And look, it’s of Zeus. The Scamperbeasts are the new hotness, but Zeus is old school cool.
Hope your weekend’s going off well.
And look, it’s of Zeus. The Scamperbeasts are the new hotness, but Zeus is old school cool.
Hope your weekend’s going off well.
Most of you will recall that I have a soft spot for the band Journey, whose album Escape I adored insensibly when I was thirteen, and whose general Album Oriented Rock stylings are my musical equivalent to comfort food. I saw the band on the Raised on Radio tour back in high school, but since that time haven’t felt much of a need to see them in concert, in part because Steve Perry, their singer through their “classic” era, is no longer part of the band.
But this year the band offered up something nearly as good: Steve Smith, who was the drummer for the band during most of its classic era (but who was not on the kit for the Raised on Radio tour), was returning to tour with the band after more than 30 years. I’m a drummer (I have still have the trap set I got as a teenager in the basement) and I love Smith’s sound on the Journey albums. To have a chance to see him do his thing with these songs live was too much of a temptation. I got tickets.
And how was watching Steve Smith hit the skins on this tour? Very different than what I expected! Journey’s drum sound is massive, but Smith, who primarily plays jazz when he’s not thumping out rock hits, is not a hugely demonstrative drummer. His movements are precise and deceptively economical considering the amount of noise he makes. I understand of course that wild arm swinging does not necessarily correlate to big sound with drums, and that good miking and sound mixing can make even small drum hits sound as big as the sound guy wants them to be. But it still really was counter to my expectation. When I play a Journey song on drums, my arms are swinging everywhere. But then, I’m maybe 1/100th the drummer Steve Smith is. He is genuinely phenomenal.
(And, these days, has an unsettling resemblance to Ben Kingsley. Gandhi on the drums, everyone!)
The rest of the concert was perfectly good, and utterly unsurprising, which is in itself utterly unsurprising. The rest of the current iteration of the band (keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Ross Valory, guitarist Neal Schon, and vocalist Arnel Pineda) have pretty much played the same set list, with minor variations, for a decade (and Cain, Valory and Schon, all classic-era members, for an additional decade before that). It’s difficult to imagine they all couldn’t do their standard show in their sleep. The band played the hits — nothing before Infinity, nothing after Raised on Radio — and the only song that could have been called a deep cut was “La Do Da” from Infinity, which mostly served as a scaffold for a Smith drum solo.
And that’s fine! Journey at this point understands its place in the universe as (charitably) the A-list of legacy bands, or (uncharitably) as its own best cover band. It’s here to give the people what they want, which is the track list of Journey’s Greatest Hits, give or take one or two bits. I mean, I would have been fine with more deep cuts, a track or two from Trial By Fire, and even the band’s first single with Arnel Pineda, the perfectly Journey-ish “Never Walk Away.” But if the band did too much of that for too long, they wouldn’t be playing music sheds that seat 20,000 people in their fifth decade of being a band. When you can make 20,000 middle-aged people deliriously happy for 90 minutes, you let me know. I’m not gonna fault them for that, or for knowing what side their bread is buttered on. At this point if you go into a Journey concert expecting anything other than a comforting nostalgia wallow, that’s really on you, not them.
I do have quibbles. One, Neal Schon surely does love his guitar solos, of which there could have been at least three fewer (and the ones that remained, better structured). Two, the sound quality of the concert was meh; Pineda suffered from bad miking at the start (it seemed to improve as it went along) but overall things were a smidge muddy. Three — well, no actually there is no three, just those two. I have no quibbles about Pineda, the sole performer on the stage who was not a member of the band’s classic era. He knows his role — to be the best damn Steve Perry he can be — and after close to a decade, no one holds it against him, if they ever did. I mean, everyone gets it, Perry doesn’t want the gig, so, fine. Here’s Pineda, with a fantastic set of pipes, delivering the goods and looking like he’s having a ball doing it. Good for him. Good for the fans.
Also on the bill: Dave Mason, who seemed pleasantly happy to be the warm-up act, and the Doobie Brothers — with two founding Doobies! — who I enjoyed as much as I expected to, so that’s good.
In all, a perfectly lovely date night for me and the missus with thousands of other people who also graduated high school in the 80s. A+++, would recommend.
Let’s close out the month of July with this fine stack of books and ARCs. What here is something you’d want on your own reading list? Tell me in the comments.
1. I’m behind, sorry. Life, etc.
2. I’ll be catching up on 2nd half of August/all of September Big Idea requests over the weekend.
3. Also I’ve had some drops for the first half of August and will probably be contacting some people on the waiting list for those slots.
Those are the notes!
As I did last week with the Republican National Convention and Trump, some thoughts today on the Democratic National Convention and Clinton:
1. At the beginning the DNC certainly looked like it had all the fixin’s for an RNC-level shitshow, what with the Dead-End Berners and e-mails and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s career imploding in real time. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the shitshow: it all got managed. Wasserman-Schultz was ridden out of town on the nicest, most face-saving rail that could be found, Bernie Sanders and the majority of his delegates were publicly honored and catered to, and the ones that wouldn’t be mollified were first put in their place (via the good graces of Sarah Silverman) and then on later nights generally counteracted and out-chanted on the floor.
Meanwhile, up on stage, the A-list of Democratic politics and of Celebrityland went out, hit their marks, gave their speeches that ranged from dully competent to oh, wow, and without exception endorsed Hillary Clinton, as they were supposed to. All of which is to say, this convention went off about as well as it possibly could, especially considering the potential for chaos that had unloaded itself earlier in the week.
Remember how last week I asked how Trump could be trusted to manage an entire country if he couldn’t even handle a four-day self-advertisement? To flip it around, the competent running of this particular four-day self-advertisement does not imply the Clinton and the Democrats will also run the country well, but, Jesus, the mere, simple competence of it, even with its concomitant drama, is like a cool glass of water after a hard wander in the desert.
This year a major difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is simply this: They both had their shitshows, but only the Republicans put theirs up on a stage and called it a convention.
2. During President Obama’s speech on the third night, I started seeing tweets and comments from GOP operatives that were, bluntly, a little shell-shocked at how much better and, honestly, more adult Obama and the other DNCs speakers’ speeches were than what transpired at the RNC the week before. The general gist of the tweets was “Waaaaaaah the Democrats are stealing our stuff” — meaning the themes of patriotism, military honor and, yes, “real American-ness” had found their way into the DNC speeches when they should have been at the RNC.
It’s certainly true the Democrats swept up all that iconography, gave it the slightest of twists to the left, and held it up for all to see. But two things here. One, it never was the GOPs to own exclusively in the first place, particularly when the rhetoric of the GOP rarely jibed with the policies of the GOP. The Democrats have as much right to them as the GOP does. Two, well, what the hell did the GOP expect? You left all that iconography just lying around because you’re off nominating a self-interested blowhard who is trying to scare the shit out of enough old white people to get into the White House. What did you think was going to happen? The Democrats were just going to leave it in the yard for you to come back to in 2020? Rumor is, the Democrats would like to win the presidency.
As others elsewhere have noted, the problem with the Democrats using these themes previously is not that they couldn’t use them, but that given the high-volume co-option of the themes by the GOP, it seems like the Democrats were saying, “hey, us too,” which is not a good look. This year, they don’t have to worry about that, and of course that’s no one’s fault but the GOP’s. The other thing about that is that now that these themes are in the Democrats’ hands, the GOP’s attempt to use them later is likely to have that “hey, us too” feel to it, which will not be a good look for them, either.
3. In my lifetime, there have been contentious conventions on both sides of the US political aisles, blockbuster speeches and speeches that have left craters of careers, lots of drama and excitement (and lots of oh lord why are we even running this in prime time it’s sooooo boring). But I don’t think there’s ever been a convention season where the contrast between candidates and parties has been so sharp. Right now, the Democrats are the party of the grown-ups: They have detailed policies and a plan and a system in place and a presidential candidate who has the resume and experience for gig. The GOP has a candidate who retweets white supremacists and “jokes” about asking the Russians to hack his opponent, and whose policy stances are “Trust me, it’ll be great,” and “You’re all doomed without me.”
