Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Sunday, March 28, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
It's come to my attention that a few folks have been insufficiently creeped, weirded, disturbed, freaked, frightened, terrified, or just plain disgusted by the idea and behavior of parasites, especially ones that demonstrate the nasty habit of affecting their host's behavior. Never one to disappoint, I'm here again -- lucky you -- with some further examples of how nature isn't just playful puppies and frolicking kittens.
This time we're going to be bouncing around a bit, so keep your trays in the upright position. Parasites, you see, aren't the only living things living in other living things. In fact there is a whole world of organisms that take up residence in us and other creatures that are all but guaranteed to make us rethink the idea of what it means to be "alone."
Before we get to the exotics let's visit the deep blue sea again and another parasite. This one didn't get mentioned the last time around because although Cymothoa exigua is a perfect example of a creature taking advantage of another creature it doesn't immediately make its host do anything it normally wouldn't do. But that doesn't make it any less ... well, you'll see.
Your hand is your hand, right? Your foot is your foot, correct? No one snuck in during the night and replaced them, lopped them off, and exchanged one or the other with something else. You're lucky, because if you were a fish then that might not be ... not your foot or your hand but rather your tongue.
Cymothoa is a crustacean that, while as a larvae, enters a fish's gills and makes its way to the mouth where is latches onto the tongue. No, it doesn't stop there. Yes, it gets worse.
Ready? Here we go: cymothoa then methodically eats the fish's tongue, chewing it up until there's nothing left but a little stub. But this crustacean isn't in it for the short term, just a snack of tongue and then onto the next unlucky fish. Instead, the crustacean hangs in there for the duration: Cymothoa becomes part of the fish, joining its host as a surrogate tongue. It spends the rest of its little crabby life feeding when the fish feeds, and the two of them go along swimmingly through life.
If you think that's bad, let's talk about sex.
Marlene Zuk, with the University of California, Riverside, has an interesting theory, and it's a whopper. First, let's talk evolution, let's chat survival of the fittest: the critter that breeds the most passes the secret of its success along to the next generation while the ones that don't have a leg-up die off. This is true of every critter on the earth, including us as well as bacteria.
Even bacteria like syphilis. For those who didn't see the film in high school, syphilis is what's commonly called a social disease. You catch it if you sleep with someone who has it. The good news is that it's treatable and really isn't a big deal anymore.
The bad news is that it's evolving with the rest of us, and according to Dr. Zuk, syphilis is working to make us better looking -- or at least not looking sick.
Think of it this way: dumb disease acts up, makes itself known. We spot it, we cure it, and it dies. A smart disease works to keep itself quiet, so we don't know we have it and so it doesn't get killed -- and so we pass it along. What I want to know is how long it'll take for the bacteria to take the next step: if it wants us to pass it along why shouldn't it work not just to make us less infected but rather more attractive? Give it time ... give it time ....
Let's go one step beyond parasites, when an organism doesn't merely look for a free ride but becomes such an integral part of the host that the two basically become one. The cell, the smallest part of any living thing -- excluding viruses, if they qualify as being alive -- began as individual protobacteria that figured out, over a very long time, that working together was better than swimming along through primordial soup. That happened before and it's still happening now.
Behavior can be affected by parasites, creatures can take over parts of other bodies, bacteria have developed to be more easily spread, but we are ourselves, right? We own our biological domain, correct?
Sorry but that's not true.
There are approximately 100 trillion cells in the human body. They make up our feet, our hands, our faces, our minds: blood cells, skin cells, brain cells, etc. That's a lot of cells.
But there are more of them than there are of us. They live even between our cells, in our guts, our mouths, our blood, our skin, and even in our brains. Conservatively speaking, there are are ten times as many bacteria – more than 100,00 species -- in our bodies than there are human cells. Some of them are invaders, sure, but many of them are symbiotic: they can't live without us and we can't live without them. We live together in - mostly - biological harmony.
You are reading this. The words appear like a voice in your mind. But do they? Living in you, mixed with your human cells, are those tens of millions of bacteria. Are they listening in, wishing you would read something much more interesting or are they, somehow, adding their own tiny opinions? Where do you start and they stop?
I know: that's a lot to think about. Let's take a walk, let some of this heady stuff float around in a brain that may or not be only yours.
Oh, look; it's snowing. Isn't it nice? All those little flakes floating down from the sky: ice crystals supposedly unique. There's a whole world in each of those little things. Weather, chemistry, geometry, physics, and – I hate to tell you this -- biology.
