Pluton?

pluton.jpg

The latest on the solar system: a proposal for 12 planets, which would reintroduce Ceres as a planet (ha! Take that, history!), albeit as a “dwarf planet,” reclassify Pluto’s moon Charon as a planet, and dub both Pluto and Charon as “Plutons,” to distinguish them from “dwarf planets,” I suppose, although apparently they will be both plutons and dwarf planets. Then 2003 UB313/Xena would also be made a planet, of the Pluton/dwarf species.

Seems little overcomplicated, particularly this Pluton/dwarf business, but it’s nice to see a consensus beginning to form around having Pluto and its ilk remain planets. Scott Westerfeld and I have (genially, to be sure) gone around as to whether labeling Pluto a different sort of planet is the first step toward a demotion or not; I think not because there’s 66 years of momentum behind the “Pluto as a planet” meme, and because Scott’s protestations notwithstanding, there’s not a thing wrong in noting that being small and icy and having eccentric orbits is a distinguishing characteristic of being a Pluto-series planet.

As I’ve said in the comment threads, what I think will eventually happen is that there will be nine “Historical Planets” that get named in popular astronomy books, with Pluto/Charon being considered one entry (possibly ten if popular imagination re-promotes Ceres), and then all the other planets get a hand-wave, as in: “Our solar system is comprised of nine historical planets, and many other smaller, icy planets discovered after Pluto.” Done and done. Among other things, this will allow people not to worry about screwing up the “naming the planets after Roman gods” thing.

Another interesting thing about this proposal is it seems to want to classify whether planet-like objects are planets or moons precisely as I did in the comment thread last night: By locating the center of gravity. If the center of gravity between two objects is inside the larger object, the smaller object is a satellite; if the center of gravity is outside of either object, both objects are planets in a double-planet system. Thus, our moon stays a moon, because the center of gravity for our earth-moon system is under our planet’s surface. But Pluto and Charon become a double planet. Works for me.

The vote on all this is eight days from now; I’m sure we’ll here more about it between now and then. Personally, I think it’s fairly neat this discussion is being picked up and carried over to a larger audience than these sort of things usually get — the “12-planet” proposal was the lead story on both the MSNBC and CNN Web sites this morning; apparently it’s too early for the “people killing the hell out of each other for no good reason” stories. Never fear. They will come. In the meantime, I wonder what the Vegas odds are for “Pluto stays a planet.” I’d bet.

Incidentally, the picture above, which shows the planets to scale (if not in their orbits), points out the real fact of the matter, which is that the solar system has four planets, and also a bunch of tiny orbiting rubble, some of which we just happen to live on. There’s perspective for you.

A Special Message From Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld

In the interest of fairness, after having Scott Westerfeld consumed by Cthulhu for his heretical Pluto-hatin’ ways, it’s only right that I link to his rationale for not considering Pluto a planet. Follow the logic, such as it is.

A Special Message for Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld

As many of you may know from this comment thread, Scott Westerfeld, noted author of Peeps and the upcoming The Last Days, while otherwise a perfectly cromulent human, is nevertheless a confirmed Pluto Hayta, dedicated to the proposition that our smallest planet is not, in fact, a planet at all. Well, I told this little fact to someone very special, and this is what she had to say on the matter.

Peapod Classics

Speaking of trusting your publishers to know what they’re doing, over the weekend Small Beer Press sent along to me the three books in their Peapod Classics line, Howard Waldrop’s Howard Who?, Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light, and Carol Emshwiller’s Carmen Dog, and I found myself inclined to like the books even before I actually, you know, opened one up.

That was almost entirely due to the playful design of each of these books; the Peapod Classics are cute as the proverbial button, from their small, nearly square proportions to the Kevin Huizenga cover illustrations, and practically beg to be picked up and looked at. Probably someone could avoid smiling at these books, but that person is not me. This is genius packaging, since if you can get people to actually want to pick up a book, that’s half the battle right there. It helps that the books themselves are short and whimsical and thus perfectly suited for their design, too; I zipped through the novella-length Carmen Dog, and am enjoying the hell out of the Waldrop stories I’ve read in the Howard Who? collection. It’s a nice marriage of content and packaging.

