Monday Morning Surprise

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’m stunned.

I’m…well…stunned.  Gravity Box Cover

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.

…and another shoe falls…

By all appearances, I seem to be having a good year.  After my new collection came out last month from Walrus Publishing, a second book has now been released by Yard Dog Press.  The link to this “new” title is here.

Logic of Departure is a neat thing.  Last year, the marvelous Selina Rosen, chief cook and bottle washer of Yard Dog, called me to ask permission to reissue the two chapbooks of mine they had published.  Extensions and Diva are novellas which, being novellas (and notoriously difficult to place), made their debut as nifty chapbooks.  Yard Dog has consistently sold them for years.  The strangeness of publishing being what it is, it is now more economical for them to issue them together, in a perfect-bound edition, than to continue pushing the chapbooks—which are, of course, both still available singly as ebooks.  Of course I said yes, and then suggested they hold off a bit, as I was then working on a new story that might fit in very well with those two.

Without intending it, Extensions and Diva both fit a loose background universe.  So I wrote a third novella set in that milieu, called Raitch, Later.  I was inspired to write it by a wonderful short story by Adam-Troy Castro called Arvies, which I urge you all to look up.  It’s one of those logical projections of a current thing that blows the mind.  A few days after reading it I had what I considered a suitably nasty idea and started work.

It took the better part of the last six months.  This past year has not been the most conducive to writing I’ve ever had (though not by any means the worst), but the end result is something I’m good with.  Lynn and Selena took the piece and now the completed book is available, with cover art by David Lee Anderson.

LogicOfDeparture_small   I don’t write very many novellas.  Mainly because they’re damnably difficult to sell, but also because most of them end up becoming novels.  That happened with the last Secantis novel I wrote—in fact, the last two, because Peace & Memory began life as a novella as well—an unpublished novel called Ghost Transit which is lying fallow, awaiting the day when.

But these three I doubt could be expanded, at least not as conceived.  So this is a neat thing, having them between covers, all together.  I think they work well together.

So I can now officially claim 12 books to my credit.  Published books, that is.

The link above is directly to Yard Dog.  Please, if you intend to order it online, do so directly from them.  They are a very small house and buying their product through Hamazon, ahem, while not profitless for them certainly takes a bigger bite out of their bottomline than is comfortable.  And while you’re there, check out some of their other titles.  A lot of fun work gets put out by these smaller publishers, work that one occasionally scratches one’s head and wonders, “how come Simon & Schuster didn’t take this…?”

I’m hoping this bodes well for the near future.  Maybe the freeze is beginning to thaw and I can get some of my other books in the pipeline to print.  I have learned in this business than 95% of it happens at a glacial pace, balanced in the end by 5% that requires time travel to complete.

(I just finished reading a time travel novel for my reading group.  What if…?)

A word about the stories included here.  This is a near future world, just on the brink of breaking out of the solar system.  You could easily read them as (loosely, very loosely) part of the Secantis universe.  They’re about class divisions, underdogs struggling to overcome, and the byzantine workings of social systems are laid bare for the reader’s scrupulous examination.  They are all about knowing when it’s time to leave.  Beyond that, I wish to leave everything else for you to discover.  Enjoy.

News and Such

I have another book out, from Yard Dog Press, The Logic of Departure.  More on that later.

I’m having something of a productive year, career-wise.   To recap, the official release party for my first short story collection, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, if this coming Wednesday at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO, at 7:00 PM.

Also, I’ll be doing another program with the St. Louis Science Center at the end of July.  More on that when things are firmed up.

But on July 11th, we’ll be celebrating the 45th birthday of Left Bank Books and for that we’ll be doing something wild and crazy and insane—you know, normal fare for Left Bank—called Writers Under Glass.  I have roped, er, enlisted the participation of three very talented local writers for this.  We’ll be writing a story in the window of the store. Scott Phillips, Ann Leckie, and Kevin Killeen will be tag-teaming along with me in this endeavor and who knows what we’ll produce, but it will be fun and there will be refreshments and it will be for a good cause and, well, it’s a party and a show, so not to be missed.

I’m writing two books more or less simultaneously, did I mention that?  More crazy, but it needs doing, for many reasons.

But right now I want to talk a bit about the books.

I always considered short story collections to be a kind of marker that a writer had “arrived.”  There was a time when they constituted a substantial part of an author’s published œuvre, equal to the novels, but that changed while I was growing up and beginning my career.  Received wisdom in the industry is that anthologies and collections “don’t sell” and hence I came to see such things as the equivalent of “best of” or “greatest hits” album, something not likely to sell as well (if at all) but an indicator along the road that one’s work is worthy of attention.  I saw them as a bone thrown to the writer by a publisher if the sales of the novels seemed to merit it.

Which would mean that I was unlikely to have one.  For many reasons, some of which I’ve discussed here, my sales are…not what I’d prefer them to be.