They are all around us and, they outnumber us. And they are falling from the sky. Researchers recently discovered that snowflakes are snowflakes not just because of cold temperature and water vapor. According to these scientists a snowflake has needs. It has formed a kind of biological/chemical symbiosis with the very creatures that outnumber you in your own body: bacteria.
That's all for now, but that's not all there is. Go on with your day, your life, just remember one important little thing: you are never, ever, alone.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Let's see. Vampire bites man. Man becomes vampire. The biter and the bitten are in love. Must be a gay vampire novel. But not just another gay vampire novel. RUNNING DRY is, yes, about vampires. Hardcore vampires. Unless they're passing along the vampire gene, they don't just sip blood - they suck out every sweet empowering ounce of a body's bodily fluids, leaving behind but a dusty husk. Christian, author of hundreds of acclaimed short stories and editor of many fine anthologies, has crafted a brisk combo of decades-arcing romance, contemporary suspense thriller, and original horror story - Doud, the vampire longing for the lover he thinks he's lost forever, is a mysterious artist whose every painting is daubed with the blood of victims he's had to kill in order to survive, a spooky kind of homage. This is a rip-roaring read that ought to come with this warning: don't read the last page before starting the first, then devouring the rest. The book's ending is a shocker, as lives end and another begins. Enough said.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
We like scientists. We really do. After all, without them – and the scientific method – we’d still think lightning was Zeus hurling thunderbolts, the sun was an enormous campfire, and the earth itself was balancing on huge turtles. Without science we’d be ignorant troglodytes – too stupid to even know that we’d evolved from even simpler life forms.
Yep, we love science – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare us. After all, when you’re dedicated to cracking the secrets of the universe it’s kind of expected that sometimes, not often, you might crack open something a tiny bit … shall we say … dangerous?
The poster child for the fear that science and engineering can give us – beyond Shelley’s fictitious Frankenstien, of course -- was born on July 16, 1945, in New Mexico. Not one to miss something so obvious, its daddy, the one and only J. Robert Oppenheimer (‘Oppy’ to his pals) thought “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Bhagavad Gita – but Kenneth Bainbridge, the Test Director, said it even better: "Now we are all sons of bitches."
Sure, the Trinity Atomic Bomb Test -- the event that began the so-called atomic age, leading to our now-constant terror that one day the missiles may start to fly and the bombs begin to fall -- was the first, but since then there have been all kinds of new, if not as flashy, scientific investigations that could be ten times more destructive. In other words, we could be one beaker drop from the destruction of the earth.
Naturally this is an exaggeration, but it’s still fun – in a shudder-inducing kind of way – to think about all these wildly hypothetical doomsdays. Putting aside the already overly publicized fears over the Large Hadron Collider creating a mini black hole that immediately falls to the core of the earth – eventually consuming the entire globe – some researchers have expressed concern that some day we may create, or unleash, a subatomic nightmare. The hunt for the so-called God particle (also called a Higgs boson), for instance, has made some folks nervous: one wrong move, one missing plus or minus sign, and we could do something as esoteric and disastrous as discovering that we exist in a metastable vacuum – a discovery made when one of our particle accelerators creates a cascade that basically would … um, no one is quite sure but it’s safe to say it would be very, very strange and very, very destructive. Confusing? Yep. But that’s the wild, weird world of particle physics. It's sometimes scary. Very, very scary.
A new threat to everyone on the planet is the idea of developing nanotechnology. If you've been napping for the last decade or so, nanotech is basically machines the size of large molecules: machines that can create (pretty much) anything on a atomic level. The question – and the concern – is what might happen if a batch of these microscopic devices gets loose. The common description of this Armageddon is "grey goo." The little machines would dissemble the entire world, and everything and everyone on it, until all that would be left is a spinning ball of, you guessed it, goo.
Another concern for some folks is that, for the first time, we’ve begun to seriously tinker with genetics. We’ve always fooled with animals (just look at a Chihuahua) but now we can REALLY fool with one. It doesn’t take a scientist to imagine – and worry about – what happens when we tinker with something like ebola or, perhaps even worse, create something that affects the reproduction of food staples like corn or wheat. Spreading from one farm to another, carried perhaps on the wind, this rogue genetic tweak could kill billions via starvation.
And then there’s us. What happens if the tweak – carried by a virus or bacteria – screws not with our food but where we’re the most sensitive: reproduction? Unable to procreate we’d be extinct as few as a hundred years.