I like the design because of what it is, but I also like it for what it isn’t, which is exclusionary. Each of the books in the Peapod Classics line is a fantasy work (indeed, the whole point of the line is to reissue fantasy books/stories the editors like but which have fallen out of print). The design of the books doesn’t hide the fantasy element; it simply casts it in a way that people who aren’t already of the fantasy ilk could find accessible and engaging. You can get people to read just about anything, provided the cover doesn’t send them running, and these are fantasy books whose covers don’t fire off anyone’s “I can’t be seen with this” triggers. Except possibly teenage boys. But, well: teenage boys. What are you going to do.

Anyway: Nice design job, Small Beer Press. I enjoyed these books, both before and after reading them.

Justine on No Control

Justine Larbalestier points to all the things an author has no control over, which is useful information for when, say, you look at a book cover and wonder to yourself what the hell the author was thinking. Justine’s list is pretty much correct (there are a couple other additions to the list in the comment threads), although I would make the caveat that some of this is contingent on other factors. There are some of my books which I have had quite a lot of participation on things like cover and jacket copy and so on — but in all of those cases that was contingent on the willingness of the publisher/editor to let me be involved. The point is ultimately the decisions on a lot of things about the books is not the author’s.

It’s also worth noting that this is not always a bad thing. A writer’s core competency is writing, it’s not book design or art or marketing… or how all three of those fit together, for example, to sell a book. Writing a novel is largely a personal endeavor, but turning that novel into a book is a group endeavor, as is selling it. When you’re lucky, the other people you’re working with are good at what they do, and you can trust them to do their jobs well — so you can focus on writing.

Commenting Note

At the behest of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, I have changed the comments slightly so that the name of the commenter will now appear before their comment, not afterward. I also fiddled with the presentation of the comments slightly to make that relationship more clear. This change is effective globally, including on previous comment threads. Hopefully this will lead to a magic new era of commenting at the Whatever, in which everyone knows who is saying what in a quicker and more efficient manner.

To anticipate the question of whether you may now suggest format changes to the Whatever, the answer is sure, as long as you have, like Patrick, provided me with thousands of dollars of income annually for the better part of the current millennium.

Please feel free to leave a comment to acclimate yourself to the new format.

Three things, 8/11/06

First, a picture of the sunflower in our garden. Because it’s pretty, that’s why:

Second, a reminder that tomorrow I’ll be at the Mary Ann Mongan Branch of the Kenton County Public Library, In Covington, KY, from 2pm to 4pm. I’ll be talking about science fiction, possibly reading from one or another of my writings, and ranting about alien conspiracies. Because aliens always conspire. It’s what they do. They wouldn’t be aliens if they didn’t. Damn aliens. Anyway, it should be fun.

Third, I’m outta here for the weekend. See you on Monday.

International Astronomical Union to the Pluto Haters: Suck It

Man, this is makes me almost ridiculously happy:

An international panel has unanimously recommended that Pluto retain its title as a planet, and it may be joined by other undersized objects that revolve around the sun.

Yes! Ha! Take that, Rose Center for Earth and Space! You’re wrong! Wrong wrong wrongy wrong wrong! Also, you’re incorrect.

What it appears the IAU panel is also suggesting is something I’ve personally suggested for a while, which is to make formal some informal planet types: Gas planets, terrestrial planets, and a third category Pluto and its ilk, like “dwarf planets.” I think that’s perfectly fine, myself.

Now, the panel’s recommendation apparently has to be approved by the IAU at large, so there’s still a chance the Pluto haters could mount a last-minute attack. But come on! Unanimous recommendation, people. Pluto’s a planet. Just like I knew it would be. Now, all they need to do is give 2003 UB313 a real name and we’ll be good to go.