This should not be a close contest. That it is a close contest (right now) is a testament first to the twenty-five years that the GOP and conservatives have spent demonizing Hillary Clinton, and second to the effectiveness of the GOP and conservatives in creating an epistemic bubble inside which millions of (largely white, largely older, largely less educated) people live, trained to be suspicious of facts, trained to see political opponents as traitors, trained to be afraid first and anything else after that.
And yes! When you say those things in sequence out loud, it sounds ridiculous! But yet here we are in 2016 with Donald Trump, ignorant, hateful, horribly afraid Donald Trump, as the Republican candidate for president. He didn’t appear out of nowhere. The way was prepared for him over decades, by people who couldn’t see that they’d laid the way for an incipient demagogue who would have no loyalty to them or their political goals, such as they were. They didn’t see that the person who would be tasked to stand in his way is the person they’d spent a quarter century convincing those in bubble land is one of the gravest threats to America that had ever put on a sensible pantsuit ensemble.
Again, someone elsewhere said it first, and I’m just repeating it because it’s true: This year is not about Democrat versus Republican, or conservative versus liberal, it’s about normal versus highly fucking abnormal. The conventions were just the easiest compare-and-contrast manifestation of that schism. You may not like the Democrats, but they’re coloring inside the lines. The GOP isn’t coloring inside the lines; they’re not even coloring inside the book or using crayons. What they’re doing is splashing pig’s blood on a wall and scrawling ALL HAIL THE ANGRY CHEETO with the gore. This is where we are in 2016, and it does us no good to pretend otherwise.
So yeah, all you GOP operatives moping about how much better the Democratic convention was than yours: This is on you and your party. You built this over the course of a quarter century. And if you have anything left in your brain other than a Pavlovian revulsion response to Hillary Clinton, you know what you should be doing between now and November.
4. Certainly Hillary Clinton didn’t waste any time trying to pull in the folks who have not gone entirely around the bend; her speech, which started slow but picked up steam, was an open invitation to anyone horrified by the concept of Trump to get on the Clinton bandwagon. This year the Democrats are dragging their nets wide, as they should; here’s a chance for them to flip the “Reagan Democrats” script that was played out three and a half decades ago, and bring in the right-leaning folks who are sensibly concerned about the current state of things. This is your campaign, she said, over and again, to the people who in a year not written by a speed-addled hack novelist would be voting for a Republican. She’s not wrong.
(This is, incidentally, why at this point she can blow off any remaining Dead-End Berners. She’s made her obeisance to her left flank and put their goals into the platform, and now she’s moving to haul in the many more millions in the middle. If the few remaining DEBs can’t get with the program, fuck ’em. Let ’em vote Jill Stein, then.)
Clinton is not and is never likely to be the orator either her husband or President Obama are. Her cadence in the first several minutes of her speech was a cross between Christopher Walken and a junior high assistant principal droning through the morning announcements. But she picked up when she got to the meat of the speech which consisted of a) lots of policy wonkiness, and b) punching Trump square in the nose. Her speech included a lot of applause lines that shouldn’t have had to be in there; as much as I loved her saying “AND, I believe in science!” it’s goddamn 2016. The idea that a candidate for the President of the United States has to use that line to differentiate herself from an opponent who even in the worst case scenario will garner tens of millions of votes is a tragedy for everyone involved.
The speech, and Clinton, did what needed to be done: Show Clinton as a reasonable human being with reasonable goals and a reasonable plan to implement them, and stand as a contrast to the ambulatory tire fire that is Donald Trump. Both of these are relatively low bars, so it’s not at all surprising she cleared them, and probably with some margin. We’ll see what happens in terms of polls from here. My suspicion is that Clinton gets some air between her and Trump, no doubt aided by Trump’s Russian adventures in the last week.
Clinton particularly got Trump’s number when she said that a man who can be taunted by a tweet shouldn’t be given nuclear launch codes. Trump’s response — of course — has been to embark on a furiously pissy tweetstorm, which makes her point. She did a pretty good job of messing with his toys.
5. There are three months between now and Election Day, and anything can happen, but I’ll go ahead and make a prediction now, which is essentially the same prediction I’ve been making all along, which is: Hillary Clinton is going to win this election, and in the end I don’t suspect that electorally speaking it’s going to be all that close. Trump is betting on older, less-educated white people and the built-up hatred of Clinton to get him in. That leaves Clinton literally everyone else in the country. With literally everyone else in the country, Trump’s trend lines don’t look all that great. I think literally everyone else in the country is going to be motivated to vote against him. I think he’s going to lose.
What I want to know is what happens then. I mean, I know what I think is going to happen with the GOP — confronted yet again with demographics and the general horribleness of their current philosophy of obstructing for political purity, they will of course double down once more on whiteness and truculence. It’s what it’s trained its base to demand, and inasmuch as it will (probably) keep the House after November, there’s another couple of years to ride this out at least.
But I genuinely want to know what the plan is from there. Trump is a racist and bigot and he is the GOP’s candidate for president because GOP primary voters put him there. The party’s not dog-whistling anymore. The party can’t pretend it stands for all Americans with him as its standard bearer. The GOP can’t hide any longer that it is, flatly, a white nationalist party. Whatever else it stands for, that’s front and center. Trump put that there, and the GOP primary voters put him there.
How does the GOP come back from that? After election day they can all look at each other and agree to never speak of 2016 again, but here’s the thing: There’s still literally everyone else in the county. They are not going to forget 2016, or that Trump was the GOP standard-bearer, or that the GOP went along with him. They are going to remember. They are going to remember for decades.
The Democrats have their own issues — the Dead-End Berners are a sideshow but a hard left is there and real and it’ll be interesting to see how the Democrats handle them, especially if this election gifts them a wide swath of center and center-right voters — but they pale in comparison to the GOP’s issues right now. And the thing is, again, it’ll just be easier for the GOPs not to deal with them and to, again, double down on whiteness and obstructionism. I think it’s going to kill them over time. The last one in the GOP room won’t have to turn out the light; the power will have been cut long before.
(Of course, Trump could win, in which case the GOP’s short-term problems are solved, at the expense of literally everything else that will be affected by boosting an ignorant racist nihilist into the White House. I don’t see this being a great option either, certainly not for the rest of us, nor in the long run for the GOP.)
6. I think Clinton will win the presidency, and I think her speech last night went a long way to helping with that. She made the argument that she was worthy of the job, not simply that she was last anchor post before the abyss. Likewise the DNC, especially contrasted with the RNC, showed who are the competent folks in this election cycle. Both mattered, and I think both will help seal with deal with a number of possibly reluctant voters. This was a good convention for Hillary Clinton, and for Democrats.
With that said, don’t forget that Hillary Clinton really is the last anchor post before the abyss. I said it months ago and I will say it again now: No one should be voting for Donald Trump for president. If you are historically a Republican voter, consider your other options. Clinton is there, but if that’s a bridge too far, there’s Gary Johnson, who, I say again, has an actual platform and policies that are probably closer in line with what your values are than Trump.
Likewise, no one should be complacent about this election. Register to vote. If your state is making it difficult for you to vote, know now so that well ahead of election day you can jump through all the stupid, intentionally-placed hoops preventing you from registering. Know what you need in terms of IDs, etc to vote (yes, it sucks. Do it anyway). Bother everyone you know who is eligible to vote to do the same. Do it today. Hell, do it now.
Then, when the time comes, vote. This one is different. This one you shouldn’t sit through. This one really, truly, matters.
Three months to go, people. Get on it.
So, before Hillary Clinton puts a cap on the DNC convention with her appearance tonight, let me talk a little about what I think of her as a presidential nominee, (mostly) independent of the fact of Donald Trump as her opponent for the office. And to talk about her as a presidential nominee, I need to talk a little bit about me as a political being.
