September 23, 2015
In other news: In the /r/Fantasy subreddit, I will be holding an AMA on September 29th. (If you don’t understand any of that, just follow the links.) That means I’ll be answering questions live online, starting around 7pm Central Time on the 29th. The AMA thread will be posted around 11AM Central Time, so you’ll be able to post questions in advance. To participate you’ll need to set up a Reddit account, which isn’t that difficult. Hope to see you there.
August 31, 2015
A couple of days ago, Toni Weisskopf posted a link to this letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a young Forrest J. Ackerman. It’s a pithy letter, shorter than most blog posts, but is a prescient rebuttal to this hot mess of a Guardian article appearing almost exactly 84 years later.
Life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers.
No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment… If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.
By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.
That, however, seems to be a universal pedagogical complex: to make the acquiring of knowledge a punishment, rather than a pleasure.
Our critic at the Guardian seems to be of a piece with Forrest J. Ackerman’s long forgotten teacher. Great literature must require effort! If something is accessible, one need not apply. . . Not like anyone from the cannon of English literature ever wrote for the masses *cough*Dickens*cough*. And while our critic sings the praises of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, somehow I suspect he might contemplate seppuku before deigning to touch a modern regency romance.
So while our arbiter of taste at the Guardian says “I am not saying this as a complacent book snob” I may just invoke the words of that author of 16th Century potboilers and say he “doth protest too much.” After all, who but a snob would open a critique of an author by saying “I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short… Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.”
If you wanted to efficiently display literary bigotry, mean-spiritedness, close-mindedness, and pretention all wrapped in a bundle of industrial strength smug, and do it in as few words as possible, you couldn’t do better than emulating this opening. Of course, our “critic” does let us know that he “did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.”
I guess this guy isn’t a Hemingway fan either.
But, I think, the worst part of this vile literary emetic is its apparent genesis. Our “critic” was upset at “the huge fuss attending and following [Pratchett’s] death this year.” Read that again. Our purveyor of literary light, our guide to the right and good in the fictive universe, is upset that people made a fuss when Terry Pratchett died. I know there’s this British thing about reserve and overt displays of emotion, but really… can someone’s heart be so black to object to people’s sorrow over the man’s death? Oh, and just when you couldn’t think less of his argument, he throws a swift kick at Ray Bradbury’s corpse as well.
So, in conclusion, I suggest if you want to critique the ovure of a recently deceased author and want to be taken seriously you avoid the following pitfalls:
- Don’t admit you never read the their work, or intend to in the future.
- Don’t call the readers of their work lazy.
- Don’t say no one should have made such a big fuss when they died.
August 27, 2015
Those people on the other side of the debate, the ones you attack with such righteous fury, who called down your wrath by acting in such an asinine and nasty fashion. . . they’re you. They’re called to this genre by the same love of different worlds and different realities, aliens and spaceships, dragons and wizards. A lot of them were the same weird kid in high school. They like D&D, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who, or Guardians of The Galaxy. And some of these folks have lucked out by being able to make some money, even have a career doing what they love.
They are not orcs designed in some dark wizard’s lair, they are not some inscrutable alien horde come to slaughter us and lay eggs in our corpses, they are not some shadowy cabal bent on destroying what is right and good with the universe, they are not evil.
They are just fans with slightly different taste in fiction. They are fans that got understandably angry when other fans derided, belittled and otherwise seemed to condemn the things they loved. Fans that perceived insults and, as humans are wont to do, threw insults back. Fans that, like you, will argue that the other guy threw the first punch.
If you don’t like what’s happening to the genre, maybe you should consider how many times you’ve said how horrible those other fans are. It shouldn’t be hard to understand how they feel, since you’re reacting in exactly the same way.
(I leave as an exercise for the reader to determine if I am addressing the Puppies or their opponents.)
August 24, 2015
Fuck this shit!
