I wonder how much of John Boehner’s righteous anger at the recently-passed health care bill is due to the fact that upon its being signed into law, there’s going to be an additional 10% tax on tanning salons. It’s not easy being orange, man.
I wonder how much of John Boehner’s righteous anger at the recently-passed health care bill is due to the fact that upon its being signed into law, there’s going to be an additional 10% tax on tanning salons. It’s not easy being orange, man.
All right, let’s get started with this year’s Reader Request Week, with a question from Adam, who asks:
I’ve been wondering what your beliefs are pertaining to God, the supernatural, etc.
From a few passages in “Old Man’s War” (which I love by the way… the whole series rocks!), some of the religious bits in “The Android’s Dream,” and some of your old movie reviews from the Old “Official Playstation Magazine” (i.e. the good one) I get the impression that you have more than a passing familiarity with Christianity. So I’m just wondering what your stance is and what your upbringing was because I’m nosy and curious.
Well, let’s see. I was baptized as a baby and when I was very young — that is, kindergarten age — I attended Sunday school because at the time I was living with an aunt who was religious; I still remember the copy of the Bible she gave me, and also my favorite Bible story, which was the one about Samson and Delilah. I liked it because it was full of action and adventure, and I remember imagining it as lots of Philistines lurking about, waiting to leap out at Samson whenever he was bound by thongs, or whatever. I also remember thinking that Samson must not have been very smart, because he kept telling Delilah ways to weaken him, and then didn’t make the connection when she would tie him up and then suddenly pow, Philistines everywhere. After the first couple of times, you would think he would have figured it out. But clearly when it came to Delilah, it wasn’t his brain Samson was thinking with.
Having said that, however, I don’t recall ever having a particularly strong religious impulse, and by the time I was eight years old I was sufficiently unconvinced of the existence of God that I decided not to join the Cub Scouts because the Boy Scout oath had mention of God in it, and I couldn’t in good conscience pledge my duty to someone I didn’t think existed. Around the same time I also stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, because I learned I didn’t have to, thank you Jehovah’s Witnesses, and again I wasn’t down with the whole God thing (I still don’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but now it’s for other reasons as well, among them I think it’s poorly written for its purpose).
I don’t pretend that my thinking on the matter of God, religion and specifically Christianity was particularly complex when I was eight, but in the intervening thirty-two years I’ve had some opportunity to think about each in some detail, and all through that time I’ve been pretty consistent regarding belief. In a nutshell, I’m an agnostic, not of the “I’m waffling and don’t want to have to choose” sort, but of the “I don’t believe in the existence of God but there’s no way to know for certain, so as a matter of intellectual honesty I have to call myself agnostic” stripe. As regards Jesus, as I’ve noted here before I don’t personally doubt that Jesus existed, but as a natural extension of my agnosticism I don’t believe he was in any way divine. As regards religion, I don’t follow any in particular and as a general thought I tend to believe that religions often have admirable moral and philosophical goals but their essential qualities are contingent on the humans in them, and you know how humans are. This makes religions much like any other large organization involving humans.
I am not Christian, never have been, and at this point doubt I will be between now and death (and as a practical matter, also doubt that I will regret such a choice after my death, since I find it highly unlikely I’ll have means to be cognizant after that point). However, this doesn’t mean that I am ignorant of Christianity, either historically or the myriad ways it exhibits itself in the world today. I’ve read the Bible a number of times, of course, and have also read the writings of a number of religious writers from the time of early Christianity forward, and try to keep current with what’s going on in culture as it involves Christianity. Part of this is the side effect of having what’s known as a “good education” — thank you Webb School of California and the University of Chicago — but part of this is my own recognition that to understand other people, you want to understand what they believe. It’s also recognition that while I’m agnostic, the vast majority of my fellow citizens here in the US are at least nominally religious and of those who are, the vast majority are at least nominally Christian. It’s nice to be able to speak the language of the majority.
When people learn that I am agnostic, a fair number of them assume that I am antagonistic to the idea of religion, the religious impulse, or Christianity. I’m not. I know too many Christians and other religious folk who I love as people, respect as thinkers and admire as moral actors to insult them by dismissing such a foundational aspect of who they are. Nor am I presumptuous enough to assume that their religious beliefs do not inform the philosophical and moral choices they make. Finally, I know enough people whose lives I believe were saved — small “s” there — by putting religion (and in most cases Christianity specifically) into them that simply as a practical matter even if I thought there was something wrong with religion or Christianity in a general sense, I would be happy those people had it in their lives for their own sake.