So it is with considerable pleasure (and pleasurable surprise) that an opportunity more or less fell into my lap when Lisa Miller of Walrus Publishing approached me about a project several years ago.  She was starting up her publishing company, looking for projects, and she asked me what I wanted to do.  I confessed that I would really like to put out a collection.  After looking over some stories, she enthusiastically agreed, and here we are.

Gauging one’s impact in this business is difficult at best.  I’ve published just north of 50 short stories and to the best of my knowledge none of them garnered much notice.  I’ve consistently failed to be nominated for awards in short fiction and I’ve had to date only three stories anthologized (one in a best of the year!) and my production of short fiction fell off after I began selling novels.  For all I know, few people thought much of my short fiction.

Initial reaction to the release of Gravity Box has been surprisingly positive, though.  The echo chamber in which many of us work may be returning some of our early shouts finally.  I choose to be hopeful.

I am very proud of my short fiction.  I never worked so hard at anything.  My inclination was always to be a novelist.  Short stories were not my preferred form, but in order to be a professional I thought I needed to learn how to do them and in fact they taught me a tremendous amount about craft and character and all the small indefinable yet indispensable things that comprise “story.”  Time permitting, I desire to write more of them.  I came to genuinely enjoy the form.

What people will find in Gravity Box and Other Spaces is a collection of stories orbiting around themes involving family and relationships tied to family.  The theme emerged during the process of assembling the pieces.  A third of them have been previously published, the rest are making their debut here.  I ignored subgenres—there are science fiction stories, full-blown fantasies, borderline horror, a lot of “slipstream” and a couple of quasi-historical magic realism types.  I feel they all fit comfortably within my definitions of speculative fiction.  Without wishing to seem presumptuous, I hope they appeal to an even wider audience looking for literary merit.

The second book now out is a happy accident.  Yard Dog Press has published a few of my longer short pieces.  They did two chapbooks for me, Extensions and Diva, both novellas.  Anyone in the business will tell you that novellas are damnably difficult to market.  Not long enough to be a book, not short enough to leave room in a magazine for everyone else.  I’ve written few of them in consequence.  Last year, Lynn and Selena, who run Yard Dog, contacted me to let me know they intended combining the two chapbooks into a single, perfect-bound edition.  At the time I was wrestling with a new story that seemed determined to sprawl into a novella, but which also seemed workable as part of the background world in which these two chapbooks shared.  I asked their indulgence to wait till I finished and perhaps they could publish the three of them together.  It still took me an inordinate amount of time to finish the third novella, now entitled Raitch, Later.  But they were happy with it and now the three pieces, under the title The Logic of Departure, are out.  Serendipity.

Now I’m back at work on the novels, hoping for further good news this year.  We could use some, given certain other things that are going on (and not for public consumption).  Be that as it may, I am thrilled right now and of course I look forward to seeing throngs at the release party this Wednesday.

I will be updating everyone on the other events as details come in.

In the meantime, my thanks to Lisa Miller and John Kaufmann and the terrific people at Left Bank Books.  See you all Wednesday.

Come One, Come All!

One of the things I have been notably bad at over the years is promoting myself.  I’ve published ten novels and still have a hard time sounding my own trumpet.  So this is a departure for me.

Announcing the official release party for my new book, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, published by Walrus Publishing.

June 25th, 2014, at Left Bank Books— here —we’re having a book release party.  There will be refreshments, there will be fascinating people, there will be copies of my new book (plus copies of some of my other titles).  Seven PM, in the Central West End, St. Louis, MO.  Did I mention to go here for more information?

This is my first book-length short story collection and I am very proud of these stories.  As a bit of a departure from the normal collection, most of these stories are new and previously unpublished.  A number have seen print elsewhere.  I have been graced with a wonderful cover by the brilliant John Kaufmann.

 

Gravity Box Cover

I’ll be posting updates when I have updates to post.  But for now, be aware, this is a happening thing.  I’m sending out direct invitations via email to various people, but consider this notice as well that, if possible, you should come to this event.  It would make my heart glad.

More later.

 

Gravity Box

So now it can be told…

I have a new book coming out this May.  It is my first short story collection* and will be published by

Walrus Publishing, a small press right here in St. Louis.

Here’s the cover, done by the remarkable John Kaufmann, also local to the area.

Gravity Box Cover

There are eleven stories, a mix of previously published and new, a mix of science fiction, fantasy, “slipstream,” and a mix of short story and novelette.  I am, needless to say, very excited about this, and I throw myself on the mercy of anyone reading this to spread the word.

Tentatively, there are plans in the works to have a release party at Left Bank Books in mid-May.  I will also be at ConQuest in Kansas City over Memorial Day Weekend where copies will be available.

The first publicity post is up at the Walrus site, here, which is an interview.  So rather than ramble on about the book here I urge you to click through and read the interview…and while you’re there check out some of Walrus’s other titles.

