Four Weeks In

Original photo by Michael Vadon, used under Creative Commons license. To see original, click on photo.

Once more in a Q&A format. Here we go:

Hey, what about that GOP elector from Texas who says he’s not gonna vote for Trump because he’s unqualified to be president?

Good for him for voting his conscience. So that’s one down. You’ll need, I think, 38 more to deny Trump the White House via the Electoral College.

Think it’ll happen?

No.

But it could happen, right?

Sure. But there’s a lot of air between could and will. I think you should at least make contingency plans for if it doesn’t.

So you’re saying there’s a chance.

Yes. There is also a chance you will win the lottery when you buy a ticket. You shouldn’t have “win the lottery” as your retirement plan.

Also remember that even if the Electoral College chooses not to elect Trump (unlikely) and doesn’t give it to Clinton (they won’t), then it goes to the House. If you think the House won’t give it to Trump, you think more of the House than I do.

Hey, Trump voter here.

Oh, hello.

What you think of the polls that say that something like 60% of Americans are optimistic about a Trump administration?

Good for them. I hope their optimism is not misplaced.

What I mean to say is, maybe you and your pals are all moody and depressed and doom doomy doom-laden for no good reason.

You know, it’s not outside the range of possibility that despite all indications, Trump’s administration will not be the horrifying shit-show that appears it is going to be. In which case, great! At this point I would personally settle for “not a horrifying shit-show.” With that said, it’s easy for me to settle, financially-secure straight white man that I am. Bear in mind that even in the best-case scenario, I think the Trump years will be harder for a lot more people than the Clinton years would have been, both economically and otherwise. “Not a shit-show” is speaking generally. Specifically, a lot of people are going to be in the shit. Some of them will have voted for Trump.

You could be wrong!

I’ve been wrong before, certainly.

Any thoughts on Al Gore meeting with Trump?

If it helps us from baking in our own juices any sooner than absolutely necessary, I’m okay with that.

You heard that Ivanka was in on that meeting, right?

I did.

And?

I’m not Ivanka’s biggest fan, and I find the basic trend of Trump installing his children (and children-in-law) into (unofficial) positions of power appalling. With that said, a) Ivanka is clearly the smart one in that family, b) She’s possibly the only one that isn’t 100% an opportunistic grifter, c) she’s possibly the only one who is both vaguely liberal and capable of long-term thought. In the nepotistic shit-show that will be Trump White House, if she’s the voice of sanity that will keep Trump from pissing all over the Paris Accords and otherwise hastening our global climate mess, well, work with what you’ve got.

What happened to resisting Trump by any means necessary?

I’ve talked about the issues of pragmatic governance in the age of Trump before, and at the moment I’m no closer to a good answer about it than I was then. I can’t imagine there won’t be policies and practices of the Trump administration that should be met with anything other than pure and righteous defiance. But, look: If Al Gore (or anyone else) can get into the Trump White House to talk into the ear of, or to talk to Trump under the aegis of, the woman who Trump clearly trusts and loves and will take advice from more than any other, and the possible result is fewer policies and practices that should be met with defiance, I’m willing to not to castigate the person who realpoliticks that one out.

And yes, it sucks. It’s not how it should work. Welcome to the Trump years.

What about Trump picking fights with China?

I don’t know enough about the politics involved with that to make any competent statements about it. I will say that taunting China without cause seems a dumb thing to do.

Hey, Ben Carson. 

Yes, what about him?

Picked for HUD because, like, he’s black, yes?

I do expect that’s part of it. But remember last week, when I said that the criteria for Trump’s cabinet picks is that they are “rich, loyal and fundamentally disagree with the mission of the governmental department they will soon be in charge of”? There you go. That Carson is also fundamentally unqualified for the position is kind of a bonus (for the administration, not anyone dealing with HUD).

So it’s basically been a month since the election, yes?

Four weeks to the day, indeed. A couple more days until the full month. But close enough.

Still pissed off? Depressed? Annoyed?

