RIP, Leonard Nimoy

He passed away today at 83. Here’s the New York Times obituary. Doubt there are many people in the world who were so plainly and simply admired as he was, and is.

And rather than to be entirely sad about the end of a life lived well and prosperously, here’s a couple of music videos for you.

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy. We are, will always be, your friends.

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Sam Sykes wrote on Twitter:

And Lartist (aka Lar deSouza, cartoonist of Least I Could Do), responded:

If for some reason you can’t see the tweet, here’s a link to the art.

For those of you who don’t know the players, that’s Chuck Wendig as Brody, me as Quint, Scott Lynch as Hooper, and Sam Sykes as Bruce the Shark.

And it’s just about perfect.

Why Yes, I Still Have a Landline

Photo by MoShotz, used under Creative Commons license.

 

Gizmodo is curious to know who still has a landline and why. Well, I do, and here’s why:

1. The landline comes bundled with my DSL line and it’s not really any cheaper to have just the DSL service and not the landline, plus my provider whines petulantly if you ask for just the raw DSL line, so the hell with it, I’ll keep the landline.

2. Continuity. It’s useful to have had the same phone number for the last 14 years.

3. When the power goes out the phone lines still work. Likewise when the cell phones occasionally and inexplicably bork for whatever period of time it is until they unbork themselves again.

4. It’s the phone number that’s generally available, saving my cell phone number for people I know personally.

5. Voice reception is much better, so when I actually want to talk to people, rather than text them, it’s the phone I use.

6. If I want my wife to join in on a phone call for some reason (or she me), I don’t have to do some sort of complicated routing thing involving Skype/Google Hangouts/Conference calling, I just say “pick up the other receiver” and she does.

7. It’s actually useful to have a phone that serves the house generally, and not a specific member of it; for example, business that needs to be done in/around the house itself.

8. Inertia. There are ways to get around all the stuff mentioned above but it requires time/effort/interest on my part, or I could just keep the damn landline and have to do nothing. So.

9. Immunity to social judgment about keeping a landline. No, I don’t care if you think it’s odd/weird/quaint/adorable I still have one. It’s useful to me and I’m not going to give it up just because most people have ditched theirs at this point. You’re not the boss of me, jerks!

10. Nostalgia for dialing “1” before the area code (this last one is a lie, but I had to get to 10 reasons for completist purposes).

Mind you, I don’t judge (or, really, care) if you do or do not have a landline yourself. It’s not something I think is actually that important. But they are in point of fact getting rarer and rarer. Someone somewhere will have the very last landline one day. I wonder if it will be me.

Reading Authors Not Like Me

I’ve been getting emails from folks asking me what I thought about and/or to comment on this article from K.T Bradford*, the headline of which is “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.” As with many headlines, it’s an unnuanced take of what the article actually is about, which is, as I saw it, to have readers challenge themselves by mindfully reading within a group of authors they may not been reading much of before, to experience different writing and to gain perspective on defaults in the publishing world. That said, part of doing that is moving away from a default set of authors, i.e., straight white male authors (Tempest also includes “cis,” in that formulation, meaning in this case males whose gender identity conforms to general social expectations of maleness).

As I am generally accepted to be straight and white and male and cis, I think people are interested in whether I see this as a broadside against my identity and livelihood as a writer, and whether I myself would cut out straight white cis male writers from my reading diet for a year.

Let me answer the second part first: No, I won’t be cutting straight white cis males out of my reading, for two reasons:

1. As a straight white cis male professional writer, it’s literally impossible for me not to read in that category, unless I decide not to write for a year, which I won’t be doing, because I need to eat. Note that this is a highly specific reason for not participating that applies only to a very specific subset, of which I am a member.

2. I grok that the article is not aimed at me, who already and mindfully reads a widely varied diet of authors as a matter of course. I flatter myself (erroneously or otherwise) to think I’ve always done this, primarily because as a reader I think it’s interesting to get inside of the head of someone who is not like you; also I’ll admit when I was (much) younger I would walk around ostentatiously with books by unexpected authors because I wanted credit for being that kind of reader. I got over that part of it by my late 20s, mostly, even as I kept reading the books themselves.

It also helped that when I entered into the SF/F community I fell in with a pretty diverse crowd of writers and fans, which a) meant that when I was reading my friends I was reading all sorts, b) when they raved about the writers they loved, they tended to be a diverse group as well. Having diverse, literate peers is a pretty good shortcut to diverse reading.

And yes, I am also mindful if I’m reading too much of the same old, same old, because like anyone I can lapse into it if I’m not careful. When I’m aware of doing that, I mix it up (mind you, this awareness is key, too, and needs to be cultivated). Doing so doesn’t require that much effort, and I find that it doesn’t limit the amount of interesting reading I can find out there, because why would it.

