Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category


 

John GrantJohn Grant is a two-time Hugo Award and one-time World Fantasy Award winner, and is the author of over 70 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He has been a science writer since the 1970s, and has written several well-reviewed books on science, including Denying Science, Discarded Science, and Eureka! The original edition of Corrupted Science appeared in 2008. This greatly expanded new edition is nearly twice the size of the original, and will be available by mid-May.


 

Your new book, Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded) deals at length with corporate and Trump administration misuse of science. What sets it apart from being just another anti-Trump book?

I confess it was the election of Trump and in particular his appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA that made me decide it was time for a new edition of the book. I reckoned it would need to be quite a lot bigger than the original edition, although I didn’t realize it was going to approach double the size!

Corrupted ScienceWhat I realized, even before I started writing, was that Trump and Pruitt, and the genuinely horrific corruption and denigration of science in US politics, were just the end-products of a process that was much bigger: the abuse of science by major corporations or spheres of industry in the quest for profits.

For example, to any sane person, inaction on climate change is beyond the bounds of comprehendible stupidity – even if there were some doubt about the science, the only intelligent thing to do is to err on the side of caution. (By way of analogy, if someone tells you the brakes on your car are dodgy, you get them checked: you don’t just carry on belting down the freeway on the basis that they might be okay.) But the fossil-fuels industries aren’t really concerned about the longer-term dangers: they see it as their duty to their shareholders to maximize short-term profits. So they’ve lied to the public about the science.

Trump and Pruitt – and James Inhofe and Lamar Smith and Smoky Joe Barton and all the rest of them – are just the public face of this problem, not the root of it. The lies they regurgitate about climate science have been put into their mouths by their paymasters.

Climate science is just the most obvious example of this process. Remember when sugar was supposed to be harmless? Remember when it was surely nothing to do with aerosol sprays that the hole in the ozone layer was expanding? Remember when we were told there was no reason to believe smoking was harmful to the health? Remember when tetraethyl lead in gasoline was harmless? Asbestos?

All of these lies – and there are plenty more where they came from – were put out by industry, by the corporations. Yes, they were being spread by those industries’ shills in the House, the Senate and even the White House (and let’s not forget George W. Bush’s completely bogus claim that “the science is still out” on climate change), but the shills were the symptoms rather than the sickness.

So I realized almost at the outset that the balance of the new book (which is how I think of it, rather than as a new edition) would need to be shifted such that it focused far more than its predecessor on this corporate corruption of both science and the public understanding of science. That involved the introduction of a near-book-length new chapter on the topic, not to mention a considerable expansion of my coverage of the parallel, industry-funded abuse of science in 21st-century US politics, of which the Trump administration is just the latest excrescence.

Trump-bashing would have been easy (and, to be honest, fun), for the very simple reason that Trump and his minions are so obviously corrupt, so obviously vile and so obviously moronic. But I wanted to look at the root of the problem we collectively confront, and that meant looking beyond its public faces.

Of course, there’s an even bigger context – the economic system in which corporate corruption flourishes – but that would have been a very different book, and one that I don’t have the expertise to write.

 

You worked as an editor before you began writing books. Where did you work, what were your jobs, and has that background been of help to you as a working writer?

I had a number of senior editor/editorial director jobs in the UK before finally being made redundant from one of them in Exeter – a couple hundred miles from London, which is where at the time all the good publishing jobs were. So I decided to become a freelance editor and do a bit of writing on the side. That didn’t quite work out how I’d anticipated, because after about a year both of my departments, so to speak, suddenly took off simultaneously. Since I didn’t have the guts to forsake one in favor of the other, I had a very tiring twenty years or so, during which I had in effect two full-time jobs.

When I came to the US in 1999 it was in fact as an editor – I was running the Paper Tiger imprint of fantasy art books on a freelance basis. Since then my focus has shifted almost exclusively to writing. Which is why I’m broke.

The editing background has been both a help and a hindrance to the writing moi. It’s a help in that, by the time I’m ready to hand in my text, it’s in an edited form with which I’m happy – i.e., it’s in the form it would have if someone else had written it and I’d then edited it. But this very fact is a hindrance in that I then find it extremely annoying when people tinker with my text! Often they’re right, of course, but often they’re unwittingly undermining what I’m trying to do.

 

You’ve written a lot about science. Why? What attracts you to the topic?

I had the misfortune at school of being equally apt at English and the sciences. (Lousy at languages, though, to my enduring regret.) I was therefore jammed into a sciences track, because science university places were a lot easier to get at the time than English Lit ones, and of course the school wanted to boost its university-entrance success rate as much as it could. I went along with this – took the course of least resistance – until I found myself at university reading sciences when what I really wanted to do was study English!

So I left – about three nanoseconds before they booted me out – and started getting the English qualifications I hadn’t gotten at school with a view to finding myself a university place in the different discipline. By the time I actually did so, I had a promising career in publishing and so, after much thought, abandoned my academic aspirations.

Because of my scientific background, meager though it was, people kept wanting me to work on science-based books – most of the other editors of my generation and the generation before it had even less scientific nous than I did! So I fell back in love with science through mixing with scientists – i.e., with “my” authors – and I thereby learned far more about science than I had when I’d been formally studying it. While I’m certainly not a scientist, I tend to think in scientific terms and, knowing at least something about a very wide range of the sciences, rather than a lot about a little, I feel well qualified to write the kinds of books that I do.

 

You’ve written many books in many different areas. Do you prefer writing fiction or nonfiction, and if so why?

