Redshirts as a Social Justice Cabal Hugo Pick

Posting this Twitter rant here for posterity. This is Hugo neepery, but not of the usual sort I’ve been neeping about recently.

Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die

(Warning: Further Hugo neepery. Avoid if you’re bored with it.)

A question in email about a recent post, asking whether when I said, of one of the head Puppies, “So well done him, and I wish him all the best in his career,” if I was saying it with the same tone and meaning that a US Southerner might say “Well, bless his heart,” about someone they dislike, or see doing something irretrievably stupid.

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: No, and why would I? As a practical matter, and as hard as it might be for some to believe, publishing is not a zero-sum game; the success of other authors doesn’t have a direct or material effect on my success, except with regard to the small, indirect benefit that a genre that sells well has more readers overall, and those readers are unlikely to read only one author, and thus might read my stuff, too (if you think there’s no overlap in my readership or the readership of any Puppy author you might care to name, you are, to put it politely, very likely to be wrong). So, again, as a practical matter, wishing any other author a lack of success would have no benefit to me, while wishing them the best of success might accrue some small and indirect benefit. So there’s that.

As a moral and ethical matter, I do take to heart the adage, usually attributed to Buddha, but reasonable no matter who said it first, that hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I don’t hate any of the Puppies; I have cause to personally dislike a couple of them, but even then I try not to get to that point of things, either. I posit that the large majority of them are or at least have the capacity to be, decent humans. I disagree with them on many points, and think their current course of action is stupid, wrong, detrimental and childish; I think many of them have behaved poorly, selfishly and in a way that highlights their own insecurities and personal issues; I think it’s sad they try to project those same insecurities and issues on others and use them to justify their own bad actions.

But that doesn’t rise to the level of hate, or actively wishing misfortune on them. I’m mostly sad for them, and occasionally irritated, the latter of which is my problem. And while I’m fine pointing out their bad actions and snarking on their bad logic, what I genuinely hope for them is that they might find a level of success that makes them happy, without the need to view their success through the prism of how their successes stack up to anyone else’s. This whole Puppy mess is because some of them weren’t happy, and were searching externally for that happiness, either by seeking a validation in outside rewards, or by punishing people they saw (erroneously and/or conspiratorially) blocking the path to that validation. Envy and revenge, basically. They’re drinking poison and hoping others die, or at the very least, suffer. It’s why they called themselves “Sad Puppies” in the first place: it was about what they thought their Hugo nominations would make people they decided they didn’t like feel.

Which is their karma. It doesn’t have to be mine (or yours).

So, no. I wish the Puppies success in their publishing endeavors, and I wish them happiness — genuine happiness, not contingent on comparison to, or the suffering of, others. I also wish for them the capacity to recognize success, and to be happy. It doesn’t seem they’re there yet. I hope they get there, and will cheer them if and when they do.

The Class of ’90 (and of ’06)

The New York Times has a very interesting long-form list on what happened to each of the first round picks of the 1990 NFL draft; unsurprisingly the stories are varied. Some have gone on to success in their post-NFL career; some have not; and some are in jail or have died. A lot of the success of future years is based in what happens in the early years of a career — but it’s also worth noting that so much is also based on things the players themselves couldn’t directly control (injuries, etc).

As I was reading the list I found myself thinking of the 2006 Campbell Award class, which I suspect in many ways is as close to a “first round draft pick” as the science fiction and fantasy genre gets. The class in my year was me, Brandon Sanderson, Sarah Monette, Chris Roberson, KJ Bishop and Steph Swainston.

And as with the 1990 NFL draft picks, where we are now is all over the board. I and Brandon have been fortunate enough to have consistent, continued success in the genre. Sarah had some struggles commercially, but is now riding a wave of success as Katherine Addison with her terrific novel The Goblin Emperor, which was (without a slate) nominated for the Best Novel Hugo. Chris largely left SF/F but has had a very successful career in comics, with one of his co-creations, iZombie, turned into a successful TV series. KJ appears to have stopped publishing books for a while but returned a couple of years ago with a short story collection. Steph abandoned writing as a career to become a teacher, although there are rumors she may still write more in the future. We’ll see.

Which is the thing that is the difference between the NFL class of ’90 and the Campbell class of ’06: The Class of ’90 is done with football, but the class of ’06 isn’t done with writing, nor is likely to be for the rest of our lives. Where we are now isn’t where we will be a decade from now, or a decade after that (or a decade after that!). Provided we stay this side of the grave, there is lots of time for new successes, new failures, new disappointments and new triumphs, and new adventures. Writing careers can be long, and can take place in and around many other aspects of life.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the Campbell ’06 class goes from here, and what we’ll each do next.

The Big Idea: Lev AC Rosen

“Worldbuilding” isn’t always about building a world — sometimes it’s about taking the world and tearing it down it in one way or another. Lev AC Rosen wanted to use New York City for his novel Depth, but first it needed to be… distressed. Here’s how he went about that.

LEV AC ROSEN:

I’ve always loved noir. Hard-boiled detectives in particular, but I don’t mind an everyman in over his head, either. And I always knew I wanted to write a detective story at some point. I knew I wanted it to be in New York, because I was born and raised here and love my city, and more specifically in my neighborhood, Manhattan’s financial district, because the buildings here are old and look the way I think a noir should look. I also knew I wanted it to feel like the movies I grew up on, movies like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Blue Dahlia, Laura

The issue I had was combining those two ideas.I don’t know if you’ve been in the financial district lately, but it’s not so gritty anymore. My neighborhood is losing its old school charm in many ways. We have shiny, thousand-foot high rises going up all over the place. Down the street from me is a “modern” building which from a distance looks like a stick of melting rancid butter.

I could have done a period piece. I thought about it. But I also wanted to write a female Bogart, and while I’m sure someone could write that as a period piece, it wasn’t working for me.

So my Big Idea was this: go forward to go back. Flood the world (or at least the new ugly high rises in my neighborhood).Take shiny, cleaned up Manhattan and bring it back to when it had some grit.I just looked ahead to where I thought we could be headed, and melted the ice caps. I even threw in some more ice to raise the sea level higher and faster than most estimates. Then I used some technology to save all the buildings I wanted and strung rickety bridges and decommissioned boats between them. I lit the city with the green glow of algae generators. It may not have had the same old grit, but it had salt, and that was close enough. This was a world I could shape in a classically noir mode, with shady dealings, hard-boiled banter, conspiracy… and, of course, murder.

That was the general idea, anyway, but as often happens with writing, it got a little away from me. Simone, my private eye protagonist, became something more than just a female Bogie – her friendships became stronger, her ex more important, her flirting and flings… well, those stayed pretty Bogie-like, though without the “can’t show this” aura of 1930s Hollywood. I also brought in new characters from the mainland, and from Europe, to show what was happening to the rest of the world and to offer differing viewpoints on it. These new characters and their experiences helped to build the book up in more complex ways.

We only catch glimpses of life beyond New York City in Depth, but thinking about it helped me understand what sort of people would live in this flooded world. Sometimes I felt I was creating too bleak a future, while other times I worried I was in danger of glamorizing global warming—noir, even when gritty, is still glamorous in many respects. Ultimately, I think, the tension between those two concerns helped to make Depth feel more noir. Because noir does walk the line between glamour and horror, righteousness and despair. My Big Idea became bigger than I meant it to, but I’m pleased with the results. It’s the noir world I wanted and I love it and am terrified of it at the same time.

__

Depth: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Visit the book page at Regan Arts. Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site and his blog. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

In Which Edmund Schubert Withdraws From the Hugos

Edmund Schubert, editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show, has withdrawn from consideration for the Best Editor Hugo (short form). He posted a letter about it on Alethea Kontis’ site, but technical problems have made it difficult to access. So I am resposting it here for him and for Alethea. What follows here, unedited, is his letter and Alethea’s intro paragraph. Comments are off.

—————–

Edmund Schubert is a dear friend and has been since IGMS was but a twinkle in Orson Scott Card’s eye. For this reason (and because he has no true platform of his own from which to speak), I am posting this on his behalf.

I fully support Edmund in his decision. He continues to have my love and respect.

–Alethea

************************

My name is Edmund R. Schubert, and I am announcing my withdrawal from the Hugo category of Best Editor (Short Form). My withdrawal comes with complications, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll do my best to explain.

I am withdrawing because:

  1. I believe that while the Sad Puppies’ stated goal of bringing attention to under-recognized work may have been well-intentioned, their tactics were seriously flawed. While I personally find it challenging that some people won’t read IGMS because they disagree with the publisher’s perceived politics (which have nothing whatsoever to do with what goes into the magazine), I can’t in good conscience complain about the deck being stacked against me, and then feel good about being nominated for an award when the deck gets stacked in my favor. That would make me a hypocrite. I can’t be part of that and still maintain my integrity.
  2. Vox Day/Theodore Beale/Rabid Puppies. Good grief. While I firmly believe that free speech is only truly free if everyone is allowed to speak their mind, I believe equally strongly that defending people’s right to free speech comes with responsibilities: in this case, the responsibility to call out unproductive, mean-spirited, inflammatory, and downright hateful speech. I believe that far too many of Vox’s words fall into those categories—and a stand has to be made against it.
  3. Ping pong. (Yes, really.) A ping pong ball only ever gets used by people who need something to hit as a way to score points, and I am through being treated like a political ping pong ball—by all sorts of people across the entire spectrum. Done.

Regrettably this situation is complicated by the fact that when I came to this decision, the WorldCon organizers told me the ballot was ‘frozen.’  This is a pity, because in addition to wanting ‘out’ of the ping pong match, I would very much have liked to see someone else who had earned it on their own (without the benefit of a slate) get on the ballot in my place. But the ballots had already been sent off to the printers. Unfortunately this may reduce my actions to a symbolic gesture, but I can’t let that prevent me from following my conscience.

So it seems that the best I can do at this stage is ask everyone with a Hugo ballot to pretend I’m not there. Ignore my name, because if they call my name at the award ceremony, I won’t accept the chrome rocketship. My name may be on that ballot, but it’s not there the way I’d have preferred.

I will not, however, advocate for an across-the-board No Award vote. That penalizes people who are innocent, for the sake of making a political point. Vox Day chose to put himself and his publishing company, Castalia House, in the crosshairs, which makes him fair game—but not everybody, not unilaterally. I can’t support that.

Here’s what I do want to do, though, to address where I think the Sad Puppies were off-target: I don’t think storming the gates of WorldCon was the right way to bring attention to worthy stories. Whether or not you take the Puppies at their word is beside the matter; it’s what they said they wanted, and I think bringing attention to under-represented work is an excellent idea.

So I want to expand the reading pool.

Of course, I always think more reading is a good thing. Reading is awesome. Reading—fiction, specifically—has been proven to make people more empathetic, and God knows we need as much empathy as we can possibly get these days. I also believe that when readers give new works by new authors an honest chance, they’ll find things they appreciate and enjoy.

In that spirit, I am taking the material that would have comprised my part of the Hugo Voters Packet and making it available to everyone, everywhere, for free, whether they have a WorldCon membership or not. Take it. Read it. Share it. It’s yours to do with as you will.

The only thing I ask is that whatever you do, do it honestly.

Don’t like some of these stories? That’s cool; at least I’ll know you don’t like them because you read them, not because you disagree with political ideologies that have nothing to do with the stories.

You do like them? Great; share them with a friend. Come and get some more.

But whatever you decide, decide it honestly, not to score a point.

And let me be clear about this:  While I strongly disagree with the way Sad Puppies went about it… when the Puppies say they feel shut out because of their politics, it’s hard for me to not empathize because I’ve seen IGMS’s authors chastised for selling their story to us, simply because of people’s perceptions about the publisher’s personal views. I’ve also seen people refuse to read any of the stories published in IGMS for the same reason.

With regard to that, I want to repeat something I’ve said previously: while Orson Scott Card and I disagree on several social and political subjects, we respect each other and don’t let it get in the way of IGMS’s true goal: supporting writers and artists of all backgrounds and preferences. The truth is that Card is neither devil nor saint; he’s just a man who wants to support writers and artists—and he doesn’t let anything stand in the way of that.

As editor of IGMS, I can, and have, and will continue to be—with the full support of publisher Orson Scott Card—open to publishing stories by and about gay authors and gay characters, stories by and about female authors and female characters, stories by authors and about characters of any and every racial, political, or religious affiliation—as long as I feel like those authors 1) have a story to tell, not a point to score, and 2) tell that story well. And you know what? Orson is happy to have me do so. Because the raison d’etre of IGMS is to support writers and artists. Period.

IGMS—Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show—is open to everyone. All the way. Always has been, always will be. All I ask, all I have ever asked, is that people’s minds operate in the same fashion.

Consider this the beginning then of the larger reading campaign that should have been. To kick it off, I offer you this sampling from IGMS, which represents the essence of how I see the magazine—a reflection of the kind of stories I want to fill IGMS with, that will help make it the kind of magazine I want IGMS to be—and that I believe it can be if readers and writers alike will give it a fair chance.

If you have reading suggestions of your own, I heartily encourage you help me build and distribute a list.

(Yes, I know, there are already plenty of reading lists out there. But you will never convince me that there is such a thing as too much reading. Never.)

The Big Idea: Bud Sparhawk

Bud Sparhawk is not only possibly the best treasurer that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has ever had (says a guy fortunate enough to have been on the organization’s board with him), he’s also a hell of a writer, as evidenced by his latest novel, Distant Seas, which garnered a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly. Bud’s here now to talk about the book, and what previously earth-based skill takes to other worlds in it.

BUD SPARHAWK:

The really big idea in this make-up novel is that sailing, balancing the forces of wind and water, is as much an art as a science. Running a true line with your hand on the rudder and the mainsail’s line in hand is both an expression of love between you and the boat and calculating the solutions to multiple simultaneous equations.

This story is my way of conveying the experience of sailing to readers who have never felt the responsiveness of a lively hull, heard the thrum of the wind on the lines, or felt the wind and water’s tension that integrates sailor, sail, rudder, hull, and keel into a single living creature.

I’ve always thrilled to reading about sailors racing around the world, braving mishaps, and surviving terrible weather by taking every precaution to avoid disaster.  I learned to sail on the Chesapeake Bay as a teen and was able to renew my love of sailing after we returned to the Annapolis area (aka Sailing Capitol of the World[1].)

There were several streams that brought Distant Seas into reality.  The first of these was my second professional short story, Alba Krystal[2], which described miners plunging into the dense atmosphere of Grimm, a gas giant, to collect volcanic gems thrown into the planet’s fierce winds.  That idea popped back into my head when, twenty years later, I read an article[3] on surface gravity and realized that a survivable two-gravity field would be well within Jupiter’s atmosphere.

And if, at that two-gravity level, there was as sharp a density divide as between air and water then someone could build a sailboat and, wherever there are sailboats, there will be a race.

But sailing on Jupiter is only one part of the story.  The “seas” on which Louella and Pascal race include Earth’s dangerous Southern Ocean, the wine-red seas of Jupiter, and the arid high plains of Mars.

The most difficult part of writing these stories was to imbue the protagonists and their sponsors, partners, and competitors with life, to give each of them individuality in speech patterns, personalities, and histories as well as delve into their motivations.  I worked hard to subtly show the forces that shaped each of them by continually trimming long and boring narrative passages until only the essence remained and then seeding these fragments among conversations, asides, and observations.

The second hardest part was making the sailing technology realistic. I did this by giving first general descriptions and then focusing on specific parts of the design; efficient for Earth’s around-the-world single-handed sailboats, rugged for the Jupiter dirigible/submarine craft, and light for Mars’ sand racers.

Do not for a moment believe that any of these plot lines emerged pure and unsullied from my brilliant mind. Much was composed while sailing on the Bay, sweating at the computer, and at random and unpredictable times. Paragraphs were shifted, descriptions changed, and entire swathes of passages obliterated.  I even typed the Martian race while wearing an arm cast that forced me to use a single finger of my write[4] hand.

But aside from developing interesting characters and believable technology, I wanted to get across the pure joy of balancing wind and water when carving a smooth line across the “seas” of the title.  I wanted to put reader in the cockpit with lines in hand, an eye to the sail, and a firm hand on the rudder.  I want you to be there, in the moment, as the protagonists deal with their problems in a realistic way. There are no unflinching heroes in this book, no miraculous salvations, and no mystical forces.  There are only people doing their best while fighting the winds and handling whatever fate deals them.

This is a book about being a sailor!

[1] Capitol refers to the State’s capitol, not sailing’s.

[2]  Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, January 1977

[3]  “Quantized Surface Gravity?” Analog, March 1994

[4] I apologize.

—-

Distant Seas: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

It’s Funny Because It’s True

A comment from elsewhere on the Internet:

“Certainly the most puzzling part of the Sad Puppies campaign is the claim that Scalzi’s works are too literary to represent the mainstream of SF. That’s like saying a group of food critics are too snobbish because they ranked Arby’s above McDonalds.”

Reader, I LOLed.

Back to Ohio

Traveling today (again!) so I’ll be scarce here. In the meantime, why not read this review of The Android’s Dream by James Nicoll? He’s one of the most observant reviewers of science fiction and fantasy writing now (check his other reviews), and I’m pleased to read his observations of the book. The review, I will note, goes to my oft-said (but I suspect, not-especially-believed) assertion that I would rather read an interesting critical review of my work than a bland positive one. Enjoy, and see you on the other side.

On My Way to Gainesville

Hey! I’m back at the airport! Again! Yay?

Seriously, at some point there will be a month where I don’t have to do any travel and I won’t know what I will do with myself. That month this year: September. Yes, September is the only month in 2015 where I don’t have travel scheduled. I honestly didn’t know writing would involve so many planes.

Anyway, off to Gainesville, where tomorrow at 1pm I will be doing an event at the Alachua County Library main branch. Reading! Q&A! Signing! And stuff. If you’re in the area, see you there, hopefully. If you’re not in the area, I guess you will have to find something else to fill that empty hole in your lives. I suggest air hockey.

Big Idea Notice, Re: May and June (and July)

It is:

The May Big Idea slots are all filled. If you queried and I did not respond, a) sorry, I tried to respond to everyone, b) I have no more slots for this month.

There are still a few June Big Idea slots open. Go ahead and query.

You may start querying for July Big Idea slots on May 1st.

Thanks!

Hugos and Class

(Warning: Hugo neepery ahead. Ignore if you’re bored with the subject.)

As I’m musing on class today, I’d like to take a moment to address something I see being attempted by the Puppies, which is to cast the current Hugo contretemps as something akin to a class war, with the scrappy diverse underdogs (the Puppy slates) arrayed against “powerful, wealthy white men” such as myself, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and George RR Martin, the latter being a late addition to the non-existent SJW cabal; apparently we are now a cackling, finger-steepling triumvirate of conspiracy (See the link here at File770, which, again, has been invaluable as a repository of Hugo commentary this year).

So, let’s unpack this a bit.

One, I’m not entirely sure how much credit the Puppy slates should get for “diversity” when their most notable accomplishments are reducing the overall demographic diversity of the Hugo slate from the past few years, locking up five (previously six!) slots on the final ballot for the same straight, white, male author, and getting much of their “diversity” from conscripts to the slates, at least some of whom did not appear to have foreknowledge of their appearance there, and some of whom have since declined their nominations. Basically, if you’re going to argue diversity, you should probably not make the assertion so easily refutable by actual fact (it also helps not to have one of the primary movers behind the slates be an actual, contemptible racist and sexist).

Two, with regard to me, George and Patrick being “powerful, wealthy white men”: okay, sure, why not (I suspect Patrick, earning an editor’s salary in New York, might snort derisively that the idea that he is actually wealthy), but it’s interesting for any of the three of us to be criticized for these things by a partisan of slates whose dominance on the final Hugo ballot was accomplished substantially through the machinations of a fellow who is himself a scion of wealth and power, with enough dosh on hand to have his own publishing house (for which he is using the current Hugo contretemps as very cheap advertising), and, to a rather lesser extent, by a fellow who has many of the same advantages I or George do: Bestselling status, award nominations and, at least from public statements I can recall, a rather comfortable income from his work, largely from a company that shares at least one parent in common with one that publishes me, is a major house in the field, and is distributed by a major publishing conglomerate. Indeed, as it is an article of faith among the Puppies that I don’t actually sell all that many books, I suppose the argument could be made that he is more wealthy and powerful than I am! So well done him, and I wish him all the best in his career. But between these fellows and their circumstances, it’s difficult to cast this as a battle of underdogs versus wealth and privilege. There’s quite enough wealth and privilege to go around.

(There is at least one salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and the fellows I’ve mentioned, who share so many of the advantages that we three do. What that difference is I will leave as an exercise for the reader.)

Three, the Puppies drama isn’t about class, or privilege. It’s about envy and opportunism, and it’s also, somewhat pathetically, apparently about the heads of the Puppy slates being upset that once upon a time, they felt people in fandom were mean to them. As if they were the only people in the world that folks in science fiction fandom had ever been mean to. True fact: There is almost no one in science fiction and fantasy that someone else in fandom hasn’t been mean to at one time or the other. Science fiction fandom contains many people, including quite a few with questionable social skills. Not all of them are going to like you. Not all of them are going to like what you do. That’s not a conspiracy; that’s just a basic fact.

Here’s a thing: Look back in time to when I was nominated for Best Fan Writer. There was a whole lot of mean going on there; there are still fans who are righteously upset with me about it. Look at what people have said about each of the books of mine that have been nominated for Best Novel (look at what was said after I won it!). Look what people in fandom say about me on the Internet all the damn time. Hell, I remember rather vividly being at the Montreal Worldcon during my autograph session and this dude coming up, handing me Zoe’s Tale, and saying “It’s not really a good book and I don’t think it should be on the ballot and I don’t know why it is, but I guess since you’re here you might as well sign it for me.” Which I thought was really kind of amazing, in its own obnoxious way.

You know what I did? I signed his book. Because a) apparently he bought it and b) I’m not emotionally twelve years old. I can handle people being thoughtless and stupid and even occasionally intentionally mean in my direction, without deciding the the correct response is to burn down the Hugos, screaming I’ll show you! I’ll show you all! Which is, as it happens, seems to be another salient difference between me, Patrick and George, and these fellows. Unless you’re under the impression Patrick and George haven’t got their fair share of people disliking them, or saying mean things about them. They have; they’ve just decided to deal with it like the grown up humans they are.

So, no. This Hugo contretemps isn’t about class. But it might be, a little bit, about who has class, and how that affects what they do with their wealth and power.

The Elite Poor

Here’s an interesting story in the Boston Globe about poor students attending Ivy League schools and very often struggling with their new environment, not in the least because they are often the first in their families to attend college at all, and thus have little guidance from family and friends on how to navigate the academic surroundings. I found it interesting because their story is in many ways my story: I was the first of my family to go to college (indeed, I was the only one of my immediate family to finish high school), and I went to the University of Chicago, which is not an Ivy but is certainly an elite school (currently #4 in the US News “national university” ranking, tied with Columbia and Stanford). And I was poor when I went to school there.

That said, I had an advantage that many first generation college students don’t — for high school I attended a private boarding school (scholarship kid), which gave me four years to work out my class angst — and there was some — and also learn how to navigate issues of privilige, of which not the least was accepting the fact that I was starting the journey away from poverty, and the worldview it engenders, and toward privilege, and that worldview. I’ve said before that when one has been poor one never forgets what that’s like, and that remains true. But by the time I got to college, most of my really difficult battles on that score were settled. I was decently well assimilated into the elite world view.

And as it happens I think the elite world view — essentially, the belief that one of the people behind the levers of the world will be you — is not always a bad one to have. But it needs to be tempered by awareness of a world outside privilege, so one is not oblivious to the fact that the world outside your door is filled with people who don’t benefit from the same easy connection to power that you now have, thanks to networks and name brand recognition. This is where first-generation students at elite schools can make a difference. They can be a bridge between two worlds in a way few others can.

They have to make it through the transition first, however. And sometimes that’s hard.

Reminder: I’m in Gainesville, Florida This Saturday For a Library Event

Yes! I’ll be in Gainesville this Saturday, April 25 at 1pm at the Alachua County Library main branch, for a reading, Q&A and possibly a signing (the event is supposed to run from 1 to 2, but if they let me hang around after, I’ll sign some books). Here are the actual details. I’ll be reading from the upcoming book, The End of All Things, plus a couple of other bits. So if you want a speak preview of the book before almost anyone else, now you know what you’re doing with your weekend. See you there!

My Day in a Wheelchair

As most of you probably remember, when I was in Australia I tore a calf muscle and spent several days on crutches and have since been using a cane to get about. The good news is that everything’s healing as it should — at this point I’m keeping the cane around as a precautionary measure — so as far as Adventures in Temporary Disability go, this has been likely a best-case scenario.

That said, I did have one relatively brief moment where I got the smallest of glimpses of what I suspect mobility-impared people go through on a regular basis. It happened when I was traveling back from Australia to the US, and I, in an overabundance of caution, asked for (and got) wheelchair assistance to get around the two airports I was going to be in: Melbourne and Los Angeles.

I will note that initially, I felt weird about asking for a wheelchair at all — my self-image is as an able-bodied person, so even though I was literally hobbling my way around, some part of my brain was “you can totally walk around this airport with several heavy bags and a leg injury!” But I decided not to listen to that voice, because that voice was stupid, as reasonable-sounding as it was inside my brain at the time.

And a good thing, because in the case of both Melbourne and Los Angeles, a) the airports are huge, and b) in LA there was the additional hurdle of customs to go through. If I had had to walk it, I suspect I would still be in Melbourne’s airport, subsisting on free wifi and Violet Crumbles. I needed the wheelchair, self-image be damned.

For the record, the first part of the wheelchair experience was pretty sweet and exactly what able-bodied people think when they think disabled people get some sort of awesome superpower: I zipped through security and customs lines super-fast, faster than I had ever done so under my own steam. Also, the Melbourne wheelchair was modern and electric powered and I felt vaguely like Professor X being carted around on it (the Los Angeles wheelchair was probably older than I am and the poor woman they assigned to it could barely push me up ramps. I tipped her hugely at the end). It was just like being a first-class passenger! Only cheaper and I didn’t even have to get up!

But then — well. So, in Los Angeles I’m at the baggage carousel and my wheelchair is parked so I can point out my bags to the woman helping me. And of course bags are coming round and people are grabbing them, anxious to get them and get the hell out of the airport, which I can totally understand, since LAX is a terrible airport all the way around.

The thing is, when they’re grabbing them, the conveyor belt is still moving, and the people tugging at them are starting to cross into my personal space, shoving into my wheelchair and pushing it around to get at their bags, rather than, say, letting go of the goddamned piece of luggage for just a second to go around me and grab it on the other side. And when they did haul the luggage off the carousel, they managed to smack it across my wheelchair, knocking me about.

The first time it happened, I was, like, whatever. The second time I got annoyed. The third time, the guy hauling the piece of luggage off the carousel actually clocked me in the head with it, at which point I stopped being patient and said “Are you actually fucking kidding me?” to him.

At which point the man was entirely mortified and abjectly apologized, because in fact he was probably not a horrible person. He just didn’t seem to notice that as a guy in a wheelchair, I was mobility-impaired and couldn’t move out of his way like an able-bodied person could. He just didn’t factor me into his worldview, which at the time was laser-focused on getting his luggage and getting the hell out of Dodge. As a result, he literally battered me. Quite unintentionally, to be clear. But that didn’t make my head feel any better in the moment.

I should note that my half hour being shoved about at the baggage carousel (my bags were pretty much the last ones off the plane) does not give me any authority to speak to disabled issues at all. What I am saying, again, is that for a very brief and limited slice of time, I got to experience what it’s like to be someone who is disabled and how people — normal, presumably not terrible people — deal with them in their world. It wasn’t, shall we say, an entirely positive experience.

It is something, however, I’ll remember when I am fully able-bodied again.