Are Modern Writers Getting Dumber?

“Monkeying with Literature” (ca. 1877–78) by William Merritt Chase

When I read the fiction of 19th-century writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Herman Melville (among others), I am amazed by the depth and sophistication of their work, both psychologically and philosophically—not to mention the craftsmanship of their prose. Is anybody writing such complex fiction today? Society does not seem to make writers like they used to. (Myself included—though such writers inspire me to elevate my work.) Keep in mind that those writers were not professionally trained to be writers—almost all were self-taught. How were people so long ago seemingly so much more knowledgeable than we are today when we have so much more knowledge? Perhaps that very “knowledge” is the problem.

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DALL-E and the Future of Art

DALL-E is the new artificial intelligence project from OpenAI that is sweeping the internet. It is an AI that can instantly produce a unique image based simply on a text description. There seem to be few limits, as the AI can create multiple high-quality images of just about anything you can think of. This has many people fearing that DALL-E will spell the end of human artists. But are the images DALL-E produces even art? Can AI ever create art?

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New Substack: Time Zone Weird

I am starting a Substack newsletter devoted exclusively to my short fiction. (I will continue to post nonfiction on this blog.)

Time Zone Weird is a place for fiction located on the frontiers of sci-fi, philosophy, futurism, and horror. If you’ve read my short fiction, you can expect more of the same.

To begin, the majority of TZW content will be an ongoing science-fiction satire series titled “Future Fake News.”

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Thomas Ligotti on the Superiority of Short Fiction Over Novels

image from filth.com.mx

Thomas Ligotti has become one of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Like my favorite contemporary science fiction writer, Ted Chiang, Ligotti writes exclusively short stories. Both writers have never published anything longer than a novella. In this excerpt from an interview, Ligotti explains why he has not and never will write a novel:

I think it’s safe to say that I will never write a novel. The reason is this: I really don’t like fiction, and novels are what fiction is all about. The only fictional works that I’ve ever admired are those which have their formal basis in essays (Borges), poetry (Bruno Schulz), monologues (Thomas Bernhard), or all three (Poe and Lovecraft). I want to hear a writer speaking, not see a movie in my mind that takes days or weeks to get through rather than 100 minutes or the time it takes to watch a multi-part mini-series. Why would anyone want to read The Silence of the Lambs when they could see the movie?

– Thomas Ligotti interviewed by Mark McLaughlin at Horror Garage
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Story = Plot + Idea + Character + Emotion

A story is most powerful and memorable when tethered to an emotional reaction. People become emotional when something negative happens to someone they care about. That’s why you will never forget traumatic events involving close family members, whereas a story about an acquaintance from years ago may easily slip your mind. Likewise, you will struggle to remember anything from a history test you studied for twenty years ago. With no emotional connection to those events, they did not get stored as lasting memories.

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Two Classes That Changed My Life

Writing is my life’s calling, but I came to it relatively late in life. It wasn’t that late (my early 20s), but it was late compared to those who claim to have known for as long as they can remember that they wanted to be writers. They were writing short stories in grade school and submitting to magazines in high school. For me, it wasn’t until my final year of college—when two events coincided—that I realized I wanted to do with my life.

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The Art of the Novella

I am growing tired of trilogies these days—and series in general (in both books and film). It seems like every successful piece of intellectual property in the entertainment industry must be prolonged indefinitely. What happened to a single complete story with a beginning, middle, and end? Most series would best be novels, most novels would best be short stories, and most short stories would best not exist.

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Best of the Rest of 2021

I already went over my favorite movies, TV shows, fiction books, nonfiction books, and comic books I consumed this past year, so now it’s time for one last look back at 2021 for the best of the rest: video games, audio dramas, and music.

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Best Comic Books I Read in 2021

1. The Department of Truth, Vol 1: The End of the World (2021) & Vol 2: The City Upon a Hill (2021) by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds

The Department of Truth is an inventive spin on conspiracy theories. In this world, every conspiracy is true, but at the same time, no conspiracy theory is true. It’s a slight spoiler to explain that, basically, if enough people believe in a conspiracy then it manifests in reality. The “Department of Truth” is a government agency that works to prevent dangerous conspiracies from spreading and becoming real. The books are well-researched in conspiracy lore, featuring popular theories like JFK, flat earth, the Satanic panic, Bigfoot, and more. My only gripe is that it’s a bit too anti-conspiracy theory, the subtext being all conspiracy theories are false and conspiracy theorists are dangerous. In reality, many (but not all) conspiracy theories are false, and some (but not most) conspiracy theorists are dangerous. Overall, this was really well-written with great artwork and I can’t wait for the next volume.

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Best Nonfiction Books I Read in 2021

Note: The books from this list that aren’t available online for free are available for purchase through my Bookshop.org page.

1) Human Action: A Treatise On Economics by Ludwig von Mises (1940)

This is the bible of Austrian economics by the grandfather of Austrian economics, Ludwig von Mises. Human Action is Mises’ magnum opus on economics, philosophy, and history—or more precisely, it’s about what Mises terms “praxeology”: the study of human action, which all economic activity boils down to. This is a long book (it took me half the year to get through, which is why there are fewer honorable mentions this year) but it was worth it. You will better understand the world today by reading this 82-year-old tome than by reading today’s newspapers.

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