Up to now I’ve been pretty quiet about this, but you all have finally pissed me off. I’m seeing all sorts of grandstanding, self-congratulatory, “I’m so fucking proud of fandom,” nonsense all over the place. This is some sort of high-water mark for the genre. Schadenfreude for everyone! Crush the puppies! See them driven before us, and hear the lamentations of their women! Yay us! We won!
If you’re part of that cheering squad, fuck you.
This is what you’re cheering: A bunch of guys came to the game trying to get people to win. A bunch of other guys came to make people lose. The latter was victorious. So you’re all cheering, “Yay! People lost!”
Applauding “no award” means nothing but your own profound joy that everyone in the category lost. It means you are celebrating their defeat.
It means you celebrate the fact that a pair of women editors who’ve done fantastic work in the genre for decades, who managed to pull in record setting numbers of votes, were successfully blocked from getting an award because mumblemumble-hate-mumblemumble-misogyny-mumble. It means you are okay that, given the traditional meaning of “no award,” fandom pretty much up and said to Sheila E. Gilbert and Toni Weisskopf that, “no, really, we don’t think you should have this Hugo, and furthermore, we really think you aren’t worthy to be on this ballot.”
That is what you’re cheering.
So fuck you.
If you start saying “collateral damage,” Fuck you.
If you start saying “but the puppies…” Fuck you.
If you start saying “if they distanced themselves from…” Fuck you with a rusty chainsaw.
All of the above is an attempt to deflect responsibility. Fandom decided that voting “no award” across the board was a reasonable response to the Puppies, and that’s what they did. The people who did so, the people who encouraged them to do so, and the people cheering the results, are all taking a massive steaming sour-burrito dump on the careers of two women who’ve probably done more for the genre than the whole lot of knee-jerk puppy kickers put together.
So, yeah, if you’re blabbing on Facebook about how proud you are about all this, I’m pretty much losing my respect for you.
August 3, 2015
This month sees the omnibus re-issue of Forests of the Night and Fearful Symmetries in a single snazzy new package: The Moreau Quartet Volume One. For those of you that are worried about breaking up of the original Moreau trilogy, no worries. A) Fearful Symmetries is a direct sequel to Forests of the Night, and can be read in that order and B) The Moreau Quartet Volume Two will be following in October.
If you want to get your hands on a copy for free, I’m sponsoring a Goodreads book giveaway for the month of August:
August 1, 2015
Last weekend I had a fun time at the Confluence convention in Pittsburgh. One of the panels I attended was titled “7 Things That Every SF/F Story Contains.” Kudos to the panel moderator Joshua Palmatier who managed to be the best moderator of any panel I was on, and that includes the one I moderated. Somehow, going item by item, the panel managed to segue into each other’s points almost as if it was planned that way.
Since we each made up our own list, I thought I might as well share mine with everyone.
Seven Things That Are In Every Science Fiction and Fantasy Story
- Every SF/F story is going to have some major point of divergence between the reality of the story and the reality as the author understands it. i.e. THE IDEA. This can be magic or new physics, werewolves or some new invention, an alternate history or simply a setting in the nebulous “future.” However, without that, you’re writing something other than SF/F.
- Every SF/F story will engage in some form of extrapolation; some examination of the broader consequences that follow from THE IDEA’s existence. i.e. WORLDBUILDING. In other words, the IDEA doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t cause some other changes in the universe around it. In fact, the reader is sometimes going to be introduced to those changes before they’re shown the actual IDEA. (see #6 below)
- Every SF/F story will posit some type of PHILOSOPHY, an idea of how the world, and human nature, works. This can be implicit, or explicit, but is grounded in the choices the author makes when deciding what consequences of THE IDEA are most plausible. The author can try as they might, but the story will have some core ideology: imagine a novel about a future matriarchal society as written by Margret Atwood, then by Ayn Rand, then by John Scalzi, then by John C. Wright. . . not going to be remotely the same story.
- Every SF/F story will have some necessary connection between THE IDEA and character and plot (and probably setting). The story could not exist in its current form without THE IDEA. If the character, dialog and plot could be moved to any other contemporary or historical setting with only slight changes, it really isn’t SF/F, it’s just a mystery, western, thriller &c. dressed up in SF/F drag.
