RECOMMENDED VIEWING: “Leonard in Slow Motion”

Yes, it’s a really straightforward one-gag SF sort of story executed in a “lit fic” mode (i.e., “white-people magical realism”)—but it is really completely, pleasingly executed.  Consider it the short-film equivalent of that $7 cup of coffee that you’re pleasantly surprised to discover really is worth $7.

Leonard in Slow Motion

(Also, I just love Martin Starr.  Y’all reckon he’s related to Ringo Starr or Kenneth Starr?)

Leonard in Slow Motion from Peter Livolsi on Vimeo.

Go Grab Your FREE Copy of @nomediakings’s ANGRY YOUNG SPACEMAN *NOW*!

Angry Young Spaceman was the first real ebook I ever read (on a Palm IIIx, no less). Several close pals read it at about the same time, and it had a *huge* impact on how we framed our 20s at the time. It’s a real gem, from a really swell guy (who’s now doing some really fun films, including Ghosts with Shit Jobs and Haphead; check those out, too).
No Media Kings Launched 15 Years Ago — FREE DOWNLOAD of ANGRY YOUNG SPACEMAN


It’s official! My new DIY book—Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers—will be in stores early next year. This is what I’ve been working on over the past couple years, as a follow-up to Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids, and offers a whole new slew of musical instruments and noise toys:

Junkyard Jam Band is a step-by-step guide to making a full array of complete musical projects on the cheap, no previous carpentry or electronics experience required. Each build includes tips on how to coax the best sounds out of the instrument and encourages you to mod the project to fit your own style.

Wanna Sneak-Peak?

Here are a few of the videos I shot while prototyping projects (FUN FACT: While I live in Michigan, where my DIY books are actually physically printed, my publisher is in San Francisco, and I’ve only ever met one person in the company—and I knew her from back in knucklehead days. So, these books are entirely developed and executed as a series of disjoint emails, YouTube videos, Dropbox uploads, and disorientingly time-delayed VoIP calls.)
First off is the Elephant Trumpet, which is one of the bone-simplest projects in the book, a quick goofy-fun build (that’s my nephew tooting that rubber shofar, FYI):

And here’s the prototype of the core of what ultimately became the Twin-T Phaser/Wah, one of the more complicated builds (although still pretty accessible, even to folks new to hobby electronics—one of the things we’ve done in this book with the more complex projects is broken them into modular components that can be combined flexibly, so you can level them up into more complicated instruments and effects):

We’re also including a section on improvised percussion, which I wrote based on interviews and chats with Vince Russo, who’s featured on lead vocals and washboard with the Appleseed Collective in this video (their shows are tons o’ fun; definitely check them out if they tour through your town):

Wanna Pre-Order?

In all honesty, I’m flattered—’cause it’s a remarkable leap of faith on your part, as I’m actually still drafting the copy for the last several projects (if you caught my recent tweet-of-existential-relief when I discovered that a critical failure in a circuit was just a bum switch, that was in reference to the finalized production version of the Twin-T Phaser/Wah circuit demoed above). But, for reals, there’ll be a book come my baby girl’s third birthday in 2015, so order away!
PRO-TIP: The publisher, No Starch Press, is mos def offering the sweetest pre-order deal: 30% off plus free DRM-free ebooks (the PDFs of these books are *sweet-ass*! It’s the PDF of my first book that I use as a reference when I’m building projects and doing demos.)

  • Pre-order Junkyard Jam Band: DIY Musical Instruments and Noisemakers from No Starch Press and save!
    And, of course, Amazon will hook you up:

  • PRO-TIP: RadioShack “medium replacement headphone earpads” fit Sennheiser PX-100s

    Mostly just posting this because I had to hunt a fair bit to sort this out. If the foam earpads on your Sennheiser PX-100s are shot, you can replace them with these guys from RadioShack (which are half the price of the replacements from Sennheiser):
    RadioShack Replacement Foam Headphone Speaker Pads (Medium) : Headphones |
    They won’t *look* like they’re going to fit, because the skirt on the back of the pad is tighter than what you’ll see on the blown-out foam earpads that came with your headphones. But, if you slip one edge of the RadioShack replacements on, and then work carefully around the perimeter (kind of like getting a bike tire back on the rim), the skirt will slide right into place. The RadioShack pads feel good as new, if not better.
    Incidentally, the PX-100s are *excellent* headphones (I don’t know if they’re $100-excellent–that’s the current price on Amazon–but were certainly worth the $50 I paid for mine, like, a decade ago). They are light, easy on the ears, fold into their own case–and thus travel well in your computer bag–and the sound is really nicely balanced, with good bass and clarity. The surprisingly good sound is a consequence of having an open-backed design, which means they function more like stereo speakers than headphones (important, since most music is mixed with actual sound systems, not dinky headphones, in mind). Most headphones are locked into plastic housings, which constrains how much air the diaphragms of the speaker can move. This fundamentally dicks with how you are hearing the music (since that’s all about vibrations in the air); the fact that the music is mixed to be heard on actual speakers doesn’t help. The result tends to be dead bass and muddy sound. An open-air design better emulates a speaker situation, with the added benefit (in my opinion) that it *doesn’t* block as much ambient sound (being sealed inside my music tends to creep me out; I have issues). Also, in my experience, and open-air headphone speaker is easier on my inner ear and ear-drum, since it doesn’t focus a blast of pressure waves into my skull.

