Sure you do! Here you go. This is from when Cory and I did a stop together at Google during our book tours.
So, I’ve been following this thing that’s been happening in Canada, where (briefly), Hal Niedviecki, a white editor of a literary magazine, in an edition of the magazine focusing on the indigenous writers of Canada, wrote an editorial in which he encouraged white writers to include characters who weren’t like them, saying “I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so – the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”
This outraged a bunch of folks, and Niedviecki ended up apologizing and resigning, which in turn outraged a bunch of other (mostly white) literary and journalistic folks, some of whom briefly started going about on social media about actually trying to fund an “Appropriation Prize” before at least a few of them realized that maybe they shouldn’t be doing that and started backtracking as fast as they could.
As I’ve been reading this, I think I have a reasonably good idea of what was going on in the mind of Niedzviecki. I suspect it was something along the line of, “Hey, in this special edition of this magazine featuring voices my magazine’s reading audience of mostly white writers doesn’t see enough of, I want to encourage the writing of a diversity of characters even among my readership of mostly white writers, and I want to say it in a clever, punchy way that will really drive the message home.”
Which seems laudable enough! And indeed, in and of itself, encouraging white, middle-class writers out of their comfort zones in terms of writing characters different from them and their lived experience is a perfectly fine goal. I encourage it. Other people I know encourage it. There’s more to life than middle-class white people, and writing can and should reflect that.
But it wasn’t “in and of itself,” and here’s where Niedviecki screwed up, as far as I can see:
1. In an edition of his magazine about indigenous writing in Canada, his essay pulled focus away from indigenous writers to focus on white, middle-class writers, (probably unintentionally) signaling who was really more important here.
2. He tried to be clever about it, too, and the failure mode of “clever” is “asshole.” Specifically, the crack about the “Appropriation Prize,” which probably sounded great in his head, and by all indications sounded pretty great to a bunch of other mostly white Canadian authors and journalists.
3. Which is a point in itself, i.e., the easy conflation of “diversity of characters” with “appropriation.” Very basically, the former says “I as a writer acknowledge there’s more to the world than me and people like me and I will strive to represent that as best I can,” and the latter says “The imaginary version of people I’m not like, that I have created in my head, is as valid as the lived experience of the actual people I claim to represent in my writing.” And, yeah. Maybe these two should not be conflated, even if it makes for a punchy, memorable line in an essay. Also, if you genuinely can’t tell the difference between these two states, you might have work to do.
(This is why the white Canadian authors/journalists yakking about funding an Appropriation Prize are particularly clueless; they’re essentially saying “Hey! Let’s give money to white writers for the best fake version of people they’re not!” Which is not a good look, folks, really. Words do mean things, and “appropriation” doesn’t mean a good thing in this context.)
This whole event really appears to fall into the category of “Well-meaning person does something they thought would help and instead makes things worse.” Niedzviecki thought he was championing diversity in Canadian writing — because (I have no doubt) he actually does wish to champion diversity in Canadian writing — and instead blundered into controversy because lack of understanding about what he was doing, or at least, lack of understanding of how what he was doing would look outside of his own circle of experience. He meant well! But he showed his ass anyway.
And, well. Join the party, Mr. Niedzviecki! There are many of us here in the “We Showed Our Ass” club. And judging from the response to the piece, and Mr. Niedzviecki’s decision to resign his post, more are joining as we speak. “Cultural Appropriation: Why Can’t We Debate It?” asks one Canadian newspaper column headline, from another white writer who clearly doesn’t understand what “cultural appropriation” actually means and seems confused why other people are upset by it. Niedzviecki, to his credit, seems to have picked up the clue. Some others seem determined not to. And, look. We all show our ass. The question is whether we then try to pull our pants back up, or keep scrunching them down to our ankles, and then poop all over them and ourselves.
Now, related but slightly set apart (which is why I’ve separated this part off with asterisks), let me address this issue of diversity of characters in writing, using myself as an example, and moving on from there.
I’m a white male writer of North American middle-class sensibility, and I try from time to time to write characters that are not like me, because it reflects the reality of the world to do so, and because in science fiction I believe we write the futures we want to see, and I want to see diversity. How do I do, writing these characters who are not like me? Well, that’s for other people to decide. But here is my thought on doing it, which I take from Mary Anne Mohanraj’s essays here on the subject:
a) I should write diverse characters.
b) I’ll screw up sometimes, and when I do people with the lived experience I’m trying to represent will let me know.
c) I’ll learn and when I write diverse characters again, I’ll try to do better. If I make mistakes again, they’ll be new ones, not the same ones over again.
d) Repeat until dead (or I quit writing, which I suspect will happen simultaneously).
With that said, while I think it’s useful for me to have diverse characters in my writing, I also think it’s even more useful for publishing to have diverse writers. This is not just because of some box checking sensibility but because other writers tell stories, create characters and interrogate writing in ways I would never think to. I’m a pretty good storyteller, folks. But my way of storytelling isn’t the only way it gets done. As a reader I like what I like, but I also like finding out about what I didn’t know I’d like, and I even occasionally like reading something and going “wow, that was so not for me but I get that it’s for someone.”
This is relevant because even when I write diverse characters, they get filtered through me, and while that’s fine and I think necessary, in a larger sense it’s not sufficient. I’m not running me down here. I give good character. But as a writer I know where my weaknesses are. Some characters I will likely never explore as deeply as they could be explored by other writers, because I am not able to write those characters as well as others could. I strive for diversity in my writing. But my writing won’t ever reflect the diversity that literature in general should be capable of. You need writers whose lives are not like mine for that.
White writers adding a diversity of characters into their work is one thing. Publishers seeking out and publishing a diversity of writers is another. A fall down happens when people — writers, editors, and publishers — appear to think having the former is somehow equivalent to the latter, or that having the former is sufficient, so that the latter is optional, if the former is present. It’s not. The former can be laudable (if it doesn’t fall over into appropriation, which it can, and when it does is its own bag of issues), but it’s not and never is sufficient. A field of literature that comes only from one direction is bad literature because it’s incomplete literature. There’s more to it and it’s being missed out on. And that’s a much larger issue.
So, yes. Good on me and any white writer for having diverse characters. Go us! But if your argument about diversity in writing and publishing is centered on that, and not on an actual diversity of writers, you’re missing the point in an obvious way. Everyone who isn’t a white writer is going to notice.
I tried writing about the James Comey firing earlier in the week and got mostly a lot of GRWARRRRGHNNNNGHFFFFFK out of it, so I decided to let it be, and anyway, at this point there’s very little to add to it that hasn’t already been said elsewhere, mostly relating to Trump being incompetent, possibly criminal, and in all cases a schmuck.
That said, I think it’s reasonable to address a point that both Trump and his various apparatchiks have been petulant about, namely that no one on the left liked James Comey and many people thought he should have been booted from the job, and yet when Trump booted him, they freaked out. Isn’t this what they wanted? I mean, hell, just before he got punted, I wrote this tweet about him:
So you would think I would be among the ones cheering the punting. As much as I roll my eyes at the Trumpkins, I think it’s reasonably fair for them to be confused about this.
