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Archive for May, 2014

For a limited time, IGMS issue no. 38, containing “Rights and Wrongs” is free on the website. Go read it!

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Today is our 33rd wedding anniversary. To those who thought I was only going out with Marlene to make another girl jealous, yeah, not so much.

Others might wonder, how does a woman like that stay with a guy like him for so long? A fair question, considering that she’s way out of my league, but it fails to recognize the true magnitude of this state of affairs. Being married to a guy like me is harder than you’d think, because I’m a writer, and being married to a writer is The Hardest Job in the World.

Now, Marlene knew what she was getting into; I was a struggling writer for years before she met me. But no one could have anticipated that it would be nearly 20 more years before I would make a single cent writing (fiction, at any rate). In that time, she put up with the long nights of me sequestered in my room “in the throes of creation,” as Asimov put it, the computer I wanted to buy so I could write faster, all the classes, the two weeks I spent in New Mexico at the Taos Toolbox seminar, and of course the countless times I just wanted her permission to chuck it all and find something sensible to do with my life–permission she steadfastly refused to give, even though it would have meant both more money and more time with her husband.

Finally–finally!–it has begun to pay off, but that only means more sequestered nights and more angst. (Success does not make writers more comfortable, but only the opposite.) And yet she remains my No. 1 cheerleader, because she knows that as bad as I can be agonizing over success, agonizing over failure would be worse, and she loves me too much to let that happen.

Thirty-three years. It seems like three.

I love you, sweetheart. But I don’t envy you your job.

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The title of this post is taken from the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue of Lightspeed (and “Fantasy” and “Horror” after that). I was there (virtually) when these issues were being hatched; they came out of the prehistoric notion that seemed to be floating around in those olden days of 2013 that women shouldn’t be writing SF; in fact, were they to be allowed to continue, they would destroy the field. The idea for a special issue of SF written by (and edited by) women was born. It was (rightly) considered historic.

 

But a funny thing about history, as I’ve written before: Sometimes it overtakes you. Saturday night last, women “destroyed” the Nebula Awards–in the sense that they dominated the results. Every literary category was won by a woman. (Not surprising, considering the majority of nominees were women.) And you know what?

 

Science fiction still lives! Even more surprising, though, is the lack of an apparent backlash or whining or complaining. Maybe the lack of noise stems from the quality of the works, but that’s never stopped popular opinion before. (Look at the Hugos.) I can’t explain it.

 

Unless, of course, we’re more grown up than we like to admit. I’m not saying that “Women Destroy Science Fiction” isn’t a good idea, or that it won’t make a point. In fact, judging from the Nebula results, it’s making a very good point.

 

With all these women coming to the fore and storming the genre gates, it occurs to me it’s going to be a lot harder now for men to take home the awards like they used to. Hmm…you think that’s the science fiction they thought was going to be destroyed?

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It seems lately that there’s been a lot more talk about who writers are than what they write. I wasn’t around fandom in the “old days” (pre-1970), and although I’ve been attending cons for a fair few years, I don’t consider myself part of “fandom” even today, to the extent that I follow the politics, the feuding, the dramas and their consequences. I was there, and did that, for a short time, but like all the other hobby-group politics I’ve been involved with, I now take a longer view, i.e,, that most of it really doesn’t matter. Some of it does–the uproars about sexual harassment at conventions, for example. That matters, because it’s not just ranting about the latest Hugo ballot, which relatively very few people care about, and most won’t be able to remember next year. If anyone feels unsafe at an event, that’s untenable.

And there’s more, but I risk losing my thread. This is not an essay on harassment, but about identifying those writers whose views differ from yours so that you may, if you wish, avoid them. Guess what? You can’t.

Writers, good ones, are like actors: You see what they want you to see. If an actor portrays a Gestapo interrogator, does that make him a Nazi? Of course not. Is an author who portrays a libertarian society on the Moon launching space rocks at imperialistic Earth diametrically opposed to one who espouses a  government that only allows veterans to vote? Not if they’re both Robert Heinlein.

Writers are supposed to “write what they know,” but that doesn’t mean they have to “write what they are.” Many do, of course, but it’s not a rule. (I once wrote a story called “White Flag,” where the hero was a cockroach. I am certainly not pro-cockroach.)

