Author Archives: Neal Alan Spurlock

About Neal Alan Spurlock

I write. I code. I think. I play. I create. My life is mostly make-believe. XBL/PSN: thePuck77 Steam: theePuck Also published as Neal Jansons. http://soundcloud.com/nealalanspurlock

“The War on Consciousness” – Banned TED Talk

This is one that’s been making the rounds and I wanted to share it with everyone:

Needless to say, I support the freedom for everyone to use their minds and bodies as they will. As some people know, I’m a Thelemite, and for me it’s quite simple: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Almost all of the world’s problems consist of people meddling in the affairs of others. For too long we’ve simply accepted the notion that the role of government and law is to govern our use of our own bodies and minds. This is a holdover from monarchy and “divine right” government. It creates a naturally adversarial relationship between the state and the citizen that has no place in a free society of equals. So long as this is the case, we can never truly feel like we are on the same side as our government…they feel like someone out to get us.

And of course, this makes perfect sense. Because–so far as I can tell–they are. The recent “revelations” shouldn’t be a revelation at all…it was clear what the Patriot Act and all of its precedents and descendants were going to do, each and every time they are proposed. Each time, people have “worries” and “concerns” about civil liberties. And then the law, or signing statement, or executive order goes through anyway, and people forget all about it. And it makes sense, I suppose…what are we really supposed to do? As we allowed our government to get more powerful and dangerous, we hit a certain point where, as a culture, we realized that nothing we could ever do would change the situation; if we were to continue to enjoy our “rights” and “freedoms”, it was going to be out of the kindness and honor of whoever happened to be running the government. And once that was the case, the rest has been inevitable.

Within a democracy, with a government created, controlled, and enacted by the will of the people, it makes no sense for our government to behave in any way that coerces the people unnecessarily. Note that, unlike some of my colleagues amongst the Libertarians, I do not argue that finance and economics is one of the places coercion is unnecessary. It is clear, from observations of both history and present circumstances, that people will not behave honorably about finance and economics. We might be able to encourage them to do so, but that will only work if we can all agree that doing the dishonorable thing is still dishonorable if you make a lot of money doing it. Until then, people cannot be trusted to either understand the larger economic system within which they act, or care about the results of their actions.

But people use their substances of choice and, so long as they are responsible (admittedly not as common a phenomenon as one would hope, but still the majority of people) there are seldom any issues. The hysteria about drugs is completely out of proportion to the actual damage they cause, and the moral and psychological damage of prohibiting them easily exceeds the dangers. We need to train our citizens to be personally responsible for their own behaviors, which will help everything, across the board, rather than trying–usually with no success–to use transparent lies to instill fear. The moment a kid learns to use a search engine, the lies are revealed, and trust is broken…about drugs and everything else.

The Universe Doesn’t Exist

The Big Crunch. The vertical axis can be consi...

The Big Crunch. The vertical axis can be considered as either plus or minus time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider:

1. The universe is currently considered to be bounded but infinite in time and space… while it has a particular boundary at any given moment, it will just keep going, expanding in space and time, like we are inside a giant basketball, forever inflating.

2. However, the amount of usable energy, which is what’s needed to maintain the coherence of matter as well as its content, is finite.

3. Any finite number divided by an infinite number will tend infinitely close to zero.

Therefore, the universe does not actually exist, and once it achieves a specific extension in space and time, the energy required to maintain such structures will become exhausted. This will not necessarily involve a “big crunch” in the sense of gravity pulling all matter together; the real “big crunch” would be as there was less energy to maintain the structures of reality.

So when your socks vanish forever, consider that they may have just winked out of existence and you may be next. That person you ran into downtown who knew you, but of whom you had no memory? Could have been from a different timeline that collapsed into our own because there wasn’t enough energy to maintain it. Or your timeline could have collap

Reality is as frightening as anything I’ve read or written.

