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August, 2023:

RANT: Musks Just Wanna Have Fun

A lot of people seem puzzled by Elon Musk. Nobody paid a lot of attention to him while he was creating the quintessential electric car, boring tunnels through solid rock, or, most significantly, leaving NASA and all the private space-launch companies in his dust by landing boosters and using them multiple times.

I’m pretty sure he was once the world’s richest man. I’m also pretty sure he got tired of that honor in a couple of days. Then he bought Twitter for 44 billion (!?!??!?) and began cleaning house. Nobody said much when he tossed out all the accounts trading illegal child images. Then he began dismantling the censorship machinery that by sheer coincidence (/sarc off) had silenced only conservative voices.

OMG! Twitter is now a hellscape where people can actually disagree with me! DIsagreeing with me is physical assault! Disagreeing with me is genocide! Disagreeing with me violates one or more physical laws!

Oh, the screaming and yelling and running around in circles! Oh, the stampede to the Mastodon social network, which didn’t want them and blocked a lot of them by the serverful. Oh, the fail of all the other supposed Twitter-killers like Meta Threads, which everyone on Instagram tried (the site had basically pre-registered them) and then mostly abandoned.

Oh, the horror of our precious blue checkmarks going for $8 a month to grubby nonentities like Jeff Duntemann who don’t have an Ivy degree!

Then Elon challenged Mark Zuckerberg to a fistfight in Rome. After some taunting by Musk, Zuck agreed. When the fight will happen (assuming it happens at all, which I doubt) is unclear. What is clear is that Musk was poking Zuck with a social media stick. I don’t approve of such things, but if pressed I will admit that Zuck needed a takedown or three. After all, he either doesn’t know that people have two legs or he doesn’t know how to render them in VR goggles.

Ah—and not very long ago, our man Elon changed the name of Twitter to…X. Yeah, X. I thought it was a hoax too. But it’s not. Rumor has it that he now has a team of people rewriting X from the ground up. He may manage it, but…don’t wait up. (Think 2025.)

So…what in the living hell is Elon Musk up to?

C’mon, people! Talk about obvious: He’s having FUN!

Look at it from his perspective: He’s got (according to Forbes today) 233 billion dollars. He’s 52. He’s single. What should he do, just sit around and grow old being cussed out by half the country and much of the world? Hell, no! He’s gonna have a good time! Part of that good time is performing technological miracles like SpaceX and Starlink. I think he wants to make NASA look bad. Boy, is he acing that or what? (Yeah, yeah, ok, low bar, I know, put a sock in it.) I love to watch the videos of his boosters coming back down to Earth and landing on their tails, (like God, Robert Heinlein, and Destination Moon intended) ready to go through the big boosterwash and prepare for the next launch.

Creating brand-new wonderful things can be huge work, but it’s even huger fun. I didn’t have 233 billion dollars, so I started a publishing company. It was huge work, and wonderful fun. So I have at least a little bit of understanding of why he’s acting the way he is.

Just today I learned that he has been teergrubing (i.e., slowing down) links to major social media sites and the New York Times. All the usual screamers screamed, so a few hours later he turned the teergruber off. “Sorry, guys, just kidding!”

He is having one hell of a good time. He is also reminding his critics that he is a force and will continue to be a force, and that he can take all the the taunting and ridicule they can throw at him and giggle before giving back as good as he gets.

I don’t completely agree with him. (Or anyone else.) But having given it a great deal of thought, I’m now pretty sure that I understand him. And I have enjoyed the show beyond all expectations.

Pull up a chair. The best (and most entertaining) is yet to come.

Note well: This is a rant. (You do know what a rant is, right?) I do three or four rants a year. They are a species of entertainment. It’s kind of like doing standup sitting down. Take it in the spirit it was offered. Being offended just makes you look bad.

Odd Lots

Review: Poltergeist: Ask the Dust

AskTheDustCoverAs an indie author, I don’t pay much attention to genre anymore. I write the story I want to write, and let the genres fall where they may. I wrote “Drumlin Boiler” long before I knew what a “space western” was, but that’s what it turned out to be. Bending genres has become a thing, and I’m seeing the guldurndest categories. You may not have heard of the steampunk zombies weird western genre, and if you haven’t, I encourage you to read James R. Strickland’s Brass and Steel: Inferno. It’s a helluva good book, and you’ll never see zombies quite the same way after you’ve read it.