Although probably about 80 percent of my output is nonfiction, I actually prefer writing fiction. The trouble is that, of course, just about no one can make a living writing fiction. I thus tend to regard my fiction writing as an indulgence, something to be fitted in when time permits – which is silly of me, because some of my relatively few short stories have been very well received, been shortlisted for awards, made it into “Best of” anthologies, etc. It’s a habit of mind I really should work to change.

I’ve also ghostwritten quite a lot of fiction. There’s nothing more spiritually rewarding than witnessing someone else basking in the rave reviews they’ve received for something that . . . you get the picture.

 

Which is easier for you?

Fiction. No question about it.

 

What do you love most about being a writer?

Terry Pratchett once described writing as “the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” and much of the time I’d go along with that. It can also be extraordinarily hard work, of course. Writing about a scientific subject for lay readers can be very demanding indeed – first I have to understand it well enough to write about it, then I have to shape my own understanding into a form that’s comprehensible to others. I’ve also done quite a lot of work as an encyclopedist (grand-sounding word, eh?) – most recently for my Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir ­– and that sort of work is extremely demanding too. By the end of the day I’m pretty tired – but even that exhaustion is part of the joy of a writer’s life: it’s rewarding in its way.

 

What do you hate most about it?

There’s no security and the pay’s lousy.

 

You’ve collaborated with other writers over the years. What was your best experience doing that?

They’ve all been pretty good, to be honest – I’m sure there was the occasional squabble along the way, but for the most part the collaborations have represented great friendships.

 

What’s the worst experience you’ve had working with a publisher?

I’ve worked with some excellent editors in my time but also, like I’m sure every other writer, I’ve had my share of mediocre and sometimes downright dreadful ones – you know, the Dunning–Kruger combo of incompetence and arrogance. [Another aspect of that syndrome is being too incompetent to know you’re incompetent. — Ed.]

The worst I’ve had recently was with an editor who thought she knew a great deal more about the book’s subject than she actually did, and as a consequence introduced all sorts of factual errors. On the first go-round I just ’umbly corrected these, with a brief explanation as to why. On the second go-round, discovering that she’d ignored quite a lot of my amendments, I became a tad firmer. Next I knew, she was complaining to my agent that I “didn’t seem to respect” her.

Actually, by that stage I for very obvious reasons didn’t, but I thought I’d kept it well concealed . . .

 

What’s the best aspect of being an independent writer?

The fact that a significant part of the job is just thinking.

 

Science fiction often gets a rap as trash, pure escapism, junk not to be taken seriously, by “literary” fiction mavens. What’s your reply to that?

There’s also the corollary whereby, whenever Margaret Atwood or Martin Amis or whoever writes a piece of science fiction, the mavens trot out all sorts of spurious reasons as to why “it’s not really science fiction”!

All of the genres – crime. sf/fantasy, romance, etc. – tend to get this sort of treatment from the stupider members of the literary establishment. I think the attitude stems from the fact that the genres flourished in the pulp era when, simply because the magazine editors had collectively so many pages to fill every month, a lot of the stuff that appeared was junk . . . er, I mean “rough-hewn.” Also, if we’re honest, not every single genre novel that appears today is a masterpiece.

But the mavens’ position is untenable. J.G. Ballard, who became a literary darling, was part of the spectrum of UK genre fiction; there’s no clear qualitative or intellectual distinction between his sf and his “mainstream” fiction: they have the same preoccupations and concerns. Turning to crime fiction, if you look at someone like Raymond Chandler – now regarded as “literature” – he was part of a continuum that, while it contained plenty of bad writers, also contained some who were arguably better than he was. The list of such examples could go on and on.

 

Other than literary fiction’s being easier to write (no need to create coherent alternate realities), what differences do you see in writing the two types?

I’m not sure that literary fiction actually is easier to write. If I want to put a piece of fiction in a real setting I have to do a lot of research. If I want to set a story on the planet Fablundia, I can just make shit up!

Where I do think literary fiction is easier to write is in terms of storytelling. A crime novel (or an sf/fantasy novel, etc.) stands or falls according to the strength of its storytelling and its plot. Too many of the mainstream novels that I read score very weakly in these two disciplines. They may have other goodnesses to offer, but clearly their publishers and readers have relatively low standards when it comes to those elements that are traditionally regarded as essential to a good novel.

 

What’s the best experience you’ve ever had at a sci-fi con?

That would be telling. The second-best was probably discovering that I was on a panel with Hal Clement. Giving a live presentation with David Langford of Thog’s Masterclass at a World SF Convention in Glasgow was pretty good too.

 

What’s the worst?

Finding myself on a panel with . . .

 

Would you advise aspiring writers, especially sci-fi writers, to submit mss. to publishers or go it alone as self-publishers? Why?

It depends on what the writer wants to achieve. If you simply want your book to exist, then self-publishing can be the way to go.

And there are other instances where it can be the best option. For example, back in the day I had a friend who wrote a book on pirate radio stations, only to be told by publisher after publisher that there was no market for it. So he raised the money to publish it himself (a far more expensive business in those days) and to buy an ad in New Musical Express, and the next thing he knew he was ordering a reprint several times the size of his first run. He ended up founding a publishing house on the basis of that book’s success.

I also recall, back in the days when I worked at one publisher, the author who was himself responsible for at least 90 percent of the sales of his book. It was a book that appealed to horse-racing punters. As he was one himself, he’d simply go to meets with his SUV stuffed with copies of his book, and flog ’em. He sold literally thousands that way. We all thought he was nuts to have gotten a publisher involved – he’d have made far more money if he’d self-published.

