31 July 2012

Two Lists

At other places around the internet, there is listing going on. I can't resist a good list. Though neither of these two listing events is one I was invited to join, both made me think, "What would I put on such a list?" (Lists are fiercely contagious.)

30 July 2012

Kick Unstuck!

I don't generally publicize Kickstarter projects, etc., here, because it would be easy to get overwhelmed, but here's one I've got multiple personal interests in: Unstuck: New Literature of the Fantastic and Surreal.

Unstuck is a new(ish) annual(ish) journal out of Texas. Their first issue included fiction by Aimee Bender, Matthew Derby, Amelia Gray, J. Robert Lennon, Meghan McCarron, Rachel Swirsky, Leslie What, and others who are just too fabulous to name.

Their upcoming (at the end of the year) second issue will include work by Other People You Know, plus me (a very short story about Victrolas and turtles that I read last year at Readercon). The rewards for funding the project are pretty great.

Also, one of the editors is Meghan McCarron, someone whose life I nearly ruined once by hiring her to teach at a boarding school in New Hampshire. She's beginning to forgive me. She'll forgive me more if you fund this project. (But don't use that as an excuse not to send money!)

Meghan's in the video above. She says, "Barbarians who collect heads," in what may be the world's most perfect line reading.

Also, Tyler Stoddard-Smith, who demonstrates how to use Unstuck to combat insects and rodents, is my new favorite superhero.

29 July 2012

Utopia and Guns, Again

My post from last year on "Utopia and the Gun Culture" has gotten some attention in the wake of the horrifying shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Most of what I have to say about guns, I said there. Here, I'll mainly link to a few recent writngs of interest and add a bit of comment at the end.

First, if you're curious to know more about the labyrinthine federal and state laws regarding firearms, the ATF has guides to federal (PDF) and state laws. (For a general overview, there's Wikipedia: federal, state.)

Here's a perfect example of useless utopian thinking: "A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths". Such articles are a waste of time.

For more on the deep issues and why utopian thinking is a waste of time, see Timothy Burke's post "Don't Bring Policy to a Culture Fight".

For a good exploration/demonstration of the difficulties of drawing any useful conclusions from statistics about guns, crime, and violence, see the discussion at Ta-Nehsisi Coates's blog on this post.

For an example of at least an attempt at some conversation without too much stereotyping, name-calling, and knee-jerking, see the comments on this Daily Kos post.

27 July 2012

An Unenforced Policy Is Worse Than None

Note: Updates below.

Here's the Readercon harassment policy in writing:
Readercon has always had a zero-tolerance harassment policy.

Harassment of any kind — including physical assault, battery, deliberate intimidation, stalking, or unwelcome physical attentions — will not be tolerated at Readercon and will result in permanent suspension of membership.

As always, Readercon reserves the right to strip membership at its discretion.
Here's the Readercon harassment policy in practice:
Earlier today I was contacted by a Readercon representative, who let me know that by decision of the Board, my harasser has been suspended from Readercon.

For two years.

I was not given the reasoning behind the decision; the board’s deliberations, I was told, were confidential.

I was assured the board had taken everything into account – my report, my eyewitnesses, others who had come forward with information they declined to detail. They asked me if I felt they had taken my complaint seriously. They hoped to see me at next year’s Readercon.
I love Readercon and have been on the programming committee for the past two years. (I am not on the general con committee, so had no involvement in this decision.) Because I rarely go to other conventions, it's the one time in the year when I get to see a lot of friends from around the country and world.

But I cannot support an organization that doesn't enforce its own policies.

The language is clear, blunt, and unambiguous. The decision is a violation of the stated policy.

Two years is not permanent.

If the convention committee wants to change the harassment policy to give them more leeway, then they should do so and make their decision public so that people who attend the convention know the policies under which they are agreeing to attend. But until then, the committee should enforce the policy that exists — the policy we all agreed to abide by when we decided to attend Readercon.

I'm just learning about this now, and I have respect for the members of the convention committee, so I hope they will address the discrepancy between their policy and practice soon. 

But I promise this: I will not be associated with an organization that so blatantly violates its own policies. Until the decision is either better explained or, preferably, changed, I will not be associated with Readercon.

Update: The head of my committee, Rose Fox, responds to the decision: "This is not the outcome I wanted, and it makes me very unhappy." Rose is one of the major reasons I got involved behind the scenes at Readercon, and I respect her tremendously.

And as Rose says: Feedback on the board's decision should go to info@readercon.org.

Update 2: The Readercon Board of Directors has issued a statement about their decision. I wrote my post pretty soon after reading Genevieve's, and my language was a bit wishy-washy in some spots because I was so surprised and shocked. I thought there must be something I'm missing, some miscommunication somewhere, something that would make this make sense. But that's not the case.

