I am a marginal Luddite. My friends tease me about it, not without justification. “What do you mean you don’t know how work that? YOU’RE A SCIENCE FICTION WRITER!”
A rather uncharitable way to look at it, but not without some merit. It is, however, like telling a scientist he’s an idiot because he can’t program his VCR (!). Or maybe criticizing an engineer because he can’t solve a Rubic’s Cube. Be that as it may, I have a rather antagonistic relationship to modern tech and I do not feel entirely unjustified. The last time I was upbraided for being unable to deftly wend my way through a computer problem and the science fiction writing came up, my retort was “Dammit, it wasn’t supposed to work this way!”
(Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a software engineer!)
Constant upgrades, byzantine interfaces, labels on functions that do not make intuitive sense…it’s easy, perhaps, to decipher a language if you already speak it.
I’ve been with Earthlink for years now. Partly, this is because I have little patience for shopping for this kind of thing. I had a bad experience with an ISP when I first connected and Earthlink has been reliable. As time passed and I did more things, they have been far more helpful than not, so I stuck. I am a loyal customer given a bit of useful attention, courtesy, and spoken to in English (this is to say, not talked to like I’m a 15-year-old digital nerd who lives and breathes this stuff).
So I called them. Turns out, my DSL modem was over nine years old. Well past the average life expectancy of such things. Back and forthing, finagling, and communing with the service techs, I opted to purchase an upgrade to a fiberoptic connection with a new modem and higher speed.
Then I discovered that my router was also ancient and decrepit and may have been the culprit all along. No matter, I had a spare, which worked fine.
Until last weekend, when I lost all connectivity and had to simply wait till the install guy showed up.
Which was supposed to happen today. But instead, he knocked on my door yesterday, just as I was about to leave for work. After a moment of panic I chose to go with it, because who knew when the next available time would be? After two hours, I am back online. The connection is faster. No, really, I can tell. It is.
Which then prompted going around the house re-entering passwords and upgrading the other machines, etc etc etc.
And going through the sixty-plus emails that had stacked up in my inability to access my online world.
But it also means my distractions are back.
Oh, well. What is life without distractions?
Just in time, however, as the final notes from my agent on my new novel are about to pour down the pipeline into my lap for me to tend to and get back to her so she can start pushing it to all the people who don’t yet know they want it and want it badly. Timing.
Which also means I have to get back to work on the other projects sitting here.
I am, unfortunately, easily distracted, but I’ve come to understand that the thing that distracts me most, more than anything else, is when things don’t work. It nags at me when something of mine is broken. Nero Wolf once described rancor as a “pimple on the brain” that muddled his thought processes. In my case, it’s knowing I can’t do something I ought to be able to do but a glitch is blocking me. Pimple on the brain. Annoying.
But for now, problem solved, and one hopes I can glide through all this unperturbed for another nine years. At which time, some other something that shouldn’t be a problem (and wouldn’t be in one of my stories, where technology works as it should, unless its not working is a plot point) goes wrong. Meantime, a bright day ahead.
I would say something about other things, but I don’t want to spoil my mood. I am back, my window (pun intended) to the world is open once more, and I have what is in this modern day and age the All Important—Access.
I will say that Coffey, my dog, was delighted to have the technician here. She followed him around, scrupulously checking his work, making sure he was doing everything according to standard—her standard, which may be higher than my standard in some things—and enjoying having me around an extra couple of hours.
The pimple has cleared up, for now. I’m back working on…things. (I’m writing this instead of what I should be writing, grumble-mumble…)
To close, I will offer up a staple of the internet realm, something I seldom indulge mainly because I don’t have the subject on hand with which to indulge it. I have to borrow one for such purposes, but…
I give you a cat picture. Have a good day.
It’s getting down to the wire. That will make sense later. For now, a contemplation and a photograph.
This weekend past was Archon. Number Forty. 40. Donna and I have been attending this, our hometown con, since 1982, number six. I’ve missed a couple, I think we missed one, but by and large it has been a regular thing. In years past, some of the vitality seemed to go out of it. They had some hiccups, which are now quite obviously in the past. This one was pretty damn good. Writing and books were more evidently on the menu and the panels I attended were well attended and well received. Even the Sunday ones.