Well, here’s an answer:
Let’s say there’s this guy who is an enormous asshole and everybody hates him and wishes that he’d get, like, hit by a bus or something. Then one day, a bus indeed comes up on the curb, smacks into him and basically turns him into paste. Does everyone then pin a medal on the bus driver? Well, no, the bus driver just killed someone. Now we look into why the bus went up on the curb. And if in this particular case the bus driver just happened to be someone the enormous asshole was investigating for possible criminal activity (because the enormous asshole was maybe a cop or a private investigator), well. There might be cause for concern. Especially if the bus driver then says “I was driving around looking for him in order to hit him with a bus!” to Lester Holt in a televised interview.
An even shorter, analogy-free version is: It’s allowed to both believe Comey wasn’t very good at his job and that Trump fired him in order to impede the FBI’s investigation into his, his campaign’s and now his administration’s ties to Russia. And while the first is a problem, the second is stuff impeachments are made of.
That Trump appeared to think that the annoyance of the first would make people brush aside the potential criminality of the second is yet another reason why he’s not actually very good at his job. So there’s irony there, at least.
Hey, look! More books and ARCs! Who’d’ve thought? If you see something here you have an interest in, tell us all in the comments. We want to know.
In the “novella” category. I’m super pleased.
Here are the other finalists in the category:
- The Lost Child of Lychford, Paul Cornell (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
- Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
- Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
- This Census-taker, China Miéville (Del Rey; Picador)
- The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (NewCon)
- Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling (Tachyon)
- A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)
That’s a very excellent field for the category, with many wonderful writers. I’m honored to have my work among them.
Here’s a link to the entire slate of finalists in all categories. Congrats to everyone! This is a very fine way to start the weekend.
Not graduation day; don’t let the robes fool you. Senior day is the day the seniors are handed out their awards and scholarships, take their final class pictures, and then are dismissed until graduation day, two weeks hence. Technically Athena has already graduated — she finished up a semester early — but she’s walking with her classmates because why wouldn’t you. It’s a last hurrah for Bradford Class of 2017. These two, at least, seem happy about it.
Hair matters, in a lots of ways we (or, well, I, a balding middle-aged white dude) don’t often think about. But Michele Tracy Berger has, and has made it central to her novella, Reenu-You. She’s here now to talk a little about hair, about culture, and about her work featuring both.
MICHELE TRACY BERGER:
What if a visit to the salon could kill you? What if a hair product harbored a deadly virus? My Big Idea is about viruses, the politics of beauty and unlikely female heroes.
Hair and hair culture is often unexplored territory for many speculative fiction writers. Despite the wonderful world-building of the genre, the social economy of hair maintenance, styling and product manufacturing is rarely discussed. This is a shame as there is a rich story in conversations of hair and haircare, as they often embody the complexities of the U.S.’s racial legacies. In Reenu-You, hair is the catalyst which sets the stage for conflict, friendship, desire, misunderstanding and an epidemic.
We follow two characters, Kat and Constancia. While different in many ways, these women share an experience of haircare; they both use a new product called “Reenu-You”. Within days they find themselves, along with other women of color, covered in purple scab-like legions— a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. They are at the epicenter of a mysterious virus spreading throughout the city.
I’ve been interested in hair and what people make of it since I was a little girl. Beauty practices reveal a lot about what is acceptable and encouraged in a culture. There’s pain and joy in how many African Americans (and other people of color) experience their hair.
Let’s start with joy. Black people experience the aesthetics of hair as a space of creativity and innovation (e.g. ‘the Afro’, ‘the fade’, ‘cornrows’, ‘braids’, ‘the weave’, etc.). Growing up in an urban African American community, talking about, reflecting on and styling hair was a particularly important and fun aspect of my young adulthood. Beauticians held high status in my neighborhood. They nimbly moved from therapist to healer in a blink of an eye. I thought they were magical. They were like modern day shamans whose tools were metal hot combs, big pink rollers, slippery, translucent gels, and hair oils that smelled like exotic fruits from faraway lands.
But there’s pain, too. Black and brown kids often encounter the words nappy, kinky, and wooly, as pejoratives. Faced with this judgement, many internalize the belief that their hair is bad, or unmanageable. Most Black people have had to think critically about their hair, how they feel about it, how their community feels about it, and how dominant culture feels about it. I did.
I understood at an early age that there were unspoken rules about hair. “Good hair” was straight and bouncy, like the women in commercials.
I was usually in the camp of having “good hair”, frequently getting stopped on the street by people telling me I had pretty hair. These comments made me deeply uncomfortable, but, gave me a kind of social power, too.
What’s the origin of these ideas? Beauty standards, in this country, have historically favored long, straight hair stemming from dominant norms. Slave owners often referred to enslaved people’s hair as “wool”, like that of an animal.
These dominant norms were imposed on enslaved people and over time inculcated long-standing ideas about social status and worth. Straight hair (and lighter skin) over time became intertwined with a rigid definition of beauty. These societal standards and individuals’ experiences shape the complicated factors that play into why some minority women use relaxers.
In my novella, the product Reenu You seductively promises an all-natural, healthy chemical-free fix to its customers –it’s billed as a hair tonic.
Although no viruses have popped up yet in women’s hair products, there’s a long and troubling history about the safety of hair relaxers. At the turn of the 20th century, the African American press reported that white-owned companies were perhaps not producing high quality hair products for their primarily Black clients.
The idea for Reenu-You developed as I watched the 1990s ‘Rio’ scandal unfold. The World Rio Corporation released a product known as Rio, billed as a natural hair relaxer. Rio was marketed almost exclusively to Black women, as an alternative to traditional relaxers.
Soon women around the country were reporting horrible reactions to Rio including itchy scalps, oozing blisters and significant hair loss. A class action lawsuit revealed that there was nothing natural, at all, about Rio. At a closer look, Rio contained a number of highly acidic chemicals!
These lawsuits continue to pop up. Presently, L’Oréal is facing a class action law suit that claims several of its hair relaxers produce harmful conditions. Also a new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, documents that many beauty products “targeted toward Black women are less healthy”. Hair relaxers are at the top the list. In fact, researchers are investigating the possible connections between hair relaxers and occurrences of lupus and fibroid tumors.
Currently the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the hair care or cosmetics industry.
Reenu-You digs into the uncomfortable space of hair and identity, leaning into all of its potential for joy and pain. I wanted to play with the trust we have as consumers about the safety of our most intimate products and raise questions about who is valued as a consumer and patient.
The stakes are higher in the novella than in the Rio case. I’m hoping Reenu-You will create more awareness about these real-life beauty horror stories.
I hope readers will carry the characters and their stories with them. The next time they visit a salon or are about to use a favorite conditioner, hair gel or dye, they might consider, what’s really in these products?
My 47th year was a pretty productive one: Three books of mine were published (The Dispatcher, in both audio and print; Miniatures; and of course The Collapsing Empire), one video game I worked on was released (Midnight Star: Renegade), I toured all around the country and saw lots of people, I had some work optioned and even won an award in Israel. Not bad. More importantly, I got to spend another year with my wife and child and with friends, all of whom I cherish beyond measure, and who have made my personal life full and wonderful.
