Why Is This So Difficult To Get?

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, so bear with me.

We keep seeing more incidents of sexual harassment  emerging into the light of day within the science fiction community.  There are people who have been behaving poorly for a long time and finally they’re being called on it.  Why this is such a difficult concept for some people to grasp eludes me.  The excuse-making is both ancient and pathetic.  This is science fiction, these are supposed to be people who are ahead of the curve when it comes to social grasp, we like to pretend we live in the future.

Well, that may explain a couple of things.  No one adopts behavior out of the blue.  Some people have serious organic problems others have a wispy grasp of the reality and still others just don’t consider what is not wholly inside their heads worth due consideration.

Ann Leckie has penned a first-rate explanation of one of the problems with a dandy analogy.  Yes, this.  It describes so much on so many levels.  (Not only about sexual harassment, but with similar dynamics, this is one of the reasons I stopped going to live shows—the security protocols that became common after about 1980 just became too invasive and I realized I didn’t really like being in a crowd wherein every 10th or 20th person was so drunk that they had no sense of boundaries anymore.  Some people—a lot of people—will find excuses for themselves that make putting up with it worthwhile, and it is a shame this has to happen, but on the other hand, no, it doesn’t have to happen if we’d all just grow up a little.  People by the millions attended movies for decades without feeling the need to bring beer into the venue or carrying on a private drama, loudly and in public, or indulging behaviors better suited to…well, some I never did find a place where they would be better suited.  Movies are different than concerts, you say?  In what way, I ask?  Are you there for the show or to be seen?  Anyway, back to my main point.)

Of course, now, we hear the bleat of pain of the attendee who doesn’t understand that a convention is not there to be a smorgasbord of sexual opportunity and wonders why, if all these women aren’t there to have sex, how come they dress in those costumes?  I mean, really, if they aren’t looking for it, why are they showing it off?

As if there could be no other reason to cosplay than for the sexual edification and enticement of strange boys with illusions of their own desirability and prowess.

Also as if the costumers are the only ones or even the majority who are having problems with this.

It seems to me, though, that this is partially a legitimate question.

Let me take a brief detour through a short history of the treatment of sex in science fiction.  Really short.  Originally, SF was a genre marketed to adolescent males of a certain disposition (we call them nerdy today, a label I dislike for a variety of reasons, but it serves).  At the time—1930s through 1950s—these were also young men who were inclined toward the technical arts.  A lot of engineers and more than a few scientists claimed to have been inspired by reading Golden Age science fiction.  Now, a survey of the covers of the major magazines of the period would suggest a lot of semi-clad females were being creatively ravaged in the pages within, but this was not the case.  These were as sanitary in that regard as Good Housekeeping and Readers Digest.  Which, of course, irritated many of the writers, who saw themselves as writers first and foremost and chafed under the assumption (by the publishers) that all this neat stuff they were writing about was exclusively for kids.  They wanted to write adult stories that appealed to adults and part of that had to do with sex.

There is a law of some kind that states that the more and longer something is suppressed the greater the excess of it will be when the chains come off, sort of an inverse reaction, and when after the 1950s sex was no longer taboo, there was a lot of it in the stories.  Often for no reason other than suddenly it could be there.  The 1960s…well, the Sixties, what more can I say?  Not just in science fiction, but everywhere, in everything.  The Sixties was drenched in sex partly because the previous decades had been so buttoned-down about it.  (One of the things about Playboy that seems difficult for us to “get” today is that this was liberating.  Prior to what Hugh Hefner did, the prevailing attitude was that women did not have a right to their own sexuality, that any woman who took control of it and unabashedly enjoyed it was somehow trash.  Hefner blew the doors off that canard and helped usher in the sexual revolution, one facet of which said that women owned their sexuality and no one had a right to judge them for it.  This is why, contrary to the stereotype, men were more troubled by Playboy than women and in some circles waged a war to shut it down.  This will be important later.*)

In any event, all of a sudden, people in SF stories were having a lot of sex and it was not in traditional (read: 1950s) forms.  Much of it was absurd.  For a time, the idea of the domestic contract ran through a lot of stories, the idea that marriage could be reduced entirely to a short term contract that, when done, could either be renewed or both parties could go be with someone else—with no emotional downside.  More importantly, sex was treated as a purely physical function by many writers, something one did the same as exercise or swimming or attending the theater.

A lot of this went away.  With the increased number of prominent women writers, some rationality was introduced, and by the end of the 1970s a lot of the bizarreness that attended stories from the Sixties went away—or at least was treated with the kind of understanding of how people really are.

