Monday, August 29, 2005

Toting water

Here I am doing a weekly chore, filling my jerry jugs with water at the public spigot at Alaskaland.

There's a lot to say about this photo. First, a year or so ago, the elected borough (we have boroughs instead of counties in Alaska) assembly members voted to change the name of our theme park from Alaskaland, which I like a lot, to Pioneer Park, which I don't. There wasn't much public discussion about this and small controversy. But to me Pioneer Park sounds too much like the state-run retirement system of Pioneer Homes. It conjures up images of coon skin hats and old men on benches.

2) Jerry jugs. I have recently learned (when my book was copyedited) that I have been misusing the term "jerry-rigged" to mean makeshift or provisional my entire life. There's no such phrase, in fact, and the correct term is "jury-rigged," and that the origin of the phrase is nautical. Fortunately, jerry jug is probably OK, as it derives from jerry can, a WWII term referring to the metal cans the Germans used to transport gas or water.

3) My jugs hold six gallons, and I have three of them. This means that I consume about 18 gallons of water a week at the cabin for washing, cooking, and drinking. I find that remarkable.

4) This is the parking lot of Alaskaland, which teems with RV vehicles parking overnight in the summer. But summer has flown, and visitors are heading south and over the Rockies before the first snow. Water to the public spigot, the only one I know of in town (besides the borough RV tank station) is turned on each May on Memorial Day and shut off each Fall on Labor Day. So this is probably my last free fill this season. During the winter I have to schlep my jugs to a laundromat or use a commercial water fill station. If Labor Day seems early to be buttoning up water valves for winter, consider that we got our first frost warning the other night.

5) I'm growing my hair long, unless it all comes out grey. I have natural curls.

6) My '92 Mazda pickup is looking a little bedraggled. But it still has less than 80 K miles. That dent in the rear bumper was there when I bought it second hand.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Guest Cat--Jasper

Jasper is a young male cat with a black coat and white chest and partial boots. He owns a house and family and is staying with me for a few days while his people are out of town (Gerri and Cam and two boys five and three, Conor and Ross). Jasper is one of the most bold cats I've met. When I first met him, he threw himself on the floor at my feet and demanded to be pet. I'm afraid my lifestyle is too stodgy for him here in the cabin; he has to make up imaginary foes and prey and tear around the furniture pursuing them. If I had any mice or voles around here, he'd be a terror. And just look at the length of those whiskers!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ungulate visit

All sorts of visits going on: family, spammer, ungulate, cat, and Kate.

Here are two moose yearlings, twins, probably born this year (?) waiting across the road from my driveway. Their mother, who seems pretty young herself, is already on my side browsing. The calves are not waiting on traffic, of which there is some at this time of day, for moose are generally oblivious of cars and will walk right into traffic.

One-by-one, the kids came over to join their mother. Here's one of them in the clearing next to my cabin. It's about the size of a horse. Isn't it cute? Just a big baby. But compare it to its mother in the next photo.

If you look closely, you'll see all three moose here. They're browsing the brush berm next to my driveway. It takes surprisingly little brush to hide such massive creatures. When I go outside, I often find myself watching the ground--roots, rocks, and stumble holes--instead of up and around me, and I have stumbled into these imposing creatures in the past. I've even been charged by a young male. At least there's not a lot of bears around here.

about the cat and Kate later.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Family visit

My amazing daughter, Kalina, has been visiting Fairbanks with her boyfriend, Ronan. (I'm the one on the left.) She's just finished doing a law intern at the U.N. in NYC and is on her way to a month-long institute in Rome before returning to UW Law School to finish her final year. Whew! Ronan is a producer for and co-owner of All Day Buffet, a film production studio in Manhattan.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I don't know why this synopsis is so hard for me. I'm too close to the material and can't seem to distill it down to a jacket flap. Anyway, here's my latest attempt.