But for every case like that – and for every Fifty Shades of Grey or The Martian – you have a zillion self-publishing ventures that go nowhere.

It’s not hard to see why. Although the publishing experience can be infuriating and on occasion dismal for the author, the fact that a book has been published by a known imprint gives the potential purchaser some measure of reassurance as to its quality: the chances are pretty high that the book will be, at the very least, okay. By contrast, if you buy a self-published book, the chances are high that it’ll be lousy. Since most people these days buy their books online, so you can’t browse through the book before buying, the fact that a book’s self-published can be a big disincentive to risking your hard-earned ten bucks or twenty bucks on it.

 

What are your next writing projects?

I’m just about to start writing a book on fake news for a YA publisher – we’re all pretty excited about this. Further down the line there’s a publisher who wants me to write a book on the worlds that science-fiction writers have created – I can’t really say more about that project at this stage – and the same publisher is talking about an expanded edition of the Hugo-nominated book Dragonhenge, which I wrote but, far more importantly, Bob Eggleton illustrated.

I also want to write a book on femmes fatales, but my agent hasn’t placed it yet. And then, still at development stage, there’s the book on beer art, the book on Edgar Wallace movies, the book on SETI, the book that’s provisionally called The Young Scientist’s Bathroom Book, the book on crap movies . . . I’m keeping my Noirish site ticking over,of course, and I have a few short stories that are asking to be written.

I stay busy.


We published about 250 posts in 2017, and consider the following the 50 best. We’ve divided them into categories to make navigating easier; as with our past “best of” lists, the Humor, Politics, Religion, Music, and Science Fiction categories account for most of the posts. (Because several of the posts fit into more than one category, they appear in more than one place.) We hope you enjoy them.

Humor

Politics

Religion

Music

Economics

Civil Liberties

Science

Interviews

Addictions

Anarchism

Science Fiction


(We received this a few days ago from our Venezuelan comrades connected with El Libertario. It begins with a note from our compañeros/as announcing a series of pieces on the current rebellion and repression — arrests, beatings, and torture — of anarchist and other protesters by the “leftist” Maduro regime, and expressing thanks to those who spread this information.

The images interspersed below showing the aftermath of the beatings are pretty large. Please scroll past them to continue reading the interview.)

Beginning on April 4, 2017, a popular rebellion has been developing against the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. We’ll shortly be sending out a series of interviews with compañeros/as who have been detained and tortured for protesting. We appreciate the translation and dissemination of these interviews in other languages.

Anonymous Rebel: “Organize in whatever way you want, with whomever you want, but don’t be complicit.”

In the first days of July, in the city of Maracaibo in the state of Zulia, an anarchist comrade was arrested by the Bolivarian [federal] National Police (PNB) with the complicity of officials attached to the public transportation system of that city. In order to protect him from physical retaliation, we’re using the pseudonym “Anonymous
Rebel” here.

We spoke with him after he was released from the detention site. He’s currently well, but he was beaten during both his arrest and imprisonment and is under an order to present himself to the police once a week. In good spirits, he spoke with us about how the popular rebellion is progressing.

Can you comment on how you were arrested and if you were tortured?

In the area where I live, the people have been protesting, and I’ve always been participating in these peaceful protests with everyday people such as medics, hairdressers, people distributing free food, everyone from kids to old people.

Everything was going fine until a group of about 30 people, some in the uniform of the Metro [public transit system], poured out of the Metro station to intimidate us. They shot at us and hurled rocks at us, and we went running, with them coming after us, accompanied by the Bolivarian National Police, throwing rocks at houses, apartment buildings, and vehicles.

My arrest was a set-up because [we had stopped] to tell a regional policeman that we weren’t shooting and that it was those who had come out of the metro with rocks in one hand and a pistol in the other.

The aftermath of a beating by Nicolás Maduro’s police

Then to our surprise, we were attacked from behind by the PNB, in what quickly took on the appearance of a battlefield, with tear gas all over the place. We ran, but the PNB on motorcycles tried to corner me two or three times, until they finally got me and arrested me for carrying a bag. They got me down on the ground and battered me with their shields. [Translator’s note: This appears to be a standard tactic with the PNB. They beat their victims to the ground and then slam down the bottoms of their heavy plastic shields on their bodies.] Then, giving us some kicks, they threw me and some other people into a paddywagon.

Later my compañera and another arrested woman arrived, and they took us to the command post of the Guardia at 7:00 pm, where they produced planted evidence to incriminate us: Molotov cocktails, a bag with sharp wire spikes protruding, and the helmets she and I had been wearing. They let my compañera go in the early morning hours, the other woman later in the morning, and they detained me [and other male protesters].

They never read us our rights, and it was until days later that they allowed me a call, which I didn’t make myself, but rather a guard  called my family telling them to bring me clothing while I was detained.

Were you in a cell with other detainees? How were the conditions?

They didn’t put us in a cell, because the jail in that command post was full. There were 40 other people there on various charges besides the protesters, so they put us on the patio and handcuffed us. At 5:00 am they woke us so we could shower. I should mention that I didn’t sleep the entire night, because of the anxiety and helplessness I felt. Five minutes to shower on a patio where there was only a hole in the ground in which to piss and shit.

At this time, an anti-mutiny squad arrived, and four of them, while we were showering, began striking us on our legs, butts, and backs, saying, “These damn anti-Chavistas, we should leave them in a ditch. I don’t know why they brought them here.”