For my part, there was a pre-con event last Thursday evening at the Brentwood Recreation Center. I hope to establish this as a regular thing, a Thursday evening event with the GoH, Toastmaster, and perhaps one other writer, sponsored by Left Bank Books with the convention. This year, Ellen Datlow and Bradley Denton were our guests, along with Ann Leckie. It was a fun evening. My intention is to broaden the scope of science fiction/fantasy for a general audience, draw attention to Left Bank Books as the go-to bookstore in St. Louis for speculative fiction (as well as all the rest), and spotlight these writers and editors for people who don’t normally attend the conventions. I ferried Ellen and Brad across the river to the event and moderated the talk, which took on a life of its own.
It seems remarkable that, in hindsight, we’ve made friendships which depend on annual visits. Great people show up at these conventions and I got to see them. Lynn and Selina of Yard Dog Press, who publish my work but, more importantly, are part of the rich community I am pleased to be part of. Vic Milan, the apparently permanent M.C. for the Archon masquerade, which always produces some remarkable entrees. Mitch Bentley, artist, as well as Allison Stein, John Kaufman (who did the terrific cover for my short story collection Gravity Box), Michelle and Rich, who run the art show, which is now becoming another regular feature for me.
Connecting up with Brad was a treat. I guess I’ve known him since 1992 or so. He is a fine, fine writer, a blues musician, and one of the best people I know. He’s had a rough few years lately and I wish him all the best. I’d like to read more of his fiction. If you haven’t read Brad, do so. Find his books.
I got to meet one of my favorite actors, if but briefly. Claudia Christian, who played Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5, a show Donna and I have been binging on since the unfortunate death of Jerry Doyle, who co-starred as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi.
All in all it was a good con. If I am a bit melancholy it’s only because I get to see some of these people at such long interludes and the pressure of time weighs more each year.
But. The art show. I actually sold a piece this year. This one, in fact. But I had a couple of new pieces as well. This is one, which I call Way Station.
Others may interpret it differently, but I’m sticking with the title, a reference to Clifford Simak’s terrific novel. (Another one which, if you haven’t read it, do so. Too many good things are forgotten because they get buried under the avalanche of shiny new baubles.)
I’m particularly pleased with the fantasy images I’ve been producing the last few years. I’m getting better, I think.
I don’t know when the next con I’ll attend will be. No doubt Archon 41, but other than that? It depends on much. I’ve handed in the current novel to my agent, I’m working to finish another one (possibly a YA), and I need to write some short stories, some by request. I’ll be busy this winter.
Meantime, to all my friends who I see far too seldom—be well. I’d like to see you again, sooner than later.
I have completed the current version of my new novel. Nits have been picked, threads tucked, and spells checked (I hope!) and it is off my desk.
Every time I get to this place, I crash. Yesterday I hit the couch for some of the deepest nap-time I’ve had in recent memory. When I come out of it, I look around at the ruined landscape of my environment, at all the things that have been on hold while in hot and sometimes panic-driven pursuit of the final draft, and I plan on how to put it all back into some kind of order. Cleaning. Getting reacquainted with the dog. Maybe attempt to catch up on some reading.
But that first day or so after is usually taken up by just drifting from room to room, contemplating what I am not about to do in the next hour, being lazy. Sighing a great deal. Maybe playing some music (not well) or doing some photo work.
Which I did this morning. Archon is coming up and I’ve elected to be in the art show again. I have some new images that need finishing up and prepping. I did a couple of those but mainly I played.
So until I get serious about tomorrow, here’s an image as place holder. I shot this in Kansas City recently, with my phone. Now, the pixels in the phone and the resolution leave much to be desired, but it ain’t bad, and if I work some magic in photoshop I can get some interesting stuff. For this, though, I went old school, just because I like the lines and the mood.
Now, compare that to the one below, which I shot in Dallas with my SLR.
A bit of a theme going on here? Yeah, well.
