The biggest idea in The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is that women are people. I have read exhaustively in the genre of post-apocalyptic science fiction and more often than not the women in those books are sex-dolls and mommy-dolls: perfect eyebrows in starvation and smooth armpits in the Thunderdome, exiting cleanly stage right after their magical boys are born.
However, the idea of women as people is too big. Better writers than I have worked to sew it firmly to the edges of our collective consciousness only to find that the original fabric is stubborn stuff that was woven to resist truth or anything like equality. So when I wrote my apocalypse (worlds without end are always ending in science fiction and fantasy) I wrote it as Margaret Atwood and P.D. James did. I wrote an apocalypse of gender, where men outnumber women ten to one, and no woman is safe.
By writing a main character who is queer and secure in herself and a midwife, I set her boundaries pretty clearly. This is a woman who exists under her own authorization. By writing her as complex and flawed and not a steel-armored bad-ass Sarah Connoring her way across the competence porn convention with a gun where a protagonist’s penis ought to be, I wrote a book where women are not objects and not stereotypes, but people. When I was reading science and speculative fiction about the end of the world, this was the thing I craved most clearly. When I could barely get a crumb, I realized I’d have to bake the thing myself.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife starts at the end of a plague that has wiped out most of the people on earth, but was particularly brutal to women. The women who have survived still carry the sickness, and childbirth is commonly lethal in its aftermath. The protagonist hits the road dressed as a man to help the few women who survived, and to seek safety for herself. The road is not kind to her.
However, since the idea that women are people is evidently still too big, I chose a specific strategy to address the universal challenge: namelessness. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife follows the story of a woman whose name is never told. She never says it, thinks it, or writes in the journals that make up about half of the book. Instead, she gives a variety of pseudonyms to friends, lovers, and the enemies around whom she attempts to pass as male. This is partly a safety measure, but it’s also something else.
Names have power. Any child who has heard the story of Rumpelstiltskin can tell you that. The midwife herself thinks about her namelessness, her anonymity in this world where people have fallen out of their names and into savagery, and comes to the conclusion that a name is something one has for the benefit of other people. In a world where most women are property, she decides she will give no one her handle.
Nameless protagonists have always fascinated me. Daphne Du Maurier’s never-named ingenue in Rebecca seemed the best kind of literary proof: a woman is so defined by her place in the world that her own actual name is easily missed. As a child, I loved the Childlike Empress in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, but I saw the movie first. I could never hear the name that Bastian shouts over the thunder and I thought the author and screenwriter had wisely chosen to keep the name unknowable and preserve the empress’ power. Even if she had to beg for a new name from a boy, she could still keep it to herself.
Finding out that the name is written clearly in the book was one of the great letdowns of adulthood. I decided long ago to write a protagonist whose name is her own damned business.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife was first published two years ago by a micropress. Almost nobody read it, but it won the Philip K. Dick Award anyway. When my new contract included a rebirth for the midwife, I reflected a little on what it is to twice debut my unnamed survivor. The book will be reborn in a time when a man who may be president has shared his views about his right to pick up an unsuspecting woman like a bowling ball, and immediately after the non-consensual outing of reclusive author Elena Ferrante. The midwife’s choice to remain nameless is my answer to these times. It was my answer to the War on Women that consumed the news when the book was first written, and it remains my answer as this tiresome year grinds torturously to its end.
My protagonist’s personhood and the violence of her story belong in 2016, just as they belonged in 2014 when the book was first published. They would have fit just fine in 1970. Or 1980. Or 1990.
I hope that one day there is an audience who doesn’t immediately recognize the unnamed midwife’s struggle as their own.
Today is the beginning of early voting here in Ohio, which means that it is a good day for me to formally make the following announcement regarding my vote for President of the United States:
I am voting for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, and I think you should too.
And now, let me explain why, in points that go (roughly) from external to internal, both in a political and personal sense. This entry is long, but this year, I think, longer is probably better.
1. Because she is not Donald Trump. I wrote yesterday on why I believe Donald Trump is an unmitigated and unprecedented disaster as a presidential candidate, so I don’t need to do it again. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that while I am affirmatively voting for Hillary Clinton as president — I want her in the White House — I am also actively and affirmatively voting against Donald Trump. Indeed, even if I wasn’t enthusiastically voting for Clinton, this year of all years I would pull the lever for her because as the candidate of one of the two major parties, she is the only realistic bulwark against Trump being in office. It’s that important that he be denied the presidency.
However, let me go into in detail here about one thing. I want to be clear that in voting against Trump, I’m not only voting against him as an individual, although given who he is as an individual — a racist, a misogynist, a liar and a cheat — that would be more than enough. I am also voting against the people who I see as the shock troops of the Trump campaign: the racists, the anti-semites, the religiously intolerant, the sexists and bullies, the toxic stew of hate, stupidity and sociopathy that has tried to pass into respectability with the jazzy new title of “alt-right,” but which is just the Klan and the neo-Nazis all over again.
In voting against Trump, I’m voting against the alt-right and larger pool of hate in which they fester, against the people who slur women, blacks, latinos, Jews, Muslims, LGBT folks and others on social media and elsewhere, against the ones who promise them a march to the ovens or a noose over a tree branch or a rape in an alley, against the ones who glory in the fact that Trump’s candidacy lends their bigotry mainstream cover, and the ones who, should Trump win, have plans for anyone and everyone who isn’t them. I’m voting against the people who believe, when Trump says “Make America great again,” it means “Make everyone else afraid again.”
To Hell with them, and to Hell with Trump for lifting them up and giving them cover and succor. I don’t believe and would not abide the idea that every person who might vote for Trump is the sort of person I describe above. But everyone who votes for Trump has to know that these are the people with whom they ride. I will not ride with them. I will vote against them and Trump, and gladly so. The best way to do that is to vote for Hillary Clinton.
2. Because she is not the GOP candidate. First, the practical:If Trump were to win the presidency, that would likely mean that the House and Senate would remain in GOP hands. Which means that I strongly suspect the first 100 days of a Trump presidency would be a fantastic orgy of the GOP rolling back every single Obama law and policy that it could. Not because doing so would make the lives of Americans better — it manifestly would not — but because they just fucking hate Barack Obama so much that giving him the middle finger for a hundred days would fill them with glee. I’m not down with that.
Likewise, not down with the GOP plan to pack the Supreme Court with Scalia clones; there are already two, in the form of Thomas and Alito. That’s more than enough for one court, I think.
Both the legislative and the judicial issues outlined above, I would note, would be a disincentive for me to vote for any presidential candidate the GOP might have picked in 2016, especially considering the generally atrocious primary field of candidates, of whom the only one I might have been willing to consider even briefly for my vote would have been John Kasich. But Kasich was too moderate and sensible for the GOP primary voters, which given how conservative Kasich is, is a vaguely terrifying thing.
Second, the philosophical: Look, I’m not a straight-ticket voter. In almost every election I vote for more than a single party, because — here’s a wacky idea — I consider each position up for election and who among the listed candidates will be the best for the role. I expect this year I will do the same.
But not on the national level. On the national level I don’t think the GOP has earned my vote, nor has it for years. Even before the moment where the GOP primary voters appallingly selected Donald Trump as their standard bearer, the national party’s philosophical and political tenets had been long abandoned for the simpler and uglier strategy of “deny Barack Obama everything.”
To what purpose? To what end? Well, not for the purpose of actually making the United States a better place for its citizens, or to practice active governance of the nation. From the outside at least — and I rather strongly suspect from the inside as well — it just looked like “sooner or later they have to let one of us be president, so let’s just throw a fit until then.” Fortunately, if you want to call it that, the GOP has spent decades training its electoral base to reward intransigence over actual action to make their lives better, and wasn’t above poking at the base’s latent (and not-so-latent) bigotry to delegitimize the president.