 

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*Hmm.  Not strictly true.  I should say this is my first BOOK LENGTH short story collection.  The estimable Steve Miller and Sharon Lee published a chapbook of three stories some years ago called Other Ways: Three Tales From The Secant.  As of this writing, I do not know if these are still in print.

It Was Many Years Ago…

Twenty-five years ago I arrived on the campus of Michigan State University to begin the six weeks of the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop.  Donna had driven me up, along with a friend (because I didn’t want her driving back alone—which led to a small bit of confusion because while Donna was catching a nap in my dorm room, everyone else met Drea and then when Donna picked me up, there was some, as I say, confusion…) and then left me there for six weeks of the best pressure cooker experience I’d ever had.  I’ve written about it here and here.

That was a defining time for me.  It told me that I could be a writer and gave me the tools to do it.

That was a quarter century ago and soon we’re traveling to the west coast for a reunion of sorts with a handful of fellow classmates.  Some of us have done quite well.  Others…well, me, for instance…

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the final Secantis Sequence novel to see publication.  June of 2003, Peace & Memory came out from Meisha Merlin.

Book Three of the Secantis Sequence, which began with Compass Reach, continued with Metal of Night, and ended—for now—with this one.

Of the three, it has my favorite cover, which is a tale in itself, done by the estimable O.B. Solinsky.  It captures a scene in the novel and evokes one of the themes as well.  I enjoyed the entire process of working with him on this and the result still makes me smile.

But as I say, that’s the last one published.  Due the vagaries and vicissitudes of the publishing industry, my “career” more or less collapsed after that.  Meisha Merlin no longer exists.

I’ve been trying to get back into the game pretty much ever since.

I did publish two more novels after this one, one a sharecropper novel that pretty much sank without a trace and Remains, which is by some miracle, still in print.  I’ve provided links for both novels.

Since 2003, I’ve been scrambling.  Mistakes were made.  I’ve been through a couple of agents.  (I am now with one of the best I’ve ever had, Jen Udden of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and we shall do great things together.)  I’ve continued to write.  It’s easy to succumb to despair in this business.  It is so hard to get into print, harder still to stay in print, and the work can suffer from the difficulties of finances and the doubt that plagues any artist.

But as I told another artist recently, I’ve given up giving up.  I don’t know how many times I’ve quit only to wake up one morning with a great idea, and suddenly I’m hip deep in a new project.  (This one will work, this one will do it…)

I said Peace & Memory was the last Secantis novel published.  It’s not the last one.  I have a fourth one completed, Ghost Transit, and notes on another, Motion & Silence.  The sequence was always intended to continue.

So it’s been ten years.  I have every intention of not going away, of seeing the Secantis Sequence back in print and continued.  With that in mind, I have an experiment I’d like to run.  I understand the utility of the whole Kick Starter thing, but funding a project is not quite the same thing as creating a demand.  Demand is created by people talking, people asking, people wanting.  Maybe letting publishers know that something is Out Here that’s not available in print.  Not sure.  I’ll leave methodology up to the groupmind.

Meantime, in celebration of ten years, order copies if you’ve a mind.  I have a preferred venue, of course, Left Bank Books—you can get the three Secantis books through them, at least until supplies last.  (And lots of other really good books—you can order online from them, so please do, support local bookstores.)

Ten years.  And twenty-five.  Time flies when you’re working hard on something you love.

Clarion is no longer on the MSU campus, but all the way across the country in San Diego (link above).  I, however, am still in St. Louis.  Still writing.  I suspect I will be for some time.

Thank you for your support.

 

On The Extraction of Feet From Mouths

I’ve been thinking deeply about the recent eruption of controversy in SFWA over sexism.  Seems just about anywhere we look in the last several years there are examples of men behaving stupidly toward and about women.  While this is nothing new, where it has been cropping up seems surprising.

There have been several incidents, both online and out in the world, within the skeptical community.  The boys came out to try to tell the girls to get their own clubhouse and stop invading what for some reason these males had regarded as somehow the province of people with testicles.  Prominent women—skeptics, humanists, atheists, scientists—have been treated to high school-level chauvinism by males intent on…

On what?

It’s worth reading this article by Rebecca Watson, one of the most prominent women in the active skeptical world.  Some of what she has gone through seems totally bizarre, of the “what planet did this happen on” variety.  And yet, there it is.  The Thing We (people like me) Had Thought We Were Done With.  Males acting like schoolyard bullies toward women, especially women who claim themselves as individuals with minds, choices, and, apparently, interests that don’t include them.  The boys, that is.

Reading that, someone like me can feel pretty virtuous.  “I don’t think that way!  I don’t do that!  The people I hang with don’t, either, we’ve outgrown adolescence and never were that gauche!”  We might feel that way and some of us might even be justified.