Update: Live Science’s Robert Roy Britt believes that Pluto will be getting a “polite demotion” if a proposed third category of planets is approved. Hey, Rob Roy! What part of the word “planet” don’t you understand? Huh? Huh? Huh?

(NB: The above was mock outrage.)

A Brief Moment of Recognition for the People Who Comment

You know what, over the last three days here at the Whatever, I’ve posted on two of the most flamey subjects around at the moment — fanfic and Joe Lieberman — and there have been hundreds of posts on these subjects from all sorts of people, who hold a full range of opinions of the subjects. All of the posts have been interesting to read, all of the commenters have been playing well with the others even when they disagree, and at no point has anything come even close to flame war status.

I’m so happy I could just about burst.

This solidifies my long-held opinion that the commenters here on the Whatever are some of the best around: smart, thoughtful people who can have a conversation on a comment thread. Look, I don’t know what I did to deserve you all — in point of fact I probably don’t deserve you — but I’m sure glad you’re all here. The Whatever is a better and complete place for your participation. Thanks.

A San Diego Thing

So, I’m going to be in San Diego prior to Worldcon and I’m thinking of perhaps trying to pull off a reading or meet and greet. Those of you in San Diego (or thereabouts): Would there be interest? I’m thinking possibly the evening of the 21st.

First Chapter of Wings to the Kingdom

Hey! The first chapter of Cherie Priest’s upcoming novel Wings to the Kingdom is up at Apex Science Fiction and Horror. I’ve gotten a sneak at the whole book and I’m here to tell you that if you enjoyed Cherie’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds (and I sure did), this one’s gonna knock your socks off, too. And as a bonus, it’s got a hell of a first chapter, which you can now sample, you lucky dogs, you. Go! Now!

Also: awesome cover.

Follow-up on Crimes of Fanfic

Lots of very interesting and generally civil discussion coming out in the Crimes of Fanfic thread, for which I am pleased. As some folks have surmised, I did in fact frame the discussion in a particular and confrontational way regarding fanfic and plagiarism, because I was interested in hearing from fanficcers and their readers on the matter, and aside from a few flubs of rhetoric on my part, it worked out pretty well. Thanks to those who participated (and who are continuing to post).

Having said that, I do have a very real concern, in that it’s clear that some portion of fanficcers actually seems to believe that writing fanfic isn’t actually copyright infringement, and that therefore it “exists in a gray area” or is actually not illegal via some interpretation of fair use. Some of this belief stems from the contention that there has not been (to the common knowledge) a copyright suit specifically dealing with fanfic, probably because a “Cease & Desist” letter is usually enough to cause the fanficcer to take down his/her fanfic so no court case is necessary. The thinking here seems to be that if a suit does not specifically address fanfic, then the legal status of fanfic is in fact indeterminate.

I can’t help but think this is a bit of magical thinking, based on the idea that fanfic is in itself a legally special class of writing (possibly under the “we’re doing this for fun” idea), which as far as I can see it’s not. It’s bound to the same injunctions and restrictions as any other piece of creative writing. Certainly US copyright law carves out protections for fair use, parody and criticism, and equally certainly some fanfic qualifies under a realistic reading of these protections. But I hazard to guess the vast majority of fanfic could not be shoehorned into these protections even under the most liberal of terms.

Now, I realize my opinion is suspect, because I am not a lawyer, and also because after yesterday’s entry, some fanficcers undoubtedly see me as the hated enemy. So I went out and about on the Web to look for bolstering of this opinion of mine from folks who have some idea of the relevant law. Our first stop is the Web site of Kevin A. Thompson, who is an intellectual property attorney with Davis McGrath LLC, and whose area of practice includes trademark, copyright, and internet issues. Here’s what he says on the issue:

Fan fiction is prevalent on the Internet, but is it legal? It turns out that’s a really interesting question. For the great majority of what is available, the answer is no… first and foremost fan fiction is almost always never authorized by the holder of the copyright in the work. Most of these stories are classified as an “unauthorized derivative work” and are therefore an infringement. A derivative work is one that is based upon one or more preexisting works. The right to create derivative works is one of the exclusive rights given to the copyright holder pursuant to statute. Infringers of federally registered works can be subject to monetary damages, including statutory damages which can range from $750.00 to $150,000.00 per work in the case of willful infringement. Plus, attorneys fees can be awarded by a judge in certain cases.

