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!

Apr 132018
 

For the use of my book club, plus whoever else would like a linked list. These are the short stories and novelettes that are up for a Hugo, and also available free online. This year, that’s all of them.

Best Short Story

Best Novelette

Apr 122018
 

I recently won a Writers of the Future award for my story “Flee, My Pretty One.” The award comes with publication in their anthology, a cash prize, a nice trophy at an award ceremony, and (most importantly by far) a week-long workshop with big names in the industry.

But y’all want to hear about the Scientology thing, so let’s talk about that first. :)

1. The Contest

Everyone in the SF community knows that Writers of the Future (WotF) is funded by the Scientologists, and used by them for PR. And everyone smiles and accepts that and agrees not to talk about it in public, because the Scientologists do a good job of staying the hell out of the contest itself. All the judging and every major decision is made by respected professionals in the field, none of whom are affiliated with the church. And behind the scenes, yeah, we talk about it. When the WotF staff wasn’t around and we were all drinking, there was quite a bit of chat about it. Because it is kinda weird, and we all feel a bit weird about it. But ultimately, they just provided a huge paycheck to the SF community without asking very much in return.

One of my fellow winners even pointed out that it’s almost a scam in the other direction. The Scientologists take a lot of money from rich Hollywood celebrities, and they take that and funnel it back into funding new up-and-coming SF writers and illustrators, all of whom are mildly-to-strongly anti-Scientology. It’s a weird arts-funding program that uses Scientology money for an actual good cause (assuming one considers SF arts a good cause).

They certainly get something out of it too. The big awards ceremony, while it was certainly a lot of fun and made us all free great and important, was very obviously for them. It talked up L. Ron Hubbard quite a bit. I heard more about him in the two hours of the event than in the entire four days of workshop before then. All the content was geared at making the audience of Scientologists feel good about themselves and assure them they’re being good Hubbard disciples. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s their party. They’ve been super nice and very supportive, and they’re allowed to have a big party and feel good! So what if they’re using us as an excuse to celebrate? They’ve spent a ton of money on all of us, they’re allowed. We’re getting a lot out of it in exchange. Let’s not shit on someone else being happy.

This hangs on the side of their publishing building. I imagine most of the employees inside are pretty embarrassed by it.

2. The People

The Scientologists, at least the ones on the ground, are all super nice and polite. They never treated us with anything but respect and friendliness. And, aside from being the biggest Hubbard fanboys/fangirls I’ve ever seen, never even mentioned Scientology. There were no attempts at recruitment. We’re valuable to them as PR, not as new members.

You could always tell who was a Scientologist and who was an outside professional, though. There’s something about the Scientologists. They’re very tightly wound. They hide behind niceness and smiles, never comfortable. I didn’t like being around them, and I ended up feeling very bad for them. In my opinion, they act like people who aren’t sure how to interface with the outside world, and have been hurt by it so much that they expect only more abuse and more pain, and the only way they’ve found to deal with this is to withdraw. When forced to interact with the muggles, they smile past the fear and hope it’s over soon.

I know a lot of people like this. I used to be a person like this. This is a common experience for young nerds. Yes, it was uncomfortable being around the, because they are bad at social skills, and they’re hurt. But by god, who beats up on these sort of people? Spreading tales of how awful and creepy they are is no different from nerd-bashing. Do you talk about how gross aspies are? Then don’t do it to Scientologists.

The church of Scientology may be ridiculous and/or evil, but most of the people in it are just as innocent as most Catholics. Be kind to people. Don’t trust anyone who gives you weird vibes, of course, your instincts are a good first-defense. But man, it’s possible to treat people with decency without going into secluded places with them, ya know?

They keep display copies of everything Hubbard has ever published. Even the Lisa Frank versions.

3. The Cult

When I first saw the crazy devotion the people here have to Hubbard’s work I was downright envious. They adore him, and as long as they’re around, his memory and his works will be kept alive. In that moment I wanted a cult of my own.

It didn’t last very long though. There isn’t any real memory of Hubbard being preserved here. It’s a weird, idolized version of him, drastically disconnected from whatever real person he might have been. There’s only a story that strangers have built a community around, and recognizing him as he was doesn’t advance that purpose. This is a poor imitation of immortality-through-remembrance. It felt lonely.