There was that election. But, look. You can’t pin that one on me.
I have plans and ambitions for my 48th year, which outside that which you probably already know (i.e., write a whole bunch of books) I’m going to keep to myself for now. But in the spirit of commemorating the day, if you feel inclined to mark my birthday, in lieu of gifts, please consider doing the following:
1. Be decent to each other, as much as you can.
2. Be mindful of the people you care about. They’re going to need your help, and you might need theirs.
3. Donate locally, and donate critically. There are people in your own neighborhoods who could use a hand up, especially now. Also, our nation is going to need people to defend rights and principles other people seem in a rush to strip and junk. To the extent you can, give.
4. Look up from the news every once in a while and give yourself a break. This is one I especially need to remember, so I figure the rest of you could use that reminder as well. I think people can and should be engaged in the world, now more than ever. But it’s also important to know when you need to rest, so you can be more effective when you come back to it.
5. Take care of yourself. You’re not getting any younger, you know. Do things that give you joy, with people you like and love. It’s more important than you might think.
And that’s what I have for you today, on my 48th birthday. I’m looking forward to the next year.
For author and scientist Gregory Benford, his new novel The Berlin Project isn’t just a matter of speculative fiction — Benford has some very real connections to the people and characters that play a role in his alternate history. Benford’s here to lay out where fact meets fiction meets friends and family in this tome.
I got the idea for this novel when I was working on nuclear matters as a postdoc for Edward Teller. Then decades later, heard it from the guy who was at its center, and who became my father in law, Karl Cohen. All that came together when I decided to go back to writing novels in 2012.
The year 1967 seems so distant now. I was finishing my PhD thesis in theoretical physics when two of my thesis advisors took me aside and said that, just to be safe, I should apply for two postdoc positions, not just one. It was that long ago. I turned down UC Berkeley, a professorship at Royal Holloway College, London (which had read a published paper and wanted someone in that area; I’d never heard of them).
So I decided to work with Teller. In the course of many calculations and conversations, he told me of a turning point in World War Two that few knew. I heard it later from Karl Cohen:
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the effect on the US atomic program (Manhattan Project) was a one-year delay. The US Army was preoccupied with the new war in the Pacific; they failed to appoint a person to head the Manhattan Project with enough power. In 1941 the people in charge favored Urey’s centrifuge approach to producing the fuel instead of gaseous diffusion.
By 1942, General Groves was in and Urey was out of favor. Building the gaseous diffusion plant took longer than expected, and the result was a one-year delay in the project. The delay meant that the target changed away from Germany. The object of dropping an A-bomb over Germany was to prevent an invasion.
How many more concentration camp victims would have survived if the war had ended one year earlier? For one, Anne Frank. Most CC victims succumbed eventually to the rugged conditions… The difference between 1944 and 1945 as the end of the war is probably quite significant in terms of lives.
The central context for this novel came from the protagonist I chose to follow through it, Karl Cohen. I also folded in my experience of living in the US occupation of Germany in 1955-57, where my father commanded combat units.
Karl’s words made me think, because in the last year of war, whole societies collapsed. A million died each month, the Soviet Union captured many countries into subjugation, and the devastation of the Axis powers took decades to repair.
Alternative histories are ways of thinking. The entire history of nuclear weapons is interlaced with scientists considering the future, often using science fiction as a prompt. The 1913 “atomic bombs” of H. G. Wells and the Robert Heinlein and Cleve Cartmill stories in Astounding Science Fiction were indeed broadly discussed at Los Alamos –as told to me in detail by Teller.
The wartime investigation into the Astounding stories, as I depict from documents I found, now seems odd indeed. The fiction writers had no classified information at all, just good guesses. Still, this possibility was viewed as very important by the security agencies, including the FBI. As Robert Silverberg has wryly remarked, “Turning war secrets into second-rate SF stories might seem, to the dispassionate eye, a very odd way indeed of betraying one’s country.”
Karl Cohen was my father in law. In 2000 he was voted to be among the 50 most prominent American chemists of the 20th Century. But he was haunted by what he felt was his personal failure to convince the U.S. government to pursue the centrifuge approach during the war. He died in 2012 at age 99. Alas, I had only begun on the novel.
I chose to portray that era through the people I knew who were embedded in the science side of the conflict. Any portrayal of real people in fiction is an interpretation, but knowing them certainly helps.
I knew personally many figures in this novel: Harold Urey, a Nobelist who first greeted me and my twin brother at the grad students reception at UCSD in 1963; Karl Cohen, my father in law; Edward Teller, my mentor as his postdoc at Livermore Lab; Maria Goeppert Mayer, for whom I graded the homework and exams in her graduate nuclear physics course at UCSD; Freeman Dyson, whom I met at the UCSD daily coffee in 1963; Leo Szilard, another coffee break savant; Luis Alvarez, whom I invited to give a colloquium at UCI, because I wanted to meet such a fabulous character, and whose account of the Hiroshima bombing I used here; Richard Feynman, an idol to all of us; Sam Goudsmit, raconteur extraordinaire; Paul A. M. Dirac, Nobelist; John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding; Fred Reines of UC Irvine, Manhattan Project physicist and winner of a Nobel in 1995; Arthur C. Clarke, who was a radar officer in the war and then a science fiction writer. Plus many others. I have tried to echo their manner of speaking and thinking. Indeed, I included my own father, James Benford, who went into Normandy on the fifth day of the invasion and fought across France, Luxemburg, Germany and Austria.
Further, every document quoted in the novel is authentic, though some have dates altered to conform to the plot.
WWII is the drama that keeps on giving, for it touches on many problems we have today, especially the role of all-powerful weapons like nuclear, biological and chemical ones.
One of the major characters is still alive: Freeman Dyson, now 93. I gave him an advance copy recently, as the photo shows. He liked the novel’s “specific premise,” as he put it: that the errors in judgment at the beginning years of the Manhattan project might well have gone differently, yielding a very different World War II. At the end of The Berlin Project we get to see that world in 1963, the year I began graduate school.
There are plenty of wars since, but none like WWII, which killed 29 million Soviets alone, and over 60 million in total, about 3% of the world population (over 80% of them among the Allies).
Such a mixed nuclear and tactical war could lie in our future, so this thought experiment has implications for our real world in the 21st Century. The next war that sees nuclear weapons used will probably also involve substantial ground forces. Think of Pakistan-India and the deep angers of the Middle East, where resort to nuclear weapons seems inevitable among demons posing as religious purists.
But my major reason for writing The Berlin Project came from the sheer fun of it. The physics I knew already; I helped design tactical warheads while a staff member at Livermore, after my postdoc, and before I became a professor at UC Irvine. The intricate interplay of great minds in pursuit of a desperate goal, the Manhattan Project, I did not know well.
But I learned, pouring through much history buried in obscure documents. I found the ID badges for the Manhattan Project and put them in the novel, along with dozens of pictures from that era. In an historical novel, show the reality as much as you can.
My sense of the story gathering momentum as the war changes its flavor drove the writing. The battles change, the possibilities blossom. This has been perhaps my most enjoyable project, ever.