Review: Too Late To Call Texas by Trent Zelazny (No Spoilers)

If only he hadn’t found the hat. Or the dead guy. Or the steamer trunk. Or the rag doll. If only he hadn’t found any of these things, everything might have been okay. But he had found them. All of them. Now Carson Halliday is on the run, trying his damnedest to keep one step ahead of a dangerous gang of outlaws and mad men. A run leading him from town to town in the dry wasteland of the southern New Mexico desert, over dark hills and dangerous plains, through shantytowns and city streets, and, most frightening of all, into the mysterious depths of the human heart.

Trent Zelazny, author and son of famous author of the Amber series (and many other fine novels) Roger Zelazny, has been on a prolific streak lately. His work differs from his father’s, of course, so those looking for the continued adventures of the Logrus and the Unicorn in the Shadow may be disappointed, but that is the only disappointment to be found in Trent’s writing. His stark, yet emotional and introspective, crossover noir is his own, in both style and content, and it works.

Followers of both my blog and published work, under both names, know that I’m not a big fan of crime novels. Oh, I had my hard-boiled period where I enjoyed the exploits of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, but overall I am a lover and author of speculative fiction in all three major branches: horror, science fiction, and fantasy. But Trent’s work is like a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with homages and tropes so thick it’s become hard to tell the difference between authors or novels.

“Too Late To Call Texas” is one of those breaths of fresh air. I want to avoid spoilers in any sense, so I don’t want to go beyond what the book advertises, itself. The tale begins with a man, Carson–not exactly a role-model, but what hard-boiled anti-hero is?–and his discovery of a hat on the side of a desert road…a hat with a bullet-hole through it. From that moment forward, Carson’s problems increase exponentially with each scene, leaving him stranded in the desert, guilty of multiple murders–all in self-defense, of course–and desperately trying to evade both the police and the criminals searching for what else he found near the hat. Over time, the real story behind what has been happening is revealed, and its narrow-minded path of destruction is contrasted heavily with Carson’s entire mode of existence. He is constantly dealing with several different factors at once, from his own safety to that of his wife and the larger elements at work around him that, for a good chunk of the novel, he can only vaguely sense or see. Those hunting him, and the very important items which he has found, however, are myopic to the level of stupidity.

This is one of the themes that I feel I can address without producing spoilers. One of the reasons I’ve never been a huge fan of noir was the rather unrealistic ways the characters act and think…the utter simplicity of their internal states seemed downright robotic to me. But Trent’s work and “Too Late To Call Texas” go another way entirely, whether it’s in Carson’s thoughts as he walks through his various trials and battles or in his interactions with his wife. And the realities of human existence aren’t limited to our hero, either…his wife, key victims of the larger forces arrayed against them, and even the descriptive language of scenes and action show a depth of concern with the realities of the human condition. None of these people are shining beacons of goodness and morality, but neither are the rest of us; humanity is a nuanced, mixed bag, and Trent does not shy away from showing us just how varied the hearts and minds of humans in peril can be.

The style is a gorgeous combination of the lushness his father’s fantasy work is famous for, while still hitting the staccato beats and fast-paced feel which is the calling card of noir and hard-boiled crime fiction. One sentence stands out perfectly as an example of what I mean:

There was nothing but the country and there was nothing in the country.

There is a sentence that punches you in the gut while still putting you into a dreamy reverie. There have been very few authors capable of hitting both notes in their work at all, much less hitting them both in the same sentence. Trent Zelazny is one of those authors, and I highly recommend “Too Late To Call Texas” and his other works, which I’m slowly devouring myself.

“Too Late To Call Texas” will be released October 31, 2012…so click the image below to get over to Amazon and make an investment in one of the best up-and-coming authors of the 21st century. You won’t regret it.

Too Late To Call Texas

I’m Changing My Name, New Poetry, and More!

Hello, Faithful Readers!

As some of you may know, I was adopted at birth and only met my real father a little over ten years ago. Over that time, he and I have built a strong bond, though I still don’t get to see him nearly enough. Because of this bond, and my desire to honor my father and his family, who have been so accepting and supportive of me, I have decided to change my last name to match his: Spurlock.