But not all of us.

I’ve been a science fiction reader practically all my life.  I’ve been a professional SF writer since 1990, therefore a member of SFWA.  I have credited science fiction, my early exposure to it, as reason for my awareness of gender issues, my embrace of feminisim, and certainly my affiliation with skepticism, rationality, and—may I say it?—humanist morality.  The circles in which I move resonate with all this as well and over decades a kind of blanket of comforting isolation has settled around me that has buffered me from some of the kinds of bullshit that has evidently been there all along.

There’ve been several instances of sexism over the last few years within the science fiction community, some at an apparently low-level, others fairly significant, culminating in the current Matter At Hand over a series of articles in the SFWA Bulletin (as well as a cover painting for one issue) and the responses prompted concerning them.

Disclaimer:  I tend to ignore the Bulletin anymore.  A lot of the information contained therein is wonderful for beginning writers or those just starting up the ladder of their careers.  Occasionally there’s something technical in an issue worth reading.  But really, it comes because I pay my dues and I go through the Market Report.  Therefore, I had to go find the issues at the center of the storm, dig them out of the pile, and read the pieces in question.

Which means that I absorbed them somewhat in isolation.

Nevertheless, to my complete embarrassment and shame, I misread what was supposed to be the problem.  Then I compounded that failure by defending them.

Not full-faced “what the hell is wrong with you people” defend, just…

The offending articles were two in the long-running series of dialogues by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about the history of the genre.  These are, for those of you who do not get the Bulletin and don’t know, done as conversations, two guys who’ve been around for a long time, yacking about the Old Days and who wrote what, published where, said that, or did this.  They are framed as personal reminiscence.

Which to my mind is a somewhat different context than a straightforward article about, say, copyright law or manuscript formatting or how to write a cover letter.  It’s a different kind of work and therefore has different parameters.  Like memoir, what the author (or authors) get to talk about and how they talk about it gets more leeway.  Constraints are not as tight, subject and content are more flexible.  To my mind.

So therefore when I read a couple of paragraphs in one of these about a particular editor who was evidently “drop dead gorgeous” and “looked great in a bikini” I thought nothing, or at least very little, of it.  It’s not the same as if it had been a straight up piece about how to submit a story to said editor and had included the aside, “and by the way, when submitting to her, keep in mind she’s a babe!”  Had such a sentence been in such an article, my hair would have stood on end and electric cascades would have run up and down my spine.  What the hell does that have to do with the professional relationship detailed in the article?  And it’s true, that if the article had been talking about a male editor, you would likely never see an equivalent remark “And by the way, when submitting to this guy, remember he has a hell of a package!”

Had you read such a remark, we should all know (if it needs explaining, as it apparently does) that the difference is that in the case of the man it is an irrelevancy but for the woman it is a threat.

More clarity?  While a man might view his “package” as an essential aspect of his identity, society at large does not.  The same cannot be said about a woman and her physical attributes.  Therefore, the inclusion of such a comment about a woman is automatically limiting and de facto sexist.  Because the writer has decided that this is the important fact about this woman and while he (or she) may not intend it to be limiting, there is a whole file cabinet of associated conclusions attached to such a description that gets opened once the statement is made.

Is this a bad thing, you ask?

Well.  As has been pointed out by some over this, good or bad, it is problematic.  Because the message has connotative force in the negative.  Because, unfortunately, for too many people, “looks great in a bikini” is the beginning and end of any worthwhile description.  All else becomes secondary.  Tertiary.  Immaterial.  Distracting.

Welcome to Gor.

My mistake was in not recognizing this essential fact.  That intent doesn’t matter when there is ample information that such a phrase will be taken as a threat by a great many people.*

Resnick and Malzberg also consistently qualified who they were talking about.  “Lady writers” and “lady editors.”  Again, my context filters were on.  I thought, that’s who these guys are, they’re from a generation that would consider that a polite cognomen, what’s the big deal?  Forgetting, as I read, how qualifiers play into limiting people not of the majority culture in, say, ethnicity.  The main subject of the two articles was “Women In Science Fiction”—why the continued use of a label which served only to underscore a “specialness” that is not necessarily positive in the context of professional circles?  While the substance of what they had to say was overwhelmingly laudatory (Alice Sheldon was held up to be as good as Alfred Bester and at no point did a phrase like “well, she was really good for a woman” appear) that continual qualifier became a kind of apology.  In the context of a reminiscence, it was indicative of the character of the two authors—quaint, a “cute” term—but outside that context, it is like continually using the term “black writer” in a piece about African American Writers.  We already know the people being discussed are black, the only reason to continually use the qualifier is to make a point of difference.  Do it enough, the difference becomes the only relevant factor.

I missed all this and shrugged it off.