There were two kids of 14 and another aged 17, who they also beat, one of whom, one of the 14-year-olds, when he was arrested they threw to the ground, along with other protestors, and threw the powder or crystals from their tear gas bombs directly on them and then threw water so that the chemicals would penetrate, causing allergic reactions and skin damage.

During the five days I was detained, which I passed under the sun on the patio, they only allowed us to use the toilet facilities [the hole in the ground] twice a day no matter when we ate. Our families could bring us food, but I learned after I was released that the guards had stolen one lunch and dinner my family brought for me.

Here I should thank the Centro de Atención Manos Solidarias along with the everyday people who donated to the imprisoned protesters. I had enough food, but the detainees whose families didn’t supply any benefited greatly from the aid of this social center. We were very grateful for the aid.

How did your detention affect your family and other loved ones?

My mother is 65 years old and disabled, and is in delicate health, but she was strong and was there every day. I thought a lot about her health, but my compañera is the best, and took good care of her. It’s in these moments when one realizes who your true friends and comrades are. Many of the neighborhood people supported us, some monetarily, and some with food and transport. We’re very grateful for their solidarity!

How is life in Maracaibo?

Maracaibo is a difficult city [in which to live], perhaps because the heat makes us so irritable. There’s a very noticeable discontent. The quality of life grows worse with every passing day, as everyone notices. The stereotype of the Maracaiboan is of someone paunchy, but there are [now] many skinny people who are going without necessities.

People have been protesting here since 2015. There is no apathy [in the political sense].

Why do you protest? What impels you to participate in this militant form of popular mobilization?

I’ve been protesting for several years, always anonymously. I don’t like being out front, and I don’t want any praise for doing it; I do it because I’m fed up with the situation, tired of dealing with screwed-up situation after screwed-up situation just to make enough money to buy food day after day. I’m tired of living in a militarist country where we pay taxes to feed those who treat us so badly.

I have my point of view about the protests I go to. We can’t talk about anarchism there and the people aren’t interested in it, the true rebels who put their bodies behind a placard. The majority that I’ve seen only want to get rid of this government, and it doesn’t matter to them what comes after. They only want to get rid of this band of the inept and corrupt. There’s a lot of solidarity in the protests; we’re all equal, brothers and sisters in the struggle.

Is it worth the trouble.

It’s always worth the trouble to fight for your rights, as it always should be; our discontent should be open and should be clear  — we can’t remain paralyzed with fear; it’s necessary to overcome it.

Do you think that after 100 days we’re experiencing a popular rebellion?

Today, July 10, 2017, I think that each day we’re coming closer to a popular rebellion, in that every day the people become less attached to MUD [the opposition coalition] and any political party. They’re fed up with MUD. Today I can say that thanks to this government there’s a rebellious youth, with experience in the street and that, whatever government we’re saddled with, they’re prepared and ready to defend our rights and liberties.

What do you think of the cliche that we shouldn’t support the protests because they benefit the right?

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen and heard. I don’t got out to play games with the MUD, who go out to protests and ask the people who resist which party they belong to. Every day people become less and less tied to the political parties.

How do you see the silence of many overseas anarchists about what’s happening in Venezuela?

In the end, I’ve felt with respect to the great majority of such “anarchists” who whine on social networks and say that they won’t come out [and say anything] because there are groups like the National Rebirth [Renacer Nacional] that are fascist, that are political manipulators. But that’s no reason to remain silent.

It’s necessary to fight for our ideals. It doesn’t matter who’s out there. We need to organize however you want, with whomever you want. But don’t be complicit! Don’t be critical of everything! Don’t be “anarcho” window dressing. Enough with indifference. When you see your brothers and sisters falling, it’s time to fight.

What should be the posture of anarchists in regard to the future?

It’s time that anarchists get in tune with history, get out on the streets to struggle against militarism, against hunger, against corruption, against the injustices they rail against in fanzines, songs, and the poetic fusillades of intellectuals. It’s time that Venezuelan anarchists take to the streets with a clear message and unite with the resistance.

Released political protesters/prisoners in Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela

I also hope for the creation of a serious bloc of anarchists that could become the Anarchist Network, that in truth would not consist of fanzines or music of one band or another. NO. One can’t believe in true anarchist fronts or movements advancing the struggle. It’s necessary to become involved in the barrios, the community councils, in one’s community. It’s necessary for all to say that in this moment, in this totally divided country, that’s broken into two pieces, if not many more, that we ought to take advantage of this space to say who we are and for what we struggle.


Sharp & Pointed: You grew up in Phoenix, but I can’t imagine you as a shitkicker. What kind of music were you listening to back then?

Al Perry: I don’t know about that. I have some definite shitkicker elements. I’m an intellectual redneck! (Someone else called me that). So it was country around the house, like Marty Robbins and Eddy Arnold. Spent a lot of time in my room with a little transistor radio listening to the AM top 40 of the Sixties, and what was considered oldies back then.

Sharp & Pointed: Who were some of your favorite bands and solo artists then?

Al Perry: I started out with the Beatles, like many of us that age. Then went to Cream, Airplane, Hendrix, and such.

Sharp & Pointed: Has your opinion of them changed over time? If so, how and why?