I was recently gifted with a Google Chromebook Pixel, which although now two years old is still the most specced-out Chromebook you can get (the version I received has an i7 processor, 16 gigs of ram and a 64GB SSD, as well as a retina-like touchscreen). I was delighted to get it, and can attest to it being an all around lovely laptop, as well as (of course) just about the best Chromebook I’ve come across. It can run Android apps too, which is a bonus, although I don’t find myself actually using that ability much, either on this or the other two Chromebooks I currently have in the house. Be that as it may, if you have a hankering for a Chromebook, the Pixels are still well worth looking into. Google’s not making them anymore, so supplies are limited, but on the other hand you can pick one up these days for about $400, a steep discount from their original pricing (of about $1k).
As much as I like the Pixel (and I do!), one of the things I’m aware of at the moment is that I’m currently in a moment of technological sufficiency, which is to say that I’m at a point where I don’t really have a hankering for any new bit of tech. Before the Pixel arrived I already had the latest Asus Flip Chromebook, which I liked quite a bit and which I took on tour with me, where it performed in an entirely satisfactory manner. My desktop computer is a couple years old now but still near the upper end of things, techwise; as long as it doesn’t explode I’m fine. My cell phone is likewise well-specced and I’m in no rush to upgrade it. Basically, there’s no tech out there in the world I really feel the urge to pick up. I’m good.
This is very weird for me, I should note. There’s usually a laptop or cell phone or graphics card or camera or TV or whatever that I don’t have that I wish I did, and which I’m sorely tempted to get even if I don’t exactly need it (this is what Charlie Stross calls “having to make a saving throw against shiny“). But at the moment: Nope.
I think part of the reason for this is a bit of self-awareness, i.e., no matter what new computer (or phone, or whatever) I get, I’m almost certainly going to use it for the same things I always do — in the case of a laptop, to write emails and occasionally work on a novel (if I’m not at home), and read social media. These are not things which require blazing speeds or massive computing power, which is one reason I’ve become enamored of Chromebooks in the last couple of years; they’re nicely good enough, especially now that I can get models with backlit keyboards. They are so “good enough,” in fact, that at this point (for me, anyway), it becomes increasingly difficult to justify spending hundreds more for a PC or Mac ever again. Maybe if my laptops were my primary computers (i.e., no desktop computer). But they’re not.
Also, I think I might have a little bit of technology fatigue, which is to say at this moment in time there’s nothing so particularly new or innovative in terms of technology that I feel an urge to race out and upgrade. Laptops are sufficiently small and light and capable; their functionality isn’t notably different from what it was five or even ten years ago, at least in terms of how I use them. The most recent attempts to innovate in that area amount to either removing capability (Apple ditching inputs and forcing its users to use dongles) or adding capability of dubious utility (Apple again, with their “Touch Bar”). Likewise, the newest generation of cell phones doesn’t add much to the party for me — again they’re either dropping capability (no headphone jacks? Screw you), or what’s being added doesn’t impress me much.
(Tablets, I’ll note, have dropped entirely off my radar; I loved the Nexus 7 tablet, which was the perfect size for me, but I barely use mine anymore. Likewise the iPad Mini I have, which I got because I’m working on games designed for iOS. What I used tablets for previously are now handled by my phone, which now has a large enough screen, or by my Asus Chromebook, which flips about to make a perfectly serviceable tablet, especially now that it runs Android apps.)
There’s nothing that grabs me, upgrade-wise, so I suspect I’m unlikely to upgrade until my current set of toys break. Which will be soon enough, as tech these days is not made to last. But when it does break, the question will be whether I’ll upgrade, or just… sidegrade, and get tech that is equivalent to what I have now and thus, relatively cheaper because it will no longer be the shiniest of the shinies anymore.
I don’t suspect this state of affairs will last, mind you. I am famously susceptible to new tech toys, and I suspect that soon some as-now-unheralded feature or functionality will presently become indespensible (or will at least feel like it is) and then there I will be, Fry-like, thrusting out a fist of dollars and telling someone to shut up and take my money. But for the moment? Yeah, I’m fine, tech-wise. It’s a weird feeling. But I could get used to it. And so could my wallet.
During the thinking about and writing of The Song of the Dead, author Carrie Patel came to appreciate traffic jams. Why is that? And how did it help in the construction of her novel? Patel is here to tell you.
One of my most vivid memories from grad school is of a negotiation exercise my first year. My classmates and I were divided into two teams in which we played researchers competing for a limited supply of a rare coconut. The premise was that we each needed it—and as much as we could get—in order to cure different diseases, and that winning meant having as much of the stuff as possible.
Game on, I thought.
For a half hour, we debated. We discussed the urgency of our research, the number of people we could save, and the benefits we could provide to society. After a civil and well-reasoned discussion, we divided up the coconut supply, and we all stepped back feeling like we’d won.
We’d all lost.
The catch was that one group only needed the fibers, and the other only needed the meat. We could have all gotten the maximum use of our coconuts if we’d only shared our full stories with one another. Instead, we made assumptions and went to battle because the story running through our minds was one of conflict.
If there’s one thing this exercise taught me, it’s that the stories we tell ourselves shape our goals, relationships, and outcomes. And that’s the Big Idea of The Song of the Dead.
A little background. The Recoletta trilogy is about underground cities that rise from the ashes of the Catastrophe, an unspecified historical disaster. To the people who live in the buried cities—Recoletta, Madina, and their neighbors—history is a thing to be feared. It’s a Pandora’s box of human evils, a story about how the wicked nature and dangerous technologies of ancient peoples led to their near-total destruction. Understandably, perhaps, the people of these cities see this history as a dangerous virus, and most of them want nothing to do with whatever story corrupted their ancestors.
For the third novel, I wanted to explore this idea about stories—how they shape people and how they create conflict—on a big, plot-wide scale and on a small, character-focused scale.
Zoomed out, The Song of the Dead was always going to be about societies that had built themselves up around different stories of the Catastrophe and about the conflict that those stories would inevitably rope them into.
That idea felt fresh, relevant, and compelling to me as a writer. There was just one problem: I didn’t even know the story of the Catastrophe. I just knew that it had to be massive. It had to explain the buried cities’ isolation and idiosyncrasies. It had to mean something to the characters in the present of the book.
And it couldn’t be the first thing that came to mind.
So, how do you develop a backstory that simultaneously pays off a mystery, contextualizes your world building, and motivates your current conflict?
Apparently with lots of brainstorming, pages of outlining, and some thoughtful car ride conversations with the husband.
At least there’s one reason to appreciate California traffic.
I won’t spoil anything except to say that I did finally discover the story my story needed, and after dusting my hands off over dozens of Scrivener files, pages of notes, and more than a few false starts, all I had to do was write the novel.
Fortunately, there were characters to help with that.
I wanted to give my series protagonists, Jane Lin and Liesl Malone, the same thorough treatment. Ever since I’d written the outline for Cities and Thrones, I’d wanted to bring these two women into conflict with one another. The challenge was to do that while maintaining them both as reasonable and well-intentioned people.