The other article was, in fact, a How To piece, in which Barbie was held forth as a model for professional behavior.  Now, I can see how the author thought this was tongue-in-cheek, a clever, satirical way to make a point, but…

The only excuse for this is carelessness.

Well, maybe not the only excuse.  Intentional, programmatic sexism is certainly possible.

Barbie cannot be a model for any kind of self-aware, in control, self-directed person.  Other People have always determined, right down to the color of plastic used, what Barbie is, will be, or can be, and this point should have been obvious.  The use of a toy in a prescriptive article, aimed at women, can only be…well, problematic.

Two things here.  The first is, I’m disappointed.  Science fiction has been for me a font of enlightenment.  I don’t mean by that “everything I know about living I got from science fiction.”  What I mean is, that many of the foundational ideas I consider important in my life first came to me from science fiction.  I had to flesh them out later, from other sources, but something as basic as gender equality first penetrated my adolescent brain from reading science fiction.  So for this to have occurred in the field which gave me my earliest intellectual nurture is profoundly distressing.  It’s almost like hearing someway say “Oh, I just say all that shit in my novels, I don’t actually believe any of it!”

And, no, I am not saying that Resnick and Malzberg are themselves chauvinists.  I suspect they’re shocked and dismayed both by the reaction to what they wrote and hurt by the suggestion that they are sexists.  But they dropped the ball in understanding the context in which they wrote.  (They compounded it by crying fowl and bleating about censorship.  No one called for censorship.  If anything, a call was made for more awareness.)

The president of SFWA made a statement about all this which I think is worth reading.  Furthermore, the editor of the Bulletin has stepped down.

I said two things.  I put my foot in my mouth over this because I also failed to see how things have evolved and how they have played out in the last 40 years.  I imagined that we might reach a time when men and women might be able to recognize and appreciate each others’ sexuality without such recognition in any way acting as threat or limitation.  Because a woman is beautiful (or a man handsome) does not mean she is obligated to be that for the fantasy edification of people she doesn’t know or should be constrained by that fact because others can’t see past the surface.  For many people, physicality is destiny.  Or fate.  And often, when people in possession of certain physical traits act in ways that don’t fit  those fantasy preconceptions, there is a kind of breaking that occurs which is profoundly tragic in that such preconceptions should never have been put in place to begin with.  Limitation goes both ways.  If all you can see is the great bod, the perfect smile, and the lush hair, I feel sorry for you—you’re missing a whole world.

Men don’t see this as a problem, though, and that’s why it’s such a big deal.  Men have never been barred from being anything else they want to be by their looks.  At least, not as far as the larger culture is concerned.  A man is good looking, well, that’s just one more thing in the plus column, lucky bastard!

Women have different experiences with that.

Many men will still not get it.  (No doubt a lot of women, too, though for different reasons.)  What they will see is another demand that we stop enjoying women.  That we must ignore their physicality, their sexuality.  That we must turn our libidos off.  They will see this as another call that we stop being “men.”  That’s not it at all.

Treat women as People first.  Not female People.  People.  It seems so simple, that.  And yet…

Part of the problem in all this is the lack of grasp exhibited by otherwise bright people.  You have to ask yourself, what makes you think that the kind of stuff you’re likely to hear in a bar made suitable copy for a professional journal?  When you insert a sexualized comment in an article about professional people in a given field, you really aren’t talking about them, you’re talking about yourself.

Anyway, I still have a couple of toes to extract, so I’m done talking for now.

One last thing: You’re never too old to screw up, but you’re also never too old to learn from it.

 

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* Threat?  What threat? I hear some think.  The threat that nothing one does matters if one doesn’t fuck.  That no matter what accomplishments a woman may have, if she’s not also someone interested in, willing, and able to get sweaty with a male who thinks it’s his right and her privilege, then she’s not worth considering.  That any female who seems to think she can be her own Self without this aspect is delusional and that self-selected male has not only the right but the obligation to “show her what she’s missing.”  Basically, we’re talking about rape, implied and actualized, because what matters is the sex.  To be sure, something of this attaches to men as well, but without the element of coercion, which renders it wholly different.  Consider for a moment the most basic difference in attitude regarding “conquests.”  Men who seem to have sex with numerous women acquire, with a few exceptions, a patina of glamor, respect, and envy, while women who engage in a similar lifestyle receive a very different designation and concomitant image and with few exceptions is generally negative.  Furthermore, for men, it is simply one more aspect of their overall image, but for women it almost wholly subsumes anything else about them.  If the boys want the women to stop pointing out their sexism, this will have to change, and the fact that it’s still the case means we have yet to achieve the kind of gender equity men like me thought we were on our way to achieving.