(Note well that in my particular case I get sent literally dozens of books on a weekly basis, from publishers and authors, so I don’t find it difficult to find books by diverse authors I might be interested in — they come to my door unbidden. I recognize that this is also an advantage I have others don’t. I am in many ways a not especially useful case for Tempest’s point.)

So that’s why I won’t be cutting straight white cis male authors from my reading diet – or, more accurately, reading only from a specific group of authors, the demographics of which by practical necessity would exclude straight white cis male authors.

But if someone else does, for a year? Well, you know. I generally support reading more and different authors. If digging down specifically into a group of authors you’ve previously neglected or who were swamped out by other authors means you leave other writing aside for a while, I think that’s fine. Readers don’t owe any particular author a sale or even a read; they also don’t owe that author a sale or a read at a particular time.

Also, some things to be made clear:

1. Tempest here isn’t saying never read another book by a straight white cis male ever again in this life or any other, which is a thing that seems to be strangely overlooked, with regard to this suggestion of hers.

2. She’s also not saying The Official Year of Not Reading Straight White Cis Male Authors begins March 1 at which point no one will read anything by these dudes. She’s suggesting a general idea which may be done — or not! — at the individual reader’s convenience. Even if a large number of people endeavor to read diversely, it will be on their own schedule.

3. Are any of us under the illusion that Tempest’s suggestion will galvanize the entire reading population of the world?

So simply as a practical matter, if the article convinces some people to read outside their usual habits for a year, then what that means is that someone like me won’t make a sale from that one person for a particular timeframe, but might possibly at some other point. Meanwhile, other people will still be available for potential sales.

Which already happens. I’m very sad to say that not everyone in the world buys the hardcover edition of my books when they come out. Some people don’t know I and/or my book exist; some people do know but don’t like me/my writing; some people like me/my writing but can’t afford the book in hardcover; some people can afford it in hardcover but choose to spend their money on something else; and so on.

Over time, some of those people who don’t buy my book when it comes out might buy it later. Which, again, already happens. It’s why I have a backlist. I like backlist sales. So does my publisher; they don’t have to spend a lot of time or money promoting my backlist, so the profit margins are nice. Honestly, spend money on me now, spend money on me later: It’s all good from my point of view. I’ll have use for that money whenever it gets to me, I assure you.

But — cutting out straight white male authors for a year is bigotry! Eh. Again, speaking as the proverbial straight white cis male author, I’m not feeling it, for the reasons noted above. Or at the very least I see no reason to feel threatened; maybe it’s because I believe that even if the advantage of a reader’s implicit default to authors like me is challenged or taken away, what I write will still be able to compete in both the stream of commerce and the marketplace of ideas. I don’t fear competition, and philosophically speaking, I would rather have readers who range far and wide and still choose my work, then ones who pick my work because they just don’t know any better. I’m not afraid to be set aside for a bit, while a reader explores works by other authors, and by other authors who are not like me. I figure they’ll be back, in which case our author-reader bond is even tighter. Hooray! If they don’t come back, it’s probably for a good reason. In which case: Too bad for me, but there are lots of other potential readers about there.

What if someone only or primarily reads from [Insert whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] authors? Would you have them set those authors aside to read only white straight cis male authors for a year? If that’s what they wanted to try, sure. Get out of whatever reading rut you’re in, I say! But note that (at least as I see it), Tempest’s formulation of reading is highly intersectional; someone who only reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] doesn’t have to go all the way to “white straight cis male” to shake up their reading lists. And also, and again as a practical matter, the number of people only or primarily reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] is likely relatively small compared to those reading only/primarily straight white cis males, which is to the point about bias in the system, and is worth thinking about, rather than sort of eliding in a rush to get to another point entirely.

Speaking personally, I think one can build more diversity into one’s reading without entirely dropping straight white cis males from one’s reading diet for a year, if that strikes one as simply too harsh to folks like me; make a “buddy system,” for example, in which every book you read by a straight white cis male is followed up by one written by someone who is not. Being mindful of your reading biases, and the practice of reading widely, are things that are beneficial however you do it.

But however you do it, at the end of the day, if you find more writers who speak to you, move you and make you think more widely, your life is going to be better. Find a way to bring in a wider set of authors to your reading diet, in a way that works for you. If it means taking a year off from me and writers like me, then good luck, have fun and remember we’ll be here when you get back. We’ll have stories to tell you when you do.

*Disclosure: I know K.T. Bradford (“Tempest”) and have for years, and consider her a friend. Note she calls me out from time to time, and we occasionally disagree on things, sometimes very widely. You can do that with your friends.

The Big Idea: Matt Richtel

In his guise as a reporter for the New York Times, Matt Richtel won a Pultizer Prize writing on the intersection of technology and the fallible humans who use it. In fiction, and in his new novel The Doomsday Equation, Richtel does the same… but this time the results may be apocalyptic.

MATT RICHTEL:

Thank you for clicking on this. In doing so, you’ve done your little part to help predict the next world war.

