Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

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Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

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"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, out now

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

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Saturday
Jul122014

My definition of satire, from Readercon

I was on a panel on satire at Readercon last night, and, in response to something my fellow panelist Him Morrow said, I came up with this definition of satire:

"The goal of satire is to describe the Emperor's New Clothes in so much detail that anyone can see they aren't there."

 

Sunday
Jul062014

Writing, and teaching writing

There are a lot of excellent teachers of the craft and trade of writing out there, particularly in my genre, fantastic fiction.  Many writer friends of mine teach writing, either occasionally, or as their main money-earning career. On Thursday and Friday I was up at Jeanne Cavelos's Odyssey Writing Workshop, in New Hampshire, where I was a guest speaker for a day.

I have always been reluctant to add that particular arrow to my professional quiver, for a few reasons.  First is the fact that there are so many dedicated, talented, and hard-working people already providing the service. The second is that I have a day job, and another skill set, in content marketing, that pays the bills, so any spare time I have I want to devote strictly to the creation of fiction. And third is probably that I did not come up through the residential workshop structure that already existed when I was a new writer, in the form of Clarion, and so have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being a free-range writer, idiosyncratic and unpolished, with no stake in the system.

Then I try something like a day at Odyssey, and have more fun than I've had in a long time. I do like to perform, and I do have opinions about the writing of fiction, and it was fun to do both with a group of interesting and intelligent people. In some ways, I am at my best when volleying ideas back and forth with other people. Ideas come to me that wouldn't emerge any other way. And, yes, I do like the idea that something I worked out with a student might actually stimulate their own ideas, and lead them to come with things they otherwise would not have.

So, maybe, I might try this more, we'll see. I do need to be careful to position myself in this market as what I really am, kind of an outlier, not necessarily trustworthy or a good example to emulate, but someone who can be entertaining and fun while being respectful of the individual needs of the writers he deals with. Call me the Crazy Uncle of writing workshops. With a well-written warning about potential side effects, I could actually be useful.

Friday
Jun132014

How big is your comfort zone?

Big news from the Gray Lady today:  even crayfish get anxious when you shock them. They become less willing to venture out and discover new worlds and new civilizations.  After being given a nice Librium, they relax right down and start getting down with exotic alien maidens....

I was just sitting around minding my own business....

The real question is, when is the menace of researchers administering electric shocks to anything that moves, and many things that don't, going to end?  I mean, look at that poor thing. They should be ashamed of themselves.

But, now that they've done it, it is another indication about how much our minds depend on relatively simple structures evolved millions of years ago, sometimes for other purposes. And those ancient creatures evolved relatively complicated ways of judging and reacting to reality. That evolutionary environment didn't contain nasty researchers with electric crawdad prods, but it contained things just as nasty.

That's a difficult thing about coming up with a genuine alien. It's not that species that's alien, its the entire lineage it comes from. The reactions come from choices made deep in the forgotten past. Once you start thinking of the complexities of that, you'll never get off the ground.

Friday
May092014

Image search serendipity

Often, when you text search a movie title for images from that movie, you see a few iconic images, images from a 70s remake, images of the actors in other movies, images from lists of similar movies, etc.  And then there are always the oddballs, images that have some matching text associated with them, but that don't have anything to do with the topic of the original search.

When I wrote my little piece on "The Narrow Margin", I of course searched on the movie title.  And, among all the various images that came up, the one below always did.

It's probably because of the margin of victory in 1916, or something, but I prefer to think that search is giving me a clue about the roots of noir, and the kind of overconfident men who think they can handle a situation that is completely beyond them.

"But I just wanted to make the world safe for democracy!"Of course, look at him enough, and he seems a lot more sinister than just the poor schnook who gets his lunch eaten by Henry Cabot Lodge. This is the man behind the guys behind the guys you think are the problem. The star of a new genre: Progressive Noir.

Monday
Apr212014

This week's arrogant rewrite: "The Narrow Margin"

Many lists of great minor noir movies includes the 1952 train-centered The Narrow Margin, where a tough cop from LA is sent to Chicago to secretly escort a mob moll, Mrs. Frankie Neal, back by train so she can testify against her husband's gang. Gangsters get on the train to find her and kill her. The movie is usually described as tight and suspenseful, and, at 71 minutes, goes by fast.

