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Last weekend was Los Angeles’ annual “Who Says We Don’t Read?” gathering. Every year 150,000 people gather at the USC campus over a weekend to “celebrate the written word.” And this year, despite an unseasonably warm Saturday and the March for Science, they did it again. If you care at all about books and you’re anywhere within 500 miles, you should come to this.

My wife and I volunteered (both days!) as author escorts, leading groups of authors (and entourages) to their panel discussions, and signing areas for autographs. This involves, naturally, a certain sense of longing, since for once I’d rather be led than leading, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. We’re performing a service for the speakers and the attendees, we get a reserved front-row seat, and it’s not arduous work–except…

Hmm. How do I say this? I’m an author, and I’d like to be on one of those panels some day, so I don’t want to speak ill of the team…I guess it’s just that authors are not used to being the center of attention. I’m not saying they’re treated like rock stars at this thing, but they do get a lot of attention. And sometimes when we need them to do one thing, they’re busy doing another, which is Being Admired. That’s when we have to find a diplomatic way to separate author from fan without offending either and get the author to where he needs to be because fifty other fans are waiting for him. (Yes, him. It’s usually the men, for some reason.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at this, and as far as I know, I’ve never caused offense. But every time it happens, I have to ask myself: Is that Me? Will that, if the opportunity ever arises, be Me? I certainly hope not.

But then again, if the opportunity ever does arise, I’m not going to waste it either. So to that hypothetical author escort at that hypothetical Festival of Books where I’m a guest author, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’m making your life difficult. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But I’ve never been here before. And damned if it doesn’t feel good.

#SFWApro

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We went to a presentation the other day featuring cast members and show runners from the CW‘s four superhero shows: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. We had a fine time; all of the panelists were entertaining and the whole thing was moderated by Kevin Smith, who had the audience in stitches. Kevin’s introduction described how as a kid, he had read comic books to be transported, and how they always made him feel like a better person because they were all about the good guys and their triumphs.

This made me think: Literature is virtually always about the good guys winning. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, for example George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman (no relation to The Flash), but you’d really be hard-pressed to find a book or comic where in the end you weren’t supposed to root for the good guys. Oftimes, the good guys are bad guys, but those are anti-heroes, bad guys you root for because their adversaries are even worse. Are with you with me so far? Of course you are, this isn’t controversial.

So why is it, then, that comic books are blamed for the decline of Western Civilization?* These are highly moralistic stories. The good guys virtually always win. They put their lives on the line, without pay, issue after issue for decades, sometimes (in the case of Marvel heroes) in the face of public ridicule, scorn, and even persecution. Who doesn’t want to live in a society where everyone is ready and willing to take on evil and stand up to oppression? How can a medium which produced Superman be bad?

I know a lot of the knocks against comic books are the same as are leveled against science fiction: it’s juvenile, it’s poorly written, it’s unbelievable. And I ask each of those the same thing: Have you read this stuff lately? Have you ever read this stuff?

Granted, comic books have a tendency to make you believe that violence (no matter how reluctantly practiced) solves every problem. But I would argue that being a “force” is less important than being a “force for good,” or at least it was when I was reading.

When I was a kid, reading comic books was not viewed by my parents as an optimal use of my time. I would argue though, that comic books (and later pulp novels) did as much to form my moral outlook as religious education, or upbringing. I’m not saying I’m going to stand in front of a runaway truck or face down bank robbers–but I am saying that if I had a little influx of cosmic energy, you might hear…

“Who is that masked man, anyway? He’s straight out of a comic book!”

 

*Yes, there were the EC comics of the 1950s. But really, it was the 1950s!

#SFWApro

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Every once in a while, there’s nothing that will fill the void in your soul besides a good mystery yarn. It doesn’t have to be something they put on Masterpiece Theatre with family secrets going back a generation leading to murder, nor does it have to be a Raymond Chandler triple-cross love triangle. Sometimes, the mystery is real. And the real ones are the best, because you can’t always wrap them up in 80,000 words. Sometimes they go on for years. Some of the best mysteries go on for centuries.

Take my favorite: the Loch Ness Monster. Now I know that the odds of a plesiosaur living in a Scottish lake are minuscule, at best. But that has not kept me from scanning those placid waters like a hawk every time I’ve been there, nor did it make me any less nervous when I took a ride across that dark pond on a foggy day. Scientists and curious amateurs keep bringing more and more sophisticated technology to the problem, but with luck they’ll never prove definitively that the old girl doesn’t exist. And they shouldn’t! (If nothing else, it would hurt the Scottish tourism industry.)

But now it appears that another mystery, of nearly equal vintage, has been solved: the Shakespeare Identity Question. The head archivist at the Folger Library, Dr. Heather Wolfe, claims to have “the smoking gun” that will put the controversy to rest. To this, I have two responses: (1) it won’t, and (2) finally!

Normally, as with Nessie, or Bigfoot, or the Kardashians, we will never be able to get to the truth of the matter, and we’re happier for it. Some things are better left unexplained. But this one, this one I’ve always thought was rather dopey. The best evidence I’ve ever heard for someone else having written Shakespeare was that Shakespeare didn’t write it. Not really a winning argument.* So if this is done at last, so be it. There are many more and better mysteries to be solved.

Like, what is it with those Kar–no, like I said, some things are better left unexplained. And unasked.

*Besides, I explained it right here.

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After a hiatus of 33 years, I will be making my re-entry into the world of convention panelists at Loscon. This is actually the first time I have been a guest at a con, since my previous appearances were due to my being on the convention committee.

