May 252018
 

This is a follow-up to my last post about Flee, My Pretty One. As might be apparent from some of my writings, I used to be far more leftist. As a younger man, I was ready for the revolution. In large part I think it’s just plain hormonal, I’m quite a bio-determinist when it comes to personality. But in part it was also because I just didn’t have much to lose.  When you’re already at the bottom things can’t really get worse, right? As a kid I had nothing except rage, so what did I care? Burn it all, start over, at least this way there’s a chance things will be better. Now that I have well over a decade of labor stored up in the form of property and savings and obligations from the govt, I’m much less excited about razing the world. Like, hey, some of that stuff that’s gonna be razed is my stuff! Can we implement change without incinerating all my stuff? That stuff is years of my life…

But I still understand the urgency needed, the screams that change cannot wait. How many tens of thousands of lives are we willing to sacrifice while we slowly increment our way to a new system? How many who didn’t have to die? But there’s also the realization now that unless things are carefully planned and go slowly, the result of burning it all down is often worse that the previous status quo.

Or at least, worse for those with something to lose. When you’re being killed by the system, anything is appropriate. Everyone has a right to self-defense.

But I’m not being killed by the system, and neither are most people (I think). So it feels like sacrificing the many to maybe save a few. Not a bright idea. OTOH, are you willing to live in Omelas? And all that results in a lot  of angst and self-hate, and that’s how we get art, right?

My drift greyward has been helped along by the fact that I’ve always had friends across the political spectrum. And for some time I was one of the most-left people in my circles. It did suck leaving that identity behind. I think what sucked most is that the community I have now is more like a group of friends and other real people. As opposed to what I had then, which was an ideology. A movement, full of fire and passion, which provided instant connection and relatability with everyone else within it. We hated the same things, loved the same stuff, had the same outlook. Now everyone I know is a unique and complicated person and I have to go through a lot of work to get to know them and fit them into my life. It was so much easier, and more fun, when things were straightforward and passionate. People sometimes accuse rationalists of being akin to a religion/cult, but this is a well-grounded community, and isn’t even 1/5th as religion-like as the leftist movement was when I was in it. I miss that. :/ But now that I’m no longer a child I must put away childish things, etc etc

It’s harder to be friends with leftists nowadays, because it’s tough to relate when you can see the Crazy. We’re still friends, but there’s a bit more distance, it takes more effort.

I still remember that anger though, and I still identify with it. Sometimes. When no one else is watching.

May 222018
 

Saaaaaay… I normally do an Author’s Notes post when a story of mine gets published. Did I not do that for Flee, My Pretty One? It kinda looks like I didn’t, I don’t see one on here.

Weird.

So! This was originally written quite a while ago, for an open anthology call on the theme of “Start A Revolution.” I’ve been rabidly anti-corporation for most of my life. They’re soulless, profit-maximizing monstrosities, who know nothing of human values. Optimizers unfettered by concern for us. Stross calls them invaders from Mars. Many people have pointed out that they resemble the problem of unfriendly AI in their lack of human values + ability to alter their environment to fit their utility functions (including, infamously and recently, Ted Chaing) I agree, and I would love (or rather, once would have loved) to see a revolution bringing these forces to heel.

I call them Dragons. For two reasons. The first is that dragons are already known for their rapacious love of treasure, and their willingness to do anything to horde it. They are powerful, and non-human, so they make a good metaphor.

The second is that I’m racist against dragons. If that’s a thing? I realized this back when I was playing Shadowrun. During the course of a campaign, I realized that no matter what he did, I would never trust Dunkelzahn. He could be a saint for centuries, doing only good works, and die sacrificing himself to save me personally, and I still would say “Good riddance. You can’t trust a fucking dragon. He was obviously motivated by some evil plot, he held hatred for us all in his heart, and it will come to light eventually.” I’d be horrified if my offspring dated a dragon. Etc. I don’t care what they do, I know they’re evil.

And like, if you’re going to be racist, I think it’s probably best to be racist against a fictional giant lizard species, so you aren’t hurting anyone. And as long as I’m at it, I can maybe use that racism in my stories, so anyone who’s similar to me can get that same visceral revulsion.

Anyway, yes, the story is about starting a revolution against corporations, except that corporations are actual non-human persons(?) in the story. This makes it more satisfying to attack them, since violence against a person is always more meaningful than violence against “the system.” And giving your villains a voice and agency is more exciting.

Except, of course, violence is bad. And the real world is messy and fuzzy, so trying to apply sufficient violence to the correct target is never as clean as Hollywood and/or activists make it seem. So it all keeps spiraling into ever more chaos until everything is shit around you. And thus was born “Flee, My Pretty One.”

Of note: This story had a lot of near-misses when it was seeking publication, with editors saying “This is good, but it’s not quite right for us.” Then Trump was elected. And the next place I submitted to said “Wow, this is great, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the society.” And I nodded and said “Oh yes, yup, that’s exactly what I was doing.”

