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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"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction July/August 2017(out now)

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

"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

 

Wednesday
Dec062017

Who cares about climate change?

Do liberals actually care about climate change? Or is it just a weapon in the eternal political war everyone seems to find so interesting?

As a good liberal, I'd like to think it was the former, but most available evidence indicates that it is the latter.

Long-time readers will know how interested I was in Washington's Initiative 732 during the election, It was a revenue-neutral carbon tax that hoped to provide a pragmatic path to carbon reduction that would appeal to the right as well as the left. Predictably, it went down to defeat, through what can only be called an unholy alliance of social justice activists and the Koch brothers. I'm still surprised that it didn't get more notice. Donald Trump really has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

Activists were concerned that the bill was just intended to reduce carbon emissions. If you really thought climate change was an existential threat of immense importance, that would seem to be a pretty good goal. But activists are politicians. They have constituencies, and need to be seen bringing home the vegan bacon. The bill's neutrality, to them, was definitely not a feature.

Now that Washington is completely Blue, there seems to be hope for a more pork-filled socially conscious carbon tax bill. One that dispenses with revenue neutrality, and focuses on visibly paying off certain key leftist constituencies, thus ensuring visible and useful resistance from the right.

A recent (not very well written or reported) article in Mother Jones, the only mention of the initiative since the election that I've found, brings us up to speed. People are talking a lot about it, but nothing seems imminent.

One group is

...looking at a policy that reduces greenhouse gas pollution, but also redirects investment into a suite of programs to promote clean energy, electrifying the transportation sector, clean water, and communities of color.

The fear of saying "we're doing the thing we think is most important first" is so universal that no progress can ever be made. And there are further problems on the horizon. No, not anything about carbon or climate (why do you keep nattering about that?) but

Native American tribes...feel the Alliance’s new framework does not go far enough and that their input wasn’t considered warned in September that they may offer a competing carbon tax ballot initiative.

People who keep talking about the "science" of global warming certainly need a lot of input from non-scientists. Those scientists and economists are just so cold and pragmatic. Always with the numbers. It's really all about the way you feel.

Now, to be clear, my frustrated rhetoric aside, Initiative 732 went down 60% to 40%. It was nowhere near close. I doubt any other bill will do better.

Still, it would have been one of those experiments the laboratories of the states are supposed to be able to perform. We would have seen its effects before we thought about rolling it out more widely.

 

 

Tuesday
Nov282017

Colonoscopy without sedation

Being old, I recently went in for my second colonoscopy (the recommended interval for those not of high risk is every 10 years, starting at age 50). The first time, I just went in without doing a lot of research, and got knocked out by whatever anesthetic they used, and came to later, woozy and sick, not remembering anything.

This time I asked for a sedation-free procedure. Everyone in the GI department at Somerville Hospital was accomodating--they clearly didn't think it was the best idea, but no one tried to pressure me out of it. In fact, everything about my experience belied the stereotype of overly busy health facilities without time for patients. The physician doing the procedure sat down, introduced herself, and talked through the procedure. The nursing staff was cheery and solicitous. They did talk a bit too much about food (this was right before Thanksgiving), and I had been on a fast for a day and a half by that point.

The procedure did hurt a couple of times. You have to pump air in (actually carbon dioxide in this case, which gets absorbed, and avoids some post-procedure pain) to get the colonoscope around bends in the colon, and that's what hurts.  It feels like an extremely bad cramp. I would relax and breathe deeply until she was around the bend. The whole thing took maybe fifteen minutes, and I could get up and leave. Plus I got to watch the ride through my smooth, pink insides ("that's the entrance to your appendix!") on the big screen.

A couple of points. The physician pointed out that some people, particularly women, have twistier colons (she knotted up her stethoscope to demonstrate). More bends=more pain. While my plots are twisty, clearly my colon is a Roman road. If you try your colonoscopy without sedation based on this account, be aware that you may feel more pain than I did, depending on your anatomy.

But the second point is more complex. How much pain do various people feel? And how does it affect them emotionally? Various staff members made remarks about how tough I was being. Everyone was genuinely concerned that I would be in pain, that I would suffer because of what they were doing.