This left us, however, with an æsthetic that has never quite gone away and has, in an embarrassing way, manifested most visibly in comics, with the absurdly sexualized appearances of female superheroes.  It’s an æsthetic that is unfortunately difficult to deconstruct in such a way as to leave the cool aspects intact while getting rid of the toxic elements that tie sex to entitlement.

I said “partially” a legitimate question.  It has to do with role-playing and if what we’re looking for is some version of a future to live in where we can be “that way” then we have to understand what impulses are being acted out in so-called real life.

Nah!  It’s a legitimate question primarily so we can dismiss it.  People are expected to know the difference between stories and real life and mostly do.  This is another elaborate excuse because nothing in that suggests a disconnect from common human decency and mutual respect.

I suppose I could riff on how the surfaces of things deflect comprehension and distract from even the attempt at deeper empathy—or empathy at all—but that would perhaps elevate the problem to a level where it cannot be effectively managed.

My default behavior, from the time I became aware that girls—well, girls—has been that the female is in charge of the sex.  It’s her call.  I don’t know where I learned that, it just seemed natural to me.  They have the power, as far as I’m concerned, and that seems to me entirely natural and, for the most part, has been entirely congenial.  If she says No, that’s it.  Discussion finished.  Move on, there’s nothing more to see here.  I may not know why she said no, it may have hurt a little, disappointed me, but oh well.  (Conversely, as one ages, one realizes that one also has exactly that same right—to say yes or no.)

I have never assumed that I have a “right” to someone’s body.

Which is where a lot of this seems to be breaking down.

We are not, I hope, talking about anywhere close to a majority in this, but as Ann’s essay makes clear it only takes a few—and then the tacit cooperation of the rest—to poison an environment.

Here’s a stereotype:  “Oh, she doesn’t really mean no,  women don’t know what they want, you have to take no as maybe and then keep at her.”

In certain venues—locker rooms, for want of a better description—men who fail to recognize this can find themselves derided as less than.

Less than what, I eventually realized, I never knew.  But less.

I think this is part and parcel of that other stereotype, men who never ask directions.  As if asking is somehow unmanly.  Getting lost on a back road, though, is one thing—forcing yourself on an unwilling woman is quite another.

But asking right out is dangerous for a certain kind of mentality because if the answer is No, then all future opportunity is cut off.  Being ambiguous, refusing to acknowledge that they way you are doing something is offensive and, in some cases, frightening, all because you don’t want to risk that definitive No, that’s not very manly, either, if the adjective has any meaning outside of a bad joke.  I’ve come to the conclusion that men who don’t ask—clearly and unambiguously and politely—are a specie of coward.  Most cowards, when given the opportunity, can become bullies.  And bullies have no regard for anyone else in their quest to fill a void which they blame on others but really is of their own making.

Now, while it might seem kind to try to make space for someone like this under the assumption that really they mean no harm—maybe they don’t, not consciously—and that rehabilitation can only occur within a community, a couple of things make this simply weak-kneed avoidance.  Going back to the theater analogy, you don’t tolerate the asshole who won’t shut up during the movie or the play because it’s not about him, it’s about everyone else.  You’re not going to “solve” his problem by tolerating him in the audience, you’re only going to make the experience miserable for everyone else.  No one has a right to be an asshole.

But we add a layer now to the problem and assume that the person in question has some power.  He (or she) important and throwing them out may have other consequences we won’t like.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

That.  If that’s the excuse, then you ruin it for everyone and the asshole never learns.

But I’m not even concerned with the asshole learning anything.  I just want him/her to cease the behavior that’s making everyone else uncomfortable.

“But if so-and-so hadn’t said anything, no one else would’ve known and no one would have been uncomfortable.”

Does Omelas ring any bells?

This is not only entitled thinking—the kind that says your party is more important than someone’s well-being—it is cowardly thinking.

Why is this so difficult to get?  You establish a clear policy and those who violate it get tossed.  I have a hard time imagining a convention establishing a weapons policy—no real guns—and then choosing to look away just because a big time writer or editor decided to show up with an AR-15 across their shoulder.  Cons have had policies about even fake weapons for decades now and have enforced them without getting all uber sensitive.  But once more, when it comes to sex, reason abandons us?

People have been banned from conventions for decades because of inappropriate (and often criminal) behavior, so it baffles me that a sensible policy over harassment cannot be devised and enforced.  Instead, we get a lot of hand-wringing and mumbling and excuse-making.