Hence, from now on, all publications will be under the name Neal Alan Spurlock instead of Neal Jansons, and my wife and I will be pursuing the legal side of the name change over time. I will eventually purchase a new domain name, and simply point it at this same site. No links should be broken.

And Speaking of Writing…

One of my newer poems is called “Sigh”, and was conceived as an answer to Ginsberg’s seminal Beat poem “Howl”. It clocks in at 427 massive lines of free verse which wends into and out of different rhymes, semi-rhymes, and meters, much like the original. Several early readers have considered it the best poem I have ever produced, and after having left it alone to get some distance, I read through it last night, revised it a bit, and think they may be right.

Now the issue is to find someone who actually wants to publish a 427 line poem. Sometimes I really feel I would have done better had I been born a century or two earlier. I recently reread the first volume of “Lyrical Ballads” by Coleridge and Wordsworth, and it made me think about how hard it would be to publish “The Ancient Mariner” today…and it made me sad.

So anyone out there interested in publishing a poem on that sort of scale? If you are, or know someone who might be, please let me know.

I Am Officially A Grown-Up…Sort of.

As some of you know already, last month I turned 35. This has always been, to me, a very symbolic age. It’s when the “young man” becomes just a “man”, and as such, I have reassessed my career, and feel as committed as ever to my writing, despite my health problems. I have several projects going on right now, and hope to have something new for you folks to read before long.

A Little Appreciation For You All…

It’s been a rough couple of years. Not only did I go from reasonably healthy to crippled for life in a very short time, but my wife has had more health issues as well. I also have had two long-term, close friends–people I had known since my teenage years–die, and two of our beloved cats have also died from diseases that were horrific and unfair.

But at the same time, I’ve also enjoyed more support from my fans, readers, and fellow scribblers than ever before. So many of you have been so helpful and gracious, and that has made all the difference in the world to me, and I want to thank you all. If not for some of you, I couldn’t have gotten through the last two years, and I am very grateful.

So going forward into the next year–and with some truly unique and interesting projects to hopefully bring to you all–I want to tell you all thank you…and stay tuned for new publications and announcements in the future!

 

She Never Slept Needs Your Help!

English:

One of my favorite sites focused on weird fiction, She Never Slept, is going through some serious financial difficulties, and could use your help. This site has featured interviews with some of the true greats of modern weird

literature, and reviews both new and old movies and books. I urge all of my readers to check out the site, and to make donations; the link for donations is on the left-hand side of the page and says “Support SNS” (I can’t just give you the link because there is no separate page.)

Please support weird literature and art: support She Never Slept!

Attitudes Within Artistic and Literary Communities

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 12:  Jars of peanut butt...

WE DON'T MAKE THIS STUFF (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I was having a conversation with Ted E. Grau and Simon Strantzas on Facebook and it led to a comment I wanted to explore. I believe that artistic and literary communities benefit the most by having an attitude that is free of capitalistic overtones. For example, authors should not see each other as being in competition. There is an purely economic reason for this, and there is a philosophical reason behind this. I know I will need to provide both, because not everyone is quite the idealist that I am.

Economic Reason

The stories we produce are not normal “products”, in the sense that no one else can ever write the same story for a lower price. In a very real way, every story, poem, or other work of art is priceless, because it is unique…there is no way for me to offer Mike Davis, the head honcho over at the Lovecraft Ezine, Joe Pulver‘s newest short story for a lower price. I can write a story with the same plot, and even the same characters (if Joe told me about the work first), but I can’t actually offer the same story without simply plagiarizing the story. Instead, I can offer my story, which is necessarily going to differ from Joe’s story.

Because of this, art has always enjoyed an odd status in the economic world. You see a single painting by a famous artist being sold for $15,000 and a single painting being sold by a guy on the side of the street for $15. This kind of variation will often have nothing to do with quality in any kind of objective way; many people may consider the sidewalk artist’s work to be consistently better than the famous artist. Instead, the pricing on work that people want goes up vastly, while almost all unknown artists work is often unsellable at any price at all. There is no relation between the prices of the two works. It doesn’t bring down the price of the famous artist’s work when the street artist sells a painting at all. If everyone and their dog started painting tomorrow, it would not bring down the quantity demanded for the famous artist’s work at all, but if everybody and their dog started flooding the market with peanut butter, the price would have to go way down to draw the now very low demand.

