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.

More here

Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

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Appearances

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"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction (upcoming)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016 (out now)

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"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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Reboot blog

 

Sunday
Feb122017

The kind of sentence I like

From Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown:

They brought home bright-colored cloaks and tunics and hose in the brilliant scarlets and leaf-greens of the alum-fixed dyes that were all the rage in twelfth-century Europe; an ell of scarlet wook sold for six times the equivalent length of undyed gray.

Alum is what is called a mordant (a lovely word that, according the Griffin Dyeworks, comes from the French "to bite"): something that gets dye to actually stick to the fabric. I love the detail because it relates to culture, fashion, and technology, and, of course, status, which depends on all of those.

The "home" here is Iceland. The subtitle of the books is "Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths". It is a biography of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th century literary and political genius who seems to have given form to a lot of what we now accept as the standard Norse myths, even as his political machinations contributed to chaos in Iceland, his murder, and the eventual loss of Iceland's independence and its rule by the King of Norway.

His era, called the "Sturlung Era" after his family, is when family and regional sagas were written down in the form we now know--13th century views of events and personalities in the 10th and 11th. Snorri seems to have written Egil's Saga, one of the longest and best known. A story does not tell itself. It says something about both the teller and the listener. The people of the contentious and threatened Sturlung Era looked back to the Saga Era and tried to understand how they had ended up where they were.

This is all research for the book I'm working on. It is not set in Iceland, but is definitely inspired by it. Brown does mention, among things, that Iceland's climate does not allow honeybees to survive. I definitely have bees in my book (growing out of my story "The Forgotten Taste of Honey"), so there you go: not Iceland.

 

 

Monday
Feb062017

Laying rails for the locomotive

Some writers are able to think of stuff while they write.

I sure can think of stuff, but it is almost always clever, glittery distractions from whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Pointless flashbacks, cool devices, elaborately describe artworks...name it, I've done it.

In order to actually write a scene, something unified in space and time that has a structure and focus and conflict and a decent ending that kicks you into the next scene, I have to already know all of those things before I actually write it. I've learned this through long experience.

And all that is hard for me, and takes a long time. Sometimes I start writing, with a good amount of planned material, and tear through it, and run out of plan. It really is like driving a locomotive off the end of the tracks. No progress, and a lot of frustration.

So I always have to make sure I've excavated, distributed the ballast, built bridges across particularly perilous obstacles, dropped the ties, and nailed the rails on before I get going.

I'm working on a novel just now (a hefty expansion of my recent novella, "The Forgotten Taste of Honey") and ran out of rails. I got to a location, looked at my notes, and realized they were entirely too vague, lacked conflict, and in general were lazy generalities. Who wrote this crap?

So I just spent almost two weeks (I'm not fast) really getting into it. Now I think I have what I need to get through it. Can I actually work ahead in enough detail to keep my locomotive from burying its nose in the mud again?

I'll let you know.

Wednesday
Feb012017

A hissy fit is not a strategy

I never used to write about politics. I didn't feel that I had anything particularly useful to say about it--no more useful than most people, anyway. But things seem...odd. Almost science fictional! So maybe my profession does give me some specific skills in viewing our current situation.

Which, no matter how things work out, people in the future will study earnestly. If nothing else, my statements here will get fed into some gigantic opinion parser. "What were the people of what was then known as the United States think on the first day of February, 2017?"

Well, here are two articles and one blog post full of useful observations and good advice for those who find themselves in this era, don't quite know how they got here, and wonder what best to do to get through it.

Everyday Authoritarianism is Boring and Tolerable

We live life day to day. All of us. We go to the store, we read stories to our children, we have dinner with friends, we rest our heads on someone else's shoulder, we get irritated with our clueless boss. That's what we do. Normal tyranny becomes...normal. As Tom Pepinsky says

The mental image that most American harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish. This vision of authoritarian rule has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.

Oppressors in movies and books wear snappy uniforms with ominous symbols on the collar. They are easy to spot.

Don't get used to things. I think that's probably the most important lesson. Remember what life in this country is supposed to be like, and hold to it.

In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Venezuela? Seriously? The lessons, sadly, are pointed.

Andrés Miguel Rondón describes here the many mistakes the sensible middle class made when trying to combat Hugo Chávez. Our befuddled and self-regarding left is already making the same ones with Trump.

Don't give up on democracy, because a lack of democracy will never be your friend, even if the voters seem crazy. Don't become hysterical and tell people all sorts of terrifying things that are not really the things anyone really worries about:

But a hissy fit is not a strategy.

The people on the other side — and crucially, independents — will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. You will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting against: an enemy of democracy.

And, finally

make every question a strategic question

Know why you're doing what you're doing, and what you hope to accomplish by doing it, both near-term and long-term. Are you just expressing your rage, despair, and befuddlement? Stay home, breathe deeply, unplug, and don't go back online until you know what the hell you are trying to get done. Have solid goals you can communicate to others? Move toward those goals, step by explicit step.

