Inhuman Swill : Page 117
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Staggering news from Utah (as reported in the New York Times):

In a defeat for critics of Darwin, the Utah House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill intended to challenge the theory of evolution in high school science classes.  [full article]
Actually, not so staggering if you've been following Utah politics closely, but heartening nonetheless. The last time I checked in, the vote was looking close. Chalk a big one up for the Enlightenment.
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Coming of age

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Asimov's Science Fiction, June 1983
The first science fiction magazine I ever saw, read, subscribed to, submitted to, and was rejected by was Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Back in 1983, when I was almost 16 years old, my father brought a copy home for me after it became clear to him that writing SF was just simply going to be something that I did, and there would be no use complaining about it. He found the magazine at a 7-Eleven and showed me the address for fiction submissions. It was a generous gesture on his part, especially since a few years earlier he had forbidden me to read the evil stuff.

That first issue had a Fred Pohl story on the cover, I recall, "The High Test." I read the magazine greedily, then called the phone number inside to subscribe. The woman on the other side of the line wanted me to give a credit card number. It took some doing, but I convinced her to enter my subscription without one, and to bill me later. I'm not sure why I didn't just mail in a subscription card. I think I was just too excited to get my subscription started.

Before long, I had my first rejection in hand—a photocopied sheet of possible reasons my story was not of use to Asimov's, with editor Shawna McCarthy's second-generation signature at the bottom. Crushed but undeterred, I sent in another story. Same outcome.

Every time the new issue arrived, I would read it cover to cover. Those pages are where I first read Lucius Shepard, Bruce Sterling, James Patrick Kelly, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Kessel, Michael Swanwick, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Michael Bishop, Norman Spinrad, Dan Simmons, and a host of other exemplary short fiction writers I'm forgetting now. I still have many of those issues, the ones with the stories that affected me most. "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler is one of the first that comes to mind. More even than the novels I had long read, those stories were my first real education in the art and craft of writing science fiction.

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Apropos of my recent post about the silly "natural family" resolution adopted by the city council of Kanab, UT, I have news of a new web site:

Check it out, click around, and sign their petition if you feel like it.

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"Your call is important to us. All our associates are busy servicing other customers. Please hold."

In other news, today's top random spam from-field name is "Defeatism J. Beheading." Yeah, that's an email I'm going to hurry to read!

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Apropos of a great post by [info]asphalteden, I figured I would post a brief overview of my relationship with science fiction. This was originally written as a response to his post, but I figured maybe it could stand on its own. Heck, we might even kick off a meme here!

I adore Gene Wolfe (well, his writing—I don't know him personally). I have read The Book of the New Sun three times, The Book of the Long Sun twice, and The Book of the Short Sun ... well, not yet. Despite the fact that most everything he writes goes a few inches above my head, I feel paradoxically smarter when I'm reading one of his novels, rather than dumber. I think this is because I make enough of the connections, even though I don't make them all.

The Dying Earth (the original short novel) is one of the earliest SF novels I ever read. Knocked me out. I haven't read a Jack Vance novel since, though again I intend to read all those Dying Earth novels ... someday. The first real SF story I remember reading was Asimov's "Reason," in abridged form in the Scholastic Weekly Reader. That was the hook that got me. I now own a copy of the April 1941 Astounding in which "Reason" first appeared. I am afraid to take it out of the plastic bag.

I almost always say "SF" or "science fiction." It's hard for me to say "sci-fi," but I'm learning. I think "speculative fiction" is shuck-n-jive talk.

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This tune is narrated by a clerk at a 7-Eleven, selling generic cigarettes to lowlifes in the wee hours:

It's not that I don't like them And I feel all right to sell it But I'm scared when 20 guys are buying GPC's And not one of them can spell it
Gets me every time.

Insatiable is a ska band I used to go see at the Dead Goat Saloon in Salt Lake City, way back in the early '90s. (My friend Mike and I went thirsty through those shows because we were too embarrassed to ask the bartender for a pitcher of root beer.) I'm not aware of any album Insatiable has cut, but I was delighted to find two tracks by them on the second volume of Ska: The Third Wave, which I picked up a few years back on eBay.

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Tense and dangling

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Would you say the past tense of podcast—and the past participle, for that matter—is podcast or podcasted? My vote is podcast.

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Naturally stupid

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The city council of Kanab, Utah, has unanimously endorsed a non-binding "Natural Family Resolution" that promotes the claustrophobic values of '50s America. You know, that nice women-belong-in-the-kitchen morality that had grown across the nation like kudzu on a railway trestle, smothering everything underneath, and which was soon to be sprayed with a liberal dose of '60s-era Weed-B-Gone. Everywhere but rural Utah, that is. Yeah.

Here's the Salt Lake Tribune:

Carol Sullivan voted for the resolution - pitched by the conservative Sutherland Institute - last week when it was introduced by Mayor Kim Lawson. But the council's sole woman did so with some reservations.

"I saw no reason to vote against it because it is nonbinding," she said, noting that no one spoke out against it. "But I did wonder why it should be a government issue."

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Remembrance of looks past

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If you saw me on that evening subway ride and judged me for my reading material, a battered, torn copy of Snow Crash, how would your opinion have changed if you'd known I was toting four volumes of Proust in my shoulder bag?

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William Shunn