I have a ton of work to do in the coming year. Fingers crossed, you will be seeing some new short stories from me. I’ve been invited into a couple of anthologies and while in K.C. at the worldcon I got more than a few “Where’ve you been and when will you send something to me?” from some people. I know, it surprised me, too. Who knew I’ve been missed?
So, recovery for a couple of weeks–Archon in two weeks away–and the more grindstone time. My nose is diminishing even know.
I was eleven when Star Trek premiered. I’d seen the previews all summer, I was salivating in anticipation. Just from those minute or so clips it looked just so cool!
We watched the first episode—Man Trap—and disaster struck.
See, I was a somewhat “sensitive” child. I hate horror. I was prone at an earlier age to nightmares. I recall a couple of times waking up screaming. Of course, I’d been like four or five. It had been years. But my mother was adamant about keeping me away from anything that would curse my nights and ruin their sleep. She was skeptical that this—this—Star Trek Thing—wasn’t just another monster show. I remember trying to persuade her that, no, it’s about spaceships and other planets. No monsters.
Well. What was the thing in Man Trap other than a classic scary monster?
I missed half the first season because of that shaggy critter.
We lived downstairs from my grandparents and I took to sneaking up there to watch it. They had an ancient ANCIENT television, in a pale maple cabinet and a very low-res gun painting the picture on an old tube, so the picture was anything but sharp.
Even so, there was something about it that just took hold.
It is difficult sometimes to explain what Star Trek meant to someone like me that year. It was amazing. It was miraculous. It was where we wanted to go.
Somehow, Roddenberry and his writers had constructed a thing that had life beyond the edge of the television tube. We knew the Federation had length, breadth, and depth. It had substance. It was a place. Not like anything else on tv at the time that could even begin to call itself science fiction, this was a universe and we knew it would welcome us in if we could just–just—kind of—maybe—slip in there, past the electrons, and sort of step through.
Of course, it did what written SF had been doing for a long time. The difference was the medium. I never knew anyone else growing up who was remotely interested in reading the books and magazines I did. Everyone watched television and more than a few watched Star Trek.
It embedded and evoked an idea of the world and life that extended beyond the ordinary in a way that far exceeded its primitive SFX and pasteboard sets and often mediocre scripting. It wasn’t the individual episodes that mattered, it was the proposed future portrayed.
We didn’t have any of that stuff. Today we have a lot of it.
I saw the entire first run eventually, all in brilliant black-n-white. We didn’t have a color tv till the latter part of the Seventies.
It didn’t matter. I could close my eyes and see all the colors.
My dad, who had a problem with obsession, didn’t like my growing dedication to the show. “Split your head open with an axe and a bunch of starships would fly out of it,” he would say, as if that were a bad thing.
Well, it wasn’t school work.
But today I’m a published science fiction writer, and I didn’t learn how to do that in school.
More, though, in some way the optimism and vision of Star Trek became part of my general make-up. I think I’m a better human being because of it.
It was just so fucking wonderful.
At MidAmeriCon II, the good people at SciFi4Me did an interview. With me. Go fig. But, hey, thank you very much!
Worldcon is over, I am home, weary and pumped and amazed and frazzled. So much happened, it is difficult to sort it out and deal with it cogently.
This may have been the best worldcon experience I have ever had. Barring the first one, way back in 1984, in L.A., when Donna and I roamed around gawking at all the startling stuff and sitting in panels listening to the writers we were reading and finding books in the dealers’ room Walden and Dalton just didn’t stock, the worldcons in between have been mixed bags for us, often fraught with my anxieties of trying to become a pro writer and feeling alternately despairing and enthusiastic. Whipsawed.
Not so this time. Almost from the minute I set foot in the convention center I found myself treated with a collegiality I’ve experienced before but never so thoroughly and consistently.
Over the course of five days, I interacted with peers and pros and fans at nothing but high levels of sometimes ego-boosting wonderfulness.