Fortunately, by the events of The Song of the Dead, they’ve been shaped (hammered, more like) by two very different stories. Each has a different version of the events that have pushed them to the edge, and they begin the novel glaring at each other across the gulf that has grown between them.
The question is, will they be able to step back from that conflict far enough to tell each other those stories, and will they be able to find peace enough for their world?
Athena and Hunter went and got all dressed up for their senior Prom night last night, and of course I had to take a ton of pictures, because that’s what I do. If you’re curious to see the results (and to look upon a fabulous Belle dress), the entire Flickr album is here. Enjoy!
For your Cinco de Mayo delectation, this lovely stack of new books and ARCs! What seems especially tasty today? Let us know in the comments.
Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe are writers, spouses and collaborators on the middle grade detective novel The Supernormal Sleuthing Service: The Lost Legacy. So it’s only natural — and indeed perhaps inevitable — that they would collaborate on this Big Idea as well!
GWENDA BOND and CHRISTOPHER ROWE:
Gwenda: We decided to write our Big Idea essay in the same way we wrote this book–handing it back and forth–so you’re going to hear from both of us. I have always loved detective stories, and have a particular soft spot for that random being known as the Hotel Detective. People will tell you book ideas can’t come from procrastinating on Twitter, but I’m here to tell you they are dead wrong. This one did, in a roundabout way. I got a piece of luxury hotel email spam, which turned into a half-hour of twitter jokes about wanting an army of hotel detectives. In truth, I always had wanted to write a story about them, but how to do that for YA or kids (which is what I write)? Tough.
Cut to a couple of weeks later, when I woke up late on a Saturday and said to Christopher: There are kid hotel detectives because it’s a hotel for monsters! He immediately jumped in with ideas about a bigfoot stealing a kid’s breakfast and how the main character would be a new kid moving to town who’s the hotel chef’s kid and then by the end of our own breakfast we’d agreed to try writing the book together and that it would definitely be a book for middle grade readers. I joke that I knew this was a good idea because Christopher’s inner 12-year-old is very close to the surface, but the truth is both of ours are. Don’t tell him I admitted that, though.
Christopher: Hah! She admits it!
Kids solving mysteries in a hotel for monsters–or as they call themselves in our world, supernormals–turned out to be an enormously fruitful idea for spinning off other ideas: plots, characters, set pieces, even recipes (yes, recipes!). Sometimes, writing a story full of adventure and mystery can be quite a challenge in terms of, well, coming up with stuff. If anything, once we had our basic concept, we had too much stuff. The process of writing this novel was a ton of fun, and consisted of conversation, ideation, and a lot of basic sitting down and typing.
People have often asked us what the particulars of our collaborative process were, and really, it was very simple. We would talk–on walks, over meals, all the time–about the story and characters and cool new concepts we were each coming up with. We knew the larger plot arc from early on, so the writing became a daily exercise in asking one another “what happens in the book tomorrow?” and then, the next morning, putting what we’d come up with in the page. Gwenda would get up and write a thousand words, then I would get up, read what she’d written, and write a thousand words more. Do that for enough days in a row and hey presto, you’ve got a novel manuscript.
Gwenda: He left out the best part! Which is that when I’d get home from the office, he’d read aloud everything we had from that day. And do funny voices for the characters! A big part of what was so enjoyable about writing this book together (and revising it later) was the fun of collaboration coupled with writing a book that has quite a bit of humor. It was always a bonus if we could make the other person laugh with delight. I remember hearing every great Cindermass or Elevator moment Christopher wrote for the first time, because they made me crack up.
On a process level, we’re about as different as two writers can be with our own individual work. I like to talk out stories and love edits; my work only ever becomes anything in revision. Christopher, on the other hand, is much better at drafting. So it was also kind of great to have complementary strengths and weaknesses to draw on. And, of course, the best part of collaboration is you only do half the work, but get ALL the results. (This is probably not actually true, since you still have to do all the planning Christopher mentioned above.) What was most surprising about this process to you? Besides the fact we’re still married after writing this book and now having finished and turned in a draft of the second in the series.
Christopher: Most surprising? Probably the stuff that kind of just popped up in the writing process that we didn’t plan on. For example, speaking of the Elevator, one day it was my turn to write and I had to get the characters from the lobby to the roof. So they all troop onto the hotel’s sole elevator and I decided that, since elevator rides in real life are notoriously boring and people rarely talk among themselves once the doors have shut, to spice things up a bit. So I put in a sign with some stuff about what kind of supernormal creatures are allowed aboard (up to eighty pixies or three ogres) and aren’t (“our larger guests”). And then, for some reason, at the bottom of the sign I added “Do not engage the Elevator in conversation.” I had no idea what that meant, but since I’d written it, obviously somebody was going to engage the Elevator in conversation, and once the Elevator started talking back, we couldn’t shut it up. And it’s proven to be one of the most popular characters in the book. So, that’s both one of the most surprising moments and one of my favorite moments in the composition process.
Gwenda: You were supposed to say the joy of working with me. You can make dinner later. Or plot the next book in the series. ;)
So, let’s say, there’s this writer.
(It doesn’t have to be a writer. It could be a musician, or painter, or actor, any aspirant in any creative or indeed competitive field, in which there will be many who participate but few who will end up on top, commercially or critically.)
Let’s also posit this writer is probably white and straight and male. Mind you, for this exercise, one doesn’t have to be white and/or straight and/or male — it’s possible that others could be slotted into this exercise — but let’s also allow that this exercise requires a certain amount of expectation, whether consciously acknowledged or not, that there is a path, and the path is achievable; and indeed not only achievable but achievable by them; and one might say, not only achievable, but expected.
So, again: This writer. He starts in his twenties in his field, writing short stories and perhaps working on a novel. And things start to happen for this writer. He gets work accepted by magazines and publishers. People start to talk about his work. He starts getting good notices and acceptance in his field. He begins to see his name pop up in conversations about the best work of the year, and selected for anthologies with the word “best” somewhere in the title. He has peers coming up with him. They hang out at conventions and book fairs.
One day, to his delight, as he edges into his thirties, he discovers some of his work has been nominated for an award, or possibly even two. Now when he goes to conventions and book fairs, his peers high-five him. When he sits on a panel, he no longer modestly suggests that he doesn’t know why he’s there when everyone else on the panel is so better known than he is. An agent at a convention asks him if he’s working on a novel (and of course he is, even if he wasn’t two seconds previously) and gives him a card and tells him they’d love to see it. Magazine editors invite him to submit. Anthology editors do the same, hinting that his name might even make it onto the cover.
The writer goes home and starts work on a novel. The agent likes the work and takes him on. When the novel is finished, the agent shops it — and it finds a home. The writer announces the deal on social media to the acclaim of peers and fans. The books goes out to reviewers and the first reviews are kind. The book hits stores and the sales are good! For a debut.
