Place holder, something from the past weekend at Wilson ‘s Creek Battlefield.
A friend of mine called while I was out. He left a message (which I thought had to be a mistake) to the effect that apparently my new book, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, made the local (St. Louis) independent bookstore bestseller list of the week ending June 29. Post-Dispatch page here.
Well, not one to be fooled, I looked it up. And there it is. (See link above)
I mean, the last thing I expected was for something like this to occur with this book.
Not that I had a list of expectations, mind you. I was just very pleased with the finished product and that it arrived on the shelves. I was gratified right down to my socks that people showed up at the release party. (No, that’s an understatement, I was beyond gratified. I never expect people to pay any attention. I’m always surprised and pleased and blown away.) If I got a couple of positive reviews and the book sold well enough to justify my publisher’s commitment, well, that would be great. Beyond that, no expectations.
Hopes, on the other, I got plenty.
But to be real, it’s a short story collection. Best seller? Granted, it is a local list, but even so, I’m in the top three with Gone Girl and Orange Is The New Black. What?
So right now I am about as happy as a writer as I have been since…
Well, since I sold my first story. Then sold my first professional story. Then sold my first novel. I was elated when I was informed that I’d made the short list for the Philip K. Dick Award. And again when I made the short list for the Tiptree a few years later. Yeah, I’ve had some moments in this insane business.
But this! Wow.
So, what would be very cool would be to see this happen elsewhere. I doubt this will be anything other than a word-of-mouth success. That being the case, please—say something. Push your local independent bookstore into getting it. Talk to people. With a little help from my friends (well, maybe a lot of help) I may yet have a decent career. It would be really strange if this were the book that made the comeback for me. But I wouldn’t be the least bit unhappy about that.
For those of you who have already bought the book, thank you very, very much. Picking up a book and laying out cash for it is an act of faith. One that, I hope, will be justified in this case.
Which may not be a big deal to some, but given my antagonism toward most things digital, it’s a big step for me. Following up on the previous post, I give you the original image and then the “fixed” image.
Yeah, a bit of perspective control. It is bit easier than what I used to do, hauling a view camera to the scene, making swing-and-tilt adjustments of several minutes, etc etc.
Okay, it has been a while. I’ve been busy. I have two novels in the works, which will take up most of my free time this year, but that’s no excuse to ignore everything else.
So first off, an upcoming event.
At the Missouri Regional Library on April 29th, 7:00 PM, Professor Tom Dillingham and I will be doing a presentation on the value of science fiction. What Science Fiction Can Teach Us will be a discussion of the potential scholastic, edifying, and just plain useful aspects of SF. This is the talk that would have happened back in February had the Second Ice Age not threatened glaciation. This should be a fun evening. Tom is a delight and I sort of know a thing or two about the subject.
So—April 29th, 7:00 PM, Missouri Regional Library, 214 Adams Street, Jefferson City, Missouri, 2nd Floor.
Also, hopefully, fingers crossed, the short story collection will be out in mid to late May. We’re going to do a release party at Left Bank Books, the specific date still a bit up in the air, but either the 14th or the 21st. I will let the world know when I know.
I’m changing the night of the reading group I moderate at Left Bank Books to the first Thursday of each month, starting May 1st. The title at hand is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is available at Left Bank Books now at 20% off, so for all you local folks, go get a copy, support your local independent bookstore, and consider attending the meeting. Thursday evenings, 7:00 PM.
No doubt there is more and I will get to it as soon as I remember what it is. For now, have a good weekend.
I have a friend who likes to engage me on our points of departure. He’s a self-admitted conservative, I am not. He’s a sincere Christian, I’m an atheist. Looking around at the current culture, you would think that should make any conversation we might have problematic at best, impossible at worst.
Yet we carry on the occasional hour, two-hour, sometimes three hour conversation and never once descend into anger or dismissive rhetoric. And yes, we talk about religion regularly. We talk about politics. We talk about meaningful living. It’s the kind of exchange of ideas from different perspectives that seems both rare and uniquely pleasurable. Would that we taught kids growing up how to appreciate this kind of conversation as, at the very least, an æsthetic pleasure.
Consequently, when he questions me on priorities, I tend to listen.
A couple weeks ago, after the monthly jam session (he runs a church basement coffeehouse to which I’ve been going and participating for more than a few years now) we hung around and started talking about current subjects. My opening statement concerned the new movie Noah and the absurd fact that the studio has decided to put a disclaimer on it to appease religious reactionaries who are bothered by “historical inaccuracies.” I expected a laugh over the ridiculousness of this—these are not people who have much patience for that kind of shallow literalism—but instead what followed was a discussion of my obsessive attention to people like Ken Ham and the anti-evolution crowd and biblical literalists in general.
“Why do you pay any attention to them?”
Well, I replied, somewhat glibly, stupidity is fascinating.