Religion requires commitment and understanding of what you believe, however, and specifically as regards Christianity, I expect a lot of people who follow that path, and I get angry with those people who purport to be Christian and yet as far as I can see don’t seem to understand much about Christ. I’ve summed this up before by noting that I think Christianity is a fine religion and I wish more Christians practiced it. That sentiment is something to which I continue to hold. If you say you are Christian, and you make that aspect of your life part of your public persona, then I feel just fine pointing out when and where I feel you are failing Christ, the beliefs He taught and His expectations of those who follow Him. Moreover, I feel just fine lecturing Christians about Christ, since I know rather a lot about Him and His teachings; I’ve found in my experience a really excellent way to piss off one of these alleged Christians is make it obvious to him that you know your Bible back and forth and better than he does.
I expect Christianity and the religious impulse in general to continue into the future, which is why I don’t shy away from putting either and both into my books. Moreover, I think it’s worth it to do so with some complexity. There is a group called the “Colonial Mennonites” in The Last Colony not just because they provided me with a convenient excuse to ship non-advanced farm equipment to the Roanoke colony, but also because I wanted to show a group of Christians positively affecting the world around them and also living up to the religious and moral principals they set for themselves. I think the scene in which I have Hiram Yoder confronted by the “werewolves” works — to the extent it does work — because Yoder is called upon to live his beliefs in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. His actions, informed by his love of Christ, are powerful. At the very least, they were meant to be.
This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel that I have to show religion or the religious impulse in a uniformly positive or uncritical way in my work — please see The God Engines for confirmation — but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do so, either, when it’s appropriate for the book or story. This is a reflection of my own belief that in the real world, the religious impulse can show itself in as many ways as there are people who have those impulses as part of their lives. God (or the gods) may or may not be a reflection of who we are as humans, but how we choose to acknowledge them and act up on that faith most certainly is. And again: You know how people are.
So that’s where I am with religion, Christianity and me.
Because the passage of one of the most significant bills in history should not go unnoted here:
I’ve been silent here about the health care issue since this entry on January 20, primarily because I didn’t have a thing to add to it, in particular this portion:
…contrary to apparently popular opinion, health care isn’t quite dead yet. Now the real interesting thing is to see what the Democrats do next — whether they curl up in a legislative ball, moaning softly, and let their health care initiative die, or whether they double down, locate their gonads and find a way to get it done (there are several ways this can be accomplished).
From a purely strategic point of view, I’m not sure why they don’t just ram the thing through the House as is, fiddle with it a bit during reconciliation and get to Obama to sign it. To put it bluntly, the Democrats will look better by flipping the GOP the bird and then using the ten months until the 2010 election to get voters back on their side than showing to the voters that despite a large majority in both houses, they collapse like a flan in the cupboard at the first setback. We’ll see what happens now, and I suspect what happens in the next week or so will make a significant impact on what happens in November.
And, well. It took the Democrats several weeks longer to find their gonads than I thought it should have, but then again I thought the health care process should have been accomplished several months ago to begin with, back when they had 60 senators. But the Democrats have an apparent structural problem, which is that when they have everything going their way, a lot of them feel that means they should immediately go another way. It took losing their senate supermajority and the GOP overwhelming the public discourse on the health care process to get enough Democrats in line, with many I suspect motivated by the simple fear that what the GOP would do to them if health care passed was less painful than what would the GOP would do to them if it failed.
Basically, I find what passes for Democratic legislative strategy absolutely appalling. Decades from now, when they make the ponderous Oscar-bait movie about the struggle for health care (with Jaden Smith as Obama and two-time Academy Award winner Snooki as Speaker Pelosi), it will make for exciting twists and turns in the plot, but out here in the real world, you shouldn’t have to let your organization get the crap beat out of it in order to motivate those in it to do the thing everybody knows it wants to get done. What the Democrats have managed to do with health care isn’t a Pyrrhic victory — I’ll get to that in a moment — but it surely was taking the long way around: over the river, through the woods, down into the landfill, into the abattoir, across a field of rabid, angry badgers. Next time, guys, make it easier on yourselves.
