Greg Bear

I met Greg Bear (briefly) in 1984. One of the first of that generation of science fiction writer of whom I’d become acquainted initially through their short fiction. 1983 was a banner year in many ways and Bear was nominated for two stories—Hardfought and Blood Music, novella and novelette respectively—and I thought both of them were just wonderful. (There is something elegant about Hardfought that transcends even its subject, a kind of perfect example of form.) We went to our first worldcon (LACon II) and attended his reading. He was presenting material from his new fantasy, The Infinity Concerto, and I was fascinated. (I also made a bit of a fool of myself with a question, but it was funny.) Afterward we talked to him. The substance of the conversation escapes me, but he was generous and kind and clearly an enthusiast about science fiction as a whole.

I read everything I could get my hands on by Greg Bear. Like others for whom I endured quick obsessions, it burned itself out, and I have a handful of yet-to-be-reads by him, but I have always found his scope and the details with which he built his worlds to be utterly marvelous. I have never not had a great time reading a Greg Bear novel.

I think it was The Forge of God that tripped me up. Amazing book, but it struck me at the time as altogether too depressing. I staggered on through a few more and then my time was consumed by other works.

In some ways, Greg Bear could be seen as the American Iain M. Banks. I am also taken by his occasional forays into prose experiments, his playful deployment of language to set tone. His restraint made these experiments more accessible than others who tried similar things. But always it was the world and ideas that were center stage, carried by an array of characters that were well-made for their tasks. (His short stories are often more experimental and run a gamut of styles and approaches.)

We crossed paths again in 1997 and I got to spend a couple hours with the Killer Bs—Brin, Benford, and Bear. I realize, looking back, that these three writers define a segment of a period for me. The possibilities of narrative trajectories and the skillful interjection of humanist qualities too often under-attended in what we call hard SF. Anyway, grand total of personal interaction with Greg Bear…maybe four hours.

In the lexicon of influences in my reading life (and somewhat in my writing career), Greg Bear is up there with Clarke, Pohl, Anderson, and Gerrold. A very specific set of aesthetics. (Silver Age mainly instead of Golden?) He never got trapped into series, he wrote a wide array of subjects and concepts, and there was a joy inherent in his prose that I found compelling. He reminded me of what it meant to be simply a Fan. The Universe is strange, vast, and polychromatic and he wanted the reader to experience that variety. Did he succeed? Only the individual reader can decide that. The merit is in the attempt and the fact that one can see what he was striving for.

He has gone. I was a little shocked to note that he was only three years older than me, near enough to a contemporary to disorient me a bit. I always think of people who are that good and achieve that much as considerably older than me, which is silly but a heuristic I can’t quite seem to shake.

The books matter. I would like to see them all back in print. We move on too quickly sometimes and forget the pleasures of what came before. I urge any and all to find his books and live with them for a while. Strength of Stones is a marvel. Beyond Heaven’s River an unexpectedly rich treat. Eon a journey to unforgettable time[s]. And do not pass up the short stories.

I’m going to be reading some of those I have yet to. One of our Voices has passed. Read him, let him speak.

Blame

So Trump said (more or less) that if the midterms go well, he should get all the credit and if they go badly, he should get none of the blame. This is politics. He then noted that what would likely happen is the reverse—that a Republican victory would garner him no credit and a defeat will give him all the blame. Again, this is politics. This kind of thing is standard. We see this at the presidential level all the time, if only in the rather shallow fact that a newly-elected president inevitably gets the blame for what his predecessor did when the new guy fails to magically fix everything in the first hundred days. More seriously, presidents get blame for things that are out of their hands—currently, that would include inflation.

The predicted Red Wave did not happen (except in Florida, but that state currently seems to inhabit an alternate universe) and the Republicans are scurrying about trying explain how it’s not their fault. My take is somewhat different—I’m amazed they did as well as they did. I realize people vote their wallets, but I keep wondering at people so divorced from how things work that they would happily vote away their rights for anticipated solutions which the people they vote for have little to do with. The institution that deals with things like inflation is the Federal Reserve and it is doing its job and as the Fed has a firewall between itself and Congress, there is no value in voting out the party that had nothing to do with the situation in the assumption that the other party, which have virtually no meaningful say in any solution, will magically fix the problem. I look upon the citizenry of my country in bafflement that this simple reality is so hard to grasp.

