Monthly Archives: November 2009

Total Oblivion, More or Less released today + Announcement

Well, at the end of a long day, two dogs sacked out next to me and our oldest cat somewhat skittishly on the arm of my couch, I have to look back at it and really try to take stock of it. The book came out today, and I did, in fact, see it “in the wild” on a shelf (well, on a dolly waiting to be shelved), which was needless to say very exciting. It also is kind of odd that there’s a calmness to this excitement, mixed with a large part of gratitude and introspection regarding all the people who helped bring this book into being. I’ve come to realize that, with any production of writing into a public medium (a book, online, wherever), there are a whole host of people who helped it along its way. We take this for granted with movies–that it’s never one person’s work that springs from his or her forehead, but with novels–when it makes the transferrence from writing into a book (if that makes sense), I think the culture kind of assumes that it’s that singular person carving a block of wood into a statue in the middle of the woods. OK, weird metaphor, but I think you see the point. The point is, there are a ton of “producers” and “editors” and “set designers” that bring a book into being. It’s truly a collaborative effort. What’s going to be interesting, I suspect, in the next ten years is how these interrelationships are going to change with the advent of more fully digital book distribution. But that is another blog post…

So if you get the book and you read it and want to drop me a line, feel free to. Would love it. Even if you don’t like the book or have mixed feelings about it–that’s okay; no one is forced to like everything.

Also, if you can’t buy the book, libraries are truly awesome and your friends! Request the book at your friendly local library. That way, you can think of it as regifting it for someone else who might stumble upon it on the shelf…

FINALLY, I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how the writing we do intersects with the political realities we are faced with in our current day. Some of my latest stories (such as the one in Interfictions 2–speaking of a great assemblage of collaborative energy!) and of course Total Oblivion delve into these issues as part of their fictional underpinnings. But if there’s the opportunities for something more, even in a small way–the tiniest platforms that our writing affords us–then we should do our best to seize them.

And in particular, regarding families around the world who are uprooted as refugees, in dangerous, frightening situations — this is something that isn’t a fictional abstraction, but something that happens every day.

Mercy Corps is a charity that I really believe in, and have for years. They do amazing work with refugee and displacement crises, among a host of other complex issues. I’ve set up an online fundraising page for them. I do hope that, if you’re passionate about these social justice issues (and I know you are!), you’ll make a donation to Mercy Corps here. Even a small amount would be absolutely superb.

But wait, there’s more! In order to provide a more direct engagement with the book, if you make a donation on this page, drop me a quick note ( and I’ll send you something extra: a one-of-a-kind paragraph of ephemera and apocrypha set in the world of the novel, made just for you! It could be a snippet of a travelogue from a city unwritten about along the Mississippi, an Imperial naturalist’s description of strange flora and fauna of Middle America, a postcard from a soldier in the Bemidji Irregulars back home to mom. Anything and more. And I can send it by post or email. I’m easy. (River transport of mail post is forthcoming.) Just let me know which you’d prefer and I’ll get it out to you in about a week. So hopefully we can, in some small way, assist others in making an impactful change.

Because the most important piece of the puzzle I described above, in terms of a novel as a collaborative effort, is the reader. Without the reader, the work doesn’t live and breathe. And perhaps this is a way we can together make the work live and breathe in a real-life way.

And thanks out there. For everything.

Starred Booklist Review for Total Oblivion, More or Less + Locus review

It’s a bit belated, but Total Oblivion, More or Less received a starred review from Booklist:


For 16-year-old Macy, the whole world has gone crazy, quite literally. Barbarians from antiquity have invaded America, while bizarre plagues and impossibly shifting landscapes ravage her Minnesota homeland. Together with her parents, sister, brother, and a possibly evil dog, Macy sets out down the Mississippi on an adventure that takes her into the smoldering ruins of St. Louis, aboard a wooden submarine that’s bigger on the inside than outside, and finally into the stone-skyscraper capital of Nueva Roma. All the while she dodges oil-men turned slavers, plague-instigating wasps, an albino bounty hunter, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, her scheming younger brother. DeNiro (who flaunted a knack for offhand SF oddness in Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, 2006) makes sure never to do anything as dull as explaining what the heck is going on—we simply accept that the world has become a surreal, historical landscape come to life and move on. He drops in so many tantalizingly inspired touches—the new (old?) empire considers Post-it notes a precious natural resource—that leaving his inside-out America at the end is almost painful. There aren’t many writers who take weirdness as seriously as DeNiro does, and fewer still who can extract so much grounded emotion, gut-dropping humor, and rousing adventure from it. A dizzying display of often brilliant, always strange, and definitely unique storytelling. — Ian Chipman