Our next stop is the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a repository of legal information complied by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the clinics of various law schools, including those of Harvard, Stanford and Berekely. On the entry page the site has on fan fiction, the CEC notes that “Not all fan fiction is a violation of law,” which is of course true. However, reading ancilliary pages makes it clear that while not all fan fiction violates the law, a whole lot of it does:

Copyright owners have the right to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work. In most cases the right to prepare derivative works is superfluous since when this right is infringed, the right to reproduction will also be infringed. For example, if a FanFic author creates a new story about Darth Vader, the author will have infringed both the derivative right and the right to reproduce that character.

and

In order to prove copying, it must be shown that the fan fiction author copied the work (either through direct or indirect evidence), and some of the copied elements are protected and that the “audience” of the work would also find similar elements. Since FanFic authors generally do not deny that characters and settings are borrowed (“copied”), as seen in their disclaimers, it is likely that copying will be found. Then you must raise the defense of fair use.

Yes, and what about fair use? Fair use is part of the copyright setup for the purposes of (and here I’m quoting the CEC) “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.” While the CEC notes “There is a strong argument that many fan fiction stories are transformative since they create a different persona and set of events for the character,” this is only one criterion for a fair use defense; in any event most fanfic is not created for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research — not every fanfic is a parody — nor, is it likely, would any competent court of law hold that your standard-issue Harry/Draco slash constitutes such (and at the very least, Scholastic’s lawyers would have lots of fun smashing that defense to pieces). I suspect that many of the fanficcers who hold “fair use” up as a shibboleth in their defense would find to their grief that it doesn’t well apply to what they do.

In sum: The large majority of fanfic is almost certainly a copyright violation; the large majority of fanfic is almost certainly illegal.

The reason to accentuate this point is not to rub fanficcers’ noses in it (“Ha! You silly, silly fanficcers! I laugh to your pathetic Harry Potter handling!”), but to dissuade fanficcers from assuming they have certain protections under the law which they almost certainly do not. Simply as a practical matter, rather than assume that their fanfic exists in a legal Schroedinger’s Court Room, where the legality of fanfic exists in an indeterminate state until someone cracks open the door and withdraws a verdict, fanficcers should work under the knowledge that most of the copyright case law suggests they do not have a legal right to produce fanfic, and proceed accordingly.

In fact, I suspect, the large majority of fanficcers do just that, which is why among other things they are admirably self-policing whenever one of their number gets it in his or her head to, say, start selling their fanfic. But clearly there are more than a few fanficcers who are under the impression that what they’re doing is legal, or at least, not so illegal that they can’t do whatever they please in someone else’s universe, with someone else’s characters. For those folks, I suspect the best solution, if they truly believe fanfic to be legal, would to make themselves a test case, so that there is an on-point copyright case involving fanfic. I don’t suggest using any universe I’ve created to do so, since I’m already on record as thinking it would be cool to have fanfic. However, I hear Anne Rice would be a fine person to test this legal theory upon.

I think fanfic is perfectly fine; I also think it’s largely illegal. I think fanficcers will be better off if they share this basic frame of mind with me.

Wednesday Author Interview: Naomi Kritzer

Over at By The Way I’ve got an interview with Naomi Kritzer, whose terrific “Dead Rivers Trilogy” reaches its conclusion with the release of Freedom’s Sisters. I’ve been a fan of Naomi’s writing for a while now, and I think she’s a neat person, so interviewing her was a lot of fun. Enjoy.