Yes, you (I do mean you, clacking away on the keyboard) are part of a remarkable development, one that is not nearly so farfetched as it may sound. It’s the newfound capacity of computers to help predict – and shape – human events. Including war.

The premise stands at the heart of The Doomsday Equation, near-term science fiction that lives just on the other side of real, and borrows from the exploits of a real person. His name is Sean Gourley. A Silicon Valley darling, fairly called a wunderkind, he created an algorithm to help predict the outbreak of armed conflict and project its length. When will war come and how long will it last?

Do you doubt the concept? As it is, computers use Big Data to make all kinds of predictions, involving weather, stock markets, retail supply and demand. The more information you put into a computer, the more scenarios it can measure, the more it can do what the human brain cannot: see patterns that are the precursors to events. Sean figured out the kinds of patterns that precede a war, “the mathematics of war” he called it in an article in the esteemed journal “Nature.”

The paper proposed an algorithm that its authors called “The Power Law.”

I call it: The Doomsday Equation. In the book, hundreds of inputs – from weather patterns to stock market indices to shifting demographics to our daily surfing Internet patterns – contribute to predicting the stability of the world. Or, rather, impending instability – Armageddon. The implications become staggering (I hope) and, in the end, the world’s fate left in the hands of a protagonist who shares all of Sean’s intellect but none of his grace. The made-up man at the center of The Doomsday Equation is named Jeremy Stillwater. He’s a wonder with computers but he’s terrible with people.

He’s self-righteous, maddeningly so, aggressive and impetuous, driven by conflict himself and, as a result, he’s the last person in the world who should be in a position to prophesize and prevent doom. Over the years, he’s infuriated and alienated all those who had invested and believed in him: his girlfriend, not least, but also the well-heeled investors, academics and even military liaisons who had hoped to use Jeremy’s digital oracle to predict the next terrorist attack.

And so, having isolated himself from the world, there is nowhere for Jeremy to turns when his computer gives him ominous news: global nuclear war, three days and counting.

Is it a joke? A bug? Someone out to settle a score with Jeremy? Or the most important computer message anyone has ever received?

Frantic, skeptical, Jeremy begins a lonely hunt to figure out if his computer is telling him the truth. That’s half the equation, and it is borrowed from real life.

So is the other half of the equation, namely, the conspiracy that has put the world in such a precarious position. I don’t want to give too much away, but what Jeremy discovers is an ancient plot, a network as old as parchment and the Biblical Scrolls, devoted in its own way to keeping the world pure of modernity.

Put another way: the tools that Jeremy must use to save the world are the most modern. But the foe he faces is as ancient and inborn as human nature itself. And their clash gets at the heart of questions we have begun to face: what price modernity? Where it heals does it also betray? Is it salvation or damnation?

With each page of Doomsday Equation, the clock clicks down, heading inexorably to zero, as Jeremy can only save the world by coming face-to-face with the fact that his own craving for interpersonal conflict – his default embrace of self-righteousness – may well be a big part of the reason the world stands on the brink of war. Can computers tell us that war is coming? Can they save us from ourselves? Or will they, by extending the darkest parts of us, merely hasten our demise?

The Doomsday Equation.

The Doomsday Equation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Note About Blurb Requests

This is for editors/publishers/PR folks:

Until I am done writing The End of All Things, I am not entertaining further requests for blurbs for other authors’ books. I have to finish my own book before I can think seriously about anyone else’s. This note encompasses blurb requests that have already been made in 2015.

The good news, such as it is: I have to be done with TEoAT fairly soon now. Stay tuned to this blog for updates; you’ll know when I’m done with TEoAT because I will likely shout it from the rooftops.

Thanks.

Hebrew Android’s Dream + Other Notes

First, look! The Hebrew version of The Android’s Dream:

I can tell it’s The Android’s Dream because of the sheep on the cover. Also, it says so inside, in English. But mostly from the cover. I’m always still geeked when I get foreign editions of my books. It’s both strange and wonderful to be read in languages I don’t read or speak. I hope it’s a good translation.

Aside from that, busy Monday so I won’t be here much. I will note that last night I got my customary five out of six major Oscar categories correct, flubbing Best Actor, which I still think should have gone to Keaton, but, oh, well. One year I’ll get all six categories correct and I won’t know what to do with myself.

Hope your day is going well.

Quick Email Note

I accidentally archived a lot of email I meant to respond to over the last couple of weeks, and are now digging through the archives to respond to those emails. So if you sent me an email in the last couple of weeks and it seems like it fell down a hole, well, it did. My fault. Sorry.

2015 Oscar Predictions, Final

The Oscars are this weekend, so as I do every year, it’s time to look back at my first-blush impressions and see if I changed my mind, refined my thinking, or otherwise need to commit. The first-pass predictions are here; check ‘em out and then come back.