- Every SF/F story will have some proxy character to introduce the story world to the reader. Where general story construction impels us to select the POV that best illuminates the story, SF/F story construction also impels us to select the POV that best illustrates THE IDEA.
- Every SF/F story will have some pattern of discovery to the world, THE IDEA, and the consequences of THE IDEA. Often this is structured much as a mystery, revealing small bits here and there until the end when the reader has a complete picture. This is especially true when complex WORLDBUILDING is involved. Sometimes the amount of information about the world is so vast that there’s little choice— if one actually wishes to convey an actual story— but to show the world in multiple cumulative glimpses over the course of the work.
- Every SF/F story will echo the author’s reality in some fashion. It is unavoidable. Read any SF/F written in the mid-1950s and you will almost always be able to distinguish it from something written in the mid-1970s, even when the works are by the same author. Even when the style feels ahead of its time (say with Alfred Bester) there will still be multiple cues and assumptions about life, the world, and technology that will leak in from the outside. (see #3)
July 22, 2015
This weekend, Friday July 24 to Sunday July 26, I— along with my new shirts— will be attending Confluence, “Pittsburgh’s premier SF/F/H literary conference.” The location is: Doubletree by Hilton Cranberry Pittsburgh (that’s a mouthful) 910 Sheraton Drive, Mars, PA 16046.
Big Ideas: “Philosophical” Science Fiction …. Lawrence Fri 8:00 PM
How do evil societies function? …. Armstrong Fri 9:00 PM
Seven things an SF/fantasy novel always includes …. Mars Sat 10:00 AM
Gender in Fantasy …. Armstrong Sat 12:00 PM
Not Just Anglos …. Lawrence Sat 3:00 PM
Does fantasy need to acknowledge physics? …. Armstrong Sat 7:00 PM
Hope to see you there!
July 21, 2015
While this blog post I read conflates a number of issues that I think are unrelated, it raises an issue that I think is valid for most authors to think about. It is the nature of most fiction, especially genre fiction, to focus on a central character, the protagonist. This is generally whom the story is about, and it is who the author tends to invest the most agency. The more dire and far reaching the story the author wants to tell, the greater the temptation it is to raise this single character above the general population, make them special. The epitome of such the impulse is in the trope of the “chosen one,” the person with the skills, the destiny, the bloodline, the prophecy. . . yada, yada, yada. Sometimes this makes sense, when you’re talking about a trained soldier going into a critical battle. Sometimes though, when the farmboy is told about his special inheritance and destiny to fight the powers of evil, it comes across as wish-fulfillment at best, and problematically elitist at worst.
I want to see an Epic Fantasy where the rebellion says to Hell with it, we’re not waiting for the prophesied savior to actually take down the Evil Empire.
July 16, 2015
There is a very old trope in SF, epitomized in the novel Slan by A. E. van Vogt, where a subset of humanity “evolves” some form of mental/psychic gift and is subsequently persecuted by the majority “normal” population. It’s a theme particularly suited to expressing alienation, and the term “Fans are Slans” gained currency back when SF fandom felt truly alienated from the wider culture. When I finally saw Sense8 on Netflix, it struck me as a modern take on a similar idea, albeit expressing a different, and more adult, form of alienation.
So, when I read this article about transhumanism and pop culture sci-fi, I’m struck by how much history is absent from its appreciation.
Sense8 is, in terms of premise and plot, a classic golden age story that could have slipped into psionic-era Astounding circa 1950. In terms of character and theme, though, it made a detour through Dangerous Visions. . . Specifically through its use of near explicit sexuality in various forms. The sex, I think, is a major part of the theme, as almost all the main characters begin at a point of alienation with the wider world, in two cases primarily because of their sexual orientation, in another case because of an upcoming marriage, and in yet another because of a past relationship and birth that ended tragically. Sex (straight, gay and poly) and birth (both graphic) are a big part of the package. But if that doesn’t deter you, its worth a watch.