2012

I was never so glad to see an election done than this past one.  The only comparable year in my experience was 1968 and I can’t honestly say that comparison is viscerally valid, as I was 13 most of that year, 14 right before the election, and most of the issues washed over me leaving me unfazed.  But ’68 was the year of Nixon and Humphrey and George Wallace, Vietnam, the Counter Culture and the Anti-War Movement, and a resurgent Republican Party in opposition to LBJ’s Great Society.  I sensed the acrimony, the bitterness, the ugliness, but most of it made no real sense.  Looking back, I can see that it was very much a revolutionary year and now I can make at least an intellectual comparison.  2012, politically, was a war.

I just finished reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, part of his epic series Narratives of Empire.  Lincoln chronicles, novelistically, the Civil War from the viewpoint of Washington and inside the Lincoln White House.  I have read enough period history to recognize the essential accuracy of Vidal’s setting and the nature of the events.  It was tonic for me since it is a full court display of a truly ugly period of political history.  We have encased Lincoln in the amber of the past and rendered him “safe” for our nostalgic alchemy, but it is always instructive to learn about what really went on.  For sheer vileness, one would be hard pressed to find another period in our history to top it.  All the thoughtless charges this past year that Obama was destroying the country, that his re-election would signal the end of liberty, the gutter-level spite in even the most passing of commentary—especially by those in the upper levels of our political institutions—are rendered commonplace by gaining even a smidgen of knowledge of earlier times.  Lincoln, who is now regarded as one of if not the best president we ever had, was at the time regarded even by his supporters as a first-class mediocrity, called “the original gorilla” by subordinates and a Press that was never, seemingly, satisfied with his performance.  His own cabinet was comprised of men who, each of them, thought they could do a better job.  Whereas Obama is only feared as someone who would take away liberty, Lincoln did (the suspension of Habeus Corpus chief among his actions) and yet, here we are, 150 years later, having a hard time wrapping our collective heads around the utter humanness of his presidency.

Still, we didn’t live through the Civil War, we lived through 2012, and personal experience matters differently.

My reasons for not voting for Romney I made plain.  What I found so disconcerting this past year is how little reason impacted those who were bent on ousting Obama.  Once I left the realm of contentless rhetoric and starting talking policy, eyes glazed over, mouths became slack, the body language of my conversents acquired the fight-or-flight posture of someone beginning to perceive a physical threat.  I can only conclude from my small and thoroughly unscientific sampling that most of the people I knew who intended to vote for Romney cared not at all about such things.  Policy made no difference other than as a prop to a personal disdain for Obama.  Without doubt, I’ve lost acquaintances over this.

Worse, the response to losing has been one of the most bizarre congeries of absurdities in recent memory.  The complete denial of reality startled me.  It has been an antic, carnival year in politics.

Interrupted for me personally by my first encounter with mortality, namely an attack of appendicitis that laid me up for nearly two months.  The first week of August I developed a “fluttering” in my belly that resembled stomach flu, but wouldn’t settle out.  By the time I got to the emergency room, it was a full blown agonizing Thing.  My appendix had perforated and I was in Barnes Hospital for a bit over a day.  A few weeks later, I was back in because, one, the wound had become infected, and, two, I had developed an abscess.  Two months after the initial event, I was pronounced healed.  Two months of soup and sleep and reading books and contemplating vulnerability.

For whatever reason, I do not consciously consider myself the object of much affection, so it always surprises me (pleasantly) when people display it toward me.  (I don’t really understand this in myself, since I am in many ways a rather self-centered person, but this never seems to extend to expectations that anyone else pay attention to me…desires, certainly, but not expectation…)  The degree of sympathy and well-wishing that came during my convalescence both humbled and delighted.  Thank you, my friends.

As I said, this did afford me an opportunity to read and I plowed through several books I might otherwise not have managed.

I began a new job this year, at Left Bank Books.  Back in 2011 I started doing work for them of an unusual sort—what we call downtown outreach.  Left Bank is our oldest independent bookstore (1969) and four years ago opened a second location in downtown St. Louis, which proceeded to be ignored.  Well, it takes a while for a new business (or a new location) to acquire recognition, but in this economy they couldn’t really afford to wait.  So we tried something and I started going around to the businesses downtown to introduce them to the fact that they now have a full-service bookstore right there.  Many folks knew about Left Bank Books, but only remembered the Central West End location.  Naturally, they were thrilled to learn there was one within walking distance.

I sort of doubt I had much to do with their increased sales this past year, but it didn’t hurt.  After a few months of my meeting with office managers, building managers, hotel concierges, and the like, sales took a turn for the better.

As of October, I started training as a bookseller.  I’m still doing some of the outreach, but now I have some steady hours (much needed!) and the bonus is I’m getting to know a bunch of very smart, very passionate, very cool people.

Donna also got a new job.  In a weird way.

At the end of 2011, she was dismissed from USSEC, the Job From Hell.  The less said of that the better.  The money, as they say, was great, but everything else sucked.  Frankly, that job was killing her (and not doing me much good either).  Entirely due to office politics, which she hates, she was set up to take a fall and fired.