Now, then:

Best Picture: I thought Imitation Game would have a chance in part because the Weinsteins are master Oscar campaigners, but that film has faded and at this point I think it’s probably down to a fight between Birdman and Boyhood, with Birdman probably the front runner due to its wins at the SAG and Director’s Guild and Producer’s Guild awards. I’m going to go ahead and put my marker down on Birdman, although I would be pleased to be wrong and have Boyhood take it.

(What about American Sniper? A huge hit but I’m not seeing a lot of awards love for it, outside a National Board of Review win for Eastwood as director, and the NBR isn’t very predictive in any event — it’s 2 for 10 in Best Picture in the last decade, for example, and Eastwood’s not nominated for director at the Oscars in any event.)

Best Director: I really want Linklater to win it, but I suspect Iñárritu will walk away with the award. I think Linklater may end up with the Original Screenplay Oscar, however, as a compensatory Oscar (we should all have these problems). If he does, it will likely come at the expense of Wes Anderson, but I don’t really think Wes Anderson will have a problem finding his way back to the nomination table later.

Best Actress: Same as it was. It’s Julianne Moore’s to lose.

Best Actor: I orginally placed Bradley Cooper as my bet with Michael Keaton as my follow-up; at this point I would switch them around. Which suits me; I’d love for Keaton to win.

Best Supporting Actor: People yelled at me for not thinking JK Simmons had a better chance at winning. All right, fine, I’m gonna say he takes it. Happy now?

Best Supporting Actress: As Imitation Game has faded quite a bit (at least as far as I can see), I’m moving Patricia Arquette up into the “win” slot. Again, I’m fine with this.

We’ll find out on Sunday how I did with this set of predictions.

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees

Oh, look, I just happen to have the SFWA Press Release for this year’s Nebula Award nominees right here. Let’s just put this sucker up, shall we?

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the nominees for the 2014 Nebula Awards (presented 2015), nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Novel

  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

Novella

  • We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
  • Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
  • “The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
  • “The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert (Tor.com 4/30/14)
  • Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
  • “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)

Novelette

  • “Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes (Tor.com 7/9/14)
  • “The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)
  • “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson (F&SF 7-8/14)
  • “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta #129)
  • “We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed 9/14)
  • “The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com 4/2/14)

Short Story

  • “The Breath of War,” Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/6/14)
  • “When It Ends, He Catches Her,” Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction 9/26/14)
  • “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)
  • “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” Usman T. Malik (Qualia Nous)
  • “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” Sarah Pinsker (F&SF 3-4/14)
  • “Jackalope Wives,” Ursula Vernon (Apex 1/7/14)
  • “The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (F&SF 5/14)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller  (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

An excellent selection of nominees, I have to say. Congratulations to all of them!

Oliver Sacks and Public Individuals at the Close

Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer and has decided to say goodbye to the public. It’s here, in the New York Times, and it’s both nicely done and something that’s being shared widely in my online social circle. Sacks seems, if not sanguine about the event, at least contented with the path of his life to date. Although it must be recognized that we’re seeing an intentionally composed piece of work, which may or may not reflect Sack’s actual frame of mind at the news, to the public, at least, he’s leaving with some uncommon grace.

And I would imagine that for someone like Sacks, who is a public figure, this is as positive a thing as can be under the circumstances. Public figures are, for better or worse, different than almost everyone else; they are characters in lives beyond their own circle of family and friends, and the narratives of their lives are at least partially offered up by others. When one of them dies suddenly and unexpectedly, the last word on their lives is usually wholly from others — friends and family, and then a host of commentators, who may or may not have been connected with that person’s life at all.

Depending on who you are as a person, having certain foreknoweldge that your life is quantifably finite — that you have only months or weeks to live — may not be a thing you want. But if it is a thing you deal with, if you are public individual, you have a chance to make your own public exit, and to leave on the terms you set. You won’t be the only one having a last word on your life (people will still talk about you after you are dead), but they and everyone else will factor in how you chose to walk off the public stage. And for many people who are in that position, I think that might be a comforting thought.

And what would I want? I don’t know how well I would handle knowing I was going to die sooner than later — I still like this place and the people in it, and I wouldn’t want to leave this party yet — but I suppose if I had to choose I wouldn’t mind knowing at least a little in advance. I think I would want to have some parting thoughts before I went, and I would like to be able to manage my public departure before I focused on spending time with family and those I loved. I guess I won’t really know until and unless it happens. Like I said, I’d be happy to have to wait a few more decades before having to think about it seriously.

But I am glad that Oliver Sacks, at least, is getting to shape his own moment. I hope he spends his remaining time exactly as he wants. I suspect he will.

Humble Subterranean Press Bundle: Pay What You Want For a Lot of Great Stuff

Most of you know that I do a lot of work with Subterranean Press, because they do an excellent job with my limited and/or off-the-wall projects. They are some of my favorite people to work with, and I’m not alone in this assessment: some of the best authors in science fiction and fantasy work with them, creating some amazing books.