A Reminder

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

(Hat tip: Elizabeth Bear)

Lieberman in Exile

Look, it’s over. Lieberman lost his chance at re-election to the US Senate last night, and come November, he’s going to lose again. The difference is that he will lose in November for entirely separate reasons than the ones which caused him to lose last night. Last night, he lost because of his support for an unpopular war, and the general feeling that he’s out of touch with his constituency in Connecticut. In November, he’s going to lose because he lost last night. He lost fair and square, so his assertion that he gets to have a mulligan isn’t going to fly. And shouldn’t.

Republicans and conservatives are weeping crocodile tears for Lieberman, tut-tutting as they do that this shows that the Democrats can’t handle a diversity of opinions or whatever. This is rich coming the GOP, of course, which has spent decades marginalizing its own moderates and (god forbid) liberals, and who in any event have an interest in Lieberman only to the extent that he can be used a strategic cudgel to bash at the Democrats. Anyone who is sane will recognize conservative hand-wringing over the fate of Lieberman as artfully-composed insincerity; conservatives view Lieberman as a handy Quisling, second cousin in his rhetorical usefulness to the occasional black Republican representative.

Lieberman is now betting on the Republican and independent vote in his home state to help him get back in the senatorial saddle, but I’m fairly skeptical as to whether he’ll get that support. To begin, as far as I recall, the GOP does have its own candidate in Connecticut, and while there is some political fun to be had in propping up Lieberman, the GOP’s goal will be to try to get Lamont and Lieberman to split their pool of votes and let the GOP candidate slip down the middle. The Senate is too closely divided for the GOP to throw any real support behind a conservative Democrat; Lieberman is once again only a handy tool. Connecticut Republicans may individually decide to vote for Lieberman, of course, but why would they? In his not-concession speech last night, Lieberman said “For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand.” He’s not a Republican, even if he is occasionally useful to them.

Who knows how independents will vote. That’s why they’re independents. But I am an independent, and I’m here to tell you that Lieberman’s strategy sticks in my craw. He’s an independent through convenience only, jumping to that status when the system he benefited from for two decades didn’t give him the results he thought he deserved. Personally I would love it if there were more independent political candidates; I pretty much despise the idea of political parties on principle. But if you’re going to be independent, then be independent — don’t be independent when it’s useful to you and then go back to being a party member when it comes time to get your committee assignments, as Lieberman has already made clear he would. As an independent, I say: Screw you, you insincere schmuck.

And as for the Democrats, well. Lieberman’s already baldly stated that the Democratic voters of his state couldn’t have possibly meant not to vote for him, which is why he’s graciously going to give them a chance to vote for him again in November. I sincerely doubt, had Lieberman won last night, that he would have been sanguine about Lamont turning around and declaring himself an “independent Democrat,” so in addition to being a loser, Lieberman’s also a hypocrite, and evidently of the opinion that his incumbency is more important than the processes of the democratic (small d) system. If the Democrats have any brains at all, they will quickly and loudly support Lamont as the legitimate and only Democratic candidate, and politely but firmly work to minimize Lieberman’s support among core Democrats. Whether they do this is another matter entirely, as I’ve said before, I’ve always been impressed by the ability of the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

But I think ultimately Lieberman’s defeat, when it comes, will fall on Lieberman’s shoulders alone. He’s repudiating his party, and morgaging his reputation as an honorable man, for an election he should not be contesting in. He’s going to lose, and I suspect he’s going to lose big, regardless of the final vote percentages. He ought to accept his loss. It’s a shame he won’t.

Crimes of Fanfic

A couple of e-mails have come in recently — whether independently or coordinated, I can’t say — asking me if I had any comment about what seems to be a long-running kerfuffle in the Harry Potter fandom about a particular fanfic author who allegedly plagiarized other works in the construction of her own fanfic story. As evidence of this I was presented with a whole bunch of links that turned out to be really tremendously not useful because nearly all of them were like dropping in on a heated argument that had a subtext one could learn nothing about, and anyway the argument was in Albanian, so all you knew was there was a lot of yelling and shouting.