While it’s become a staple of bad science fiction, some scientists see it as a natural progression: whether we like it or not, one day we will create a form of artificial intelligence that will surpass and replace us. Even putting aside the idea that our creations might be hostile, the fact that they could be better than us at everything means that it would simply be a matter of time before they go out into the universe – and leave us poor throwbacks behind.
There are frightening possibilities but keep this in mind: if something does happen and it looks like it’s going to be the End Of The World As We Know It, there is going to be one, and only one, place to turn to for help: the world of observation, hypothesis, prediction and experiment.
In other words, we’d have to turn to science. They would have gotten us into it, and only they will be able to get us out.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I am a somewhat disillusioned fan of vampire fiction. I have a few hundred vampire books and have read a few hundred more than that. The days when I would buy a book just because it was vampire fiction are long gone given the sheer quantity of them out there and the average quality, which seems to sink every year. In the last week I just happen to have read three vampire books over the last week or so and this one, 'Running Dry' by M. Christian, made me think: Oh, right. This is what I loved about vampire fiction all along.
And I should probably make clear is that we are not talking about bats, tuxedos and mock-European-accent type vampire cliches here. The very essence of the vampire mythos is having to take something from someone else to live, take so much that they die. That is the monster inside the man, that is the dilemma. Modern vampires who have immortality, angst and superpowers but no real down side to their state pale in comparison to this.
The basic story is about Doud, a conflicted man trying to reconcile what he needs to do to live his long life with his respect for human life. Shelly is his friend, a middle-age gallery owner who has to confront a few of her own personal demons when she finds out what Doud really is. And finally the story starts with the return of Doud's old lover Sergio who had every reason to want Doud dead. The kind of creature Doud really is would take a little long to explain. He needs to feed off others but his nature springs from the author's unique vision and has none of the surface features of the stock blood-sucking monster.
There really is very little to complain about in this book. I do think some of the events in the last third of the book could have been described at more length to help us setting into the twists and turns and to add pathos to the ending which could (should?) have had more emotional impact. But this is a quibble. The characters are likeable without being particularly heroic or virtuous (like real people). The story pulls you along with something new unfolding in every chapter. More than anything the writing is effortless to read, so it is more like watching the story through a window than wading through a swamp of words (this being the greatest difference between this book and the others I read this week). Based on my experience of M. Christian's writing so far (this book and his anthology 'Filthy') my main advice is this, if a book has his name on it you should buy it.
If you like fiction with gay themes their presence here is a bonus, but the reason to buy this book is because this book is good.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
People are even more shocked when they hear that not only do I have a job but that it's driving a truck for an organic mushroom company. It's a pretty good gig in many ways: all the mushrooms I want, plenty of exercise, and lots of time to think. But as I drive I can't help but think about two of my favorite flicks: Roadgames and The Wages of Fear. So the next time you're driving around, and a truck passes you buy, think nitroglycerin, Aussie serial killers, or (maybe) me.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
You know the El Rio? Down on Cortez? Well, I’m not surprised; I’d be surprised if you did. It’s not exactly what you’d call a memorable ‘establishment’. Nothing, really, but a cinder block bunker in the middle of a red-dust parking lot. Hell, you wouldn’t even know it was a bar except for the pieces of neon in the black, narrow strip of window. It didn’t even say ‘El Rio’ anymore — so maybe you know the ‘E___io?’ down on Cortez?
Whatever. It was the dive of dives, the black hole of Paris, Texas; frequented, as far as I know, by alcoholic kangaroo rats and inebriated rattlers, or at least the two-legged equivalents.[MORE]
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Futures-Past Publisher Jean Marie Stine announces the publication of M. Christian's e-book collection Love Without Gun Control & Other Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction Stories.
The collection features "the cream of Christian's fantasy, horror, and science fiction stories. Only M. Christian could have imagined what happens when a boy's uncle blows Tibetan days powder in his face, or when a woman gave birth to a new species… but not one of flesh and blood, or when the Goddesss of the Road gave the gift of beauty to a mortal man." Some of the stories in this book first appeared in Talebones, Space & Time, Skull Full of Spurs, Graven Images, Horror Garage, and Song of Cthulhu.
"Some Assembly Required"
"The Rich Man's Ghost"
"Buried & Dead"
"Nothing So Dangerous"
"Constantine in Love"
Christian is an author of erotica and speculative fiction, and the editor of more than 20 anthologies. Futures-Past has been publishing contemporary and classic science fiction, fantasy, and horror in ebook form since 2001.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Here's a teaser. You can, of course, read the whole thing here.
