just noticed that a strong candidate in the race for next President of the United States is
Fred Thompson. Fred played the District Attorney on Law & Order, and has
acted in movies and TV shows as a Senator, Director of the CIA, White House Chief of Staff, an admiral, and, indeed, the President.
Now, let me be clear: the US is the world’s leading light when it comes to freedom
and democracy. Anybody who disagrees deserves the wiretappings, slur campaigns, arrest, and/or bombings they get. But come on: Fred Thompson? Isn’t that purely because people will think, “Yeah, he seems like he should be in a position of authority… for… some… reason.”
I have trouble with the whole idea of actors as politicians. We’re electing someone whose primary skill is pretending. Maybe it’s just me, but a guy who has spent
most of his life honing the ability to lie convincingly; that makes me uncomfortable.
Electing that guy seems to say, “Look, we don’t care what you
get up to. Just make sure you look earnest about it.”
I understand a little. After all, we’ve all got to look at whoever gets elected
for the next
four years. They might as well be pretty. Then there are those international conferences, where the leaders
of multiple countries get together to usher in new eras of co-operation and
outsourcing. Sometimes they wear funny shirts. You can’t send some shy, weedy
nerd to that. Well, you can. Australia does. But it’s embarrassing. You know
if Arnold Schwarzenegger was President, he might be a policy disaster but America would look
totally rocking in the APEC group photo. And while I’m not totally sure how
these international agreements get formed, physicality has to be involved to some degree.
I’m not saying they decide carbon emissions targets by sealing the doors,
stripping to the waist, and grappling for supremacy. There’s
no way Bush could have taken Schroeder. That man is huge. But maybe late in
the day, when everyone’s tired, having Schwarzenegger plant his ham-sized fists
on France’s desk could close the deal.
The ideal, then, must be job-sharing. You have a strong, good-looking President to
shake hands at the UN, and a smart, ugly President to stay home and make the
tough decisions. Americans have clearly figured this out already, and it explains Bush-Cheney. And why Kerry
lost in 2004: he’s got a face like his pet hamster just died, while his running mate, Edwards, is too
good-looking. You’d worry that Edwards would be at a tanning salon while
Britain and France were sniggering at mean drawings of Kerry during his speech
at G8. That ticket just didn’t make sense.
The more physically attractive the President, the uglier the Vice should
be, to compensate. It’s the Conservation of Beauty principle.
Now Harrison Ford and Alan Greenspan: that would be a hot ticket. You wouldn’t
even have to know their policies. You would just look at that coupling of
Ford’s wild charisma with a guy as old as God and something inside you
Forbes is running
a special on “The Future,”
and a bunch of writers, including me, contributed fiction.
The deal was everyone’s story had to be based on this:
It’s the year 2027, and the world is undergoing a global financial crisis.
The scene is an American workplace.
I was intrigued by the idea of going head-to-head
against other writers. It sounded like a kind
of writers’ cage match. I found myself thinking, “All right,
Doctorow’s gonna lead with a world controlled by draconian IP law,
he won’t be able to resist. But maybe I can counter with
the entire American economy being purely about advertising. He’ll
never see it coming.”
Possibly no other writers saw it this way. They may have just been
concentrating on writing a good story. Suckers.
Anyway, my short story,
is up now. To read
the others, including shorts by Cory Doctorow and Warren Ellis,
visit the Forbes
Future page and scroll down to “Fiction.”
Forbes has a 90-day exclusive on this piece but after
that I’ll post it alongside my
other short stories, with formatting that doesn’t suck so much.
In other news, you can now search this site. Little box on the left
there. Thanks to Wyatt, who complained about this until I got
off my butt and added it.
Maybe you heard about
the arrest of Jose Luis Calva, who is described
as an “aspiring horror novelist.” Police found a draft of his manuscript
Cannibalistic Instincts, along with pieces of his girlfriend stashed in
various places around his apartment, including in the frypan. I know, I know, I had the same
reaction: it’s pretty unfair to call him “aspiring.” It sounds like that draft
was finished. And not just finished, but comprehensively researched.
Sure, some people say you’re not a novelist until
you’re published, but in this day of print-on-demand and internet
vanity presses, is that really a meaningful distinction? I say, if the
guy went to all the trouble of crafting a story arc, putting words
on the page day after day, and boiling his girlfriend’s flesh, he’s a
novelist. Give him that.
I’m sometimes asked how much research you should do when
working on a novel, so let me say: this is probably too much. It
wasn’t just the girlfriend, you see; there’s also a missing
ex-girlfriend and a chopped-up prostitute. That seems
excessive to me. One, I could understand. I mean, I wouldn’t
support it. You let horror novelists start cutting up hookers, and
the next thing you know Tom Clancy is commandeering nuclear
submarines off the coast of Florida. Or, I guess, appointing
ghost writers to do that for him. But the point is I can imagine
a frustrated Jose at his keyboard, a half-finished sentence
dangling from the screen, thinking: “How do you
sever a femur with a railway spike?”
Three corpses, though, that’s getting carried away. I haven’t read
Cannibalistic Instincts, but I bet it contains
long, tedious passages where Jose was unable to resist info-dumping
his hard-won knowledge onto the reader. That’s the problem when
you get to body number three: your research overshadows the
writing. At that point, Jose really needed to be cutting fewer limbs and
more adverbs. Fleshing out his story, not his apartment. Also,
having a supportive spouse or girlfriend can be really important,
especially to a first-time writer, so I can’t help but think it was
counter-productive to eat her.
But there’s something in this tale to make writers everywhere feel a little
better about themselves, because no matter how bad your own
work is, at least you wrote it without butchering anybody. That’s
a plus in anybody’s language. The corner
Jose has backed himself into is that even if his book is
published, when people read it they’ll be thinking, “Yeah, it’s good…
but is it three murdered innocents good?” It’s extra pressure he doesn’t
need. I mention this because I’m sure there are unpublished horror
writers out there thinking, “No wonder I can’t get an agent; all the
other horror writers are out there sawing limbs.” Sure,
that probably provides a certain amount of realism that could elevate
your fiction to a more visceral plane. I mean, I’m just guessing.
And it’s hard to ignore the fact that Hollywood bible Variety
reported this story with the line,
“How soon before someone gobbles up the film rights to this?”
But still. Call me a purist, but I prefer to do things the old-fashioned
way: dismember people in my head.