Synopsis
So, your spouse is a clone, and your boss is immortal. NASTIES are eating Chicago, and there's a baby in a drawer in Trenton with your name on it. Welcome to COUNTING HEADS, an everyday tale about a man and his home planet--Earth.

The year is 2092, and it's a good time to be rich and rejuvenated. Nanotech has fulfilled its promise and ushered in the Boutique Economy, in which closet-sized assemblers manufacture everything from hairbrushes to taxi cabs, on demand and one copy at a time, without the need for factories or a large labor force. Mass consumption and mass production are becoming obsolete, as are the very masses themselves.

Global wealth has been concentrated into a few million hands, with the majority of Earth's fifteen billion inhabitants mired in contentious poverty. The rich decide that idle populations are unnecessary, wasteful, and an undue strain on the environment. In an act that takes privatization to its logical conclusion, they collude to quietly buy up the planet--the entire planet--and turn it into a private reserve. It will be the solar system's most exclusive club, and with membership comes privileges--such as the right to live on Earth.

Against this backdrop, two extraordinary people, Samson and Eleanor, meet and fall in love. Their marriage is celebrated by friends and colleagues, and they are showered with gifts, career advancement, and a baby permit. But on the day their baby is to be conceived, a nano-terror attack--a NASTIE--aimed at Eleanor strikes Samson instead, and he is grabbed off the street by the Homeland Command and placed in total and permanent quarantine.

It takes all of Eleanor's resources to free Samson, but not before the authorities "sear" him, effectively sealing and booby-trapping his bodily cells against future NASTIE attacks. Samson enters the ranks of the cellularly challenged.

The strain of Samson's new condition saps their marriage. Whereas he and Eleanor were both rich and rejuvenated when they met, now he is sick, weak, and mortal. After a year of sulking, Samson leaves Eleanor and baby Ellen and tries to make a fresh start in an unfamiliar new world.

Forty years pass, and Eleanor has continued to amass wealth and influence. Not only has she embraced the secret land grab of her fellow billionaires, but added a wrinkle of her own. She has assembled a consortium of leading capitalists to foster a space colonization program that trades land on Earth for a grubstake on a new planet in a neighboring solar system. Passage for colonists will be provided aboard millennial ships called Oships on voyages lasting hundreds of years.

Samson, meanwhile, has been sinking slowly into the middle class, which has shrunk to the point of vanishment and is being supplanted by temp agencies that hire out legions of cloned workers. Samson joins Charter Kodiak, a contractual family that has seen better days. Samson's medical condition has prevented him from using regenerative therapies, and without rejuvenation he's reached the end of his rope; he's over 180 years old and feeling every day of it. Then, on the very day he plans to end his life, a second assassination attempt is made against his estranged wife.

Eleanor's space yacht, with her and daughter Ellen aboard, crashes, and suddenly everything changes for Samson. Tragedy has opened a door to return to his family, but to pass through it he'll need the help of clones, bees, his dysfunctional clan, and a smart machine called Skippy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

OK, here's a plot synopsis I just wrote. I'm sure to rewrite it a couple of times, but I wanted to get it out for comments. Have any? Please post or email them to me.

What will our world be like when today's leading-edge technologies have matured? How will human clones, artificial intelligence, bio-engineering, and nanotechnology affect our jobs, our relationships, and our dreams and goals? Counting Heads explores these questions in a fully-realized, futuristic America of the 22nd Century.

Samson Harger is an artist, a packaging designer, who falls madly in love with an influential corporate prosecutor, Eleanor Starke. They, like most affluent residents of the United Democracies, are practically immortal; they command the loyal services of intelligent machines and indentured humans, and they compete for shrinking resources and markets. It's an exciting time to be rich, and on top of everything else, they are rewarded with a rare and coveted baby permit to conceive their own child.