And who am I as a political being? As I’ve noted elsewhere, among the various political labels that have been used over the last several decades, I’m probably closest to what used to be called a “Rockefeller Republican,” a person who is relatively socially liberal but relatively economically conservative. But that label doesn’t precisely describe me, either. I am both of those things, generally, but it doesn’t get to the root of my political ethos.
To get to that, I need to go back to high school, to a class I took called Individual Humanities. The class was the brainchild of teacher Larry McMillin, and it was a year-long class (interestingly, divided between the last half of one’s junior year and the first half of one’s senior year) that took a look at portrayals of the individual in Western Literature — from Oedipus Rex through Joan of Arc through Huckleberry Finn — to chart the development of the idea of the individual and what it means to be one, in the larger context of western civilization.
The specific details of the class are something I’ll leave out for now, but the takeaway of the class — the summation of its goals — was to argue that one of western civilization’s great achievements was the development of the independently acting and thinking individuals who saw as their greatest life crisis service to their community. Which is to say: In our world, we get built to think for ourselves, and when that happens, we realize we can’t be in it just for ourselves.
And, importantly, this ethos and the benefits thereof are not the purview of one group or class. Everyone should be encouraged to develop into who they have the potential to become. Everyone in turn uses that realized potential for the overall benefit their community or communities.
Well, that sounds communist! Yes, I suppose if you wanted you could argue that “from each according to ability, to each according to needs” is an expression of this concept, but then again, so is “TANSTAAFL” as long as it’s applied alongside “Pay it forward”; even the concept of noblesse oblige holds its echo. Like the “golden rule” which is found in most major religions, the concept is adaptable to a number of situations. The important things: Development of people as individuals; recognition of the individual’s responsibilities to their communities.
This is, to my mind, a powerful, adaptable and moral ethos, first because it encourages each of us to find our full expression and to develop those gifts we have within us — to become us — and at the same time reminds us that these talents and gifts need to be used not only for ourselves but for the benefit of others. It’s not (just) self-interest, or even (just) enlightened self-interest; it’s realization of self and a commitment to others as the result of that realization. It doesn’t mean one can’t do well for one’s self; most of us are not built to be monks. It does mean you should see “doing good” as an equal or higher goal than “doing well.”
This idea of the enlightened individual in service to their community is a significant part of my own personal ethical toolbox; likewise, it’s part of my political thinking as well, and a thing I want to see in politicians.
Along with this ethos, I have a very large streak of pragmatism, which is to say, I generally think it’s okay to get half a loaf when the full loaf is manifestly not on offer. Should you go in saying “sure, I’ll take half a loaf”? No, go ahead and see how much of the loaf you can get — if you can get the whole damn thing, good on you. But if you get 80% or 50% or 25% or whatever, depending on circumstances, well, fine — that fraction can be a basis to build on. Applying “All or nothing” thinking to every situation is for amateurs, nihilists and fools.
So, let’s apply both of these concepts to Hillary Clinton. I think that Clinton has shown amply over the years that, whatever personal ambitions or her willingness to cash a check for speaking fees (and as an ambitious person who occasionally speaks for money, I don’t see either as inherently a problem), time and again she’s put herself in service. Not with 100% success and not without flaws even when successful, but there are none of us perfect, and the end result of her putting herself back into the arena again and again is that much of that service has had an impact. Her ambition and service are not just about her and what it gets her. She’s done much, and at a high level, for others.
As for pragmatic — well, look. One does not work at the levels she does and has for decades without it, and if there’s any ding on the Clintons as a political couple, it’s their willingness to make a deal. Again, I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing, even if one’s line for “acceptable deal” is elsewhere than theirs. This is definitely a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing, but I’m okay with the mileage I get out of it.
Independent of anything else, Clinton is an attractive presidential candidate for me for the reasons noted above. Service and pragmaticism go a long way for me. In the context of where the GOP is right now, and who they are fielding as their candidate this cycle, it’s not even a contest. In the case of John McCain and Mitt Romney, the two previous GOP presidential candidates, even as I disliked their overall policies and plans for the country, I could not say they had not acted in service to their communities and country, or that they didn’t have the ability to be pragmatic when being pragmatic was what was needed. I can’t say that about Trump. There’s nothing in his past actions that suggests he’s in this life for anyone but himself.
But Hillary Clinton is — is what, exactly? A criminal? Corrupt? Dishonest? Evil? Terrible? Awful? A bitch? Satan in a pantsuit ensemble? As I’ve noted before, a quarter century of entirely outsized investigations into her life and actions have come up with nothing criminal or found corruption that rises to indictable levels. As for the rest of it, whatever Clinton’s own personal characteristics, she also had the misfortune of stepping into the political spotlight concurrent to the GOP wholesale adopting the Gingrich playbook of demonizing the opposition. She’s had an entire political party and its media apparatus spending two full decades telling the world she’s a bitch, and evil, and a criminal. It’s still happening; the Republican National Convention resounded with the words lock her up, lock her up, lock her up. And yet she is still here. She is still in service. Now, you can see that as ego or delusion or the inability to take a hint. I see it as an unwillingness to yield the floor to those whose political playbook is simply “demonize your opponent,” with the rest to be figured out later.
(And make no mistake — should Clinton win the presidency, the fury isn’t going away. The GOP is all in this year with sexism and bigotry and hate, and at this point it has no other gear; it literally cannot do otherwise without entirely losing its primary voter base. This is what the Gingrich playbook has gotten the GOP. It’s made them fury addicts, and the withdrawal symptoms are as likely to kill them as not.)
Maybe ultimately the issue is that she’s not likable, i.e., she’s not the candidate you’ll have a beer with. Well, now there’s Tim Kaine for that if that’s important to you; he’ll have a beer with you, and if you have too many he’ll take your keys when you’re not looking, pretend to help you look for them when you’re ready to go, and then let you sleep it off on the couch. But honestly, I’ve never gotten that whole construct. One, I don’t need to have a beer with my President; I assume they have other things to do. Two, if that’s a controlling aspect of your presidential decision making, I mean, if it actually is important to you, then you’re the problem and you need to pull your head out and maybe have more relevant criteria, or at least put “beer buddy” as far down the goddamned list as possible.
And three, says who? I don’t need Clinton to be likable in order to vote for her for president, especially as I’m not likely to ever meet her and spend time with her and have late night phone calls where we gossip and share secrets. She’s not my friend. But I also don’t find her unlikable today, and I don’t remember that ever being the baseline of my opinion of her (she’s had unlikable moments, to be sure. Welcome to being human). But then, I also don’t tend to think women who express opinions, or who don’t feel the need to excuse their ambition or their place near the top of the power structure, are inherently unlikable. Let’s not pretend that in fact that’s not a problem, still, for a lot of people — and that this being a problem hasn’t been exploited by others.
(Also, you know. Maybe it’s a personal quirk, but I just don’t get that invested in politicians as inspirational figures. I’m perfectly happy with them being essentially colorless and efficient and boring. Maybe even prefer it!)
At the end of the day, without reference to any other aspect of this particular presidential race, Hillary Clinton offers more than enough for me to vote for her. With reference to other aspects of this race — namely, that Donald Trump’s candidacy is as close to being an actual existential threat to US democracy as we’ve had, possibly ever — voting for Clinton becomes not only a preference but a moral necessity. I can’t not vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. So it’s nice to know I would have been happy to vote for her, no matter what.
MidAmeriCon II members, this is your timely reminder that voting for the Hugo Awards this year ends on Sunday, July 31, 2016, 11:59 PM PDT, so you have just a few days left to vote in all the categories. There is a lot of excellent work on the ballot, and also some mischief from a few bad actors, and all of it deserves your attention and what votes you decide to offer, up or down. My tip to you: Vote for what you think deserves awarding, and you’ll be groovy.
Here’s the link to the online Hugo Award ballot. And here’s the one for the Retro Hugo Awards (this year covering the year 1941). If you vote, you can change/add to/update your vote right up until the deadline. Happy voting!