Of course, when the publicity crew was following us around all week, and constantly snapping pictures of everything we do, that felt right. It was fitting that everything I do be documented, because I’m totes a big deal in my own mind. :) I finally had that “constant watching presence” that I’d been missing since I realized there ain’t no god. Most of my co-winners didn’t like it as much, though.

I will say I was surprised by how conservative they are! With their reputation as a crazy cult in the middle of Hollywood, I expected them to basically be a bunch of liberals. They don’t drink, frown on bad language, and basically reminded me of strict Christians. They wanted everyone to dress conservatively, including strongly requesting the women wear gowns to the award ceremony. That’s a heckuva an ask for 24 artsy types, you’ll almost always get someone for whom that is not OK. I’ve heard about this being a problem in past years, and they seem to have eased up a bit, because our resident “I don’t do dresses” artist ended up going in a red suit instead, which suited her very well! And it sounded like there wasn’t too much kerfuffle about it.

So yeah, I dislike their religion, they can be off-putting, and I hear their leadership has done shitty things. But the people on the ground are nice, they mostly kept to themselves, and they won me over. Given how much I distrust the media when it comes to their portrayal of weird fringe groups, I’m gonna default to not being a dick on this one.

Seriously though, what writer doesn’t want people to love his work so much they enshrine it like this?

Over the next few days I’ll talk about the workshop itself, as well as the award ceremony. Plus more pictures!

You can buy the anthology, containing my latest short story, at Amazon and most book stores.

 

Apr 072018
 

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz

Synopsis: An indentured military robot and his handler track a pharma-IP pirate across the globe when a reverse-engineered work-productivity drug starts killing people.

Book Review: Yikes, what a shiny mess this is! The novel is so variable in quality and tone, spiking up and diving down in heady rushes, that it feels downright schizophrenic. I need to dive into that, so this review will be a bit long.

On the one hand, there’s some good stuff in here. The robot characters in particular were really interesting. They are convincingly done as minds without human values, where murder and torture don’t elicit even the feeling that they should be difficult or questionable, as long as they’re ordered by an authorized admin. The violence is raw and brutal in its matter-of-factness. There’s a particularly fantastic scene where the military bot is engaged in combat with IP-pirates, guns blazing and blood splattering, while also researching English language usage because he wants to know what his admin meant when he said “I’m not a faggot.” The alternating physical brutality, and curiosity about human relationships and sexuality, makes for amazing juxtaposition.

The novel also highlighted a few things in myself that I now have to ponder. There’s a gender-flip (sorta) midbook. No big deal, gender doesn’t matter, particularly the fake gender of robots. But when I went back to my notes in the first half of the book and found the female character being referred to as “he,” it bothered me. Which I guess means that gender actually does matter, even the fake gender of robots, because why the hell would it bother me if it didn’t really matter? If I hadn’t embraced the gender-classification of this non-human thing and started to associate it with that gender, and then disliked it being misgendered?

It also drew my attention to latent carbon-chauvinism I thought I was free of. When a human who’s been shown to brutally abuse robots is murdered, it took me aback. Like “No, you don’t just go killing humans!” But if that human had been shown to brutally abuse other humans, I woulda been all “Fuck yeah, kill that piece of shit!” So… what’s going on with me, there? I obviously place more moral weight on fictional humans than fictional robots, and that’s worrisome.

But all this is tempered by some serious issues. For starters, in quite a few places the writing is just downright bad. Like, “I’m 14 And This Is Deep” high school fanfic bad. We’re told who’s the good guys and who’s the bad guys with basic applause lights like “the keys to this good life are held in the greedy hands of a few corporatons.” And “Was [she] trying to kill herself to make up for what she’d done? Maybe. Probably.” And “maybe […] he would stop asking her to trust him more than she wanted to trust anyone—including herself.” Oh dear lord.

The world and most of the characters in it never come to life either. Everything feels rather flat, and drawn in muted colors, especially at first. In the latter half of the book we start to get some insight into our human character’s personality and backgrounds, and they start to become interesting, but at first they’re just blah. And the world itself doesn’t feel anything like you’d expect. Apparently most of the world lives in slavery most of their lives, but for the most part life seems alright. No one’s that unhappy, society is basically functioning, etc. This has two related effects on our protagonists. Our hero, the pirate, doesn’t feel very heroic. A freedom fighter needs an evil empire to fight against. Lacking that context, she’s just a drug-running criminal. And our villain, the IP-law enforcer, isn’t all that bad. In fact, the novel paints him in a pretty decent light.

