The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

23 May 2019
by skzb

Why Trump Now? Dig Deeper

Let’s say this is about applied philosophy.
I keep seeing tweets about how sick Trump is. And it’s probably true.  But in watching the discussion, I’m struck by the difference in method between idealism and materialism.
At this particular moment of capitalism—as the system itself is shaking and shuddering and giving us permanent war, repression, a surveillance state, movements backward in democracy and freedom, white supremacy and even fascism becoming socially acceptable among some layers, reproductive rights threatened, the police turning into an army with terrorist tactics, any responsible journalist threatened with jail, and no foreseeable solution to climate change—right now is when there’s a president people are describing as “sick and in need of help.”
Why now? Why at this point in history is such a person the one the system finds to run it? And no, don’t tell me Trump is the cause of all of the above, because every one of those things I described started well before he even announced as a candidate. So…why now?
To the idealist, it begins and ends with, “A lot of people had bad ideas” which to me begs the question, because then the issue is, why are all of these “bad ideas” becoming so powerful at exactly this historical moment? and we’re right back where we started.
A materialist wants to dig deeper, to uncover the relation of social and economic forces that produces the conditions where ignorance and backwardness can flourish. Because if we do not understand those objective, material forces, all of our efforts to move forward, to improve things, amount to little more than shaking a rattle in hopes the gods will make it rain.


18 May 2019
by skzb

First Thoughts on the English Civil War

I’ve been working to alleviate my embarrassingly poor knowledge of the English Civil War (1642-1651). As I’ve been studying, one thing has really smacked me hard: the interconnections among science, technology, economics, and politics (and religion and the arts, but that’s for later). They all feed into each other.
We see scientific advances in agriculture and in cloth, creating better technology which is putting pressure on old economic forms. The advances in coal mining lead to a limited restoration of serfdom (which had been pretty much gone by the late 1400s) in Scotland to make sure there are a steady supply of miners.  Meres are drained destroying the livelihood of old-school hunters. Cottage industry is increasingly threatened by workshops. Increased yields make farming and herding more a matter of commodity exchange, which in turn made the price of crops more significant, and thus created unrest among yeoman farmers when increased yields caused the price to fall, all of which required measures of political repression, which in turn had an influence on scientific development and on economics.
We know that these things all interconnect, but looking at what is about to become the first capitalist nation, and seeing how all of these interactions combined to bring the old feudal property relations to the breaking point, really drives it home. And the parallels with today, where science and technology and ever-stronger socialized production make the capitalist distribution system ever more absurd (and stir up all the ignorance and backwardness and filth that’s been lying like a layer of silt at the bottom of the social pool), are inescapable.
There will very possibly be more posts on this as I study more.

30 April 2019
by skzb

Narrativity Early Bird Deadline

A reminder that, if you’re interested in attending Narrativity (July 12-14, Minneapolis), the early bird registration rate ends tonight.

It is my hope that this will be a place to challenge each other on how we work, on all aspects of the craft of fiction.  I want that moment of, “Woah, I never thought of it that way,” and, “I have to try doing that in my next book,” and, “I wonder what would happen if I tried this?”  I have strong ideas about what makes writing good; I want those ideas challenged.  If you have strong opinions, express them.  If you don’t, come and discover them.  It is also my hope that the discussion will help us become better readers.

Go to the web site and look over the proposed panel list, see what you think.  Want to be part of the conversation?  We’d love to have you.


16 April 2019
by skzb

PEACE, AGYAR, Neil, and Me

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Peace by Gene Wolfe, Agyar, and how to make me swear loudly.

I came to Gene Wolfe late, and at first didn’t like him; I stopped reading Shadow of the Torturer about a quarter of the way through because I wasn’t enjoying it. Then, when everyone I respected kept raving about it, I tried again, this time forcing myself to read slowly and think about each word, each sentence, and, well, you know what happened.   There aren’t enough o’s in wow.  So then I went out and grabbed everything of his I could find, like you do.  And all went well until I came across Peace.

I read it.  All the way to the end.  Then I scratched my head, and did what everyone does when confused by a Gene Wolfe novel: I called Neil Gaiman.  “Neeeeeillll?” I said.  “Help meeeeee?  I just read Peace and I don’t get it.  An old guy wanders around his house.  Wolfe would never write a book that’s just an old guy wandering around his house.  What am I missing?”

“Right,” he said in that delightful accent I used to be able to imitate perfectly but no longer can which is probably for the best.   “You know that tree that falls over on the first page?  Halfway through the book he plants it.”


“He’s a ghost.”


“And, during the course of the book, he commits between four and six cold-blooded murders, but he doesn’t tell you.  Well, he tells you, but he doesn’t tell you.”


“Remember when he goes prospecting with his partner, and then after that he’s rich and you never hear from the partner again?”


So I read it again, and, like, there aren’t enough o’s in wow.  It set off almost every one of my Cool detectors, which is hard to do, because some of them are set up to only be on when another is off.  But let’s not get into that.

A year or two went by, and one night a chance remark during a conversation with my brother-in-law on an entirely different topic closed the final switch in the “I know what let’s do!” circuit.  I stood up, mumbled something at said brother-in-law, dashed upstairs to my study, and wrote all night.  Because what had clicked was this: What if I wrote a vampire novel, but never said he was a vampire?  Just, you know, this sociopath wandering around doing terrible things, and maybe I could plant a few clues so some people would get it, but never actually say what’s going on.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  I mean, I’d decided years before that I’d never write a vampire novel, because Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had already done everything I’d have wanted to do in Hotel Transylvania.  But then this happened, and I stayed up all night writing the first chapter.

I showed it to my writers group, wondering if I should tell them right away what was going on, or if I ought to wait and see how well it worked when they didn’t know.  They said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”

I showed it my agent, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”

I showed it to my editor, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”


Anyway, I wrote it, it’s one of my books I’m most happy with, and I’m also happy that, many years later, I got to tell that story on a panel when Gene was in the audience, and he laughed a lot.

18 March 2019
by skzb


WHEREAS I have an inexhaustible appetite for sitting around with people and talking about the craft of writing, and
WHEREAS It turns out I’m not the only one with this peculiarity, and
WHEREAS That’s a good thing, because it’s hard to have these conversations by myself, and
WHEREAS I am obviously insane,

THEREFORE Be it resolved that, god help me, we’re launching a convention. Small, craft-oriented, single-track programming, here in Minneapolis, July 12-14 of this year. I’m doing the programming, Jane Hawkner is onboard for the web site, Liz Vogel is running the thing. Take a look, see if you want to make it there, or even help us make the thing a go. And, if you’re so inclined, help spread the word about this gobbler.  Also, let me know if there are any obvious errors on the web site, or anything missing that ought to be there.  Thanks!

Here’s a link to the location and other relevant information.