Still, I think it is overrated, for reasons I will go into.  People really like it for one thing: the performance of Marie Windsor as the moll.

"You don't like me--but you aren't going to look anywhere else."

You may remember her as the disastrously sexy Sherry Peatty, the unfaithful wife of the Elisha Cook, Jr. character in Stanley Kubrick's 1956 noir, The Killing:

A classic noir marriageWhat happens in The Killing is mostly her fault (as expected). But what is with the "noir bad girl" wig thing?  I mentioned this in my discussion of Too Late for Tears a while ago. Fortunately, the actresses compelled to wear these things were hot enough to overcome their disadvantages.

Fortunately, if Windsor's wearing a wig in The Narrow Margin, it is a good one.

Windsor does her wise-ass sparring with Walter Brown, who is as bricklike as his name, and not much of a sparring partner. He is played by Charles McGraw, who has a voice like a cement mixer. He looks and acts a bit like a slowed-down Kirk Douglas, and, what do you know, he played Douglas's gladiatorial trainer in one of my favorite boyhood movies, Spartacus.

Brown comes to Chicago with his older, wiser, more cynical partner, Gus Forbes, to to pick up Mrs. Neil. En route, Forbes asks Brown what he thinks Neil looks like. "A dish," Brown answers. "What kind of dish?" And then we get this classic description:

Translation: "girls are icky."Because who else would marry a hood? But there is a twist in the plot that brings this whole assumption into question. But that twist is not the one that is interesting.

Here at the Chicago apartment, someone is lying is wait, and as Forbes and Brown escort Mrs. Neal out, someone tries to kill her, and kills Forbes instead. Brown gets her safely to the train station, and aboard the train. There she is resentful, and he is angry, sad about his partner, but dedicated to his job. They never do learn to get along:

"I still think you're icky."After this, it's a bunch of hugger mugger, with an innocent woman with one of those annoying 50s children whom Brown befriends, and several overlapping baddies. In fact, one smooth baddy who tries to bribe Brown is then whisked off the train at a station stop and is replaced by another one who flies from Chicago by plane to totally disrupt the "we're all stuck on this narrow train" concept.  And, at one point, a car drives parallel to the train on a totally straight road for miles and miles, also messing up the isolation scenario.

The story is really about institutional corruption, not about Mrs. Neal. Everyone is compromised, particularly Forbes. If this was an actual noir, the events of Forbes's death in that Chicago apartment building would be returned to, a couple of times, as it is reinterpreted.

And Mrs. Neal should actually do manipulative, maybe even nasty things in her desperate attempt to survive. There is actually an explanation in the movie for why she doesn't, but it comes late and is just a routine movie reversal rather than something that makes you reexamine all of your assumptions about what's going on. I do like that Brown never warms to her, never likes her, and never even seems to find her hot, which shows something about him, given the fact that they have to live in such close proximity:

A mysterious man on the wall is standing between them: part of the hidden movie.Forbes was clearly on the take. Someone took him out, or he got taken out by accident. And all the playing around in the train has a deeper purpose. I actually think a lot of this was in the story originally, but was removed during rewrites, or edited out to keep the focus on Windsor, and the running around on the train. Fine, I guess, but it leaves a perfectly good noir plot just sitting around, ready to be reused.

Speaking of "running around", at several points Brown is blocked in the narrow corridor by a self-deprecating fat man, Sam Jennings:

"No one likes a fat man except his grocer and his tailor"

There's something to him, but not enough. Potentially another interesting and expanding character.

Good stuff:

Aside from some credits music, there is only ambient sound in this movie, including the portable record player Mrs. Neal plays her jazz records on.

Brown never falls for Mrs. Neil.

Given the limitations of the big cameras they had then, this has amazingly flexible camera work.

In addition to that lacy thing, Mrs. Neal shows why giving up on dresses has made our lives poorer:

No need for a negligee with a dress like this.Oh, look, her hair does look like a terrible wig here. I think I have uncovered the dark truth of noir.