The wrinkle is this particular fanfic author is in the process of crossing over to writing original material, and I can only assume that these folks e-mailing me about the kerfuffle want to blow the lid off of this writer’s alleged previous sins before she escapes into the real world. The e-mails hinted that this was something along the line of Lori Jareo or Kaavya Viswanathan, the former being a case where someone was stupid enough to try to commercially publish their fanfic, and the latter being a case where an author put forward an original work, portions of which were plagiarized from other novels.

Well — and bear in mind that I’m working from a bunch of links and LiveJournal hissy fits that I fully admit I can’t find a coherent thread in — I’m not feeling a whole bunch of outrage here, nor frankly do I find that a) what this fanfic writer has allegedly done has any consequence outside fanfic circles, or b) that this fanfic writer needs to be punished or humiliated prior to their formal publication. This writer may or may not have plagiarized other works in their fanfic — I can’t tell at a glance, nor am I inclined to research the matter to any great length — but if they did, I’m hard-pressed to see why it matters in the larger scheme of things.

Let’s remember one fundamental thing about fanfic: Almost all of it is entirely illegal to begin with. It’s the wild and wanton misappropriation of copyrighted material (I’m sure there is fanfic that features public domain characters, just not nearly as much as there is of, say, Harry Potter fanfic). Copyright holders may choose not to see it, or may even tacitly encourage it from time to time, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re writing fanfic, you’re already doing something legally out of bounds. And, really, if you’re already wantonly violating copyright, what’s a little plagiarism to go along with it? Honestly. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I recognize this attitude probably won’t sit well with fanficcers, but this is really an “honor among thieves” sort of issue, isn’t it? If you’ve already morally justified intellectual theft so you can play with Harry and Hermione and Draco and whomever else you want to play with, I’m not entirely sure how one couldn’t also quite easily justify taking juicy chunks of other people’s text to play with as well. Think of it as the literary equivalent of a “mash-up,” if you will. Everyone seems to think The Gray Album was a perfectly fine thing to do (well, except EMI), so how is this any different? As long as it all takes place within the confines of fanfic sandbox, it’s all pretty much the same, morally and legally speaking. Out in the real world, I take plagiarism rather very seriously, but then, out in the real world, I take appropriation of copyright seriously as well. If fanficcers want me to oblige their outrage about fanfic plagiarism, I suppose I would have to ask how it is essentially more serious than the appropriation of copyrighted characters and settings, and how if I must criticize one why I am not also therefore obliged to criticize the other.

On the other portion of the issue, should what an author does within the confines of the fanfic sandbox have any effect on what happens when they start to do original fiction? I think not, personally. What happens in fanfic, stays in fanfic. I’m perfectly content to think of fanfic as a sort of free play area where anything goes and what goes on has no bearing in the real world of writing. No harm, no foul. In the case of this particular author, if the original fiction they’re working on turns out to be chock full of plagiarism, that’s another discussion entirely. But since the original fiction isn’t even out yet, there’s nothing to suggest that it is, and I don’t think it’s useful or fair to the author to make such a suggestion or implication.

I’m not a fanficcer, and while I have a generally have a very relaxed attitude toward to the concept of fanfic and find it largely beneficial to the well-being of any media property’s longevity, I’m not inclined to pretend that it’s got a legal or moral leg to stand on, either. So, at best, the response I have to people engaging in intellectual theft complaining about other people engaging in alleged intellectual theft is amusement, followed by mild confusion as to why I should care. In any event, in this particular case, I’m not in the least bit inclined to name the parties involved in this kerfuffle, or to condemn them. This is one literary crusade that will have to get along without me.

TAD ARC

tadarc.jpg

Look! Out there in space! Floating like a sheep-branded monolith! It’s the Advance Reader Copy of The Android’s Dream! The cover of the ARC, incidentally, not being the cover of the final book, but actually an inside illustration. I know the ARC is beginning to make the rounds, so it’ll be interesting to find out what various people think of it. I’m really happy with it, myself.