So here’s news that’s kind of been an open secret for a while. Many of you know I’m part of the team that is putting together Midnight Star: Renegade, the sequel to last year’s mobile shooter game Midnight Star (it’s coming! Soon!). What you may not have known is that for the last several months I have also been part of the team putting together an entirely separate mobile video game, called Exiles of Embermark, from Gunslinger Studios.
And what is Exiles of Embermark? It’s a fantasy role playing game, and as with Midnight Star and Renegades, it’s designed specifically for mobile gaming and mobile gamers — folks who are playing quick sessions of a game in and around, you know, life, but who still want a game that’s got a deep world to explore and enjoy and get in trouble in.
My task with Exiles is world building and story architecture — helping Tim Harris, Gunslinger’s studio head, and his crew of merry coders, put together a universe that has rhyme and reason and rules, so you as the player and journey through it and have all manner of adventures. Basically, I’m an “idea guy” here, which is a hell of a lot of fun (I also do a bit of detail work, to be sure).
If you’re curious to learn more, here’s the Exiles tumblr, with a bunch of developer updates, concept art and other nerdy goodness (the specific update in which I’m mentioned is here). It’s your best source for everything Exiles.
I’m really excited about Exiles of Embermark — and excited that Midnight Star: Renegade is also on its way to you all — and excited that I’ve gotten to help create three awesome video games now. I mean, how cool is that? (Answer: It’s pretty cool.)
More to come about Exiles and Renegade soon. In the meantime: Prepare for awesome.
Involving my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden and others. Allow me to reprint the press release:
Patrick Nielsen Hayden has been named Associate Publisher of Tor Books, effective immediately. This award-winning 28-year veteran of Tor has brought numerous prestigious and bestselling authors to the list, including John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Jane Anders, to name a few. His vision has been instrumental in the development of Tor.
Devi Pillai, who led the US division of Orbit to its position as Tor’s fastest-growing competitor, will be joining Tor, also as Associate Publisher. “I’ve watched Devi’s work with admiration for a long time now; her qualifications are outstanding, and she’ll be a great addition to our team,” said Tor Books publisher Tom Doherty. “As we continue our 35-year commitment to adult SF and fantasy, Devi and Patrick will work alongside each other to oversee our numerous editors who work primarily in these twin genres,” he continued.
In addition, Doherty has named Linda Quinton Publisher of Forge Books. Previously she was Associate Publisher and Vice President of marketing for Tor/Forge. Forge publishes many popular and bestselling authors, including William R. Forstchen, Eric Lustbader, Douglas Preston, Patrick Taylor and Bruce Cameron. The company will announce a new head of marketing and publicity in the near future to fill the role Quinton leaves behind.
Kathleen Doherty, Publisher of Tor Teen and Starscape, has spent 30 years growing our YA and middle-grade publishing, first through book clubs and book fairs, and then by developing our program into a pair of full-fledged, NYT-bestselling imprints full of excellent YA and middle-grade authors. Kathleen has also been responsible for the tremendous school, library, and educational market growth that our whole house has benefited from over the past three decades. The company intends to increase the marketing support we provide to her excellent team.
“At a time when so many of our competitors are cutting back, consolidating imprints, and reducing staff, it’s wonderful to know that Macmillan enthusiastically supports our plan for growth,” says Doherty.
“We will shortly be announcing further additions and promotions within our editorial staff. Here’s to an amazing team that it’s my privilege to lead into a great future.”
I am first hugely thrilled for Patrick, with whom I have worked for the entire length of my novel-writing career. Hugely thrilled but not in the least surprised. He’s been at Tor for nearly three decades and has had a very large role in making it the success it has been to date. He’s a natural hire here.
I’m also hugely thrilled for Devi Pillai, and for Tor that they have managed to convince her to join the team. She’s generally considered to be one of the smartest people in the field and she’s done fantastic work at Orbit, hands down. They couldn’t have picked better.
And I’m hugely thrilled for me, and other Tor writers, present and future. It is in fact a big deal that Macmillan is investing Tor rather than standing pat, or cutting back. It’s important for authors, no matter who they are or how they publish, that the total ecosystem for publishing is robust and offers a range of options to get their work out in the world. So whether you’re self-pubbed, small-pubbed or large-pubbed (or some combination of the three), one of the largest publishing companies in the world deciding to grow its science fiction and fantasy publisher is an unambiguously good thing. I’m glad to be a Tor author today and look forward to continuing to be one for some time to come.
Allow me to preface it by having an imaginary Q&A:
Q: NOOOOOOOOOOOO TRUMP IS EVEN OR AHEAD OF CLINTON IN THE POLLS
A: That’s not actually a question.
Q: WHYYYYYYY IS TRUMP EVEN OR AHEAD OF CLINTON IN THE POLLS
A: Because he got a bit of a convention bounce, it looks like.
Q: WE’RE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIIIIIE
A: Still not a question, and also, go ahead and read this from Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium (who, incidentally, has been pretty much spot on for the last few election cycles). It might calm you down.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Russians maybe hacking the DNC?
A: If it’s true, then obviously it’s troubling, especially as the timing makes it appear to be an effort to throw things Trump’s way. The circumstantial evidence is piling up that it was an act by Russian intelligence service but we don’t know for sure (and come on, probably never will know for certain), nor at the moment does it seem like the Trump folks are actively involved, even if they might be a beneficiary. So I’m not gonna blame Trump for this one.
Personally if I were the GOP candidate for president I wouldn’t want to have even the appearance of being Putin’s favorite boy. But Trump doesn’t appear to care, so.
Q: Thoughts on the contents of the DNC email dump?
A: Meh? As Vox notes, there’s not a whole lot of there there, although I understand the Dead-End Berners are het up about it, rather more than Sanders himself is (probably because unlike the DEBs, Sanders himself realizes that this point for the nation, it getting a half a loaf from Clinton is better than it being set on fire by Trump while racists and antisemites dance around the flames in a circle, holding hands). In any event Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is the appointed fall gal, and getting the boot, and apparently no one will really miss her, so, fine. Moving on.
Q: But corruption at the DNC! Favoritism! Dogs and cats living together!
A: Honestly? I kind of don’t give a shit. As I noted on Twitter, the DNC email stuff is venial sin stuff — people who were stupid enough to put things in email that they shouldn’t. Which is not exactly surprising — most people put things in email that they shouldn’t — but also not things that at the moment I care that much about. I’m rather more concerned about the Russians possibly trying to mess with our elections. While you can care about both of those, of course, I know which one of those I care about more. Your mileage may vary.
And of course outside of all of this is the fact that Trump, the worst presidential candidate in modern history, is still a presidential candidate. The DNC email nonsense doesn’t even move the needle in terms of Things That Would Keep Me From Voting For Hillary Clinton If Only To Stop Donald Trump.
Q: What about Wasserman-Schultz being made honorary chairperson of the Clinton campaign?
A: What, a face saving “promotion” with apparently no real power? You do understand how politics works, yes?
Q: Any thoughts on Tim Kaine as VP?
A: Seems okay. I understand some folks distrust his commitment to pro-choiceness, but inasmuch as he’s got endorsements from NARAL and Planned Parenthood it’s not blipping my own concern radar (please note, however, as someone who is not likely to get pregnant anytime soon, my own concern radar is not as finely calibrated as others). The two main knocks on him seem to be he accepted some gifts at one point and that he’s kind of boring. With the former let’s see where that goes, but with the latter, good. I don’t want drama, I want someone who is competent and knows how to do the gig. We have enough drama already.
Q: Will the DNC get messy?
A: Oh, probably, since the DEBs can’t let it go, and everyone loves drama.
Q: Any additional thoughts on the Dead-End Berners?
A: I hope they have fun now, because if they’re still at it after the convention, they’ll basically be admitting they’re happy to dance around the trash fire with the racists and antisemites. It’s nice for them to have the luxury of not caring if they consign others to the flames.
Q: That’s, uh, pretty harsh.
A: Not a question.