Look, this isn’t about the predator’s problem.  That’s not in anyone’s job description to try to fix at a convention.  This is entirely about what is allowable conduct in the theater.  To argue that it spoils the æsthetic is evasive—if so, then it’s time to change the æsthetic.  Victims of harassment already know they don’t feel safe around the predator, but to then double down and make them feel unsafe among the people they look to for protection as well—because the predator is not dealt with once the problem is known—can call everything into question.  Especially when “everyone” knows what the problem is and no one seems willing to do anything about it.

_______________________________________________________________________________

*The Playboy thing is difficult for some of us who remember a time when what they did was relevant to a larger issue, which was exactly the “who owns female sexuality” question.  It has become problematic because the culture moved on and at some point Playboy became the opposite of what it initially tried to be, which was in some sense countercultural.  Today it’s pretty much just another “girlie” magazine (what we called them back when I was a newly-emerged adolescent on the prowl for cheap thrills) but there was a time it meant something else.  The whole point of the erotic content was that (a) sex is not “dirty” and (b) sexuality was and is the sole property of the individual.  Secondarily, it also called the whole standard American model of what “good girls” were allowed to do and be and for that matter the standard issue American lifestyle into question.  But it’s a relic now and context has changed.

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.

Dining Disruptively

This is a cool thing.

Dan Reus of Disruptive Diner contacted me a bit over a month ago and asked me to participate in this. Naturally, I had no real idea what I wanted to say or how I would say, which was compounmded by the format—Pekchuka, which means literally fast talking. I came up with something, which is posted above. I had fun. I’d have fun doing it again.

So…

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.

 

Award Season

The Hugo Award nominees have been announced and, imagine this, there is Controversy.

I don’t have a dog in this hunt, as I have nothing on the list nor have I published anything in the last year or two that would be eligible. That will change this year, as I have a short story collection coming out soon which includes a number of Brand New Previously Unpublished stories, but for this year, I’ m not involved.  None of this affects me.

But controversy, oh my.

First off, let me send a big congratulations to Ann Leckie.  Her really excellent novel, Ancillary Justice, has made the short list on a scad of awards.  She did not take the PKD, which kind of puts us in the same company.  Both our first novels (counted as the first novel that was entirely our own original work—my first published novel was a franchise work) made the PKD shortlist and we both did not win.  (I prefer that to “we both lost” but it may appear a quibble to some.)  Ancillary Justice is a fine piece of work and I will be writing up a review of it any minute now over on The Proximal Eye.  It’s on the Hugo ballot and for my money should take the award.  Of course, it’s also on there against Charlie Stross, who writes my kind of skiffy as well, so…

Which brings me to controversy number one.  Robert Jordan’s entire Wheel of Time series is on the slate as a single work.

Long ago there was a Hugo given for best series, which Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy won.  (It was up against Lord of the Rings, which causes me to ponder which would win today, but I’ll leave that for another post or another blogger entirely.)  Why they didn’t find a way to continue the award is one of the mysteries of the Hugo, especially since series always have been and today are even more prominent in the genre.

But this thing is 15 books, all of them massive.  By sheer volume, the Wheel of Time makes Game of Thrones appear to be light reading.

Disclaimer:  I tried to read the first book.  Tried.  Gamely charged at it three or four times.  I realize there are fans out there who probably have named their children after characters  in the series, but frankly this is really not my thing.  To me, this is like reading a full genetic chart of category Fantasy and I found it mind-numbingly boring.  I have since been told by people who read maybe seven or eight of them that basically they’re the same book over and over again and that this is indicated by the series title.  Wheel, get it?  But this is simply what I’ve been told, I did not make it past 50 pages of volume One.

To put a whole series up, though, directly competing with individual, standalone novels seems at base unfair.  I’ve always had some ambivalence about single novels within a series winning awards, because how can they not be at least partly judged by what went before?  So the award goes to a work that has an edge to start with.  But I concede that it is entirely likely that a single novel in a series can rise above the rest, so…

But to intentionally nominate the whole series?  No, I think this is a touch unfair unless it competes against other series.

This, however, brings us to the fundamental truth of the Hugo Award which many people tend to overlook.  This award is not about the work, it’s about the fan.  A work derives kudos, certainly, from what the fan decides, but the only metrics being time period (when was it published) and how many people liked it, it doesn’t matter about the work so much as it does about the reader.

Which brings me to the second Major Controversy.  A writer who goes by the nom de blog Vox Day has a story on the ballot.  This has caused consternation among folks who know something about this guy.  He was expelled from SFWA last year, the first time a member has ever been ejected.  He is a vocal presence on the internet and his opinions are, to put it mildly, eyebrow-raising in the extreme.  His name popping up on the Hugo Ballot has caused a lot of noise to bubble up about “fixing” the ballot, as if he could not possibly have gained such a slot because he wrote a worthy story.