Now, I’m all for morally complex characters. I like dark heroes, and I like works that really make you feel the villain’s perspective, and cheer for them. But Autonomous doesn’t do that.

It introduces us to a hero by having her murder someone without much remorse in their introductory scene. It drops a number of hints about her dark, irredeemable past. And then we’re never shown anything bad she did in her past, and she’s painted as a hero for the rest of the novel. She never gets a redemption because it turns out there wasn’t anything she needs redemption from. The novel is OK with that.

It gives us a villain working for the oppressors. He pressures his underling into a deeply disturbing and highly-abusive relationship. The novel doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.

The world is broken and full of slavery, but things are pretty cheerful overall. It feels like a brightly-painted Disney-fied environment. This isn’t done in a southern gothic sort of disturbing way, it just seems we’re not supposed to notice.

I have a theory. Originally, this book was supposed to be much, much darker. It was supposed to be something awesome, like Library at Mount Char, or Best Served Cold. But Newitz was told this would never sell, and if she wanted a contract she’d have to lighten it up, and make it more YA-friendly. So what could have been dark and brooding and great is turned into… this.

I have a second theory. This novel has been rewritten many, many times. Newitz learned a lot during the writing, which is why the latter half is significantly better than the first. It explains why there can be really good writing side by side with really awful drek. But in the churn of all the rewrites and edits, the focus of the story was lost. In the end it feels processed and soulless.

I look forward to Newitz’s next novel, because I think these are problems that can be overcome, particularly with experience. But I don’t think that this novel, as it stands, should have been published. Some gatekeeper was not doing their job, or (per first theory) doing their job very poorly and making the final work worse. And since I can’t recommend something that I don’t think should’ve been published, despite it’s other merits, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Boy, it’s hard to say. This was a pretty quick read, and it did have some great parts. And it certainly gave us a LOT to talk about, which is where theories 1 & 2 from above came from. But most of the discussion didn’t center around the themes the novel attempted to raise, because we were distracted by the disjointed prose/world. Some people liked it more than others, and it’s certainly far from the worst thing out there. But when I think of all the really good novels out there, and extremely limited number of novels one can read in a year, I can’t justify telling a book club this is worth the opportunity cost. While it skates the line, I’m going to tip into the Not Recommended on this one. Mildly, though.

 

Apr 022018
 

Augh, I’ve neglected this for too long.

This is delightful! EXCERPTS FROM MY UPCOMING NOVEL, READY PLAYER TWO: GIRL STUFF. “I ran a proud hand over the side of my spaceship that was shaped like a Lisa Frank dolphin. I had won it in a bet with my friend Snapewife over how many Pirates of the Caribbeanmovies there were. Back then, she had called it the Sparkleship, but I wanted a more intellectual, literary name. So I re-named it Astolat, after my favorite fan-fiction author.”

 

The Daily Mail is not a legitimate news source
“This is, in the bluntest possible terms, how they’ve managed to keep their hate-spewing empire running for so long. They adjust the facts just enough to get you angry, angry enough to click and read and pass the article along. How dare those writers disrespect my favourite actor, fuck the Russo brothers, and so on! They thrive on your outrage and weaponise it.”

 

The Unit of Caring on TERFs (applies to a LOT of things though)

“Even if you know that a group of millions of people will have some bad ones, hearing in detail about the bad ones all the time will slowly rewire your intuitions. You’ll start to expect, when you see a member of the group, bad things, because your brain has thousands of examples of bad things. You can try to consciously correct for this, but in my experience it’s actually nearly impossible to consciously correct enough; when you’re getting tons of “data” your intuitions will be shaped by it, even when it’s a lie and you know it.

I categorically reject any group of people which does this. If a group does this, I block them all and leave and never come back. It is a fundamentally wrong thing to do. It can be done against any target; it does not teach truth; all it does is rewire your brain towards suspicion and hatred, and it works just as well whether the targeted group has a higher rate of violence of various types or not. I strongly encourage anyone who recognizes this pattern in groups they’re part of to leave those groups, because this is a horrid tactic.”

 

 

That NYT article that got so much crap because the author didn’t “really” take two months away from the internet still makes very good points.

“Get news. Not too quickly. Avoid social.

Now I am not just less anxious and less addicted to the news, I am more widely informed (though there are some blind spots). And I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have”

also:
“People don’t just post stories — they post their takes on stories, often quoting key parts of a story to underscore how it proves them right”

I feel called out ^^;

 

The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman. Good essay, and I agree that Black Panther is more mature story-telling.