That said, the Democrats were magnificently fortunate that, as incompetent as they are, they are ever-so-slightly less incompetent than the GOP, which by any realistic standard has been handed one of the largest legislative defeats in decades. The GOP was not simply opposed to health care, it was opposed to it in shrill, angry, apocalyptic terms, and saw it not as legislation, or in terms of whether or not health care reform was needed or desirable for Americans, but purely as political strategy, in terms of whether or not it could kneecap Obama and bring itself back into the majority. As such there was no real political or moral philosophy to the GOP’s action, it was all short-term tactics, i.e., take an idea a majority of people like (health care reform), lie about its particulars long enough and in a dramatic enough fashion to lower the popularity of the idea, and then bellow in angry tones about how the president and the Democrats are ignoring the will of the people. Then publicly align the party with the loudest and most ignorant segment of your supporters, who are in part loud because you’ve encouraged them to scream, and ignorant because you and your allies in the media have been feeding them bad information. Whip it all up until health care becomes the single most important issue for both political parties — an all-in, must win, absolutely cannot lose issue.
It’s a fine plan — unless you’re on the losing side, which the GOP now is. And while the folks in the GOP will be happy to tell you that they are going to ride this baby into majorities come November, they have a very simple problem in that now they’re running not against a bill, but a law, some of the benefits of which will immediately come into play, and which removed from overheated nonsensical rhetoric are almost certainly going to be popular. In the first year of the bill being signed into law, insurance companies will be barred from dropping people when they get sick. Do GOPers want to come out being for insurers dropping people when they need their health insurance the most? The new law will let parents keep their kids on their insurance until their kids are 26, keeping a large number of otherwise uninsured young adults covered. Do GOPers want to run on depriving millions of young Americans that health care coverage? In this economy? Seniors will get a rebate when they fall into that prescription drug “donut hole,” and the law will eventually eliminate that hole entirely. Do GOPers think it’ll be smart to tell seniors that closing the “donut hole” is a bad thing?
So this is the GOP’s problem going forward: people love to hate “socialism” in the abstract, but they love their benefits once they have them, and now the GOP will have to go from saving people from “socialism” to taking away benefits, and that’s a hard row to hoe. I don’t credit the Democrats with a surfeit of brains when it comes to tactics, but if the GOP really wants to run on repealing health care law this year or in 2012, even the Democrats can manage to point out to millions of voters that this means letting insurers drop you or your children from their rolls and making it harder for seniors to buy the prescription drugs they need to survive. Yes, yes: who’s killing grandma now?
There’s another problem for the GOP. While I think it’s likely the Democrats will lose seats this election cycle (as often happens to the party of the president — any president — in mid-term elections), I think the idea that the GOP is going to retake either the House or Senate (or both) is optimistic at best, and the idea that they would be able to retake both with the majorities needed to overcome a presidential veto is the sort of magical thinking that usually indicates either profound chemical imbalances in the brain or really excellent hashish. So Americans will have two and a half years to get used to their new-found health care rights and benefits, most of which in the real world are perfectly sensible, beneficial things, before we all get to vote on who is going to be the next president. Now, perhaps Obama will be voted out of office and perhaps he won’t, but if whomever is the GOP candidate in 2012 plans on running on repealing the health care laws, well, you know. Good luck with that. I’m sure Obama would be delighted for them to try.
And yes, what about Obama? Well, all he did was manage to do something no other president has managed to do, a thing upon which other presidencies have foundered, against opposition that was total, persistent and fanatical. I wish he had managed to do it sooner and with less damage to his standing, and that his own inexperience and aloofness had not been a proximate cause to its delay, which it was. I wish his allies in the legislature had not been appallingly disorganized; I wish his opponents in the legislature were more interested in the good of the people they represent than in playing tactical games. What’s gotten passed isn’t 100% of what I would have wanted to have passed, not just for what’s in it but also for what’s not.
But in the end, it got done. We have health care reform. We have it because Obama decided that it was going to get done, one way or another, and that it was worth risking his presidency over — and worth risking Democratic control of the House and Senate as well. Like the GOP, he went all in, but unlike the GOP, he didn’t do it just for tactical advantage or for short term advantage of power and party; he did it because when all and said and done I think he really does believe that health care reform is to the benefit of the American people, and that it in itself was more important than just being president for as long as Constitutionally possible.
