Sunday, November 27, 2016

Panel announcement for Arisia 2017

Arisia 2017 is approaching and I'm happy to report that I've gotten my preliminary panels!

I'm going to describe them briefly and share a final schedule with you as we get closer to the convention.

The first panel is "The Alien in the Alien," which I'm interpreting as a look at the use of 'very alien' aliens in SF literature - entities with thought processes very different from human beings. I'm also on the "Preacher" Gone to Texas (and TV)" panel which is going to look at some of the issues surrounding the recent television adaption of the beloved comic book series. As mentioned, this comic book was a big influence on me, and I'm curious what sorts of reactions people have had to the show versus the comic book.

I have two literature themed panels on the last day of the convention: one looking at the power of SFFnal literature to shock and discomfort readers. As readers of this blog know, this has been topic of interest to me this year. I will also be participating in a panel on short fiction in speculative literature which I hope to use to discuss some of my favorite short stories I've talked up on this blog.

All of these are very interesting possibilities requiring a little bit of research. In particular, I'm going to need to read through Preacher again and track down some of the influences Garth Ennis had in creating this classic.

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A new chapter is now available for "Agent Shield and Spaceman!" As always, thank you for reading and for your continued support!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

New Chapter

I have another chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman," my serialized web fiction about weird espionage during the Cold War. My goal was to finish this project in November which is not going to happen but I am on track to finish this either shortly before or after the New Year. Thank you as always for your readership and support. It is greatly appreciated.

I don't know where to start. An article today in Politico stated that Obama gave his staff a week and a half to feel down and dispirited after Nov. 8th but then he needed them to fight by Thanksgiving. I myself feel that it is time to pull myself out of the useless rage and churlish depression I sunk into after Trump became president.

I was wrong. Lots of people were wrong. In moments of honesty (whenever those happen) I'm sure Trump was surprised he won. Whatever. He's here and already doing exactly what people figured he'd do - break any promise that doesn't directly help him, his family, and fat cats like him. 

What I'm going to write now goes doubly for me, so please don't take it as criticism. We need to do better.

Yesterday, Trump suffered the first unquestionable defeat since the election - settling out of court the Trump University suit for $25 million. His lame explanation for the settlement came through a tweet saying he no longer had time to fight the case. As if. Please, understand this news for what it is; Trump saying that the institution with his name on the letterhead was a scam meant to defraud people. I only wish American voters could get the same deal when Trump leaves office.

I went to bed last night after the first tweets about Pence getting booed and then addressed by the cast of Hamilton. The speech I include below because it does reveal how to handle the appearance of a craven homophobe in the audience with admirable grace and poise. It's an inspiring statement and if it encourages you, by all means, celebrate it. But understand that Pence was not sent to last night's performance of "Hamilton," as an olive branch to Blue States. This was a provocation meant to distract from Trump's humiliating loss in the Trump U suit. I am as guilty as anyone in tweeting and retweeting righteous outrage that our President-elect would claim Pence was being insulted. Not to put too fine a point on it, who cares if Pence gets booed or not? Who cares if someone says something mean to Trump? We already know Trump can't take criticism and that he will lash back. 

I care what Trump is doing to weaken our country. I care about seeing Trump start to lose fights. Not just lose a debate on social media or get rough treatment on cable news. I mean defeated, beaten, humiliated and cast back to the gilded cage of Trump Tower to spend the rest of his life in powerless rage.

"Hamilton" is the argument that Trump wants to have. He is fully aware of how the American public view Pence. Blue staters like me think he is worse in many ways than Trump and red staters think any criticism of him is a criticism of them and their life-style. This entire debate is fourth dimensional chess. Trump did these kind of outrage-cycle judo moves throughout the primary and the general campaigns and now he's going to do them as president. 

The one constant of Trump is that he might change what he says, but he never changes how he acts.

If we are going to beat him, we must recognize how he beat us and stop falling for his games.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Story Acceptance!

As mentioned last week, I do have a bit of happy news to share. I am excited to announce that my story, "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," will appear in the next issue of the Electric Spec Magazine at the end of the month. I am tremendously excited about this for a few reasons:
  • Electric Spec is simply awesome. I've been reading this magazine for awhile and never been disappointed by a single story. To have one of my stories selected is beyond humbling. I can only give an earnest thank you to Lesley L. Smith for choosing the story.
  • I love this story dearly. It has one of my favorite protagonists and shows in the clearest way I've managed where I'd like to go with my fiction. 
  • Electric Spec also gave me the chance to reflect on this story and its meaning in a guest blog which I am sharing below. Without being spoilery, this blog expresses some of what resonates about "The Yuru-chara of Hector, NY," with me. Guest Blog at Electric Spec
At the moment, I think the plan is for my story to appear with four other (no doubt amazing) stories on November 30th. If that changes, I will let you know as soon as possible.


As always, thank you for reading my stories and supporting my work. None of this would be possible with out your help.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arrival

Every moment is an arrival; its passing a departure.

I wonder how this movie will be viewed in years to come. Prescient or the last gasp of a dying order? The movie, Arrival, released this weekend to overwhelming positive reviews paints a simple but nuanced perspective of the universe. Do we still live in a universe capable of nuance?