Calling all Computer Geeks

I’m looking at the specs for the new Mac Pros, and I need a little help understanding the details. Primarily:

a) Are the dual-core 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon processors on the new Mac Pro as fast/powerful as (or faster/more powerful than), say, a Core 2 Duo processor of equivalent speed?

b) Does having two dual-core processors in the Mac Pro make it speedier/more powerful in gaming situations?

c) The Mac can run more than one video card, but can they be run in SLI Mode, or is it simply one card per monitor?

Basically I’m wondering, theoretically, if I’m planning to do an upgrade in the reasonably near future with the intent of having a Windows box, if I should pay the price premium for the Mac Pro, or stick with a dedicated Windows box (remember that I have a Mac already — I’m typing on it now).

Your thoughts are appreciated.

The Tragedy of Orthodoxy

Mark Helprin, who wrote Winter’s Tale, which is possibly my favorite book ever, is interviewed at length here. It’s an interesting interview, less for the questions (which are pretty standard) but because Helprin is such an odd duck. As the magazine Helprin’s being interviewed in appears to be a right-leaning one, and Helprin himself is famously conservative, the interview touches on his politics more than a little, and about how being right wing has impacted his literary career:

My friend Tom was walking down the street in New York and he met a woman that he knew, and she was carrying one of my books, I don’t remember which one it was. And he says, “Oh, I see that you have that book.” And she says, “Yes, it’s for my reading group.” And he says, “Do you like it?” And she says, “I haven’t read it, and I won’t.” So he says, “Why not?” Because she was carrying it. And she says, “Because he’s a right wing twerp.” See? Now, I am right wing, and maybe I’m a twerp—I don’t know. But she didn’t even give the book a chance. A lot of people are like that.

I’ve railed before about people who need to give novelists a political orthodoxy test before they dip into their books, but the fact of the matter is that it mostly just makes me sad that some people are so bound to their politics that they can’t escape into fiction made by someone who doesn’t vote as they do. It’s very likely Mark Helprin and I would cancel each other out at the ballot box, but I would not to deny myself the privilege of Winter’s Tale or Soldier of a Great War simply because I find his political views pedantic and a bit fussy. Call me selfish.

But I think this isn’t so much about politics as it is about orthodoxy — an inability to experience something unless it vetted through some particular filter derived from stringent but kneejerk set of criteria. Politics filters, genre filters, gender filters, age filters, so on and so forth. I think filters are fine — you can’t and shouldn’t swallow everything uncritically or under the assumption it is all of equivalent quality — but I think it matters how you construct your filters. Any filter that cuts off work because of an arbitrary value is idiotic. “I won’t read him because he’s right wing.” “I don’t listen to rap.” “I’m not going to any chick flick.” These are the bleatings of morons.

I’ve never been particularly orthodox in any aspect of my life, and I think in retrospect that’s been a blessing. I don’t think everything is good, but I hold open the possibility that everything could be good, and I feel as a matter of intellectual honesty, as much as possible I have to approach a creative work independent of its creator to determine whether that work speaks to me or not. Sometimes this will be impossible: the creator’s beliefs or actions may be too reprehensible to excuse, for example, or the work is so intensely personal that it is inacessible without knowing something about the artist. But most artists are within a couple sigma of acceptable standards of human behavior, and most creators make work to be experienced by others. I love Winter’s Tale for itself; I would love it even if I knew nothing of its author. And who Mark Helprin is, while interesting, is not relevant to my primary experience of the work. I’m glad it’s not.

News That Makes Me Wish I Already Had My Schadenfreude.us Site Up and in Full Effect, Yo

Bid to remove DeLay’s name from ballot tossed

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday rejected a request by Texas Republicans to block an appeals court ruling that says former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s name must appear on the November ballot.

Antonin Scalia, people. Clearly, an activist judge.