If you don't know the name M. Christian, then you're really not reading enough, now are you? The San Francisco-based scribe is a writer, anthologist, editor, blog-ist in contemporary genre fiction, with a heavy emphasis on cross-genre dirty stories and anything else you can name. I got lucky enough to catch up with the gregarious Mr. C. during one of his usual busy writing days.
In your bio you're listed as an anthologist, writer, editor . . . which are
you first and foremost?
Oh, I'm very definitely a writer. While I like to edit anthologies, because it's fun to play with weird and wild themes, I'm first and foremost a writer. I find myself dreaming and thinking in stories, dialogue, narration . . . I've got it bad, man!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Shelly manages an art gallery in Los Angeles, a job that's lost its appeal for her. A handsome stranger comes in and asks for contact information for an artist who had a showing in her gallery a year before, Doud. The stranger claims he wants Doud to work as an artist director for a horror film, but Shelly is leery of giving out Doud's private information, so she pretends she's lost it.
When Shelly takes the stranger's card to the reclusive Doud's apartment, Doud panics and forces her to flee with him to Bakersfield. On the way, Doud tells Shelly that he's a vampire, and that the man who was looking for him was another vampire, a dangerous ex-lover named Sergio whom Doud thought dead.
Shelly has a hard time accepting Doud’s story. But when they arrive at Doud's secret house in Bakersfield, a mindless new vampire has been left there as a warning to Doud, and to deliver a message. Doud fights the vampire, killing it. He wins, but the combat has drained his energy, bodily fluids, and almost all his reason. Shelly sees him for the monster he can be and finally believes his story. She flees.
After feeding, Doud appears human again; his victim is reduced to dust. Doud remembers the message the other vampire delivered - he must go to Needles, a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert. When he gets there, he can't find any trace of Sergio. A friendly local artist cruises Doud and invites him home.
Shelly conquers her fear and decides that Doud needs her help. She returns to Doud's house. While she’s there, Sergio walks in. Sergio tells Shelly that he wanted to warn Doud about another vampire who was out to kill him, an artist from Needles.
As Doud and the artist kiss, Doud realizes that the artist is a vampire who intends to feed off him. Doud runs for his life, but the artist relentlessly pursues him. Shelly and Sergio come to his rescue. Sergio and Doud's reunion clears up old misunderstandings, and together they stop the malevolent vampire.
M. Christian delivers a fresh outlook on vampires, something this genre has long needed. Although he has published hundreds of short stories, this is M. Christian's debut novel. I'm sure we'll be seeing more of his longer works.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
If you’re lesbian, heterosexual, heteroflexible, bisexual, or gay; vanilla, or into leather; and you read much erotica, you’ve probably read an M Christian story. Few writers shift as comfortably, and convincingly, between genders and sexualities as he does. Add to that unique stories, often with a touch of science fiction or magical realism, and you can understand why he has developed a following.
In "Services Rendered," a woman’s rental car dies near a remote gas station in the desert. At first she thinks no one is there, but then a hot man appears. No one is around, and they’ve got time on their hands, so they take advantage of their mutual attraction.
"Smile, Mona" tells the story behind the most famous smile in history. What some women know, they aren’t telling.
"Evolution" covers three years in an evolving relationship between two trans characters, both female at the beginning, and well on their way to full transition by the end. What doesn’t change is the core of who they are, and the importance of their Sunday mornings together.
The humor and story building in "On One Hand," a polyamorous tale, is astounding considering how short the story is. The junior member of a law firm has been given a promotion, but the firm will only pay to transport one of his spouses. It’s not easy choosing between your perfect lover and mate, and your other perfect lover and mate.
Is it phone sex, voyeurism, hot chat, or all of that? In a "Hard Night’s Work," Jay Draper is working on the weekend, when he sees the hot guy he’s been trying to work up the courage to talk to in the office building across from his. They stay in their offices, but still manage to connect.
If you’re not aware of M. Christian’s work, this is a great introduction. If you are, you know he has hundreds of stories in print, but this is a nice collection that brings together a range of stories, some of which might have escaped your notice before. Add to that the charitable cause, and you have every reason to feel good about treating yourself to Coming Together Presents M. Christian.
The Coming Together anthology series, created by writer, editor, and cover artist Alessia Brio, raises money for various causes. The proceeds for this collection will go to Planned Parenthood.