Patiently, though, my friend worked at that. Really? Aren’t there better things to focus your attention on than the obdurate intractability of intellectual ostriches? Don’t you have, like, books to write?
At the end of the conversation (which is not to say that it’s over) I had to concede that I spent far too much time and mental energy worrying over the misreadings, misinterpretations, manglings, and malignancies of what is a minority example of entrenched ignorance. Like watching a neighbor gradually destroy his property (and being unable to do much about it), or watching a slow-motion train wreck, or even repeatedly viewing and complaining about a very expensive yet utterly brainless film, it is both attractive and repellant to observe this particular bit of cultural shadow-play.
The answer to the question has occupied me now since. Why do I give them so much of myself?
The glib answer is that they draw attention to themselves in such a way as to seem important and relevant. Paying attention to them feels, on a shallow level, like being engaged. Noticing them, knowing what they’ve been saying and seeing what they’re doing, seems like being a responsible agent in my own culture. Every time they manage to censor discussions in schools about evolution or try to force prayer into the classroom or some other culture-war battleground is pushed into the news, being aware of it just seems the thing to do.
A somewhat less glib answer is that the very real political power such groups seem to enjoy worries me. I don’t want to live in a country designed by biblical literalists. And determining how they’re wrong and why is basic to any kind of pushback.
And of course, since this conversation took place, we have the incident of the FOX television affiliate in Oklahoma blocking fifteen seconds of the new Cosmos program, the 15 seconds dealing with evolution, and my blood boils. I react. I become insensed. And I immediately go to write a new blog post about how stupid this is and how malevolent this kind of nonsense is and how—
Which is, actually, a waste of my time. Really, there are better-qualified people doing exactly that. You can find links to some of them on the sidebar over to the right. You want to read a better-informed and more current tirade against this kind of thing, go to Freethought Pharyngula—P. Z. Myer is an evolutionary biologist and apparently has more time, energy, and inclination than I do to keep abreast of all this nonsense—or check the science blogs to which I maintain links.
I don’t have to do this.
And yet…and yet…I keep doing it. Even here, in addressing a different kind of question, I’m thrashing about and striking back. Willful ignorance, asserted as if it is a positive attribute, with an insistence that it is Right and Truth and we should all bow to its inevitable godlines MAKES—ME—CRAZY.
Because, at base, I loathe my own ignorance. I loathe that part of me that desperately wants to be right, whether I am or not. Because I am aware of my ignorance and strive to correct it and because I see that as an important fight it disturbs me—more, it frightens me—when others not only don’t see the worth in that fight but are dedicated to preventing the triumph of knowledge.
So, I suppose the simple answer to my friend’s question is—fear. Those people scare me. They are the ideological descendents of Inquisitors, witchfinders, book-burners, imperialists of dogma, stone-throwers, and censors. Because I read Lest Darkness Fall and Fahrenheit 451 and my imagination is such that I can see what a victory for them would mean for people like me.
And because I honestly lack any kind of faith in those who are my intellectual and cultural kindred that we will win this fight.
But that still doesn’t fully address the challenge he laid at me feet. Why do I pay so much attention to all this when I could better serve my own purpose and the purpose of the civilization I support in so many other ways?
Because, when combined with all of the above, this has become a rut. It is easy. And it feeds my sense of relevance. But really it’s a paltry diet. There are richer meals to be had, that would be more beneficial, to me and to others. So it is an itch which has become easy and habitual for me to scratch. And in certain company, it’s a sign that I am part of a certain group of like-minded.
It’s a poor excuse. I could be doing better things with my time and frankly getting more out of my intellectual life. Because at the end of the day, I’m not going to change their minds, and those who nod along with me when I dive into one of my tirades don’t need me to tell them about this.
I think it is worth paying attention to when tax money goes to something like Ken Ham’s Creation Museum. That’s an abuse of public trust and a violation of the law, frankly, and should be made public and stopped.
But I don’t need to go on about Ken Ham’s idiocy.
The spot that itches has grown raw and inflamed from repeated scratching and no salve is in sight. I need to leave it alone. I have a book on mathematics to hand, another about the history of science fiction, and still another about World War I. Yes, I have a couple of books dealing with the assault of reason, which is not only from a religious reactionary quarter—reason is under assault from many quarters—but I’m a fiction writer. My job is to tell stories about the world and because I write science fiction I can do a little prognosticating. I have to stop pissing away time on pointless subjects.
Besides, I really do think they’ll fade. When I sit myself down and really examine it, the world view we define as that of Reason will maintain and eventually the nattering naysayers will diminish. It’s just difficult to see that day to day and believe it when there are people worrying over the “historical” inaccuracies in a Hollywood film about a mythical event.
So I wish to thank my friend for opening a door and pointing out that I’ve been perhaps wandering the wrong hallway for a time.
This is why we must cultivate relationships with people we disagree with.