To be clear, and contrary to GOP thinking, I think this is the act that will make him a two-termer, the poor bastard. But even if by some chance he’s one-and-done, I think he can say he did the thing he came to Washington to do, and that he did something that was the right thing to do. As it happens, I agree with him; I think it makes moral, philosophical and economic sense for as many Americans as possible to have access to regular, competent health care. It was a reason I voted for him, and in itself is worth my vote for him.
Mind you, there is more I expect from him before he leaves office, whether that’s in 2013 or 2017. The fact he got this done — despite everything — gives me confidence that he’ll get those things done too.
The Playstation 3 isn’t playing nicely with the new TV for some unfathomable reason (I’ll figure it out later), and we needed a DVD player for the night’s New Moon Estrogen Spectacular, so I hooked up my desktop computer to the TV, since at the moment it’s not doing anything but sitting about waiting for my office to be fully furnished. It worked like a charm, so we had our DVD player, and as a side bonus, at the moment my new HDTV is pulling double duty as my computer monitor. Which is vaguely ridiculous, but fun, at least in the short run, and especially while playing Left 4 Dead 2. Mmm, supersized zombie killin’. Also, yes, I’m writing this on it.
For those of you curious as to what we purchased, it was one of these, which as I understand it is price and feature-wise somewhere in the great undifferentiated middle of HDTV choices one could make. I’m happy with it (or else I wouldn’t have bought it), and if nothing else it’s interesting to contrast it with the last big screen TV we bought. We got that one in late 2001, and while it was theoretically HD capable, at the end of the day it was mostly just big. I’m pleased that most of a decade later I can pay several hundred dollars less for something with roughly four times the resolution, twice the refresh rate and also at least 150 pounds lighter, thanks to that whole “flat screen” thing. It’s one of those “hey, I actually do live in the future” moments.
I’ll also admit to having conflicted emotions about the new TV. I’ve been wanting a new TV for a while, but have held off for the simple reason that the TV we had was still working fine. Both Krissy and I subscribe to the philosophy that when you buy, you buy as well as you can afford, because you buy to last, and you use that thing until you can’t use it anymore. This is a very fiscally prudent philosophy but it does get in the way of one’s wants (which is, you know, sort of the point). So when the electron gun finally went on the other TV, I felt a bit of glee: w00t! I can get a new shiny! But it also happened to blow when we’ve already been laying out lots of dough for new flooring and carpeting, so the additional expense makes me a little twitchy.
And you might say, well, then you should have held off getting a new TV. And in fact we did talk about that — not just holding off, but also whether we really wanted a replacement at all. But at the end of the day we did want a TV in the living room, and despite the unexpected expense, when all is said and done we’ll still be coming in under the amount we originally budgeted for home improvements. So it made sense to go ahead and get something now. Nevertheless, the discussion between Krissy and I was good to have — making sure not only that we could afford it, but that in fact it was something we felt was useful to have, and not just something to buy because you’re supposed to have it in the house.
And now, having justified the expense to you all, I’m going to tuck in just a little bit more supersized zombie killin’ before turning in for the night. Those zombies won’t kill themselves.
But our TV died and I spent the day acquiring and setting up the new one. It’s a joy beyond compare, it is.
I’m off – I likely won’t be back on today so asking me questions about the TV won’t do you any good. I’ll post pictures when it’s ready to go.
Science fiction author Peter Watts has been found guilty of “assaulting, resisting and obstructing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.” That happened this morning.
Here’s a news article on the matter. Here’s Peter’s take on it. He’s taking it a whole lot better than I suspect most people would in his position. He’ll be sentenced in late April; he could be sentenced to up two years but quite obviously I hope it’s for rather less than that.
Given that this is happening to someone I know and like and as such I am likely to be wildly uncivil to the first trolling jackass who pops in the thread to crow about the verdict, I’m just gonna not turn on the comments for this post at all.
