Unlikely Story – Best Semiprozine Recommendation

I have been trying to read through some of the magazines in preparation for this week, and one stood for me that I hadn’t heard of before. Unlikely Story is the sort publication that hits my sweet spot – sci fi and fantasy mixed in with quirky pseudo-academics. They publish online 3 issues a year, plus often a bonus April Fools issue of shorter flash fiction. Each issue is based around a theme of an academic journal.

So far this year they have published:

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography (a regular annual theme) that focuses on short stories related to technology. To quote from the opening editorial:

“In these digital pages, you’ll find stories exploring the limits and possibilities of technology and the various ways it defines, enhances, and intersects with humanity. An unorthodox application of a 3D printer; the creation of private worlds; hacking the human brain with extreme video sequences; parents customizing ideal children through knitted code; a self-aware AI taking up the pirating life; and a cult seeking transcendence through transformation — all of these stories explore coding, hacking, cracking, and our relationship with technology in most unlikely ways.”

Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia – Their flash fiction issue, this time with a focus on clowns – and all the terrible and wonderful things that implies. Apparently, it was a popular enough topic, they are publishing an anthology for it as well.

“In the exaggerated greasepaint features of the clown we find reflected none other than ourselves, the internal made external, both our internal beauty and our hidden evils.”

The most recent issue is The Journal of Unlikely Academia – Which the opening editorial explains as thus:

“This time around, rather than offering you a specialized subject, we are exploring the pursuit of knowledge itself. From the hallowed halls of venerable supernatural institutions, to fieldwork on an alien space station, and the shelves of your university library and beyond, the authors in this issue are celebrating learning in all its forms.”

This issue is the one that most caught my eye since it includes a story by Eric Schwitzgebel, a leading philosopher of mind. He often discusses the connections between science fiction and philosophy and how they can inform each other. In my spare time, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy with a focus on mind as well as medical ethics, and have taught a class in Metaphysics and Science Fiction. So our interests overlap quite a bit. His story “The Dauphin’s Metaphysics” fits well into that. It takes a classic philosophical thought experiment and posits it in a reality that may or may not be fantasy, exploring questions of identity and memory, with an interesting question of whether we can make a better, happier version of ourselves.

Another aspect of Unlikely Story that I enjoy is that they also include interviews with all of their authors on their blog. It offers an interesting look at the thoughts behind the stories as well as at the authors themselves and their other interests.

Overall, I am really impressed with Unlikely Story and it’s quirky focus issues and ideas that set it apart from many other publications out there. I am looking forward to the last issue of the year, which should be The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – their other annual topic (this time insect related), and the one odd idea that started the whole publication.

Shifting focus

I haven’t updated this in almost 3 years, but I am looking to start posting some new stuff. I have been following the Hugo Awards for best science fiction and fantasy the past couple years and whatever people’s opinions of this past year’s Hugo Awards, it’s clear that the nomination phase is pretty important. I’m someone who has been perennially behind in reading and consequently never really nominated anything, but I have been doing better about reading current stuff. Therefore I want to talk about some works I recommend as part of the Hugo Recommendation Season.

The old blog posts are mostly updates to my family especially as we went through a period of part-time employment and unemployment (and all ugly that entails), as well as a weight loss program we did (speaking about it publicly helped keep me accountable). Those blog posts still exist, but for now I just turned them all to Private to make a clear shift in focus. Might turn them back to Public sometime, and they are all still available at archive.org, I think.

So to my family that is still email subscribed to these from years ago – I’m going to start talking about sci fi stuff I’ve read and watched. If I actually complete some stuff, might even post some writing. Don’t feel obligated to read or stay following, but up to you. Thankfully, things aren’t as topsy-turvy for us as they were 3-5 years ago, so not a lot to update with the family. Besides,  I try to call and see you all more often than I did back then. 🙂

Case closed

The case Bank of America (or whatever their long formal name is) vs Kenneth Marable is dismissed. Foreclosure is officially stopped! The i’s have been crossed and t’s dotted. Took a while, but *whew!*

As was clear from past posts, this has been expected for a while. However, since I have chronicled the path up until now, I figured I should formally announce it over, as well. Now I can go back to posting about other topics (or not posting as is more typical). 🙂

Mortgage Update, Final Chapter

Well, at least the beginning of the final chapter. It was so wonderful seeing everyone during the holidays, that I forgot to update everyone on the house situation getting all resolved. (Not to mention work, teaching, and classes all piled up at the same time to get real insane for most of December.)

But we were approved for a permanent mortgage modification. (As usual, I rambled on a long time. So you can just read that bold sentence and skip the rest if you want.) 🙂 All past due amounts are gone, escrow is up to date, etc. Also, they are modifying the principle to lower our monthly payments and actually get the mortgage less than the value of the house. We were just concerned with the past due amounts, but if they are modifying it, they want to make sure the mortgage isn’t “under water” since it’s a far safer loan for them.

And for the record, this was part of the settlement with the Federal government in the “we foreclosed on people without proper paperwork” lawsuit that hit the major banks for billions. So, I suppose it’s a win-win, since we get our mortgage cleared up, and Bank of America gets to pay the fine to themselves. 🙂

Taxes

There is one issue however – taxes. Loan reduction is considered taxable income (even though it’s the bank changing numbers on their spreadsheet and no actual income passing through us, but it makes some abstract sense). Back in 2007, they passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act that exempted mortgage modification and short sales on primary residences. It expired yesterday.

Our mortgage was officially modified as of… today. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to get everything processed during last year. It was even faster than they said ti would be, but just couldn’t be rushed fast enough.

So, if nothing changes, our taxes in early 2014 will include a sizable amount of additional “income” we will owe taxes on. I will have to watch numbers closely, and with luck it will cancel out any return we would have had since we still earn low enough with 3 kids and other deductions that we get almost full refunds. But I gotta run the numbers, of course, and plan for the worst since right now who knows what the tax situation will look like in 12 months.

Before the whole fiscal cliff nonsense, there were several bills from both parties extending the tax exemption and most of the fighting was over who could claim credit for it. Most all the state governments have been lobbying Congress to extend it, and the Realtor lobbyists are working hard pushing for its extension (since it would allow more short sales and keep the housing market moving).

Although, I’m certainly biased, even in general I think it is a great idea and hope it gets extended. The sort of situations it helps most is when people like us were doing bad and then start recovering and getting back on our feet. Being hit with a major tax bill right when you are recovering can certainly hurt. Short of a lottery win, recovery is a slow process.

But we will see. As of right now, the current fiscal cliff deal from the Senate does not include an extension, and if the House can pass anything, I don’t see this even on their radar (and since this Congress is most unproductive Congress since at least the 1940’s, I’m not holding my breath).

Technically, we have another 12 months for them to decide to renew it since it will affect our 2013 taxes. So after this fiscal cliff whatnot (and maybe after the Debt Ceiling/Fiscal Cliff Part 2 ballyhoo that will hit in late February), it will be good to watch and write to Congress asking for the extension. But, until something is passed, I’ll definitely be running the numbers and if need be, saving up for tax time in April 2014.

But bottom line, foreclosure process is over, it will take them 2-3 months to finish all of the processing on their end to cross the i’s and dot the t’s, but it approved, I have signed paperwork, and things are stable again. *whew*