Our writer smiles to himself and says, now I am on my way. The path so far has been an unbroken upward road — not without challenges but one still clear and tractable — and from his vantage point he can see everything that lies on that upward path: More award nominations, this time for his novel(s), and then award wins. Then bestseller status and with it attention from film and TV producers. A novel is adapted into a film and launches the book into the stratosphere of general public consciousness. He’s liked, and admired, and in appropriate time new writers speak of him as a signal influence on their own work. From there, he garners his career awards — a Grand Master accolade, maybe a National Book Award or even a Pulitzer — and is comfortable in the knowledge that his work, his legacy, his part in the national conversation — is assured, even when he’s gone. This continuing upward path is not without its challenges, of course. Of course! But again, the path so far has been clear and tractable. There’s no reason for him not to be able to continue on it, predictably, inevitably.
And, then, one day, our writer looks around and he’s fifty. And he realizes that the book awards and the bestsellers and the movie deals haven’t come. He’s still publishing his novels (or maybe he isn’t), but he and his peers not part of the conversation like they used to be (well, one or two of them are. Just not him). His sales are slowly declining and some of his previous work is out of print. His agent admits that it’s harder to sell his work than it used to be. New writers — who are these kids? — are coming up and winning the awards, hitting the best seller lists, getting those TV and movie deals.
Our writer’s body is thicker than it used to be, and slower, and creaks. He’s not young anymore nor ever will be again. He’s not one of the Young Turks; he senses he’s barely part of the establishment. The new writers coming up treat him like just another writer; he’s not an influence, he’s just another jobber in the word mines. His upward path — that clear and tractable path, the expected and one would dare to say entitled path — is not the path he’s on. He’s on a path that has plateaued and indeed may be starting to run downhill, getting steeper as it goes.
How did this happen?
Well, our writer thinks, it can’t be because of him; he’s done the work, put in the words, is writing at the same level he always has. He’d been up for awards, back in the day, and doesn’t know why he shouldn’t still be. And it can’t be just be because sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don’t happen for you — that you could have been in the right place at the right time but weren’t, and someone else was, and they got a boost and you didn’t because on occassion that’s the way it goes. No, things don’t just happen, things happen for a reason.
And things, in particular, are happening to our writer — or more accurately, aren’t happening, because someone or a group of someones, are actively making it not happen. Our writer looks around at who is new, who is hot, who is making it in the field and who isn’t, adds up the anecdotal evidence that doesn’t involve the impossible factors of himself or just plain bad luck. And then he thinks to himself:
You know, maybe it really is the Jews keeping me down.
Or the blacks. Or the gays. Or the liberals! Or the Millennials! The lousy SJWs and the feminists! Or all of them! All at once! For starters!
And that’s when our writer looks up from the path, and in front of him stands the Brain Eater.
Who pulls out a spoon, cracks open our writer’s skull, and starts feasting, while our writer goes onto the Internet and talks angrily and at length about who it is that is keeping him from what he deserves.
Please note that this is just one representative example. Not every path to the Brain Eater is traced into the dirt like this particular one. Some come to the Brain Eater sooner; some come later. Some get further along in their career before they arrive at the Brain Eater, having won accolades and fame (but just not enough); some leap into its arms at the first available opportunity. What’s important is the gap, that wide space between where they think should have been and where they are now — and the “fact” that someone else, not them and not chance, is solely responsible for their failure to be who they are supposed to be, and their failure to achieve what they were entitled to achieve.
Please also note that no one has to come to the Brain Eater at all. Even folks statistically most susceptible to the Brain Eater can realize how much luck, circumstance and timing plays a part in one’s career, and resist the temptation to ascribe their own situation to a shadowy cabal out to defeat them personally. They might also realize that the “expected” path isn’t and never was real, and that nothing in one’s career or even life is ever a given.
They might also recognize that in writing, at least, it is never too late — as long as you’re writing and submitting and putting your work out there, there’s always another chance for you and your work. There are writers who failed and failed and failed and failed and hit. There are writers who hit, hit bottom, and hit again. There are writers who didn’t start publishing until they were in their fifties, or beyond. There are writers who started early, kept at it, never “hit,” but nevertheless loved the life that being a writer gave them.
There is no expected path. Believing that there is will only make you unhappy, and from there, bitter, and from there, blame-seeking. There is only the path you make for yourself and where it takes you, however long you choose to be on it.
Or, you can let the Brain Eater feast. It might make you feel better temporarily. But then you might find that what you’ve long suspected is actually true: People don’t want to work with you. Not because of some shadowy cabal directive but simply because people are reluctant to work with someone who descends into blame-seeking and bigotry when things don’t go their way. It’s unpleasant to watch and deal with, and people will suspect that if everything doesn’t go your way, sooner or later that your impulse to blame will be directed at them.
And thus the irony of the Brain Eater: It makes you become, by your own hand, the thing you suspect others were working so hard to make you be: A failure.
Well, this is sad news to me: The Fresno Bee, which is the newspaper I wrote for lo those many years ago, has basically killed off its local arts and sports coverage, in the process laying off eight reporters, including my very dear friend Donald Munro. Donald worked at the Bee for 26 years and basically inherited my job as movie reviewer (among other responsibilities) after I left to go to AOL. Donald’s own take on events is here; he’s his typically gracious self, which is probably more than I would have been in a similar situation.
I’m sad to see Donald and the others laid off, and I also think it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to eliminate local arts and sports positions in the newsroom. Local news is the thing papers like the Bee (or the Dayton Daily News, my local) do that other papers can’t and won’t do, and which is actually needed — I mean, I don’t subscribe to the DDN for its national coverage. Local arts and sports is part of that coverage no one else will do.
It’s possible the Bee will now just freelance out that work; it’s cheaper that way and they won’t have to carry health insurance or retirement plans (which reminds me, hey, did you know that the GOP is even as I type this working really hard to make health insurance both expensive and useless to everyone again, especially the self-employed?). But here’s the thing — when arts and sports don’t have their advocates in the newsroom, even if editors remember to put them on their daily budgets, they won’t get covered as much, or as often. Which will make the Bee less useful to Fresno over time.
The Bee that Donald and I worked at 26 years ago — he had arrived just before I had, in 1991 — was a different place; it had just added a movie reviewer (me!) to go along with reviewers it already had on its entertainment staff for television, music, restaurants and local events. All those positions are gone now, along with many, many others, the casualty of the transition to digital and other economic forces in journalism. I miss it; I miss the features newsroom with all its clever and committed folks writing about what was going on in town.
Donald was my last link to that time, still in the Bee newsroom. And while I have no doubt he’ll land well, wherever he goes and whatever he does, I’m sad that link is gone now. And I’m sad the Bee is diminished. Whether it knows it now or not, they’re going to feel the loss. The Bee’s readers will, too.
Lots of books came to the Scalzi Compound while I was out on the last leg of the tour — and here’s the first stack. What in here calls to you? Tell us in the comments!
After reading this Big Idea piece by Malinda Lo and Alaya Dawn Johnson about Tremontaine, the serial novel written by them and a host of others, based on the Swordpoint novels by Ellen Kushner, I guarantee you won’t think the same way about… chocolate.
I first read Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint after I had already published a couple of fantasy novels in which same-sex relationships are normal, and I’d heard that Swordspoint did the same thing. I was astonished to learn that Ellen published this novel back in 1987, a full twenty years before I even sold my first book.