Cause for Great Celebration and Gleefulness!

We’ve been becoming reacquainted this past year.  Except that the search for a new job turned out to be far more labor intensive than either of us anticipated.

However, she went back to doing what she loves to do—temping.  Of course, the problems with temping are simple: not enough pay and no benefits.  But she likes doing it!

Solution came in the form of an actual job offer from a temp agency to be a regular staff employee.  She works directly for the agency, takes what assignments they are now dedicated to getting her, and best of all she has benefits.  This is in most aspects a dream job for her.

We’re planning an actual vacation.  First one in several years.  (Long weekends aren’t actual vacations, we’ve learned this the hard way.)  But the best part is, she’s happy.

On the writing front, things are…much the same as they have been.  I finished the second volume of my alternate history trilogy (officially the Oxun Trilogy, consisting of Orleans, Oculus (now done), and Orient (forthcoming) and my agent loved it.  I have some revisions to make on it, but nothing major.

And we’re waiting.  I’ve decided to go ahead an write Orient this coming year anyway, just to have it finished.

I have placed a short story collection with a small local press.  Official announcement yet to come.

And I’m trying to write short fiction again.

My photography is continuing to improve (digitally) and I’ve taken my first steps into RAW.  Musically, well, I was playing fairly well until August…

The components of my youth are changing, passing away, metamorphosing.  Too many deaths of heroes, too many changes in landscape, too much maudlin reminiscence.  I won’t detail such things here.  Go back over my posts these last dozen months and you will see what I have mourned and remembered.

All in all, 2012 was a net improvement over the last few years in several ways, though I admit I have to think about it to see most of them.  The bout of appendicitis has been a bit of a wake-up call, with solemn contemplations of time left and mortality and reassessment.  I had blithely been living as though I had plenty of time left to do Everything I Want To Do, but even before August I was admitting that this wasn’t true.  August underlined it and put an exclamation point on it.

We do not make Resolutions normally.  I long ago knew that such things were little better than To Do lists that often get overwritten and superseded by circumstance.  But this time…

2013 will be different.  I don’t know how yet, but.

So be safe, be warm, love each other.  See you all on the flipside.

The Golden (Silver?) Good Ol’ Days

I just finished skimming through a fascinating little bit of fannish history, Earl Kemp’s Who Killed Science Fiction?  Fannish in the sense of science fiction fandom.  It has a rich and varied history and the concerns within the genre are as fraught with angst, ennui, and ambition as any literature.

I am always a bit bemused when I read about this sort of thing, because I came into science fiction through the rotary rack at my local drug store.  (Literally—Leuken’s Pharmacy, on the corner of Shenendoah and Compton, a good old fashioned drug store with a soda fountain, a magazine stand, and two circular racks for paperbacks, two blocks from my house.)  I had no idea about where these books came from, who wrote them, how, not to mention the whole publishing industry and its workings.  I used to think authors were “gray eminences” who occasionally deigned to write a new book and “gift” it to the public.  The notion that they did it for money or to meet a contract deadline or anything so mundane never occurred to me.  It was a wholly mysterious process, with arcane rituals and secret rites.

Nor were all books created equal in my mind.  For some reason—purely aesthetic—I early on decided that the best science fiction, the stuff with true weight and merit, was all published by Avon.  They did Asimov’s magisterial Foundation Trilogy, after all, and that was Significant Literature!  They put out a lot of Zelazny and some Silverberg.

But I knew nothing about fandom.  Occasionally I’d see a notice in the back of one of the magazines I read—If, Galaxy, Amazing, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Vertex, Venture—for a convention somewhere, usually a “World Science Fiction Convention” (!), but I thought they would necessarily be by invitation only (where all the gray eminences met to determine the future offerings, etc) and I’d never go to one.

Kemp’s little tome is the result of a survey he sent out around 1960, asking the title question, among others.  Damn.  I started reading the magazines regularly around 1963 or ’64, so if already in 1960 there was concern over SF being dead, then…

Most of the seventy-odd respondents thought SF was not dead at all, but was in the doldrums.  This was right after the so-called Golden Age has ended (roughly between 1938 and 1954 or so) and there was apparently a sense that the Next New Thing hadn’t arrived yet and maybe it wouldn’t.  It was right on the cusp of New Wave and a few years before Campbell changed the name of Astounding to Analog.  There’s the sense of people sort of milling around, waiting for Something To Happen.

Well, it was five years before Dune and seven years before Dangerous Visions, two books that arguably changed the field.  In a way they represent two extremes, the last great epic of traditional SF and the compendium of All The Wild Shit coming down the pike.  (Both books are almost continually in print to this day, and while Dune has become more a media and franchise phenomenon, Dangerous Visions and its sequel is still a touchstone for serious literary study and the taking-off point for the changes in approach and trajectory that drove everything until Gibson, Sterling, and Cyberpunk worked another set of changes on a field that has always been as good as its most recent thing.)

