Daily Archives: April 8, 2008

Meet the Fan Writers: Cheryl Morgan

As I think most regular readers of Whatever are aware, in addition to having The Last Colony nominated for the Best Novel Hugo this year, I am also nominated for the Best Fan Writer Hugo, which is something I’m pretty pleased about. I wanted to give you all a chance to meet the other folks nominated for the Fan Writer Hugo this year, so I invited each of them — Cheryl Morgan, Chris Garcia, Dave Langford and Steven Silver — to pen a guest entry here, and introduce themselves to you if you’d not make their acquaintance before.

Cheryl Morgan is the first to take me up on the offer. I’ve known Cheryl for a few years now, and she’s a positive delight to chat with and to read, both on her own site and on the Science Fiction Awards Watch site, which has rapidly become one of the essential sites for SF lit fans.

Without further ado (except to note that, indeed, I have Welsh blood in me — the reason for noting this will become clear in a minute): Cheryl Morgan.

CHERYL MORGAN:

My thanks to John for allowing his fellow nominees a chance to post here. I guess I should start by introducing myself. I’m Cheryl Morgan, and my current fan writing can be found at my personal blog, Cheryl’s Mewsings. I’m also one of the people responsible for Science Fiction Awards Watch. I was a nominee in Best Fan Writer in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In each case I finished second to Dave Langford. I’ve also received 5 other Hugo nominations in Best Fanzine, Best Web Site and Best Semiprozine, winning once for my fanzine, Emerald City. From this you might deduce that I’d be one of the people keen to see the end of The Fanglord’s decades-long reign as Best Fan Writer, and also that I’m one of those “usual suspects” who might usefully be displaced to freshen up the category. I’d like to talk about those two things here.

Firstly I’d like to say that I have no complaints about Dave Langford. He was one of the first people I met when I started attending science fiction conventions, and he has remained a good friend throughout. While think I have occasionally written pieces as good as his, the consistent quality of his work continues to inspire me. I still have hopes that one day I’ll be as good as he is.

I should note also that having Dave and I finishing first and second in Best Fan Writer is merely proof that the category, much like the Six Nations Rugby Championship, is the natural property of the Welsh nation. If John really wants to win, the best thing he could do would be to search back in his family tree and find a Welsh ancestor. Then the stars would be aligned and his victory would be assured.

As for the “usual suspects” thing, I must admit that I thought my time was done. I ceased publishing Emerald City back in 2006, and I was astonished to get a nomination again this year. However, I wasn’t always one of the in-crowd. Back when I first started getting nominations there was a huge upset about it and I was accused of, you guessed it, not being fannish enough. Apparently the fact that I published Emerald City electronically rather than on paper meant that it wasn’t a proper fanzine, and the fact that I wrote mainly book reviews meant that I was too serious about SF to be a proper fan. (This is one reason why you sometimes see me describe myself as a “Menace to Fandom”.) Nevertheless, despite a lot of noise being made, I went on to get many other nominations and one win. And that, I think, tells us a lot about fandom as a community.

There are many different ways of understanding the word “community”. One is that it is a ghetto or small village in which outsiders, people who are “not like us”, are viewed with suspicion. But if fandom were really a community like that then the voices of protest raised against my nomination, and John’s, would have succeed in blocking us. Instead we were allowed to compete, and thus far we have done very well.

So fandom isn’t really a closed community at all. It is much more like a collection of people who have got together because of a common interest, and who are building something together because of that common interest. To become a Big Name Fan (whatever that means), all you have to do is get involved and contribute something to the community. If you do good work, people will start to recognize it.

We are all connected. Dave has been a friend of mine for over 20 years. Chris Garcia and I are members of the same science fiction club in the San Francisco Bay Area and I have written for The Drink Tank. I have also contributed articles for Steven H Silver’s fanzine, Argentus, and now here I am contributing to John’s blog. That’s what a community is all about.

These days, of course, we are all much more connected than ever before. Fanzines started because fans in different cities, and different countries, needed a means to keep in contact. Publishing a fanzine full of articles and letters was easier than everyone writing individually to everyone else. But nowadays we have the Internet, and we can communicate around the world almost instantaneously. In publishing Emerald City I found my work being read by people in India, Ghana and Brazil. I met fans from Russia and Japan. And I made friends with wonderful writers such as Johanna Sinisalo from Finland and Zoran Živkovi? from Serbia.

That’s the sort of community I think science fiction fandom should be. Not a closed group of “trufen” jealously guarding access to the hobby of fanzine writing; not a group of relatively wealthy and dedicated people who can afford to attend Worldcon every year; but rather an international community of people with a common interest in science fiction. I have attended conventions in North America, Europe and Australasia. I’ve seen the first ever Worldcon in Japan take place. I very much hope that I’ll live to see the first Worldcons in Africa and South America. And hopefully I will see some of you there.

Feel free to ask me questions. Simple ones I can answer in the comments below. More complex ones I’ll answer over at Cheryl’s Mewsings because it would be impolite of me to take up too much more of John’s virtual real estate.

Quick E-Mail Note

Dragging through my spam queue today I noticed quite a lot of legitimate mail there — more than usual. Makes me wonder if I missed some legit mail earlier. So: If you sent mail in the last couple of weeks that you hoped to hear from me about and got nothing but dead air, go ahead and send it again. Thanks.