I soon learned that the Swordspoint novels, which are set in a City full of swordsmen and nobles, sumptuous Hillside mansions and murky Riverside taverns, are iconic among many queer fantasy readers. So when Ellen asked me if I was interested in joining the writing staff on a serialized prequel to Swordspoint, the chance was too good to pass up.
Even better, the story for Tremontaine would include a whole new cast of characters: the traders who brought chocolate, the favorite drink of the nobles, to the City. I immediately knew that meant the story was going to delve into food and cross-cultural trade (be still my beating heart).
You see, I wrote my master’s thesis on Chinese food, and later dropped out of a Ph.D. program in anthropology. (I often like to say that good training for writing fantasy is dropping out of an anthropology graduate program.) The chance to explain how the nobles of the Hill came to drink their chocolate—imported by traders from across the seas—scratched a particular world-building itch that I’ve always had. When people in fantasy novels eat foods spiced with cinnamon or cardamom, or drink wines that must be grown in regions far from the evergreen-covered forests they’re questing in, or hell—drink tea—I always want to know how did they get that food in the first place?
Global trade is the answer. And it turned out that the idea for introducing these chocolate traders into the City arose from a discussion that Ellen had with another author, Alaya Dawn Johnson.
ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON:
What I remember is that I was having tea with Ellen at her house before I even had any idea she was discussing Tremontaine as an idea—I think she mentioned that she had some project going on, but I didn’t know what it might be. And as she was pouring me the tea, she was talking about how people assume the Riverside world is just a straight-up 18th century England pastiche, but that actually she had deliberately moved a bunch of cultural aspects around so that it wouldn’t be. And one of her examples was that the good people of the City don’t ever drink tea. The rich people sit down to drink chocolate.
And since I was just thinking of applying to this master’s program in Mesoamerican Studies at the Universidad Autónoma Nacional de México and had been doing a ton of research on Mesoamerican history, and food in particular (my thesis is all about fermented food in the Mexica empire), this really made me sit up and get excited.
So I started telling her about how the very fact that everyone drank chocolate implied trade with some of the peoples of central or south America (or corresponding Riverside versions thereof). The Columbian exchange is just one of those geeky things that I adore learning about, because of the extent to which the exchange of foodstuffs changed culinary traditions all over the world. The idea that certain plants had to be brought over from one continent to the other in a very specific cultural moment in order for, say Indian and Chinese food to have chili peppers or Irish food to have potatoes, or Mexican food to have cilantro and limes really changes the way we think about the past, I think.
So, to me, the fact that Ellen was casually mentioning the importance of chocolate in her very European fantasy world immediately inspired me to imagine who might have brought it over and why.
Of course, the actual historical circumstances of the Columbian exchange were colonialism, gross exploitation, death and cultural genocide. But one of the benefits of historical fantasy is that you don’t actually have to follow the course of history. You can imagine another way for chocolate and chilis and vanilla to have reached Europe—and why not through the very traders who were so powerful and resourceful throughout Mesoamerica?
Anyway, I must have gotten vastly over-excited about this idea, but luckily Ellen was just as excited by it as I was. I think that was when she mentioned that the project was a prequel and I just said, “If there’s chocolate, there are chocolate traders, and if there are chocolate traders there’s a whole other world of powerful people of color in the City that we have to know about.” Of course I was at this point already half in love and when the tea-drinking brainstorm turned into a real chocolate-drinking Tremontaine retreat, I was incredibly excited to be a part of it.
As I worked with Alaya and the other writers on Tremontaine, I dusted off my anthropological research skills and dug up some academic papers on the process of making chocolate in Mesoamerica. (I’m sure I over-researched.) It was wonderful fun to layer in economics and agriculture and even celestial navigation (the traders’ ships had to get to the City somehow) with the politics, drama, and love affairs that characterize the Swordspoint world.
I think that taking the time to root a culture in the ground—practically literally, at least when it comes to agriculture—brings a much richer world into being. And having that deeply layered background gives the characters’ motivations weight. Ixkaab Balam, the trader whose family controls a monopoly over the chocolate imports in the City, has real stakes when it comes to the family business.
ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON:
The best part of working on this collaborative project was how much the other writers ran with that original inspiration and contributed so much more than any of us could have done alone. Malinda’s chocolate research was so intense that it gave me ideas for different elements that I could bring into my master’s thesis!
A few months ago I had the opportunity to make chocolate in a small town in Oaxaca, starting from plucking the fruit from the tree and ending with grinding up the cured and toasted seeds with sugar. Drinking the fruit of our labors, I felt this undeniable sense of completion and kinship with Kaab and her family. The story had gone full circle: the traders had commanded their own destiny to bring chocolate to the world of Riverside, and here I was, an immigrant in Mexico, drinking chocolate in the very territory where it was first developed probably more than a thousand years ago.
Chocolate was already present in the world of Riverside that Ellen had created. We were tasked with writing a prequel, whose particular challenge was to create something new while maintaining the continuity with the old. Chocolate was the key that opened up whole new worlds that were already present, but unexplored; it gave us the chance to change the point of view and see how the City looked from across the northern sea.
Hey! Hey, Scalzi! It’s me, your imaginary interlocutor!
Oh, you again. I thought I got rid of you.
Only while you were on tour, pal! Now I’m back and here to ask you more leading questions about politics so you can rant!
(sighs) Fine, but I’m keeping my answers short.
Sure you are.
Shut up. What’s the first question?
Trump: The first one hundred days. Your verdict?
I mean, it was an abject shit show of incompetence, and we should be glad for that, yes? Because he (and to be fair, the rest of the GOP) have managed to do nothing but set their own balls on fire and then run around screaming “My balls! They are on fire!”, people still have health insurance and most of our constitutional rights are still more or less intact. If any of these yutzes had any idea what they were doing, we’d be in a lot more trouble. You don’t want authoritarians in power, but if you must have them, and apparently we must, might as well make them fumbling doofuses.
With that said, it’s enervating to have a president who is so willfully ignorant and divorced from actual reality. Trump is the least popular president in history 100 days in, and has accomplished almost nothing — certainly not anything he campaigned on, other than terrorizing innocent brown people and/or Muslims — and yet he and everyone who works for him will maintain they’re just the greatest and the problem is the media, and not, say, the fact he’s an incurious lump of shit who is bitter that he can’t just wave his hands to make things happen, and maybe he’ll actually have to, you know, do work. I’m gonna have to look at his stupid mug for another 1300 days. And he’s embarrassing every damn day.
Also, let’s be clear, his incompetence doesn’t mean he’s not doing damage. He and his pals are merrily wiping out climate change data on government Web sites, attempting to ditch net neutrality and desperately trying to make coal happen again, and aside from that pissing on anything the Obamas did, because a big chunk of Trump’s base hates the Obamas, seeing as they were black Muslim socialists from Africa. It adds up.
Speaking of Trump’s supporters, none of his them seem to be unhappy with him, despite his overall low polling. They did that poll that showed less than 2% of them would change their vote, even now.