Trump has given the latter part of the game away — Trump doesn’t dog whistle his bigotry, he uses a megaphone — but the other part, the part about the intransigence, I don’t see the GOP, as it’s currently constituted on the national level, ever letting go of. Let’s not pretend that Hillary Clinton will have an easier time with the GOP than Obama did. The GOP already hates her just for being who she is, and it’ll be happy to slide the bigoted setting they use to on its base from “racism” to “sexism,” even if Trump’s blown its cover on that. So I expect that the new policy for the GOP will be the same as the old policy, with a new name slotted in: “Deny Hillary Clinton everything.”
And that’s just not acceptable. I’m not foolish enough to assume the GOP would give a President Hillary Clinton everything she wanted even in the best of times. But there’s a difference between an opposition party and an antagonistic party. The former is a participant and perhaps even a partner in governance. The latter, which is what we have, reduces politics down to a football game and in doing so makes life worse for every American. We can argue about how this has come about — training the base, gerrymandering safe districts which incline toward polarization, just plain rampant stupidity — but we can’t argue it’s not there.
This year of all years the national GOP needs to lose, and it needs to lose so comprehensively that the message is clear: Stop obstructing and start governing again. Now, as it happens, it might lose comprehensively because Trump and the GOP are fighting, and if Trump is going to go down, he might as well take the GOP down with him. Which would be a delightful irony! But just to be sure, and to use my vote to make a larger point, I won’t be voting for the GOP this year for president or US senator or US representative. I don’t imagine it will matter for US representative (my district hasn’t gone Democratic since the Great Depression) but for the senate and the presidency, it might help.
3. Because I largely agree with Hillary Clinton’s platform and positions. I’ve mentioned before that had I been born roughly 40 years earlier than I was, I probably would have become what’s known as a “Rockefeller Republican,” which is to say someone largely to the right on fiscal issues, and largely to the left on social issues. Rockefeller Republicans don’t exist anymore, or more accurately, they’re best known today as “mainstream Democrats.” And, hey, guess which of the two candidates for President of the United States could be described as a “mainstream Democrat”? Why, yes, that’s right, it’s Hillary Clinton.
So it’s not particularly surprising that I find many of her policy positions congenial, both in themselves and in contrast to Trump’s positions — that is, when Trump actually has a position that’s more than “trust me, it’ll be great.” As an example, let’s take, oh, say, Clinton’s tax policy, which essentially tweaks the existing code to make those of us on the top pay a slightly higher amount for our top marginal rate on income and investments, close some corporate loopholes, and essentially leave everyone else alone (or offer them slightly larger tax breaks). It’s not sexy, but it’s pretty sensible, particularly in contrast to Trump’s, which basically gives rich people really big tax cuts and as a result adds trillions to our debt (author John Green, who laudably does public service-related videos, has a ten minute video comparing and contrasting the plans, which I would recommend).
“Not sexy, but sensible” in fact describes most of her policies on everything from climate change to farm issues to voting rights to national security, and while I don’t necessarily agree with every single thing she proposes right down the line, when I don’t, what I still generally see is that the policy is based on a cogent reason or rationale in the real world, and not just some angry bellow from a fear-gravid id, which is how a large number of Trump policies come across.
And this is good, people. I want a policy nerd in the White House, and someone who has had real-world experience with how the political sausage gets made, and who both gets the value of having policies that have some relationship to the world outside their head and has the wherewithal, interest and capability to understand and express them. I’m not under the impression that Clinton will get everything she wants in terms of policy — despite the unbridled optimism on the left due to the events of recent days, I expect the House will stay in GOP hands (but, you know, prove me wrong!) — but I like most of what she has, and will likely be happy with whatever she manages to get through Congress.
4. Because I like what I know of Hillary Clinton. But! But! BenghaziWhitewaterEmailVincentFosterBillIsSkeevy Ggggwwwaaaaaaarrrrggghhhnnffffnf —
I’m going to skip over the vast majority of this right now by noting that there are very few people in the world whose personal and public conduct has been so aggressively and punitively investigated, and for so long, as Hillary Clinton, and yet she continues to walk among us, a free woman whose errors, when they have been made, are usually of the venial rather than the mortal sort. Which probably means one of two things: Either this decades-long persecution of Hillary Clinton on the part of her enemies is largely motivated for their own political and financial benefit, or that Hillary Clinton is a criminal mastermind so good at evading the forces of justice that holy shit we should be glad that she’s finally decided to use her evil-honed skills for the forces of good. Better give her eight years, just to make sure.
I believe that the vast majority of the bullshit said about Hillary Clinton is just that: bullshit. Hillary Clinton gets shit because apparently she’s always been an ambitious woman who is not here for your nonsense. And maybe, like any human who is not here for your nonsense, but especially a woman who is not here for your nonsense (and who has gotten more of it because she is a woman), she just gets tired of the unremitting flood of nonsense she has to deal with every single goddamn day of her life. Maybe she she gets tired of being told to smile and when she’s smiles being told she shouldn’t smile. Maybe she gets tired of being called a bitch and c*nt and a demon. Maybe she gets tired of having to be up on a stage with bullies who try to intimidate her with their physical presence in her physical space, and if you think that second presidential debate was the first time that happened, look up her senatorial debate just for fun. Maybe she gets tired of it but knows she has to take it and smile, because that’s the deal.
People, I flat out fucking admire Hillary Clinton for having dealt with all that bullshit for 30 years and yet not burning the whole world down.
So that’s the first thing, and it’s unfair that it’s the first thing, but since that’s what gets shoved on you the moment you open your mouth about Hillary Clinton, that’s what the first thing has to be.
But let me also tell you that I like her intelligence, her attention to detail, her ability to speak at length about the subjects that matter to her and that she thinks would matter to you, too. I like she doesn’t have a problem being the smartest person in the room, even if you do. I like the work that she did on her own, without reference to her husband and his own ambitions. I liked when she said that she wasn’t here to bake cookies, and I liked that you could see how much she hated having to bake the cookies when shit blew up around that statement (I like that I believe that in her personal life she probably likes baking cookies just fine, just on her terms, not yours). I like that she tried things and failed at them and picked herself up and kept going and got better at them because of it. I like that she cares about people who aren’t just like her. I like that she’s ambitious. I like that she’s fearless. I like that all the right people hate and loathe her. I like that she plows through them anyway.
There are things I don’t like about her too, but not nearly as many, and none of them enough, to reduce my admiration for her for these other things.
I don’t expect Hillary Clinton to be perfect, or not to fail, or to be a president whose actions I agree with straight down the line. I’ve never had that in any president and I think it would be foolish to expect it in her. What I do expect, based on what I’ve known of her since 1992, when she first entered my consciousness, is that she will never not try. Try to be a good president, and try to be a president whose administration does the most good for the largest number of Americans. Now, maybe she’ll succeed and maybe she won’t — it’s not all up to her and even if it was, you never know what happens to you in this life. But everything I know about her from the last quarter century convinces me that she has earned this opportunity, perhaps more than anyone else who has ever run for president.
5. Because I like what she represents for our country. I have written at length about the idea that being a straight white male is living life on the lowest difficulty setting, and if you should ever doubt that it’s the case, look at the 2016 election, in which a racist, sexist, ignorant boor of a straight white male, with no experience in public service and no policies he could personally articulate beyond “it’ll be great, believe me” went up against a woman who spent the better part of four decades in and around public service, including occupying some of the highest positions in government, and who had exhaustive, detailed policy positions on nearly every point of public interest — and was ahead of her in some polls on the day they had their first debate.
