March 14, 2015
- Saturday 2:00 Mixing Genres with Sandra Gurvis, Brian Hagan, Sarah Hans
- Saturday 4:00 Building Toward the Ultimate Literary Climax with Sandra Gurvis, Ty Schwamberger, Adrian J. Matthews, Christine Benedict
- Saturday 9:00 Humor in Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Brian Hagan, Marcus V. Calvert, Addie J. King, Cindy A. Matthews
- Saturday 10:00 The 10-Volume Trilogy with Addie J. King, Adrian J. Matthews, Cindy A. Matthews
March 13, 2015
Today’s the day!
Friday 6:00 – Author Showcase with Megan Engelhardt, Ty Schwamberger and Mary Turzillo
Friday 7:00 – World Creation in Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Steampunk with Geoffrey Landis, Marcus V. Calvert, and Sarah Hans
Friday 8:oo – Darkness and Light with Ty Schwamberger, Brian Hagan, Marcus V. Calvert, Sarah Hans
Friday 10:00 – Crafting Villains Readers Love to Hate with Brian Hagan, Marcus V. Calvert, Addie J. King, and Emmy Jackson
February 27, 2015
Back in the mid-1980s I read the one line that had the most profound impact on my career as a writer. It was from Vonnegut by way of Gardner Dozois, quoted in his contribution to the book Writing and Selling Science Fiction put out by SFWA in 1977. (Back when there was only one “F.”) Vonnegut ‘s line was the complaint that science fiction writers “write about Earthlings all the time, and they’re all American. Practically no one on Earth is an American.”
In the same essay, Mr. Dozois, at length, deconstructed the perennial slush-pile story where “There are no races: everyone is white , middle-class, American” and “no one has ever heard about homosexuality.” Back in 1977 he was writing about, to use the current buzzwords, diversity and inclusion. The lesson I got at the time was a profound one: If the world I wrote about had a population less varied than the city I lived in, I was being a lazy writer. If I wrote about humanity creating an interstellar empire, the demographic makeup of that empire should probably resemble that of humanity as a whole, or I was straining credulity. If I wasn’t afraid to get in the head of a genetically engineered creature, I shouldn’t be afraid to get in the head of a woman. Again, to use the current buzzwords, one old white guy was telling a younger white guy how it was a useful thing to step out of the default straight white cis male POV. Being open to that has certainly made me a better writer.
Which is why I had to think a while about why this post rubs me the wrong way. Of course, there is the superficial identity-politics aspect of it. The title, “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year,” is obvious troll-bait for the Sad Puppy brigade, and it seems to be serving its purpose of raising the profile of the blog post in question. But that isn’t really what bugs me about it. This Guardian article covers almost exactly the same ground and is much less troubling to me.
So what’s the problem?
A good part of it is the framing. K.T.Bradford frames the exercise as one of exclusion, while Sunili Govinnage frames it as an inclusive process. There is a damaging message there, and I don’t mean hurting the feelings of us straight white cis male dudes.
There is a large difference between foregrounding someone because of who they are, and doing so because of who they are not. The former engages someone as they are, who they are. The point of interest is the person themselves. The latter engages a person as an absence, a negative space, a silhouette cut out of a larger (and by inference more important) whole. When you are dealing with someone as a negation of something, the something is still the primary attribute. If a woman is important because she is not male, maleness is still what’s important. If a gay man is important because he is not straight, heterosexuality is your normative characteristic. If you think Samuel Delaney is primarily important because he isn’t a straight white cis male dude. . . well fuck you, he’s Samuel Delaney, and you deserve to be smacked upside the head with a hardback copy of Dalghren.
The other issue I had is best illustrated by a pair of quotes from the two articles:
From “I read only non-white authors for 12 months. What I learned surprised me” by Sunili Govinnage
Rather than restricting myself, my decision to be conscious about what I read introduced me to books I ordinarily would not have bothered with. Instead of my usual crime/procedural/legal thrillers, I actually read some science fiction. And some fantasy. And I loved it. Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death are now two of my favourite books. I would never have heard of them had I not deliberately sought them out.
