Tag Archives: books

Mother Earth: Not Just Mars in Drag

rust recycle

The Green movement, not unlike any other call for societal change, is propelled by one gallon of science, a pint of conscience, and two (or three) loads of bandwagon (what ultimately makes it a movement). This bandwagon–I’ll call it a “band-station-wagon” (maybe one of those mythical Chrysler electric vehicles), features a panda bear high-fiving a sea turtle on one side and a smokestack in the shape of a flower on the other, and it’s packed as tight as a clown car with well-meaning citizens who are as afraid of being associated with the “other side” as they are concerned for the environment.

You’ll find me somewhere in the backseat smoking an imaginary cigarette dreaming of a tobacco hybrid that releases zero-tar, oxygen-rich vitamin smoke when it burns.

 As more passengers come along for the ride, cliques arise, factions form, and we sometimes find ourselves at odds. Environmentalists pushing renewable energy and energy independence applaud bio fuels and Brazil for their sugar cane diesel while the conservationists worry that the proliferation of sugar cane fields will encroach into if not destroy precious rainforest in the process. Electric cars reduce emissions in the city, but the electricity needed to recharge the battery is generated most likely at your neighborhood coal or gas burning electric power plant, not to mention that the manufacturing process for the batteries is not that environmentally friendly.

All the while, Papa Gore in the driver’s seat tries to convince scientists that the “warm up” isn’t just a statistical spike in the standard warming-cooling cycle from the last ice age. Even the zero-emission vehicle I helped develop as a proof of concept, a ’67 Volkswagen beetle (yes, again with a Volkswagen, Fahrvergnügen!) transformed to run on the expansion of liquid Nitrogen (“the cool car” we called it) would only truly be “green” if the energy expended to liquefy the Nitrogen were to have been generated using solar power or some other green fuel (reducing the “cool car” to simply an inefficient method of storing solar energy to use later).

And, a quick poll of fiction writers would suggest that while the majority profess a green leaning tendency, many of these same writers would still rather see their work in a print journal than an online lit magazine or e-published, even if the electronic publication might be seen by far more readers than the print, even with the rising quality of online publications. We still want our contributors’ copies. We want to display it on our shelf. It’s an object d’art, something that can’t be “unpublished” because the website didn’t pay their domain registration or the editors decided they would rather change aesthetic course and truncate part of their archives. POD technology solves many of the environmental concerns, but to some, POD technology has become interchangeable with the term “POD publishers” some of which have soiled the POD abbreviation making it almost synonymous with a vanity press. Electronic submissions reduce waste, but so does recycling.

Technophiles have been predicting the demise of books (printed material in general) for nearly two decades now on the basis that printed material is no longer an efficient method of storing data (even less so than a papyrus scroll by comparison to digital). But the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace (just ask any writer who has ever submitted any material anywhere or has waited for their book to finally hit the shelves). It is true though that the proverbial writing has been scrawled on the stall of the literary restroom (years ago in fact). Newspapers are now closing up shop, or converting to online formats (as even the NY Times has projected in five to ten years), and libraries are converting to electronic reference materials. People of a certain age still claim printed material is easier to read, but the upcoming generations have become much more accustomed to the electronic format. Imagine these receding glaciers we hear so much about in global warming sermons. The ice is printed material. The rocks are electronic. Kindle and his future siblings have arrived, certainly for convenience, but also to reduce mass-market bulk waste.

That leaves the books and literary journals as works of art in their own right–their content and their bindings. Just as artists still paint with brushes and oils on a canvas cloth, books will find a rightful place in the arts. As an avid lover of books, their smell, the feel of them in my hands, even the weight of the pages as a metaphor for the content, I am certain books will endure. Who will read them? Who knows?

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Words in a Box :
A Literary Gedankenexperiment

Imagine that in order to determine how much money to pay the author (very wishful thinking), the local independent bookseller had to first calculate the velocity of the books as they flew off the shelves (more wishful thinking for the author and the indie bookseller). I’ll also add the constraint: the only way to make this calculation would be to hurl another book at them as they flew by, which would also require the bookseller to know the books’ location. After this thwack with the other book, the bookseller would know the velocity of the books and could calculate the royalty, but the exact location of the books to deliver to the customer would be in question–somewhere in a range of probable locations in proximity to where the books collided.


As a way to express the unique and somewhat ridiculous mathematics involved in describing quantum systems (something I won’t attempt here), and to illustrate the fallacy of applying a quantum analysis to a non quantum object, in 1935 the physicist Erwin Schrödinger conceived of a hypothetical experiment, (no animals were actually harmed): shut a cat in a sealed box next to a piece of radioactive substance small enough such that the probability of it producing one particle of radioactive decay in one hour was the same as it producing no particles at all. He would then outfit the box with a Geiger counter rigged to a hammering device situated over a tube of poisonous gas. If the counter detected a radioactive particle, the hammer would fall, shattering the tube of gas which would kill the cat. Applying the same probability equations used to describe quantum states, after a time, the cat would be both dead and alive simultaneously.


Schrödinger's Cat

However, after opening the box, the observer would definitely see either a hot and pissed off (but still alive) cat or dead one, certainly not both. This gedankenexperiment has been interpreted numerous ways. Some theorized that a quantum state can only be known at the time of measurement (when the box is finally opened). “The many worlds interpretation” has a bifurcating universe at the point the box is opened, one with the observer looking at a dead cat and one with the observer looking at a living cat.

Since literature seems to be governed by cultural appraisal rather than physical law unlike cats and subatomic  particles. It would seem possible for a work of fiction to be in both a Literary and a genre state simultaneously, perhaps until the observer opens it, an observer with a predetermined list of expectations.


The litany of differences is long and varied depending on who is asked.


Genre vs. literary: craft vs. art–plot vs. character–conspicuous vs. subtle– escapism vs. illumination–aliens vs. eighteenth-century hand maidens–Hugo vs. Pulitzer–making money vs. critical acclaim.

There have been writers who have breached this genre barrier, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut come to mind, but for this, I’m going subatomic, to the words themselves.


In this literary gedankenexperiment, I propose to take the words from two famous novels, one literary and one genre, throw them in a box (a shoebox perhaps), and instead of radiation, I’ll subject them to agitation by placing the box on the washing machine during the spin cycle and extrapolate the result of two sample sentences from the originals.


From East of Eden – Steinbeck These too are of a burning color-not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.” 





From I, Robot – Asimov He’s the best darn robot money can buy and I’m damned sure he set me back half a year’s income. Mrs. Weston was a bit hazy about the insides of a robot…” 





Result: I’m damned, burning, not gold, orange, now a liquid, might be cream, a bit hazy on the buy. These poppies are pure gold, the best, half a year’s income for Mrs. Weston. And he’s like a robot about the money.





*There are a few words lost to entropy in this process.
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