So when a new artist or author comes onto the scene, it does NOT truly affect the artists or authors who were already there. There are various fame-games within the fields, instead, and these are incredibly unpredictable using normal economic models. No matter how good a jar of peanut butter was, or how few the maker of that peanut butter made, or whether the creator of that peanut butter is now dead…none of that decides the price of the jar of peanut butter. So long as it reaches a base level of quality, below which people won’t buy it, the price is instead determined by a function of the demand for peanut butter and how many other creators of peanut butter are in the market. The competitors will have to undersell each other until they reach a point where they can just barely make a profit. This can only happen because all peanut butter is basically equivalent. This cannot happen with art of any kind, because all art is a unique good, a product that can only be produced by one person one time (though it can be copied after that…we’re talking about selling publishing rights, too).

So when an editor is deciding whether to buy your story or not, they are not comparing it with other stories in the same way as a shopper compares two brand of peanut butter. They can’t. Instead they are buying it or not based on a lot of factors. Some of these factors, such as name recognition, overlap with normal products, but most, such as the quality and content of the work, doesn’t. So while it helps us immensely to improve our own work as much as we can, it doesn’t help us to try to limit our competition.

Philosophical Reason

We are artists. We perform a mysterious and amazing function in the world. A book can change the prevailing culture. A painting can change a person’s life. So long as the artist is sincere, they are sharing their perspectives in a way that can never be taken over by so-called “normal” products. Historically, artists had patrons or were independently wealthy. Together with science, the work of writers, thinkers, and artists was shared with the world through various means, and that work literally shaped our world, bringing about the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Modernity, and Post-modernity.

In light of all of this, and in light of the fact that the greatest of us are often not commercial successes within their own times, it seems to me that we simply can’t afford to allow any authentic art or literature to be silenced, and that is exactly what happens when we treat other members of our communities with hostility and competition. None of us can be sure which story or book or painting or statue or song or whatever will be the one that raises someone up and inspires them. All of us are necessary. While it is true there is plenty of what we would call derivative or cliched work going on out there in every field right now, it may very well be that representation of what we consider a cliched trope or device that survives the test of time. Any one of us could be the next Kafka or Van Gogh, and that means that we can’t play prima donna, we can’t play competition games. We need to instead help and encourage each other. We need to maintain the ideals of our community.

A scene is never so small that it can’t accommodate a new member. A scene is never so complete that it won’t be enriched by a new member.

Living up to my own words

I want to help support each and every artist, writer, and small publisher out there. Look at my blogroll to the left, and if your link, or the link of your publisher, isn’t there, please let me know.

People Who Get Trapped and Typecast

Actor Brent Spiner at the Big Apple Convention...

Actor Brent Spiner at the Big Apple Convention in Manhattan. Photographed by Luigi Novi. This photo may only be used if the photographer is properly credited. (See Licensing information below.) Category:2009 Big Apple Convention Category:Brent Spiner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Brent Spiner has a new web-series going on called Fresh Hell. It’s fun and self-deprecatory, and it made me think about how actors, musicians, authors, even painter, sculptors, and other artists can get completely trapped in a given genre, or ever worse, a specific part.

It’s really one of the most unfortunate things I can think of, and definitely affects my reasoning when I’m planning a new story or poem, or even a non-fiction piece or blog post. In the first couple of years after I got out of school, I did a LOT of non-fiction, freelance writing all over the place. Some of it paid better than others, but all of it paid me something. I’m not ashamed of it, or unhappy that I did it, that’s not the issue. I was fresh out of school and able to pay the bills writing (this was before the economic crash), so I’m not complaining. I even got to create the whole in-game universe, quests, and backstory for a video game (though it will probably never launch), and that was fun, if frustrating work. The issue is that since then, I get weird emails from people who want me to do copywriting, software reviews, or technical writing, which is work I just don’t want to do anymore. I know some people who’ve written erotica, the cheap paperbacks that are basically collections of Penthouse Forum stories, and I feel even worse for them. They are stuck, and often are forced to take on a pen name to publish anything else.