I was also lucky enough to get to read chick-lit and young adult novels with non-white central characters: Ambelin Kwaymullina’s post-apocalyptic series The Tribe, Antia Heiss’s Manhattan Dreaming and Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter were particular highlights.
From “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year” by K.T.Bradford
[E]very time I thought about delving into one of the many science fiction and fantasy magazines at my disposal, or even reading compilations of the “best” stories that had been nominated for and/or won awards, my brain resisted.
Because every time I tried to get through a magazine, I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.
Then I thought: What if I only read stories by a certain type of author? Instead of reading everything, I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.
Cutting that one demographic out of my reading list greatly improved my enjoyment of reading short stories. That’s not to say I didn’t come across bad stories or offensive stuff in stories or other things that turned me off. I did. But I came across this stuff far less than I did previously.
The impressions I get from these two passages are very, very different. From one I get a sense of exploration, of pushing boundaries, of self-challenging. From the other, I feel a sense of retreat, of avoidance. One writer is moving outside their comfort zone, the other seems to be digging into it and fortifying it against outsiders. One is a model for growth, the other stagnation.
That said, I do agree with Bradford that “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” challenge can be a valuable exercise. But only if you do it to actually challenge yourself, not to reinforce your own biases and preconceptions.
Also, bear in mind that there are more types of diversity out there than are dreamed of in your intersectionality. Read outside your genre, your century, your politics, your religion. There’s non-fiction, history, and biography out there. Screenplays and poetry. Read things that make you mad, and make you think, and make you want to write about what the stupid author (cis male or otherwise) got wrong. Read something that might make you change your mind about something.
That’s challenging yourself.
And, if you’re lucky, you may find something as meaningful for you as that one line from Vonnegut was to me.
January 24, 2015
I just ran across this article on Facebook about how to tell if you’re in a high fantasy novel, which is very reminiscent of the Evil Overlord List that’s been around since the inception of the Internet. It’s worth a read, including the comments which largely continue with the theme. Both the Fantasy List, and the Evil Overlord List make fun of what tend to be common tropes and clichés in fantastic literature. (TV Tropes could be considered the ultimate such list.)
It is a useful thing for a writer of any stripe to be familiar with these tropes, because one of the primary uses of these tropes and clichés is to manage the audience’s expectations. Most of what we want to do as a writer— build suspense, fear, humor, surprise— starts with leading the audience in a particular direction. Most of the better experiences we have in fiction are when we’re led one way, and the author suddenly veers off somewhere new and unexpected.
Consider the violent sociopathic villain confronted by a second-string lieutenant who has to break the news that he just failed an let the heroes escape. What if, instead of shooting the poor guy for his failure, the villain is understanding, says no one is perfect and comforts his minion by saying, “you’ll get him next time,” as the lieutenant breaks down into tears.
December 19, 2014
When the creative class itself packs their bags and calls it quits, it’s over. This is where we end. Any tyrant now knows that they can suppress any artistic expression they don’t like just by making some threats.
The temptation is to retaliate. Make fun of North Korea and Kim Jong Bad Hair Day. Punish them by making them the butt of the joke. But it doesn’t fix the problem. You see, they’re already a joke. They’ve been one for years. Satire clogs the Internet as we speak, and will continue to do so. But that’s just pretending the fight’s still happening when we’ve already lost. It doesn’t matter how many memes you post to Facebook. Hollywood, the heart of American cultural dominance in the world, has caved to a tin-pot dictator of a country that has to kidnap filmmakers just to have a film industry. A cartoon from College Humor isn’t going to make up for that. A biting Jon Stewart critique isn’t going to make up for that. Hell, George Clooney can’t get a petition signed condemning the hacking and intimidation of Sony. George-effing-Clooney.
Worse, the movie industry as a whole has just let everyone know that if you want a film banned in the US, just make a threat. They’re all almost inviting a bomb at a multiplex now. Good work all.