The Big Idea: Vox Day

Busy day, not a whole lot of time for me to hang about here at the moment. But you know how I like to leave you all something to talk about amongst yourselves while I’m away. And I was thinking, hmmmm, what do I have in the cupboard that will precipitate a lot of conversation while I’m busy? Then I remembered I had this: A Big Idea piece from Vox Day, talking about his latest book, The Irrational Atheist. And I thought, yes, well, that should just work just about fine. Enjoy.

VOX DAY:

If there is one idea that describes this book, it is irony. Irony piled upon irony stacked on top of yet more irony. Oh, you could certainly point to any number of other abstractions, but what lies beneath The Irrational Atheist is the ironic nature of nearly everything about the book. It’s like ten thousand long-handled spoons when all you need is a pitchfork.

For you see, famous scientists are usually expected to indicate some familiarity with the scientific method when defending their hypotheses, or at least to occasionally offer a modicum of empirical evidence in support of them. Secular devotees of Reason are generally assumed to be able to make competent use of that which they champion so vehemently. And public intellectuals on the lecture circuit are supposed to be at least slightly familiar with the history of Europe as well as the authors of some of Mankind’s most influential written works, including Sun Tzu, Julius Caesar and Petrarch.

On the other hand, it seems that proper little theists are absolutely not supposed to describe their targets as “The Circle of Jerkdom”, much less “The Four Horsemen of the Bukkakelypse”. Non-academics are not supposed to dare to question the sacred dictates of the priest-kings of academia. It is generally believed that the religious faithful are not inclined to make use of logic and reason, but rather rely upon emoting passionately and nonsensically about their ineffable supernatural certainties. And the gamer is not supposed to be inclined to make use of any brain function higher than that required to provide efficient hand-eye coordination.

But it is a strange world, and in strange aeons even atheism may die. There was a single thought that repeatedly entered my mind when slogging through the interminable morasses of The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and Trattato di Ateologia during the course of researching TIA, and it was “I cannot believe so many people are falling for this utterly abysmal nonsense.” This isn’t to say that the level of intellectual incompetence was unvaried, however, as it ranged from the spectacular collection of Harrisian disasters to Daniel Dennett’s mild-mannered coherence marred only by the occasional logical derailment.

Indeed, the very idea that one’s personal opinion has anything to do with the existence or non-existence of God is fundamentally irrational. Whether one contemplates the existence of God, Swaziland or string theory, the truth is ultimately whatever it actually happens to be, our current perceptions and ideas notwithstanding. I can’t prove to you that God exists. I can’t even prove to you that I exist. And if God elects to manifest and show Himself to you in all His radiant glory today, you won’t be able to prove to me or anyone else that He did that tomorrow. But if one cannot reasonably reach a rational conclusion on the God hypothesis one way or the other, one can certainly put specific arguments based on foundations of purported facts to the test. If religious faith causes war, how many wars in the last 5,000 years of recorded human history were caused by religious faith? If religion divides humanity into warring groups, what is the ratio of religious divisions to groups capable of engaging in conflict? If morality evolves, at what speed does it evolve and what is the mechanism by which it does so? If the probability of God’s existence is very, very small, precisely how small is it and what are the factors by which that probability is calculated?

These are not matters for philosophical reflection, they are factual assertions which can be examined in detail, and the results of the examination can then be independently verified by any reader. For example, one may dispute my calculation that precisely 6.98 percent of the wars in recorded human history involved religion, but one can no longer seriously argue that eliminating religion will bring an end to war, or even noticeably reduce the amount in which humanity engages.

But the greatest irony of all is undoubtedly the response with which most atheists have met The Irrational Atheist. For years, atheists have been rightly irritated that theists often refuse to meet them on their own ground, that instead of engaging in a substantive discussion based on scientific fact and reason, theists prefer to hide behind Bible-quoting and theological babble that is meaningless to the atheist. Now, having been given exactly what they have been requesting – nay, demanding – the atheist response has largely been to stick their collective head in the sand and hope it goes away before the intellectual depantsing of their icons becomes general knowledge. This isn’t conjecture, by the way, it was the general consensus of nearly two thousand posts discussing an interview about TIA on richarddawkins.net.

Vox Day adds: One final irony: I first ‘met’ Mr. John Scalzi when we were on opposite sides of an Internet flame-skirmish. I’ve since come to like and admire the man as well as his work, and we even happen to have a few things in common besides our SFWA membership. One of these is our mutual belief in the positive effect of free ebook releases on book sales, and so if the subject happens to be of interest to you, please note that the complete text of The Irrational Atheist can be downloaded at http://irrationalatheist.com/downloads.html in four digital formats at no charge. Whatever stat geeks may be interested to know that after one month of downloads, the format breakdown is as follows: PDF 61 percent, OO/Word DOC 25 percent, PDB 7.5 percent, LIT 6.5 percent.”

New GoH Appearance

If you were wondering what you might do with yourself over the Fourth of July weekend, here’s a thought: Come to Indianapolis, where I will be a Guest of Honor at InConJunction XXVIII. Or stay at home and desultorily wave around a sparkler or two and then toss an M-80 in the toilet. Because, yeah, that’s fun. This is my only scheduled Indiana appearance this year, so if you’re an Indianan (Indianian?), this is the way to see me without having to sully yourself by stepping foot into Ohio. And for all the folks who complain I never manage to get to Chicago, it’s only a couple three hours away from your fair town. I know this because when I travel to Chicago, I go through Indy, using its massive gravitational well to slingshot me up the 65 toward Lake Michigan. So take a trip, come on down and say hello. It’ll be fun, really.