Yes, although most of those are tempered at this point, because a month is a long time. I find it largely embarrassing at this point that Trump is going to be president. Also at this point I think I’ve got him pegged: Thin-skinned, crass, easily-persuadable, corrupt and contemptuous, all of which are confirmed on a daily basis by his personal actions and administrative choices. I’m not happy about a Trump presidency, but I think I’ve got most of the dance steps down.

There’s still huge uncertainty, of course — not in how Trump will react to things (horribly, because he’s horrible), but what things will be out there for him to react to. Friend and foe have the man marked, the same as I do, and soon we will find out how they play him, and by extension, play the US. Whee!

How else has the incoming Trump administration affected you?

On a practical level, not too much. As noted before, I finished most of my substantial work for the year prior to the election, and much of the work I had left was technical (i.e., editing, etc) which didn’t require creative muscles. Which is good, as I’m still unfocused on that front. I had a couple creative opportunities I had to pass on just because I couldn’t get my brain to buckle in. I strongly suspect that when I start in on the next novel (that will be in January, in case you were wondering), I’ll really have to enforce the “no social media until the day’s work is done” rule, because otherwise I’ll never get anything done. The election already dragged out the writing of The Collapsing Empire and contributed to me turning it in late (which I’ve made up for — slightly — by expediting edits), and I don’t want to make a thing of it.

On a planning level, it’s made a difference. I had a meeting with my financial adviser last week about where to put this year’s investments, a meeting which I had put off until after the election in part to see what happened to the markets (spoiler: They haven’t tanked (yet)). It also makes a difference in terms of what we’re planning for spending around the home and with family. We know we have a pretty large expenditure coming up — Athena’s college(!) — although how much that will be will depend on where she goes. That’s gonna get paid regardless, but everything else is up for discussion.

Mind you, don’t cry for us. Again, thanks to my extended book contract and our general financial policy of “save all the monies,” we’re gonna be fine, unless things get so bad for everyone everywhere that we’re dragged into the mess. I’ve mentioned before that we’re likely to be some of the people affected “last and least” by any Trump administration misadventures; that still stands.

Hey, Scalzi, anything else you wanted to say on the subject of “last and least”?

Ooooh, thanks for reminding me, fictional person asking the questions! In fact, I do. I’ve gotten some thanks over the last few weeks of writing these pieces on Trump, for being general calm and “sensible” (if swear-y). And while I appreciate that — I like being thought of as sensible! — remember also who I am, which is: financially-secure straight white dude. It’s easy for me to be calm and “sensible.” With respect to the incoming Trump administration, you really need to also be reading and hearing the folks who are not financially-secure straight white dudes, not all of whom are “calm” and “sensible,” and for very good reason, i.e., because the bigots inside and outside of the Trump administration have been emboldened to make life miserable for them. For starters.

Which is to say: Thanks for reading my thoughts about Trump and his party pals. I think I’m an okay starting place for such reading. But if your reading on it stops with me (or is otherwise limited to the folks who look/love/earn suspiciously like me), you’re not doing it right. Please get out there and read and listen more, and especially read and listen to the people for whom the incoming administration feels like a clear and present danger.

Are you going to keep doing these weekly wrap-ups of Trump?

No, actually I think this is the last one of these I have planned.

You’re not going to write about him anymore?

I didn’t say that. Merely that I’ll write about him and his pals when I have something specific to say about some foolishness they’re up to, and not necessarily in Q&A format.

But I like the Q&A format!

Well, of course you would, fictional question-asking person. You’re out of a job, I’m afraid.

The Trump economy claims its first victim!

Yes, I suppose it does. Sorry.

The Big Idea: Ruth Vincent

Revenge: Is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Author Ruth Vincent asks this question, in relation to her new novel Unveiled, and also in a larger sense. What’s the answer? Read on.

RUTH VINCENT:

It’s often said that the role of the protagonist in a fantasy novel is to be the person we, the reader, wish we could be. But given how bloodthirsty this genre is, I’m not sure what that says about us.  It makes sense that our escapist literature is often about vengeance.  Speculative fiction is the genre of us “nerds,” and it sells us a feel-good fantasy of finally getting revenge on a realm’s too-mighty “cool kids.” We never tire of watching the scrappy hobbit/farmer/orphan defeat the slick, glib, arrogant monarch/mage/authoritarian; we cheer as they run this villain through with their sword, or shoot them with lasers, or light them up with fireballs, and we don’t stop to think about how horrifying we’d find these “heroes” if they were that quick to murder in real life.