Leftists are actually arguing for political violence. Aside from the fact that is just wrong, it's also futile: do leftists think they have some kind of advantage when it comes to the use of violence? Do they own guns? Have they served in the military? Do they have a ballistic nylon bugout bag in the back of their 4x4? Do they even deadlift?

Fredrik de Boer has lost patience with these people, and he's an ardent leftist who has put in the time and paid serious dues. I never had any patience with them to begin with, because I'm a hardshell centrist. Don't Tread On Me, Vibram sole or not.

Sunday
Jan222017

We will always be the country that elected Donald Trump as President

I every much dislike someone identifying a moment as the one where "America lost its innocence". The United State is a real country, with real people in it, real people with real needs, fears, prejudices, and false beliefs. Its citizens have done many terrible things, to each other and to others. They have also done great things. That is why there is less excuse for us.

My headline comes from Jonathan Kirschner's excellent article America, America, in the LA Review of Books, where he also says "there is no happy ending to this story". (I found Kirschner's piece via Daniel Drezner's Why President Obama is the Jon Snow of American foreign policy)

I do think Trump is the human O-ring, and that we are running a real risk of permanent damage to our political system. Kirschner runs down many of the real issues that led to the rise of Trump, and the refusal of responsible people to deal with these issues. We really do have things we need to do. Serious, hard, unrewarding things that no one will really thank us for, because, despite the fact that we have become rich and free through hard, incremental work, no one seems to find hard, incremental work credible as a solution to anything.

One thing I think everyone with anxiety about what Trump will do to our future needs to do is consider the practical consequences of their actions. They should have a plan, something they are aiming at, and then ask themselves, when tempted to do something emotionally satisfying that will get some clicks and likes from people who agree with them, "is this helping us get to where we should be?"

Does claiming Trump is not a legitimate President get you a step toward where you want to be? Or does it, in fact, make the future where a coalition successfully addresses the issues less likely, because a President they campaign for is then also considered illegitimate?

I tend to support Obama in fighting cleanly and fairly. Others think any weapon in this conflict is welcome. But, again, the question: will fighting dirty help you win? And if you do "win" with such methods, can you govern, help the weak, increase freedom, increase wealth, and do a minimum of harm? Can you pass a working system down to future generations?

But, of course, we know that the important issues revolve around arguments about how many people attended various past public events.

After such an election, what forgiveness?

 

 

Saturday
Jan212017

Recent reading: Lady Susan

In her teens, Jane Austen wrote an epistolary novella. It was published decades after her death as Lady Susan. It's flawed, but entertaining. Lady Susan is a manipulative yet observantly witty, and is a dominating character--no one else in the narrative is of much interest.

It involves money and marriage, no surprise, and is no one's idea of a romance. Lady Susan tries to marry her daughter off to a wealthy but otherwise inappropriate suitor, but her plans are thrown off by her own urge to misbehave with yet another man. A good manipulator is never manipulated by her own emotions, so Lady Susan falls short of the ideal.

Whit Stillman recently turned the book into the movie Love and Friendship (named after quite a different unfinished Austen work, even though there is little enough of either in the book, or the movie). It's a chilly and austere enterprise, probably not worth seeing if you haven't read the book.

It is interesting to read, because it's always interesting to see a writer working with favorite themes but with incomplete control of technique. Since the novel is written in letters, the letters must be written to someone. So Lady Susan confides all her machinations to her friend Alicia Johnson. Alicia has no role in the narrative, save as uncritical cheerleader to Lady Susan, and is give a perfunctory background life with an unsatisfactory husband. She's a bit like a pillar in the middle of the living room put in to support to roof by an architect who hadn't figured out a way to work it into the design.

In the movie, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) keeps popping into London from the country house she is staying in to visit Alicia (Chloe Sevigny, played as American, presumably to expand the film's market) whenever she needs to talk to her, as if there's a commuter train between the two. If Alicia had been an actual part of the narrative, that would have been easier for Stillman to manage.

One thing I really like about Lady Susan is that she is a bad mom. And this is just a fact about her, not much more terrible than her other personality traits. In most fiction, being a bad mom is the worst thing a woman can be. Bad dad...well, hey, that's a hard job, no wonder us guys screw it up now and then. Lady Susan describes her daughter as a bit of a dullard. Mean, but entirely accurate, in both book and movie. She is phenomenally dull. Her only use really is to get married off so that mom can continue to live an overleveraged life.

The story feels truncated, as if Austen went on to other, more promising projects (Sense and Sensibility, originally Elinor and Marianne was apparently also epistolary in its original draft) and never got back to it. Kind of a pity. If Alicia Johnson, earnest confidante, had turned into an actor in her own right, with goals that gradually diverge from Lady Susan's, it might have been quite something. Call it Will and Idea, and scoop Schopenhauer into the bargain....

I read this for my favorite book group, where I always find myself reading something unexpected.