Gaming the Ballot has happened in the past.  It’s based on membership to the world science fiction convention.  Buy enough memberships, vote them all, whatever you want to see on the ballot can be there.  (Yes, I know, it’s not quite that simple, since supposed safeguards have been put in place, but on the other hand, yes, it is that simple.)  There have even been nominees in the past who were a bit embarrassed by their continued presence year after year because of the efforts of a group of dedicated (and presumably moneyed) fans.

As to Vox Day himself, I will only say that, based on what I’ve read of his posts (which fed into his getting ousted from SFWA), he and I do not share a world view.

But again, it doesn’t matter, because the Hugo is not about the story as much as it is about the reader.  We can’t say to one group that their choice of nominee is invalid because this other group over here thinks the author is a world-class curmudgeon.  (If that were the basis of qualifying nominees I can think of at least half a dozen off the top of my head who should never have gotten on the ballot.)   Vox Day didn’t get on the ballot, he was put on the ballot.  By readers.

Everyone has their own set of standards about what ought to be.  There are other awards where such things matter more.  This one—the Hugo—is based on reader reaction.  The fans.

Which is not to say I undervalue it.  I’d love to be nominated for one of those sleek rockets.  More, I’d like to bring one home.  It means people like the work.

Not me, so much.  The work.  That’s the part that matters.  It’s not about you (me) it’s about the reader and how much he or she likes the work.

So as another season of controversy unfolds, maybe it would be a good idea to keep that in mind.

So good luck to the nominees.

Updates, Etc

Okay, it has been a while.  I’ve been busy.  I have two novels in the works, which will take up most of my free time this year, but that’s no excuse to ignore everything else.

So first off, an upcoming event.

At the Missouri Regional Library on April 29th, 7:00 PM, Professor Tom Dillingham and I will be doing a presentation on the value of science fiction.  What Science Fiction Can Teach Us will be a discussion of the potential scholastic, edifying, and just plain useful aspects of SF.  This is the talk that would have happened back in February had the Second Ice Age not threatened glaciation.  This should be a fun evening.  Tom is a delight and I sort of know a thing or two about the subject.

So—April 29th, 7:00 PM, Missouri Regional Library, 214 Adams Street, Jefferson City, Missouri, 2nd Floor.

Also, hopefully, fingers crossed, the short story collection will be out in mid to late May.  We’re going to do a release party at Left Bank Books, the specific date still a bit up in the air, but either the 14th or the 21st.  I will let the world know when I know.

I’m changing the night of the reading group I moderate at Left Bank Books to the first Thursday of each month, starting May 1st.  The title at hand is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is available at Left Bank Books now at 20% off, so for all you local folks, go get a copy, support your local independent bookstore, and consider attending the meeting.  Thursday evenings, 7:00 PM.

No doubt there is more and I will get to it as soon as I remember what it is.  For now, have a good weekend.

Obsession Point

I have a friend who likes to engage me on our points of departure.  He’s a self-admitted conservative, I am not.  He’s a sincere Christian, I’m an atheist.  Looking around at the current culture, you would think that should make any conversation we might have problematic at best, impossible at worst.

Yet we carry on the occasional hour, two-hour, sometimes three hour conversation and never once descend into anger or dismissive rhetoric.  And yes, we talk about religion regularly.  We talk about politics.  We talk about meaningful living.  It’s the kind of exchange of ideas from different perspectives that seems both rare and uniquely pleasurable.  Would that we taught kids growing up how to appreciate this kind of conversation as, at the very least, an æsthetic pleasure.

Consequently, when he questions me on priorities, I tend to listen.

A couple weeks ago, after the monthly jam session (he runs a church basement coffeehouse to which I’ve been going and participating for more than a few years now) we hung around and started talking about current subjects.  My opening statement concerned the new movie Noah and the absurd fact that the studio has decided to put a disclaimer on it to appease religious reactionaries who are bothered by “historical inaccuracies.”  I expected a laugh over the ridiculousness of this—these are not people who have much patience for that kind of shallow literalism—but instead what followed was a discussion of my obsessive attention to people like Ken Ham and the anti-evolution crowd and biblical literalists in general.

“Why do you pay any attention to them?”

Well, I replied, somewhat glibly, stupidity is fascinating.

Patiently, though, my friend worked at that.  Really?  Aren’t there better things to focus your attention on than the obdurate intractability of intellectual ostriches?  Don’t you have, like, books to write?