Based on a beautiful short story by Ted Chiang, (The Story of Your Life), Arrival is essentially a first-contact story. And parts of it reminded me of "Contact," although I like this movie considerably more. This is a cerebral movie, unafraid to let powerful images and solid acting deliver its message rather than spectacle (although there is certainly a little of that, too). It's also an excellent movie, probably my favorite depiction of First Contact in movies, owing the simple fact that the movie is unafraid to depict truly alien aliens and their profound impact on truly human humans.

Adams plays Louise Banks, a linguist brought into the landing site of a enigmatic alien craft with the hope of initiating communication. The military has set up a rough base camp around the alien ship (one of twelve set down at more or less completely random sites around the world) and is attempting to remain calm in the face of a clearly far more advanced species. The basic question is what the aliens within the crafts want of humanity. What is their purpose in visiting Earth? It says a lot about this movie that one of the most compelling and mind-expanding scenes involves Banks explaining the difficulties of simply asking that question and understanding the answer.

To say much more will pull away at the threads of mystery of the story so this might be good point to pause, slap a SPOILER AHEAD on this post and address the most important question for me, about this movie.

What relation does "Arrival," have with the short story it's based on? When I first saw trailers for the movie, I noted the cast and the clear attention to details and became interested. When I saw it was based on Chiang's story (which at that point I hadn't read) I put it on the 'must-watch' list. Then I read "The Story of Your Life" and became a little discouraged. The trailers for the movie focus on the military nature of the first contact and while I didn't see anything that felt like a complete betrayal of Chiang's meditative and rather chilly original, I couldn't see how they would make a Hollywood sci fi movie from the source material without some considerable distortion. The answer is that they didn't change all that much. The basic point of the story is still there, as is the centrality of the aliens' language. Tone is the biggest difference and, in particular, to make the jump from page to screen, it appears the film-makers (the movie was directed by Denis Villeneuve) gave a much less ambiguous motivation to the Heptapods of the movie and somewhat more dubious implication regarding Louise Banks' decisions.

Chiang's Heptapods arrive on Earth to 'witness' humanity. They engage in conversation with humans, gradually teaching them their language, and unique perspective, then leaving before Earth Humanity can learn much from them. The meaning of their visit is beautifully, hauntingly obscure even as the impact of the experience ripples through Banks' subsequent life.

In "Arrival," the Heptapods come to Earth on what amounts to a recruiting drive. By teaching their language, which imparts upon those fluent in its use the ability to see the future, the aliens hope to gain humanity's help in a distant future. As I've said in many prior movie reviews, I generally have zero difficulty accepting a cinematic adaptation as being different from its text. That's basically the case here. Although "Arrival" offers the viewers a far more comprehensible alien than the story, it's not so greatly altered as to ruin my enjoyment. I think of it as collapsing the wave function of Chiang's story into one possible implication out of many.

I'm more interested in the very subtle but important difference between how the encounter with the Heptapods influences Dr. Banks. The twist is that the tragedy the audience assumed happened prior to the events of the arrival, the death of her daughter, actually happened afterwards. This happens after she had already gained an awareness of future events through her language. In the story, her knowledge of her daughter's story and her eventual death, is balanced by the great joy she knows her daughter's life will bring her.

In the movie, this decision is somehow messier and more ambiguous. Banks gains the ability to see and manipulate her own sequential experience through foreknowledge of the future. So if she is able to make alterations she could clearly choose not to have her daughter on that particular night. Chiang's story suggests that decision is not fully within her power, or that her perception of free will is an abridged version of how reality works. Because this is a movie and great geo-political crises are afoot, cinematic Banks does have that agency. She uses her freewill to bring the challenge posed by the Heptapods to a happy conclusion. War is averted, the world grows in its understanding of the universe. Banks marries Ian Donnelly, the physicist she had grown close to during the course of the movie and, late one evening, he asks her if she wants to make a baby.

She says, "yes," knowing all that is to come, all the joy and the misery, and her own ability to change that event. If perhaps they had answered that question on a different night, things might have been different or maybe they would have been the same. But the implication is muddier here.

I'm not sure if this is meant as a criticism. I like well handled ambiguity and this is certainly well-handled. But in a movie that in most respects attempts to simplify, this is one area where I think it complicates.

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In other news, my next chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman," is now available. Even as Spaceman's situation at the Delta Omega base becomes more precarious, he remains calm in the face of disaster. The nicotine helps.




Friday, November 11, 2016

You Want It Darker

That Leonard Cohen passed away yesterday is a terrible shame. He was a singular talent and a true artist. I also can't think of a single voice more appropriate for the times we've entered. Still, it would be worth your time to give his last album (released only a couple of weeks ago) a listen. Bleak, soulful stuff.

At the moment I'm still of the mind there is no hope beyond hope itself. In my last post I suggested resisting everything. That's, more or less, where I still am. I think we need time to think of an appropriate and humane and elegant approach to the challenge of Trump's America. I think we need to grapple with this loss and investigate its causes and repercussions. The last thing I think we should be doing is simply fold up and let Trump, Ryan, Gingrich, and the rest of the deplorables have their way with this country.