Al Perry: I don’t like hippie or psychedelic stuff so much any more. Hendrix is still good though I didn’t listen to him for many years. Some of the Cream stuff is too self indulgent for me now. Still like the Beatles, though now I don’t pay as much attention to them as I did. You could not escape them then. They were on the radio all the time. Same with the Beach Boys, who I’ve loved for a long, long time. I don’t even listen to hardly any rock anymore. Bores me. I got through the Seventies on jazz and blues. Parker, Coltrane, Dolphy, Muddy, Clifton, and the like.

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing music? What instrument(s)? What styles were you playing?

Al Perry: Had piano lessons for a short time, then guitar. Like this was in third grade. Glad I had them though, they really helped out later. But really, it was well after high school before I became interested enough in playing to take it up. By that time I was sick of rock and was starting to explore blues and jazz. Seventies Rock got REALLY stale. ‘Til the Pistols shook everything up and got me interested again.

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing in bands?

Al Perry: In college.

Sharp & Pointed: What kind of music?

Al Perry: My first band was the Subterranean Blues Band here in Tucson. We did OK for the short time we were together. Played parties then later got some great opening slots: Roy Buchanan, John Cougar, Blasters, Fabulous Thunderbirds, maybe more. Don’t remember. Then I was in the Hecklers, a sort of “roots punk band” that was very loud and pretty fun, we were reviewed in Maximum Rock n’ Roll, and Jello Biafra was a fan. I’ve known him for decades now. The Hecklers morphed into the Cattle.

Sharp & Pointed: Who were some of the bands and musicians you were playing with then?

Al Perry: George Howard was vocals and drums in the Subs. Also the late Pat McAndrews on guitar. My buddy Lee Poole. We are still in touch a lot. Same with George.

Sharp & Pointed: Did you do vocals when you started playing in bands, or did that come later? If so, when?

Al Perry: After the Subs I played bass for a couple months in a Southern Rock Band. We actually did an album. Whoa! My first record. Highly prized collectable now. Not. I was only meant to be temporary and left. Lack of interest in that stuff. Then it was the Hecklers. I sang a little in that and wrote all the songs. That morphed into Al Perry and the Cattle.

Sharp & Pointed: You moved from Phoenix to Tucson ages ago. When and why?

Al Perry: I moved away at the first available opportunity, which was school. Had to get out. Hated it in Phoenix.

Sharp & Pointed: Why didn’t you ever move back to Phoenix? Why not?

Al Perry: Haven’t you ever been there? It’s HORRIBLE. Even when I go up I come back as soon as I can. I still have many great friends there though. It’s gotten better there, but I would not want to actually live there. 

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing cowpunk (alt-country? whatever)? Why?

Al Perry: I guess that was the Hecklers and then Cattle. Both bands explored roots type music, doing that stuff but with a modern energy. Punk was happening and that injected some fresh whatever into rock. I did not really think that mixing stuff up inappropriately was unusual. It was just what you did. I didn’t try to do anything, it just sort of happened. I guess I was an early inventor of “cowpunk” or at least it’s fun to frame it that way. HAW!

Sharp & Pointed: What’s the best experience you’ve ever had playing music?

Al Perry: Too many to mention, my friend.

Sharp & Pointed: What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had playing music?

Al Perry: WAY too many to mention! HA!

Sharp & Pointed: You play both in bands and as a solo performer. Which do you prefer, and why?

Al Perry: I like bands of course. It is fun to hear your songs fleshed out. It’s also like a gang. I only do solo because I am so lazy anymore.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you like about playing in bands?

Al Perry: Fuckin’ rockin’ out LOUD dude.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you dislike about playing in bands?

Al Perry: Guys messing up my vision. Idiots who don’t have musicianship. It is important to play for the song, not for yourself. Some clowns don’t get that.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you like about solo performing?

Al Perry: The only thing I like about it is that it’s ME and me only that is responsible for the success or failure of any given performance.

Sharp & Pointed: You’re a prolific songwriter. What’s your songwriting process? Or is there more than one?

Al Perry: I am absolutely not prolific, unless you count these instrumentals and stuff, that I just consider thrown together. To me, songwriting is really a vocal, lyrics, verse chorus kind of thing.

Sharp & Pointed: How has the music biz changed over the years?

Al Perry: No one is interested anymore and there are way way way too many people in bands.

Sharp & Pointed: Is it harder or easier to make a living playing music now than it was 20 or 30 years ago? Why?

Al Perry: Much harder. People are not interested.

Sharp & Pointed: Has American pop music (everything from jazz to rock to country) been getting better or worse during your lifetime? Why?

Al Perry: Worse, of course. But I am interested in so many things, there is always something new to discover.

Sharp & Pointed: Are there any aspects of current American pop that you particularly hate?

Al Perry: I actually like some current pop stuff. That comes as a surprise to a lot of people. Kelly Clarkson, Meghan Trainor. Super cheese factor stuff.

Sharp & Pointed: Among relatively recent American bands and musicians, are there any that you particularly like? Why?

Al Perry: I mostly like the groups of my friends. As I said I’m not so interested in rock anymore.

Sharp & Pointed: You have a Youtube channel. What’s its name and what kind of stuff are you putting up on it?

Al Perry: It is alperryism. I put up these dumb little videos I make on imovie. I do some instrumental soundtracks, those are fun.

Sharp & Pointed: What are your musical plans over the next year or two?

Al Perry: I’m officially old now. I find my interest is declining.

Sharp & Pointed: Do you have any advice for young musicians? If so, what?

Al Perry: Buy some drywall tools and learn how to use them, because you are never going to make a living with music. Go into real estate. You are in for a lot of heartbreak and frustration otherwise. Unless you have a trust fund.

