Archive for January, 2016

It’s often said that “Life imitates art.” But as I posited in my last post, that doesn’t normally happen in SF. And yet, here we are: We have a presidential campaign that imitates a Hugo campaign.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Donald Trump campaign v. the Rabid Puppies.* Lately (and not-so-lately) it has become the fashion in certain quarters to wonder if the Donald is trying to lose the nomination.** I mean, the things he says…about women, immigrants, war heroes… Is there a non-white male group he hasn’t tried to alienate?

And then there are the Rabid Puppies. Now these guys I’m sure are in it for the laughs. It’s another example of someone trying to tick everyone else off, and I can’t see that it’s serious. It’s just a way to “stick it to the Man” (assuming in this case there is a “Man”) and see how much fun can be had. It’s “Bart Simpson Goes to Worldcon.”

The surprising thing in both instances is how well it’s worked. Last year the RPs pretty much swept the Hugo nominations, to everyone’s surprise, which lead to a conclusion that no one is proud of. This year Trump has lead the Republican field for months, and if he gets the nomination, I don’t think the results will make a lot of people happy.

But maybe this is all to the good. Systems that lie in place unchallenged for too long become complacent; people adjust to the status quo, never noticing that maintaining the status quo, over the long term, is called “stagnation.” So once in a while you have to stir things up. People don’t like it when their comfortable status quo is stirred up, particularly those who have made it to the top of the heap. (This doesn’t mean that the stirrers are necessarily right, merely necessary.)

Is it painful? Yes. Is it scary? Yes. Is it necessary? Unfortunately, yes. And even more than that, it’s inevitable. But the result is that people realize that the system does not operate on auto-pilot, that it needs attention, just like in all those stories about generation starships that encounter problems a hundred years later and somebody has to exceed himself to fix them. We haven’t reached that point; we only have to rouse ourselves a little bit, pay a little attention, and a new, perhaps better, status quo can be achieved. It may not be quite the same, but that’s how the system works.


*Last year, I could have included the Sad Puppies, but they claim to have reframed their narrative and I have no reason to doubt them.

**This is not an invitation to discuss political issues. Thank you.


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Did you ever notice that science fiction is not terribly good at predicting the future? Yeah, if you look backward, you can say that Star Trek presaged handheld computers/cell phones, but did it predict that people would walk into walls while looking at their tricorders?

SF is really good at forecasting large-scale, far-future developments, the kind of things so vague that they have a good chance of happening (just not in our lifetimes). But it’s the smaller ideas, the personal ones, that really make a difference that SF is lousy at seeing from far away. It’s like that popular complaint: “It’s the 21st century, where’s my flippin’ flying car?”

The truth is, SF was for too long only about the inventions and the gadgets and the rocket ships/blasters. (Or at least that was the perception. I’m not here to argue about the exceptions.) As I have said before, when I was in college one of my friends once said that he thought writing SF was the way to go because you didn’t have to worry about characterization. This misconception has plagued the field, and individual writers, for decades. (Which is ironic, if you accept that SF is lousy at predicting the future, too, leaving one to wonder what it is good at.)

SF is bad at predicting the future because that study is always focused on things, e.g., where’s my flying car? But the future isn’t dictated by things, it’s dictated by people and their actions. This is the concept that eludes the public when thinking about SF, and that eludes so many writers when they’re starting out. (This is me raising my hand.) The reason we don’t have flying cars is not because we can’t build them, it’s because they’d be too darned dangerous. You see people on the freeway every day performing the most mind-blowingly stupid stunts just to shave five seconds off their drive–do you want them doing that in three dimensions? Right over your head?

SF is just another form of literature, and at its best, literature describes the human condition; SF simply uses outsized canvases to do it. But if you try to define the future (more than a few weeks out) by describing human behavior, you’re going to fail. (Unless you’re Isaac Asimov, and that was kind of his point.) So the fact that SF isn’t terribly good at predicting future events is really a good thing; it means we’re concentrating on the right subjects.

On the other hand, an attorney friend of mine recently pointed out that Star Trek’s future doesn’t seem to include any lawyers. Maybe we’ll get lucky and that’s one prediction SF will get right.



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I am pleased to introduce the cover art for The Secret City. I think it turned out rather well…


The book will be available February 29 for $3.99. Pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords now for only $2.99.


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There is a new controversy in town–not a surprise–that concerns whether authors should be paid to attend book festivals. What is a surprise, at least to me, is how many authors feel that they should. When informed that many of these festivals work on a volunteer basis and can’t afford it, the response seems to be, “So charge more. It’s work, and I deserve to be paid for it.”

Well, I’m an author, and I have a counter: Nobody’s making you go to these things.

I volunteer for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and have for nearly 20 years. Every year I have been an “author escort,” which entails accompanying authors to and from panel sessions (mostly so they don’t get lost). I have escorted dozens of authors in my time, the famous and the not-so-famous (and when I say “famous,” I mean it). Some of them are friendly, some are distracted, some treat the appearance as a business appointment. But none has ever complained about being there, none has ever complained he was mistreated (at least not by me), and most of them return year after year.

Now, I don’t know if the Festival pays an appearance fee. They’ve never asked me to appear, so it hasn’t come up (and I certainly have never asked). But I do know that none of these writers was shanghaied to the UCLA or USC campus, made to wade through crowds of 75,000 people per day–none of whom has paid an admission fee, forced to speak to a packed lecture hall for an hour, or chained to a chair in a shady tent while fans stood for up to an hour for a chance for an autograph and maybe a picture. They did it because they liked it. Every one of them has enjoyed his time in the limelight (and I would know, because from leaving the green room to returning, I am never out of sight of my authors).

So if you want to be paid to appear at a festival or a convention (which I have run, and we didn’t pay those authors, either; some showed up without even being invited), that is your right, and more power to you if you can get it. But to demand that all festivals and conventions pay their author-speakers is…well, if you don’t want to go, just give them my number. I’ll be happy to explain you were busy.


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The Secret City, the second book in The Stolen Future trilogy you have all been raving about (I know you have, I heard you!), is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Smashwords for the special low introductory price of $2.99. This price is only for pre-orders, so reserve your copy now! (Who knows when we’ll have a photon shortage and e-books will have to be rationed?)

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Astute readers will notice a small change to the site today: I have added a page for The Secret City, the upcoming second installment of The Stolen Future trilogy. This page includes the Prologue to the new book, catching you up on the all the important events in Charles Clee’s life since The Invisible City just in time to see him catapulted into a brand-new adventure with trusted friends, hated enemies, and a fantastic journey that will take him from the bowels of the earth to the top of the sky, confronting harrowing dangers and far greater stakes than he has ever faced.

The Secret City will be available from Amazon and Smashwords in February.

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I just ran across this article as I was looking for something else (as usually happens). I don’t know anything about this scholarship, nor about the sponsors, but it seems the kind of the thing that deserves a little more attention. They’re offering a (roughly) $700 scholarship to an SF/F artist in high school, college, or just suffering “reduced circumstances.” The reason this plea struck a chord among so many voices is that they’re offering this money and no one has come forward to apply for it. And that just seems a shame, because I know there must be a lot of people out there who could use it.

So, take it for what it’s worth. If you qualify and you want to apply, good luck. If you don’t qualify, maybe you know someone who does. I mean, who doesn’t want free money? They don’t call them “starving artists” for nothing…


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