I could have tolerated a fair amount more--a couple more bends, with a bit more pressure. How to judge when it would have been more than I wished to endure?  No one knows, the reason they were reluctant to accept that I would be fine. They did put a line in so they could give me some sedation if it grew to be too much.

Now, I regularly do things like hike, gasping, up mountains with a pack on my back, in a certain amount of pain for much of a day. And I do this for fun. That it hurts is, weirdly, part of that fun. In my younger days I often hiked with horrendous blisters. Definitely not part of the fun, but something I just took for granted. I've gotten a bit smarter since then, so that is a pain I avoid now. I do avoid pain when I can. Really.

I think it is also conditioned by your expectations. I expected a few moments of fairly severe pain, and it was a bit less severe than I expected, so it was fine. Plus, all the pain came at the beginning, as the colonoscope went in, with no pain at all in the latter part, the actual examination, as it came back out. I don't know if that's what it's always been like, but that's the perfect way to structure the experience so you remember it...well, not fondly, but with equanimity.

So, should you try it? It does hurt, no question, but really not that much, and it's really quite an interesting experience. Thought I'm certainly willing to wait another decade to have it again.

 

Sunday
Oct292017

Workshop technique: submitting an outline for review

I've been a member of the same peer speculative fiction writing workshop for decades now. In addition to the usual stories and novels, we've commented on plays intended for the stage, plays intended for historic sites, essays, and other forms of prose.

A couple of our members like submitting outlines of something they are planning to write. These pose some specific challenges to a workshop, so I thought I'd run through some suggestions on how to get the most out of your workshop if you feel like doing something like this.

First, recognize that this does impose a lot of extra cognitive work on your workshop. We're used to reading, thinking about, and analyzing completed prose works. No matter what their failures, gaps, ambiguities, and errors, we can usually tell what you're driving at, and do our best to help you move in that direction more effectively. A completed prose work is something that has actually been written with the intent of having someone else read it.

By contrast, an outline is, by definition, not meant for anyone to read. It is a guide to yourself on how to proceed. In writing it you have not done the threatening work of daring to write something meant to entertain someone else.

So you have to turn your outline into something meant for someone else to read, which is almost as much work as writing something. I've sometimes read an outline and had absolutely no idea of whether that set of events would work on the page. That's because I sometimes don't know this about my own work, using an outline I wrote myself for myself.

So: provide capsule descriptions of the characters, their roles, their goals, and their arcs. Explain not what a setting looks like, but what it feels like, what role it plays in the story. Be explicit about what is untold and suspenseful, what is obvious about a character and situation, and what revelations will come as a surprise to the characters, or to the reader.

I do this in my work as a marketing writer. I tell my client what the goal of each part is, who I am assuming the reader is, what I am trying to get them to think, and then to do. Knowing what the piece is trying to do lets them focus on the things they know about, their business, and also distracts their attention from what they would otherwise waste their time on, monkeying with the prose (that is, invariably, making it longer and vaguer).

If you do this, you'll find that you have to do a lot of extra work before you submit the outline to your workshop. Maybe you'll decide it's not worth it, and that you should just use the outline to write the damn thing. That's usually the best idea, by the way. Or you might decide that you really can't figure out some crucial things, and would really like to talk it over with the group. Give them something they can actually talk about.

A workshop is a wonderful servant and a terrible master. It is powerful, but limited. It can get cranky if you misuse it, because everyone is busy. Our workshop has survived for decades because we recognize how much everyone puts into it, and how that benefits each of us.

So, think twice about submitting that outline, and if both thoughts really do confirm that you need to do it, make sure provide your workshop with the tools it needs to do its best work for you.

 

Thursday
Oct262017

Images of the past: The Epic of Man 2

(this is my second post on images in the LIFE book The Epic of Man. Part 1 here)

Another culture the editors of The Epic of Man covered was Shang dynasty China.  Two images from that chapter particularly stuck with me.

One shows a dinner party.

"So the termite says, 'is the bar tender here?'"Everyone is having a good time, and the tradition of laughing heartily at the lame jokes of your social or economic superior is already well established. Even in my youth, I thought the exaggerated big yuks were a bit overdone.