Sharp & Pointed: You also do artwork in addition to music. When did you start doing that?

Al Perry: I have always dabbled in it. But in the last few years I started doing these watercolors. It’s actually gone pretty well, and I have even sold some. I was part of a group show at the Fleicher/Ollman gallery in Philadelphia, an established gallery, and it was quite an honor.

Sharp & Pointed: Where can people see some of your artwork?

Al Perry: I think you can look around online. Or get hold of me. I’ll mail you a postcard.

Sharp & Pointed: Other than music and art, what are your other interests?

Al Perry: Drugs, alcohol, contempt, boredom. What kind of question is that? Music and art? Hello! What else is there?


We just put up our 1,000th post —  this  is number 1,003 — a few days ago. We’re now looking through everything we’ve posted, and are putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the third of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction “best of” and the Addictions “best of” lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Interviews


Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber cover

Our brand new sci-fi title, the cyberpunk thriller Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber, is back from the printer.  It’s also available as an e-book from all of the usual outlets.

The following interview should be of interest not only to sci-fi fans, but to writers of all genres, as T.C. has a lot to say about the craft of writing, generating plots, and creating believable characters.

If you’d like to check out Sleep State Interrupt, we’ve put up the first four chapters in pdf form,  and the author has put up a site for the book, which has a lot of additional information.

Q: What was the genesis of Sleep State Interrupt?

A: I’ve always been worried about the concentration of media and the decline of journalism, and the threats those trends pose to independent, critical thought and democracy. Then it was just a matter of inventing characters who would also be concerned about it and adding details of a near-future world. I lived in Baltimore and have been involved in music scenes and community organizing, so it was easy to include those as background elements. I have some experience with IT and video/news production. I consulted with experts to fill in the details, especially the tech-related ones.


Q: What advance preparation do you do prior to beginning a novel? Write mini-bios of the characters? Research the locale? Research any scientific matters essential to the book? Anything else?
A: All of the above. The basic story comes first. Then the plot and main characters. I create detailed character sheets, psychological profiles, and even put play lists together for the POV characters. The world also has to be developed. For Sleep State Interrupt, I didn’t need to research the locales since they’re in my backyard. But I did explore predicted technology for 2020-30 and interviewed experts. I’ve written other books, though, that required much more up-front world building. The Drift Horizon (which I’ve been editing off and on for quite a while) is set in a completely different version of Earth and I wrote a sort of Rough Guide/Lonely Planet for the country most of the action is set in.

Q: Are your characters based on people you’ve known, are they amalgams, or are they pure invention?

A: I invent my characters to fill roles in a story. They aren’t based on specific people, though of course real people and events inspire or influence them. I create profiles for my major characters, fleshing out their goals, personalities, backgrounds, appearances, etc. These may change while drafting the story, but usually not a whole lot. I try to make them interesting, since I’ll be spending a lot of time in their heads, I don’t want to be bored. Nor do I want readers to get bored.

Q: How do you generate your plots? Do you work the plot out first and then write? Start out with a general idea of where you want to go and then start writing? Or just sit down in front of a blank screen and start writing?

A: It’s a complicated process. I follow Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/) and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering (https://www.amazon.com/Story-Engineering-Larry-Brooks/dp/1582979987), more or less. The first step is to brainstorm story ideas and pick one worth writing about. I turn this into a “what if” question (like “What if nearly all information was controlled by a powerful elite? Could ordinary people overturn such a system?”) and a one-sentence novel summary (e.g., “An unemployed journalist and her friends try to stop a power-mad CEO from controlling the world.”) The next step is to expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major plot points, and ending of the novel. Then I develop the main characters and their goals, motivations, back story, etc. I weave the character arcs into the plot and write a short synopsis followed by a long synopsis. I convert this to a scene list in Scrivener, with a virtual index card for each scene (ideally with the scene arc outlined). Then finally I start writing, starting with the opening scene and filling out each scene in order. As I write, the story changes, sometimes quite a bit, but at least I have a roadmap to follow.


Q: You write both fiction and nonfiction. What would you say are the similarities and differences between writing nonfiction and writing fiction?

A: There are a lot of similarities. In both cases, you need to think creatively, organize your thoughts, be disciplined, and write clearly. Fiction is much more fun because you can write whatever you want and create your own worlds and people.

Q: How do you get inspired to write?

A: It’s more a question of habit than inspiration. You just have to sit down and get to work.


Q: What’s your writing routine? Do you write every day, and if so do you write at the same time every day? Do you set a goal, in terms of writing time or number of words?

A: I try to write something every morning before going to work, even if it’s just random thoughts or a few paragraphs. If it’s relevant to a current project, I pick it up again after dinner. When working on a novel, my goal is to write one scene each day, schedule permitting. Long scenes may take several days. My time goal is 10 hours/week of writing new material (not including editing or marketing chores). I don’t write nearly as fast as some of my colleagues who can churn out 5000+ words/day, but maybe someday.….


Q: Writing, by its very nature, is an isolating activity and, if you spend much time on it, probably has a negative impact on social life. Do you just live with that or do you do anything specific to deal with it?

A: That would be true if I wrote 12 hours/day, but it’s more like 1-2. It would be a lot easier to write first drafts sequestered in a remote mountain cabin (with bad weather so I didn’t spend all day hiking), but that’s not possible.


