At MidAmeriCon II, the good people at SciFi4Me did an interview. With me. Go fig. But, hey, thank you very much!
At the world science fiction convention just past, MidAmeriCon II, an event occurred which may well displace much more deserving matters, but which was significant enough to spark dialogue over a subject that has been at the center of debate within the science fiction field for several years now. A debate which regrettably led to the attempt to “game” the Hugo Awards by a disaffected element determined to deny the validity of current trends in new writings.
I refer, of course, to the Sad Puppies and their subsequent impressment by the Rabid Puppy movement, which was more or less the sole creation of one person who took advantage of the situation to push slates onto the Hugo ballots and otherwise poison the pool of discourse with a degree of venom that has adversely affected those among the Sad Puppies who argued these issues in good faith and on the merits of the fiction produced. Actions have been taken to see that slates are no longer likely and the entire consequence of this year’s Hugo Awards seems to have been nothing less than a massive repudiation by fandom in general of the whole argument that science fiction is being “ruined” by certain kinds of fiction at the expense of “truer”, somehow purer SF of a more traditional variety.
However that aspect of all this may eventually sort itself out remains to be seen. Debates over story content, style, approach, the æsthetics of the genre will continue and all to the good of what continues to be a vibrant, vital art form.
For now, though, I want to talk about the event mentioned above. There was a panel called, I believe, The State of Short Fiction. By second-hand accounts it turned into a row due to the upfront introductory speech by its moderator, Dave Truesdale, who took the opportunity to make a statement consistent with Sad Puppy sentiments and to derogate what he called Snowflakes whose sensibilities seem so delicate that they had to attack or censor what I presume he considers more robust, “traditional” SF. He proferred a string of pearls “to clutch” should “the vapors” threaten them when confronted with arguments that their preferred form of fiction might not be good for the field.
Not finished with this opening salvo, the other panelists, who included among the best editors in the field today, interrupted and tried to pull the panel back to the topic. You can listen to the whole thing online. I will not link to because there is some question over whether Mr. Truesdale had permission to record and post it. If you wish to go look for it, feel free.
The panel never did get onto its topic, but it did become very interesting.
However, one result was that Mr. Truesdale was expelled from the convention. On the surface, this appears to be an overreaction. If part of the intent was to punish him for an inappropriate message, it has backfired. Even if that was not the intent, it has resulted in this panel receiving substantially more attention than some might wish.
Whatever one’s feelings about that, what I wish to discuss here concerns the points Mr. Truesdale was trying to make regarding SF and this whole subject of “ruining” SF.
This is not the first time by a long shot that this has enveloped the SF community. At the very first worldcon there was such dispute among the fans that one faction called the police to bar the other from even getting into the hotel, all over the direction science fiction would take. SF readers are passionate. Passions have overwhelmed intellect more than a few times.
There are several aspects of Mr. Truesdale’s assertions that require examination. I’ll deal first with his claims that SF is being “ruined.”
The question is, How? Right now, especially in short fiction, the outlets are so many and so varied, discerning any kind of “trend” is virtually impossible, a point made by Gordon Van Gelder (F & SF) during the panel. At one time, as he explained, you could discern a direction because the field was dominated by three or four major magazines and a handful of original anthologies. What saw print in these outlets contoured the public perception of what constituted science fiction (and fantasy). Now? While those magazines still exist, there are many more and online publishing has expanded the pool of story outlets so much that the field is in continual froth. Any look at the table of contents of the several Best of the Year annuals shows very little overlap, and yet each one can legitimately claim to showcase the best in the field for a given year. Reading those annuals…
Here is where personal taste enters into it to a large degree. But only to a degree. I have been reading science fiction since I was ten years old. That’s fifty one years. I no longer read as widely in short fiction as I once did, and in some years I have read nothing in less than novel length. But when I have come back to short fiction, I have generally been pleased to see improvement over what went before. Improvement in craft, in concept, in execution. The stories have widened their scope, become more inclusive in terms of subject matter and sentiment, characterization has deepened, and overall there has been a marked maturation.
When I became well enough acquainted with the field to follow it as a literary movement, I became aware of the insecurities manifest in the relationship of SF with the wider reading public. What became known as the SF Ghetto was at one time a very real thing. What we call mainstream tended to regard the genres as a whole and SF specifically as the redheaded stepchild of “real” literature. That began to change after the New Wave ructions of the mid to late Sixties and the eventual absorption of those experiments in the body of SF writing throughout the Seventies, until by the end of the Eighties it was becoming evident that SF could not be so relegated to the sidelines by the mainstream. The result is that today, mainstream has taken SF into itself and writers who otherwise would never be considered SF writers are writing solid science fiction and selling it to mainstream audiences. The “culture war” to gain validation and legitimacy for our field has been won.