This image of upper class socializing is juxtaposed with this one:

 How do people come up with this stuff?

All of these people are to be beheaded and then buried along with the dead notable (perhaps the same joke teller we just met) whose tomb this is, who will presumably need their headless help in the afterlife. The man looking back up at the world he is leaving particularly struck me.  I identified with him.

The painter of both of these was Alton S. Tobey, a prolific illustrator as well as a fine artist. I wonder how much guidance he got from the writer on the approach and subject matter.

THe last one, for now, shows a private area in a palace in ancient Crete:

I have no idea why I found this one so fascinating. I've never had an interest in board games.Artists always take the Cretans as looking the way they portrayed themselves: slim, athletic, and perfect. There are a couple of older people in some of the paintings, but not many, and they look really out of place. We really have little idea of what ancient Crete was like. But the climate is nice. That always makes being civilized easier.

The artist was Rudoph F. Zallinger, who did the famous Age of Reptiles mural at the Peabody Musem at Yale. He also did the original March of Progress image of human evolution, which genuinely does deserve the much-overused term "Iconic" (which now usually means just "famous"):

"Stop crowding me!"

All of thsee cultures and periods were new to me when I first looked at this book. Now most of them are much more familiar, but I still see them, at least a bit, as looking like the paintings in this book. This type of art is long gone. Books don't really do this kind of skilled artist's rendition, which is a pity. They can really stir a child's curiosity.

Sunday
Oct222017

Images of the past: The Epic of Man 1

I became interested in history almost as I became interested in anything. It's hard to point to anything in my early childhood that led to this interest, and it is not shared by anyone else in the family. Or among most of my friends, for that matter.

One early fascination was one of those big books from Time Publishing (later Time Life): The Epic of Man. It was a compilation of articles that appeared in LIFE magazine between 1955 and 1957. Back then, big middelbrow national magazines had a strong educational element, providing households across the country with history, science, and technology articles pitched at an ambitious, striving population.  I remember LIFE having a lot of those, including a series on ancient Rome and one on Russian history. My dad would cut them out for me.

Being LIFE there was a heavy pictorial element, and the resulting book shows this strongly. Many of the illustrations from this book have stuck with me. I recently did some online searching for the various images I remembered, and didn't find that much. So I went on Alibris, found a cheap used copy, and bought it. I don't have any kind of camera or scanning setup for photographing things, so I just opened up the book and took pictures with my phone, so apologies for artifacts of the somewhat casual process.

Below are a few of the illustrations that had a particularly strong effect on my childhood mind.

Sumer, and onagers

A military chariot approaches a Sumerian cityThis was, I think, my first introduction to Sumer as a separate concept. Also, the caption in the book contains the sentence "The yoked animals are onagers, a kind of Asiatic wild ass". The word "onager" thereafter had a kind of magical feel to me. When, years later, I came across a Roman catapult called an onager (supposedly because of the way that animal kicked), I felt like I was encountering an old friend. I still count onagers as among my favorite equids, even though I don't really know much more about them than I did when I read this book around age eight.

The artist was Federico Castellon, a Spanish-born artist and illustrator.

Fishing, and butts

There's a kind of covert butt in the Sumerian illustration, but elsewhere in the book, human buttocks become a prominent design element. That interested me too.

 Mesolithic Danes harvesting fish

I think you get what I mean. There are other illustrations of hot Danes of both sexes as well. I liked the idea of the fish traps across the stream, too. Seemed like an efficient way of getting your fishing done. I don't know if they managed non-agricultural sedentism, like the roughly contemporary Natufians of the Middle East (they founded Jericho) who hunted gazelles and harvested wild grains. It's easy to forget that some areas were so well-supplied with wild protein that a population could settle down and just harvest it.

I really wasn't thinking about this at the time, however. Nor did I actually read this part of the book, maybe because I was already a Fertile Crescent urbanist, something I've outgrown.

The artist was Simon Greco, an Italian-born illustrator who did a variety of LIFE magazine projects.

That's enough for today, though. More later.