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So What’s the Point?

You don’t have to be of any political persuasion to know that the world is in trouble. Heck, the world is always in trouble, sometimes just more than others…and sometimes it’s just a matter of who you ask. So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the world is in trouble and–what’s the point?

There are those who write socially-conscious literature meant to illuminate the human condition. There are those who write socially-conscious literature meant to illuminate man’s place in the universe and how (usually) we’re screwing it up. There are even those who write stories about how it’s pretty much all over already.

And there are those of us, who (although we may have other ambitions) simply write stories that we hope people will want to read for enjoyment. So the question returns: Why? Is there a reason to write stories simply so readers can enjoy them? Are we wasting our time with meaningless drivel while our betters strive to make a difference?

The straight-line answer would be “yes.” We who write have been blessed with the ability to take our readers by the hand and lead them on a path they would not otherwise walk. We can gently grasp their skulls and turn their eyes in a new direction. Every speech that was ever made was written by someone (even if it was the speaker right off the top of his head). Every stirring song, every classic movie, every novel and poem that resonates with us across the centuries–they were all written. The pen really is mightier than the sword, which is why the sword is always trying to destroy the pen (but never will).

But to paraphrase a greater writer, they also serve who only write in pulp. Because despite what we believe when we’re young and idealistic and out to change the world, there are no straight-line answers. You can’t work ceaselessly to save the world, any more than you can work behind a desk seventy hours a week, without burning out. You need a break. And that’s where we come in, the scribblers, the hacks, the ones whose work will probably never make the New York Times Review of Books. We give you the change to kick back, relax, and recharge. We give you “fun.”

There are even those who never tried to create something transcendent who end up transcending. Even we who don’t create “art” can be acclaimed as artists–there will always be those who scorn us, but hey, you can’t please everyone.

In the end, though, our work matters just as much as the “great works,” perhaps not to the world, but to ourselves. All that matters is that we write honestly. And I don’t mean in the “true to the human condition” sense, although that’s important, I mean so long as we are honest with ourselves that we are writing the best we can, and giving our theoretical audiences the best of talents.

So long as we are giving everything we have to give, how can that not matter?

#SFWApro

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When I was a kid, I was a comic book fanatic. My best friend and I would walk our dogs to the local 7-11, and I would spend all my time (and a good deal of money) on practically every superhero book DC put out. Then I’d read them on the way home, a reasonably safe endeavor because (a) I was with my friend, and (b) I knew every crack in the sidewalk. After that, I would dump them in a drawer for re-reading. Had I the gift of Sight, I would have saved them all in their original condition and retired years ago.

As time went on, I switched to Marvel, although that was interrupted by college, where I had little money and no storage space. Instead I spent my time at Change of Hobbit, buying paperbacks. But eventually I returned to my roots, and for a while I was buying two dozen comics (now a buck apiece) per month. Eventually, for reasons spanning economic, spatial, and taste considerations, I stopped buying comics altogether.

Now, the comics are coming to me. The MCU and the DCU dominate movies and are splashed all over TV. What with the upcoming Disney+ offerings, I could easily spend as much time watching comics and I used to reading them–at about the same price.

But I probably won’t.

First of all, as my writing has become more important (and actually pays me money), I have cut my TV watching dramatically (all the more so since Big Bang is over). And second, it’s hard to get excited by all these superhero shows when there are all these superhero shows. When I was a kid, I watched practically every SF show on TV, because there were so few of them. Every season we’d get two or three new ones, but almost none ever lasted.

Now? There’s an entire channel devoted to SF, the CW has superhero shows every night, and you can’t swing a cat without some caped crusader dropping in to warn you against animal cruelty. (Lighten up, hero, it’s just an expression.) Worse, all of the Marvel shows are going to be on a pay channel, and I pay for enough channels already.

There’s a thing called “franchise fatigue” that movie producers pull out when they want to explain why their latest chapter in a long-running series doesn’t perform up to expectations and they don’t want to admit that they’re just not very good at what they do. But at the same time, there is such a thing as “genre fatigue.”

It’s weird, though, because I write SF and fantasy (and mystery), but I don’t suffer from genre fatigue with the written word. So what’s that about? With TV you can just sit and watch (or try to write during commercials), but reading requires effort. Why am I attracted to the medium that takes more work?

I guess I’m still that kid who would risk breaking his neck on the walk home just so he could start the latest adventures of Green Lantern that much sooner. Thank goodness I don’t read on my phone or I’d be in serious trouble walking to the farmer’s market…

#SFWApro

 

Hugo Musings

Now that the 2019 Hugo Awards have been given out (which I, unfortunately, was relegated to watching from the U.S., not in person), I’ve had a chance to think them over a bit, and a few facts have become clear. Some of these may seem controversial; let it be said that I’m not trying to be. I’m just stating facts.

First and most obviously, this is the fourth year in a row that women writers have swept the “writing awards,” i.e., Best Novel, Best Novelette, Best Novella, Best Short Story. Two aspects of this stand out in particular: One, it’s been four years since the Sad Puppies tried to impose their will on the voting process. Plainly, what they wanted hasn’t come to pass. Two, not only have the winners all been women, but the overwhelming majority of nominees have been women.

Obviously, I have some interest in the Hugos; I’d like to win one myself some day. But (he admitted guiltily), I don’t have the time to read most of the nominees, particularly in the longer categories. (I do read for the Nebulas, which brought some of the Hugo nominees into my orbit, and I was actually rooting for one of the Hugo winners.) Therefore, I am not qualified to comment on this trend, except to say that I wish I had more time to read.

