No Longer Than

In a few days I’m going to self publish the short story “De.mocra.cy,” and writing the afterword for it brought me back to an interesting revelation I had after editing it. I hate limitations in writing, and will do everything to work around, nullify, or flat out ignore them.

This may seem oppositional to the idea that limits are good for writing, though it isn’t entirely. The limitations which I hate are artificial ones—ones which exist beyond the world of the story. In this post I hope to clarify that distinction, explain what drove me to this realization, and tangentially promote that upcoming short story. Although maybe this will actually make the story seem less appealing, who knows.

Before I talk about my experience with that piece though, I’ll go all the way back to my experience in the fourth and fifth grade. Because at that time, I already knew that I hated limits. I wasn’t much of a writer then—at least, I didn’t write regularly, though I did enjoy it a lot. I was always happy to have creative writing assignments in school, because I loved imagining strange worlds and interesting characters. What I didn’t love was that these assignments had to be a maximum of five pages double-spaced (I think—it may have actually been shorter.) That’s about a thousand words, which is about two thirds the length of this post. And while that’s a fine amount of work for most nine- to ten-year-olds, for me it was awful. I always found myself pushing up against the max length, and ending the stories abruptly. That length is just not congruent with the way my imagination works. Over the past six years I’ve written twenty-six short stories, and only one of them was under that length.

But that’s not so bad. A few bizarre, goofy short stories truncated—it’s no big loss, and it was no big frustration to me. What was worse was the max length for plays in high school.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, November 2016

Lot’s of books about Vietnam, because I’m in a literature class called “Reimagining Vietnam.” So, here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene – The Quiet American is a book narrated by Thomas Fowler, a jaded British journalist working in Vietnam during the violent overthrow of French colonialism. The American of the title is Alden Pyle, a representative with the American economic mission, who seems to have some greater role than he lets on.

The book’s plot is pretty interesting in it’s own right, mainly focusing on the growing relationship between Pyle and Fowler, and Pyle’s attempts to win the heart of Fowler’s Vietnamese mistress—but what I enjoyed most were all the questions it raised about being “engagé.” Fowler firmly believes in remaining neutral as a journalist, while Pyle is full of idealism, convinced that America can do good in bringing democracy to Vietnam—before the US even had a strong military presence there. The book was published shortly after the events described in it—before the “Vietnam War”—but the debates between Fowler and Pyle about the role of western powers in under developed nations have only become more and more relevant. What is the global role of a fading colonial power? What is the role of a rising superpower? At what point does inaction become action?

The book is a quick read, full of dry wit, vivid descriptions of the communist uprising, and terrific dialogue.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – Vietnam book number two. The book is a collection of short stories revolving around a platoon of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Most of the stories are narrated by a fictitious version of the author. Some are short vignettes, some are longer, more traditional stories, and some are almost like personal essays, with choppy bits of story and pieces of argument or reflection mixed together.

The more traditional stories are all compelling. O’Brien does a masterful job of characterizing the soldiers and the landscape around them. The opening piece, “The Things They Carried,” is a long meditation on the physical and emotional burden of each of the soldiers, all their memories and personal totems. One of my favorites is “On the Rainy River”, which describes the narrator’s struggle deciding whether or not to dodge the draft. These types of stories, with their intimate depth of character and reflective tone, would be enough for me to highly recommend this book. What makes the collection really special, and something worth re-reading, is the inclusion of those more non-fictional pieces. Pieces like “Spin,” “How to Tell a True War Story,” and “Good Form” add another layer to the book, calling into question the truth of things, and the purpose of writing, and remembering, and telling war stories. And O’Brien did fight in Vietnam, so there’s another layer. The book is rich with experience and questions, an engaging read and one to remember, and keep thinking about, as well.

No Man’s Land by Duong Thu Huong – This book is great. It takes place in (surprise!) Vietnam shortly after the victory of the Communist forces, in a town called Mountain Hamlet. The action kicks off almost immediately when Mien, one of the three main characters, finds that her first husband has returned from the dead. She had married him just before he went off to war, and for over a decade he’s been presumed dead. In that time, Mien married an entrepreneur named Hoan, and had a child with him. But once her first husband, Bon, returns, she feels a social and moral obligation to become his wife again.

