Daily Archives: July 1, 2010

One Terrifying Way Being SFWA President is Changing My Life

On the advice of my Vice-President, who informs me that in the course of presidentiary activities I will likely need one, I have, for the first time in — what? Seven? Eight? — years, purchased a printer.

Yes. I know. I’m as scared as you are.

The good news is that printers are a lot more inexpensive than they were the better part of a decade ago. I got one that prints, copies, faxes and scans and makes delicious fudge, all for less than $100. The bad news is the ink costs about as much as the printer. Of course, that’s always been the bad news, which was a significant part of why at some point I simply stopped bothering with them.

But hey, these are the sacrifices we make for duty. And at least it makes fudge.

The Big Idea: Amelia Beamer

We know a number of things about zombies, mostly involving their undead state, their willingness to consume brains, and their general monotone emotional nature. But could it be that we’re missing something fundamental about zombies and their nature — and what that fundamental thing about their nature can mean for their literary (undead) lives?

Those are some pretty heady questions to put on the decomposing shoulders of a zombie, but in her debut novel The Loving Dead, Amelia Beamer puts them there anyway, and goes looking for some answers amid the zombie apocalypse. Here she is to give a little background.

AMELIA BEAMER:

I was on a panel about politics and science fiction in San Francisco, and author John Shirley was trying to get me to say that the zombies in my first novel were a political statement: that they were secretly unleashed by the government, or something equivalent. That’s not at all what my agenda was. I want to show that zombies can be literary, and not just in the sense of remixing Jane Austen.

Don’t tell anyone, because zombie stories are entertaining, and the word “literary” tends to mean “boring,” — i.e. works more concerned with lofty themes and techniques than with telling an engaging story. This is the basic tension between genre literature, which is plot-driven, and mainstream literary fiction, which is focused on the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

I wanted to write a novel where I could do both of these things. So it had to be a zombie novel. Zombie stories can render characters better than stories about everyday people with normal problems — because during an emergency, people reveal who they really are. They’re scared, they’re worried about their loved ones and their own safety, they don’t have enough resources, they’re missing crucial information, and they still have to make responsible decisions. A disaster requires all of our mental and emotional capacity just to survive from moment to moment. The idea that there might be a normal future is crowded out by the emergency. And anyone who survives has to live with the ramifications of their decisions.

Any disaster – like an earthquake or flood – can serve as the setting for this kind of story, but the zombie apocalypse is the perfect setting because the disaster is so obviously fictional. Every other kind of disaster has happened to someone, and fiction about real disasters risks making light of the real people who’ve lived and died in these disasters.

If I’d forgotten to put in the zombies, my characters would still have stuff to talk about. The zombies just force the characters to work harder at staying alive so that they can afford the luxury of wondering whether they’re really dating the right person.

And themes don’t have to be boring; even the most entertaining novels have themes. One theme I’m concerned with in The Loving Dead is the idea of consent in romantic relationships. So I have a character who’s seeing a much older guy that she met on Craigslist, in exchange for money; they’ve both agreed to this exchange and they’re both adults, but in any relationship where there’s a significant difference in power, consent isn’t a simple matter. Particularly in a world where zombieism is a sexually transmitted disease that heightens the sex drive and lowers inhibitions.

Zombies can also be powerful metaphors, and this is another way that zombie stories are literary. Sure, zombies want to eat you, but they also represent the possibility that your closest loved ones will betray you. Your own body might betray you. And if you manage to survive, you might do so by abandoning everyone you know and love. Even Shaun of the Dead, a comedy, ends with an element of sorrow and loss.

I watched a lot of zombie movies while working on The Loving Dead, and I came to understand something important about zombies. If you set aside the initial fear and shock that zombies are supposed to inspire, you realize that zombies are incredibly loving.

In fact, we can learn some lessons from zombies about love. Zombies have a refreshing lack of prejudice. They treat everyone equally, and they never lie. They desire you no matter what mood you’re in or how you smell. They love you regardless of how much money you make, or how lousy your jokes are. They just want to be close to you, and they’ll stop at nothing to get this.

Persistence is the core of seduction, after all.

The Loving Dead: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Amelia Beamer is an editor and reviewer at the science fiction magazine Locus, as well as a fiction writer and critic. Visit her at ameliabeamer.com, or find her on Twitter as @amelia_beamer.

Update on Wil Wheaton/John Scalzi Fan Fiction Contest

Here’s where things stand:

1. The deadline for getting a story in has passed and we received more than 350 submissions, which is pretty amazing.

2. The Jury of Awesomeness will now go through the entries and select the most awesome.

3. Probably in August, I (or the site editor, who will be here while I am on my hiatus) will announce the winner of the contest here on Whatever.

I’ve already started to do some light reading through the entries, and I have to say, I can tell already it’s going to be a tough choice to narrow things down to a single winner. There’s some kickass stuff in these submissions.

If you’ve submitted a piece, remember that we’re not claiming exclusive rights to your fiction, so if you feel like showing off the piece while you wait for our decision, that’s fine with us. In fact, we think it’d be cool if you did.

I’ll post further updates as events warrant, but for now the only thing to say to everyone who submitted a piece is: Thank you. You rock.

An Entirely Sober Note to Begin MY REIGN OF TERROR My SFWA Presidency

First, a conversation between me and my daughter yesterday afternoon:

Athena: So, at midnight, you become King of the Geeks.

Me: No, sweetheart. I was democratically elected. I become President of the Geeks.

And so it is, more or less: As of midnight, I began my tenure as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I’ll be so for a year, or until the space assassins get me, whichever comes first. And they won’t get me. One, I’m moved around a lot to keep the assassins on their toes. Two, SFWA Secret Service? Klingons, man.

For those of you who missed my earlier thoughts on being elected as SFWA President, and how I plan to balance that job with my public persona as, well, me, here’s a link to that piece. If you can’t be bothered to follow the link, the gist of it is a) I’m not going to talk about current SFWA business here, b) When I’m publicly speaking online as SFWA President I will do it at the SFWA blog, c) When I say anything here, I’m saying it as John Scalzi, private individual, not John Scalzi, SFWA President. I think it’s best to keep the two things separate to avoid any confusion.

That said, I know a lot of you are wondering what sort of perks the SFWA President gets, for, you know, being SFWA President. Well, as it happens, I happen to have here in front of me the Official SFWA President Perks List. It’s extensive, and I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but here are my ten favorites.

Top Ten Perks of Being SFWA President

10. Use of the company car, a 1973 AMC Gremlin, complete with Levi’s jean interior and state of the art 8-track sound system (note: 8-track cassette of ELP’s Tarkus album permanently stuck in player; have been advised by SFWA’s mechanic that removing it will cause car to explode)

9. Season Pass to Area 51, which is actually a top secret space-themed military amusement park

8. You can fondle the Nebulas all you want

7. 24/7 access to a wookiee costume

6. The secret recipe for SFWA’s official party drink, the “Roswell Incident”

5. Keys to the SFWA nuclear bunker outside of Ogallala, Nebraska, in case those madmen at Mystery Writers of America finally push us to DefCon 1

4. All the freeze-dried ice cream you can eat, thanks to an ill-advised NASA surplus purchase during the Williamson administration

3. U.S. Military allows each SFWA President one and only one use of the High Energy Space Laser, so before you annoy me, ask yourself if any of my other enemies have been recently and mysteriously reduced to ash, and if the answer is “no,” reconsider

2. 20% off all SFWA-branded merchandise

1. Any time you’re in LA? Smoothies with Harlan

That list is entirely true. Yes, I know, you’re jealous. You should be, my friend. You should be.