An assassination attempt against Eleanor strikes Samson instead. He survives but is "seared" by the Homeland Command. That is, his bodily cells are rigged to self-immolate in the event that his body is hijacked for nanobiological terror. He can no longer avail himself to modern medicine, which means he is no longer immortal. As Samson comes to grips with his new condition, his marriage falls apart, and he finds himself shunted aside to the lumpen world of cloned workers, "free-range" chartists, and the cellularly challenged.

The Information Age of the 20th Century has given way to the Boutique Economy in which shoe box-sized nano assemblers can produce most consumer goods one copy at a time, without the need of a labor force. Mass production and mass consumption are rendered obsolete, and the majority of the planet's fifteen billion inhabitants are deemed superfluous and wasteful. Wealth has been consolidated into relatively few hands, and the wealthy take privatization to a whole new level. They hatch a 200-year plan to quietly buy up the planet--the entire planet--and turn it into a private club. With membership comes privileges--such as the right to live on Earth.

Eleanor takes part in this plan, but when a second assassination attempt is made against her, Ellen, the daughter she and Samson produced, must assume her role. But Ellen needs help, and Samson, now old, tired, and sick, must decide once and for all where his loyalties lie.

My office

On the London-Minneapolis leg of my flight home last Thursday, my rowmate, a young Brit on his way to a wedding in Fargo, asked, "So, are you going to the office tomorrow?" We had been having the typical ice-breaker conversation of strangers on a plane, "So, what do you do?" meaning for a living, not what you do for fun. I told him I was an "author and a graphic designer." When he asked if I was going to the office, I suppose he meant to expose the irrationality of bosses everywhere who would expect an employee to finish out the week after a vacation. I had to think about it a second, and I said that yes, I was going to the office tomorrow. It would be hard not to.

I am a home worker, and this corner of my cabin is my office, what I call my command center. Here I do all my writing and graphic design. Note the tools of any modern office: the light, phone, and computer. What else do you need? I also have three windows to gaze out of and a radio with two of the best stations in the US. My desk is a coffee table, very useful in that it can be moved for vacuuming the floor. I keep my desk messy to satisfy my inner slob. My computer, an Apple iBook rests on the desk on top of my thesaurus and dictionary. I do all of my graphics work on its 14-inch screen. I only have a dial-up modem; cable doesn't come down my road, and a dish connection would cost more than I can afford right now. Note also the sleeping bag on the couch. Summer or winter, this cabin is chilly, and I cover my legs. Against the wall on the left is the oil stove, the sole source of heat and only a couple of yards away for maximum comfort. I come to my office and sit on that couch six days a week for 4 to 7 hours a day. I write first, while I'm still fresh, and compose a minimum of 1000 words. Then I make a living with the graphics.

This photo and little description might serve to answer one of the five common questions people always ask writers: How do you write? The other questions are:
2) Where do you get your ideas from?
3) Who are your main influences?
4) Why do you write?

Now that I'm back from Glasgow I'm prepping for my next event, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association book fair in Portland next month. I am a guest author invited to the Friday night "Feast." They'll feed me and the other dozen authors early so that we can circulate around the tables during the banquet and give a 20-minute spiel about ourselves and our books. Get this, I'll have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with 45 persons responsible for stocking the shelves in bookstores up and down the West Coast. I have two weeks to organize and practice my talk.

Regrettably, the most difficult question is the last one. I find it impossible to sum up my book in a sentence or two. I've been wrestling with this for years. This is not a typical novel, with a single through-line and trio of main characters. COUNTING HEADS is more similar to an ensemble TV series like ER or Star Trek. That is, there are five main characters, and the overarching plot is weak. In ER, the "plot" is "bunch of health care workers struggle at their jobs and personal lives." Their work place, a county hospital emergency room in Chicago, is the unifying theme, and each character's story is more related to work than to each other.

My book works in a similar way, and the unifying theme is, I think, the future world we are creating. My characters' individual stories are only superficially intertwined. The real glue is the world, or so I think. Anyway, I'm working on this now, and I'll try my insights out here for you. By the way, the book description you read on Amazon is cribbed from a story synopsis I wrote in 2001, long before the book was split and remelded, and it's not entirely accurate or compelling. I am redoing that too, though not in time to alter Amazon (or maybe even my book cover).