The strength of the book is the characters. The main characters are the members of the love triangle, Bon, Hoan, and Mien, but there are plenty of side characters that are just as interesting. Everyone has a backstory, with more depth and hardship hidden beneath the surface. Huong digs deep into all the characters, and all the settings, with descriptions that range from beautiful to horrifying. Everything is so well wrought, the characters and settings and backstories all leave deep emotional impressions on the reader. Of all the books I’ve read so far for my Vietnam class, this one is my favorite.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – As with many of Mark Twain’s books, this one is all over the place, in terms of tone and subject matter. Most of the time, it works, and the result is a book that is full of many different memorable characters and entertaining situations.

If you don’t know the plot already, Huckleberry Finn follows the Huck and Jim, a runaway slave, as they run away from their abusive father and their owner who plans to sell them down the river, respectively. They set off on a raft down the Mississippi, intending to take a turn around the south end of Illinois and head northeast, to the free states. The book is mostly composed of short episodes which occur as they travel down the river.

This is the strength of the book. These episodes are full of larger-than-life characters, like the Duke and the King—two conmen who board the raft as they’re being chased out of the town they just ran a grift on—or the Grangerfords and the Sphepherdsons—two families on opposite sides of a generations-old feud, whose cause know one can even remember anymore. Below the surface all the colorful characters and funny stories are issues of race, dominance, violence, mob mentality, religion, and, of course, slavery. The balance that Twain strikes between entertainment and substance is terrific and compelling, and it’s why the book is a classic. Unfortunately, the ending is (famously) underwhelming, and abandons the substance in favor of just entertainment, leaving all those issues unresolved and unacknowledged.

Regardless, the book is absolutely worth reading, and there’s a great audiobook of it, performed by John Greenman, on Librivox.

Free Writing: On the Walk Home

Here’s a somewhat spooky piece of writing for Halloween, inspired by a thought I had while  …

On the Walk Home
Francis Bass

My legs pound into the ground, leaden, burning.

I stumble. I stop.

I’ve never seen this place before. I don’t remember getting here. I don’t remember anything from this walk, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, but I started for home at noon, and now it’s dusk. I’m on the side of a deserted highway, surrounded by unfamiliar, old, low buildings with peeling paint, and tall dark pine trees.

“…He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don’t like Vholes, I hope?”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House. It drones in my ears.

I don’t know what part of the book this is. When I headed home from school, I was just listening to the first chapter, trying to get a head start on my reading for Tuesday.

A cold wind leaps up behind me and swoops over my shoulders and through my sweat-soaked shirt.

The sun is low, pumpkin-orange, gray clouds puffed in front of it. I look at the buildings, search them for some scrap of familiarity that might orient me. “Canaan Groceries” is beside me. It looks long closed, but there’s a faded blue pickup parked in front of it. A daycare squats across the street from me with a bleached sign bearing a rainbow and some illegible lettering. Not far ahead is an impoundment lot, filled with the rounded bodies of cars hunkering down.

Lights flare up and a car zooms past me on the road.

“… in her most genteel accents, ‘my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases …’”

I tear my phone out of my pocket, and just as I do the audiobook stops playing, and a battery icon, empty, blinks on the screen. Then the screen goes black.

I stick my phone back in my pocket and twist around. The seat of my shorts is wet, my underarms are wet, the back of my shirt is wet, and its all cold in the wind. I hold my thumb out to the road stupidly, but there are no cars coming from either direction, just the fast disappearing red winks of taillights on the car that just passed. The only other motion is the pine trees, big dark furry sprouts walling in the highway, swaying. My arm aches after only a few seconds of holding it up.

I turn around and yank off my earbuds. I walk to the pickup in front of the grocer’s, but as I approach I see that the tires are gone, the thing is beached, stranded, ownerless, covered in dead leaves and pine straw.