What if Star Trek Had Never Existed?” will debut on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. It explores the fannish, cultural, and scientific ramifications of a world where Star Trek never aired. I don’t doubt that the discussion could occupy the entire con, but we’ll try to bring in a definitive answer in less than an hour. (Yeah, right.)

Personally, I think that without Star Trek the entire bedroom-poster industry would have collapsed years ago. I mean, without that picture of Jeri Ryan in her Seven-of-Nine outfit…

#SFWApro

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Recently, Entertainment Weekly ran an piece on “The 50 Most Powerful Superheroes.” Not limited to actual power(s), this article used criteria such as “mythology,” “modern relevance,” and “bankability,” in addition to sheer strength. Each item was worth 10 points, with the exception of “cultural impact,” which was worth 20. A perfect score was 100.

In the main, I had no argument with their choices; after all, there were 50 heroes to choose from, and all of these studies are as subjective as they are non-scientific. But right up front, I have to take issue with their choices. You see, before I started the list, I thought: “Well, obviously Superman is number one.” Wrong. Superman was number four. Number one was Wonder Woman.

Now I have never been a Wonder Woman fan, but I understand her standing in the pantheon. I also understand that at this particular moment in history, she is leading the DC charge. (Forget Superman and the guy with the mask; they’re blown until DC figures out how to make a Marvel movie.) But

Wonder Woman is not Superman. She is not as powerful (10 points), doesn’t have the nemesis (10 points), the mythology or the cultural impact. She does have the edge in cultural relevance, but bankability? She has had one TV series which lasted longer than it should have. She has a movie coming out, and it may be a huge hit, but it hasn’t come out yet. Superman has had four TV series (counting Superboy), and seven movies. Like it or not, Superman is the reason there’s a DC movie universe today (or a Marvel movie universe, for that matter).

They picked Wonder Woman because she’s the trendy choice. She has a long way to go before she reaches the international and historical plateau that Superman occupies. DC is choosing to lower the bar that she must hurdle (not her fault), but she still has to hurdle it.

I’ll give her credit, though. She’s off to a running start.

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[The following was written by a friend of mine, a freshman in college. My initial thought (after “this is good; people need to see this”) was to recommend replacing the word “jazz” with “science fiction” because of the subject’s prominence in our field. Upon reflection, however, I believe that the word “jazz” could be replaced by the profession or fandom of your choice, and remain unfortunately relevant. This is reprinted by permission; the author’s name is withheld.]

 

To the jazz community (especially male jazz musicians please read on):

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of talking to a woman, around 50-60, who was a jazz vocalist. During the conversation, she brought up the difficulties of being a woman in the jazz community, especially an instrumentalist, and asked me if anything had changed since she had been in school. Without any hesitation I told her it had not.

As a tenor saxophonist in middle school and high school jazz bands, I have been verbally, emotionally, and sexually harassed. Some of the things said to me were so disgusting that I, as a sheltered 15-year-old, could not even comprehend. But, as with any systemic issue, this is not really about me.

Throughout every summer camp or high school group, every woman I have met in the jazz community has felt at best excluded and at worst terribly harassed. Of the 6 women I have played in high school with, all were good if not great musicians. However, jazz culture pressures instrumentalists to be the absolute best, and the more men feel that pressure, or fear that a woman might usurp them in skill, the more men harass women in an attempt to push them out of the competition. Women in the jazz community are not seen as equal competitors, but rather threats to the toxic fragile masculinity of men.

And the harassment works. I told myself after my senior year of high school I would never play in a jazz band again. I had lost all motivation to practice years before. The only way for my emotional health to survive jazz band was to give up and not care. I saw other women find similar paths: letting men know that you are not good is met with laughter, asking for help is met with condescending smiles. Trying your best is met with anger and misogyny. In a school setting, I learned that my gender was not welcome, that giving up is healthier, that improving is futile.

Misogyny in jazz does not only exist in my high school, or in the summer music camps I attended. Misogyny, as well as racism, in jazz is historically rooted. Watch movies like The Girls in the Band, a documentary about the struggles of women from 1930s jazz bands to the present. Look no further than Whiplash, where a white man tells the only girl in a band in the entire movie she is there only because she is cute and then kicks her out after one bad note. Even try to think of the names of three female jazz instrumentalists.

The competitiveness within the jazz community cannot be conducive to learning or creativity if it violently attacks 51% of the population. Toxic masculinity and its consequential harassment must be eradicated. If you are a male jazz musician, I recommend you keep these things in mind:

1. Women deserve respect the moment they are born. Men have proven that women will never be good enough to earn their respect. Whether they are new or veterans, whether they are terrible musicians or great, all women deserve your respect.

2. Pushing people out of the jazz community will not make jazz better. If you love jazz music, you will encourage women to join and encourage them to practice and encourage them to be great and let them be great. Misogyny cannot be tolerated in any society that wants to grow and neither can fostering this toxic competitive spirit.

3. Women owe you nothing. Not when you think you need a reason to respect them. Not if you don’t harass them. Not when you apologize for harassing them. Not when you ask for forgiveness.

Finally, to the women who have ever played in jazz bands, whether you quit or you still play: I admire you infinitely. You are stronger than the men who harassed you. You are more talented than they led you on to believe. You are incredible and wonderful and I wish you the best in whatever you are currently accomplishing.

 

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I have set up an Amazon Giveaway for a chance to win The Invisible City (The Stolen Future Trilogy Book 1) (Kindle Edition). https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/75430401c7f143c6 NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of May 21, 2016 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.

If you are a fan of classic SF adventures, you owe it to yourself to check this out!

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