Anyway, here's a little riff I jotted down that I like in answer to question 5:

So, your spouse is a clone,  and your boss is immortal.  Nasties are eating Chicago,  and there’s a baby in a drawer in Trenton
with your name on it. Welcome to Counting Heads,  an everyday tale about a man  and his home planet--Earth.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Into the soup

It occurred to me that if I can show pictures of London on this blog, why not Fairbanks? Fairbanks is a place, too, and there are things here. So here's a picture of the Fairbanks I returned to, a town buried in the smoke of forest fires. There are fires all around us, and no matter what direction the wind blows, we're in the way.

How many fires? There are currently 111 wildfires in Alaska, according to yesterday's News-Miner, most of them burning between the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range. That is, in Interior Alaska, an area large enough to fit several of your average states, in the middle of which sits Fairbanks. Historically, a million acres of Alaskan forest go up in flames every year. This year, over 2.4 million acres have already burned.

Also, according to the paper, we are in the middle of a heat wave, with record-breaking highs in the 80s (they should be in the 60s in August). And it's dry. August is normally our wettest month (with December our driest) But month to date precipitation is only 0.07 inches out of a normal month to date amount of 0.66.

But I'm not complaining, at least not out loud because Fairbanksans I've talked to about the smoke all say, "Of course it's nowhere near as bad as last year." And that's true. Last summer a record 6 million acres burned, and the smoke covered the town like a brown blanket, causing health hazards and misery. I should know, I skipped it. That is, I spent last summer in Seattle, sunny, ocean-breezy Seattle.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Home again, home again, jigged-y-jig

Thursday afternoon and I'm on Northwest Airlines flight 43 somewhere over the Atlantic. Four hours to get from Harringay to Gatwick Airport and clear check-in and security, eight-and-a-half hours to Minneapolis, a two-hour layover, then another five-and-a-half to Fairbanks. In total, a twenty-hour trip. *Only* twenty hours. It never ceases to amaze me, how blase we've become about air travel. Back in the pioneer days of Fairbanks (early 20th century), I'm told that it took three months to travel "Outside" to San Francisco.

I spent the day yesterday tramping around London. Chris, who commutes downtown every day, told me that since the tube bombings a few weeks ago, the city, which should be in the throes of summer tourism, is relatively deserted. I found that to be true. While there were tourists about, they (we) were fewer than I witnessed during my winter stay. Noontime Trafalgar and Leicester Squares hosted more pigeons than people.

Here's a photo of the Millennium Wheel (I think that's what it's called). Looks like a giant bicycle wheel. Those cars appear to be as big as school buses, though it's hard to tell from across the Thames. The Wheel was under construction during my 1999 visit. If any Londoner is reading this (hint, hint, Chris), maybe you can fill us in on the specs. Just how tall is that thing?

Friday Afternoon
I got back last night at 8:30. Since I left Chris and Pat's door at 8 am, that makes 12.5 hours, plus the 9-hour time change, and it's a 21.5 hour marathon trip, with no sleep except a few airline micronaps. Last night I enjoyed my first full night's sleep in over a week. Ah, to be in one's own bed with one's own pilly.

A palm tree grows in London

It's kinda stunted, but there it is in the Victoria Embankment Gardens, a testament to the warming effects of the Atlantic currents that bring tropical air to England. The very currents that are predicted to weaken or dissipate with global warming. If and when that happens, England's benign climate may take a turn for the worse.