The best part was finding old friends I didn’t expect to be there. One in particular, a man I met way back at the very first convention I attended, Archon 6, and with whom I’ve had almost no contact for several years, was standing in the dealers’ area. Like a mirage or a ghost, I stared at him a few moments before realizing that, yes, Ed Bryant really was there.
Ed is a short story master. He has several collections to his name and the stories are wonders. He was kind and patient to a young wannabe who often did not know how to take advice. He’s been suffering poor health for some time and I never expected him to show up at a worldcon, but we spent several hours together in conversation, a now cherished experience.
The other face I did not expect to see was that of Daryl Gregory. Daryl has over the last few years become something of a Big Deal, though he would probably dispute that. It wouldn’t matter to me in any case, as we are Clarion classmates and I know whence the droids are buried.
He was in company with his new companion, Liza Groen Trombi, who is top person at Locus Magazine these days. It was a pleasure to make her acquaintance. We all went out one evening for dinner, ending up in typically dramatic fashion almost caught in a thunderstorm. One of those evenings when I glance about for the camera crews and wonder who is in charge of special effects.
The principle motivation for my attending turned out to be one of the best parts. As I said in an earlier post, I had not intended going. But then my agent, Jen Udden, told me she would be there and wanted to meet, so plans changed again.
I am especially glad about this. You can work with someone long distance a lot and work perfectly well, but a face-to-face makes a difference. It adds a layer and validates opinions. I have no idea what she came away with, but I am even more confident that I’m in excellent hands.
We met for lunch at a Kansas City great, Jack Stacks BBQ. I’d never been before. It’s in the freight yard area adjacent to Union Station. I had a bit of a scramble getting there, but made it almost exactly on time (I hate not being punctual). They seated us on the patio and we proceeded to overeat on some of the best barbeque around.
We cabbed back to the hotel and she introduced me to some of her other clients. I reconnected with Maurice Broaddus, whom I’d met several years ago in Ohio.
My panels were all well-attended and produced the kind of discussion I look forward to. The Generation Starship one in particular, in company with Gregory Benford and Pat Cadigan, was a learning experience as well.
I am, as it has turned out, getting too old for the party scene. For one thing, my hearing is not what it once was. If the crowd is too large, I have difficulty sorting out individuals. This was especially hard at the TOR party, which was thunderous. (Someone had a decibel meter app and said it was about 110 db.) But I had to go to Roomcon and hear Bradley Denton in his role as Bland Lemon Denton, play along with Caroline Spector, with extra vocals by Sherri Dean.
The Marriott bar was watering hole central. Meet-ups for dinner and other excursions most often took place there. The SFWA suite was also in the Marriott and it was trhere that I saw the live feed to the Hugo Award ceremony. Though not all, I came in late. But I saw enough to feel very positive about our field. The rockets went to deserving writers for exemplary work. Despite the bellyaching of certain factions in the genre, this year’s winners show how much the work has grown and developed and, if I may say so, matured.
However, George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Losers Party was still the place to be afterward. George had rented a restored movie palace, The Midland, nearby. Attendance was invitation only. I managed to get in (thank you, Paul Burns) and stayed through George’s handing-out of the “Alfies”—Hugo substitutes for those works which had, by some lights, been unfairly pushed off the final ballot this year by the manipulations of a disaffected element.
The Midland is incredible. George spared no expense. The bar was open (courtesy of Random House) and the attendance was…well, let’s just say that no one was sorry to see that element mentioned above be offered a rising finger of salute.
All in all, it was a great party.
The band provided for the night’s festivities was new to me but apparently a K.C. fixture, the Black Crack Review. I asked someone what kind of music they played and was told it would be a blend of George Clinton and Sun Ra. They did not disappoint.
Sunday, like every other last day of a worldcon, was both pleasant and melancholy. I did a podcast interview for SciFi4Me, ran around saying bye to too many people to name, did my autographing session—which was another egoboost, as I had a queue waiting when I arrived—and my last panel, on interstellar colonies (which complemented the earlier one on starships, though the consensus this time was generation ships simply will never happen). I did not stay for closing ceremonies, but instead return with my hosts for a wind-down dinner at their house.
Monday morning I hit the road for St. Louis and made good time.