So I started thinking about that, and it made me think about all the different artists all over the world who feel like they can’t put out what is truly inspiring them at the moment, due to financial situations. Some people, like Stephen King, have transcended their original work in such a way that he can, essentially, write a cookbook and still get a bestseller. And good for him, he earned it. But for people lower than that level of the totem-pole, there are expectations that you will continue to do whatever you’ve done in the past, regardless of why you were doing it. Nobody dreams of ghostwriting corporate how-to books on “dealing with millennials in the workplace”. We do it for the money. My wife was just starting grad-school and I was fresh out of school, and writing stuff like that was my version of waiting tables.

And no other profession in the world has this sort of expectation, this sort of trap. My first job was collecting carts in the parking lot of a Super K-Mart, but when I talk to old friends from my home town, no one says “Oh, you’re a writer? I would have thought you were still wrangling carts. What happened?”. No one ever says “Oh, I thought you were still washing dishes at Denny’s!”, it just doesn’t happen. No one expects an explanation, they expect that those kinds of jobs are things you do because you have to, and a change (unless it’s towards not doing anything at all) is fine.

Now, someone could say “That’s fine, but those are crap jobs. Of course no one wants to bus tables as a career.” But nobody gives people who switch careers crap, either. My father-in-law, the wonderful David Gilbert, was a lawyer and now is in real estate…no one ever gives him crap or calls him a sell-out or uses that knowledge to try to undermine his current career.

Yet in the arts, ANY change is problematic. I remember when I was a teenager, we found an old Pantera record, from their early hair-rock days, in this second-hand shop, and my friends made fun of it and some of them ended up thinking less of Pantera because that was in their past. Any actor or actress who is at all successful in a given role will simply not be allowed to do anything else…to this day I hear Sarah Michelle Gellar referred to as Buffy, and even though Bones has been on for years, people are still calling David Boreanaz Angel. Musicians aren’t allowed to change their genre of music, and inevitably fans will freak out if any range of creative expression appears at all.

One explanation of this phenomenon may be the nature of art itself. People often feel as though once something is created and put out there, it “belongs” to the fans. Perhaps, for some people, the artist themselves are felt to “belong” to the people who see/hear/read/etc the art. It seems to be the only explanation, because not only do fans punish artists who diverge, agents, publishers, producers, and all of the other middle-men of the arts sometimes literally won’t let someone break out of their own established niche. Brent Spiner never gets to be anyone else except Data because the industry won’t let him, and the industry won’t let him because they believe his fans won’t let him.

In an effort to avoid typecasting, we have lost two Doctors from Doctor Who, and it remains to be seen if it will work. While the remake of Fright Night was no cinematic gem, that wasn’t David Tennant‘s fault, yet again and again I heard things like “he should stick to Doctor Who”. Not “Hollywood would sell us a lump of shit and tell us it was cobbler”. Not “what is with people selling me my childhood 20 years later at three times the price and half the quality?”. Instead, little snippy remarks about how David Tennant should have stayed in his box.

It’s one of the truly sad aspects of the modern world. The world seems to expect artists, of any type, to be like a machine that makes a certain kind of product, forever and ever, until the machine falls apart. But artists are like anyone else, and sometimes they change, their feelings change, they get new influences, or want to explore some different territory, and unlike the accountant who decides he wants a change, the artist doesn’t have to “quit”, they can just change. They can change mediums, genres, whatever, and while those changes are sometimes just to increase their commercial appeal (I’m looking at you, Metallica), usually the changes are because the artist in question is growing, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Rant finished. Don’t forget to check out Brent Spiner’s new web series, Fresh Hell.