often left in a state of confusion regarding why the other party doesn’t share their enthusiasm.  After all, isn’t giving the authors more control over everything a good thing?

Well…  Let’s have a look at this.

Most proponents of self publishing fall into one of three groups.

  1. Clueless.  These people are generally victims of a vanity press scam.  They believe that people like Stephen King pay to publish their books.  They are to be pitied more than censured, and the best thing you can do for them is to send them a book contract for them to study. It might take days, but I suspect they will eventually realize that the money flows toward the author.  Sadly, much of this is their own fault – the information necessary to avoid scams is readily available, all you have to do is make a minimum of effort.
  2. Conspiracy theorists.  These are actually a subset of number 1, people who think that editors and agents are there to keep new writers and new ideas from ever hitting the shelves.  This particular group is just as irrelevant as the first, because it shows that they haven’t done their homework.  Or maybe it’s just easier to believe that there’s a conspiracy than to accept the sad truth: the writing you are subbing just isn’t good enough for public consumption.  Not liking the options (get better or get out), these people went the self-publishing route.
  3. Economists.  It’s better to keep all the profits yourself, right?  Why pay these editors, copy-editors, formatting people and especially artists, when I already have a great book – my first draft! – and I can format it myself, and use a cover design made by my niece, which is just as good.  And who needs publishers when I can upload it to my kindle.  And if I go the print route, I’ll sell them myself, after all, authors have to be great salesmen, don’t they?  I’ll make a fortune.  All I can say here is: probably not, and your cover art is making my eyes bleed. 

But why does any of this hurt real writers?  Am I admitting that the publishing world is moving to a model without gatekeepers, where it is a pure democracy?

Don’t make me laugh.  I may not know how it will work, but the world will defend itself from this somehow, and self-publishing stealing their sales is a laughable proposition.

The reasons that real writers are being hurt have to do with the confusion that readers are going to be experiencing until the gates are established again.  Readers know that most of the work they find in a bookstore has gone through an editing process, been checked for most spelling mistakes, and been formatted by someone who knows the correct sequence for page numbers (hint: 1, 2, 3, 4…).  Now, if bookstores suddenly disappear, how is that same reader, faced with only a product page to know that Fly By Night Publishing is a vanity press that will publish anything, including Atlanta Nights, or an individual whose knowledge of English consists of what he was able to pick up on the boat ride?  The profusion of self-published titles will educate some readers as to what publishers are worth their time, but it will alienate others, after they get burned.  Less readers hurts real writers.

The words “Published Author” have also lost much of their magic.  Most people, when you tell them that you’re published will ask “How much did you pay?”  The ratio of real writers to people who couldn’t make the grade and decided to self-publish seems to have gone oversquare at some point.  Even bookstore employees flee if you tell them you’re a writer.

Finally, and most sinister, is the fact that publishing houses are run by people who can do math.  So, if writers are willing to pay to have their books printed and also willing to eschew (or pay extra for) decent cover art, why are we footing the bills for all this?  A major romance publisher has already launched a self-publishing imprint.  Can others be far behind?  Of course, the smarter houses have realized that GOOD writers don’t pay to have their work published, and that they are also not good at selling books from the trunk of a car.  But it’s still worrying to see this trend, isn’t it?

So, as I have no interest in selling my books from the trunk of a car, especially my unedited books, I have to say that, even though they represent no threat to real writers from a sales point of view, proponents of self-publishing do damage their ability to make a living.

And that explains the words “Die! Die! Die!”

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work is very emphatically published by publishers and not by him (mainly because he likes real editors to proof his work before showing it to others). His monster novel Ice Station Death was both well-received and popular. You can check it out here.

*The best thing about living in Buenos Aires is that one doesn’t need to be euphemistic about blog post titles.  We don’t believe in political correctness down here, thankfully, and no one who disagrees with me can drive to my house and berate me in person for my views!

High Noon is the Perfect Cowboy Film

We’ve reviewed a lot of Westerns here on CE, most recently The Big Sky. They’ve increased in frequency over the past few months because the 1950s, the era we’re currently watching, is bigger on Westerns than other eras.

Now many westerns are similar. The actors spend a considerable chunk of the film traversing the majestic landscape, whether it be on horseback or, as in the case of The Big Sky, on a boat. There are a couple of gunfights–either with outlaws or with indians–and the boy gets the girl.

High Noon dispenses with all of that. The guy has the girl from the opening of the film, no one rides across majestic landscapes for interminable periods of time and the action sequences are contained in the last ten minutes of the movie.

And yet, it’s about a hundred times more entertaining than most of the slow-paced Westerns I hated as a kid (and enjoy now, but not quite as much as other kinds of films).

Loosely, this film, produced in “real time”–an hour in the film is an hour in real life–tells the back story of the departing Marshall we see getting married in the first scene, and the cowardly way most people discard loyalty when their lives are on the line.

It’s about one man against the world… and, this being a Western, that man wins.

It’s the best Western we’ve watched since My Darling Clementine.

I don’t want to spoil it for you by telling you the details (many people have seen it, but the new generations might not). Just track it down somewhere and watch it. You will enjoy it.

The only jarring note is actually the opening wedding scene, in which a visibly aging Gary Cooper (looking so similar to Tommy Lee Jones in face and gesture) marries… the angelic vision of a very young Grace Kelly in her first major film role. Even great actors have a hard time making that one believable.

A genre link in this one is the presence of Lon Chaney Jr, but my hopes that he would become a cowboy wolfman and take this film in an unexpected direction were sadly dashed.

Still recommended, though.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is an action-packed creature-feature entitled Jungle Lab Horror. You can check it out here.