You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, November 29, 2010


When I renewed my reading of science fiction back in June, I had in mind that Samuel R. Delany was a writer I was particularly interested in. (Astute readers will guess where this is heading.) The only thing I had ever read by Delany were a few scattered pages from his novel Hogg, possibly to this day the most obscene prose I have ever read. More on that later. But what I knew of Delany was intriguing. He was born in 1942, came from a middle-class African American Harlem background, and attended the Dalton School, that progressive Upper East Side Manhattan institution favored by affluent, artistic parents and characters in Woody Allen films. He began publishing sf around the age of nineteen and has always been considered among its more literary, experimental, and taboo-shattering practitioners. He is gay and often addresses questions of gender and sexuality in work that in addition to fiction includes memoirs and critical studies. Although he never completed a university degree himself, he is also an academic with a string of creditable appointments and currently heads the creative writing program at Temple University in Pittsburgh. Wesleyan University Press keeps much of his backlist in print.

What's not to like?

The only Delany book on the Pringle list is Nova (1968), but I bought up a range of his secondhand paperbacks, including his two most highly regarded works in their Wesleyan editions, Dahlgren (1974) and Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand (1984). Now I have to decide what to do with all these things, because reading them no longer seems like a possibility.

Delany was only twenty-five years old when he wrote Nova, which still makes it his fifth published novel. It's a space opera involving a crew of misfits led by a Lorq von Ray, a dashing, though facially disfigured, young captain who comes from a fabulously wealthy family with something of a pirate background. His nemesis, Prince Red -- and that is actually his name not a title -- comes from a rival, equally wealthy family, and has a mechanical arm that is responsible for our hero's scars. If I refrain from retelling anymore of the plot, it is not out of concern for inserting spoilers. I just like to keep these posts a reasonable length.

The book lost me two different ways. It has aged badly. However innovative the plotting and characters may have been in 1968, it reads today like a novelized version of any number of sy-fy network franchises. And when the literary flourishes appear, they come off as glaring attempts at elevating the style to some notion of what a modernist novel should be. The narrative also shows its age by the attention it pays to the tarot and the Holy Grail legend -- I could smell the patchouli oil and see the tie-dyed wall hangings as I read those parts.

So I am not a convert. I also read The Einstein Intersection, a Delany novella that was more fun that Nova but towards the end didn't make much sense. I quit worrying about that when I read elsewhere that ambiguous resolutions are a Delany trademark. But still what to do with Dahlgren, Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand, and The Fall of the Towers trilogy. I remember Dahlgren as a million-copy bestseller when it came out that I considered reading at the time although I was already over science fiction. Many critics labeled it a masterpiece, and William Gibson writes the introduction to the Wesleyan reprint. But a Harlan Ellison review of the original publication reported giving up on it less than halfway through its 800 pages. And Philip K. Dick called it "a terrible book..I just started reading it and said this is the worst trash I have ever read. And I threw it away." And I respect Philip K. Dick.

I think the jury is still out on Delany more than I had been led to believe. And then there is the question of Hogg. When I was in the book business, I was offered 100 copies of Hogg from a publisher I had never heard of. He told me it was by Delany but was not sf and was "sexually graphic." I asked for a sample, mostly to make sure that it looked professionally published, and bought them. Since I knew we would be selling it based on Delany's name and its rarity the copy had been on my desk for several days before I even bothered to thumb though it.

I am not easily shocked. Actually I am more appalled that people read books and see movies like Eat, Pray, Love than I have ever been shocked by pornography. But what the hell was Delany thinking? What did he need to get off his chest? I hope he doesn't force it on his students at Temple.

Hogg is now in print from FC2, and reviews on sites like Good Reads and Amazon range from "disgusting filth" to "an important examination of the limits of human ... " We sold the first thirty copies or so for $10, then raised the price to $50. On ABE Books that original edition now ranges from $14 to over $100.

Both my read and unread Delany paperbacks are headed for the public library donation box. They should fetch the library between fifty cents and two dollars apiece.



Monday, November 22, 2010



When I began Potato Weather I had no aspirations to becoming a significant figure in the world of internet porn. But today I humbly accept my role.

Some background:

On April 5, 2010, I wrote a post on nunsploitation films of the 1970's and titled is SOFT CORE NUN PORN AVAILABLE NOW! It drew no comments at the time, although this past September a friend read it and kindly described it as "wonderful." I have always been fond of it myself.

About a month ago I noticed that Blogspot added to the menu of blogger services a tab for "Stats." From the start I had wondered why they didn't provide more information on site use, and initially I was concerned that perhaps the option had been there since I started in January but that I had never noticed it. Judging from conversation on the help forums, another area I had never explored, I determined that it must have started sometime in the summer.

