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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Appearances

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

"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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Monday
Apr072014

Fat Boy's Folly

In college I wrote a story called "Fat Boy's Folly" to entertain my friend Bill. I don't actually remember what the story was about, but Bill later put that title on the weight track sheet he had on the wall above his scale. Somehow, though, I don't think I could have competed with Weight Watchers with that title for a business. Tough Love for the Tubby. Nah, that wouldn't work either.

A couple of nights ago, Marilyn, Sherri and saw a more recent version of Fat Boy's Folly, this time called The Whale, at the SpeakEasy in Boston. As it starts, an immensely fat man (actually a normal man in an impressive fat suit) sits in the middle of disgusting piles of old takeout containers, running what sounds like a fairly typical and boring online class where students write meaningless essays about great literary works. Who these people are, why they take this class, and how it works never quite becomes clear.

Class over, the fat man puts on some gay porn, masturbates, and almost has a heart attack. This lets you know you're in a modern work of art.

Then, various people pop in an out of his house: a Mormon missionary with a hidden agenda, a nurse who has a weird affection for this carcase, and a wittily obnoxious long-lost daughter. Later on, ex-wife and mom shows up.

There is a kind of plot, but it's more an actor's play, with some nice scenes, and a bit of a sitcom pace. Mormonism comes in for some whacks (is it really the easiest religion to make fun of?), particularly about its intolerant spirituality. As usual, a gay relationship has some extra oomph that a regular heterosexual relationship wouldn't have, at least to the kind fo audience that goes to a play like The Whale.

There is a cute essay about Moby-Dick that gets read over and over until you realize where it came from at the end. That is cute too, but is paced to seem like some kind of deep revelation.

Overall, not a wasted evening at the theater (Boston has a lot of those, as we know), but not so great either. But the fat suit is pretty amazing.

 

Friday
Nov292013

WhyKly?

People who don't like doing something often try to "improve" it, that is, make it more into something they think they might like more.

Bicycling is a perpetual target for people like this.  They say that the problems with commuter bicycling are sweat, the clothing, the physical effort, the exclusivist attitude of those who already do it. Usually they come with some way to make bicycling more like a form of transportation they recognize. This usually means adding a motor.

The latest overhyped entry in this field is the FlyKly, a powered bicycle hub you can control with your iPhone. If that last part doesn't seem to make sense, since a handlebar control would be easier, you don't understand how important it is for people to think there's a reason they own those phones. The linked HuffPo article has all sorts of absurd reasons why using a phone to control your bike's speed is "smart", including the fact that it can suggest routes that are "more fun" and help city planners establish bike lanes.

As attempts to make bicycles into something motorized, and thus real transportation, go, the FlyKly is fairly reasonable.  The hub weighs nine pounds, which is not bad.  I don't believe the claim that it can push you at 20 miles an hour for up to 30 miles on a charge, though.

They never show the derailleur side. So unkempt, like bicyclists themselves.

How many people would bike to work with an electric assist who wouldn't without it? I suspect the number is small. The roads are still dangerous, and your bike can still get stolen. But one of the pleasures of bike commuting is the physical part of it. It feels good to get to work under your own power. But then I already do it, and so am not the target of this product.

On another note, there is the flying bike, debuted in Prague:

Yes, that's a dummy. Right now, real people are too heavy, and too sane.

This thing weighs 190 lbs, has six rotors, and requires 47kW from its hefty batteries. Just for comparison, a bike at 9 mph takes around 30W.  Could you get a person on it if there was a pedal assist? This is more something for a movie, to help the main character escape unexpectedly from pursuers, than a really useful thing, but I can see how much fun it must hav been to create it.

Pity the poor bicycle. It's a marvel of subtle technology, though always subject to improvement.  A human on a bicycle is the most efficient vehicle available, and uses our own muscles optimally. And yet, it gets no respect from most people. That's kind of fine with me. Things are getting crowded enough out there without people coasting along on electric bikes.

Friday
Nov222013

Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy

That's actually a listing of presidents following Nixon in a history lesson in 1975's post-apocalyptic teen sex comedy, A Boy and His Dog, based on the Harlan Ellison story (and featuring a talking telepathic dog that could be the reincarnation of Ellison himself). Probably not worth seeking out, though I enjoyed it at the time.