I’ve been pissed at the system my entire life, regardless of the political party in charge. Because it’s not about the political parties, for the most part. It’s about the entrenched powers that stay entrenched from one election to the next, regardless of whether the Reds or the Blues are nominally in charge that moment. I guess most people aren’t that upset with the system itself. So, on the one hand, it’s interesting to see so much of the population suddenly as riled up as I’ve always been. It helped get this story published, at least. But I’m dismayed that what they’re angry at is still the politicians. I figure this means that once the politician in charge is swapped out, society will return to how it was, and nothing will have changed.

>:(

May 182018
 

Provenance, by Ann Leckie

Synopsis: A noble’s daughter must navigate the treachery and bureaucracy of a byzantine political system to impress her mother and show up her brother

Book Review: This book is almost the exact opposite of the previous book I reviewed (Six Wakes). It has a robustly thought-out world, rich imagery, a coherent story, and fantastic language. The word-craft is stellar, Ann Leckie knows how to compose glowing prose. And the characters are all deeply human and relatable. In particular, I loved the protagonist and her naïve, babe-in-the-woods persona. Overly trusting in an unscrupulous world. <3 I also enjoyed seeing a world with a default neutral gender for everyone, and some people could adopt male or female genders when they grew up if they wanted (which it seems most/many didn’t).

Unfortunately, there is no point to any of this, and no plot to care about. Some old family relics may be forgeries. Her mom and her brother aren’t that bad, they just underestimate and overshadow her. The action is primarily about legalisms and bureaucratic obstacles, and it doesn’t really matter if she fails. It’s not quite as bad as going to the DMV, but that’s not saying much. For all the skill Leckie has in writing, this novel just bored the hell out of me. It seemed very much like Leckie was having fun writing about the frustrations of a favorite niece. I know Leckie can do good work, we’ve all seen it in Ancillary Justice, which was amazing. But this isn’t it. I got about 60% of the way through and quit out of sheer boredom.

That was probably my favorite part of the book though, because it meant I finally had some reading time that wasn’t in service to the book club, and I could FINALLY finish Seven Surrenders!! (yes, I know, I’m very behind. :( I’m sorry guys!)

Seven Surrenders is even better than Too Like The Lightning. Now that the world is set up and the characters are established, Ada Palmer can really dig into the ideas she’s presenting. Not that she wasn’t doing that before, but even more so. The writing is to die for, like dessert for your eyes. And the entire work is ridiculously ambitious. Straight-up audacious, honestly. Every single chapter has some major moment that struck me hard. I know that basically everyone in the Rationalist community has already read this, and some of you are cosplaying it already (envious!), so you don’t really need me saying it too. But damn, this thing is great. I really hope to read Will To Battle before WorldCon!

Also, it’s a crime that this didn’t get a Hugo nomination. This is exactly the sort of high art that these awards are supposed to recognize.

Seven Surrenders – Highly Recommended
Provenance – Not Recommended

Book Review: There was a bit of talk about the gender thing, which was interesting for a while. And a few sparks of “people are weird for getting so attached to objects.” And several people were able to get through the novel on the strength of the prose and the likability of the characters. So it’s not awful as a whole. But it doesn’t have all that much to really recommend it. Like, if you want to start a conversation about gender… read freakin’ Seven Surrenders with your book club. Provenance does many things well enough, but it doesn’t shine, and fades quickly from memory. Not Recommended.

May 172018
 

The more I write, and talk with other writers, the more I get the impression there’s two major styles of writing. And no, this isn’t the old Pantser vs Plotter thing. Like all arguments that break a large field into two distinct sides, it lacks nuance and isn’t fully reflective of the world. But it does give us good tools for thinking about the thing.

Work-style writing. I call it this because doing this style of writing feels like work. The author is consciously and deliberately trying to sculpt something impressive. They struggle with theme and voice. They dredge up their great fears for themselves/their in-group/the future, they incorporate their philosophical outlook on life (hopefully without being preachy), and forge it all into this piece of their psyche that has every bit of emotion and skill they currently possess. They go over it again and again, looking for flaws, tightening things, worrying about every bit. And when they’re done they worry “Will people get what I was trying too say? Am I being too obscure? Too blatant?” This sort of writing is pretty darn pretentious, and every writer doing it not-so-secretly wishes their work will win ALL the awards. The point of this style of writing is in the presentation of an impressive finished product for an admiring audience. There is no point to it without an audience. It’s fulfilling when it works, but it is not inherently fun to do, and it takes immense amount of energy.