If that tape in which Trump bragged about sexual assault hadn’t hit the air, the polls might yet still be close. It literally took “grab ’em by the pussy” to get some air between arguably the most qualified candidate ever to run for president, who is a woman, and inarguably the worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, who is a straight, white man. I cannot know that fact and not be confronted by the immense and absolutely real privilege straight white men have — and just how much better a woman has to be to compete.
I am not voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman — but at the same time I cannot deny, and actively celebrate the fact, that much of what makes Hillary Clinton the person I want to vote for is because she is a woman. Everything that our culture has put on her, all the expectations it has had for her, all the expectations she’s had for herself, all the things that she’s taken on, or fought against, because she’s a woman, all of that has shaped the person she is and the character she has, and has become: A person who has talents and flaws, a person I admire, and a person who I want to see in the Oval Office.
When she becomes president, as I believe she will, it won’t only be because she is a woman. But her experience being a woman will have prepared her for the job and will be integral to how she will be president. Her simply being our first woman president will make her a symbol and an icon and almost certainly in time an inspiration (all of these more than she already is, to be clear), and I am glad for those. But it’s how her life and her experiences will bear on the day-to-day aspects of presidency that to me is key, and which I think in time should be what inspires people, as much as if not more than what she represents symbolically. It’s something we haven’t had yet. It matters to our country, and it matters to me.
And so: with a full heart and with no small amount of joy, I endorse Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
1.The Dispatcher was released one week ago today and during the week apparently a ton of people, hungering for my excellent words and Zachary Quinto’s thrilling narration (and also possibly because it was distributed for free) downloaded it — enough to make it the #1 title on Audible for the last week. Which is pretty awesome I have to say. I will take my #1 titles however they come about, and as it happens I’m really happy this one did well, since I like it so much.
If you haven’t gotten it yet then you can take part in my quest to stay in the Audible top ten for a second week by downloading it this week — it’s still available for free (and will be through November 2nd). Give it a try. It’s good. And if you like it, let other people know about it.
2. The front room is officially finished, with the shelves officially populated with books and things and the cable box for the television set up and so on and so forth, so I thought I’d show you all its final form. I have to say I’m very pleased with how everything looks and functions. I’m especially happy with the TV, which is a 4k job. Yeah, I splurged. Sue me. Oddly enough, however, when I show people pictures of the front room, the thing that they really comment on is the carpet. Yes, it’s purple. And yes, actually in real life it looks pretty great. So there.
3. While I was at New York Comic Con, I got to hang out with Adam Savage and Norm Chan from Tested (you might also recognize Adam from his Mythbusters days) and sat in on their “Still Untitled” podcast, in which we chatted about conventions, fans and the whole nerd life. Here’s the link to their site, but if you’re the super-impatient “ugh do I have to click through” sort, I’m embedding the YouTube version of the conversation below. Enjoy!
I liked reading Amy S. Foster’s Big Idea for The Rift: Uprising, because her idea is very much the same idea I have as far as my own teenager goes. What idea is that? Read on.
AMY S. FOSTER:
So I had this idea…This big, crazy, ridiculous idea to write a YA novel that my sixteen year old daughter and her friends would actually want to read. I don’t mean that in an “Oh My God Mom! You are so uncool why would I read anything you write?” kind of way. I mean that I wanted to write a book where the teenage protagonists acted and sounded like the teenagers who drifted in and out of my house in a never ending stream of Axe Body spray and with the moods! So many moods! Swinging from mania to indifference on a dime.
As annoying as these kids could be, they were also funny, messy (emotionally and literally,) complicated and misunderstood. Just like I was. Just like you were. Books were the thing that helped me grow up, that delivered me from my isolation. I was never alone, as long as I had a book and obviously, I still feel that way.
It was kind of amazing to me how the Media (and yes that’s a capital M because I mean it in the most all-encompassing way) pandered and courted my daughter’s demo when it came to TV and fashion and make up and one bizarre awards show after another- but somehow, when it came to literature, she felt sorely misunderstood and misrepresented. So yeah, addressing that issue for her was the first big idea.
The second big idea was creating normal acting and sounding teens when they were doing crazy, extraordinary things like policing a Rift into the Multiverse or fighting big scary monsters or throwing around tree trunks. How do I get those kids to sound like the kids in my house? I didn’t want to write Dystopian. I wanted these young people to have this weird job and then go home and watch Netflix. And I am happy to report that as far as those ideas went and according to my Beta Test subjects (who I occasionally had to bribe with dinners and Starbucks) I got it right. Truuuust…they told me when I got it wrong. Loudly. With enthusiasm.
So okay, you might be thinking, isn’t the Multiverse the big idea here? Because it’s like truly, literally, the biggest idea in the world(s). And it is…I love the science behind it. I love physics. I’m kind of obsessed with how I used sound to navigate these Rifts and as exciting a device as the Multiverse is, in my book, it ended up becoming a metaphor for something much more mundane. When you’re staring adulthood in the face, when you’re wondering who you are and what you are going to do forever, it might as well be the Multiverse. It feels that vast, that huge and that scary to navigate.
The main protagonist in my novel, Ryn, is facing this challenge daily. Sometimes she gets it right, sometimes she doesn’t. And today, at almost eighteen, my daughter is the same. I’m sure if given the chance she’d much rather fight a Snake Man (Sissnovars in the book) or a Viking (time is stable in the Rifts but depending on one small thing, think Butterfly Effect, an Earth could be thousands of years more or less advanced technologically) than take her SAT or apply to the dozen or more colleges she’s trying to get into. Like Ryn, my daughter is just beginning to understand her own power and also like Ryn it both thrills and terrifies her. But, like I say in my dedication, it was my daughter who taught Ryn how to be brave. Both of my girls will make it. Both of them will become the heroes of their own stories.
We’ve got an entire trilogy (and college!) to get through.
At this point there is no doubt that Donald Trump is the single worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, almost certainly the worst since the Civil War, and arguably the worst in the history of this nation. He is boastful and ignorant and petty, disdainful of the Constitution, a racist and a sexist, the enabler of the worst elements of society, either the willing tool of, or the useful idiot for, Vladimir Putin, an admirer of despots, an insecure braggart, a sexual assaulter, a man who refuses to honor contracts, and a bore.
He is, in sum, just about the biggest asshole in all of the United States of America. He’s lucky that Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad is out there keeping him from taking the global title, not that he wouldn’t try for that, too, should he become president. It’s appalling that he is the standard bearer for one of the two major political parties in the United States. It’s appalling that he is a candidate for the presidency at all.
But note well:Donald Trump is not a black swan, an unforeseen event erupting upon an unsuspecting Republican Party. He is the end result of conscious and deliberate choices by the GOP, going back decades, to demonize its opponents, to polarize and obstruct, to pursue policies that enfeeble the political weal and to yoke the bigot and the ignorant to their wagon and to drive them by dangling carrots that they only ever intended to feed to the rich. Trump’s road to the candidacy was laid down and paved by the Southern Strategy, by Lee Atwater and Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, by Fox News and the Tea Party, and by the smirking cynicism of three generations of GOP operatives, who have been fracking the white middle and working classes for years, crushing their fortunes with their social and economic policies, never imagining it would cause an earthquake.
Well, surprise! Here’s Donald Trump. He is the actual and physical embodiment of every single thing the GOP has trained its base to want and to be over the last forty years — ignorant, bigoted and money-grubbing, disdainful of facts and frightened of everything because of it, an angry drunk buzzed off of wood-grain patriotism, threatening brown people and leering at women. He was planned. He was intended. He was expected. He was wanted.