Q: Don’t you think that’s pretty harsh?
A: Nope! Or, actually, yes, it is, and? I don’t really have much time for the DEBs anymore, or the privileged stupidity of “Trump and Clinton are the same” or of “she’s just the lesser evil” (or, hilariously, that she’s worse than Trump, if you’re any flavor of liberal or progressive). Get it out of your system in the next couple of days, and then get with the fucking program already, people. It’s important.
Go ahead and chat politics in the comments, folks.
I am a nerd, and I have disposable income, and those two things mean that I end up buying a lot of technology. I buy some for utility and some just because it’s shiny and I have relatively few defenses against shiny. This has recently led me to consider, out of all the tech that I do have in my house and on my person, which represents the best actual value — that is, what tech do I have that I get the most out of, relative to the price I paid for it?
(Caveat: for the purposes of this exercise I’m considering objects for which the computing aspect is a significant percentage of its utility. Yes, a car and a refrigerator are technology (so are eyeglasses and pants), but I am going to go ahead and skip them out of the discussion. I think you’ll probably understand.)
Let me start with the things that have offered me the least real amount of value. First, I nominate my desktop computers, which are useful but generally spendy, since I have a tendency to make them gaming-capable behemoths and yet spend very little time gaming anymore. These behemoths are nice for photo editing, to be sure, but on balance I overspend relative to actual utility. I live in hope when I buy these rigs, and reality eventually crushes that hope.
Second, my iPad Mini, which is a very pretty and reasonably powerful bit of kit, but which I mostly bought because a videogame I’m helping to develop was initially coded for it, and I needed to be able to look at the thing during development. Beyond that I hardly ever use it, partly because I’m otherwise mostly in the Google ecosystem but also because among the tablets I have my Nexus 7 has the best form factor for me (so of course no one makes tablets with that form factor anymore).
Third, televisions. We have several in the house but I watch relatively little TV these days, mostly because of time constraints, and what TV I do watch I end up watching on computer/tablet/phone more than the TV screen. Now, I’ll note this is just me, since in the Scalzi household both Athena and Krissy watch more TV than I do, and on the TV rather than on other hardware. So for the family overall, there is value. But if I were living on my own (God forbid), it’s questionable whether I would own my own dedicated TV set.
Having cleared out the tech of questionable utility value, what tech do I have that I think on balance has offered me very good value?
First I would nominate my smartphone, which is essentially as powerful as my desktop computer a few iterations ago yet is tiny and goes with me everywhere, pretty much allows me access to all information anywhere, and even has a reasonably competent camera. Plus, from time to time, I can even make phone calls with it, if I want, and sometimes I still do (I mostly text now, though, like other civilized humans). What keeps the smartphone from having the best cost/utility ratio is the form factor, which makes it not useful for, say, writing long-form, which is a thing I do (just thinking of writing this piece on a phone fills me with dread, much less a whole novel), and also because frankly phones aren’t cheap — with hardware costs and carrier charges over the life of the phone added up, it’s a couple thousand dollars per phone. There are ways to brings the cost down, but I don’t do them, for solid (and a couple not-so-solid) reasons. But at the end of the day I live so much on my smartphone that its utility runs very close to its overall price.
Second I would nominate my digital SLRs. These cameras are soooo not cheap (alas!), and while I recently did start getting paid for photography (Tor.com and Locus magazine used some of my photos and compensated me for them, which of course they should have), I don’t have any plans to make it a serious part of my professional income. So the question of cost/value here is an interesting one. I nevertheless think I get excellent value from the cameras, but the value is intellectual and existential — taking pictures makes me happy, and working on those pictures after I taken them also gives me pleasure.
Photography is a hobby of mine, basically, and doing it offers me a consequence-free creative outlet, which as it turns out is important to me. I’m a proponent of monetizing the things you love, to be sure. But over time I’ve learned it’s also important to have creative outlets that are just play. It’s good for your mental health, and it’s beneficial for other aspects of your creativity. The cost of the cameras for me is compensated by what I get out of taking and playing with the photos, and that’s something that has value independent of the financial value of the tech.
With that said, the single piece of tech I have that I think has given me the best utility return on investment, hands down, is the Chromebook Flip I bought last year. It cost me $280 or so when I got it (the version I have, with the 4GB RAM, is now down to $250), and in return I’ve gotten a super-useful little laptop that does nearly everything I need it to do. I can write longform, I can flip it over and use it as a tablet during readings and presentations, I can do (basic) photo editing and other tasks, and now that it has access to Android apps, that’s another value add. Its size and battery life have made it useful for travel, to the point where it’s my go-to travel laptop (my Dell Win10 laptop stays at home unless I need to do a marathon Word session).
And to be blunt, if I drop it, or leave it somewhere, or it gets stolen? I’m out $280, it’s replaceable for less than that now, and all the data I use on it is stored elsewhere. I wouldn’t say its disposable, but I would feel rather less put out than I was a few years ago when I accidentally left my Mac Air at LaGuardia and it somehow magically made its way to Brooklyn and then dropped off the radar completely. That was expensive stupidity on my part. Losing the Chromebook Flip, while it would still be stupidity, is within my budget.
The Flip isn’t perfect (How to make it perfect, Asus, in case you were wondering: 1080p screen 11.6-inch screen and backlit keys on the slightly larger keyboard), but this entry isn’t about whether tech is perfect, but whether it offers value for cost. This purchase really has. I really don’t think I’ve been more satisfied, value-wise, with a tech purchase. Something, perhaps, for you to consider for your own future tech purposes.
Look at these books and ARCs. Just look at them. See anything you would like to see the inside of? Tell me in the comments!
It was pretty decent! With the exit of Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci as director and screenwriters, respectively, the series appears to have made the executive decision that they don’t need to rehash previous plotlines. They’ve written a new one for this film, gave Simon Pegg co-screenwriting duties and let Justin Lin (previously of the Fast and Furious franchise) do his thing. And it works — the movie zooms, the script is good, and the nods to the previous timeline are brief and fitting. This is Star Trek Now, and it is good.
One complaint I do hear from longtime Trek fans is that the new Trek films don’t give enough lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic ethos, and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first was that while that ethos was and is laudable, Roddenberry was as subtle about it as a sledgehammer, which is why TOS episodes sometimes now play like Very Special Episodes where learning happens (some TNG episodes play that way too, notably in the first couple of seasons). As a viewer I don’t actually want the Roddenberry Moral Sledgehammer. I’m not a child. The second is that as it happens Beyond is the Kelvin-era film that most overtly signals in the direction of that Trek ethos, both in what it says and what’s on screen. And for me it was the right amount — enough to know it’s there and important, not enough that you feel like you’re being lectured by a tiresome hippie uncle.
This is not a great film, or one that will held up as a highwater mark of science fiction cinema. But it is a zippy, fun time at a summer movie, competently and cleverly done, and in a summer of ponderous and ponderously long films, one that warps in, gets its business done in two hours and warps back out feels like a winner. It’s not the best Star Trek film (still Wrath of Khan), but it is the best third Star Trek film, handily beating Search for Spock and Star Trek: Insurrection by a far stretch. It also makes me excited that the next Star Trek film has already been greenlit. I like this cast and I like this version of Trek. I’ll be around for the next one.
Some thoughts on Trump, and the GOP convention:
1. The convention, generally, was the worst-run major political convention in a generation, and that should scare you. How is Trump going to manage an entire country when he can’t even put on a four-day show? (The answer, as we found out this week, is that he has no intention of managing the country at all; he plans to foist the actual work onto his poor VP while he struts about as bloviating figurehead.) Trump lost control of his convention and his message twice, once with Melania Trump’s clumsy plagiarism of Michelle Obama, which ate up two days of news cycles before Trump’s people found someone to be their chump for it, and then second with Ted Cruz, that oleaginous lump of hungering self-interest, who rather breathtakingly took to the stage of a nominating convention in order not to endorse Trump, in the most public way possible. That bit of low-rent Machiavellianism ate up another day of news cycles.