That seems to underly the disaffection of the group within SF that goes by the Sad Puppy label. The stories now being written, published, and lauded as science fiction at its best seem no longer to express their preferred idioms or æsthetic concerns. Even as several of them appear to do quite well in terms of sales and fan support, the quest of winning awards for their preferred work is becoming less and less achievable. Even as some of their novels sell well enough that they might make their living on them, no one is nominating them in sufficient numbers to secure a spot on the final ballot of the premier awards.
Instead, according to them, the awards are going to works which seem to have little to do with science fiction or express viewpoints at odds with their politics, their cultural assumptions, and their personal values.
Exactly what are those politics, assumptions, and values?
Mr. Truesdale, during an exchange at the panel, asked what I consider the telliong question: “Where is all the conservative SF?”
In all seriousness, I don’t know what that means.
Science fiction, by its nature, is radical. It takes apart the given world and replaces it with something else. That is as basic as change can get. That is anything but conservative. And that is what it has always been. It may well be that writers have used conservative viewpoints for their characters, but even then there is a presumption that the world is no longer the same.
And if a writer uses a form to push a set of political principles, it usually turns out to be bad fiction. Propaganda.
Science fiction has always been about how the world will be different. That is as not conservative as one can get.
Science fiction is progressive. Now, sometimes the progress fails, the experiment collapses, things go wrong. Post-apocalyptic SF is all about that and one might see a lot of it in a certain way “conservative” insofar as the specific requirements of survival become essential to the plot. But the goal is to rebuild and make it better, but almost never the same—since The Same would emulate the world that failed.
But back to that question.
If you write a story that is true to the characters in the story—and good fiction is about its characters and their situation—then how do you make it one thing or the other without auctorially interceding and making it something it may not organically be about?
I do not, however, believe that is what was meant by that question. Context is vital and given the context not only of the SF community but of the world at large, I can only read that question as meaning “Where are the stories about how great our past visions of the future are?”
Past visions of the future.
A great deal of the fiction being published by those who are self-proclaimed Sad Puppies tends to be of the military SF variety. Not all, but a lot. A few examples contain overt missionary elements.
Briefly, the so-called Golden Age, while in no way monolithic, is best remembered by its planetary romance, its space opera, its colonial æsthetics. We were going to stars to settle new worlds, conquer aliens if need be, and, at least under the overt programmatic editorialism of John W. Campbell Jr., prove our superiority over any and all.
I doubt anyone would argue that colonialism was not a major aspect of that era. Imperialism informed a lot of it. In many instances, it seems t have been an unexamined given.
Quite a bit of newer fiction is in fact about the consequences of such questions. Counter-colonialism, post-imperialist examinations of costs and calamities, and a study of the underlying psychologies and assumptions appertaining to much of what we recognize as Golden Age SF. (To be fair, a lot of that SF also questioned these things, but somehow that was okay, perhaps because the “right” people were writing those stories. More on that later.)
I wrote about how my reading tastes have evolved here, so I won’t rehash. What I will say here is that the complaints about a lack of “ol’ time rockets-n-rayguns” SF seems disingenuous at best. I’ve been reading the new Expanse series by James S.A. Corey and given that these books are now the basis of a tv series and seem to sell quite well, the popularity of this kind of SF seems not at all diminished. (Unless for some arcane reason these books don’t fill the bill, in which case further explication is needed from those complaining.) Indeed, given the broad parameters of the complaints, the novel that prompted particular ire a couple of years back, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, seems also to fit within the stated parameters of the fiction claimed lacking in the field. The only complaint about that book, which sparked considerable anger in certain quarters, that was in any way specific was that it was poorly-written. I disagree. It did its job very well. But again, that’s personal taste.
(I will claim to have some experience both as a reader and a writer with good and bad prose and feel I have the requisite standards, at least for myself, to determine which is which and often why. There’s nothing second-rate or poorly-written about Leckie’s work. I suggested in a review what the real problem was and given the nature of further criticisms of the field, especially the tactic Mr. Truesdale used to launch his attack, I will stand by it.)