But not, I think, in the exact form of Donald Trump. The GOP were busily genetically engineering the perfect host for their message, someone smooth and telegenic and possibly just ethnic enough to make people hesitant to point out the latent but real racism inherent in its social policies, while making the GOP’s white base feel like they were making a progressive choice, and with that person installed, further pursuing its agenda of slouching toward oligarchy, with just enough anti-abortion and pro-gun glitter tossed into the sky to distract the religious and the paranoid. Someone the GOP made. Someone they could control.
But they don’t control Trump, which they are currently learning to their great misery. And the reason the GOP doesn’t control Trump is that they no longer control their base. The GOP trained their base election cycle after election cycle to be disdainful of government and to mistrust authority, which ultimately is an odd thing for a political party whose very rationale for existence is rooted in the concept of governmental authority to do. The GOP created a monster, but the monster isn’t Trump. The monster is the GOP’s base. Trump is the guy who stole their monster from them, for his own purposes.
And this is why the GOP deserves the chaos that’s happening to it now, with its appalling and parasitic standard bearer, who will never be president, driving his GOP host body toward the cliff. If it accepts the parasite, it will be driven off the cliff. If it resists, the parasite Trump will rip himself from it, leaving bloody marks as it does so, and then shove the dazed and wounded GOP from the precipice. That there is a fall in the GOP’s future is inevitable; all that is left is which plunge to take.
I feel sorry for many of my individual friends who are Republicans and/or conservatives, who have to deal with the damage Trump is doing to their party and to their movement, even if I belong to neither. But I don’t feel sorry for the GOP at all. It deserves Trump. It fostered an environment of ignorance and fear and bigotry, assumed it could control the mob those elements created, and was utterly stunned when a huckster from outside claimed the mob as his own and forced the party along for the ride. It was hubris, plain and simple, and Trump is the GOP’s vulgar, orange nemesis.
Trump will do the GOP long and lasting damage, and moreover, Trump doesn’t care that he will do the GOP long and lasting damage. Trump was never about being a Republican; he was just looking to expand his brand. As it turns out, like apparently so many things Trump does, he’s done an awful job of it — the name Trump, formerly merely associated with garish ostentation and bankruptcy, is now synonymous with white nationalism, sexual battery and failure — but the point is on November 9th Trump is going to move on and leave the wreckage of the GOP in his wake, off to his next thing (everyone assumes “Trump TV,” in which Trump combines with Breitbart to make white pride propaganda for the kind of millennial racist who thinks a Pepe the Frog Twitter icon is the height of wit — and I hope he does, because the Trump touch will drive that enterprise into the ground, and little would warm my heart more than a bankrupt Breitbart).
Trump is the party guest who sets fire to your house, gropes your spouse and drives over your neighbor’s cat when he leaves; the GOP is left to deal with the police and the angry neighbors. It’s almost piteous, except when you scrub back to five hours earlier to hear the GOP say “What, Trump wants to come to the party? Well, he’s an asshole who drove Fred Jones’ car into the pool the other weekend, but he’s always good for a laugh, isn’t he? Surely it will be fine,” and then tells him to bring his bad boy self right on over.
There is no good way for the GOP or its members to extricate itself from this mess. Trump has doomed them for this election cycle. But there is a moral way, and they should take it. When a grifter and a con man has suckered you into a shitshow, you have two options: bail out early and admit you got shit all over yourself, or stick with the con and affirmatively choose to drown in the shit. No GOP politician should ever have endorsed him; the moral hazard he presented was obvious and clear and became clearer the further he went along. But if they were foolish enough to have endorsed him, it’s not too late to bail out. He’s going to lose either way and drag the GOP down with him; these politicians might as well come out of it with their souls, besmirched but still their own.
And obviously to me, no one with sense should cast a vote for Trump. He’s not just a candidate, he is an active repudiation of what we should expect from the United States and those who lead it. A candidate who can’t open his mouth without a lie falling out — a lie that everyone including him knows is a lie — doesn’t deserve to be president. A candidate who threatens millions because of their religion does not deserve to be president. A candidate who promises to extralegally throw his political opponent into jail does not deserve to be president. A candidate who fosters white nationalism, racism and anti-semitism does not deserve to be president. A candidate who brags about sexual assault and then tries to dismiss it as mere talk does not deserve to be president.
These are not merely Democratic or Republican issues. These are American issues, human issues and moral issues. You can’t vote for Donald Trump and say you don’t know what you’re voting for. You’re voting for hate, and chaos, and the deluge. Anything else that you think you get from voting for him will be washed away in the flood.
Trump is the single worst major party presidential candidate in living memory, but he’s there because the GOP spent decades making him possible, and its base, trained for decades to look for someone like him, made him its standard bearer. He needs to lose and the GOP needs to be punished for him. Conservatism and classical Republican ideas won’t go away, nor should they. But if the GOP can’t break itself from its addiction to the bigoted and the ignorant, then it certainly deserves to die. It’s brought the country to the edge. Shame is only the beginning of what it should feel for it.
As you might suspect I have a whole bunch of thoughts on the matter, but I’m at NYCC and my brain is still defrying after finishing the book, so I finding myself not particularly able to string a thought along for more than 140 characters at a time at the moment. When I get back home I think I’ll have more to say about things, here.
Turning off comments because if I don’t have the time or brain space to write about Trump at the moment, I certainly don’t have time or brain space to field comments.
Eight years ago tomorrow I transferred the Whatever over to the WordPress VIP service because before that I was having weird outages and glitches and basically all sorts of headaches trying to keep the blog running as it had gotten more popular. Once I switched over, nearly all those problems and glitches just… went away. As if by magic. Which I appreciated! Because as much as I enjoyed having a blog, I didn’t enjoy having to fiddle with the backend to make it work. Now I don’t worry about that anymore; the blog just works — not only on the backend, but also when a flood of people come its way. I think in eight years it’s been down maybe a grand total of an hour, if that. I appreciate that.
So, as I do annually around this time, consider this my continuing endorsement of the WordPress VIP service, and of WordPress generally. They don’t ask me to make this endorsement, and they don’t pay me to do it either. I do it because I think WordPress deserves the praise for running an excellent service, and to thank them for doing such a fine job for me. If your site or business needs rock-solid hosting and service, I recommend VIP.
Also: Hello, New Yorkians, I am among you through Monday. You will be most able to find me at New York Comic Con, where I am signing books and posters and hanging out on panels, and otherwise lurking about. And now that I have my book done I will be happy and cheerful and not crabby and stressed! Everyone wins!
Finished literally ten minutes ago. So there’s that one more done.
I’ll have more to say about it sometime soon, but I wrote 7,500 words in the last 24 hours and my brain is scrambled and I still have to get ready for NYCC, to which I am traveling tomorrow. But I will say this now:
It has one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, named Kiva Lagos. She swears a lot.
It’s got explosions and assassinations and political intrigue and really big spaceships and even a little bit of sex because I thought that would be fun. Basically it brings the “opera” to space opera.
Even though my brain is currently the consistency of fried ricotta, I’m already thinking about book two in the series, which I think I will call — are you ready, this is an exclusive! — The Last Emperox.
(Yes, “emperox.” I can make up words. I’m a science fiction author, damn it.)
I think you’re gonna like this one. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
More about it when I’ve stuffed my brain back into my head.
Until then: Yay! I guess I can still write novels!
