Bio

Ben Burgis, like Pac-Man and the Reagan Administration, came into the world in 1980. Ben grew up in a nice college town in the Upper Midwest, where he was raised by nice hard-working people who really can’t be blamed for the fact that their son writes about such upsetting things.

In 2003, he graduated from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where even the one-two punch of virtue that is Grand Rapids and nuns failed to prevent him from spending most of his free time organizing anti-war protests and drinking whiskey with his Godless degenerate friends. After Aquinas, Ben moved to the hilariously-named city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he spent two years working on an MA in Philosophy at Western Michigan University. The best thing about Kalamazoo, apart from its name, is that it has the best deep-dish pizza place in the entire world, Bilbo’s Pizza in a Pan. The Hobbit Stix with dill dip are a thing of beauty. Eating their spinach-stuffed pizza with mushrooms is not unlike a religious experience.

Of course, due to his trips to Kalamazoo’s many fine used bookstores, Ben also spent those two years really digging into the works of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft. From the former, he learned that nothing is the way it seems. From the latter’s stories of tentacled, gibbering gods of chaos and madness and bad dreams and non-Euclidean geometry, he learned that a religious experience might not be such a fun thing to have. That spinach-stuffed pizza, though, that’s good stuff.

Inevitably, after a couple years of eating too much pizza and reading too much Lovecraft and taking too many classes on subjects like Aristotle’s theory of time, Ben started afflicting the world with fiction of his own. The first short story he ever wrote was called How To Light A Cigar. Set in dimly-lit bars and clubs in a college town very much like Kalamazoo, it featured bad drugs, multi-colored demons and a blue-eyed woman from between dimensions. Ben sold it to a very minor Michigan-based horror ‘zine called Walking Bones Magazine, which paid him all of $20 for it, published it in their second issue, and promptly went out of business. That story’s so out of print it’s not even on the internet anywhere. The rumors that the mere act of reading it causes permanent and incurable insanity are, of course, absurd.

The summer after finishing his MA, Ben attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop. For six weeks, Ben wrote, critiqued, got far too little sleep and, on one memorable occasion, hallucinated a black rat scurrying across the workshop table in front of him. The best-received story he wrote at the workshop, Sing, Goddess, Sing Me To The Stars, juxtaposed Homeric poetry and alien warfare. Tim Pratt later commented that it was the only military SF story he’d ever read in which soldiers ingest portions of the corpse of a superior officer for hallucinogenic purposes. Tim must be into that kind of thing, since he bought the story for the well-regarded magazine he and his wife Heather Shaw had edited for years, Flytrap: The Litte Zine With Teeth. In a coincidence hardly worth remarking on, Flytrap went out of business immediately after publishing that issue.
A few weeks after he finished attending Clarion, Ben moved to sunny and degenerate South Florida, where he spent four years working on his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Miami. His dissertation topic had to do with semantic paradoxes and the question of whether reality itself is logically consistent. In the symbolic logic classes Ben had taught at Western Michigan, he had dutifully taught the same orthodoxy encoded in symbolic logic classes the world over. A statement is true just if things are the way the statement represents them to be and false otherwise. As such, beginning students are taught to reason about truth and falsity by symbolizing a statement as P or Q and writing little T’s and F’s under the letters. If the “truth-value” of P is T and the “truth-value” of Q is F, then the “truth-value” of the compound statement “either P or Q” is T. Nothing in this little scheme takes into account the possibility that a statement might fall into the cracks, or that there might be some sort of over-lap between these neatly-defined categories. Ben’s symbolic logic students constructed “truth tables” for statements based on the assumption of two non-overlapping categories, Ben graded their attempts with a little red pen, and, his stomach full of spinach-stuffed pizza from Bilbo’s, he slept the sleep of the just.

After starting the doctoral program in Miami, though, Ben ran into a potentially fatal problem. What to make of statements like (1)?

  1. The statement marked as (1) in Ben’s website bio is false. Does one get a little T or a little F? If it’s true, then what it says is right, and what it says is that it’s false. If it’s false, by similar reasoning, it’s true! Either way, we have a contradiction. Perhaps, then, we need a third “truth-value,” say a little G for statements that represent a “gap” between the standard values T and F. The problem, sadly, comes when we consider a slight variation of the paradox.
  2. The statement marked as (2) in Ben’s website bio is not true.