Some of these are actually a few days old, but, hey, dude, my house has been a shambles for the last week, okay? Okay, then:
* Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously, by Adrienne Martini (Free Press): When Krissy was pregnant with Athena, both she and I decided to try our hand at knitting, and very quickly thereafter both of us stopped trying our hand at knitting, because neither of us could figure it out and we were likely to use the knitting needles to stab something instead. So I have a baseline level of being impressed with knitters, because they seemingly do quite easily something I very failed at. In Sweater Quest, Martini not only knits but attempts one of knitting’s supreme challenges: A Mary Tudor sweater, the mere mention of which apparently gives knitters the sweats. The book tracks that, plus explores the world of knitting — a world which, anecdotally, has a significant overlap with science fiction geeks, considering how many of them I know who knit (Martini herself writes for SF/F outlets). As noted, I’m not a knitter and likely never will be, but I did read through this book and enjoyed it as an exploration of a well-loved yet sometimes-frustrating hobby, which I think is something everyone can identify with (I know I can). It comes out next Tuesday, so now you know what to get that knitter in your life.
* Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown): Paolo tries his hand at YA, and the resulting novel is unsurprisingly good, and full of the world-run-down-y-ness that has become his trademark. I was sent a galley of the draft for possible blurbing and indeed liked it enough to blurb it, although you’ll have to wait for May 2010 to find out precisely what I said. By that time Paolo may have picked up a Hugo nod to go with his Nebula nod for The Wind Up Girl. Not a bad year for Paolo, I’d say.
* Blood of the Demon, by Diana Rowland (Bantam): The second of Rowland’s series featuring Kara Gillian, a cop with supernatural gifts, searching for a killer who doesn’t just murder people, but eats their souls. Which is just rude, if you ask me. Diana, incidentally, is also running for South/Central Regional Representative in the current SFWA election and has my endorsement, because she would be just plain awesome in that role. So if you’re in SFWA, consider voting for her. If you’re not in SFWA, well, hey, look: A book! Which is out now.
* Not My Boy! by Rodney Peete (Hyperion): Former NFL player and current football commentator Peete’s memoir of his son’s autism and his own coming to terms with the autism and his work to connect to his son and connect him to the world. Out now.
* Fire Will Fall, by Carol Plum-Ucci (Harcourt): Prinz-winning author Plum-Ucci with the sequel to 2008’s Streams of Babel, in which four teens affected by bioterrorism try to deal with the fallout (so to speak) of their affliction while others race to find the cure. Out in May.
* Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregellis (Tor): It’s the eve of World War II! Are the Nazis up to no good? Well, if they weren’t, they really wouldn’t be Nazis, now, would they. But what they’re up to no good with this time? Scary horrible mutant technology! And it’s up to the warlocks of Britain to stop them! I mean, obviously, right? This (clearly) fantasy-history telling of WWII will be the subject of a Big Idea in April.
* Dragonfly Falling, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Pyr): The follow up to Empire of Black and Gold. This time two unlikely heroes have to warn their city of an encroaching menance. But will they be believed in time? Out in April.
Hey! There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been meaning to link all y’all to this last week, but I’ve been busy doing other things. Secret things. Things that if you knew what they were, they would change the way you look at the world forever.
Okay, I’m lying, I’ve just been spending hours admiring all the new flooring in the house. Because it’s so pretty. But I’m over that now, so here are some links for you.
1. Mary Anne Mohanraj asked me to let you all know about this writer’s grant:
The deadline for the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers’ Grant is fast approaching! The grant of $750 is available to any writer of speculative literature of 50 years or older at the time of application who is just beginning to work professionally in the field. There are no restrictions on the use of the grant money.
Applicants are asked to submit a brief autobiographical statement, a writing sample, and a bibliography. For full details on how to apply for the grant, please see the SLF web site (http://www.speculativeliterature.org/Grants/SLFOlderWriters.php), or email email@example.com. Applications must be received by March 31st 2010. The successful applicant will be announced on June 1st 2010.
If this could apply to you, consider applying.
2. The alumni of the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers are doing a fundraiser so that other teenagers will be able to get workshop experience and mentoring from top-name science fiction and fantasy writers. To help with their goal, they’re posting an adorable little picture book about love and zombies (of course!) called Ned & Jane. Where? At NedAndJane.com, of course. Check it out and if you enjoy it, considering chipping in to help them reach their $2,500 goal by April 30.
3. This from agent Colleen Lindsay:
Our good buddy Alan DeNiro is hitting the road down South and is trying to use his book tour to raise money for Mercy Corps and their efforts to aid in Haiti’s earthquake relief.
Details here: http://bit.ly/9egPak
And thanks in advance!