In the writing of A City Dreaming, author Daniel Polansky learned that staying in one place doesn’t necessarily mean settling into a rut. What did this mean for his novel of New York? Read on.
I moved to New York in 2013, after years of aimless wandering. Melancholic by nature, I feared waking up every morning in the same place, eating the same things, looking at the same people. Travel is a constant reminder that no man steps into the same river twice, as Heraclitus says, that our lives hold value if only by virtue of their brevity. To be in some strange foreign land to which you will never again return, or only return in some distant year, bent and infirm, is to know yourself mortal. Absent this encouragement it becomes easy to forget how terribly transient our lives are. Routine casts its long shadow over everything, months and then years swallowed up by the mundane. But this is a flaw in our own perception, a trick of the light. Life is extraordinary, filled with strange and horrifying and beautiful moments; it falls to us to seek them out, and to grab them as they pass.
A City Dreaming grew out of a conscious attempt to celebrate the surreal and wondrous in my day to day life, a task aided by the peculiar attributes of New York. Who could fail to see magic in so strange a metropolis, where storm-eyed Tatianas stalk in the shadow of towers that would have shamed Ludwig II, where billionaires and beggars share space on a crowded rush hour 4 train, where you might hear half a dozen languages being spoken on the way to the corner bodega. A city whose inhabitants are perpetually half-lying about themselves anyway, and thus under no compulsion to dispute your own delusions.
At night and over a drink I would rework the events of the day in a fashion just slightly more surreal than they had seemed to me while experiencing them. The constant expansion of coffee shops in my fast-gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood became the workings of an unknowable alien intelligence, intent on overtaking the entire borough. An exhausting warehouse party was repopulated with pooka and naiad and elder gods and things still more unrecognizable. Bad dates became apocalyptic, sunny days divine. It was less a process of creation than of alteration, adding a dash of spice to a stew already rich and bubbling.
And at some point I looked up and realized I’d written a book, about life in the most populous city in North America here in the opening days of the 21st century. The misadventures of ‘M’, called by some a magician though he himself would never be so gauche as to use that term. M is not the son of a god, he is not the child of prophecy, he has no plans to champion light against the coming forces of the dark. M’s plans, like ours, don’t go much further than his next drink, his next meal, his next date, his own pleasures and interests the ne plus ultra of his own existence.
Around M grew a cast of characters; Boy, his best friend, a mercurial, brilliant, and terrifically violent ingenue; Stockdale, a hero sprung straight from an Edwardian children’s story, no bother that he was born in a distant southern corner of the Commonwealth; Celise, the Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, her outer borough counterpart, their internecine plotting threatening constantly to force M out of his life of easy going debauchery. A world of magical duels, of turtles living beneath Manhattan Island, of demons big and demons small; but also a world in which everyone is worried about paying their rent, about finding someone to go home with, surviving into the next day and perhaps even enjoying it a bit.
The big idea behind A City Dreaming is a simple one; that the world is in turns wondrous, bizarre, and horrifying, and that New York is a particularly refined draft of this already heady vintage. That the fabulous and the banal are layered so closely atop one another that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two, but that we still have to. It was a true and authentic labor of love, and if the only copy had been tossed in a fire before I sent it to out to my editor, I would have counted the time writing it well spent. Since that didn’t happen, however, and we even went so far as to print it up and slap a pretty cover on the front, you might as well go out and find yourself a copy.
Take a bit of care, though – it’s a strange world that M resides in, very nearly as strange as our own.
Today’s the day:The Dispatcher, my audiobook novella, is out and exclusively available on Audible.com, for free through November 2. It’s read by Zachary Quinto, who you know from the new Star Trek films as Spock and from Heroes as Sylar, and he is simply a terrific narrator for the story.
And what’s the story? Imagine our world with a simple but profound twist: when someone intentionally kills someone else, 999 out of a thousand, they come back. Murder becomes almost impossible, war is radically altered — and there arises a new class of legal, professional killers called “Dispatchers,” tasked with killing those doomed to die, so they can come back and live again.
Tony Valdez, our protagonist, is a dispatcher, who is called upon by the Chicago police to help him find a fellow dispatcher who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In the course of the investigation, Tony will confront Chicago’s rich and powerful, its criminal underbelly, and his own past, in order to save this other dispatcher from a fate literally worse than death.
And now, a couple of quick answers to questions I know some of you will ask:
Why is this audio first? Because Audible asked me to write an audio novella very nicely, and by “very nicely” I mean they paid me to. Also because I thought the challenge of writing an audio-first novella would be interesting. And finally because I had this particular idea which I thought was cool and would fit nicely into novella length, so when Audible asked for a novella-length story for audio, I was all “I have just the thing.”
Why are you giving it away for free through November 2? Because I love you, and so does Audible. Awwww! Slightly more seriously, however, it really is a nice “thank you” from both Audible and me to our respective (and overlappings) audiences, for the support we’ve been given over the years. It’s also and equally advertising for us both — to give people who haven’t tried one or both of us a way to check us out without risk, and if they like The Dispatcher, to check out the other things we do.
Also, you know: 2016 has been one of those years you just might want to escape from for a couple of hours. If The Dispatcher does that for you, I’m delighted to have given that to you.
Zachary Quinto is cool! Not a question, but yes, yes he is.
How did you get him? We asked and he said yes. He was always very high on our list of potential narrators, so when he signed on we all did Snoopy dances. And, as I noted above, he did a simply terrific job reading it — just knocked it right out of the proverbial park. He makes the story better, which is a thing terrific narrators do.
He seems to like it too! Which, you know. Is nice.
Will there be a print/eBook version? Audible has an exclusive on The Dispatcher through the rest of this year and part of 2017, after which it will be available in a print/eBook edition from Subterranean Press. I’ll have more information on that the closer we get to publication. But in the meantime, why not check out the audio version? It’s really good.
Will there be foreign language editions, either in audio or print? I would imagine that if it’s successful in English we’ll see it in other languages in time. Let’s see what happens.
I just listened to it! I want more! Will there be a sequel? Maaaaaaaaybe. If enough people love it and want more of it, I can definitely see coming back to the world and playing around in it, and with these characters.
Anything else you want to tell us about it? Well, as it takes places in contemporary Chicago and features fantastical elements, it’s my first work of urban fantasy. I’m really excited about that since I really enjoy that genre, and so many of my friends have written fantastic work (literally and figuratively) in it. I also think people who enjoy thrillers and crime fiction will find a lot to like here — The Dispatcher is noir-tinged and overall just a bit darker than I usually go. Finally, as I noted earlier, I think novella-length is the perfect length for this particular story, so I’m really happy Audible wanted it at that length and give it a home.
On an entirely related note, if you are going to be at New York Comic Con this Saturday and Sunday, you will find me there, doing panels and having signings! My panel is “That’s Not My Baby! When Narrators Attack: How a Story Survives from Text to Audio” in room 1A02 on Sunday at 11am, followed by a signing of The Dispatcher posters at Table 22 at 12:30, and a stint at the Audible booth (NC5) at 4. If you’re coming on Saturday, I’ll have a signing at the Tor booth (#2136) at noon.
Athena’s final high school homecoming was last night, so of course I had to go and take pictures of Athena and Hunter, and their friends Kaycie and Jose, before they headed out for the evening. If you’re of a mind to peruse the photos, they’re in a Flickr photoset here. Enjoy!
Here’s a press release I received today from Worldcon 75, next year’s Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland:
The 75th World Science Fiction Convention, (“Worldcon”) taking place in Helsinki in August 2017, announced today that a special Hugo category for “Best Series” will be included in the 2017 Hugo Awards.