But it could be an account of the last couple of weeks of news.  My teenage son asked me if some spectacular new piece of information had surfaced about the assassination, thus justifying the enormous amount of coverage. I had to say that no, there hadn't been. It was a generation mourning itself.

I don't mean to be flip. It was, after all, a tragic and significant event. I just found the focus to be a bit relentless.

Still, a couple of interesting things did appear.

One was this recording of Erich Leinsdorf making the announcement of the assassination to a stunned Boston Symphony audience, and then launching into an impromptu performance of the funeral march from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

 This is my music. I still remember my parents buying me an LP of a Bernstein/NY Phil recording, with this cover:

Three heavyweights

I've owned a number of recordings since then, but I still remember the pleasure with which I listened to that one. In context, that funeral march is extremely moving, though that may seem odd for someone who grew up outside the context of European concert music. I wonder how many people still remember that particular performance at Symphony Hall?

The second is an eerie HD version of the Zapruder film, which Kottke says was made by someone named Antony Davison, though I see no other references to him online.

A friend who lived in the Soviet Union as a child in the 1960s once told me that there was a TV show there about the United States that played the Zapruder film repeatedly as its opening credits. This is probably the most intensively analyzed 26 seconds of film ever shot, and it still has the power to shock.

Tuesday
Nov192013

Tom Perrotta's "The Leftovers", and the question of genre

Last night one of the book groups I belong to discussed Tom Perrotta's most recent novel, The Leftovers. One of the things I wanted to talk about how you can tell a science fiction writer did not write this book.

Now, I did stay away from a point like "it's too well written".  But it is really wonderful to read, sharply observed but not show-offy, and focused on really daily events. Which is part of the point, because the book takes place a couple of years after a large number of people disappeared in what the remaining people are reluctant to call The Rapture. The leftovers need to deal with the vast irrational absence, the disappearance of people they loved, or even didn't care for all that much, but who in retrospect mattered a great deal.

There are cults and obsessions, and that is definitely something a science fiction writer would focus on. But one thing that pretty much any science fiction writer would be interested in is whether the people who vanished had anything in common with each other. Was there any feature they had in common? Does anyone run the numbers? Aside for a toss-off comment about the seemingly unusually large number of TV chefs who were taken, no one seems particularly interested in the question. Aliens are never suspected.

And that's a good choice. Perrotta is interested in the Leftovers, not the Absconded. How do you live your life in the new world? That's the important question.

I just know, if I was writing this, I would start to focus too much on those who left, why, what happened, what we can learn about it, what it says about God and physics. And while that would interest the science fictional mind, it would not be the crystalline work that it is.

And I did have a Rapture-related story in mind, and it did focus on those who left, in fact about the very mechanism of their leaving. Seems silly now. But I am, after all, a science fiction writer, so I might end up writing it after all.

Meanwhile, I need to read some of his earlier books, which I know only through movies. Fun stuff. CHeck it out.

Sunday
Nov172013

City life: what's a "parklet"?

There was a story in the Boston Globe this morning about an experiment with "parkets": parking spots along a street converted into tiny parks.  Surprise news in the story: no one is using this unexpected urban amenity.

Take a look at this picture and see if you might be able to figure out why no one would come and sit down here:

Does my butt look like an arrow to you?Who in the world is supposed to ever sit here? Even assuming the location makes some kind of sense, the space looks completely uninviting, and the seats positively hazardous. Two people can't possibly sit together without rolling off in opposite directions. Designers keep getting too clever with things like this.

Assuming there actually is a demand for a small area along the road to have a sit and meet some neighbors (not necessarily true), I'd say the first change would be to provide comfortable seating that looks inviting. Then make sure a food truck is stationed next to this every day, so it gets a lot of use.

All of us who live in cities want to make them fun and inviting. But cities evolve best by watching what people already do voluntarily, and making it more comfortable to do that. Community meetings aren't as useful as might seem, because people always claim they like to do things they think they would be better people for doing, and then never actually do, no matter what the streetscape. "I want to talk about community affairs with neighbors of ethnic groups different than my own in a convenient location along a major thoroughfare". Well, maybe.

If these areas of town are anything like Cambridge, turning these spots into bike parking lots would have the biggest positive effect. The bike parking situation is murder!

It's good that the Globe covered this not-so-exciting story, though, because it's at this level that life is really lived. The best way to improve is to see what actually works and what doesn't.