In the end, all the GOP convention has coming out of it are two massive failures of message control and Trump’s cataclysmic nomination speech. With regard to that hot mess of a speech, Trump was always going to be Trump, and there was no way of avoiding that, but the other two mishaps were eminently avoidable — vet all your speeches for previously-used phrases (which is a thing that is commonly done in politics anyway), and don’t give your previous political opponent whose family you’ve insulted a primetime speaking slot when you know he’s not going to endorse your candidate, as Cruz never intended to, and which was a fact the Trump campaign knew. That’s the part that boggles my mind. Two unforced errors on the Trump campaign’s part, and they blew up his convention.
2. Not that there was much to blow up; the Trump GOP convention line-up was closer to that of a struggling MLM company sales rally hosted in Tulsa or Des Moines than that of a major political organization, and the messages offered to the faithful there were almost insultingly simple:
i.e., your basic fact-free racist appeal to authority, and at any point you might like to suggest a fact-based counter-argument (crime is near historical lows, immigrants are not major engines of crime, Hillary Clinton is largely not corrupt, as 30 years of intense scrutiny has shown, and Trump is mostly a scammy bungler who likes to screw over the people who go into business with him, etc), the rebuttal from the Trump folks is to just yell louder. YES HILLARY IS A CRIMINAL YES CRIME IS OUTSIDE MY DOOR RIGHT NOW YES THE IMMIGRANTS ARE COMING TO EAT OUR BABIES WITH CRUEL TINY SPOONS
Well, no —
CRUEL TINY SPOOOOOOOOOOOONS
And honestly there’s nothing much one can do to convince them otherwise.
Which means that even if Trump’s convention had gone off without a hitch (which is to say, to be clear, without the hitches that he and his people should have known better than to allow), it still would have been a factless embarrassment of bigotry and fear. The GOP convention this year was going to be a shitshow even without the unforced errors; the unforced errors just added farce to the tragedy.
3. So, let’s talk about that speech of Trump’s for a second, shall we. I didn’t watch it live (I decided instead to go see a Thursday night showing of Star Trek Beyond, which, trust me, from an entertainment point of view was the right call), but I caught it afterwards. I think if you were already in the tank for Trump, it was a fine piece of theater. If you weren’t already in the tank for Trump, though, it scanned as You’re going to die we’re all going to die you need me to save you you need me to save us all. And, well, no. I’m really not, and I really don’t. I don’t know that it will scan effectively for anyone else not in the tank, either. Things just aren’t that bad.
But that’s the Trump shtick: He doesn’t have policies or positions or plans (details to come!), but what he does have is the ability to yell and to confirm your opinion there’s something wrong. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin (See! Look! Attribution! It’s not difficult!), whatever your particular problem is, Trump is not the least bit interested in solving it, he is interested in making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. In this case that’s Clinton, who it’s evident that he doesn’t actually hate (or didn’t prior to this campaign), but when he pressed the “Hillary” button his voters spun up into an excited froth, so why not. It’s also immigrants, which I also suspect he doesn’t hate or care about either, except as a lever, and it works because there are a lot of racists, overt and latent, in his voting pool.
Trump knows what got him this far, and like the unimaginative businessman he is, he sees no need to “pivot” away from it, to try to bring in other people not already in the tank for him. I know this works, he says, why fuck with it? Which, actually, maybe isn’t a bad argument! His recent predecessors as the GOP candidate didn’t benefit from all from trying to pivot, did they? They didn’t win! Like the proverbial boy who keeps digging because there’s got to be a pony down there, Trump is betting there are even more white people he can scare into voting for him. He and the GOP are all in on the idea that there are still enough white people out there to win an election. All he has to do is scare ’em hard enough and make Hillary Clinton look crooked, which has been a GOP hobby for a quarter century running.
So, that was his speech: Scare the white folk.
4. Now, a brief interlude with the Trump voters, aka the scared and angry white people of America.
We’re not scared! Hillary’s crooked!
Guys, no. She might be good at getting out of scrapes, but no one’s that good, and not at the highest levels of scrutiny that she operates on, and has for decades.
Benghazi! E-Mail! Vince Foster! Whitewater!
Dudes. They spent millions and decades trying to pin something on her, and the best that they got out of it was that she was stupidly careless with her email. Which is not good! But it’s not a thing she should be jailed for. Or hanged from a tree for, which was a thing when spoken that Trump’s people only rather half-heartedly distanced themselves from. I could have told you she was stupidly careless with her email and wouldn’t have charged nearly as much, or taken that much time with it.
It’s really not.
Well, I just don’t trust her.
Of course you don’t. The GOP, as noted, has spent the better part of three decades trying to make her look crooked and evil; concurrently the GOP’s modus operandi, thanks to Newt Gingrich and his followers in Congress, has been to demonize and hate their political opponents. You can’t just disagree with anyone anymore — you have to despise them, and fear them, and scream for them at your political convention to be thrown in jail. You’ve had decades of indoctrination and now you think that’s normal, and that’s kind of fucked up.
Oh, so you can’t criticize Hillary! I see how it is, commie!
Sure you can criticize her, and disagree with her policies and positions and even dislike her as a person. Maybe try to do it without visualizing her as That Horrible Bitch Queen What Belongs in Jail, and while you’re at it, maybe stop visualizing Barack Obama as That Terrifying Kenyan Muslim Socialist Who is Coming For Our Guns, which is not accurate, either. Both of them, as it turns out, are pretty much bog-standard liberalish Democrats. You don’t like that? Okay, fine! You don’t need to go the extra step of demanding to salt the very earth upon which they walk, so nothing ever grows there again.
And while you’re at it, think about why it is that the GOP’s m.o. since Gingrich has been to hate and fear its political opponents, and how it’s come down to this election. Folks, as a candidate for President, Trump has no ruling principles other than hate and fear. He wants you to hate and fear minorities. He wants you to hate and fear immigrants. And most of all he wants you to hate and fear Hillary Clinton. Why? Because those are the buttons he can press to get to the presidency and that is all. If there were other buttons to be pressed, he’d press those. If it were Bernie Sanders in there instead of Clinton, he’d make you hate and fear him instead. It’s all he’s got, but then again, it’s all he’s needed.
5. Which is entirely on the GOP. Make no mistake about two things: One, Trump is where he is today precisely because the GOP has for decades worked on a principle of “demonize and obstruct” rather than working across the aisle to get things done, making it possible for someone with no recognizable Republican principles to bully his way to being the nominee; Two, no matter what happens with the 2016 election, the GOP is pretty much fucked. If Trump wins, there will be a dangerous occupant in the White House, one that has no guiding philosophy beyond his own narcissism and whose own personal inclinations lead him to admire autocrats, and if the GOP thinks they can manage that, I invite them to think on the primaries and the convention. The GOP doesn’t have managers in its ranks anymore; the last one, John Boehner, flipped Congress the bird and went home, and now there’s just hapless Paul Ryan, aka Hangdog Reardon, Ayn Rand’s saddest acolyte, minding the store. They’re not going to control Trump; they can’t even control themselves. They don’t see the value of it.
And if Trump loses? Then you can rely on the GOP to do what it did in 2008 and 2012: To figure the problem was that they weren’t “conservative” enough — “conservative” in these cases means “even whiter and older and scareder.” I mean, shit. The reason Ted Cruz did his Wednesday Night Knifework on Trump was to set himself up for 2020 when Trump loses, and let’s just think about that, shall we. First, Cruz is such a howling vortex of personal regard that he sees someone else’s party as the perfect place to launch his next campaign; second, Cruz — smug, grasping Ted Cruz — actually is likely to be where the GOP goes next. That should genuinely terrify any GOPer who still has sense, or who wants have a Republican in the White House this side of 2024.