Q: When did you start reading science fiction, and what authors and books were you reading then?
A: I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and have from an early age. This question stumped me so I called my mom and asked. She couldn’t remember either and thought I was mostly interested in history as a child. After further brainstorming, we came up with Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. My mom also said I liked Star Trek, and I remember loving monster and kung-fu movies.


Q: Have your opinions of those changed over time? If so, how?
A: I still have a high regard for Asimov and Clarke. I can’t stomach Heinlein’s quasi-fascist diatribes. He also had libertarian leanings, though, which I’m more amenable to, as long as the power of the rich and corporations are held in check.


Q: Do you have any current favorite sci-fi subgenres? If so, what and why?
A: I don’t have a favorite genre of fiction even in the broader sense. I’m mostly interested in reading a story that has something to say, and says it well. It could fall under any genre. I admit to being impatient though; if a book starts to really meander or plod, I’ll lose patience and pick up something else.


Q: Who are some of your current favorite sci-fi writers, and why?
A: Based on her ideas, Ursula K. LeGuin. Based on his cleverness and characters, Kurt Vonnegut. Scope: Isaac Asimov. World building: Frank Herbert. I also like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson a lot. Neuromancer and Diamond Age are unforgettable . I could go on and on. I’d also like to mention Baltimore’s own Sarah Pinsker — her prose flows perfectly.


Q: Sleep State Interrupt has a satisfying conclusion, but it’s open ended. You’re now writing the sequel. How is that coming along?

A: I was making steady progress until halfway through, then had to focus on editing an unrelated book, and now am picking it up again. As of this writing, the characters’ obstacles appear insurmountable and I’m not sure how they’ll get to the ending. It’ll take a lot of brainstorming. Lesson: don’t stop in the middle of writing a first draft!

Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?

A: I only get “writer’s block” when my characters get in a situation that seems impossible to escape. Then I have the characters talk it through until they come up with a solution. Only a small part of the conversation may make it onto the page, but it’s just like real life — some problems require a lot of brainstorming and hypothesis testing.

Q: What are your other current writing projects, and would you briefly describe them?

A: I’m working on five projects at the moment. I’m writing a sequel to Sleep State Interrupt titled The Wrath of Leviathan, in which the protagonists are on the run and fighting a government and media backlash. I’m also writing a farce about local politics titled The Council, but it’s temporarily on hold until I finish Wrath of Leviathan (The challenging part is being more absurd than reality!) I am editing an alternate history novel titled Born in Salt, set fifty years after a fascist coup overthrew President Roosevelt. Ben Adamson, a 19-year-old Illinois farm boy, tries to free the woman he loves from the ruthless Internal Security Service without betraying his friends, and seeks to bring down the government in the process. I am rewriting another alternate history novel titled The Drift Horizon, in which humanity has been shaped since the dawn of agriculture by mysterious entities called the Guardians. These entities have since disappeared, and a catastrophic disaster has pitched the world into a war that may end civilization forever. Finally, I am working on a shared horror novel with three other writers, set in Baltimore in the 1920’s. Think Lovecraft meets Fitzgerald meets H. L. Mencken.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?

A: Writing is hard work and involves a lot of drudgery (particularly editing). But it’s rewarding to see characters and worlds come alive. My favorite moments are when a character veers from the outline and does something unexpected, especially if it’s something a lot smarter and more inventive than the outline called for. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I throw away the outline and go with it.

Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

A: Make lists of ideas. Write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph or short poem. Expand your best ideas into story synopses. Take the best synopses and write complete stories. Have fun.


Our friends at Crónicas Negras have been running a series of interviews with their fellow Venezuelan anarchists. Here’s the latest.

_________________

 

“The Venezuelan state is approving the biggest eco-suicide known in our entire history and the Boliarvian government is complicit”

Interview with Juan Pablo Núñez from Maracaibo.

 

Interviewer Rodolfo Montes de Oca (http://rodolfomontesdeoca.contrapoder.org.ve/)

 

Translation by Pietro Casati Kuyath (https://theorywithoutborders.wordpress.com/)

 

Black Chronicles are a series of interviews conducted to different anarchists currently living in Venezuela, narrating the struggles the face living in one of the few socialist regimes. These interviews deal with the everyday lives of men and women and highlight the precarious situations in which they are forced to live in.

In this edition we interview Juan Pablo Núñez, member of the band Doña Maldad, soloist in Cadáveres podrido, activist, colleague of El Libertario and anarcho-punk from the region of Zulia.

 

-How is it being a young anarchist in Venezuela? Is it challenging?

I have been fighting for this cause for more than 15 years. I am an adult, but I am still young at heart so I can answer the question: I don’t think that it is different from any other country. The matter which makes the situation complicated is the strong polarization that is dividing people. We must establish opinions that aren’t seen as crazy or even despised. Socialist Venezuela is a huge farce because it is merely the continuation of what the system supposedly criticizes to gain the same power, resources and people’s autonomy.

 

First Manuel Rosales, then Eveling Trejo to culminate with Francisco Arias Cardenas… haven’t the people from Zulia learnt their lesson?

Neither the people from Zulia or Venezuelans from other states have learnt that regardless of who rules it is only a tool for their own interests. Manuel Rosales was governor and Dimartino was the mayor. When this happened there was a strange competitiveness between both groups of power. Meanwhile Arías Cárdenas is the governor and Trejo is the mayor. In their continuous battle to sink their political adversaries they have left the city destroyed: full of garbage, black water… In essence, their businesses and personal interests rule over the interests of the people.