I've officially resigned as a member of the programming committee. This is heartbreaking for me, but it also feels obviously necessary. I support the people who are continuing to work with Readercon despite their disagreements with the Board. We need people to do so. We need people to help the convention get better, because it's been making all sorts of great strides until now. But I just can't do it.

Our trust was betrayed by the Board of Directors. Before the convention, at least one email went out reminding attendees of the con's various policies. They're on the website and in the program guide. We agreed to attend Readercon 23 with those policies known and in place. Our expectation was that the policies would be enforced. They were not.

There is a time and place for helping people who have made mistakes learn from those mistakes, atone for them, and grow from them. I've said and done plenty of things I have heaps of regret for, and I'm grateful to friends and acquaintances who have helped me learn from them — and will, I hope, continue to do so, since I'm not done living and thus not done making mistakes. I want to live in a world that's more about rehabilitation than punishment. But rehabilitation is not the responsibility of an event or its committees. If you hold an event, your job is to make sure the people who attend are as safe as you can reasonably ensure. Your job is to put policies in place and to enforce them. That's your responsibility. Readercon has failed in that responsibility.

And so I have resigned, and will remain so regardless of how this plays out further (and I expect we have not heard the last of this). Perhaps I will attend next year, perhaps not; I'm never exactly sure what's going on in my life that far in the future, anyway. If progress is made (and my schedule permits), I will attend, because I support the convention overall, and I want it to continue to get better. The Board's statement is not evidence of this so far. But I hold out hope for improvement.

Update 3: The Readercon board resigned and Readercon has instituted new policies. An excellent response to the situation. My thoughts are in a new post.

Show and Tell

From an excellent collection of writing advice offered by the great Colson Whitehead:
Most people say, “Show, don’t tell,” but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do. “And what do you have for us today, Marcy?” “A penetrating psychological study of a young med student who receives disturbing news from a former lover.” “How marvelous! Timmy, what are you holding there?” “It’s a Calvinoesque romp through an unnamed metropolis much like New York, narrated by an armadillo.” “Such imagination!” Show and Tell, followed by a good nap.

22 July 2012

Free Leiber

The Library of America has just posted a Fritz Leiber story, "Try and Change the Past", online. If you've never read any Leiber, now's as good a time as any to start.

The Man Who Had No Idea: Getting Into SF

I saw an article at World Literature Today's website called "Fun with Your New Head: Getting into SF", and thought, "Hey, this'll be great — they probably have a good list of science fiction from around the world and resources for people to find out more about world SF. I love it when that happens!"

Sadly, no.

Writer Michael A. Morrison instead says reading William Gibson's first two novels is hard, so here are a bunch of critical studies of SF that you should read. This is perverse.

And it is not helpful. Do not listen to this article, or at least any of it before the final paragraph where The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction is mentioned. That's a perfectly good introduction, though weak on work from the last 10 years.

What a failure for a magazine called World Literature Today! SF is not just stuff published 30 years ago and then written about by academics. Really, it's not. I promise. And I say that as somebody who writes about SF, sometimes academically.

Go read The World SF Blog. Go read the Words Without Borders issue on The Fantastic. Read The Apex Book of World SF. Read The Weird Fiction Review and The Weird. Read the venerable print magazines (F&SF! Asimov's!) and the online magazines (Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld and Tor.com and Subterranean and Lightspeed, oh my!) Sure, read nonfiction, but don't start there for gawd's sake! (If you want a mix of fiction and nonfiction, Visions of Wonder is a good start, if a bit dated at this point.)

SF is a world literature, and it's written and read today. Too bad World Literature Today couldn't find somebody who knew that.

21 July 2012

Readercon 23

Last week's Readercon was among the best of the many I have attended, for me at least. Inevitably, there wasn't enough time for anything — time to see friends, time to go to all the various panels I had hoped to go to, time to mine the book dealers' wares... Nonetheless, it was a tremendous pleasure to see so many friends and acquaintances again, as well as to be immersed in such a vibrant community of people who love to talk about books.

I've been on the Programming Committee for Readercon for the past two years now, which changes my experience a little bit, because I find myself paying closer attention than I did before to how the panels end up working in reality (after we on the committee have puzzled over their possibilities for a few months) and to how people on the panels and in the audiences respond to them. (Note: We're actively trying to expand the invitation list to Readercon. If you have any names to suggest [including yourself], please see here for more info.)

I don't love being on panels myself, because I don't really have any confidence in my ability to say anything beyond the banal in an extemporaneous situation, but I was on a couple this time, and though I don't think my contributions were anything memorable, there were some good moments. (More thoughts on panels and the current discussion of gender parity on panels at cons below.)