Once again, all roads lead to contradiction. If (2) is true, it isn’t true. If it is false, then it’s not true, so it is true! Worst of all, even G won’t help us. If (2) is neither true nor false, it’s not true, so it is true. Some theorists, lead among them Graham Priest, then Professor of Philosophy at the University of Melbourne in Australia, have argued that what all this shows is that some contradictions are actually true. Reality is not entirely consistent, and the smug orthodoxies of symbolic logic classes need to be swept into the dustbin of history right along with alchemy and the geocentric model of the solar system.

Ben met Dr. Priest at a philosophy conference in Australia in 2008, and can confirm that the good professor neither gibbers nor has tentacles, but the threat that his theories pose to our conventional understanding of the world has nonetheless always retained a certain Lovecraftian flavor in Ben’s mind. Ben’s 221-page doctoral dissertation, Truth is a One-Player Game, represented an extended attempt to save classical logic in the face of these paradoxes. Simultaneously, Ben kept up a steady output of fiction writing. His darkly satirical Thanksgiving parable The True Meaning of K-Day was published in Doug Lain and M.K. Hobson’s zine Diet Soap, which miraculously stayed in business after buying the piece, and his novella Three Perspectives on the Role of the Anarchists in the Zombie Apocalypse won the second place prize in a contest at Tales of the Zombie War.

Ben wrote his dissertation while living in a somewhat closet-like one-room apartment in South Miami Beach, five blocks from the ocean, and three or four blocks from a variety of bars, clubs and pizza places in every other direction. The pizza places were all, sadly, New York-style, and the absence of deep-dish pizza of any kind–much less spinach-stuffed pizza with mushrooms–was a constant source of sadness. Ben consoled himself by spending his free time drinking whiskey with his friends—the ugly truth is that he’s a bit of a snob about whiskey, particularly good single malt whiskey—and exploring the rich cultural tapestry of life in Miami. Other rumors about his activities, particularly those featuring transdimensional gateways in the back rooms of Cuban restaurants and so-called “hideous fish people” wandering the beaches at night, are, of course, absurd.

During the last two years of his PhD program, Ben was simultaneously working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at the low-residency Stonecoast program in Maine. For the duration of a ten-day residency at the beginning of every semester, he attended workshops in the morning, went to readings and presentations in the afternoons and evenings, and spent the nights drinking good single malt whiskey—and occasionally taking night swims—with some three or four classmates who seemed to spend all their time in his dorm room. (He’s pretty sure some of those people have drinking problems.) Each semester, for the time between residencies, he worked with a faculty mentor. In his case, was lucky enough to be paired with four of his favorite writers. His first, second, third and fourth semester mentors were Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly and Elizabeth Hand respectively.

Several stories he worked on at Stonecoast have since been published. His steampunky fantasy labor-organizing story Smokestacks Like The Arms Of Gods was the first piece of full-length original fiction published at the fantasy podcast Podcastle, and it was later reprinted in the Jenny the magazine of the student literary association Christopher Barzak advises at Youngstown State. His story Dark Coffee, Bright Light and the Paradoxes of Omnipotence, originally published at Atomjack Science Fiction magazine, was later anthologized, along with stories by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen and Michael Chabon, by Prime Books for their collection People of the Book: A Decade Of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy.

All-good things, sadly, must come to an end…..even grad school. In the spring of 2010, he successfully defended his PhD dissertation, thus earning the right to obnoxiously correct people who call him “Mr. Burgis.” The following January, he graduated from his MFA program as well.

The academic paper Ben wrote for his “3rd Semester Project” at Stonecoast, The Madness of Horselover Fat is the Madness of God combined Ben’s interests by taking a look at Philip K. Dick’s exploration of philosophical issues in his trippy and darkly funny novel VALIS. His final creative thesis was a collection of short stories called Magic, Death and Revolution, the title of which was pulled from the opening lines of his story After October.
The Tsar abdicates in February. The Provisional Government gets around to letting Fyodor out of prison in March. In April, he meets his Uncle Grigor at a Petrograd café. They talk about magic, death and revolution.
He just sold that story to the excellent Ann Leckie’s new magazine GigaNotoSaurus, where it will go up in June 2011, and to Podcastle, where it will be “reprinted” a week later.

These days, Ben works as a Philosophy Professor at the University of Ulsan in South Korea, where he wears a necktie every day, tries to ignore the air raid siren drills, and is generally known as “that strange white man who plays his Flaming Lips and Of Montreal albums too loudly while he writes in his office.”
In Korean, you know, that’s all one word.

Actually, that last sentence was false.

Come to think of it, this one is too.

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