London bridges

Here's a lovely view of the Thames at low tide (yes, the tides are felt upriver) and four of the eight or so (not counting railroad) bridges that cross it. The one in the foreground is the Millennium Bridge, strictly for pedestrians. The one beyond it is the Southwark Bridge. Hidden from view beyond it is the new London Bridge (the old London Bridge having been bought up by an American entrepreneur and carted off to Arizona or somewhere), and in the distance are the two towers of Tower Bridge (which visitors routinely mistake for London Bridge). During my 1999 visit, they were just driving the piling for the Millennium Bridge. It was opened to great fanfare at the turn of the millennium but had to be closed immediately. There was a flaw in the design that caused it to sway precariously. They stiffened it and reopened six months later.

It didn't sway when I walked across on Wednesday. At its apex it's about six stories high, and gives a terrific view of the city.

Here's the Millennium Bridge from a different angle and looking south. The industrial building with the stack in the background was once a power generating station, now renovated as the new ("Modern") Tate art museum. Where the generators once stood is now a grand, three-story gallery for exceptionally large exhibits.

Guest cat

A popular topic at this year's Worldcon was blogging and whether or not it's worth a writer's time (or is one more form of procrastination). A young woman (Anna) offered me a suggestion for my blog. She said that if I really wanted to draw readers, I should have cats appear on it. I think that's a sound idea, so I'm going to begin featuring a Cat of the Month, or something like that. Here's the first--Calgary.

Calgary, like her human Pat, is an ex-pat from Kansas. I first met her in 1994 while on a cross-country road trip with my daughter. Even as a kitten Calgary exhibited a discriminating taste in humans. A year or so later, when her family moved to London, she was forced to spend the obligatory six months in quarantine lockdown as part of England's attempt to prevent rabies from entering the country. She handled quarantine with great equanimity and emotional balance. Now she resides in North London with Pat and Chris, Helen, and Rob and, frankly, rules the house.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Changing neighborhood

I'm sitting in a classic old pub, the Salisbury, on Green Lane in Herringay. It's Chris and Pat's neighborhood pub, but one they never frequented because of the rough clientele. I passed it every day when I was staying with them in 1999, and I often bemoaned the fact that I couldn't go there to relax with a beer by myself. A few years ago, however, the management renovated the place and renovated their regulars as well. Gone are the fisticuffs, replaced by peaceable patrons. It's really a beautiful old place, the kind of pub that modern saloons, like the Pump House in Fairbanks, try to emulate, with assortments of overstuffed couches, mahogany wainscoting and trim, and empire ceiling sculpting (though not tin).

Not only the pub has changed but the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. This was and still is a Middle Eastern area, the majority of residents and businesses and restaurants are some blend of Turkish, Bulgarian, Cyprian, Greek, and points East. Since Poland joined the EU, however, it is increasingly Polish. Polish language signs are appearing in the shops (which I can read), and I overheard people speaking Polish (which I understand) on the bus and on the street. I'm a little disappointed there's no Polish restaurant yet because I'd kill for a bowl of zurek or plate of bigos. I was able to buy a loaf of authentic Polish rye bread though, and that was soul food enough to sustain me.

When I was here in '99 there were a number of cheap phone shops, where people could rent phone time to call home. These are replaced by internet lounges. There's one across the street in which the modest floor space is divided up into small booths, like carrels in a library. The charge is only 50 pence (USD .85) per hour. Now, that's affordable. And the machines are new and it looks like they have media ports and maybe ethernet ports.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Oh, by the way

In case you've always wondered how the natives say it, Glasgow does not rhyme with cow but ends with a long O.

Here's the view from my hotel window showing the old and the new in the center of the city.

Con Report

I'm sitting in Chris Fowler and Pat Cadigan's living room in North London watching the evening Sky News reports on the safe landing of the space shuttle, the latest on the bombers and Omar Bakri's flight from England. Pat and I finished with the con yesterday and took a relaxed train ride down the length of England to London.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

This isn't Scotland

8 AM Thursday
We who live in Interior Alaska are used to the the fact that it takes a day to fly anywhere that's not actually in Seattle. But two days to the UK seems excessive. And to arrive there at 9 AM after two sleepless overnight flights will be a trial for a guy who needs his nightly nine hours of restorative slumber. Ah, well.