The clutched pearls and charges of “vapors”, whether he intended it this way or not, are symbols directly targeting women. “Vapors” is an old-fashioned affliction suffered, presumably, by women and the effeminate. Like it or not, there is no other way to read it. Clutching pearls added another layer to that. The problem, therefore, must, per this diatribe, be women or the feminization of the genre. There was a general not long ago who complained about feminization of the military because medals were given to soldiers who saved lives rather than “broke things like they were supposed to.” Given that the chief targets in the last few years of the Sad Puppies and their supporters seem to be largely if not entirely women—specific novels and stories held up as examples of “what’s wrong with the field” have all been written by women—it is fair to conclude that Mr. Truesdale rode that tide onto the beach. It is fitting therefore that it was a woman who initially took him to task (Sheila Williams, editor of Asimovs SF).
Two things about this from a cultural standpoint. Dominant members of a culture get frantic when the numbers of what had previously been minority or exception representations rise to levels where they can no longer be passed off as Special Cases. The visibility of women and minorities in SF has been going up for decades. It may be that a critical threshold has been reached and passed and they must now be regarded as normative examples of work being done. Hence the spleen vented by those claiming privileges for “traditional” writing.
The other thing is a bit trickier. It may well be that the future is no longer safe for those same traditionalists. Not even 20 years ago one could assume that the futures being written about would not manifest in our lifetimes. Certainly 40, 50, or 70 years ago one could very safely write about all manner of social change and economic and cultural novelties and still assume that the world outside one’s door would never get anywhere near any of it. I recall an essay by Harlan Ellison wherein he had an encounter with John W. Campbell’s wife concerning Jimi Hendrix and a similar point was made. The Future was not something she was ready to embrace, especially not one exemplified by the new music and the social changes it represented.
But that safe distance is gone. Except for starships and actual nonhumans (and maybe time travel) we are living in the future imagined by those writers and it is evident that tomorrow will be another future sitting right on our doorstep. In many ways, it isn’t fiction anymore.
And now the fiction calls into question safe assumptions about the hegemony of those past futures imagined but perhaps, by many, not desired.
Personally, I find all this angst over the direction of science fiction a dubious exercise in attempted grandstanding. The works speak for themselves and the accolades garnered are symptomatic of public tastes, except in those instances of collegial recognition, like the Nebula. Charges that cabals bar people or works from competition fall apart on the basis of who is doing the selecting.
But partly this is a consequence of the dissolution of boundaries currently going on by virtue of the fact that, to put it crudely, science fiction won. Emily St. John Mandel, Eric Cline, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, Helen Phillips, Ben Winters, and on and on are all writing recognizable science fiction and doing a masterful job of it. They are not “in the club” as it were and therefore not “of the chosen.” That old complaint about the ghetto is now not so much a complaint of being kept in but an attempt to keep Them out. The ghetto walls have fallen and SF writers are not solely the bearers if cool futures. Others are writing in what once was a small pool where the comradeship of the besieged provided the basis of a shared experience.
But back to that singular question, “where is all the conservative science fiction?” Where has it ever been?
The problem is that today, in the current climate, the kinds of works that emerge as examples of conservative SF seem to be—I stress, seem to be—military SF. Is that the only hallmark we go by anymore? The insistence that war will not only happen but that our heroes must necessarily be those not only skilled at it but quickly willing to step forward to engage it is a questionable basis for dominating what has become a radically diverse field of literature. It bears some similarity to arguments about what may or may not be “real” rock’n’roll, which as time went on becme an increasingly impossible argument to win.
Damon Knight once said “science fiction is what I point at when I say the words.” Going back and looking at the best of the field, that has always been true.
So what are the issues?
In my opinion, nothing that has anything to do with the stories being written and published other than by extension. Unfortunate as it may be, the criticisms being leveled seem to come back to who is writing them and what they are writing about that contradicts a preferred cultural narrative. (When I hear criticism of a novel that for all intents and purposes is exactly the kind of work being argued for that it is bad SF because it is supposedly a social justice novel, when it is not, and the only things that separate it from the preferred model is a pronoun shift and sexual ambiguities, I cannot but conclude that the criticism is entirely a reaction to a perceived threat to a present-day norm which is not even being called into question within the novel. Transference, anyone?) And not even that so much as what stories are winning awards, which is an especially small aspect of the larger project.
At the end of the day, the “snowflakes” would appear to be those who are reacting to stories that criticize the Golden Age cultural assumptions, not the writers of those stories, nor, in my experience, those rewarding said stories. These stories are talking about matters at hand in new ways and leveling criticisms at issues. Their detractors seem more concerned with who is writing them. I do recall a tradition in SF of writing stories in response. I wonder what happened to that?
Of course, that presupposes a good story.
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.
I am now a contributor to Lightspeed Magazine. They bought my novella, Miller’s Wife, for one of their ebook reissues. Here is the cover of the issue:
Oh, and Miller’s Wife now has its third appearance. Originally, the story appeared in Black Gate Magazine. Currently it is also the lead story in my short story collection, Gravity Box and Other Spaces. Now this.