    Jim Crace’s Harvest, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, the Hooptie-Jaguar Continuum, Moral Fiction, Grammarly, & Disclosures

    (Disclosure: The publisher sent me a review copy of HARVEST because I *loved* Crace’s THE PESTHOUSE so much. HARVEST didn’t hit me nearly so squarely as PESTHOUSE–largely because of my inborn anti-Anglophilia bias–but is still a great read. Slow, yes, but tense and engaging. The language is taut, and the progress as steady and terrifying as watching those videos of the 2011 tsunami rolling into Fukushima.)

    So, let’s broadly assume that a car more or less has two systems: The go-parts (engine, brakes, transmission, etc.) and the looky-parts (body shape, paint job, seats, handling, etc.) An ugly ass car with a solid engine–i.e., a “hooptie”– will get you places. You might be embarrassed to be seen in it, but it gets the job done, and in a pinch you are *always* grateful for the solid lil mule. A beautiful car with nothing reliable inside–e.g., my dad’s much mourned late-60s British-racing-green Jaguar–is lovely to look at, but frustrates you into rage when you actually try to get anything done.

    In terms of books, something like HUNGER GAMES is a hooptie: It’s a chugging little story held together by duct tape, rust, wire coat hangers, and your inability to afford something better. A lot of the more literary-influenced speculative fiction that’s hot right now (Kameron Hurley’s GOD’S WAR, for example) is on the other end: Wonderful language, evocative worlds, interesting conceits, but 100 pages in I still can’t figure out where the hell I’m going–or if the car’s even moving. I mean, I sorta don’t care, ’cause it feels pretty rad to just *sit* in a ’60s Jaguar, but that’s the thing: You’re stuck just sitting in it. (FYI, I’m 90% sure I’ve swiped this car metaphor from Joe Hill, or maybe from his dad, or maybe even both of them on separate occasions. I’m the GONE IN 60 SECONDS of concept-plagiarism!)

    Crace’s HARVEST is right in the middle–despite being pretty deep into the “literary” end of the spectrum. The language is restrained and lyric, the characters deep without being ponderous, the conceit interesting but simple–meanwhile, the story actually moves forward with grace and momentum. I never found myself up til 2am still turning pages (as I regularly do with our Lord and Savior, Stephen King–and did with Crace’s PESTHOUSE), but I was also never tempted to abandon the book. Even when I was called away for a few days (I’ve got a toddler who frequently sucks at sleeping), I was always able to drop right back into the story and characters, and glad to do so.

    Like PESTHOUSE, this novel is *also* a post-apocalypse novel, just one that happens to be set in the historically accurate past. A few weeks back a filmmaking/photographing pal of mine wondered aloud (via Twitter) if rubble was *mandatory* to post-apocalyptic dystopias (subtly bemoaning, I think, the aesthetic stagnation in this vein of storytelling). Fortunately, I can point her to HARVEST, where Crace gives us a model of a dystopian future that isn’t rooted in Rust Belt Detroit rubble, or even in the future. The world, it seems, has already ended over and over and over again.

    HARVEST is a workmanlike novel, and I say that with admiration–and the suspicion that, considering the topic and central ideas, this was a conscious choice, to craft a novel that is solid and reliable and workmanlike, as opposed to one which soars. That capacity to show the restraint due your subjects tips us off to how accomplished and masterly Crace is. All of which is to say that this book is, in a way, a sort of literary pool sharking. *Damn!* Mutherfucker played us for fools all along!

    Carrying forward with our discussion of the “hooptie-Jaguar continuum” (i.e., poorly written tales with great engines vs. beautifully crafted tales that don’t go anywhere), John Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR is a bit to the hooptie end of things. This is by no means an insult, because the story has a great little mule of an engine–it had me up late reading on many nights. Heck, it’s even a fairly good looking hooptie: the prose itself is solid and stays out of the way. It’s a Good Book(TM).

    That said, there is *a lot* crammed in there–seemingly every notion Scalzi had about war and age and distance and loss–and so the impact of any one of his really interesting, possibly intricate ideas is sorta lost in the roar (part of the reason that the novel is three-star, rather than four). The shoehorning bummed me out, since it meant that we raced right past a lot of stuff that I really wanted to explore–and that brings me around to the other reason I’ve low-starred a book that, honestly, I really, really enjoyed:
    What the Hell is this book saying about war?

    Just to clarify, it isn’t that this book is saying something about war that I disagree with; plenty of books and stories and films I’ve liked a lot argue for the nobility and necessity of Violence. Even when I find it disagreeable, I can always live with a well-formed claim, attractively presented. My beef here is that whatever Young Scalzi’s ideas of war were, they aren’t on the page in any coherent way.