There are several takeaways from MidAmeriCon II, which was not without its controversies. I will discuss one of those later. But one of the biggies for me was a renewed sense of welcome and excitement. The possibilities of doing new work and being part of what I’ve always considered the best kind of fiction. I’m pumped. Just wait for this new novel.
I really have too much else to do to write the long piece I’d like to about current events, so I will post a new image. I spent too much time this morning learning some new tricks on Photoshop. This picture will be in the Archon art show this October and I may tweak it a bit ‘tween now and then.
I am not a quiet or gentle learner. I hate looking up how-to videos, watching them closely, jotting down notes of how to get from A to G, press this button, slide this over there, etc, and then going to my own computer and finding most of those buttons simply NOT THERE! Eventually I get where I need to, but it is neither pleasant or quiet.
Still, when I get results like this, it makes all the angst seem worthwhile.
I hadn’t intended going to MidAmericon II, in spite of it being just on the other side of my own home state, but things change and it seems I will be there. So below is my schedule, if any of you are attending and have an inclination to come see me. I am having an autographing session, please note. My most recent book is Gravity Box a collection of short fiction of which I am very proud. Snag a copy and come by and make my day.
Without further what have you…
Friday 18:00 – 19:00, 2502B (Kansas City Convention Center)
What would life be like for those living on a Generation Spaceship? From water storage and greenhouses to dealing with the reprecussions of being always indoors, panellists will discuss the scientific, sociological and psychological aspects of building and living on a Generation Spaceship.
Gregory Benford, Ms Pat Cadigan, Jerry Pournelle, Brenda Cooper (M), Mark W. Tiedemann
Balancing the Creative Life
Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Finding balance is a trick nowadays. How do you keep a day job, AND read AND go to galleries AND network AND absorb enough of the world to keep your brain well fed inspired and energized enough to create? Panelists discuss what keeps them going and engaged in their work and life.
Kelly Robson, Joelle Presby, Mark W. Tiedemann, James Van Pelt (M), Deirdre Murphy
Autographing: Dana Cameron, Adam-Troy Castro, Todd McCaffrey, Alan Smale, Mark Tiedemann
Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)
Dana Cameron, Todd McCaffrey, Alan Smale, Mark W. Tiedemann, Adam-Troy Castro
Human Culture on Remote Space Settlements
Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, 3501F (Kansas City Convention Center)
Before modern communications, isolated communities on Earth invented new words, with vowel or consonant shifts, and new jargon. Moral standards evolved. In space colonies, departures might be greater. Human genetic engineering, for instance, could be a new art form or it is taken for granted. Or, as also has happened with some transplanted Earth cultures, might colonies become more conservative than their home worlds?
Dr. Mary A. Turzillo Ph.D., Tom Ashwell, G. David Nordley, Dr. Charles Gannon (M), Mark W. Tiedemann
Feeling a bit abstracted and commentative this morning. Politics is depressing and energizing at the same time, did you ever notice that? The devouring of the corpus publius…
Wandering the streets, trying to fit what was with what is, seeing the skeleton of what you used to know beneath the layered detritus of the now. I see the same things but they no longer register the same way. Is this, perhaps, nostalgia, intense homesickness, nosta—homecoming—algia—pain?
The past is there, but I am not. I can only note what it once was, testify where it had been, validate the now because the scaffolding of then holds it up.
Or maybe I’m just tired.
We are a pattern-anticipating sensate creature. Where the patterns mean nothing we can oblige the emptiness by bringing our own meanings and applying them. It’s as pleasant a pasttime as any other, until we begin believing our own significations to the detriment of the previous occupants. Even knowing the traps, we can’t help it. We want to, and sometimes we do, but more often we just think we do. Know, that is. The inability to accept the process leads to tight spaces with no room to maneuver. Squeezes our expectations all out of true.The patterns persist even when the desires change. If we appreciated them for what they are and resisted the urge to impose our own hungers on them, we might find what we need and feel better about it in the process.
But what do I know? I’m just a science fiction writer who takes pictures.
Hope you have a fine day.