The general consensus throughout the responses was that magazine SF was not dead (and there did seem to be an over-emphasis on the magazines, which at the time were still seen as the major outlet for SF.  Book publishers had not yet really crowded into the field as they did by the end of the decade, although some were putting out quite a lot, like ACE) but it was sick as hell.  I’ve sat in on similar conversations over the last three decades of my own involvement in fandom and I was struck reading this by the similarity in tone and even in content of the arguments.  (Horace Gold, editor of Galaxy, thought everything was fine except for too much psi.)

Kurt Vonnegut chimed in with a particularly venomous assault, that not only was it dead but he would be glad to help find the corpse so it could be properly buried.  He wrote a note to Kemp later apologizing and blaming his attitude on his isolation from the field.  Vonnegut made his bones in SF and took many opportunities to diss it because he didn’t want to be regarded by the critics—and therefore his potential audience—as a hack.  Fair enough, but sometimes I wonder if something else was going on there.  He could have distanced himself without pissing all over the whole genre.  Or maybe not.  I have to bear in mind that the critical arena is not what it was then.

The last section of the book contains revisitations some 20 years later, when science fiction was going through an enormous boom.  Some of the pessimism of the earlier responses had to be explained.

A lot of of them credited Star  Trek  with the “revival” of science fiction.  It did bring a much larger audience into the field.  It did open the door for many of those new readers to discover that, as good as they thought Star Trek was, the stuff between two covers was much better.

That all changed again in the 80s with the massive upsurge of Fantasy, all, in my opinion, in the wake of Star Wars, which did something very similar—brought many tens of thousands of new fans eagerly into the field.  But in this instance, a different realization occurred that led to a collapse of science fiction.  Instead of discovering that the material in the books they were now buying was better than Star Wars, they found that it was utterly different—and that they really didn’t like it.

Star Wars—and I’ve said this before, often—is not science fiction (even though Lucas rather hamfistedly and stupidly tried to retrofit it as science fiction in the “first” three movies) but heroic quest fantasy in space.  Or, simply, Fantasy in Skiffy drag.  Audiences went from this to the less reifying work of writers like Brin, Bear, Clarke, Benford, Cherryh, et al and it must have been like a cold shower.  Science fiction requires thought, analysis, its virtue is in the explication and championing of reason, logic, and science, and while there are heroes aplenty in SF there’s not a lot of destiny or “born to the throne” heroes who just Are.

As fast as they blew up the SF bubble, they left it for all the Tolkein clones that began to dominate the publishing field by the late 80s and still command a hefty market share.

Science fiction, it seems to me, has always been a minority taste.  It appeals to people who also find science appealing.  It has always had a fairly solid core of supporters and as a percentage of the publishing market has remained fairly constant, with certain boom times punctuating a more or less steady, dependable foundation.  Science fiction offers marvels, of course, but they are, the best of them, marvels still grounded in an idea of reality.  And reality is tough.  It takes work to survive and thrive.  A good sword arm won’t do you much good when a meteor has holed your ship and all the air is leaking out and you have to figure out how to fix it.  Orbital mechanics couldn’t care less that you’re of the House Royal as your ship starts spiraling down to a nasty end because you didn’t do the math right for re-entry into atmosphere.  Science fiction says “Yes, the future can be wonderful—but it will still be Real and you’ll have to deal with it the same way you deal with what’s real now.”

So, who killed science fiction in my opinion?

Lot of assumptions in that question with which I do not agree.

Missouri Has A New Poet Laureate

From the Governor’s Office we have the announcement of Missouri’s third state poet laureate:

Gov. names university professor poet laureate

Jefferson City – Gov. Jay Nixon announced the appointment of William Trowbridge, Lee’s Summit, as Missouri’s new Poet Laureate.

Trowbridge is a distinguished university professor emeritus at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Mo., and the author of more than 340 published or forthcoming poems. His appointment will run for two years, and during his term, he will present and lecture on poetry to school, community and civic groups throughout the state.

“Professor Trowbridge is one of the country’s outstanding poets, and we are honored to have him as Missouri’s poet laureate,” Nixon said. “With a number of outstanding candidates from our state, the decision is never easy. I appreciate the work of the Missouri Center for the Book and of the advisory committee in making its recommendation to me.”

Trowbridge has published eight collections of poems, including Ship of Fool in 2011, and his work has been reprinted in more than 30 anthologies and textbooks. He was co-editor of The Laurel Review from 1986 to 2000, and his poetry has earned several awards.

Trowbridge is Missouri’s third poet laureate; he succeeds David Clewell, of Webster Groves.

http://governor.mo.gov/newsroom/2012/Gov_Nixon_appoints_William_Trowbridge_as_Missouri_s_new_Poet_Laureate