The Hugo Awards are the leading awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, and have been presented at Worldcons since 1953. They are voted on by members of each year’s Worldcon.
Fans voted in August 2016 to trial a new Hugo award for “Best Series”, which could be added in 2018. Each Worldcon Committee has the authority to introduce a special category Hugo award, and Worldcon 75 has decided to test “Best Series” in 2017. This follows the precedent of the 2009 Worldcon, which trialled “Best Graphic Story” before it became a regular Hugo the following year. Fans at Worldcon 75 will be able to decide whether to ratify the “Best Series” for future years and suggest revisions to the award definition at the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting held in Helsinki during the convention.
Nicholas Whyte, Worldcon 75 Hugo administrator, said, “The proposed Hugo for “Best Series” is a big change, the first time that a new category may be added to the written fiction Hugo categories in fifty years. There is clearly a great deal of interest in how this new award will work, and what might be nominated.”
An eligible work for this special award is a multi-volume science fiction or fantasy story, unified by elements such as plot, characters, setting, and presentation, which has appeared in at least three volumes consisting of a total of at least 240,000 words by the close of the calendar year 2016, at least one volume of which was published in 2016.
My first thought, because I have an ego, is that this is a Hugo I won’t be eligible for, as I have no novels out this year, and therefore no eligible series. Unless, I guess, I quickly whomp up an Old Man’s War novella and make it available as a single volume before the end of the year — would that work?
Which is my other, really more relevant, question: What constitutes a “volume” in this case? I assume (for no particular reason) that a volume has to be released in itself and not as part of a larger publication, such as a magazine or anthology, but would a individually-released short story (or novelette, or novella) count toward a series credit? What about a graphic novel, set in the universe and part of the continuity? How about a song whose lyrics are written by a series author, set in the series universe? As long as all the previous criteria are met — at least three volumes, at least 240,000 words — where is the boundary line for a new volume?
Also, here’s another thought: Does this new volume have to be written by the author of the previous installments? If I hire someone to whomp up a new story in the Old Man’s War universe, and that story meets the criteria for a “volume,” whatever that might be, would it make the whole series eligible? And if so, who would accept the Hugo if it won? Me, or the new writer, or both? Or the editor of the series? Or the publisher? Or — and here’s a fun possible criterion — to the owner of the copyright?
(Combining both above: Would an anthology of short stories set in the universe constitute a new volume? And if so, to whom would the Hugo go?)
This isn’t to suggest I think a Hugo for series is a bad idea at all. But I do think it’s possible that unless the definition for “volume” is concretely defined, you might see a rush of shorter works tying into a series dropping into the stream of commerce between now and December 31. Electronic publishing makes that possible (let’s hope it’s a windfall for copy editors). After the hijinks of the last few years, let’s not pretend there aren’t people out there who will be happy to game the system if they can.
This “Best Series” Hugo is a trial run, to see how things work, and to see if it’s a good idea to continue such a Hugo. My own personal thought on a Best Series Hugo, if it were to continue, would be that I would wanted it handled as such:
It’s not awarded every year, it’s awarded every five years, with an eligibility window of five years;
If awarded every five years, the finalist slate is twice as long as the finalist slates in other categories;
It’s a “one time” win, i.e., once a series is awarded, it’s ineligible for further wins in the category (although individual works in the series would still be eligible for other relevant Hugos);
At least three volumes, at least 240,000 words total;
A “volume” is defined as a new, original story of at least 25,000 words, released individually and not as part of a collection, magazine or anthology;
The recipient for the Hugo would be the series author(s) and editor(s);
The current “Best Novel” Hugo criteria would be amended to take out the bit that allows a series to have been nominated if no previous volumes had individually been nominated.
Why would I do it this way? Because series are (generally speaking) a multi-year endeavor and should be considered as such and because the number of eligible series in any given year is substantially smaller than the number of eligible works in any other Hugo category for fiction; because I think if you don’t define “volume” as a substantial work then the category runs the risk of being gamed; and because I think while editing is important to individual novels, it’s especially important to series.
If I had to pick just one of those criteria to pass on to an official Hugo definition, it would be the “one-time win” one. The Hugos aren’t the Emmys. If a series has gotten “Best Series” once, I think it’s okay for the category to be closed to that series further.
I’ll also note that “Best Series” here is clearly appears to be geared toward novels, so my own fantasy criteria for the category weights toward additional work of at least novella length. That said, I think you could make a perfectly good and valid argument that a “series” could be a bunch of short stories all set in the same universe, or anthologies set in the same universe, or graphic novels in the same universe, etc, as long as they meet the “three volumes/240,000 words” criteria. I’m not going to make that argument, but I think you could make that argument.
Finally, I’ll also note that if the Series Hugo does pick up traction and becomes an annual award, then what’s really likely to happen from a practical point of view is that the Hugos will be awarding a second “Best Novel” award, which just happens to be going to series novels. That’s fine but maybe there should be thought given to that fact — perhaps by an additional rule that says if a Best Novel finalist is in a series up for Best Series in the same year, if the novel and series both win their categories then the author gets to go home with whichever of the two awards they received the most number of votes for, with the other award going to the next work in line. Otherwise I suspect you’re going to see a lot of Best Novel and Best Series awards carried off by the same authors, because the votes will be highly correlated — someone who votes for a book in a series for Best Novel is also likely to think highly of the series in general.
Tell me your thoughts on a Best Series Hugo, and your thoughts on my thoughts.
Last week I showed all y’allthe living room all torn up, as we were getting rid of an unused fireplace and replacing it with shelves and electronic heater. Well, now (most of) the shelves are in, so I thought I’d give you all a status update picture. This is not the final state of the living room, I should note — there are more things to be added onto the shelves and also things to be put on walls, plus a few fiddly bits to be added to the shelves (including a shelf below the TV, where the cable boxes, etc will be added). But it already looks better than it did. The dogs seems to like it, at least.
When Norton Award-winning author Fran Wilde sat down to write Cloudbound, she wasn’t intending to write something whose politics had parallel with the world outside of her book. But sometimes, as she explains today, the world catches up with you.
What happens when you write a book about the political twists of a secondary world, then real-world politics go pear-shaped?
At the outset of Cloudbound, the companion novel to Updraft, my main character, Nat, wants to be a leader. He wants this for a number of reasons: security for himself and his family, the fact that he’s had to help save his city from bad leaders, and a desire to serve his community.
These aren’t bad reasons at all.
Problem is, Nat has only a little idea how to lead, and he’s getting some questionable advice. Worse, he’s confusing the tasks of leading and the trappings of leadership with actual leadership.
He gets over this, with some help.
At the time I wrote Cloudbound, world politics had been on a slow simmer of win-or-lose teamsmanship for some time. As Cloudbound comes to publication, numerous places around the world are seeing a resurgence of say-anything-to-win high-stakes mongering, and, worse, demagoguery, sometimes on the part of people who wish very deeply to serve their cities and countries.
Because of the time it takes to publish a book, I watched Cloudbound’s release date converge with some of the real world events and I wondered… If it’s getting stranger than fiction out there, what does that mean for Cloudbound?
One of the big ideas for Cloudbound was leadership, plain and simple. Different ways to lead, how to move forward, how to lead by example. The book is also, then, necessarily about politics and rhetoric, networks and people-hacking. Nat’s not exceedingly good at these either, at first. And he’s got blind spots — because his political mentor has blind spots.
Leadership is one of those strange words that can mean — often simultaneously — the act of leading and the position of a leader. One meaning is active and in motion, the other has the mental tonnage of the big seat at the head of the table, and accompanying burdens of power.
For Nat and his friends to navigate the ‘after’ of Updraft, they need to learn how they are comfortable leading, often in the face of tremendous pushback from their community. Expectations are solidifying around them even as they are still learning what their expectations are for themselves. And Nat, holding power for the first time, stands on the boundary of learning and doing.
It’s heady space. And a pretty big risk, both for him and the story, because he’s not doing the learning in a vacuum. The city’s under threat from internal forces as well, and Nat’s under pressure to find something important that’s gone missing. How he does this is, in part, tied to how he discovers the hidden history of the city. But doing so brings him into direct conflict with some big bads.
The big bads in the real world right now seem to be getting bigger. Maybe a few kids up in the Bone Universe sky learning about leadership isn’t such a bad idea.
There’s this apocryphal story that Francis Bacon, one of the trailblazers of Western scientific thinking, died in the 1600s of pneumonia after trying investigate the application of snow to preserve flesh, namely that of a dead goose on the side of the road in a snowstorm. I’ve always thought this story was particularly charming, an example of a kind of ferocity of focus that results in amazing scientific and creative discoveries but also losing oneself in the strange corners of video game landscapes.
Here’s the Big Idea. What IF Bacon hadn’t died? What IF he had discovered a way to harness a kind of internal mojo, bend the laws of chemistry, and then convert the solid snow to gaseous vapor, forestalling the pneumonia and discovering in the process that the arcane science of alchemy could be used for all sorts of cool applications and moreover, was REAL?
There would have been ripples.
This new arcane science might have thrust technology forward. Humans using this alchemical magic to perform actual miracles might have had a profound impact on the religious Great Awakening of the 1730s and 40s. They might have also created clocklock pistols and astonishing sources of energy and terrifying gearbeasts and cool-as-hell alchemical automatons.
The world of A Riddle in Ruby is one that attempts to weave the pluck and gumption of the early 1700s American Colonies with the anything-is-possible spirit of the beginning of the industrial revolution. Well, with awesome magic. One of the core Big Ideas of the Ruby series is to propose this:
Just because history says things happened one way doesn’t necessarily mean that they had to.
What IF tall tales of the ferocious ball-tailed cats of the western forests were true? What IF there were powerful secret societies that primed the pump of revolution? What IF an audacious, ferocious, precocious kid carried a secret that could change the face of the world?
I tried to weave this question into the characters of A Riddle in Ruby, as well. Ruby Teach is an apprentice thief and daughter of a fake pirate, but her life is not the sum of her chosen discipline or where she comes from. The choices she makes—to try to rescue her father, to preserve her friends, to carve the path of her life—have profound and lasting effects on the world around her.
The thing I love about the intersection of alternate history and kids’ books is that it offers us the possibility that the shape of the world we live in wasn’t inevitable. That the choices that people and societies made in the past have brought them to where they are now. More importantly, that the choices we make do matter, and that what you choose to do now, as a ten year-old on the playground or as a forty year-old at the ballot box (just saying), could have a profound impact on the shape of our world in years to come.
Book 2 of the A Riddle in Ruby series, The Changer’s Key, comes out today. Choose wisely.
Over on Facebook, a person who claims to have met and interacted with me (and he may have! I meet and interact with a lot of people) suggests that he wouldn’t want to associate with me because, among other things, there’s a difference between how I present myself online and how I present myself offline, which this fellow takes to mean that I say things here, that I wouldn’t say there. Which means, apparently, that I’m false/dissembling/a coward and so on.
This is interesting to me! I have thoughts on this! I am going to share them with you now!
One: Of course, and I think obviously, people who don’t want to associate with me should not associate with me. Whatever reason you have for not wanting to associate with me — including having no reason at all! — is perfectly acceptable. It’s your life, and life is too short to associate with people with whom you have no desire to spend time, even if that person is me. Maybe I’ll be sad about that, if you are someone I like or admire or thought I might one day like to get to know. But I’ll just have to be sad about that. If you don’t want to associate with me, I celebrate your choice. Go! Be associative with others who are not me.
Two: Also of course I am quite happy to say in the offline world the things that I say when I am online — in point of fact I do that all the time, because frequently, in both public and private conversation, people want to talk to me about things I’ve said online. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s how a lot of people know me, either through this blog or through my various social media presences. So naturally that’s going to be an entryway for actual conversation, or, when I’m doing a public event, a way for people to get me to further expound on a subject. I’m frequently saying offline what I’ve said online. It’s actually quite common.
Three: But what I suspect this fellow means is that I wouldn’t say negative things I might say about someone online to their face offline. For example, upon meeting, say, Ted Cruz, I wouldn’t, to his face, call him “a jowly gobbet of tubercular phlegm,” or “a necrotic self-regarding blight on the face of American politics,” which are things I’ve called him here. And here’s the truth of it: If, in fact, circumstances required that I had to meet Senator Cruz, and I couldn’t get out of it by saying “I’d prefer not to meet him” or alternately by faking a massive head injury, when the moment came that I was required to speak with him, I would say, “Hello, Senator,” and try to keep it to that. But if Cruz then said to me, “Hey, aren’t you the fellow who called me ‘an odious fistula that walks the earth in a human skin?’ I would say, ‘Why, yes, Senator Cruz. Indeed, I called you just that thing.'”
But I wouldn’t lead with it, because, you know. I’m not that kind of asshole. Unless I am specifically and affirmatively going to meet someone with the intent of telling them how much I dislike or oppose them — which is very rare, because there’s usually something better to do — I’m happy to be courteous and civil with the people that I disagree with or have arguments with, online or off. Why not? It’ll let everyone get through the day without being pissed off (more). And, here’s the thing — if someone I’ve had arguments with online shows civility and courtesy to me offline, in the world, good for them. Rather than chalk it up to cowardice or hypocrisy, I’m going to give them credit for understanding that context has a bearing on discourse. It doesn’t mean I forget the things they’ve said about me, or the things I might have said about them. It does mean we both understand that going after each other with hammers in one medium does not necessitate all hammers, all the time. You get credit in my book if you understand that.
(“But Scalzi,” you might say. “Aren’t you the one that says that the person who is an asshole online and polite offline is still an asshole?” Yes! Yes, I did. That goes for me as well — if your opinion of my online presentation is “what an asshole,” then no matter what you think of my offline public presentation, it’s perfectly valid for you to continue to have “asshole” as part of the foundation of your opinion of me. I’m okay with you thinking I’m an asshole. But in public, in the real world, I do try to be a decently socialized asshole.)
Be that as it may, if you’re determined to have me say to your face what I wrote about you online, then yes, in fact, I will absolutely say it to you, to your face. Why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t mean it — or at least, didn’t mean it at the time. It’s possible that over time I might have changed my opinion, and if that’s the case, I’d say that too. And if in time I decided that what I said was wrong, I would apologize, to you, to your face! (Yes, I’ve done that before.) But if I wrote something about you, and it still stood, and you asked me to repeat it to you, to your face, then, yup, that’ll happen.
Four: I should note that for my own self I don’t go out asking the people who say horrible things about me online to repeat them to my face. First, why would I willingly want to spend any time with people who say horrible things about me? I’m 47, man. More years behind than ahead. I endeavor to spend that time with people who actually like me. Second, in the cases where I am in the same space as they are for whatever reason, I generally try not to be the one determined to drop a turd in the punch bowl. Third, I don’t automatically assume that just because someone appears entirely jerky to me online, they will be the same way offline, because, again, most people understand context and are socialized, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get along otherwise. It’s happened before! Fourth, running around being an exposed nerve all the time is tiring. And fifth, generally speaking, people are entitled to their opinion of me, even if it’s not a nice one.
Five: This person who says he won’t associate with me rather proudly asserts his presentation is the same online or off. He seems to think this is a virtue, which is his right. I think it suggests an unsophisticated understanding of how people present themselves in the world, online and off, and how we tune ourselves for different contexts and different purposes. My online presentation, as I’ve noted numerous times, is a version of me tuned for performance — I’m usually telling you what I think, in a hopefully entertaining way. It’s me, but it’s me in a way designed for a specific declamatory purpose. If I used the same version of me in one-on-one conversation, it’d be fucking awful. The version of me for that context is tuned very differently — again, still me, but in a context that’s not all about me.
I have different modes: One for when I’m doing public events, one for when I’m at home with family, one for conversation with friends, one for meeting strangers one on one, one for when I’m collaborating with people on work, and so on. I don’t think this is a particular revelation for anyone, in no small part because I talk about it as a thing I do, but also because pretty much everyone does it; everyone presents differently in different circumstances. I suspect this fellow who maintains he’s the same online and offline is wrong about that, but if he’s not, then he’s a rare individual who perhaps should be studied by sociologists.
The larger point here is that it’s not (necessarily) insincere or bad if your presentation in one medium varies from your presentation in another. Certainly one can have a presentation of self that is false or hypocritical, or have such a wide variance between one presentation and the other that it gives the appearance of either (or both). But there’s a ways to go before you get to that point. I don’t tend to think my presentation in any circumstance is false, although I admit ego and self-interest keeps me from being a perfect observer of me (and sometimes I will willingly lie to people if I think it’s in my interest to do so. Hello, I’m a human and that means I’m complicated). But generally speaking, however I tune me ends up being me. I think this fellow who apparently doesn’t tune himself to circumstances may be making life unduly harder on himself.
Six: There certainly are people I wouldn’t associate with willingly but generally speaking I don’t make a public spectacle out of it. I just… don’t meet them. It’s a big world and one can do a pretty good job of avoiding people if one likes. One can even be at the same convention or in the same building or even at the same party and still do a good job of not spending time with people if one wants. Likewise, I have a (very) small list of people who, if they went out of their way to get into my face, I would tell them to fuck right off. The list is small because a) most people, like me, tend to avoid people they don’t want to associate with, b) my life is good and part of the reason it’s good is that generally I don’t let the assholes get to me. But it’s also small because, again, most people are reasonably socialized and can be polite to each other, even if they’re otherwise at odds. Civility! It can happen.
Seven: To sum up: I totally will in fact say to your face what I say online, but I’m also happy not to unless you decide to make a thing out of it. I suspect most people are that way, and that’s not a bad thing. Also, go ahead and avoid me if you must, I’m cool with that.
It’s been a busy week for new books and ARCs here at the Scalzi Compound — he’s another stack of fabulous titles from excellent authors. Which ones will you be adding to your own “To Be Read” list? Tell me us in the comments!
What happens when you stop doing what people expect of you, and start doing what you expect of yourself? Miriam Libicki knows, and she’s here to tell you in this Big Idea about her new book, Toward a Hot Jew.
Toward a Hot Jew is a collection of drawn essays, originally made as self-published zines over the course of ten years. “Drawn Essays” is my own term for a kind of nonfiction comic, where words and images are combined to make a point, but not always with panels, speech balloons, or direct transitions. As the title suggests, these essays look at culture, identity, and racial and gender roles through an American-Israeli-Canadian and very Jewy sensibility. Why did I make this book?
Like a lot of people, I discovered who I wanted to be by experiencing who I never wanted to be. And I started developing my true artistic voice by being immersed in the art I never wanted to make.
My first few months at art school, I thought I had reached the Promised Land. The kids in my painting class would hang out in the studios all night, layering glaze over glaze, bringing twice-life-size canvases to class worthy of renaissance masters (if renaissance masters ever painted themselves being eaten by dogs). I wanted to be a vessel for whatever these creatures could teach me.
My intro painting professor was even more awe-inspiring. She made tiny oil paintings on wood of impressionistically-rendered hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters. I could stare at these paintings for hours. Then she invited us to the opening of her solo show in a downtown gallery. This was it! The Art World!
Half an hour into the opening, I wanted off The Art World forever. My professor had put up an artist’s statement at the entrance, which was nearly as big as all the paintings combined. It was about taking disasters and turning them into kitsch, how the paintings were an implication of our consumerist tendencies, a commentary on how humanity makes our own terror cute. Which was bullshit. Her paintings weren’t cute, and they certainly weren’t kitsch. They were BEAUTIFUL. She did convey the terror, and she clearly got pleasure out of how lovely her tiny paintings were. But apparently The Art World wouldn’t let her say so. She had to be cynically dismissive of her own skill, in favour of the grand anticapitalist statement.
If I had to choose between the art and the artist’s statement, I chose the art. And if low, commercial art was the place where I could sell my art to people without an adjacent statement permitting them to like it (I could put my actual thoughts in text, right in the artwork), I’d take the low road.
I started to let figures from my comix-fan sketchbooks into my paintings. I got comments during critiques like “narrative” and “decorative”, which were not compliments. In third year, I incorporated the memoir comic I was developing into a big tapestry-like graphite drawing, and got the worst crit of my life.
Classmates said they couldn’t even think about the figures because they had big feet and floating hair. Sticking up for me, a girl said, “the crazy thing is, Miriam can paint amazing realistic portraits.” I was flattered, but confused when people started discussing my art going “in two different directions,” with the implication that the comic stuff was the dumb side, unworthy of someone who could paint a skin tone. The question I was left with was, “You seem like such a smart girl. Why do you draw comics?”
I was attracted to comics because I’d always read them. Comics were accessible and egalitarian. I like the idea that the “original” of a comic book is the mass-printed copy, not some fetishized Mona Lisa under glass. I mused in my journal that night, “maybe if I were more skilled I could stick it out, and make everyone love comics in painted form. But maybe that’s not my job? After all, I keep claiming I like comics for their accessibility, and if cartoony pathos is just not accessible to my classmates, maybe I should take a different angle.”
I did take a different angle that semester. I took the people out of my star drawing, and turned it into a monumental triptych in oils. People liked that a lot better. But I just couldn’t stop comicking. Although I could learn from classical and conceptual art, being acceptable to my peers was not where my heart was at.
In senior year, I spent months making a drawn essay about the Israeli soldier as sex object. It was kind of my way to deal with how I still romanticized Israel, after having gone there, served in the army, had a terrible time, and moved to Canada. Dreading crit, I wrote in my journal, “It’s another one of these projects I seem to like to do, that are ambitious, very close to my heart and…… have an element of combativeness.”
That piece ended up being the title essay of my book, the one I’m supposed to be telling you about. I camouflaged its comicky nature. Though the essay comprised twelve pages, divisible by four like a proper zine, I didn’t bind it. I blew up the drawings at Kinko’s to 4×5 feet, and hung them around the classroom. Not a comic, an installation!
After my final senior crit, I wrote: “It was generally well received. Everyone thought the drawings were very beautiful. I know Canadians shy away from anything socially uncomfortable, and that was part of the reason I really wanted to make the drawings so attractive, to force people to read things they probably wouldn’t otherwise.”
That was, looking back, the final insight that allowed me to make this book, zine by zine, through marriage and kids and more school, over the next ten years. I don’t have to fit in in The Art World. I don’t have to fit in to The Comics Industry, either. I can make what I want, and if the subject is strange, accessibility can be achieved through proceeding with enough beauty, or humour, or pathos that any viewer can find something to hold onto. That’s my hope anyway.