He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not. Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.
I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.
The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape. Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell. By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists. Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate. Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster. But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential. Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights. (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.) We spoke briefly. I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time. We talked a bit about the books and publishing. A few minutes. He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.” He had won one over the corporates. The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.
We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon. I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there. In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement. By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.
A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book. I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums. We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward. The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself. At the last minute, David called Robin. He had seen a notice for the event. He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend. Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel. Rhetorical question. We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel. My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge. His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.
After that he began soliciting work from me. We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward. He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.
Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties. He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness. He had been instrumental in many careers.
He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true. For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.
Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.
David took me seriously. I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.
Yesterday, in fact.
Somehow, seeing the new Star Wars film on January 1st was the perfect thing to do. We went to the Moolah Theater on Lindell and had popcorn and sat back and became 12-year-olds for over two hours and it was…wonderful.
I have seen much back-and-forthing over this film the last few weeks, including some ill-advised and unwelcome splenetic blathering from George Lucas himself over how he disliked the direction J.J. Abrams has taken. I have also seen for myself the new action figure set at Target which failed to include the key character in what must be considered one of the most blatant examples of denial in industry marketing since…I don’t know. What? You really don’t think little girls will buy these even with such a full-on kick-ass role model as Rey? Or are you afraid they will buy them and we’ll have another round of how de-feminized the character is and how she’s a bad example for little girls who might opt out of the whole cute-girl-whose-brains-are-secondary track of socialization?
To get this out of the way right now, I think Rey is possibly the best thing about the new Star Wars. Vertently or otherwise, something significant has been achieved in her and I applaud it. Take note, ye unwitting crafters of the female entity for screen and page, this is how you do it. Simply put, she is her own self. She does not define herself by the men in her life, she not trade herself for favors, she does not bow to fashion conventions that depend on genitalia. She has her own concerns, her own goals, and runs her life on her own, the only constraints on any of that being the same exact constraints put on every other being in the world she inhabits.
And she is a deeply, deeply ethical and empathetic person. One who is not afraid to act on her own judgment, consequences be damned.
And she pays for it with doubt and fear and the agon of the compassionate.
As if she were a real person.
(Why does he go on about this? Why is he getting loud? What’s the deal?)
The deal is, so seldom in something like this do we get to see a woman as Person First, self-consistent, competent, and heroic, who does the rescuing, fights (and wins) against the bad guy, and can remain herself as a human being. She also has friendships. Not lovers, there’s no suggestion of that, not even as foreshadowing. Friends. They didn’t even try to dress her up in some form-accentuating bit of impractical gauzy revealing nonsense so we’d all see that while she’s running around kicking ass and being amazing she has cleavage and nice thigh. She’s dressed for work, for survival, for movement, for function. Her hair is even done practically.
By accident or intent, they did Rey right.
So how come she’s not in the action figure collection?
I have my opinions and they are not charitable. But it may turn out to be beside the point.
As to all the other dross being spake about how it stacks up to the rest of the films…
Sure, it’s a broad retread of the very first film. So what? This is myth, which is cyclic, and the value is in reaffirmation and validation. It is a Hero’s Journey and going all the way back to Gilgamesh certain forms remain constant. There are tests and trials and the plot matters much less than the manner of challenge and the quality of its confrontation. George Lucas forgot that when he made episodes 1, 2, and 3. He tried to turn a quest fantasy into science fiction, he tried to interject politics, he tried to justify things in a way that didn’t so much subvert what he had done before as crack the road in front of the calabash. J.J. Abrams, or whoever was principally responsible for the storyline here, went back to the Campbellian mythic underpinnings (Joseph not John W.) and brought back what mattered and made the first couple so compelling. Certain mythic forms reoccur, time and again, and Joseph Campbell understood this and Lucas sort of did, we think, at least in the beginning, but it went off the rails when a certain gravitic pull to compete with Star Trek seemed to drag everything off in an inauspicious direction. In spite of the superb craft of those later films, the genuinely well-executed action, and even the plot logic of much of it, they were curiously empty. One thing after another, with only a few moments of transcendence that failed to rescue them from essentially tales about bureaucratic failure. Lucas can be as snarky as he likes, but Episode VII has gone back to what made the first three films work.
And did it very well.
Episode IV and V were all about Becoming. Episode VI was about coming to terms with what you have Become.
Episodes I, II, and III were all about breaking things.
Episode VII is about Becoming.
And Rey? Pay attention, fellas. This is how it’s done. This is what a human being looks like. This is a hero.