There was also a strong review by Faren Miller of the book in the most recent issue of Locus. Some parts:

Their journey south…sometimes resembles a stressed-out teenage Ballard’s take on an American classic like Huckleberry Finn: hallucinatory madness laced with more blatant social satire…but also with scenes of genuine poignancy. Total Oblivion offers more than just an antic apocalypse or a non-SF writer’s sidelong approach to dystopia. Like the people who survive its trying times and the river tha runs through it, beneath all the madness there’s something to be gained, something that endures.

More later!

20 Favorite Albums of the Decade

Your mileage may vary highly, and the rankings especially at the top are more or less arbitrary. If you want that “descending/ascending” order variation, you might want to start at the bottom.

1 Discovery, Daft Punk (2001)

A perfect amalgamation of 1983 and the 23rd century–which, come to think of it, is the blueprint for much contemporary music (see Justice, below) and our culture in general. France, they say, is dying (it isn’t, but people talk)…but what Daft Punk have figured out is that we are all in the same boat. We are all in Gallic decline. We’re trying to figure out how to mediate our bodies with technology, trying to make it as un-deadening as possible. Science fiction has punctured the present, and the future is bleeding out of us. It’s the quicksilver blood pooling on the floor of our living rooms, inside houses that we don’t leave. It’s the blood in the ears that our iPods are attached to. Daft Punk discovered this in 2001. This is our world. The past and the future can’t be easily negotiated by the present anymore. So what’s left to do? Hope, and dance, and make our own past and future, and make our present from that.

2 Fishscale, Ghostface Killah (2006)

Opalescent hip-hop and storytelling of the highest order, Fishscale ranks with GZA’s Liquid Swords as the greatest of Wu Tang solo projects. Noir of utter specificity, and yet allowing the goofiness of underwater dreams and the terror of childhood beatings and bedwettings too. One of the heirs of Edgar Allen Poe’s crime fiction, with killer beats.

3 Missundaztood, Pink (2001)

So one of my favorite songs of the year is “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus, and it hit me that so much of pop’s greatness of late can be ascribed to this one album. Think about the landscape in 2001–the last dregs of boy bands and commercial radio domination. And, ironically, during the crumbling of that domination, pop found its voice again. This album blended rock, hip hop, singer-songwriter confessionalism, dance…no palette was out of bounds. She used everything, and made everything her own. Without this album, there would be none of Christina’s experimentations, and none of Justin’s future funk, and no Lily Allen making it big on American shores, and certainly not MILEY FREAKING CYRUS putting out brilliant songs and not mailing it in before she ever got started. But that’s why Pink is the greatest pop star of her generation. Thanks, Pink!

4 Sol-Fa, Asian Kung Fu Generation (2004)

I have to thank Mr. Barzak for bringing this back for me upon his return from Japan. Otherwise it’s doubtful I would have been privy to one of the greatest power-pop albums ever made. Every chord is strong, utterly unexpected, and yet perfect. If you can get a hold of this, do it!

5. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Of Montreal (2007)

Yes. Yes, the hissing venus fly trap of this album could very well be the destroyer! The alchemical transformation midway through this album is nothing short of miraculous. Glam as elegy. But an elegy for what? The Norway of Exile of our dear narrator of this album (a chimerical twin of Anniemal, come to think of it), and while he emerges from the chyrsalis, well, not quite a butterfly–it’s still something truly beautiful and strange. And danceable.