At the end of the conversation (which is not to say that it’s over) I had to concede that I spent far too much time and mental energy worrying over the misreadings, misinterpretations, manglings, and malignancies of what is a minority example of entrenched ignorance.  Like watching a neighbor gradually destroy his property (and being unable to do much about it), or watching a slow-motion train wreck, or even repeatedly viewing and complaining about a very expensive yet utterly brainless film, it is both attractive and repellant to observe this particular bit of cultural shadow-play.

The answer to the question has occupied me now since.  Why do I give them so much of myself?

The glib answer is that they draw attention to themselves in such a way as to seem important and relevant.  Paying attention to them feels, on a shallow level, like being engaged.  Noticing them, knowing what they’ve been saying and seeing what they’re doing, seems like being a responsible agent in my own culture.  Every time they manage to censor discussions in schools about evolution or try to force prayer into the classroom or some other culture-war battleground is pushed into the news, being aware of it just seems the thing to do.

A somewhat less glib answer is that the very real political power such groups seem to enjoy worries me.  I don’t want to live in a country designed by biblical literalists.  And determining how they’re wrong and why is basic to any kind of pushback.

And of course, since this conversation took place, we have the incident of the FOX television affiliate in Oklahoma blocking fifteen seconds of the new Cosmos program, the 15 seconds dealing with evolution, and my blood boils.  I react.  I become insensed.   And I immediately go to write a new blog post about how stupid this is and how malevolent this kind of nonsense is and how—

Which is, actually, a waste of my time.  Really, there are better-qualified people doing exactly that.  You can find links to some of them on the sidebar over to the right.  You want to read a better-informed and more current tirade against this kind of thing, go to Freethought Pharyngula—P. Z. Myer is an evolutionary biologist and apparently has more time, energy, and inclination than I do to keep abreast of all this nonsense—or check the science blogs to which I maintain links.

I don’t have to do this.

And yet…and yet…I keep doing it.  Even here,  in addressing a different kind of question, I’m thrashing about and striking back.  Willful ignorance, asserted as if it is a positive attribute, with an insistence that it is Right and Truth and we should all bow to its inevitable godlines MAKES—ME—CRAZY.

Why?

Because, at base, I loathe my own ignorance.  I loathe that part of me that desperately wants to be right, whether I am or not.  Because I am aware of my ignorance and strive to correct it and because I see that as an important fight it disturbs me—more, it frightens me—when others not only don’t see the worth in that fight but are dedicated to preventing the triumph of knowledge.

So, I suppose the simple answer to my friend’s question is—fear.  Those people scare me.  They are the ideological descendents of Inquisitors, witchfinders, book-burners, imperialists of dogma, stone-throwers, and censors.  Because I read Lest Darkness Fall and Fahrenheit 451 and my imagination is such that I can see what a victory for them would mean for people like me.

And because I honestly lack any kind of faith in those who are my intellectual and cultural kindred that we will win this fight.

But that still doesn’t fully address the challenge he laid at me feet.  Why do I  pay so much attention to all this when I could better serve my own purpose and the purpose of the civilization I support in so many other ways?

Because, when combined with all of the above, this has become a rut.  It is easy.  And it feeds my sense of relevance.  But really it’s a paltry diet.  There are richer meals to be had, that would be more beneficial, to me and to others.  So it is an itch which has become easy and habitual for me to scratch.  And in certain company, it’s a sign that I am part of a certain group of like-minded.

It’s a poor excuse.  I could be doing better things with my time and frankly getting more out of my intellectual life.  Because at the end of the day, I’m not going to change their minds, and those who nod along with me when I dive into one of my tirades don’t need me to tell them about this.

I think it is worth paying attention to when tax money goes to something like Ken Ham’s Creation Museum.  That’s an abuse of public trust and a violation of the law, frankly, and should be made public and stopped.

But I don’t need to go on about Ken Ham’s idiocy.

The spot that itches has grown raw and inflamed from repeated scratching and no salve is in sight.  I need to leave it alone.  I have a book on mathematics to hand, another about the history of science fiction, and still another about World War I.  Yes, I have a couple of books dealing with the assault of reason, which is not only from a religious reactionary quarter—reason is under assault from many quarters—but I’m a fiction writer.  My job is to tell stories about the world and because I write science fiction I can do a little prognosticating.  I have to stop pissing away time on pointless subjects.

Besides, I really do think they’ll fade.  When I sit myself down and really examine it, the world view we define as that of Reason will maintain and eventually the nattering naysayers will diminish.  It’s just difficult to see that day to day and believe it when there are people worrying over the “historical” inaccuracies in a Hollywood film about a mythical event.

So I wish to thank my friend for opening a door and pointing out that I’ve been perhaps wandering the wrong hallway for a time.

This is why we must cultivate relationships with people we disagree with.