Now you can get in on some of that for a very affordable price: SubPress is working with the Humble Bundle folks and has created a very excellent SubPress eBook bundle. Who is in the bundle? Well, for any price, you get:

  • Peter Brett
  • Harlan Ellison
  • Caitlin Kiernan
  • Cherie Priest
  • Dan Simmons
  • Connie Willis
  • Jack Vance

Kick in more than the average amount for the bundle, and you also get:

  • Kelly Armstrong
  • Clive Barker
  • Ted Chiang
  • Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
  • Barry Hughart
  • Tim Powers
  • John Scalzi (hi!)

And if you pay more than $15, you also get:

  • Joe Lansdale
  • Robert McCammon
  • K.J. Parker

Basically, that’s a whole lot of excellent reading, from fantastic authors. Pay what you want, get everything you pay for completely DRM-free. And in doing so, you’ll also help out the Worldbuilders charity, as a cut of the proceeds goes to that.

Go get it now: Great authors, a great charity and a great value. This is totally worth your time and money. And tell your friends about it too — this bundle won’t be around forever.

Back in the Day

This is a picture of a Christmastime choral concert at my high school, roughly 30 years ago. You can tell it’s from Christmastime because of the otherwise utterly-nonessential-for-southern-California scarves the singers are wearing. I am in this picture. Can you find me?

(Here’s a larger version of the photo, if you need more detail to locate me.)

Photo by my friend Norm Carnick.

Binary Isn’t

There’s a very interesting piece in Nature today about how science is making it more clear than ever that the binary nature of the sexes isn’t actually binary at all — that there are a lot of gradiations in biological sexual development, brought on not only via chromosomal differentation (the old “XX” and “XY” thing) but a host of other processes. This is how people with XY chromosomes can (rarely) get pregnant and give birth, and how a man who fathered four children can be discovered to have a womb. Biology: It’s wacky.

I don’t imagine this report will make essentialists (“There’s men and there’s women and that’s it!”) particularly happy, but then it’s not actually the job of science to reinforce people’s comfort zones — or bigotries, to be less polite about it. But I look forward to the mental two-step some of these folks will take to try to cram this information into their understanding of the world, rather than to expand their understanding of the world based on this information. That should be interesting, and a little bit sad.

The Thing I’m Giving Up For Lent, 2015

I’m not religious, but in the last few years I’ve taken to giving up something for Lent, because I like the idea of mindful deprivation of a thing you enjoy (or at the very least, just plain do a lot), with an eye toward reflecting on that thing and its place in your life. Last year I gave up junk food; a couple of years before that, I gave up Coke Zero.

This year I am giving up something a little more esoteric, but still something I indulge in quite a bit: Ego searching. As long as there have been search engines, I’ve checked a few times a day on what’s being said about me on the Internet. This hasn’t always been a positive thing (did you know that some people on the Internet don’t like me?), but by and large it’s been interesting to see how I’m seen by people who are not me and who very often have no conception of the idea that I’m out there somewhere, lurking about. I’ve ego searched so often, and for so long, that I don’t really think about the fact I’m doing it.

So it seems a prime candidate for something to give up for Lent. It’s something I do, and enjoy and to some extent informs my view of the world, so giving it up will both require me to deal with its absence, and reflect on why I ego search so much in the first place (hint: the answer is in the first word of the phrase).

So between now and Easter I’m removing my ego search links from Google, Icerocket, Twitter, and other social media. I’m also (to the extent that it’s possible) going to avoid looking at searches and stats through WordPress, so no checking in to see how many visits the site gets, etc. Basically I’m trimming down my online ego gratification to levels I’ve not attempted since Alta Vista walked the earth. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate it, but then, if it was easy, there wouldn’t be any point in doing it.

Basically, if you ever wanted to talk about me behind my virtual back, this Lenten season is a perfect time to do it. Enjoy it, you jerks.

You Can’t Take Back What You Already Have

First, go read this. This is only one dude, to be clear, but his defensive, angry and utterly terrified lament is part and parcel with a chunk of science fiction and fantasy fandom and authors who want to position themselves as a last redoubt against… well, something, anyway. It essentially boils down to “The wrong people are in control of things! We must take it back! Attaaaaaaaack!” It’s almost endearing in its foot-stompy-ness; I’d love to give this fellow a hug and tell him everything will be all right, but I’m sure that would be an affront to his concept of What Is Allowed, so I won’t.

Instead let me make a few comments about the argument, such as it is. Much of this stuff I addressed last year when a similar kvetch appeared, but let me add some more notes to the pile.

1. The fellow above asserts that fans of his particular ilk must “take back” conventions and awards from all the awful, nasty people who currently infest them, as if this requires some great, heroic effort. In fact “taking back” a convention goes a little something like this:

Scene: CONVENTION REGISTRATION. ANGRY DUDE goes up to CON STAFFER at the registration desk.

Angry Dude: I AM HERE TO TAKE BACK THIS CONVENTION AND THE CULTURE THAT SO DESPERATELY CRIES OUT FOR MY INTERVENTION

Con Staffer: Okay, that’ll be $50 for the convention membership.