4. My excellent friend Chris Barrus has a new band called the ExDetectives, and their music is full of shoegazy goodness. Have you had any shoegazy goodness today? And don’t give me that “Oh, I gave up shoegaze for Lent.” Seriously, who does that. I’m ashamed you even tried that line on me. Look, go to the ExDetectives site, listen to the music there, and if you like it, their EP is available on iTunes and on Amazon.
5. Justine Larbalestier thinks this guest post on her site by Alaya Dawn Johnson about book covers and racism should be read by lots of people. And I agree. So there you are.
There, that should be enough for your linkable enjoyment today.
Athena and I are both off to the dentist this morning — yes, all father-daughter outings should be so much unalloyed fun – so until I return, here, have an interview of me at the Nebula Awards site, in which I discuss The God Engines and Zoe’s Tale, my Nebula and Norton-nominated works, and also my SFWA presidential candidacy and what it’s like to be a creative consultant for TV. The Nebula Awards site will soon feature interviews with additional nominees from this year, all of whom are fascinating people you want to know more about, so consider bookmarking the site for later visits.
The extended version of their theme song, which is actually a fun summer song. AND SUMMER IS COMING. Plan now!
My AMC column is out early this week (and in fact may be permanently moving to Wednesday; I have to check) and this week I’m looking at why Hollywood rarely gets the future right, or, why the Los Angeles of 2019 will almost certainly not have replicants in it. Yes, I know. I’m disappointed too. As always, leave your pungent nuggets of wisdom in the comment thread over there.
As you know, Whatever is all about me: Whatever I feel like writing about, whenever I feel like writing about it. But once a year, I like to make it about the readers, by which I mean I like to give my brain a break and make all y’all choose the topics I write about. For a whole week! I call it Reader Request Week, and 2010’s will start this next Monday. Between now and then I’m soliciting topics for consideration.
So: Is there a topic you’ve always wanted me to write on, which I haven’t? Something about me you’ve always wanted to know? Or do you just wish to see me dance like a monkey for your pleasure? Or some combination of any or all of the above? This is the time! This is the place! No subject is taboo, and no subject is too serious or too silly. I can’t answer every topic request, but I do try to get an interesting mix in there.
While you are brewing up your questions, allow me to make two suggestions:
1. Pick quality over quantity: A single, well thought-out topic question is always more interesting to me than one that says lists out very bland, general topics, i.e., “can you talk about writing? And politics? And about your cats?” Yes, I can do that, but I already do do that. Ask me something interesting.
2. Specifically on the subject of writing, I get asked about writing a lot, and one of the reasons I do the Reader Request Week is to write on something else besides writing. So while you’re free to ask writing questions, be aware that unless find it a really interesting question, I’m likely to go for another topic entirely.
Once the requests start coming in, I’ll go through them and pick the ones I find the most interesting and start writing them up on Monday. To help you avoid asking the same questions I’ve recently answered, here’s an index of the last five years worth of Reader Request Weeks:
Reader Request #1: SF Novels and Films
Reader Request #2: 10 Childhood Nuggets
Reader Request #3: Writers and Technology
Reader Request #4: The Nintendo Revolution
Reader Request #5: A Political Judiciary
Reader Request #6: Paranoid Parents
Reader Request #7: Writing About Writing
Reader Request #1: Justifying My Life
Reader Request #2: Coffee, or Lack Thereof
Reader Request #3: BaconCat Fame
Reader Request #4: The Inevitable Blackness That Will Engulf Us All
Reader Request #5: Out of Poverty
Reader Request #6: Short Bits
Reader Request #7: Short Bits II: Electric Boogaloo
Reader Request #1: Homeschooling
Reader Request #2: Technological Gifts
Reader Request #3: Sex and Video Games
Reader Request #4: Where I Am Now
Reader Request #5: Professional Jealousy
Reader Request #6: Author Relations
Reader Request #7: Fame or Lack Thereof
Reader Request #8: Politics and the Olympics
Reader Request #9: Polygamy
Reader Request #10: Meeting Authors (and Me)
Reader Request #11 Athena and Whatever
Reader Request #12: Soldiers and Support
Reader Request #13: Diminishing Returns
Reader Request #14: Quick Hits, Volume I
Reader Request #15: Quick Hits, Volume II
Reader Request #1: SF YA These Days
Reader Request #2: OMW and Zoe’s Tale (and Angst and Pain)
Reader Request #3: Space!