Oh, funding bills? Like for infrastructure? It is largely accepted by both parties that America’s infrastructure is in sore need of attention, so exactly where is the issue? Inflation or not, roads need repair, as do bridges, and we need a high-speed rail system and high-speed internet, regardless. Not funding these things would make the economy worse. But monetary policy—which is where we find things like inflation—is out of Congress’s hands. Do people really not know this or do they just vote the way they do to be arbitrary?

Let’s assume they do not. Then that means a great many people have no problem with the social fascism extant in the GOP. That voting away civil liberties is somehow worth it to keep a book about LGBTQ+ issues out of the hands of kids, that this is a reasonable trade-off.

Likewise, crippling the healthcare system for women and criminalizing gender-specific treatments is worth reducing half the population to conditions wherein they have much harder times to fight poverty and establish equity, things they have been and are still fighting to obtain for over—well, pick your date: half a century, over a century, since the Founding. Mind you, I am not referring only to abortion, but to a whole host of gynecological needs which even now we see examples of women being denied treatment because healthcare workers are afraid that such treatment might land them in jail, depending on the state. This is not theory but practice.

So the GOP is now making statements about who to blame as if their problems are simply a matter of selecting the wrong candidates. They cannot find it in themselves to look at their policies and recognize that they are out of step with actual people. (Because I can predict with a certain amount of certainty that on any of the above issues, many of them while being quite happy to deny Other People those rights, will expect to retain them as privileges, under the table or otherwise, for themselves.)

I’ve been hearing a handful of Republicans broach the possibility that they have failed on social issues. A few voices, here and there, identifying the problem in their alienation of certain voting blocs with unpopular or tone-deaf stances.

And yet, the over-half-century long propaganda train that has labeled Democrats as, originally, Tax-and-Spend Liberals and more recently as Socialists disturbs enough people that they will blink when given the opportunity to categorically repudiate a party that serves an idea of the free market that doesn’t actually reflect reality and assumes isolationism and defense spending are the only things that matter and that to stay in power is willing to strip people of their civil liberties and their ability to act on conscience and backs censorship and has perfected gerrymandering to the point now that elections are imperiled, too many people seem willing to put their actual rights at risk rather than face a future with the boldness America is supposed to be filled with.

It is heartening that damn near every election-denier across the country has lost their election race, but that leaves us with a party that seems to think this is just a temporary set-back, a matter of popularity rather than policy, too close to securing unassailable positions. Our own Senator Hawley (Missouri) has stated that it is time to bury the old GOP and create a new party, and as far as it goes, I agree. But such a new party, in order to be viable—philosophically, morally, politically—and be something identifiably in step with American principles, would necessarily have no place for people like him.

We cannot rest on this election. It will take a few more election cycles to re-establish the confidence the GOP has damaged in our democracy. And we need a federal election law to prevent states from arbitrarily rejecting fair elections.

Fair elections. It’s amazing how the fraud being claimed by the deniers, when you get right down to it, always ends up demeaning traditionally minority voters and impairing their ability to cast ballots. If you don’t want to be labeled racist, stop tilting the scales to white (usually male) voters. After the 2016 election, when evidence of foreign involvement was demonstrated, commissions worked heroically to close loopholes, plug gaps, and establish the next elections as the safest and most secure in our history. There may still be work to be done, but after all that, to claim that the 2020 election could be stolen is purest fantasy. All that really means is, your candidate lost, and you can’t deal with that. Apparently, a lot of Americans, of both parties, agree. The deniers lost.

Don’t go looking to blame the candidates as such. The problem is in the policies. The shift we may be seeing is a clear statement that those are in need of fixing.

This time, at least, I am somewhat relieved. I’m not holding my breath today. Next time, we need to oust the reactionaries.