Fun-style writing. This is the writer sitting down and just having a good time while writing. This type of writing is a joy to engage in! It’s what many people say writing should be like. All the things mentioned in Work-style may still be present, writing in themes and philosophy and so forth can be really fun! But it’s not the point. If they’re in, great, if not, whatever. There isn’t a ton of worrying about it. The author is greatly amusing themselves by living out this fantastic story/scenario in their mind, and incidentally also doing the extra work necessary to share this fantasy with everyone else who wishes to read it. This is a thing that a writer would do on their own, for fun, even if no one ever saw the result, because there is joy in the process. The finished work is a byproduct, not the goal. Writing the story down still takes time, and skill! But it is more invigorating than draining, and so fun-style writers tend to be far more prolific.

Work-style generally reads slower. Fun-style goes fast, and is snappy. Work-style invites you into the author’s mind. Fun-style invites you to be the author’s friend. Work-style often makes demands of its readers, requiring work on their side as well. Fun-style primarily wants the reader to enjoy themselves.

A writer can do either style of writing, depending on what they wish to work on next. Even a single work can alternate between the two, being mainly fun-style, with patches of work-style here and there. But for the most part, one can tell when a novel is work-style, and when it’s fun-style.

I am primarily a work-style writer. I’ve done fun-style writing before, and it’s just the best damn thing ever. :) Both my Amazing Man stories were just me having a damn good time, writing whatever I thought would be fun and awesome to write next. I gave no fucks at all, aside from amusing myself. Each one took less than a single weekend to write (most of my stories are a month-ish process. Although that’s while holding down a full-time job). The first Amazing Man story was the most fun I’ve ever had while writing, until I wrote the second one and had an even better time!

And yet, I don’t really do that sort of writing. Something about it feels… cheap. Maybe it’s the ingrained puritan work ethic of my parents, saying that doing fun things is lazy and that nothing of value can be created unless laborious suffering is involved. Maybe it really is just a taste thing—I often dislike fun-style novels/stories, and almost never fall in love with them. Whereas I really enjoy work-style works (when they resonate with me, obvs not the majority of them). Or maybe it’s just straight-up old, snobby prejudice.

I don’t begrudge authors writing for fun. Often, even very well-known authors who made their mark writing a great work-style piece will shift to fun-style, because it’s damned fun to do. I certainly don’t blame them. But I wish there was some way to know beforehand that this was a fun work, so my expectations were correctly lowered. That’s probably clarifies a bit why some of my reviews go the way they do. I’m more likely to enjoy work-style, and feel annoyed if the author is just having a good time when I was expecting something more involved.

But when some writers talk about how great it is to write, and others talk about how hard it is to do so, I think this is the primary difference.

May 162018
 

Lately I’ve been hearing about Sealioning again. I finally saw an actual stated definition, rather than just someone dropping an accusation to signal applause lights from their side.

Sealioning: A subtle form of trolling involving “bad-faith” questions. You disingenuously frame your conversation as a sincere request to be enlightened, placing the burden of educating you entirely on the other party. If your bait is successful, the other party may engage, painstakingly laying out their logic and evidence in the false hope of helping someone learn. In fact you are attempting to harass or waste the time of the other party, and have no intention of truly entertaining their point of view. Instead, you react to each piece of information by misinterpreting it or requesting further clarification, ad nauseum. The name “sea-lioning” comes from a Wondermark comic strip.

 

First off, that’s just plain old arguing in bad faith. But here’s the comic that inspired this term, from Wondermark:

The Sea Lion is demanding that a racist person put up (evidence) or shut up. But the sea lion is being an ass. The message of the comic seems pretty clear—even people who say racist things deserve some privacy. Don’t harass them nonstop, or you are the one being the ass. That’s a good message, TBH.

You’ll notice there’s no actual arguing in the comic though, which makes “arguing in bad faith” impossible. It seems like the term “sea lioning” is being used to by people to say “If you disagree with my assertion and ask for supporting evidence, that in itself is doing something bad.” I’ve seen it be used that way before, and a lack of reading comprehension applied to the comic in question could easily support that interpretation. This is rock-bottom in the Hierarchy of Disagreements. It’s entirely  social shaming (“a demand for listeners to place someone outside the boundary of people who deserve to be heard”). Going forward, seeing the term “Sealioning” being used is going to be a big red flag for me that the other person isn’t worth talking to.

I also think it’s weird that the racist is the good guy in this, but hey, it’s the internet.

May 112018
 

I had some conversations with the wonderful Erin over my week at WotF, about gender identity. It clarified some things for me about the meltdown of my previous relationship, which I hadn’t realized at the time.

I don’t have an internalized gender identity. For most of my life I’ve just defaulted to male (poorly) and ignored the issue. Then, for a few years, I tried performing masculinity. I was pretty good at it, and it was fun. Like role-playing, and seeing just how far you can take it! It also came with certain advantages, and finally resulted in a fulfilling sex life. But it was like wearing a false identity. It wasn’t natural, it was a neat mask.