Reader Request #4: Procreation
Reader Request #5: Having Been Poor
Reader Request #6: 80s Pop Music
Reader Request #7: Writing and Babies
Reader Request #8: Twitter
Reader Request #9: Can I Be Bought?
Reader Request #10: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request #11: Wrapping Up
There you have it.
So: Questions! Topics! Subjects! You have them! I want them! Put them in the comment thread, and starting Monday, I’ll start writing about them.
Behold the front room of our house, which at the moment holds a toilet and a bathroom sink in it, both relocated from the downstairs bathroom, which today along with the front hall and at least part of the kitchen is being refloored. On the chairs you can see some of the contents of the hall closet, which is also being refloored. I’d show you the kitchen, but then I suspect Krissy would murder me. The fact is, the house is a real mess. But necessarily so; things simply have to be moved around when you’re putting down new floors, and there’s not much point arguing the necessity.
Our house will in fact be in a more or less constant state of mess for the next couple of weeks as things get moved out of rooms into other rooms, and then moved back into rooms with then other stuff as those rooms in turn get new floors/carpets. This was in fact one of the reasons why my office was the first room to be done; while people are crawling around the house, constantly moving stuff, I can hide in my room. Works for me. At least, until the cabinet maker comes to do the bookshelves. Then who knows what I’ll do with myself. I suppose I’ll worry about it then.
When we know something, it’s not just what we know but how we came to know it that determines how useful it is to us: How did we learn it? Is it from a trusted source? How will we save and store that knowledge? How will we pass it on? In a world where we can store entire encyclopedias on flash drives the size of a fingernail, this doesn’t seem like much of an issue. But it’s not that difficult to imagine a world where it might be.
Such a world exists in The Dead-Tossed Waves, author Carrie Ryan’s follow-up to her bestselling debut, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. In these books, the world of the living is small, poor, and clearly demarcated. In that world, what we know and how we know it has implications not only for how people live day to day, but also how they see the world… and how they imagine how the world can be.
In my first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (released last year) Mary, my protagonist, lives in an amazingly circumscribed world — a small village in the middle of a forest full of zombies where everyone’s told there’s nothing left of humanity past the fences. Mary lives about 150 years after the zombie apocalypse and her village has nothing left from the before time — no books (other than one religious text), electricity, maps and the like. Every bit of information and knowledge they have is passed down through several generations.
I think of it a bit like playing a game of telephone — you know where one person whispers a phrase to the person sitting next to them and it gets passed around the room such that “I had eggs for breakfast” somehow becomes “bacon taped on cats is yummy”?
The idea of memory and the corruption of information over time fascinates me. We’re so reliant on outside sources of information today that if the apocalypse hit… what stories would we remember to pass down?
Because here’s the thing… once, about a decade ago, I sat with my ill grandmother while she told me stories from her life. In one of them, she described going to a dance at Amherst with her mother as a chaperone and wearing lavender stockings (during a time when such a color stocking was rare). One of the matrons at the dance asked my Nana to leave because of her shameless attire (re: lavender stockings). Her mother, my great-grandmother, straightened her back and gave one of the best retorts I’d ever herd — so perfect and cutting and yet also so poised. I remember listening to that story and thinking “this is where the strength of the women in my family comes from — this is how I am who I am.”
And yet I can’t remember what my great-grandmother’s oh-so-perfect retort was and no one else in my large family ever heard the story. It’s lost to time. This is the corrosion of memory.
Now imagine that on a larger scale: how to build things and cure things and repair things. How many miles in a light year or which clouds are cumulus and which are cirrus. All the things we turn to Wikipedia and books for — just slowly eroding away.
This is Mary’s world in the forest: the only information the villagers have is what’s passed down year after year with no influence from the outside world. So when I decided to write a sequel/companion book set beyond the forest, I suddenly had to figure out what would we retain and remember given slightly more resources?
My answer: not much more. In my second book, The Dead-Tossed Waves, Mary’s daughter, Gabry, grows up in a dead-end town at the edge of the ocean. There’s little communication between enclaves of survivors (no electricity because resources for things like wires is rare and travel is dangerous because roads are still rife with zombies). But even more disturbing is that there’s a pervasive feeling among the survivors of “what’s the use?”