 

Arias is a very strategic militant, he wants to transform Zulia into a powerful state, just like his advertisements suggest. His mission is to expand the territory with neoliberal projects of development and other interests from Colombia which include infrastructure, coal mining, ports for exportation, militarization, etc. The consequences of his policies could leave Zulia without any water resources, along with contributing to a high level of deforestation and increase in Colombian contraband. Zulia has become another business for the military.

 

-How do you see the lack of criticism from NGO’s towards the role of Francisco Arias Cárdenas, knowing that he is destroying the Sierra de Perija?

Political matters are based on blackmail. Chavism knows a lot about this because I think that it has always been their main pressure tool. I am not surprised that many organizations and NGO’s obtain mutual support from people like Francisco Arias in exchange for turning a blind eye to certain problems. They have already destroyed our lake a long time ago and nothing was done to solve this from any NGO’s.

 

The death of Sabino Romero… What is your opinion on his death?

Sabino Romero was an important figure for his speeches and the actions he undertook to obtain land for ethnic groups like the Yukpas. He was a threat to the government because he was a firm believer in Chávez’s speech. He also altered the power relations between farmers, the military and the government. Sabino was also serving as an inspirational example for other indigenous communities in the country. This is why Sabino was killed by the farmers with the complicity of the government.

 

How do you see the issue of the Arco Minero del Orinoco and the current focus on extractivism by the Venezuelan state?

The Arco Minero issue is something very worrying and we have to take action right now. The majority of the Venezuelan terrain in situated in the river Orinoco. They have already installed an oil-bearing station in Faja and they are about to start mining in the south. The mere action of inviting 135 transnational businesses and accepting their partnership is something incredibly nefarious for our territory and our people. We are talking about a mining program that is occurring over important reserves of water, fauna, flora and indigenous communities. The Arco Minero marks the beginning of the end of all of our natural treasures. If this doesn’t stop then death, wars and sickness will soon come. Full destruction. The Venezuelan state is approving the biggest eco-suicide known in our entire history and the Bolivian government is complicit.

 

After so many defeats… How do you currently see the resistance of indigenous communities?

The example and reference that I have are the battles of Zulia. We are currently living the consequences of subsidized activism. Chavism gave and took away the same blackmail that we talked about. The Yukpas, after so much hardship, are now surviving because they have been abandoned to their own luck. The Wayuu of Socuy social movement have managed to start projects that keep indigenous communities optimistic. But I think that the autonomy would be the flag that should be risen and demonstrated through examples to prove that that they don’t need the state to solve their problems. Instead they must build strong alliances with the movements of the city to establish relations where people are involved and feel a sense of belonging.

 

You play in music bands like Doña maldad and now started the band Cadáveres podridos… Is it challenging to produce independent music in Venezuela?

No, I don’t think that it is that hard, especially now when you can record with anything.

 

Do you queue to buy regulated food or do you engage in bachaqueo?

I don’t queue, the feeling of impotence and rage that I feel don’t allow me to do so. I don’t engage in bachaqueo either because it is an extortionist practise. If you thought that only the population could save themselves from this mess take a look at this phenomena and the collective desperate desire for survival. I imagine that you must ask yourself if I buy any contraband. Our alimentation at home has been severely affected by the current situation. We eat lots of fruits and grains from a standard vegetarian diet but now we can’t even pay for grains, fruits or anything for that matter. Everything is too expensive. We should start planting seeds, everyone should do that.

 

Have you been a victim of the increasing crime rate? Have they lynched anybody where you live?

Yes, I have been mugged several times, even by pointing a gun at my face. I am aware of thieves being killed by the police on a regular basis.

 

How is electricity rationing where you live?

Two daily hours, sometimes this timetable is maintained and sometimes it’s not. In fact whilst I am writing this right now I know that the light will go off soon.

 

How have people reacted to the price increase of public transport?

There have already been protests across the universities. People seem visibly miserable. I tend to use my bicycle, it’s the best option.

 

Do you have any problems with your internet?

It is very slow. I don’t have any Internet connection at home because it broke and nobody has fixed it yet.

 

Do you think people are starting to get fed up not only with the government but also with the opposition? Where are we heading towards?

I hope that we are heading for a revolt.

 

Have you ever thought of running away, crossing the border? Or do you have to stay to build and fight?

Yes, I have thought about leaving on numerous occasions, but I want the current government to leave even more. All of them. In these moments we have to fight because the plans of the government are nefarious for all Venezuelans.

 

Did you know that we all have to be inscribed to obligatory military service? How do you see the militarization of society?

Yes… I knew, but I didn’t inscribe myself. The country has ended up like this because we are in the hands of the military. What we have lived and what will soon come isn’t going to be easy, especially with CAMIMPEG, a military-mining corporation.

 

What activities are you performing in Zulia? Do anarchist organizations exist?

There is a little bit of everything in Zulia, the movements I involve myself with are related to the defence of water, against the mining of coal… Here there are a lot of things for everybody, but we must expand our capacity in the city. Cyclers, musicians, poets, everyone in the world should establish objectives and plans of action to save this city from political unconsciousness.

 

What should be libertarian attitudes in these moments?

In this moment we must continue organizing lots of demonstrations to highlight the inefficiency of the state.

 

Would you like to add anything to end the interview? What would you recommend for fellow anarchists?

Assist popular markets, support fights, demonstrate your discontent and turn off your phones.

________________________

Rodolfo Montes de Oca

Bitácora personal: http://rodolfomontesdeoca.contrapoder.org.ve/

Twitter: @romontesdeoca