May 082012

My latest article is up on, about the limited choices for video in Vancouver.

I’m old enough to live through the video revolution. I remember going to see a video store for the first time, in what must have been the early 80s (there was still BetaMax) and being astonished that there were that many movies in existence.

I’ve also lived only a 10-minute walk from where Videomatica used to be in Kitsilano. Now I feel vaguely guilty about not patronizing Videomatica more, as if renting a DVD once a week could make a difference against Vancouver’s rising property rents. Another factor was the lack of instant gratification. If you’re used to seeing a web page or a YouTube click instantaneously, hauling your ass out of the house to physically carry a hunk of storage media from a store to your house and then take it back felt like a drag.

Researching this story brought me back into browsing video store shelves, which I found I missed. Or rather, it’s something I missed when I was actually experiencing it, not something that I missed when I wasn’t. We need a name for that particular kind of not-quite nostalgia.

The social networking of the Internet can sort-of replace that browsing experience, and I suspect sooner or later somebody will figure out the licensing problems and we’ll have access to a large library of streaming titles for a reasonable price. Until then, we’re in an awkward transition.

“A video store where there used to be real, live actors….”

 Posted by at 12:20
Mar 312012

It ain’t pretty, but it’s done. I completed a first, rough, provisional, tentative, preliminary draft of chapter one, about 6,000 words that runs from Roman mystery cults to the banning of flagellant companies in the 14th century. It’s far from complete, but it is something I’m ready to show somebody else.

One of the thing I realized was that I had big gaps in my narrative. I spent the last week on a crash study on medieval Christianity, the founding of the great monastic orders and the debates over flagellation and other forms of discipline. The church has never been entirely comfortable with flagellation and other forms of asceticism, perhaps because it makes possible a connection with Christ through the body, and not through established hierarchy of intermediaries.

What’s next is Chapter 2, roughly 1500 (Pico della Mirandola’s discussion of flagellation) to 1700 (the Abbe Boileu’s discussion), the disagreement over how the human body is to be viewed. The starting point is the disagreement over the St. Theresa of Avila and her “transverberation”, her eroticised encounter with an angel that repeatedly stabbed her with a spear. In another time, St. Theresa’s experience, and art depicting it, would have been sacred, but in this time, it could be seen as profane, the result of sexuality perverted by the unnaturalness of convent life.

I may extend it to the trial of Father Girard over his affair with Catherine Cadiere around 1730, but that may be saved for the chapter on sensibility.

I’m not sure that even with a good work habit I can make my deadline of a completed manuscript by the end of October. On the other hand, I have a lot of stuff already done and researched, I just need to put it together and fill in the gaps.

 Posted by at 20:35
Mar 162012

My article on the polygamy court decision’s impact on polyamorist families is finally up on the Vancouver Courier. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to interview an established poly family for this.

I’ve already received an email arguing: “You know as well as I do that in the human experience of groups there is always an alpha male and alpha female; also, children are more apt to be abused by those adults in a group who are not their biological parents.”

Personally, I’m far from convinced that enforced monogamy/nuclear family is necessarily better for people than any other family structure. What surprises me is the instinctive, visceral aversion some people apparently have to alternative family structures, expressed as anything from deflected-hostility/anxiety humour to outright contempt and hatred. In that, it is quite like homophobia.

Jan 312012

My latest is a short piece on the state of surveillance in Vancouver. This wasn’t my idea, but I’ve been interested in privacy and surveillance issues for a while, and I took the gig.

I had assumed there would be clear laws about where you can put surveillance cameras, whether as private citizens or as business, but the laws regarding this are pretty vague. There are stronger laws about keeping records of other people’s personal information (which includes their likeness.) There’s also a lot of obfuscation about the city government and police’s use of surveillance.

Surveillance is becoming a big issue. When you get right down to it, Google and Facebook and Twitter aren’t offering all these services for free out of generosity. They are businesses, and a large part of their business is selling information about the people who use their services to other businesses. It may be anonymized or otherwise restricted for people’s privacy, but that is still what they do.

Google is rapidly becoming something like the Minds in Iain M. Bank’ s Culture books: nearly all-knowing artificial intelligences so powerful, and so essential, that the humans can only cross their fingers and hope that they aren’t doing anything bad, or if they are, it’s for the humans’ own good.


Jan 262012

I turned up an hour early  for William Gibson’s talk at the library, promoting his new non-fiction collection Distrust that Particular Flavour. Gibson was, as usual, an interesting speaker, ranging from why he thought he would never be a non-fiction writer (too much of a perfectionist to deal with journalistic deadlines), how science fiction ages (more like milk than wine)  and his views on intellectual property and piracy.

During the question session, a female fan asked why this event, which filled the Alice McKay auditorium, was so well attended by women. She compared it to a Neal Stephenson reading which had one women in a sea of guys. Gibson said that when he was getting serious about writing, the most innovative science fiction in the USA was feminist science fiction, so this informed his earlier work.

Local literary figure Carellin Brooks introduced him as a “science fiction writer”, and I wondered if he still considered  himself that. There’s a long, long route from Molly Millions to Cayce Pollard. Has he turned his back on his earlier work? This topic was on my mind during and after my David Cronenberg essay, as there are certain similarities in their career paths. Both moved from low genres like science fiction and horror to high genre like literary fiction and costume drama.

During the autograph session afterwards, I asked him if he still considered himself a science fiction writer. He said that he still considered himself a science fiction writer in the same way he still considered himself a Virginia boy:  they were his roots.  I think Gibson’s answer was pretty good, reflecting his evolution as a writer and the evolution of his work. Pattern Recognition still feels like Gibson, even if it is set in the immediate past.

(I wish I’d had a chance to see him sign somebody’s Kindle or other ereader, which according to his Twitter feed, he does sometimes.)


 Posted by at 01:15
Jan 202012

“In nonfiction the notes give you the piece. Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.”

Joan Didion

 Posted by at 13:27
Jan 182012

It’s up on the Tyee.

I’ve been a big fan of David Cronenberg for years, not only for his movies themselves, but for his ways of thinking about art and creation and censorship. He’s a fascinating interview subject.

So, when I got the opportunity to write about him (or rather, get paid to write about him), I jumped at it, got every book about him I could find in the library, and rewatched his Dead Ringers to study. I wanted this to be the best essay I could write about him and his work.