What’s the point of caring or learning about art or physics or calculus in the face of everyday issues like keeping the town safe, farming fields, feeding mouths? Knowledge and learning becomes a luxury pretty quickly. At one point in the book a teacher comes to town and talks about the universe and gravity and most of the families pull their kids from school because to them, such information is useless.
Sometimes I think of these characters in my books — these random survivors — as living their lives with their heads down, sometimes glancing over their shoulders to ensure no zombies have breached their carefully structured safety. And then I imagine my protagonists standing, head raised, looking to the horizon and wondering what’s out there.
In the first book, this is Mary, staring at the forest and wondering if there’s a life on the other side. In the second book this is Gabry, growing up in a lighthouse by the ocean wondering if there’s an easier and safer life out there. And then the real question becomes: what causes someone to raise their head from the ground, to not just stare at the horizon but to go out after it?
Zombies can embody all sorts of themes: the slow crawl of death, fear of science/religion/technology/ourselves, inescapable nihilism. But to me, they often represent a life not fully lived. They are nothing more than pure existence shuffling through time with no dreams, hopes, desires or memories. This drives me to wonder what separates the character living life staring at the ground and the zombie straining at the fence?
What makes us raise our heads and go after something more? What makes us care about lives apart from our own? What’s the difference between the person who stands at the edge of the ocean day after day wondering what’s past the waves and the person who gets in a boat and paddles off to find the answer?
Often, it’s my own fear of not taking advantage of this life — of forgetting my grandmother’s stories, of not bothering to read poetry or look at art or remember what kind of flower grows on my front porch or caring about a dispute between two warring tribes on the other side of the world — that causes me to write about people who do take advantage of what they’re given and constantly grasp for more. I hope their drive and determination will bolster my own.
As noted earlier, for my office I am currently waiting on a desk and bookshelves, and while I wait, rather than reintroduce the previous massive and now esthetically incompatible desk (which sits, in pieces, in the basement), I went the other direction and got a laptop stand. As it happens, the laptop stand is the perfect height for typing while standing, and for when I want to sit, I got myself a nice little stool. And the laptop stand is finished in cherry wood, so it matches the flooring. Truly, the best of all possible worlds. So I’ve gone from maximum clutter to minimum necessary materials. We’ll see how long that lasts. But for now it’s nice.
It’s in, and I think it looks very nice. We’re still a ways off from having the office totally completed — we still have shelves and a desk to go — but now at least I can have my own space back, which is as it turns out a fairly important thing for my mental well being. Who would have guessed.
I’ve got about ten minutes before the contractors arrive to put down my new office floor (and in doing so likely knock me offline for most of the day) so before that happens: Here, look at my TempOffice, which is my laptop on top of a portable filing cabinet, with my daughter’s desk chair (I don’t generally favor pink), in my bedroom. Behind the TempOffice is the master bathroom, with Kodi valiantly holding down the floor, which considering what the contractors are here to do, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Now, you may ask, why don’t I just work downstairs? The short answer is that in addition to putting down my flooring, they also tearing up flooring, downstairs. Basically anywhere but my bedroom, I’ll be in the way today. Also, yon large dog gets antsy when people she doesn’t know are stomping about the house, so I’ll be keeping her in the bedroom with me (I’ve already put a gate on the door) to keep her from eating any contractors. Because apparently the don’t like being eaten. I don’t know why that is, but there you go.
So there you have it: My life, on the Ides of March, 2010.
Also and again: My Internet presence is likely to be iffy today because of all the house work. I have my cell phone to access e-mail, Twitter, etc., but in general don’t expect immediate responses to anything today. Thanks.
When the contractors arrive tomorrow I am likely to be knocked offline for most of the day. I know. I’m scared too. Expect delays in e-mail responses and such.
The folks handling the Hugos this year asked me to remind all y’all that you have until midnight Pacific time tonight to get in your Hugo nominations (that’ll be 4 am Eastern, because of the time switch), so if you haven’t done your Hugo nominating yet, jeez people, get to it already. I swear, this is the last time I’m telling you. This year.
It’s raining and the ground is saturated with water and so the earthworms have erupted from the very soil and headed to our garage, which is not saturated with water, but is now saturated with earthworms. The cats are very happy. I’m vaguely concerned I’ll be picking up earthworm-flavored cat vomit for the next couple of days. Life at The Scalzi Compound is not all flooring and painting, you know.