My day in Minneapolis was shortened to a few hours by the time I got out of the airport. The airlines bumped me up to first class for the Fairbanks-Minn leg, and I think I've discovered what first class means these days, at least at NW Airlines. It means you don't have to pay for the airplane food you used to get for free, plus alcohol. More importantly, it means that the lines you stand in are shorter. Even the TSA security lines next to their ticket counter has a first class section. But the people using it still have to take their shoes and belts off. It's an interesting sight watching men and women in expensive clothes and an air of being in charge stooping over to remove their shoes. Yesterday, in Fairbanks, my first time through security I asked the TSA person if removing shoes was mandatory. No, she said, with a smile. Of course, the moment I stepped through the scanner, they pulled me aside for a wanding. In the Fairbanks airport TSA has this small glass booth for this purpose. It's like a little public display box. The TSA guy, very respectful launched into his spiel about having to touch me and if I was uncomfortable I could request a private area. I did so at once and ended up in a closet with two guys, one groping and the other watching. But at least it wasn't out in public.

My father spent a night in jail once in rural Kentucky, falsely arrested for something he didn't do. What upset him the most was not being falsely accused of a crime but spending the night in a holding cell in which the toilet was right there in the cell and the only way he could relieve himself was to do so in front of everyone. That, to him, was the ultimate disrespect. I feel like that about having to unbuckle my belt, remove my shoes, hold my arms out in the modern traveler's crucifixion. The second time I went through Fairbanks security, I just took off my damn shoes and went through.

I suspect I'm rambling, but not through sleeplessness. I intend to post to this blog in the same manner as to my journal, that is, unedited. I have kept a paper journal since my teen years, and in fact have a smaller notebook I call my travel J which absorbs all the minutiae of the road. I'm trying to learn to travel light these days, though, and I left it at home in favor of this laptop and you.

So, here I am at the Mall of America. I came here by accident, honest. I was supposed to have a room comped to me by NW. After all, I arrived at 3 AM Fairbanks time and have a nine-hour layover. But my first class status failed me. After waiting 2 hours at the airport for my voucher and shuttle, I finally opted for a cab. The driver, not from around here, brought me to the mall instead of my hotel. By then it was time for coffee, not sleep, so here I am. At least they've provided a moose and habitat to make me feel more at home.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

But not a first-time blogger

9:40 AM, Fairbanks airport. Should have departed 40 minutes ago but we're delayed by a "mechanical" issue. Actually, this Northwest Airlines flight is serviced by Alaska Airlines mechanics, so I suspect our difficulty is their work slowdown. I have about an hour-and-a-half layover in Minneapolis, and I'm not sweating it yet.

Well, on second thought, they just announced our estimated departure to be noon, and that WILL seriously impact my connections. I am already in patient traveler mode, but I may have to kick my tolerance up a notch.

I've just moved to sit on the floor next to an electrical outlet. Of course this airport has no wifi, free or paid.

10:15 They say they're going to pass out food vouchers.

I was a blogger before there were blogs. Remember back in 1998 when there were on-line diarists cropping up everywhere? I decided to do something like that when I visited London then, but I didn't want to hassle with html on a daily basis. So I decided to use a Netscape newsgroup. Remember newsgroups? Posting was a breeze, one click for the text, another for the photo. I spent six months in England and posted a new essay and photo each and every day.

Here's some business-card-sized adverts I came across the other day while packing for this trip. I called my "blog" my London Journal and passed these cards to family and friends to follow along.

1:07 PM Well, I'm back at home. They sent the plane to Anchorage for repairs. I'm rebooked to leave tonight. I'll spend tomorrow in Minneapolis and arrive at World Con in Glasgow Friday morning. Oh, well, at least it wasn't those sneaky mechanics. And I will have the opportunity to visit the twin city. Anyone know if there's a good camera store there?