6. Trump is still not likely to win — after everything, he’s still trailing Clinton, even if that margin is as slim as its ever been, and in the next few days we’ll see what, if any, convention bounce he gets — and now it’s Clinton’s turn at bat, with her VP pick and the Democratic convention. But let’s not pretend he can’t win, or that he might not be correct that there are still more white people to scare into voting for him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter to the GOP that their nominee is manifestly unfit to be in the White House, because Trump wins them a Supreme Court seat and (if they keep both houses) legislative repeals of all sorts of policies they hate. Whatever mischief Trump gets into as President, they figure he’s not going to veto anything they send his way. They’re probably right about that; all that is detail work, and Trump doesn’t care about that stuff. That’s the silver lining to the upcoming GOP disaster.
Now, I suppose we could try to appeal to true conservatives or GOP folks not to vote for Trump — look! Gary Johnson is there and has actual positions! — but let’s not bullshit about this. Trump wins if everyone else who is not an anguished conservative flirting with Johnson does not show up at the voting booth in November, and, bluntly, does not vote for Hillary Clinton for President. And yes, you few remaining diehard Sandernistas, that means getting the fuck over yourselves for once in your lives, realizing that this is not an ordinary election, and acknowledging you pretty much owe the entire world not to consign it to the flames over your entitled fit of pique.
(But I’m in a safely blue state! Can’t I vote for the Greens/Peace and Freedom Party/Wavy Gravy/etc? Ugh, fine, but only after you’ve extracted a promise from at least three swing state pals that they’ll vote for Clinton. It’s important, y’all.)
7. But not everyone who’ll vote for Trump is scared and/or angry and/or white, you say. Sure. Some people just won’t be able to countenance Clinton in the Oval Office for perfectly principled political reasons, and figure that Trump is the only one with a chance to stop her. I understand that. I am sorry for them, who I suspect are largely GOPers, that their choice against Clinton this year is Trump, and that the GOP right now is in a place where Trump was able to become the nominee, because most of the rest of the candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination were an appalling clown car of Dunning-Kruggerands. Whether or not that’s on them as party members, it’s still a tragedy for the country.
All I can say to them is what I have been saying: Look at Trump. Look how he got where he is. Look how he plans to get to the White House. It’s not through policy or positions. It’s through anger and blame and fear, and screaming that those who oppose you are going to pay. Look how he’s run his campaign. Look how his convention went down.
You can’t vote for that and say you didn’t know that was what you were voting for. And if he gets into the White House, you won’t be able to say you weren’t responsible for what happened next. You knew, and you will be.
In today’s Big Idea, Melissa F. Olson considers vampires, not through the lens of sparkly teenagers, but through the one that involves waking, getting coffee, and going on with your life. How does that work, and how does it work in her novel Nightshades? Let’s find out.
MELISSA F. OLSON:
When people learn that I write about vampires, they often assume that I myself wish to be a vampire, or believe them to be real. At the very least, they take it for granted that I of course must love vampires. All of those suppositions, however, are wrong. What I really love is a dark, exciting, preferably gothic, thought experiment.
That’s what the concept of vampires is to me, and you can blame Bram Stoker for that. I don’t love Dracula—by now, the Victorian techno-thriller is much too dated, to the point of being practically alien in its depictions of human behavior —but like so many others I am fascinated by it. I think of Stoker as the Dan Brown of his day: a mediocre (at best) writer who stumbled on an idea that was so universally gripping that it achieved literary near-immortality just by its creation. Parasites are interesting. Immortality is interesting. Putting the two together? Practically irresistible. Stoker may not have been a legendary writer, but he was savvy enough to recognize a legendary idea when he saw one.
Still, the fact that Stoker wasn’t the world’s greatest writer has had interesting repercussions. As Neil Gaiman put it in his introduction to Leslie Klinger’s annotated edition of Dracula, “I suspect the reasons why Dracula lives on, why it succeeds as art, why it lends itself to annotation and to elaboration are paradoxically because of its weaknesses as a novel.”
In other words, by creating a novel that lacks clarity of plot and mythology, Bram Stoker created a “what if” playground that many writers just can’t resist visiting. What if there was a creature that never aged, and that fed on human blood? What would the creature look like? How would he interact with humans? What would he feel toward them? How would they react to him?
These questions correlate nicely with my own personal guiding principle of writing fantasy, the mantra I chant whenever the geeky part of my brain starts running off on what would be super cool. Okay, I say to myself, but how would this really work?
If vampires were real (and no, I don’t believe that they are), how would that actually work?
This thought experiment is where I have spent the last five years of my life, writing the Old World series for 47North. A few years ago, however, a new thought occurred to me: what if vampires were real…and nobody really cared?
Oh, they might care in theory, at least for a little while. But I really do believe that if the government captured a “live” vampire tomorrow, there would be a month of social media uproar, and then everyone would just go back to their lives.
Because, you see, that’s what we do. We find out that an earthquake has devastated a country on the other side of the world, or the Hugos are rigged or Donald Trump is running for president, and we have a brief period of outrage (which is like a period of mourning but with more Facebook feuds), and then we go back to putting one foot in front of the other. One day in front of the other. Until the next outrage erupts, and the cycle continues.
But not for everyone.
In Nightshades, a “shade” is a vampire-like creature with preternatural strength, a need for human blood, and saliva that causes intense hypnosis in humans. A few years before the book’s events, a shade was captured alive in Washington DC. There was a public panic, and the director of the FBI created an offshoot agency, the Bureau of Preternatural Investigations, in order to appease the frightened citizens.
A little time passed, no more shades surface, and the uproar began to die down. Most of the world’s population simply went back to their lives, while Congress struggled to determine whether the captured shade is considered a citizen or not. In short, we all absorbed the new normal and moved on.
Except for those government agents who suddenly find themselves dealing with a new species and an apathetic public. When a shade near Chicago starts aggressively kidnapping teenagers, those agents who have to figure out how to handle the crisis, even after everyone else has moved on to the next thing. And the understaffed, uninformed, and desperately overmatched Bureau of Preternatural Investigations has to figure out how to hand a brave new world that the general public would sooner pretend not to see.
Nightshades isn’t about a hidden world, and it isn’t about a well-oiled machine of an agency that can confidently address supernatural threats. It’s about the moments right after vampires are first discovered, and how the new agent in charge of Chicago has to think outside of the box to handle it. I wrote it not because I love vampires, or think they’re sparkly and romantic, but because, damn, I am still having a great time in Bram Stoker’s playground of what-ifs.
Milo Yiannopoulos, aka Nero aka some real basic garbage in human form, got the boot from Twitter last night as a result of encouraging his racist and/or sexist and/or alt-right pals to go after actress Leslie Jones, who starred in the new Ghostbusters, aka the film sexist manboys wailed was ruining their childhood. Jones was subjected to more than a day of appalling abuse, Yannopoulos chortled about it like the troll he is and cheered his minions on, and Twitter finally decided he was a liability and permanently dumped his ass.
So, some thoughts on this:
1. Yiannopoulos and his party pals are now mewling about this being some horrible violation of free speech, so let’s recall that a) Twitter is not the US or any other government and b) is a private entity and c) essentially reserves the right to boot anyone from their service for whatever reason, so, really, waaaaaaaah, and also, no. Yiannopoulos still has a platform for his nonsense on Breitbart, aka where journalism goes to drill holes in its temple and then cover itself in its own poop, so anyone who wants him can go there (Please go there. Please stay there). He hasn’t been censored; he’s just been told to take a hike.
2. Yiannopoulos and his party pals will also want to claim this is about him being conservative, and again, no. There’s nothing inherent in holding to a conservative philosophy that requires one, in their interactions with others online, to be a raging shithole, or to encourage others to be the same. Millions of conservatives use Twitter every day without being raging shitholes. Conversely, there’s nothing about a liberal philosophy that means you can’t be a raging shithole; I just the other day muted a liberal turd over there because I didn’t want to be bothered with his smug dickery any further. Being an asshole is orthogonal to political philosophy. Yiannopoulos’ public persona is centered on being an asshole in order to serve a market of assholes. That’s pretty obvious.