Without giving away any spoilers for my novel, Unveiled, let’s just say that a bad thing happens to my heroine, Mabily Jones. In the end, she’s given the opportunity to kill the villain who wronged her. Because the bad thing occurred in the fairy realm, she will face no consequences for her action; the law of the land will be on her side, and she’ll probably be hailed as a hero for killing this character. But does that mean she should do it?

This was a soul-searching question, not only for my heroine, Mab, but also for me as an author. First, I had to examine if revenge would be consistent with her character? Mab is not at all prone to violence, but she’s been emotionally devastated, and revenge appeals to the emotions. What almost pushes her over the edge though, is that she won’t be held responsible for her deed. I’ve recently been riveted by the HBO drama “West World,” whose premise asks the question, who do we, as human beings, become when we think that our actions have no consequence? “The park shows you who you really are,” as one character put it, and the disturbing implication is that most of us are murderers, rapists, and generally horrible people if we’re given the chance.

The “Changeling P.I.” series exists partly in a realistic New York and partly in a parallel supernatural world. It’s an interesting thought exercise to realize that Mab probably wouldn’t have felt tempted to kill the villain if the crime had taken place in the “real world;” her temptation to violence is much stronger in the “other” world, especially since the would-be victim is nonhuman. Mab recognizes the primal pull of vengeance in herself, but is disturbed by what this says about her:

“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this power, the power to hold someone’s life in my hand like the most delicate egg, didn’t secretly elate me.  But I stopped myself. If I killed him […. ] what did that make me?

It makes her no better than the villain, she realizes, whose own actions were primarily motivated by revenge. She knows if she crosses that line, she’ll no longer be the same person. She’ll be a killer, and no matter how justified, even heroic the other characters will view her action, it will forever change the way she relates to herself.

However, as a writer, I was afraid that if Mab didn’t kill the villain, even if he was satisfyingly punished in other ways, readers would look at my heroine as being weak for letting him live. Creating a “strong female character,” is often narrowly and superficially viewed as making a female character violent, as if that’s the only way to show strength. If I chose this path, so that I could make my heroine look like more of a badass, was that a tacit approval of an over simplified moral system where every “bad guy” must be given the death penalty? If I didn’t believe in that in the real world, why would I make those the rules for my fictional universe?

I won’t say whether or not there’s an alternative ending of Unveiled on my hard drive, where my heroine gets sweet, gory revenge upon the villain, but ultimately Mab and I both chose to forebear. This doesn’t mean I had my villain and heroine holding hands and singing Kumbaya at the end. While I’ve always striven to create empathetic antagonists in this series, some characters cannot be redeemed. Mab ensures through her actions that the villain’s evil is contained, that he faces justice for his crimes, and that he is prevented from harming anyone else. But she steers clears of the vigilantism that’s fashionable in urban fantasy.

The reason I chose to write urban fantasy was the genre’s potential for realism, even if that potential isn’t always utilized. After all, in urban fantasy, one doesn’t have to travel to other realms or universes to find magic; these stories take place in our world. It’s accessible, relatable speculative fiction. But the thing about the real world is we rarely get the opportunity to take revenge on those who’ve done us wrong. Even if we do get the chance to give those jerks their just deserts, it doesn’t mean we should. It might feel good to fantasize about, but if we’re grownups, we understand that it won’t change the past, it won’t even make us feel better once the moment of sweet satisfaction is passed, and the act could cause rippling harm to ourselves as well as victims unintended. Because in the fantasy of revenge the act of justice always occurs in a vacuum, and that’s seldom the case in real life.

Once the villain is no longer able to harm others, Mab knows she must walk away from vengeance, turning her focus to her own healing and moving on. It’s doesn’t give her the satisfying snick of closure she’s emotionally seeking, but it’s the adult decision. To some genre critics, her choice may make her look weak. To me, it makes her strength believable.

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Unveiled: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Google Play|iBooks

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.