11 July 2012

Nonfiction and Science Fiction

There's a fun Mind Meld feature at SF Signal on "Non-Fiction Books About Science Fiction That Should Be In Every Fan’s Library", with responses from an eclectic group of writers, scholars, reviewers, etc. Well worth a glance. My own prejudices and inclinations align enough with many of the respondents that their lists include a lot of books I've spent a lot of time with, as well as others I'm unfamiliar with, which is always fun. One of the good things the Mind Meld editors do a lot is create agonizingly broad questions that can elicit hugely varied responses depending on how people interpret them; that's part of the fun of the feature. In this case, Gary Wolfe nails it: "I think this question depends on what you mean by 'fan.' Not all fans set out to be students of SF; some just want to enjoy the stuff and have no more interest in finding out about it than in finding out where their sausage comes from. Still fewer aspire to be scholars of the field in the academic sense..."

Things I likely would have added had I participated would have been Damien Broderick's Reading By Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction, which gives a good overview of a lot of the critical issues that have come up over the last couple decades in SF scholarship, and Samuel Delany's Starboard Wine.

Starboard Wine has been out of print pretty much since five minutes after its publication in 1984. Copies are nearly as rare as moon rocks. But no longer! Wesleyan University Press releases a new edition of the book this month, with an introduction I wrote. It should be available any day now, and the ebook edition is already available from Amazon and Google. (Currently, both editions are listed as by "Samuel R. R. Delany". Apparently, George R. R. Martin has decided he has enough R's, so he's loaning his out now...)

A number of people mention The Jewel-Hinged Jaw in the Mind Meld, and that's all well and good (it's been a hugely influential book for me, too), but only Cheryl Morgan brings up any Delany book that's less than 30 years old — she mentions About Writing, an excellent choice, indeed. But it's symptomatic of, frankly, so much that is shallow about SF criticism that everybody keeps going back to JHJ, and especially "About 5,750 Words", which he wrote when he was 26. Delany's ideas have become, since he was 26, more complex, more subtle, more nuanced, more informed. I love JHJ and everybody on Earth should should buy a copy right now — but they should also at least get About Writing and Shorter Views (which gives a wider exposure to his ideas about texts and the world).

And now, finally, we can add Starboard Wine to the list, because it's his most developed and accessible book focused on science fiction. The difficulty of finding a copy of the first edition made ignoring the book understandable; now, there is no excuse. Carl Freedman gave it an appropriate blurb:
After all the years since it was first published, Starboard Wine remains one of the three or four most important critical statements ever made about science fiction. No one with a serious interest in the field should be ignorant of it.
One thing that the Mind Meld made me think of was a variation on the actual topic. Even though it's against my own best interests to say so, I don't think the world is in any great peril from SF fans not reading enough about SF. The question that bubbled up into the swamp of my mind was:  

Which non-fiction books NOT about science fiction should be in every fan’s library?

09 July 2012

Guest Post — Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan

One day I happened to overhear a student talking about Star Wars novels, and I told him that Del Rey Books has sent me some over the years, and that usually I donate them to libraries, since I rarely read series fiction or media tie-in novels (rarely, but not never; heck, I used Jeff VanderMeer's Predator novel in a class once). I asked him if he'd like the ones that were currently sitting in a pile somewhere in my house, and he said sure. I had recently done a big library donation, so didn't have much more than a few advanced copies, but I brought them in anyway. When I gave them to him, at first I thought he was disappointed that they were ARCs without finished artwork, but it turned out his silence and immobility were the behaviors of a die-hard fan in bliss, as I had given him a novel that was hugely anticipated and not due to be released for at least another month.

It was then that I hit upon an idea: Here was a thoughtful, articulate, well-read student who was also a knowledgeable Star Wars fan, and I wondered if he would be willing to write a post or two for this blog in which he explored not just the specific books I gave him, but the attraction of the Star Wars universe for him and other fans, since the audience for this blog, as far as I know, is not mostly composed of readers as committed to the Star Wars universe as he. I love learning how people value books and movies and art of all sorts, and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn about the attractions of Star Wars fandom.

And so I give you Michael DiTommaso with a post on Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan and the life and purpose of a Star Wars fan. He writes the "Ask a Star Wars Geek" column at T.X. Watson's Blog-Shaped Thing, and has recently joined the staff of Beyond the New Jedi Order

I hear that Michael is working on a comprehensive post about multiple Star Wars books and their attractions, and if we are kind and encouraging, perhaps he will allow me to post it here once he's finished...