Second, although many people cheered loudly at the Campbell Award winner’s speech, John W. Campbell won the Retro Hugo for Best Editor. Does this mean people are willing to admit he was a good editor despite other qualities which we find problematic today? Or do different people vote for the different awards? Or did the Russians hack the voting?

Finally, the winners actually dressed the part. I once attended a Hugo ceremony dressed in a sport coat and tie. A volunteer asked me if I was a nominee. I replied–and I’m so proud of myself–“Not yet.” But seriously, it’s an awards ceremony. And while I don’t expect every fan in the audience to dress up, I expect the nominees should make an effort to look the part. It’s a professional event, folks.* #Hugodresscode

And this year they did. The nominees took the time to look as if they cared that they were nominated for the highest fan award in their field. It raised the entire event to a new level, and I was proud to see it.

I’d be even prouder to be there, hoping to climb onto that stage after they read my name. And if I ever am, you can bet I’ll be wearing a tie.** It may have Snoopy on it…

 

*I have not noticed this problem at the Nebula Awards, but then, it’s a banquet.

**I may not, however, be wearing pants. It would make my wife’s day if I accepted a Hugo wearing a kilt.

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#SFWApro

Life in 2D and 3D

When you’re a kid, except for your parents and grandparents, grown-ups are pretty much cardboard figures occupying a single well-defined place in your life. Like your teachers, remote authority figures who must live somewhere, but you have no idea where, or what they do there. They are your teachers, and that is the only way you perceive them.

The same holds true for older relatives, those great-aunts and great-uncles who live for decades in some age-limbo between sixty and 117, and who may not even be actual relatives, but simply old people whose entire impact on your life stems from their erratic and opaque relations with your parents. Other than that they share some ancient experiences your mom and dad, you know practically nothing about them; their whole point seems to be to make you wonder what your parents did for fun before you were born.

Then, one day, you realize that a new generation has grown up behind you, and you are that teacher, that great-uncle, that friend of the parents’ from some long-lost civilization called “the Seventies.” You know that you have a fully-rounded life, with a job and a spouse and hobbies–but the kids don’t know that. They see only the two-dimensional character that affects their lives, just as you once did.

As a writer, and someone who has now reached that latter tier of life experience, I can see that this is a lesson: All characters are people, and all people have depth. (Yes, your character can be an alien or a telepathic dog, but they’re still people.) The more sides you see of someone, the more you understand that person. And that can have a terribly beneficial effect on your writing.

A couple of years ago, I submitted a story to a magazine, which bought it. Then the editor asked me about a particular character who appeared only on the first page. She was a waitress, and her raison d’être was merely to deliver drinks and provide an excuse for one character to hustle the other out of the bar. But the editor found her fascinating, and wanted to know more about her. Why? Beats me, but he was willing to pay for a whole ‘nother story if I would write it. (Of course I would. I’m not stupid. And he bought it, and the pair were very well-received, thank you.) The whole idea, though, came about because the editor recognized that even this minor character had a life–a life that intersected with my original story in a way I would never have envisioned on my own.(Who knew she was sleeping with her boss?)

Fortunately, I had matured enough as a person and as a writer to develop that outside life into a story. But honestly, I had originally written that story a long time ago, and if I’d been asked to write the companion piece way back then, I probably could not have done it.

Because, quite simply, I was too young. And now, am I old? Apparently, I’m just old enough.

#SFWApro

We’re No. 1!

Alternative Apocalypse, the new anthology in which I play a small (but vitally important) role, has launched to great success: #1 Science Fiction Anthology on Amazon!

Alt cover with white copy on back

This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of something big! (Does it get any bigger than the Apocalypse?) Buy a copy, review it, maybe even get your favorite author (who could that be?) to sign it! Act now before Amazon runs out…!

#SFWApro

Alternative Apocalypse, a new anthology from B Cubed Press with a story of mine, has just launched on Amazon. It also features Mike Resnick, Jane Yolen, and a lot of others you should really read.

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My contribution to the world’s demise is a humorous little fable called, “What if They Gave an Invasion and Nobody Came?” It’s funny because it’s true. Or at least we can hope so.

#SFWApro

Although I’ve lost track (again) of how many books I’ve written (even the number in print is approaching double-digits), I think that nobody ever writes so many that you shouldn’t make some effort to memorialize it when you’ve gotten one done. Which is of course my off-hand way of saying that I just finished and sent off to my publisher my latest novel, The Valley Beneath the World, set in the Stolen Future universe.

For those who have read the original trilogy (and I would thank you all individually if I could), this book is (a) not about Keryl Clee, and (b) set in the gap between books one and two. It stars Arlen Timash, Keryl’s best friend, who just happens to be a gorilla. Without giving any spoilers in case anyone hasn’t read The Invisible CityTimash is on his own in this one, but flying solo doesn’t mean he’s any less likely to get into trouble. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If you’re seeking a deep, philosophical story that explains who we are, why we are here, and where we are going… boy, are  you in the wrong place. But if you like stories about alien cultures, lost cities, telepathic monsters, intrigue, betrayal, and dirty secrets, then you’re exactly where you belong.

As they used to say, “Keep watching the skies!” You wouldn’t want the hhoonom to get you…

#SFWApro