6 Fiestas + Fiascos, Lifter Puller (2000)

I still feel that, in 2000, Lifter Puller were quite possibly the greatest band in the country. I’m still trying to find the Minneapolis in this album. And those guitars–no mercy with them. But Craig Finn’s lyrics, in those fragmented narratives of Nightclub Dwight etc. etc., show us to a world in which there is mercy and redemption possible in the club-caves and the desolations that reside at 15th and Franklin.

7 Lucy Ford: The Atmosphere EPs, Atmosphere (2001)

Slug goes slacker Frank O’Hara on us, and while Ant has probably done better albums than this one, Slug is at his absolute finest here–self-deprecating without being coy, love-sick and trying not to show it, and wielding subject matters so diverse that he is making the infernal map of life for all of us, and daring us to follow it.

8 Feed the Animals, Girl Talk (2008)

What’s your idea of fun? Fun, natural fun! (And “Genius of Love”, it feels like, is the only song NOT sampled on this album.) [late edit: haha, of course–of course!–I find out later that “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club is, in fact, sampled on this album. As well as not an insignificant sample of the albums on this list. So there, Alan.)

9 Miss E…So Addictive, Missy Elliot (2001)

Stupid guest spot by Ludacris on what, otherwise, is a stone cold classic (“One Minute Man”) probably drops this a bit. But, fuck, what an album. Hip-hop and electronica bleed into each other and slither around. Okay, that’s a gross metaphor. But my ears are still trying to catch up to what’s going on here. And no better guide to the carnival than Missy.

10 Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco (2001-2002)

I am trying to give this album the retroactive benefit of the doubt, because their last 3 albums since this in my opinion have been, er, dung-y. And Summerteeth, in the final reckoning, is better. But with that said, everything else you’ve heard about this album is true.

Secret Floating Signifier Album
Phrenology, The Roots (2002)

Named after a discredited pseudoscience, beginning with radio, then pure punk, and then neo-soul, and then (90 other things), and then Amiri Baraka, and then even more. You know how some albums have a song that is the title of the previous album? (Zep’s Houses of the Holy) In spirit, this is the reverse. Their previous album was Things Fall Apart, and things do that here, in this album. But how gloriously.

11 Kala, MIA (2007)

“Bird Flu” sounds like it, and then she shoots us in the heart with “Paper Planes.” There’s no pity, but neither is there a absence of joy.

12 Original Pirate Material, The Streets (2002)

“Just some guy” is always more than just some guy.

13 Anniemal, Annie (2004)

See, I keep railing against twee, and yet you might wonder why albums such as this example of wispy Norweigan electropop appears on this list. Well, yes, perhaps an anxiety of influence. But pop (pop-pop or indie-pop) doesn’t have to be precious. More than that–the surfaces here are deceiving. There is real anguish here. Not to mention I would heartily recommend “Chewing Gum,” conversely, as the bubblegum/jawbreaker pop song of the decade.

14 One Beat, Sleater-Kinney (2002)

This album still has one of the best, most visceral post-9/11 songs ever recorded–and yet there are horns as well; playfulness. And a coyote. It’s all universal and it all hits hard.

15 The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian (2006)

For a decade I was an unrepentant haterader with B&S; couldn’t stand the twee. Whether it’s more me or them, who knows, but this album has soul…and a bite. The loveliness is still there, though. P.S. I still can’t really stand Stephen Merritt

16 Cross, Justice (2007)

Fables of the (electronica) reconstruction.

17 Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004)

Feeling stuff is cool.

18 Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne (2008)

Utterly profane, full of weirdness and crazy shit around every brilliant corner. Aside from his eclecticism, his genius is in his improvisational composition techniques–and in this, he is truly the carrier of the torch of the native art form of his home town, New Orleans. The descendant of giants.

19 SpeakerBoxx/The Love Below, Outkast (2003)

“White Album-ness” as a condition is thrown around a lot with albums, but this is the real deal: a gemini tag team of epic proportions. And yet, though the two sides of Outkast are seperate (mostly), they continually reflect upon each other. Greater than the sum of its divisions.

20 The Magic Numbers, The Magic Numbers (2005)

Gallant, heartbreaking, sly, just hard-edged enough when it wants to be, this album hits all the melancholic (yet bright) notes without ever wallowing.