    Part of the problem is that this *really* seemed like it was building towards being a statement about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I know that might sound nuts, but it seemed far from accidental that the army in the novel is the is the CDF (or “Colonial Defense Forces”)–a pretty obvious analogue (in my eyes) to the real-world Israeli army (the one every Israeli, male and female, is conscripted into), which is the “IDF” (“Israeli Defense Force”). More to the point, the position of Scalzi’s earthlings–humans as an embattled minority that needs to hack out a foothold in the Universe by any means necessary–is precisely the founding principal of the State of Israel. It just seemed too obvious a match.
    But Young Scalzi appears to have next to nothing to say about war–not in the Mid-East in the 20th/21stC, or anywhere else at any time.

    Ultimately, the most the book might be said to claim is something like “war is really bad and wasteful, but we have no alternative,” and that strikes me as nothing more than the sort of weak “giving air time to both sides” BS we see when journalists let a climate scientist speak for 5 minutes, then let a denier speak for 5 minutes, and act like the preponderance of evidence *doesn’t* all fall to one side.

    I’m not saying war is such a clear cut case. But I am saying that Scalzi fails to attempt to articulate a solid claim about the utility of war. You might counter that maybe Scalzi didn’t *want* to argue about war. Leaving aside the fundamental question (Why would you want to write a war book with “WAR” in the title and *not* argue about war?), my reply is this: It was Scalzi’s responsibility to tell us, his readers, something about war. *That’s* what this needed to be a 4-star book. Again, it didn’t need to say what *I* wanted said about war, it just had to say *something* about war. I *totally* disagree with what DIE HARD says about the Redemptive Power of Violence, but that’s easily a 4-star piece of storytelling.
    Here’s the brass tacks: If you write, and if you write well, then your stories–not history, or statistics, or day-to-day observations–are going to constitute the bulk of what forms your fellow citizens’ worldviews. Regardless of what they say, very few men and women enlist because they want to uphold the Constitution; they enlist because of TOP GUN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, “Dulce et decorum est . . .” and all that jazz.
    Scalzi–even the Young Scalzi that wrote this debut novel–is such an able storyteller, and has become over time such a Lion for Justice, that his fundamental mealy-mouthedness in OLD MAN’S WAR sorely disappointed me. In the end, saying nothing in this way is a form of cowardice. At best, then, OLD MAN’S WAR’s statement about war is sort of an implied meta-statement cribbed from Yeats’s “Second Coming”:

    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

    Interestingly, this failure to stake a moral claim seems to become more pronounced as you move toward the “hooptie” end of the Hooptie-Jaguar Continuum. HUNGER GAMES, for example, likewise seems untroubled by its disinterest in examining the presumably accidental irony of denouncing state-sponsored violence while glorifying the Personally Redemptive Power of Violence. It’s as though–as is so often the case with an actual automotive hooptie–that we get so wrapped up in keeping the car moving that we totally lose track of why we’re going where we’re going, and if going there is a good idea to begin with.

    That said, OLD MAN’S WAR left me eager to read more of Scalzi, eager to see if he’s grown more bold in staking out moral territory in his fiction–’cause that is the real battleground, brothers and sisters. Just like every writer who came before you, your op-eds and blog posts and “statements of belief” and whatever will be lost to time; it’s only the stories that’ll last, so the stories are the places where you need to make your argument.

    FYI: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because a pleasant young man flattered me, asked nicely, and offered me mild compensation in the form of an Amazon GC. Grammarly dinged me on 47(!!!) critical writing issues and gave me a failing grade (36 out of 100!) for this post. Check it out:

    So, there’s your grains of salt. (In case it seems whack, the “Plagiarism” charge is reasonable, as this post draws heavily from two book reviews I previously published.)

    Recommended Reading/Listening: “LizardFoot” by John Jasper Owens

    A cappella Zoo 3: “LizardFoot,” by John Jasper Owens – A cappella Zoo
    If there’s something not to like about this story, I frankly can’t imagine it–and the audio version is *even better.*

    Please accept my resignation as Grand White Pharaoh of the Order of Racial Purity, and the return on these here robes (enclosed) which have been patched by Missy-Bee before she run off, and dry-cleaned all the way up in Shilohville by authentic Koreans.
    As y’all know, I never quite fit in with The Order. I have nothing special against black people (except for Highsmith Jones, who beat me out for running back when we were in school, and that was more of a personal thing). Plus, I have never actually seen a Jew, but if they do control all media, I remain angry with them for taking Katie Couric off of the before-shift television, where she was good-looking to wake up to, and putting her on nights, where I have had enough of women by then.
    I have long suspected anyway I was only invited to join The Order on account of my Kingfisher pontoon, on which we all can get on to go fishing, and my extra large hog pit for barbeques. And likewise for being hitched to Missy-Bee, who has long spoke out against racial intermixing, and is Super-Grand White Squid of Paladuck County Ezekiel’s sister, and second runner-up for homecoming queen, and well-liked.
    Well I suppose y’all are wondering why I am resigning, on account of y’all have not been mean to me lately in any serious way. Well, it is the direct result of our LizardFoot con introduced in order to make money from Yankees.
    As y’all know, Yankees are stupid. . . .