The danger of thinking you can label a writer by his writing is pointed up by the on-going Hugo nomination controversy, where a slate of supposedly like-minded authors was proposed and by-and-large won nominations. Some have proposed boycotting everyone whose name appeared on that slate, without any evidence that (a) those persons agreed with/were consulted about being nominated therein, or (b) their personal opinions were being accurately represented by those proposing the boycotts. I don’t know anyone on either side of the question personally, but I’ve read various blogs on both sides of the issue and it appears people are being pilloried solely due to their published works (and some merely by association).

This is unfair. These are not politicians, whose views may be inferred from the bills they sponsor. These are (for the most part) fiction writers, telling stories. And when you tell a story, you try to tell it from the most entertaining viewpoint–a decision which is often one of the most difficult to make. It’s like in war movies–somebody has to play the Nazi. Sometimes you can only tell the story from the point of view of somebody you don’t like, don’t agree with, and would gladly slap if you met him in person. Remember Richard III?

Sure, none of us is Shakespeare. But like him, we steal from the best. Just remember, like all good criminals, sometimes we wear masks.

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Way back in the Stone Age, when I was young and there was no Internet, some friends of mine opined that the easiest kind of fiction to write would be SF, because “you don’t need any characterization.” In other words, a wild idea and some action would be enough. As I recall, I didn’t have any objection to this, probably because it reflected my writing style at the time.

To my credit, I learned later that this was completely wrong. Upon reflection, however, it’s easy to see where my friends got this idea. Science fiction has always been the literature of “What if?”–“What if Martians invaded the Earth the way the British invaded India?” “What if a boy won a spacesuit in a contest?” “What if teenagers were pitted against each other to the death for the amusement of the elite?”*

That’s always been science fiction’s foundation, its basic building block. It’s time we changed it.

Because the central conceit of SF isn’t–or shouldn’t be–“What if?” but “What would happen to people if?” Of course, good SF covers that question already. Good fiction is about people, not things or even ideas. But I propose that SF is hamstrung by the old conceit, the idea that SF is about ideas, and only ideas. It’s part of what put us in a literary ghetto, and even with the recent successes on TV and in movies, we’re not much closer to moving uptown than we were 20 years ago. Our neighborhood is bigger, but it’s still not considered gentrified.

There are, of course, and always have been, those few who “transcend” the genre and move to “literary respectability.” There are even more, nowadays, who write SF but who never see the “science fiction” section of Barnes & Noble. (Let’s see… The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Handmaid’s Tale…) For the most part, though, we are pigeon-holed, and while this makes it easier for our fans to find us, it makes it harder to win new fans.

I’d like to see SF (and fantasy) writers take steps to raise the profile of our field. Don’t let the masses think of SF as rocket ships and dragons and aliens, but rather how people deal with rocket ships and dragons and aliens. Take SF from being the “literature of ideas” to “the literature of ideas affecting people.”

SF is gaining acceptance with a wider audience than ever before. It’s time we presented ourselves as deserving of that acceptance.

*I realize that, by the most rigorous definition, this is not actually a science fictional reference, but it is a useful one.

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I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of fiction written expressly for tablets and smartphones, typically 1000 words or less, able to be consumed in bites on the subway, bus, or sitting eating your lunch…yeah, right. We all know when people read off their phones, and it isn’t limited to when they should be reading off of their phones.

So if someone is reading my utterly absorbing story while walking down the street (or heaven help us, driving), and he steps into a manhole and breaks his ankle, am I to blame? Am I going to get sued? I mean, it’s okay to break a reader’s heart, but not his leg. By the way, if you want my stories while you drive, try my recent podcasting debut.

What do we, as concerned citizens, do? I don’t even have a smartphone, so I can’t bring down the level of unsafe reading. As a writer, I have two choices, don’t submit to these markets, or write bad stories (in which case they won’t sell, which is essentially the same thing). Neither is a good choice.

I opt for the third option: Write such good stories that the reader will stop in his tracks. At least then he can’t walk into a manhole. And for those who are reading me while operating a motor vehicle? Same advice as always.

Hang up and drive.

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