Well, Jim’s put his genre-bender in gear once again, and he’s given us a genre that I’ve not encountered before: the paranormal noir murder mystery. Chew on that for a moment while I caution that there is another James R. Strickland who writes children’s books like Does God have a Favorite Pet Dog? Emphatically not the same guy.

Enter Jim’s latest book: Poltergeist: Ask the Dust. 14-year-old Nina Cohen goes down with the Titanic in 1912. Her higher (mind) spirit, or ruach, flees for parts unknown. Her lower (body) spirit, the nephesh, wanders the seas, possessing sharks and other fish, eventually finds the land and arranges to be born into a feral kitten. The kitten is taken in by a young Romanian woman in Las Vegas, and becomes Viviana’s constant, affectionate companion. Viviana, however, is deeply depressed, and after a few more years puts a pistol in her mouth and commits suicide. Nina’s nephesh cannot abide the thought of losing her human, so she leaves her cat body and enters Viviana’s. Nina is a body spirit, and in a living human being the nephesh handles much of the task of healing injuries. Nina furiously works to repair Viviana’s damaged brainstem, which is complicated by still having a .22 slug in it. She does her best, but the struggle to keep the body’s heart beating and lungs breathing is ongoing. After considerable work, Nina inhabits a (mostly) functional body. Viviana is gone, leaving Nina  without a partnered mind spirit. Nina is thus a dybbuk; i.e., a poltergeist. Most dybbuks get bored, make noise, and throw things around. Nina has a body to maintain and lacks time for mischief. But she needs a job to keep body and nephesh together.

Enter Tom Fletcher, a former cop and current chain-smoking private investigator in the Raymond Chandler mode. Except…he is also a powerful occultist, and when he spots Nina at a bus station, he looks at her in the lumina (the realm of spirit and life force) and immediately knows what she is. Fletcher takes her in, moves her back to Minnesota with him, and begins teaching her how to be a private eye. Nina gets her license, and learns from Fletcher that there are some powerful advantages to being a poltergeist gumshoe who can see the lumina and the numa life force that glows within it.

That’s a lot of backstory, and peculiar backstory at that. Jim has a fairly rare talent: He can build a backstory and major universe details in bits and pieces dropped into the primary narrative, without an infodump anywhere. The story proper begins two months after Fletcher dies of throat cancer, leaving her the private investigator business and the building he owned plus all his goods inside it. A man calls her and asks her to find his son, who has been missing for ten years. Nina takes the cold case with an eagerness bordering on naivete. In searching for Mike Berg, she runs afoul of the local drug-running gang, hitmen, conniving relatives, various lowlifes in the bad part of Lakeport, and the limitations of her poltergeist talents. Poltergeist tricks like psychokinesis cost her in numa, which accumulates slowly but can be spent very quickly. She can leave her body and travel through walls to look around, but her body doesn’t breathe while she’s not in it and so the clock is ticking. Although a local Lakeport cop befriends her, Nina soon finds that there is more than mere friendship involved—and that the spirit world is a great deal more complex and treacherous than even she knew.

The background has a startling richness. Its internal consistency is one of those things you don’t always see in fantasy yarns. It isn’t abracadabra magic so much as spirit physics, with limitations implicit in its laws. The idea content is dazzling, granting that I’m an ideas guy and I love that sort of thing in fiction. Jim has a new take on physical invisibility based on the workings of the human eye and brain. Numa energy can be transferred between humans by a mechanism that sounds a lot like electrical circuitry. And a poltergeist inhabiting a body generates a lot of static electricity. Anything Nina touches that has transistors in it croaks as the junctions die. She thus uses antique dial phones and radios with tubes, and wears limeman gloves while working on her snotty AI-driven computer.

Nina’s POV has a wry if sometimes naive voice, with lots of low-key humor and affectionate flashbacks to the late Tom Fletcher’s kindness and his quirks. She is devoted to her cat Djinn as she in cat form was devoted to Viviana. In fact, there is a great deal here for cat lovers. We see the lumina universe through her inner eyes, whether the view is of great beauty or molten terror. The terror is real, and at the climax she must face and fight it at the possible cost of her very existence.

Jim has indicated that Poltergeist is a series, and he’s working hard on the second book. I’ll let you know when it appears.

It’s a wild ride. Take it. Poltergeist: Ask the Dust is the best new fiction I’ve read in a long time.

Highly recommended.