 

No one realizes at the time they vote for the last time that it will be their last vote.
“In the closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump also praised China’s President Xi Jinping for recently consolidating power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn’t mind making such a maneuver himself.
“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

 

Black Panther’s Right Thing. A great article, which reminded me I haven’t seen Do The Right Thing in over 20 years, and I really need to fix that. And probably buy it.

 

Oh shit! I thought Dogma was fucking awesome as it is, but now it’s *even better*!

 

How white nationalists fooled the media about Florida shooter. OMG, they used 4chan as a source. /headdesk. Interesting though.
(also note that even this article makes the hilarious error of calling Discord popular with white nationalists. I mean, I guess it is, but in the same way that cars are popular with white nationalists)

‘Donovan called this an instance of “source hacking,” a tactic by which fringe groups coordinate to feed false information to authoritative sources such as ADL researchers. These experts, in turn, disseminate the information to reporters, and it reaches thousands of readers before it can be debunked…

‘“We have to start thinking of these white nationalist groups as what some of them describe themselves — ‘media militias,’” said Donovan. “They think of media as adversarial territory.”’’

 

Orc Slavery Made Me Quit ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ – now that’s high praise for a game.

 

“I just want to spare you all the trouble of going through a revolution only to find out that wealth is specifically designed to exist as things which can’t transfer to the person who kills you. ”

 

An interesting bluesy cover of Faith No More’s “Epic”

 

SATANIC TEMPLE BEATS MISSOURI IN SHOWDOWN OVER ABORTION RIGHTS Still doing god’s work. I love these people, and dollar-for-dollar I get more visceral satisfaction out of the donations I give to them than to any other charity.

 

“Writing is about more than just words” – What Writers Should Learn From Mad Max: Fury Road

 

I know this is old news, but – President Trump Slaps Tariffs on Solar Panels in Major Blow to Renewable Energy. Because not fighting global warming isn’t enough, it’s important to actively make it worse. /seethingRage

 

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials. How many people must die due to delays?

> Dr. Wu’s team at Hangzhou Cancer Hospital has been drawing blood from esophageal-cancer patients, shipping it by high-speed rail to a lab that modifies disease-fighting cells using Crispr-Cas9 by deleting a gene that interferes with the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. His team then infuses the cells back into the patients, hoping the reprogrammed DNA will destroy the disease.

> In contrast, what’s expected to be the first human Crispr trial outside China has yet to begin. The University of Pennsylvania has spent nearly two years addressing federal and other requirements, including numerous safety checks designed to minimize risks to patients. While Penn hasn’t received final federal clearance to proceed, “we hope to get clearance soon,” a Penn spokeswoman said.

 

 

Why *in fuck* is a website only available during business hours???

 

Offspring is the Nickleback of punk. That is all.

 

The 1969 Easter Mass Incident.
“Dad remembers hearing the bishop through the windows roaring “THE HOLY BODY OF CHRIST DOES! NOT! CONTAIN! RAINBOW! SPRINKLES!””

And that’s waaaaaay before it gets to the really good part…

 

Y’all know I love me some Movie Bob. Here he breaks down why Zack Snyder, while being a highly skilled director, was a particularly bad choice for directing Batman v Superman, by expounding on the importance of cultural context for art via the Watchmen movie…

And in the process, FINALLY is able to articulate exactly why the Watchmen movie felt so Bleh, despite being gorgeous and ridiculously faithful to the literal presentation of the source material! Bob.

This is the only one of the three parts of Really That Bad that it’s worth watching. The others aren’t good. However this one is really REALLY good, basically start to finish! And when he theorizes on how this movie could have been done well, he basically describes the entirety of The Metropolitan Man!

 

Peeing standing up is VASTLY overrated. It’s basically a way of ensuring piss gets everywhere. Which I guess is good for marking territory. But in the modern world, it is an inferior method of urination.

 

The best person on the internet (really, IMO) talks about how to be kind. A neat note:
“when being wrong wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because you know yourself to be valuable in many ways, then you’re equipped to be nice, and it’ll come much easier.”

 

> “If anyone were to take a highway engineer to a wide open space and ask them to design a junction which would readily enable two road users to collide with neither of them ever seeing each other, I doubt any would be able to manage it.

 

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff on Trump’s tweeting:

> Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories.