Reader Request 2005: Odds and Ends

Duhhhhhh. For some reason I can’t think coherently for more than 30 seconds at a time, so I suppose today would be a fine day to do a collection of short reader questions. Okay? Here we go:

Mark Ensley: “Why do so many people suck?”

Well, because it’s easy, as opposed to not sucking, which takes effort because it means actually paying attention to those around you. The thing about sucking is that it’s very often the path of least resistance, and humans, like every animal, generally choose to conserve energy whenever possible.

Now if you don’t want people to suck, the solution is to create a society where sucking is not actually the path of least resistance — where indeed one would have to expend energy to suck. The catch here is that would require effort to construct society. And again, we know how people are. Theoretically it’s possible, but don’t hold your breath.

Tommyspoon: “School shootings: Why are they happening? Can they be prevented? What do they say about our culture in general?”

They happen because the shooter is off his rocker, for whatever reason (being a teenager, the hormonal madness of which should be proof positive of evolution, since no loving god would put his creatures through that sort of nonsense, emphatically does not help). They could be prevented by getting rid of firearms in general and/or turning schools into absolute prisons with no casual entering or leaving, but since neither is going to happen, the practical answer is no. What do they say about our culture? Not much. School shootings are about an individual and the manifestation of his own pathological unhappiness, not about the culture in which they live. If our culture were truly breeding school shooters, we’d have incidents on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Sue: “How do you think history will treat Bill Clinton, now that we’re a few years beyond his presidency?”

I think it’ll treat him with benign neglect. The paragraph on Clinton in the history texts in the future will say, basically: “President William Jefferson Clinton presided over a period of great prosperity in the United States but found his effectiveness hampered by political opposition and scandal.” Honestly, what more will need to be said? Some people like to think that the impeachment will count for something, but honestly, let’s have a show of hands about the number of people who know or care about the particulars of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment.

As you all know I’m less than impressed with the current Bush in the White House, but I do expect he’ll get at least one paragraph more than Clinton in the future history books, in no small part because he presided over a war, and also because of 9/11. That’s the way these things go.

Dean: “When writing fiction, do you write specifically for a genre, or do you write your story and then see what genre it falls into?”

Well, so far I’ve written science fiction — which is to say I had the intent of plotting them to take place in future time and/or engage in purely speculative events (like alien visitations or interstellar travel). So it all fits into that genre bin. And of course as I’ve noted, I wrote OMW as military SF because that’s what I saw selling, and I wanted to sell an SF book. So I guess I write specifically for a genre to this point.

On the other hand, I don’t particularly worry about it if I color outside the lines of the genre. Old Man’s War has a rather significant love story plot, for example, which is not the usual thing with military science fiction; Agent to the Stars, which is a funny piece, deals rather seriously with the Holocaust and incorporates it into the plot. I write what I want to read, and I think in both of these cases, these non-typical add rather than detract from the story, and so there they are. Observing genre conventions does not mean one has to be trapped by them.

John N: “Why did the Howells bring all those clothes and so much cash for what was supposed to be a three hour tour?”

Well, it’s all relative. As a percentage of their wealth and property, the Howells brought an equivalent amount as the Skipper, who probably brought pocket change and maybe an extra pair of underwear. Just be glad they weren’t richer.

Mitch Wagner: “Is science fiction dead?”

No, and I think when people gout out their pretentious “science fiction is dead!” pieces, they’re being a special brand of stupid, or just stirring the pot because they haven’t anything better to do. Look, it’s simple: If you write a fictional story that takes place in future/alternate time and/or incorporates technology that does not yet exist, you’re writing science fiction. The only way people will stop writing science fiction is if we invent all possible technology and/or stop moving forward on the time axis. We can argue about whether certain types of SF are dead, or even if written SF is on the way out, or whatever, but those are emphatically different questions.

In my opinion, when people write “science fiction is dying,” they’re actually saying “I can’t find something I want to read” and they’re trying to aggrandize their personal viewpoint to be a an issue of universal concern. Well, listen, pal, you’re just one guy, okay? If you can’t find something good to read, don’t assume the rest of us feel the same way.

Bryan: “Tell me what makes Winter’s Tale such a great book.”

No. Read it yourself. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. You’ll be able to see what makes it a great book almost immediately. And if you can’t, well, you have my sympathy.