Well, but he really hasn’t been able to do anything substantial to them, so why would they be upset with him? None of his blustering nonsense has had any impact on their lives yet. And the only thing that he has been able to do — terrorize innocent brown people and/or Muslims — is just peachy with a fair slice of them. They think he’s still fighting the good fight. They’re not going to turn on him until the jobs don’t come back and they lose their health insurance again because he and the GOP have managed to bring back pre-existing conditions as an excuse to let people go bankrupt or die. And even then some of them won’t abandon him, because in the US we’ve managed to drag down the level of political discourse to “Yay go my sportsball team!” and also because no one likes being wrong.
Which is tragic and sad, because in 100 days Trump has become exactly the sort of person so many Trump supporters thought they were tossing out — or more accurately, has remained the person so many Trump supporters thought they were tossing out, but deluded themselves into thinking otherwise because her emails, man. Everyone who voted for Trump because they thought Clinton was a warmonger too close to Goldman Sachs, and griped that Obama golfed too much, should probably just go crawl into a hole for the duration.
Any thoughts on Trump’s cast of characters?
Outside of the generals (now that Flynn’s gotten to boot), none of them appear any smarter than Trump, which is a genuine tragedy for everyone. The one atom-thick silver lining in this is that it seems the fascist wing of the White House — people like Bannon and Gorka — seem to be losing to the colorless Randians like Jared Kushner and Mnuchin, and think of where we are in this moment in history where bland Randians are the preferable option to be lurking about near the Oval Office.
Among the yahoos, I feel mildly sorry for Kushner, who is clearly in over his head, but is also the only one Trump seems to trust to do anything, which which is why the lad seems to be running a shadow state department out of an Oval Office broom closet. I’m disappointed in Ivanka Trump, who I had hoped might be the lone sensible Trump, but who at this point seems to be as much a grifter as any of the rest of them, and is willing to flat out lie about her dad’s positions on things (particularly women’s issues) with a straight face. At least that meeting in Europe she was at when she did that had the good sense to boo her for it.
So, basically: Grifters, losers and incompetents, just like the president, and while the outright fascists seem to be on their way out, they’re still hanging on, so don’t discount them until they’ve actually been scraped off the hull of the ship of state.
And the GOP?
Well, bless their hearts, is where I’m at with them at the moment. They want to give me a six figure tax cut and drive my neighbors into the poorhouse with medical bills, so I find it ironic we all vote like we do. That and the fact so many of them are providing material cover for the least competent, most obviously corrupt administration in the history of the presidency means that there are few of them right now I would trust with pocket change or to baby sit a small child.
(Note: My own rep Warren Davidson seems pretty decent, although there’s not a lot he and I see eye to eye on, particularly regarding health care. But he’s good with constituent service as far as I can tell and he seems open to other views. Hell, he follows me on Twitter. That can’t be an easy gig for him.)
But what about Obama! He’s getting paid $400,000 to speak on Wall Street!
You know, given Obama is now a private citizen, I care about this roughly as much as I cared about Bush or Bill Clinton or Reagan getting paid absurd amounts for speeches, which is to say, not a whole lot.
But Wall Street! His mortal enemy!
So we’re saying that Obama battled Wall Street furiously for eight years, and at the end of it, when he has no actual power nor ever will again, they still shower him with money? Just for some bullshit speech no one will remember or care about ten minutes after it’s done? I mean, shit. That’s Obama being motherfucking magnificent there, if you ask me.
But the Obamas are already making, like, $60 million from their memoirs!
And? Unlike some US presidents one could name who live in the White House as we speak, Obama is making his money after he is done with the presidency (as is his wife). I’m certainly not going to tell them how they can or can’t legally make money. I’m not going to tell them how much they can make, either. You want to, then call your representative and try to make a law restricting how much a past president can make in a year, and from whom. Good luck!
But also: He’s the past president. I’m sad he’s not the president any more — he was so manifestly better than the one we have now that it’s a little painful to remember just how good he was at it — but pretty much everything he does at this point is footnote, and immaterial as regards the yutz in the White House now. You focus on Obama if you want. I’m gonna live in the now.
Not here to make you happy, man.
Fine. Lightning round.
The New York Times hiring climate change denier Bret Stephens as a columnist.
Stupid of them but I’m not going to cancel my subscription over it. They have a lot of columnists saying manifestly stupid things. I ignore the manifestly stupid stuff. What’s left is worth my subscription.
Trump inviting Duterte to the White House.
Dumbasses gonna dumbass. I know a fair number of people who think Trump is being nice to Duterte all of a sudden because he’s got a current real estate concern in the Philippines, but I suspect the answer is simpler than that: A murderous cretin strongman is just plain Trump’s kind of guy.
Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine getting dumped at Fox.
Nice to see that Fox News only takes a couple of decades to get rid of accused harassers and their enablers! As others have noted, Fox has spent substantially more on severance packages for the accused (and enablers) than it did in paying damages to the harassed. Hey, welcome to 2017!
By all indications not going to end well for the UK (and might end the UK as currently constituted). It does seem May and her pals in government are slightly delusional about the EU sort of just shrugging and going along with everything the UK wants. On the other hand, when all the EU banks and financial services companies abandon London for Frankfurt, real estate prices will finally come down! So, yay?
We’ll see. We’ll see.
Oh! And! The Russians!
Oy. I thought this was the lightning round.
First: Look! Kitten! A very serious kitten, it appears, taking the first of May very seriously.
Second (and so on): So, I’m back home after two weeks on the road and after five weeks of touring in general, which means a lot of catch up — dealing with non-critical emails and business-related things and stuff and junk, including scheduling Big Idea posts. This will all be taken care of in the next couple of days, so if you’re waiting on emails/business stuff/Big Idea posts through June, if you don’t hear from me by Wednesday, uuuuuuhhh, assume you never will, sorry (although I will probably post on Whatever when I fill out all the Big Idea slots so people won’t be left hanging).
For those of you wondering how the tour went, generally: It went very well! I basically filled every space I was in, met a lot of people, sold a lot of books, and saw some good friends who I might not have otherwise gotten a chance to see, and generally had quite a lot of fun. With that said, by the very end I was burnt burnt burnt. I’ll continue being a smidgen burnt for most of the rest of the week. Lots of sleep, and cats, will fix that.
The Whatever will now likely resume a more regular schedule (or, at least, one that will feature something other than pictures out of hotel windows); it’s also likely updates will happen in the afternoon (local to me) because mornings will be assiduously spent avoiding the Internet and writing on books, because the books pay me money and have to come first. I don’t suspect this will be a problem for most of you (and if it is, you know, well, too bad).
For May, I am going nowhere and having no public events. For June, I have three, two at the very beginning (BookCon in NYC and Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley) and one at the very end (Denver Comic Con), but I’m mostly staying home that month too. I have books to write. I have to write them sometime!
Also: Official announcement: I will not be attending either the Nebula Weekend or the Worldcon this year, Nebs because I have to make substantial headway into Head On (no pun intended) and I’m currently so very burnt on traveling, and the Worldcon because my schedule of personal commitments that month (including sending my daughter off to college) makes traveling to Helsinki pretty much impossible. Yes, I’m sad, too — I very much wanted to spend time in Finland and northern Europe. But I just can’t make it work, as much as I wish I could. Have fun without me, folks. I mean, if you can.
And that’s where everything is at the moment.