(Angry Dude pays his money)

Con Staffer: Great, here’s your program and badge. Have a great con!

Angry Dude:

I mean, everyone gets this, right? That conventions, generally speaking, are open to anyone who pays to attend? That the convention will be delighted to take your money? And that so long as one does not go out of one’s way to be a complete assbag to other convention goers, the convention staff or the hotel employees, one will be completely welcome as part of the convention membership? That being the case, it’s difficult to see why conventions need to be “taken back” — they were never actually taken away.

But the conventions are run by awful, nasty people! Well, no, the small local conventions (and some of the midsized ones, like Worldcon) are run by volunteers, i.e., people willing to show up on a regular basis and do the work of running a convention, in participation with others. These volunteers, at least in my experience, which at this point is considerable, are not awful, nasty people — they’re regular folks who enjoy putting on a convention. The thing is, it’s work; people who are into conrunning to make, say, a political statement, won’t last long, because their political points are swamped by practical considerations like, oh, arguing with a hotel about room blocks and whether or not any other groups will be taking up meeting rooms.

(Larger cons, like Comic-cons, are increasingly run by professional organizations, which are another kettle of fish — but even at that level there are volunteers, and they are also not awful, nasty people. They’re people who like participating.)

But the participants are awful, nasty people with agendas! That “problem” is solved by going to the convention programming people and both volunteering to be on panels and offering suggestions for programming topics. Hard as it may be to believe, programming staffers actually do want a range of topics that will appeal to a diverse audience, so that everyone who attends has something they’d be interested in. Try it!

Speaking as someone who once was in charge of a small convention open to the public, i.e., the Nebula Awards Weekend (I would note I was only nominally in charge — in fact the convention was run and staffed by super-competent volunteers), my position to anyone who wanted to come and experience our convention was: Awesome! See you there. Because why wouldn’t it be?

Again, science fiction and fantasy conventions can’t be “taken back” — they were, and are, open to everyone. I understand the “take back” rhetoric appeals to the “Aaaaugh! Our way of life is under attack” crowd, but the separation between the rhetoric and reality of things is pretty wide. Anyone who really believes conventions will be shocked and dismayed to get more paying members and attendees fundamentally does not grasp how conventions, you know, actually work.

2. Likewise, the “taking back” of awards, which in this case is understood to mean the Hugo Awards almost exclusively — I don’t often hear of anyone complaining that, say, the Prometheus Award has been hijacked by awful, nasty people, despite the fact that this most libertarian of all science fiction and fantasy awards is regularly won by people who are not even remotely libertarian; shit, Cory Doctorow’s won it three times and he’s as pinko as they come.

But yet again, you can’t “take back” the Hugos because they were never taken away. If you pay your membership fee to the Worldcon, you can nominate for the award and vote for which works and people you want to see recognized. All it takes is money and an interest; if you follow the rules for nominating and voting, then everything is fine and dandy. Thus voting for the Hugo is neither complicated, nor a revolutionary act.

Bear in mind that the Hugo voting set-up is fairly robust; the preferential ballot means it’s difficult for something that’s been nominated for reasons other than actual admiration of the work (including to stick a thumb into the eyes of people you don’t like) to then walk away with an award. People have tested this principle over the years; they tended to come away from the process with their work listed below “no award.” Which is as it should be. This also makes the Hugos hard to “take back.” It doesn’t matter how well a work (or its author) conforms to one’s political inclinations; if the work itself simply isn’t that good, the award will go to a different nominee that is better, at least in the minds of the majority of those who are voting.

The fellow above says if his little partisan group can’t “take back” the awards, then they should destroy them. Well, certainly there is a way to do that, and indeed here’s the only way to do that: by nominating, and then somehow forcing a win by, works that are manifestly sub-par, simply to make a political (or whatever) point. This is the suicide bomber approach: You’re willing to go up in flames as long as you get to do a bit of collateral damage as you go. The problem with this approach is that, one, it shows that you’re actually just an asshole, and two, it doesn’t actively improve the position of your little partisan group, vis a vis recognition other than the very limited “oh, those are the childish foot-stompers who had a temper tantrum over the Hugos.” Which is a dubious distinction.

With that said: Providing reading lists of excellent works with a particular social or political slant? Sure, why not? Speaking as someone who has been both a nominee and a winner of various genre awards, I am utterly unafraid of the competition for eyeballs and votes — which is why, moons ago, I created the modern version of the Hugo Voter’s Packet, so that there would be a better chance of voters making an informed choice. Speaking as someone who nominates and votes for awards, I’m happy to be pointed in the direction of works I might not otherwise have known about. So this is all good, in my view. And should a worthy work by someone whose personal politics are not mine win a Hugo? Groovy by me. It’s happened before. It’s likely to happen again. I may have even nominated or voted for the work.