3. When Yiannopoulos was booted off of Twitter, some folks wrenched their hands and said “But that’s what he wants! It’ll just serve his narrative of persecution!” Well, one, no, it’s not what he wanted. This is a fellow who, when given an opportunity to ask a question in the White House press room, querulously whined about losing his “verified” checkmark on Twitter. Being booted from the service is not an actual win for him. Two, of course he’ll spin it like a win anyway, because as with other dipshits of his sort, everything must always be spun as, not only a victory, but as a victory that is unfolding exactly to plan. Yiannopoulos could trip down a flight of stairs mouth first and he’d crawl himself up a wall at the landing, turn to you with a mouth full of broken teeth and try to convince you that he meant to do that. If you know that about him (and other dipshits like him), it becomes easy to ignore the “that’s what he wants” aspect and do what you need to do.
4. “But he’s gay!” Yes, Yiannopoulos is gay. He’s also an asshole who points other assholes at people to harass and terrorize them. He got booted off Twitter for the latter; the former doesn’t excuse it. Being an asshole is orthogonal to sexuality as well as political philosophy.
5. It’s good that Twitter punted Yiannopoulos, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t look like Twitter did some celebrity calculus there. Yiannopoulos and pals had a nice long run pointing themselves at all other manner of people they didn’t like, for whatever reason, and essentially Twitter didn’t say “boo” about it. But then they harass a movie star with movie star friends, many of whom are Twitter users with large numbers of followers, and whose complaints about Twitter and the harassment of their friend get play in major news outlets, and Twitter finally boots the ringleader of that shitty little circus.
So the math there at least appears pretty obvious from the outside. You can punch down on Twitter and get away with it, but don’t punch up, and punch up enough to make Twitter look bad, or you’ll get in trouble (after more than a day). Is this actually the way it works? I’m not at Twitter so I can’t say. I can say I do know enough women of all sorts who have gotten all manner of shit by creeps on Twitter, but who weren’t in a movie and had movie star friends or got press play for their harassment. And they basically had to suck it up. So, yeah, from the outside it looks like Twitter made their decision on this based on optics rather than the general well-being of their users.
6. Which is a recurring theme with Twitter (and other social media services, but also, of Twitter): Not much gets done until the service looks bad, and then what gets done is cosmetic rather than useful. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter punting Yiannopoulos is a good thing; he deserved it and has done for a while. But Yiannopoulos didn’t get to the point where he needed the boot all by himself. He happily exploited the weaknesses of Twitter — weaknesses Twitter could have dealt with years ago — to become one of the service’s leading shitlords. And getting rid of the shitlord doesn’t mean the shitty little minions he gathered to himself still aren’t on the service and happy to continue their shitty ways. Which is fine if they keep to themselves; less so when they’re shitty to others, as they are likely to be.
Twitter can do more to make it easier for users to route around awful people and to get them off the service if they won’t let themselves be routed around. Twitter’s been promising for years that they’re going to make better strides in this department — and is promising more in the coming weeks — and yet here we are in 2016 and still it takes someone with a number two box office film to her name and all her famous friends to get the service to do something it should have done long ago. Yiannopoulos is giant turd of human, to be sure. But Twitter did its part in letting him get that way. Maybe they should do more to avoid let turd buildup happen from here on out.
They say they’re going to do it. Prove it, Twitter.
What I thought of the new Ghostbusters: I liked it, and would happily rewatch it. It’s definitely the second-best Ghostbusters movie, and much closer to the original in terms of enjoyment than the willfully forgotten Ghostbusters 2. There are legitimate criticisms to make of it: the plot is rote to the point of being slapdash, the action scenes are merely adequate, and Paul Feig is no Ivan Reitman, in terms of creating comedic ambiance. But the film got the two big things right: It has a crackerjack cast that’s great individually and together, and it has all the one-liners you can eat. And now that the origin story of these particular Ghostbusters is out of the way, I’m ready for the sequel.
But what about the Ghostbusters being all women?!??!?? Yes they were, and it was good. If you can’t enjoy Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones snarking it up while zapping ghosts with proton streams, one, the problem is you, not them, and two, no really, what the fuck is wrong with you. The actors and the characters had chemistry with one another and I would have happily watched these Ghostbusters eat lunch, just to listen to them zap on one another. And in particular I want to be McKinnon’s Holtzmann when I grow up; Holtzmann is brilliant and spectrum-y and yet pretty much social anxiety-free and I honestly can’t see any sort of super-nerd not wanting to cosplay the shit out of her forever and ever, amen.
BUT THEY’VE RUINED MY CHILDHOOD BY BEING WOMEN, wails a certain, entitled subset of male nerd on the Internet. Well, good, you pathetic little shitballs. If your entire childhood can be irrevocably destroyed by four women with proton packs, your childhood clearly sucked and it needs to go up in hearty, crackling flames. Now you are free, boys, free! Enjoy the now. Honestly, I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that one of the weakest parts of this film is its villain, who (very minor spoiler) is literally a basement-dwelling man-boy just itchin’ to make the world pay for not making him its king, as he is so clearly meant to be. These feculent lads are annoying enough in the real world. It’s difficult to make them any more interesting on screen.
But this is just the latest chapter of man-boys whining about women in science fiction culture: Oh noes! Mad Max has womens in it! Yes, and Fury Road was stunning, arguably the best film of its franchise and of 2015, and was improbably but fittingly nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Oh noes! Star Wars has womens in it! Yes, and The Force Awakens was pretty damn good, the best Star Wars film since Empire, was the highest grossing film of 2015 and of all time in the domestic box office (not accounting for inflation. Accounting for inflation, it’s #11. #1 counting inflation? That super-manly epic, Gone With the Wind).
And now, Oh noes! Ghostbusters has womens in it! Yes, and it’s been well-reviewed and at $46 million, is the highest grossing opening for its director or any of its stars and perfectly in line with studio estimates for the weekend. Notably, all the surviving principals of the original film make cameos, suggesting they are fine with passing the torch (Harold Ramis is honored in the film too, which is a lovely touch), and Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd are producers of the film. If your childhood has been ruined, boys, then your alleged heroes happily did some of the kicking.
I’m an 80s kid; my youth is not forever stained by a Ghostbusters remake, any more than it was stained by remakes of Robocop or Point Break or Poltergeist or Endless Love or The Karate Kid or Clash of the Titans or Footloose or Total Recall and on and on. I think most of these remakes were unnecessary, and I don’t think most of them were particularly good, or as good as their originals, and I question why film companies bother, aside from the “all the originals were made before the global movie market matured and there’s money on the table that can be exploited with these existing brands,” which is, of course, its own excuse.
But after a certain and hopefully relatively early point in your life, you realize remakes are just a thing the film industry does — the first Frankenstein film listed on imdb was made in 1910, and the most recent, 2015, and Universal (maker of the classic 1931 version) is planning yet another reboot in 2018 or 2019 — and maybe you get over yourself and your opinion that your childhood is culturally inviolate, especially from the entities that actually, you know, own the properties you’ve invested so much of your psyche into. It’s fine to roll your eyes when someone announces yet another remake, tweet “UGH WHYYYYYY” and then go about your life. But it causes you genuine emotional upheaval, maybe a reconfigure of your life is not out of the question.
(Not, mind you, that I think these shitboys are genuinely that invested in Ghostbusters, per se; they’re invested in manprivilege and, as noted above, would have wailed their anguished testeria onto Reddit and 4chan regardless of which cultural property had women “suddenly” show up in it. This is particularly ironic with anything regarding science fiction, which arguably got its successful start in Western culture through the graces of Mary Shelley. Women have always been in it, dudes. Deal.)
The happy news in this case is that, whether or not this Ghostbusters reboot was necessary, it’s pretty good, and fun to watch. That’s the best argument for it. I’m looking forward to more.
Hey, you look like someone who could use some reading ideas going into the weekend. Here’s this week’s stack of new books and ARCs. What looks like you want to dig into it? Tell us in the comments!
I think the one at the top looks a bit like a “z”.
Because why not.