The stats provide information on page views and where they come from. My new posts receive a handful of hits within the first week or two -- thank you -- but as it turns out traffic to Potato Weather is generated largely by international searches for "soft nun porn," with consistent interest originating in Japan and Turkey. (I thought I would prove my point by checking stats for the past twenty-four hours, but for some reason this weekend has been dominated by Canadians looking at the picture of a blueberry I posted on May 5, which come to think of it may imply even kinkier interests than those searches for nun porn.)

Within a month or so of starting the blog, I had moved to the top of the Google list for those searching "Potato Weather," nosing out a government pamphlet from the 1940's on when to plant potatoes. I currently also top the list for those searching "soft nun porn," a fact I contribute largely to the use of capital letters and the exclamation point in the posting's header, and the close-up of Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy I used to illustrate the post tops the image search. Success breeds success.

Imagine the disappointment of those Turkish and Japanese teenagers who have waited for their parents to be out of the house so they can settle back for an evening of sexy nun pictures, only to find themselves on my website. I am surprised I haven't gotten death threats. There are, however, a few diehards using the Google translation service on the site, and so some users may actually be looking for info on nunsploitation films. Those are the ones who stay on the site longer than a minute. I have also seen searches for "anita ekberg porn," "nun horror," and with surprising frequency "nun ponr."

Those searching Google for "nun porn" minus the "soft" caveat get a different list of options, and Potato Weather appears nowhere on the first ten pages I checked. But then again, from what I can tell, those sites from the "nun porn" search mean business. Serious business. Strangely enough, on the "nun porn" image search my profile picture appears in the fourth line of options. Maybe Google knows something I don't.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Science Fiction as a prescient guide to future technology and society has never much interested me. I read recently that Jules Verne kept abreast of all the latest scientific journals just to up his odds on getting something right. But even with his background research he came up mostly with plots that today are absurd given almost any background in science. Occasionally you read that some writer predicted the internet or the types of computers that we now take for granted. And they "predicted" manned spaced flight, but who couldn't see that coming? But we've only gone to the moon, which is a far cry from the type of intergalactic travel on which much of sf depends. Who is holding their breath for travel faster than the speed of light, time machines, or telepathy as the common means of human communication? These are useful plot devices, as are our encounters with alien life forms. If we were to travel to other galaxies and meet up with aliens, they would be nothing like ourselves or else they would zipping around the galaxies as well. They would most likely be below our evolutionary development, anywhere from an early hominid or more likely a bacteria. If aliens came to see little ol' us, they would necessarily be so far advanced technologically that they might consider us lichens.

That said, there are moments in Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1952) where well-heeled advertising executives take off for a round of golf or a game of tennis and appear to be playing something very much like a Wii machine. But I don't think this constitutes a "prediction" of the Wii. It is an natural development from Pohl's and Kornbluth's imagining of a future world where space is so limited and the atmosphere so dangerous that anyone who can afford to stays inside.

If there are predictions in this novel, they are much more disturbing than executive pastimes or even the hint of severe global warming. In The Space Merchants, Earth has been monetized, states have been incorporated into commercial zones, and the government has forgone the fantasy of elected officials and allowed corporations to place their own candidates in the senate and the house. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporations' free speech rights when it comes to political contributions, this development may far outweigh whatever foresight the authors showed when combining physical exercise with video games. The author team has also forecast the replacement of "commies" with "consies," dangerous environmentalists who, possibly because of some genetic defect, do not see the total exploitation of Earth and neighboring planets as a necessarily good thing.

The Space Merchants is a thriller in which Mitchell Courtenay, a Star Class Copysmith for the most prestigious ad agency in the universe, has been assigned the plum job of preparing a campaign for the colonization of Venus. This involves convincing pioneering sorts that it will be patriotic, exciting, and lucrative to make the move while not letting them know the planet is a hellhole. But corporate intrigues find Courtenay drugged and shipped to a Central American industrial plant where the algae used in manufacturing most of earth's food stuff is grown in conditions so degrading they could be confused with those on the banana plantations Dole maintained about the time the book was written. But Courtenay's innate abilities as a copywriter can serve him well even there, as well as in the Consie underground that he sees as his ticket out.

I read a review more or less contemporaneous with the novel that used it as a example of sf's failure as social criticism, an evaluation based on the fact that Madison Avenue types, the target of the satire, became one of the novel's most enthusiastic audiences. But of course they did. Didn't New Jersey and New York mafiosi tune in weekly to The Sopranos? Doesn't Hollywood loves to "expose" itself in films like The Bad and the Beautiful and The Player. Had The Space Merchants come out ten years later, I'm sure the producers of Mad Men would have placed a copy on Don Draper's nightstand. And he would have loved it.