But to repeat: None of this contitutes “taking back” anything — it merely means you are participating in a process that was always open to you. And, I don’t know. Do you want a participation medal or something? A pat on the head? It seems to me that most of the people nominating and voting for the Hugos are doing it with a minimum of fuss. If it makes you feel important by making a big deal out of doing a thing you’ve always been able to do — and that anyone with an interest and $50 has been able to do — then shine on, you crazy diamonds. But don’t be surprised if no one else is really that impressed. Seriously: join the club, we’ve been doing this for a while now.

3. Also a bit of paranoid fantasy: The idea that because the wrong people are somehow in charge of publishing and the avenues of distribution, this is keeping authors (and fans, I suppose) of a certain political inclination down. This has always been a bit of a confusing point to me — how this little partisan group can both claim to be victimized by the publishing machine and yet still crow incessantly about the bestsellers in their midst. Pick a narrative, dudes, internal consistency is a thing.

Better yet, clue into reality, which is: The marketplace is diverse and can (and does!) support all sorts of flavors of science fiction and fantasy. In this (actually real) narrative, authors of all political and social stripes are bestsellers, because they are addressing slightly different (and possibly overlapping) audience sets. Likewise, there are authors of all politicial and social stripes who sell less well, or not at all. Because in the real world, the politics and social positions of an author don’t correlate to units sold.

With the exception of publishing houses that specifically have a political/cultural slant baked into their mission statements, publishing houses are pretty damn agnostic about the politics of their authors. The same publishing house that publishes me publishes John C. Wright; the same publishing house that publishes John Ringo publishes Eric Flint. What do publishing houses like? Authors who sell. Because selling is the name of the game.

Here’s a true fact for you: When I turn in The End of All Things, I will be out of contract with Tor Books; I owe them no more books at this point. What do you think would happen if I walked over to Baen Books and said, hey, I wanna work with you? Here’s what would happen: The sound of a flurry of contract pages being shipped overnight to my agent. And do you know what would happen if John Ringo went out of contract with Baen and decided to take a walk to Tor? The same damn noise. And in both cases, who would argue, financially, with the publishers’ actions? John Ringo would make a nice chunk of change for Tor; I’m pretty sure I could do the same for Baen. Don’t kid yourself; this is not an ideologically pure business we’re in.

(And yes, in fact, I would entertain an offer from Baen, if it came. It would need many zeros in it, mind you. But that would be the case with any publisher at this point.)

Likewise, I don’t care how supposedly ideologically in sync you are with your publisher; if you’re not selling, sooner or later, out you go. These are businesses, not charities.

But let’s say, just for shits and giggles, that one ideologically pure faction somehow seized control of all the traditional means of publishing science fiction and fantasy, freezing out everyone they deemed impure. What then? One, some other traditional publisher, not previously into science fiction, would see all the money left on the table and start up a science fiction line to address the unsated audience. Two, you would see the emergence of at least a couple of smaller publishing houses to fill the market. Three, some of the more successful writers who were frozen out, the ones with established fan bases, could very easily set up shop on their own and self-publish, either permanently or until the traditional publishing situation got itself sorted out.

All of which is to say: Yeah, the paranoid fantasy of awful, nasty people controlling the genre is just that: Paranoid fantasy. Now, I understand that if you’re an author of a certain politicial stripe who is not selling well, or a fan who doesn’t like the types of science fiction and fantasy that other people who are not you seem to like, this paranoid fantasy has its appeal, especially if you’re feeling beset politically/socially in other areas of your life as well. And that’s too bad for you, and maybe you’d like a hearty fist-bump and an assurance that all will be well. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, no matter who you are, there will always be the sort of science fiction and fantasy you like available to you. Because — no offense — you are not unique. What you like is probably liked by other people, too. There are enough of you to make a market. That market will be addressed.

Again, I am genuinely flummoxed why so many people who are ostensibly so in love with the concept of free markets appear to have a genuinely difficult time with this. It’s not all illuminati, people. It never was.

4. And this is why, fundamentally, the whole “take back the genre” bit is just complete nonsense. It can never be “taken back,” it will never be “taken back,” and it’s doubtful there was ever a “back” to go to. The genre product market is resistant to ideological culling, and the social fabric of science fiction fandom is designed at its root to accomodate rather than exclude. No one can exclude anyone else from science fiction and fantasy fandom when the entrance requirement is, literally, an interest in the genre, or some particular aspect of it. You can’t exclude people from conventions that require only a membership fee to attend. Even SFWA has opened up to self-publishing professional authors now, because it recognized that the professional market has changed. To suggest that the genre contract to fit the demands of any one segment of it doesn’t make sense, commercially or socially. It won’t be done. It would be foolish to do so.