I hear a car coming, and I run back to the street and hold my thumb out, but the approaching headlights just blast past me. I realize how dark it is now. The sun is just a few jagged scraps seen through fractal black foliage. Long shadows blend into one big shadow which spills across all the road and all the parking lots and all the trees. I start walking up the street, in the opposite direction from where I had been heading before.

My footsteps sound strange, out-of-sync. I stop for a moment, and quiet, crunching footsteps continue. I am riveted in place. My throat is dry. My eyes burn in the wind. I start walking again, looking straight ahead, into the darkness of the road. The footsteps are near me. I hear rubber soles squeaking. I fumble at my side, not looking down, grab my dangling earbuds, and put them into my ears. The footsteps start running, whapping the ground faster faster faster right toward my back with deafening crunching thunking sound blasting into my skull through the earbuds and I keep walking, don’t think, into the wind, into the dark of the set sun.

My legs pound the ground.

I’m in front of the door to my apartment complex. I reach for my keys.

“… has come up from her place in Lincolnshire (hotly pursued by the fashionable intelligence) …”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House droning in my ear. I realize that I haven’t actually been listening to it. A warm wind blows past me, and I enter my apartment building, stepping out of the mid-day sun. As the door shuts behind me, I realize I don’t recall anything from my walk home. I left my classroom, started listening to the audiobook … it doesn’t matter. I’ll have to re-listen to those chapters, or just actually read them, tonight, since we have a reading quiz for them tomorrow. It’s a shame. I was hoping to get the reading done on my walk home so I could have the night free.

It sure sucks having Halloween on a Monday.

Copyright © by Francis Bass 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Learning from Shakespeare’s Histories

adolf_schro%cc%88dter_falstaff_und_sein_page
Falstaff and his Page by Adolf Schrödte

In preparation for writing a historical play (not based on real history, but a play with banners and kings and armies) I’ve been reading a few of Shakespeare’s histories—namely, Richard IIHenry IV part 1Henry IV part 2Henry V, and Julius Caesar.

Now, I’m not taking any classes on Shakespeare, nor have I ever taken any classes exclusively focused on Shakespeare. This post doesn’t come from a well-informed scholarly background, or from someone intimately familiar with the discourse surrounding Shakespeare. I’m just some guy who likes reading and writing and watching plays. With that said, this is what I’ve learned.Read More »

New Publication: Monastery

School’smonastery-c-hvd-2 back in, so what better time to read a play about the future of higher education and students arguing with each other?

You can buy Monastery on Smashwords or on Amazon. Here’s the synopsis:

A couple decades in the future higher education has evolved, and Academic Campuses (sometimes referred to as “monasteries”) offer an affordable, though longer and more intensive, alternative to universities. In this hour-long play, the student editors of the Marietta Academic Campus’s literary journal, The Mac, meet just before the start of summer to finish up the latest issue, and to celebrate their success. As the play continues, a hypothetical conversation about graduating early and starting up a magazine outside the monastery turns into a spirited argument.

As usual the publication includes an afterword. In this one I describe my own arguments with myself about college, and my outlining process for the play.

Harry Potter and the Holistic Review

Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverI just finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I feel like it was one of the most multi-layered reading experiences I’ve ever had with a contemporary work. By multi-layered I mean that I was thinking about, and analyzing meta-textual elements while reading it—which is a common enough experience, when I’m reading old literature for my english classes, but pretty rare with recently published books and plays. So, rather than just reviewing the play as I might review Mr. Burns or Water by the Spoonful, I’m going to review the play in all it’s aspects—the things I noticed as a reader, as a writer, as a theatre person(ish), as a fan of the original books, and as someone interested in the publishing industry. I’ll mention plot elements throughout this post, so if you don’t want the play spoiled, halt now.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

Recommendation Dump, September 2016

Jurymore –  Another podcast from the great Justin Robert Young, though unlike my previous recommendation of Politics Politics Politics (which I’m recommending again right now because it is continually terrific and it’s now going up three times a week) this one is not a one man podcast. It’s also not ongoing—it ended awhile ago, at about 30 episodes long. It ended because Justin got married—that’s the premise of the podcast. Justin Robert Young and his then fiancée Ashley Paramore recorded a regular podcast for the better part of a year leading up to their wedding, and document the process of planning the ceremony.

Terrific. The two have great rapport, and most episodes focus on an interesting topic—often something to do with the wedding planning, sometimes just something to do with relationships. Their honesty and ability to speak (and sometimes argue) freely while streaming the podcast live is refreshing, and some of the greatest moments of the podcast are when they get into fights. Because the two really are a terrific couple, and their fights aren’t abusive nonsense, they’re genuine arguments. And the whole show has an energetic, comedic tone, because it’s JuRY after all.

Also, they had the wedding ceremony at DragonCon, so once you’ve finished the podcast you can watch it, like a finale.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, August 2016

Whew. It’s been awhile since I did one of these, but here goes.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon is a book about Lagos, Nigeria, and what happens when aliens arrive there. It’s a sprawling portrait of the city, its people, its landmarks, and the ecosystem it was built around. It focuses most on three individuals—a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rap star, who all find themselves wandering out to the beach shortly after the aliens arrive, and being sucked into the lagoon.

The book has an enormous ensemble of characters, and still manages to have all of them distinct enough that you can keep track. It also does an excellent job of describing the city, which becomes even more important as the book goes on, and parts of the city literally come alive. The story twists and turns without a clear direction, but it’s a lot of fun following those twists, and the book is constantly introducing new and interesting characters and ideas. A testament to how well characterized everything in his story is—it’s been over three months since I listened to it, and I can still remember multiple characters and events that are only mentioned in a single chapter.

Also I listened to the audiobook of it, over the course of the long drive from Iowa City back to Tallahassee, and the narrators (a male and a female) are fantastic.

Seriously though, as I write this description, I keep remembering characters and details from the book, like the guys running 409 scams, and the rapper from Atlanta, and the fantastically entertaining and dislikable preacher. That’s because it’s awesome. Nnedi Okorafor is awesome. Check this book out.Read More »

New Publication: We’ll Tell Happy Stories

We’ll Tell Happy Stories is now availableCover-2 on Smashwords and Amazon!

The 70-minute play is about Boa and Ardom, two refugees posing as ambassadors. With the help of a local captain, they and their daughter have survived for years pretending that their home country, Choroa, is still perfectly stable. When a royal edict orders that all Choroans must leave the country or face enslavement, Boa and Ardom must reveal harsh truths and spin fanciful stories in order to convince their hosts that they should be allowed to stay.

The publication also includes an afterword describing how the classes I was taking at the time affected this play, the origins of some of the names, and other trivia you may find interesting.

You can read the first half of the play for free below.Read More »

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 29-30

The final chapters!

Chapter 29 – The Final Battle
As the war drags to a messy, underwhelming conclusion, it is difficult to determine where the final, and supposedly decisive, battle takes place.

Chapter 30 – The End
In an inn in Damohorskych, many years after the war, Brych, Binder, Jošt and Rejzek all gather for a fry-up.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Johan Halvorsen and performed by the United States Marine Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 27-28

Just two more chapters after this!

Chapter 27 – A Pacific Atoll
The world war reaches the little island where Mr. Bondy has been hiding out, and he discusses the phenomenon with a captain who has stopped by.

Chapter 28 – Seven Chalets
In the Czech countryside, Mr. and Mrs. Blahouš and their neighbor Mrs. Prouza speculate about the Greatest War, and who and what started it.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Johan Halvorsen and performed by the United States Marine Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 25-26

Chapter 25 – The Greatest War Ever (as they called it)
The chronicler explains why this war “really was, I swear it, quite easily the greatest war ever.”

Chapter 26 – The Battle of Hradec Králové
The chronicler uses the Battle of Hradec Králové, where the forces of General Hampl gathered to overthrow Mayor Skočdopole, as a reflection of world events on a smaller scale.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Johan Halvorsen and performed by the United States Marine Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 23-24

Chapter 23 – Conspiracy in Augsburg
In the course of two months, all the nations of the world plunge headlong into war.