Now Sony has a perfect right to do what it did. So does AMC, Regal, et al. So does Paramount for pulling Team America as a last minute replacement for the Interview. But this cannot continue if we don’t want our popular culture to be at the mercy of any regime that can afford a hacker and a bomb.
So how do you give Hollywood a spine? Stay home this Christmas. Don’t pay to see the movies they deign to show us this week. Make it cost them to cave into these threats. Rent a movie, watch Netflix, and send an e-mail to your local Regal, AMC, Cinemark letting them know why they aren’t getting your money. Let Sony Pictures and Paramount know why you aren’t paying to see their other moves. Boycott the whole pantywaist lot of them until they grow a set and tell Kim Jon Un to sodomize himself, or they go bankrupt, divest, and are replaced by studios and theater chains with corporate cultures that will.
December 15, 2014
I’ve just recently started catching up with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Netflix, and I started thinking about how well Marvel has done with its properties since Iron Man came out all the way back in 2008. A lot has been said already about the “shared universe” idea, and how “revolutionarily” it is, but I don’t think that’s it. . . not exactly, anyway. Sure, that’s what everyone is focusing on, and we will be inundated with “shared universe” properties from now until the next decade, most of which will go two or three films and quietly die an unmourned death. After all, the idea of several different creative properties sharing a single continuity is not all that new an idea. It’s at least as old as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which is probably better than whatever Universal Studios comes up with now to jump on the bandwagon. And we have Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who as examples of franchises that spawned decades worth of TV, movies and print stories in a continuity that was shared to one degree or another. As evidence that the shared universe in and of itself has little to do with Marvel’s current success, consider the following counterfactuals: Would the Marvel Cinematic Universe have succeeded if it led with Daredevil? Would Guardians of the Galaxy have made any less money if it wasn’t connected to the MCU at all?
So what’s up with Marvel? Here’s the top five things I think they’re doing right. The MCU serves some of these points, but my guess is that folks jumping on the shared universe bandwagon will whiff on most if not all of these points.
4) Brand identity. Most superhero movies are identified by either the main characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four) or the director plus main character (Raimi’s Spider Man, Nolan’s Batman), so once you spin off a property (a Nightwing movie say) you loose some connection to the original property. Marvel’s movies are identified by the studio name, much like Pixar’s films. So that they can make a Guardians of the Galaxy without any necessary connection to their prior films, and Marvel’s fanbase has developed enough trust to give the oddball flick a chance.
3) Superheroes are a trope, not a genre. Speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, how did Marvel manage to stick a straight-up eighties-era space opera fantasy in the same continuity as Captain America? Because Marvel isn’t making “superhero movies,” they’re making movies with superheroes in them. They’ve done Space Opera, WWII War Movies, Conspiracy Thrillers. . . Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t even have superheroes for the most part, and owes much more to the X-Files than Superman.
2) When you have decades of intellectual property, it doesn’t have to ALL go into ONE movie. How many villains do you need for a superhero movie? How many do you usually get? How well does that usually go?
And most important, and the step most likely to be overlooked by everyone jumping on the bandwagon.
1) Write a decent screenplay.
November 30, 2014
A couple of months ago I suggested that Guardians of the Galaxy deserved to be this generation’s Star Wars. In a similar vein, I think Interstellar wants to be this generation’s 2001. And, unlike some other movies I could name, Interstellar comes a lot closer to the mark. In large part because the homage goes beyond the hard sfnal aesthetics and the trippy ending, and into the theme of the movie; the fate of humanity as a species.
Whatever flaws this movie has (and it does have a few) it makes up for with an actual sense of wonder combined with an unapologetic pro-human point-of-view that seems to have been missing from SF of late. This is SF that is of a piece with Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke, and a whole generation of science fiction writers who blossomed between WWII and the Kennedy Assassination. This is SF that says, unironically, that humanity as a species is worth saving, and that our accomplishments outweigh our faults. This is SF that says that our science and technology are good things, and turning away from them leads toward destruction. This is SF that explicitly rages against the dying of the light.
Like the movie’s view of humanity, I think Interstellar’s accomplishments far outweigh its faults.
October 3, 2014
Still, it rocks!