The most this little partisan group (or those who identify with it) can do is assert that they are the true fans of the genre, not anyone else. To which the best and most correct response is: Whatever, dude. Shout it all you like. But you’re wrong, and at the end of the day, you’re not even a side of the genre, you’re just a part. And either you’re participating with everyone else in what the genre is today, or you’re off to the side wailing like a toddler who has been told he can’t have a lollipop. If you want to participate, come on in. If you think you’re going to swamp the conversation, you’re likely in for a surprise. But if you want to be part of it, then be a part of it. The secret is, you already are, and always have been.

If you don’t want to participate, well. Wail for your lolly all you like, then, if it makes you happy. The rest of us can get along without you just fine.

The Big Idea: Peter Darbyshire

In today’s Big Idea, author Peter Darbyshire casually subverts the Bible, Shakespeare and the reasons why one might choose a pen name, all in the service of his latest novel, The Dead Hamlets.

PETER DARBYSHIRE:

What if Christ left his body behind on our earthly realm when he went off to the undiscovered country?

And what if some other soul happened to find its way into Christ’s abandoned body and re-animated it?

This was the idea my demented muse burned into my mind with a mad cackle a few years back. When the smoke cleared, I had my Cross series of supernatural thrillers, written under the pen name Peter Roman*.

Cross was inspired in part by an Old English poem I read in university more years ago than I care to remember. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned while getting my English degree — there’s been little need for the politics of iambic pentamer since I fell out of the ivory tower and found myself in the real world, red in tooth and debt. But “The Dream of the Rood” has stuck with me over the decades, thanks to its intriguing perspective on the Crucifixion. It tells Christ’s story through the point of view of the cross that bore Christ.

I started thinking about the poem again one night when I was facing a relative’s death and had to deal with the practicalities of what to do with the body. When loved ones die, we tend to think of them in terms of memories or, if you’re so inclined, souls. We disconnect the dead from their bodies, which are soon to be hidden away somewhere out of sight and forgotten. The body becomes an afterthought to us, simply a carrier for the person, or at least what the person once was.

And then the muse struck, and I thought: what if the Rood from Christ’s story wasn’t a cross of wood but was instead the physical body that bore Christ’s soul during his time on Earth? What happened to that body after Christ left? What if, unlike all the other buried bodies, it didn’t stay forgotten?

And so I came up with the character of Cross, the poor soul who wakes up in Christ’s abandoned body in that cave all those centuries ago, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. He quickly learns that he can harness the supernatural powers of his body, and he discovers that he’s sort of immortal — he gets himself killed with disturbing frequency, but every time he does so the body resurrects with him still inhabiting it.

As it turns out, Cross is no saint. The first book in the series, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, opens with Cross hunting down and killing an angel for its heavenly grace, which is the power his body needs to perform its magical tricks. That particular misadventure leads him unwittingly into the middle of a war between the seraphim, who are divided about what to do with themselves ever since God abandoned the lot of them on the mortal realm. Cross also has to deal with a colourful and dangerous cast of characters, including a vengeful faerie queen he once wronged, the real Alice from the Alice in Wonderland books, a curious gorgon — and Judas, who was not a misguided human but in fact an ancient trickster god.

I can’t say too much else about The Mona Lisa Sacrifice because, well, spoilers. At the end of the book, though, I was left with an unfinished relationship between Cross and the faerie queen. I began thinking about where to go with the series next, and lo and behold, I remembered another ancient text I’d studied in university: Hamlet.

Actually, I thought of A Midsummer Night’s Dream first, as the faerie feature prominently in that play, and their sense of mischief in Shakespeare’s text largely informed the way I wrote them in The Mona Lisa Sacrifice. But I quickly moved on to Hamlet because of its preoccupation with mortality and death — something that Cross grapples with on a regular basis. I started flipping through my battered university copy of Hamlet until I read the line “Enter Ghost,” and suddenly I had the idea for my next book.

The Dead Hamlets features a mysterious and deadly spirit haunting the faerie court, and it is somehow tied to the Shakespearian play Hamlet. Cross is the only one who has the ability to stop it, thanks to his own peculiar nature. But he quickly discovers that everything is not what it seems to be with the spirit, and that Shakespeare himself hid a terrible and deadly secret about his greatest play.

Some familiar characters from The Mona Lisa Sacrifice return in The Dead Hamlets — the faerie queen and her court, the eerie Alice, the mysterious and horrifying Royal Family — but the book also introduces some new players, including the eccentric Scholar, the undead playwright and demon hunter Christopher Marlowe, and a very supernatural and very dangerous Shakespeare.

If you like the first two Cross books, the third instalment in the series, The Apocalypse Ark, is due out in the fall of 2015 and I’m starting to outline the fourth book. Cross is a character that won’t die. Just like that Old English poem I read all those years ago.

*Why the pen name Peter Roman? The official story is I use the pen name to distinguish my genre books from my other novels, written under my real name, Peter Darbyshire. It’s a case of branding my different author streams. The true story is that “Roman” is shorter than “Darbyshire,” so I get to see my name in bigger type on the cover.

—-

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

Read an excerpt (pdf link). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.