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan
reviewed by Michael DiTommaso

I am not Matt Cheney, just to get that out of the way. I am instead the self-proclaimed biggest Star Wars fan in New England — a contention that's yet to be successfully challenged. How could I possibly claim such an audacious title, you may ask youself. Well, I've read about 133 Star Wars adult novels, and about 15 more young adult novels, as well as a couple of the comics. I've played several of the games, and read a maybe a dozen more short stories, all of these licensed parts of the Star Wars franchise. Of couse I have seen the movies themselves, many times.

It's kind of my hobby. The fact that it is Star Wars and not something else derives from three factors: firstly, as a kid, I watched the original trilogy of movies, and got excited about the prequels coming out (by that time I had already begun reading the X-Wing series, one of my favorites to date). Secondly, Star Wars was accessable (my godfather owned over 90 books, which he eventually gave me, though by that time, my love of Star Wars had already been sealed, and I owned my own collection of books). The third and biggest factor, though, is I didn't want to stop reading, and for that, Star Wars was (and is) perfect.

08 July 2012

Re: Your Stephen King Problem

Dear Dwight Allen:

Thank you for letting me know about your Stephen King problem (henceforth, SKP). Many people let these problems go, thinking they're not particularly important or, ultimately, relevant to anyone other than themselves, but  the science shows that letting these problems linger encourages them to fester, and once they fester they can then lead to all sorts of complications and an endless array of other problems (most commonly, J.K. Rowling problems and J.R.R. Tolkien problems, which themselves can lead to entire textbooks of other problems.) Such suffering becomes an infinite sprawl of frustration, guilt, pain, and, often, anti-social behavior and anal warts.

To assess your treatment needs, let's analyze some of your history and symptoms.

05 July 2012

False Teeth and the Foreign Office

Terry Eagleton, from a review of the 50th anniversary edition of Erich Auerbach's Mimesis:
To describe something as realist is to acknowledge that it is not the real thing. We call false teeth realistic, but not the Foreign Office. If a representation were to be wholly at one with what it depicts, it would cease to be a representation. A poet who managed to make his or her words ‘become’ the fruit they describe would be a greengrocer. No representation, one might say, without separation. Words are certainly as real as pineapples, but this is precisely the reason they cannot be pineapples. The most they can do is create what Henry James called the ‘air of reality’ of pineapples. In this sense, all realist art is a kind of con trick – a fact that is most obvious when the artist includes details that are redundant to the narrative (the precise tint and curve of a moustache, let us say) simply to signal: ‘This is realism.’ In such art, no waistcoat is colourless, no way of walking is without its idiosyncrasy, no visage without its memorable features. Realism is calculated contingency.
The idea itself is as old as the hills (how old are the hills? and which hills, exactly?), but Eagleton expresses it concisely, and his examples made me chuckle.

04 July 2012

A Train Between Worlds: The Darjeeling Limited

I wrote up a draft of what was going to be a blog post about Wes Anderson's 2007 movie The Darjeeling Limited, but then decided it might be fun to turn it into a video essay instead. And so "A Train Between Worlds: The Darjeeling Limited" was born. Because the narration was originally going to be a blog post, the video is a bit text-heavy — it clearly didn't need to be a video per se, but I think it's more enjoyable in that form, especially because I could include various songs from the film's soundtrack (many of which were taken from other movies' soundtracks). For reference, the entire narration is available on the video's Vimeo page, and I'll paste it below the cut here.

The Darjeeling Limited has been one of Anderson's least popular and least critically lauded movies, but up until this year's Moonrise Kingdom, I thought it was his most accomplished and satisfying. I like all his movies a lot, but my taste is weird — where most people seem to find Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox the most satisfying, I'd rank Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou higher, much as I enjoy the others. Later this summer, I'll probably try to create a companion video about The Life Aquatic to explore some of its intricacies.

Meanwhile, a new online film journal has just appeared, Screen Machine, and the first issue includes an excellent essay by Huw Walmsley-Evans that looks at Wes Anderson and the question of realism.

And if you haven't yet seen Moonrise Kingdom, seek it out. Even people whose taste isn't as questionable as mine seem to like it.

02 July 2012

"Bombay's Republic" Wins the Caine Prize

According to the Caine Prize on Twitter, the winner of this year's award is Rotimi Babatunde for "Bombay's Republic".

You can read the story as a PDF via the Prize website. It was the first of this year's nominees that I wrote about as part of the Caine Prize Blogathon, and my post also has links to other bloggers' (quite varied) takes on the story. It was certainly among the top of the stories for me, though I'm glad I didn't have to make the choice, as this year's group of nominees was generally impressive overall. Congratulations to everyone involved!