Chapter 24 – Napoleon of the Mountain Brigade
In the mountains of southern France, Lieutenant Toni Bobinet declares war on the Absolute, and begins a campaign of sprawling conquests.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Johan Halvorsen and performed by the United States Marine Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

The Absolute at Large – Chapter 22

Chapter 22 – An Elderly Patriot
As Czech reporter Cyril Kéval and his fellow journalists wade through endless reports of minor conflicts, skirmishes, and riots from around the country and the world, Kéval happens upon a letter from an “Elderly Patriot” calling for national unity.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyov and performed by the United States Navy Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

Political Analysis: Median Voter Theorem and Voting Systems

In this final, though not very conclusive, post on political analysis, we’re talking voting, voting systems, and ice cream.

The Median voter theorem helps explain the importance of the swing voter. For the MVT there are four elements:

  1. A set of n voters where n is odd (apparently an even number can work too, but we didn’t really talk about it, and, as in Minecraft, odd numbers just work better.)
  2. Unidimensional policy space (i.e. right vs. left, socialist vs. capitalist, more funding vs. less funding)
  3. Voters have quadratic or “single-peaked” preferences that can be represented by the equation U[x] = [x1 – x’]2. So they have one ideal point (x’) and whichever option falls closer to their ideal point is what they’ll vote for.
  4. The group makes decisions by majority rule (and we’ll talk about alternatives to this in a  bit.)

The theorem states that, if every voter in the group has an ideal point, the voter with the median ideal point is an indicator of how the group will vote.

To apply this, here’s an example:

The International Space Committee is voting between two bills to send colonists to Mars. There are seven seats on the committee. Three of them are hardliners who think colonization is a waster of resources, and their ideal point is 0 colonists. On the other end of the spectrum is a sci-fi fan who wants to send a hundred colonists. Then in the middle we have someone who wants to send three colonists, someone who wants to send five, and someone who wants to send twelve. Read More »

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 20-21

Chapter 20 – St. Kilda
As tension rises around the world, a global summit is convened to maintain peace and order.

Chapter 21 – A Dispatch
A postman makes his way through a blizzard to deliver a telegram to a Mr. Marek.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyov and performed by the United States Navy Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 18-19

Chapter 18 – Night Time in the Editing Room
As religions and governments all over the world embrace the Absolute, Bishop Linda berates the editor of a Catholic Journal for continuing their invective against Him.

Chapter 19 – The Canonisation Process
The Catholic Church goes through the long, unprecedented procedure of welcoming the Absolute into the church as its God.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyov and performed by the United States Navy Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.

Political Analysis: Coalitions

In this penultimate post taken from my Intro to Political Analysis class notes, we’re talking about coalitions—and how to predict which coalitions will form. 

The fundamental building block of politics is the mass political party. The first mass political party was formed in the US. After the “corrupt bargain” of the election of 1824, Jackson’s supporters formed a mass political party, fully recognized as the Democrats by 1840.

But we won’t be really talking about the US, because we don’t have coalitions, because of our party system. Party systems (as with any systems, according to systemic theory) can be categorized as the one, the few, and the many.

The one would be places like China and Cuba, with only one party.

The US’s two-party system would be considered “the few.”

And the many is what you see in parliamentary countries (like most of Europe.) This is the kind of system we’ll focus on.Read More »

The Absolute at Large – Chapters 16-17

Chapter 16 – In the Mountains
Mr. Bondy and Marek meet in Marek’s house in the mountains, where the Absolute’s influence has yet to reach.

Chapter 17 – The Hammer and the Star
The brothers of the Hammer and Star lodge of the Free French Masons meet to discuss their response to the recent activities of the Absolute.

Also available on Podomatic and iTunes.
Find the text of the ebook here.

This recording is under a Creative Commons attribution, noncommercial, share-alike license.
Music was composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyov and performed by the United States Navy Band.
The book was written by Karel Čapek, translated by David Wyllie, and performed by Francis Bass.