So, do what you can.

If your way of refusing is signing a petition, do it. It can't hurt.

If your way of helping is joining on the conversation about remaking the Democratic Party or the Greens or any other force for Progress, I think you should. Argue passionately and don't accept convenient excuses or pleas for calm.

If you are an activist, go active. Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of tyrants like millions of people in the streets.

If you want to help people, find ways of supporting those most at risk to the new administration: women, people of  color, friends in the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, muslims, or simply people that have managed to attract Trump's ire.

If you are a politician that survived the Great Purge, resist, filler buster, reject, and refuse to budge. Be prepared for loss after loss. The Republicans in 2009 were more than happy to obstruct in the face of the gravest economic collapse since the Great Depression despite set back after set back. The least we can do is return the favor.

As for me, I'm going to continue doing what I do. I teach and I write. I'm not going to suddenly start teaching what a mistake this country made. I am going to help as many students I can be successful. The more young people there are empowered to dream, the better this country will be.

I am not going to suddenly become political in my writing, either. Writing, for me, is about expanding the range of human experiences available to an individual. I think there is an inherently progressive dimension to speculative art, but it is not my role as a writer to tell you what to think.

I might suggest though a few things to consider. It's up to you to decide if they're worth your time. I'll write them regardless.

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With that in mind, I do have a new chapter of "Agent Shield and Spaceman," available for reading. Thank you for your continued support.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How About Some Honesty

I've seen a lot of different reactions to the election so far, everything from the mass protests in major cities, suggestions for ensuring privacy for activists hoping to fight against Trump, apathy, anger at the DNC, anger at people who voted for third parties, and words offered of sincere encouragement and empathy.

To be honest all of this leave me feeling more angry than not.

I don't know anything about what's going on. I don't understand my country anymore or really the people who live in it. I thought I did, which is why I voted for Hillary. I thought she was just the sort of president we needed. We all lost something when Trump won; I've lost my faith in people who claim to know what's going to happen. Including myself.

Yeah, I probably should have come to this realization a lot sooner. After all, I am the most armchair of all armchair campaign managers. I don't go to rallies. I barely donate to causes. I don't really believe in causes to begin with. I am really nothing more than a reliable vote for Democrats and other progressives, assuming they want my vote.

Like the Onion article lampooned, I am that liberal white guy who enjoyed a pleasant dream for eight years that things were going to continue to get better, that eventually Republicans were going to drift back into line, and that everyone would see how much better things were getting.

I think part of moving on for Democrats has got to be trying to see the country for what it is. Things are not going well for most of the people who live here. People are putting on brave faces or drawing upon dwindling reserves of patience and goodwill or have simply lost hope. People don't vote for someone they don't like and don't think will do a good job because they have too many options. For a significant (and electorally sufficient) number of people, Trump was a walking, talking middle finger raised at what they hated.

So, I'm not going to smile and say things can change quickly. Yeah, maybe we can pick ourselves up and win the House in '18. Maybe we cobble together enough votes in 2020. But that doesn't even begin to address the real problem. Look at a county-by-county map of this country's voting patterns.


Sure, a map like this can be deceptive because it ignores the fact that each one of those islands of blue represents an urban concentration of considerable population. But that's the point. We have allowed ourselves to become walled off enclaves, unable to speak with the vast swaths of this country, pouring vast numbers of votes into the same deep blue districts. Let's be honest with ourselves. We are in a bad spot, with very few options, backed into a small corner. A lot of people were very, very wrong about this election and now we're all going to pay the price for a generation. Maybe taking a page from the other side in this situation wouldn't be a bad idea.

Don't just say no. Say hell no. To everything. To every proposal, every law, every initiative. Say no to every overture of compromise and each note of conciliation. What's the worst that could happen? We lose the House, Senate, Presidency and Supreme Court?

That already happened.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Afterwards

Yesterday afternoon, coming back home from walking Finn, I paused in front of my house. Maybe you remember the sky yesterday, how clear it was, like a big blue pane of glass leaning against the edge of the world. The sun was low, shining on some parts of the world, casting others into deep pools of shadow. My house was dark, but its corona of oaks and box elders glowed in trembling coppers, bronzes, and golds.

I remember thinking to myself I should treasure that moment. No one knew how things would turn out. I might think back on that instant as precious. A moment when I didn't know Trump was going to be president.

I've gone through a lot of emotions today. No matter who you voted for, I think the same is probably true for you. Most people in this country don't particularly like Trump or think he should be president or in fact voted for him.

I'll let that sink in for a moment.

And yet, here we are. Told to respect a man who spent nearly two years tearing down this country and its citizens and its traditions. Backed all the way by cowardly politicians and media types too greedy for the spectacle to realize who they were letting into the Oval Office.

Now he's there.

I don't have much comfort to offer nor am I looking for much in return. The country has gone seriously off track, has been off-track for a long time. We are nowhere near the bottom. At all.

I will see if I can revisit this topic tomorrow when thinking is a bit easier.

I wish you all possible luck.