For clarity, I didn’t think of it as wearing a mask at the time–just as trying out something new, and having a lot of fun with it. I was proud that I could perform masculinity well. It’s nice to find a new talent, especially one that’s richly rewarded! And now I know that, when I need to temporarily strap on the masculinity for advantage in certain situations, I can do so. But eventually it got old, and it started to really wear on me to be wearing this mask day in and day out, my entire life. It had taken over every interaction with everything in the world, and that was too much.

Unfortunately, I had met my then-current life partner near the beginning of the performing masculinity phase, and she loved it. Trying to move away from it while in a relationship with her was like coming out as gay while being in a serious long-term relationship with someone of the opposite gender, or deconverting after marrying a fundamentalist. They’re going to be unhappy that the person they married has changed into someone else. It woulda been easier if I’d known more about gender identity and performance when we’d met, but I was just learning and starting to try stuff out then. I couldn’t have any sort of conversation about this stuff, cuz I didn’t know it myself.

This tendency of people to change over time is why I consider all relationships to be limited-term engagements. Maybe we could’ve kept this particular relationship going longer if this was the only thing complicating it. But combined with all the other issues, it could not hold.

May 092018
 

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

Synopsis: When the six-person crew of a generation ship wakes up from cloning tanks to find their previous selves’s murdered bodies floating before them and their memories wiped, they have to discover who among them is a killer before they’re Killed For Good.

Book Review: This has one of the most attention-grabbing first chapters of any book I’ve read in a long time. There’s nothing like being dumped right in the middle of a life-or-death crisis without any bearings to really get things started with a bang. And the premise is fantastic!

Unfortunately, the excellent premise falls apart due to very poor execution. The book reads sloppy, like someone was just dashing words together without really thinking through anything. Right in the first chapter there warning signs: the ship spun to create artificial gravity, but had somehow managed to stop spinning after just a few hours without power. Just how much internal friction does this thing have? And the captains FIRST order is “No one goes anywhere alone until we find the killer. Everyone in pairs from now on.” The order is then immediately forgotten by everyone, and within two pages all the crew have split up to do their separate things. WTF?

It’s also technically and scientifically illiterate. The plot relies on a piece of tech called a “Mind Map,” which at first seems like a personality matrix + memory storage, but later turns out to also contain DNA, and can run AI programs within it, and ultimately do anything that is necessary for the plot to proceed. It’s a piece of magic that literally does everything and solves every problem. And the term “Hacker” would be better replaced with “Magic Space Wizard,” because apparently a Hacker can do literally everything. Bioengineering, gene-editing, every level and type of programming, AI design, psychological surgery, memory editing, etc. In one scene the hacker has to find a single faulty line within the source code of the ship’s AI. It takes her many minutes! “Hacking” is a universal skill that covers everything a computer might do, and since computers do everything… Space Wizard!

The scientific illiteracy is just another version of the same sloppiness that is so apparent in the author’s disregard for the narrative. Lafferty seems to just not care if things make sense. Nothing follows any rules or has any consistency. It ends up feeling like you’re just listening to an imaginative but scatter-brained friend making things up as she goes along. That’s fine for bullshitting around a campfire, but in terms of writing a novel for publication, it’s just plain lazy. Is it so much to ask that an author put a modicum of forethought and effort into their writing?

There are some very cool flash-back scenes, reminiscent of the Lost TV series, which were very enjoyable. Lafferty is good at writing small, self-encapsulated individual actions. It’s only when they try to make a longer narrative hold together that everything falls apart. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I couldn’t stand this book, because the sloppiness physically hurt me. It felt like an insult. But not everyone cares that much. On a page-by-page basis, there’s almost always something interesting happening (with the exception of a long boring trudge of a few chapters near the 1/3rd mark). The characters are distinctive and the POV characters are fun to be with. So while everyone in the book club agreed the book was nonsensical both narratively and scientifically, several of our readers didn’t care! Apparently there are those readers who don’t need a story to make sense, as long as each page has some entertainment value, and they enjoyed this book a fair bit. Interestingly, though, we still mostly talked about the dumb, nonsensical things, since those were the most fun things to talk about. The other readers just viewed them as fun in a campy, B-movie sort of way, rather than an infuriating disregard by the author for their time/intelligence.

I don’t know man. I doubt anyone will remember this book a few months from now. And I’ve been getting frustrated with the run of disappointing books lately. There’s tons of “just writing what comes to mind without thinking through it much” stories out there, and if you want some light entertainment reading I think any of those are just as good as this one. They’d all spark roughly the same sort of “I had fun during these moments, but lol that’s bad” conversation, IMHO. So, Not Recommended.

The Hugo Nominees were released a couple weeks back, so we’re diving into those next. Those are usually mostly good, so I’m looking forward to getting some good reading in! :)

Apr 302018
 

Let’s start with the ceremony!

This was a delight. It was fun to be treated special and given an award and just the belle of the ball for a day! Of course, it was apparently pretty quickly that this award ceremony wasn’t really for us. It was for the Scientologists. This was their party, for them to say to each other “Look at us! We’re helping these people at the start of their career, and supporting the arts! We are doing good in the world.” And good on them for it! They are helping new artists, and contributing to the SFF world in a meaningful way. They can have as big a party they want to celebrate that, it’s their money. I didn’t mind at all being the excuse for that. It kinda felt what I imagine being a unicorn for a couple would feel like? The experience is primarily about them, but they couldn’t have it without me facilitating, and I’m happy to serve that role to bring them that. Of course that’s probably my super-idealized fantasy of unicorning. But /shrug. I got the literary-award equivalent of that fantasy, so I’m happy. :)

While listening to others give their acceptance speeches it dawned on me that you can only really thank two people – the first person you thank, who everyone notices for being first. And the last person, who stays lingering in the silence after. Everyone in between kinda gets lost in the blur. That’s not to say that they’re unappreciated, but the first and last are the true places of prominence. So I quickly edited my acceptance speech at the table in order to shuffle the Scientologists into the middle and thank my writer’s group and peers that week on the ends. You can see it here.

Afterwards there was partying back at the hotel bar!

The next day was a multi-hour class on how to Sell Sell Sell. Which, to be practical, was probably useful. You could tell they were trying to get us to do a lot of promotion. TBH, I’m not putting in a lot of work for something that doesn’t pay royalties. For every extra copy I sell, I get an extra $0.00. So the only book signing/promotion opportunities I took were the ones I wanted to do for the joy of doing them. The Tattered Cover in Denver, because that’s a rite of passage for all Denver authors. :) And the Broadway Book Mall, a small independent store that has been a cornerstone of the Denver SF community for decades. It was an honor to be at both.

They did talk about “always dressing professional” in that class, “unless you have A Look. Like Gaiman.” Everyone knows he always wears black leather, regardless of the situation, but that is his Look. It can be good to have a distinct visual Look. And I figured “hell, I already do the Goth thing, I can make that my Look.” So boom. I guess now whenever I’m doing Authorial stuff, I shall be Goth!

After that class we were “treated” to a show just for us winners & our guests. First there was an audio drama of Hubbard’s short “The Death Flyer.” The story itself is mildly bad. They had us read it before we arrived in LA, and it’s literally just “There’s a ghost train that recreates it’s crash on the anniversary of its crash. But it was all a dream!” With purple prose and one-dimensional wooden characters.  BUT! The people doing the audio drama were SUPER into it, which I guess you would be for any story written by your messiah. They added all the emotion and interest that was lacking from the story. It was actually pretty enjoyable, they did a great job! I saw in person just how a good actor can save a bad script.

Right after that we got to listen to the world’s worst stand-up comic. The guy was ancient, and apparently ran with Sinatra’s Rat Pack back in the day. Allow me to set the stage.

The Scientologists are really out of touch. They seem painfully unaware of the shibboleth of modern society, such as the not knowing one doesn’t refer to south-east Asia as “the Orient.” A couple of our winners were from Spanish-speaking countries, and one of them brought a lot of her family out to see her shine at this great moment! So when the comic opened by welcoming the audience in Spanish, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had not expected this sort of deliberate racial inclusiveness, this was awesome! Then his next lines were (paraphrased) ‘That’s all the Spanish I know. That’s all that my maid taught me before I sent her back to Guatemala. To have our kid.” Holy fuck.

The whole set was that bad, basically non-stop stuff that someone with the unthinking racism and sexism of the 50s era would find funny. It was awful. One person walked out, and I really should have, but I was so pissed I hate-watched the whole thing. OMG.

Anyway, that was the nadir of the week. It did give us something to bond over though. And as far as nadirs go, it could be much worse. But, wow. How can one be that out of touch? I mean… thinking back on it, I certainly didn’t go up and tell the comic, or anyone in the Scientologist camp, about how distasteful that was. Neither did any of my fellow winners. I guess if no one tells you, how can you be expected to know? But yeesh! Isn’t that what TV and movies are for?

Back to good stuff! For the rest of this post I’m just gonna talk about the people I met, because that’s really what it was about for me. And cuz this blog is kinda like a semi-diary thing for me. Probably the rest is boring for everyone who isn’t me, feel free to stop here. ^^ Most of these pics are lifted from the WotF website. They got great photographers.

Tim Powers, as said earlier, is a witty, kindly grandfather. Which also means he can be bad-ass protective sometimes. After our 24-hour stories, two were randomly picked to be critiqued by the whole group. As one can probably imagine, having a story critiqued is much like having you sexual technique analyzed and critiqued. It’s a very vulnerable and private thing. By this point I had forgotten we were being filmed all the time. Tim hadn’t. As the first critique started to quietly walked to the back of the room, laid hands upon the cameraperson, and said “You do not record this part.” The camera person complied and all was well, while our esteem of Tim skyrocketed.

Rob Sawyer gave an hour long presentation on how publishers will attempt to grab all your rights and screw you as much and as hard as they can. He warned us about what to look out for, and what to never sign away. He was very impassioned the whole time. It was my favorite of the guest-lecturer presentations, and very valuable. Kick-ass.

Brandon Sanderson gave a guest presentation as well. At the end of that day there was a barbeque for all the winners and their guests, as well as any of the judges and guest presenters that wished to come. I was sitting with Erin and her family when mother-fuckin’ Brandon Sanderson pulled up a chair and sat down to chat with us for an hour! It was freakin’ awesome. Erin’s mother is such a big fan that as soon as he sat down she stood up and walked away so she could quietly freakout and compose herself again. :) Brandon was fantastic to talk to.

 

Here’s the wonderful writer peers I met!

Cole is a gentle soul, extremely compassionate and empathic. But he can lay down serious smackdowns when he needs to, doing serious weight lifting and martial training. That’s probably why the kids at the rehab & detention facility where he works respect the hell out of him. He’s the one in front.

 

Jeremy is basically exactly the person I’d want teaching me history when I was in high school. Collected, thoughtful, and very knowledgeable. A damn cool dude, and I’ll be seeing with him again when I room with him at WorldCon in a few months!

When I first met Jon I was put off by him. First, the visual aesthetic of short blond hair and white skin reminds me of the 50s, and I’m not a fan, but obviously that’s not his fault. Plus it looks good on him. More to the point–there’s only room for one clean-cut office-drone-passing white guy in any given group! What’s he doing, trying to step on my turf? But I was won over very quickly by his eminent reasonableness, commitment to fairness, and being a solid good person at all times. We are now buds. Basically I guess he’s like my WotF equivalent of Pushin.

(Not sure if I mentioned Pushin before, but I was always kinda wierded out and put off by Pushin. I don’t like the aesthetic, and I just don’t get it. Then a lover of mine got a Pushin bathmat. I have poor circulation in my extremities, so walking on a non-carpeted floor in my bare feet, as one has to in a bathroom, is so cold that it’s painful for me. The Pushin bathmat saved me from that pain. Me and Pushin are friends now. ^^)

Natalka is Canadian, former Goth, and had heard of the rationalist movement! Also a pleasure to talk to, I get the feeling she has a lot of things to talk about once you can get into her circle of trust. She totally strikes me as the sort of person who’d be like “Yeah, I had to kill a man once. Fucker shouldn’t have tried to kidnap my dog. Let’s go moose-spotting!”

Vida came from the Philippines, and had quite a few /forehead moments with the previously-mentioned out-of-touch contingent who didn’t realize that there’s, you know, cities and stuff over there. The low-level stoicism of putting up with that sort of thing constantly gave her a very Daria vibe. :)

Erin was my biggest partner in crime. We spent a bunch of time together, both stressed a lot over our 24 hour stories, and man, she’s just the best! Plus she has a very soft visual aesthetic that just feels warm to look at.

Amy is just a ton of fun, and not at all what I expected from a Texas Mormon! She was often out front, leading the charge to the next thing we’re doing. It was great to have her around, and I didn’t even realize she wasn’t drinking when she was hanging with us at the bar. She has enough personality to not need alcohol! O_O

 

I didn’t get to spend much time with the illustrators, as the writers and illustrators were basically kept in two separate camps as we went through two separate workshops. They didn’t even mix the groups at the ceremony! That being said, we did manage to mix some, especially at the hotel bar.

Alana is the artist that drew the illustration for my story. She’s cool, and seems very excited about the future. I also LOVE the color pallete she uses for herself, it makes her look like a walking piece of Victorian art.

Sidney is the most chill mother fucker I’ve ever met in my life. You know how cool guys don’t look at explosions? Sidney wouldn’t even bother to walk away from an explosion. She’d be like “Hey, there’s an explosion. That’s cool. I’ma chill here unless someone tells me I gotta move.” She’s the one that told the Scientologists she wouldn’t be wearing a dress, and then just didn’t wear one. I am in awe of her cool.

Bruce is super put-together and professional. He wins my award for Most “Has His Shit Together” Person. While still being very personable! He has that hat as part of his look. To the point that he even has a very fancy black version of it that matched his tuxedo. :)

Duncan is talented and fun. He’s the illustrator who was most like the writers, and spent the most time with us. And by “most like the writers” I mean “extroverted.” Which is crazy, I’ve never thought of writers as an extroverted bunch. UNTIL I met illustrators. They totally blew my stereotypes, cuz I figured as visual artists they’d all be super outgoing and social butterflies. Turns out, they just want to stay with their tablets and paint all day and never look up or talk (for the most part). It was hard getting most of them to talk or open up! Except for Duncan. Maybe it’s the expat thing. :)

I barely got to meet Reyna until the last two days, but damn, look at that fierce aesthetic!! She’s a weight-lifter too. Kicked some ass arm-wrestling the other illustrators!

 

OK, Jazmen and Other Duncan were the two most aesthetically compelling people there. I thought they were visually interesting at first, and took their photos, but it turns out that it’s not a visual thing, because the photos don’t capture it at all. Jazmen is the living incarnation of the super-shy girl in every anime. All the writers think she just fell out of an anime last month or something. The body language, the clothing, the voice, the demeanor. One person swore she saw Jazmen dashing out the hotel door with a piece of toast in her mouth. And Duncan, her friend, looks and acts like someone who came out of a Dating Sim. He’s fucking gorgeous, and with long hair pulled back, except where it cascades down at his temples. He dresses in turn-of-the-century finery, and speaks rather formally. They were such perfect representations of their genres that I thought they were a couple, but I guess they’re just really good friends. Anyway, pictures don’t do them justice. Which, I think, is a sign of true aesthetic mastery. Something like that shouldn’t be capturable in a still image. To get the true impact one really has to be in their physical presence, with the full bandwidth that only real world proximity can accommodate. It’s almost as if people are complex, many-layered things which can’t be reduced to a picture and a few sentences. Which really puts the lie to this whole blog post. So, thanks guys, for breaking my post. >:(

But also <3

Anyway, that’s everything, I think I’m done with WotF posts. Huzzah!

Apr 242018
 

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid

Synopsis: A young couple falls in love in a war-torn Middle Eastern country, flees the country, and then falls out of love.

Book Review: There are few things more annoying that someone who’s completely ignorant on a subject walking into a room of knowledgeable people and deciding s/he should show them the proper way to do things. In the cryo community this is usually the person who says “lol, water crystals would shred all your cells when you freeze yourself.” In genre fiction circles it happens every few years when a self-important LitFic author decides to use a touch of magic, or near-future speculation, in a novel, and all the EarthFic’ers gush about how imaginative and unique it is.

I’d heard a lot about Exit West. Apparently it was beloved by the New York Times and all the literati elite, so I had high hopes for it. Of course, that it’s beloved of those people should have been my first warning. Exit West is straight-up boring-ass LitFic, with a flimsy magical element stapled on. I’m of the opinion that if you want to write LitFic but you don’t have the skill to do it, all you have to do is add a genre element and these goons that’ve never read any fantasy because it’s too low-brow for them will excuse all your blundering because they have no idea what makes a good story.

Everything that Exit West tries to do, it does poorly. It “appropriates” (as much as I hate this word, it almost feels right here) a fairy-tale narrative style, without having any idea what makes that style work. It has none of the whimsical lyricism or fairytale logic that a proper fairytale narrative employs. Valente and Hughart know how to make this style a force to be reckoned with. Hamid just uses a detached, head-hopping, omniscient narrator as a shortcut to putting any work into his writing, and tries to hide that by using the vocabulary of fairytale fiction.

It fails horrifically as a genre work because it never once bothers to explore any of the ramifications of the magic portals, besides the one specific aspect needed to make Hamid’s plot work. The reduction of all distances to zero is good for more than just easy border-crossing for refugees. It would be an existential threat to all geography-based states. Too Like The Lightning had damn good speculation about what happens to a world where distance no longer matters. The portals in Exit West should have been replaced by a highly-skilled human smuggler, because that’s literally all they are.

It fails as LitFic as well, because it never bothers to Show anything. The neat trick that LitFic is monomaniacally focused on is to never Tell, only Show, and make the reader feel all the emotions the author is intending only through lovingly detailed action. No one ever says “She felt lonely.” Instead they describe for four pages the protagonist going into her garden, pouring salt on the snails threatening her tomatoes, and then watching them melt slowly while reflecting on her relationship with her husband. And when it’s done right, the reader feels lonely. Exit West does the opposite. It’s a non-stop stream of Tellling. He was lonely. She was a rebel. They talked about leaving. There’s seriously entire chapters without a line of dialog, because Hamid can’t even be bothered to show us two humans interacting. He just gives a quick summary of a conversation. And the result is an absolute failure to connect emotionally with the reader. I don’t care about anyone in the book. I’ve read textbooks that are more engaging.

There is one thing Exit West does very well, and that’s the beautiful analogies that perfectly capture a moment. Things like “Their phones rested screens-down between them, like the weapons of desperadoes at a parley.” These sorts of things are sprinkled all throughout the text, and they are a delight. Unfortunately they are wasted in a narrative that does nothing with them.

Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Turnout was high for this book. Telling has an advantage over Showing in that it is fast, and simple. Often one has to use Telling in the interests of saving time and word count. (“She felt lonely” is three words; four pages of text are 1000). Since Exit West is entirely Telling, it is both short, and extremely easy/fast to read. This made it easy for people to race through it.

In addition, the fact that it annoyed so many people got a lot of them to come and vent their frustrations. So we had a fair bit to talk about. However I cannot, in good conscious, recommend that someone waste even a few hours of their life on this. Not Recommended.

Apr 202018
 

Yikes, where are the days going? I was supposed to write more about this earlier!

The real heart of the Writers of the Future thing is the workshop. The trophy and award ceremony are nice, but it’s the workshop that makes this the amazing event it is. So I’m gonna dive into that for a bit.

Dave on the left, Tim on the right (as one looks at the picture)

On day one we met our instructors, Dave Farland and Tim Powers, both big names in the SF world, in very different ways. I’ve never read Dave before, whereas I’m a fan of Tim Powers, and their different styles came through in their teaching. Dave would talk about putting out 2-3 books a year, Tim talked about working on each of his for 2-3 years. Dave spoke of the joy of writing, how whenever he’s not writing he’d be writing anyway because it’s what he does for fun. Tim spoke about how stressful it is to write and how freaking hard it is, and that the only thing worse than writing is NOT writing, and so he’s forced to do it out of self-preservation. I loved it, they had very complimentary methods, and played well off each other. And of course I came down firmly on Tim’s side. :)

They had me pose for this shot

Throughout the week we were constantly being filmed and photographed, both for publicity purposes and for a future documentary. Some of my fellow author winners weren’t that happy with this, most of them are fairly private. I loved it. I was finally getting the constant adoration I always crave. :) Also I was raised believing God was watching everything I was doing, and I lost that when I realized he’s a fairy tale. It was nice to have it back for a week.

The workshop was basically like a 5-day boot camp, but for writing. The most intense day was the second one, where we were all given a random object, told to interview a random person on the street, and incorporate both things into a new story that we haven’t thought about before. And write it in the next 24 hours. Jesus that was rough. I did nothing but write for 24 hours straight, aside for 7 hours of sleep and 5 minutes to shower. I wrote something that is… vaguely story-like. It has at least one cool thing I can salvage for the future, I guess. Overall, it’s not good at all. But it did teach me that I really can sit down and just do this shit, and put out something new on demand. And now I have a skeleton of a story that I can fill in and polish up over time. I could actually envision being a professional and doing this every day as my career.  Which I believe was the purpose of the exercise. It was the 2nd most important thing I got from this week.

This was not posed, we were just talking. Their photographers are really good.

The 1st most important thing was the relationships, of course. You bond a lot with the other people you’re in boot camp with. We’re all newish writers, with some work under our belts, but just getting started. And now we all know each other for life. We can trust each other and confide in each other. I was absolutely sincere when I said in my acceptance speech that this week was made by my fellow winners. This was an amazing experience. There are similar experience to be had, at workshops like Odyssey and Clarion. But those workshops cost thousands of dollars, and last so long that most people with regular jobs can’t attend them. It’s not just that the WotF workshop is freethey also paid for my flight out, and my stay at a nice hotel, AND gave me a very nice check on top of all that. Plus an awards ceremony and trophy.

Seriously, this is one of the best things out there for new writers. As long as you make sure to actually take advantage of the opportunities to bond with people. I suppose every year has at least one person who is chronically absent and won’t talk with others. That is tragic for them, and I don’t know why you’d do that, when the group bonds are really the whole point. But hey, it’s not for me to judge.

On day 3 we got to see our illustrations. There are 12 writer winners and 12 illustrator winners every year, and each of the illustrators is given a winning story and told to create a new illustration inspired by it. On the third day, they usher all the writers into a room with the 12 illustrations arrayed around it (without titles or identification) and we have to find the illustration based on our story. Hot damn is that a cool moment!! To have something you wrote illustrated is just an amazing feeling. It’s beautiful and you feel like there’s a reason you do this sort of thing. Then we got to meet our illustrators and talk with them, and I’m not sure how to say just how great it all is. And I get a framed print of the art to take home! Ridiculous. :)

The next day we had rapid-fire classes by quite a number of guest instructors. I think that overall this was the least useful day, but there was still quite a bit of good information here. We got to learn a lot about how the industry works, including what happens once a publisher gets their hands on your book (and why it takes 12+ damn months to print/publish!). Rob Sawyer spoke very passionately about how ruthless publishers will try to screw you, what rights they’ll try to grab, and what things you should never, ever accept in a contract. That was very valuable, and the whole day was worth it for that part alone.

Of course the best part of most days was the informal session afterwards, where all the writers, several illustrators, and occasionally a big author or two, would get together at the bar and socialize. There was drinking and jokes and gossip and shoptalk, and it was great. :) That’s where a fair bit of the bond-forging mentioned above was done. The epic fucking party we had on the last night before we all flew out the next day was just… amazing. I went and bought three 5ths of vodka for everyone that we could enjoy in our private cove without paying the exorbitant hotel bar prices, and it was the best money I’ve spent all year.

I miss all my peeps already.

More later!