With the scuttling of his web site, Paul T. Riddell was gone, leaving a gaping wound in the field of genre criticism. The man who introduced me to the works of John Shirley, and the absolute genius who coined the term Cat Piss Man, had disappeared into the luminiferous aether. There were remnants though, like the image that still clings tremulously to life when you shut off one of those old tube driven television sets. If you search for them, you can still find some of his comics related work at Popimage, and at The SAVANT graveyard. His science fiction related essays and some of his movie reviews can still be found at: The Spark, and over at Dark Echo (-Edit point- Paul pointed out to me that his John Shirley review that's currently posted at Dark Echo is unauthorized. He has asked that the "editor" Paula Guran take it down, but she has so far ignored him. Should any of you desire to e-mail her and let her know what you think of this situation, she can currently be reached at: email@example.com ), and you can read a lot of the stuff he wrote as Edgar Z. Harris at this nifty archive site.
Then, about a year ago, just on a whim, I threw Paul Riddell through a Google search. I do that from time to time, checking up on former SAVANTeurs, and a host of other favorite Internet writers who don't bother to keep their own blogs. This particular day, the stars were properly aligned, and Google came up with a Livejournal blog called Sclerotic Rings. It was written by none other than the aforementioned prodigal son himself. Paul had changed up his writing style a bit to favor a more chatty, conversational atmosphere, but you could still see some of the old snark, as well as gleaming edges of that black sense of humor, especially in his responses to readers' comments. It quickly became one of my favorite places to frequent within this cacophony of electronically driven noise we call the world wide web.
Paul's been sick lately with a serious bout of bronchitis that really seems to want to morph into pneumonia, but in spite of all that he keeps updating. I have, however, noticed a disturbing trend in his posts lately. It seems to be bothering him that he's still writing, still sharing his black wit and razor keen insights with an audience. It really pisses me off when writers who actually know their craft and practice it well start referring to what they do as an addiction. Writing certainly seems like something you should be able to "quit anytime," like smoking crack or watching re-runs of Matlock, but it isn't. Writing is a state of being, and while an addiction may certainly seem that way, it is in fact something extraneous to your core. Simply put, you either are or are not a writer. To deny the fact that you write is to deny your own existence, and a true writer (and Paul is one in every good and noble way imaginable) will write, regardless of whether he ever gets anything published, or even if nobody other than long suffering friends and family ever sees it. Writers have no choice but to set pen to paper (so to speak.)
Paul and I share a mutual teacher in the great essayist and short story writer, Harlan Ellison. I've met Harlan on many occasions, and have even had several opportunities to chat with him. He once told me that, "a true writer will write, no matter what. They have no choice but to serve their muse. It is an incurable affliction of the soul." Confirming for me what I've always known. Writing isn't an addiction, it's an incurable genetic disease, like Tay-Sachs or neurofibromatosis. Criticism is the worst of these because, not only must you understand your own unconsciousness, but you've also got to understand the back brains of other writers as well, and what's worse, is that you have to be able to pull everything apart, put it back together, then be clear enough to demonstrate your work to the rest of the class.
The best critics make all this seem effortless. They can juggle four running chainsaws, pull the tablecloth without spilling the wine glasses, and steal your wristwatch all at the same time, without even blinking. Paul Riddell is definitely someone I count as one of the best of us, and he doesn't even work much with the critical essay anymore. There's hope for the future though. If you go here, you'll see why.
For now Paul is still writing, and hopefully it's just the bronchitis talking, and not a lead-up to another disappearance. In the meantime, if you have a yen for some of the most fun you can have while surfing the Internet, check out Sclerotic Rings. It's been re-named The Esoteric Science Resource Center, which is a little less obscure than sclerotic rings, as well as a little more appropriate. The site is a carnival, chock full of scientific weirdness, cool science related facts, useful information about reptiles, insects, carnivorous plants, dinosaurs, and the like. It contains pretty much every interesting morsel that falls across Paul's wide ranging information gathering tentacles.
Paul is what the folks back home call, "good people." His blog is fun, open, honest, and even though he's posting mostly science related McNuggets, he still writes with passion, fire and humor. You should stop by and say hi, and if you like what you read, throw the guy some money courtesy of his PayPal tip jar. If I'm not mistaken, all proceeds are currently going towards the construction of his dream greenhouse, which I believe he plans to fill with carnivorous plants. How he plans on feeding the little bastards is a place I don't want to go, at least until he suckers my wife into wanting one too.