- Boskone — Boston February 17th-19th
- Helsinki Worldcon Agust 9th - 13th
- Bubonicon August 25th-27th, Albuquerque, NM
Or to put it another way — Women-are-just-so-alluring-that-men-can’t-control-themselves-so-the-women-have-to-be-denied-opportunites-so-men-don’t-lose-control. Which is insulting as hell to men and puts women in a symbolic burqa.
Why am I writing this? Because I just read an article about how Mike Pence will not dine alone with a woman. Nor go to an event where there will be alcohol unless his wife is along. Seems quaint, right? It’s also deeply pernicious in terms of a woman’s ability to advance in her career. Here’s why. If your male boss takes that stance you as a woman can’t be mentored by him. You can’t travel with him to meetings, conferences, etc. If you are an executive it’s tough to make that big sale or merger if you can’t meet alone with a potential client because sometimes you need to have that one-0n-one conversation.
I have a young woman friend whose boss is a powerful Hollywood producer. He made her his personal assistant and she was at his side for every meeting, at the Cannes and Toronto Film festivals, sat with him as he pondered which projects to green light. In other words she learned the business from the ground up from a man at the top of his game. She she holds a senior position in the industry. In Mike Pence world she would never have had that opportunity.
The boys club is pernicious in other ways. In Hollywood a lot of business is conducted on the golf course. A friend suggested I take up golf, and how I could “play with the wives.” I pointed out to him that playing with the wives does fuck all for me. I need to be playing with the men, but of course I’d never be asked to join a round of golf with the boys.
Another venue for networking was a weekly poker game frequented by studio and network execs, writer/producers, writer/directors. No women. Once again the levers of power are out of reach.
When it comes to business we’ve got to stop seeing color and we’ve got to stop seeing gender. We’ve got to start seeing humans.
No, this is not a post about my abortion. Literarily not literally. Anyway —
Let me tell you how THE IMPERIALS SAGA came to pass. Years and years and years ago I was on a panel about the third Star Wars movie The Return of the Jedi. Among its many failings was the fact that I could not accept that the imperial senate would ever approve the vast sums of money necessary to build a new Death Star after the Emperor and Vader had let a farm boy blow up the first one. I mean, I know he’s a terrible dictator but damn a government budget does have some limits. And suddenly I had a character, a fussy older man, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a galaxy spanning empire. A man who decides to join the rebel cause while still holding power because he’s got a taste for forbidden alien girls and he falls for an exotic dancer. There was another main character, a resentful young man who had been taken from his home when the League came in and conquered his Hidden World. He had been fostered with a noble family. He’s playing at revolution and learns that it has very real consequences.
I wrote about 70,000 words on this novel. I read sections of it a conventions. That’s where George heard me read, and fell in love with the universe I had created. George suggested we develop Imperials as a shared world like what we had done with Wild Cards. I invited in some friends, George and I hammered out the details. We would follow these seven characters through their lives as they loved and fought one another. We envisioned six books.
At this point I had realized that the novel just wasn’t working so I put it aside and embraced the shared world approach. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we didn’t succeed in selling the project, and I put all of it in a drawer. I had created my character for the shared world, the son of a lowly tailor, resentful of the upper class, but brilliant enough to win a scholarship to the League’s military academy. A young man who falls in love with the heir to the throne. Those of you who have read THE HIGH GROUND, the first book in my series will see the direct line from shared world to novel. Tracy was also based loosely on a character I had played in Walter Jon Williams Privateers and Gentlemen campaign, a paper and dice role playing game. (Don’t let anybody tell you gaming is a waste of time.)
Years passed and George and Gardner Dozois invited me to write stories for two anthologies, SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH, and DANGEROUS WOMEN. I found myself mining the old, almost forgotten manuscript for ideas, and ended up writing a story about Tracy and Mercedes and one about Tracy and a ranting drunk who tells Tracy of a vast alien conspiracy. All of which made me remember how much I liked the universe I had created.
So I threw out the entire premise of that abandoned novel, came up with a new first book, but kept the idea of following Tracy and Mercedes through their lives, wrote some seventy pages of the book, a detailed outline of the world, the characters and the five books it would take to tell the story and sent if off to my agent. Who sold all five books to my publisher Titan Books.
The point of this story is that sometimes you have to accept that a project just isn’t working and throw it in a trunk and forget about it. That doesn’t mean everything about the project was a waste. Pieces of it can be resurrected, but you have to have the ability to acknowledge when something isn’t working and stop wasting time messing with it.
If something is taking more than a year to write I’d take a hard look at that project and decide if it’s time to move on to something else.
“A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” Basil Caesarea.
Why am I quoting a Saint? (I was going to use Galatians 6: 7-9 but that particular quote seemed more ominous than encouraging so I went with Basil.) But back to the question — why a quote about good deeds? Because they really do come back and reward you and I have a living, breathing example. Tuesday afternoon I attended George’s announcement of his latest undertaking that only came to be because of all the good George has done for our city and the state. But first a little backstory.
There was a brilliant, philanthropic resident of Santa Fe named David Weininger. Weininger was a scientist, entrepreneur, inventor. He was a science fiction fan, and in fact he bought the Santa Fe home formerly owned by Roger Zelazny. He was a musician and a test pilot, a star gazer. Mr. Weininger had watched George’s efforts on behalf of Santa Fe — Meow Wolf, Cocteau Theater, screenwriting prizes, etc., and when he learned he was dying he gifted to George the office building that had housed Weininger’s company, Daylight Chemical Information Systems. All Weininger asked was that George “do something good with it.”
And George has done just that. On Tuesday with Santa Fe’s charismatic mayor Javier Gonzales and people from the various film festivals, managers of studios, rag tag writers hanging around 😉 , etc. gathered George announced the formation of The Stagecoach Foundation. The building will be used to house film and television productions at a very nominal fee to encourage those productions to come to Santa Fe in particular and New Mexico in general. The first production to utilize the offices will be the Coen Brothers for a new film they will be filming in the area.
In addition to providing office space for production staffs the foundation will provide help to the young people of Santa Fe who might want to pursue a career in film. It’s going to be a resource that will bring investment to the area and provide young people with an opportunity to work here rather than scattering to Los Angeles or New York.
Here is the logo for the new foundation created by the very talented Raya Golden.
I hate to even link to this Tweet. The man is vile on every level, but you have to see the genesis of what came out of Trump’s mouth today. So a few days ago David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and all around racist, anti-Semite, neo-Nazi tweeted the following.
President Trump, do you think it might be the Jews themselves making these calls to get sympathy to push their ethnic agenda?
I ended up seeing ARRIVAL and ROGUE ONE relatively close together. I liked both movies a lot, and have been mulling over the similarities and differences for the past month or more. I think I’m ready to take a stab at talking about them.
***********************************USUAL WARNING SPOILERS!!!!*******************
In many ways they have the same theme — courage and sacrifice are sometimes worth the pain. In one film the sacrifice is personal. In the other epic, but at their core that’s what they are both exploring.
There are also huge differences. Rogue One has giant action sequences, explosions, ships colliding, cities destroyed. In Arrival there is one action sequence which lasts all of two minutes if that. The tension is generated by the ticking clock, the sense of days, weeks passing, the stakes growing ever higher, but quietly which makes them seem all the more significant. Sometimes a whisper can be as powerful as a shout.
Both films have at their heart a woman. Both embrace loves that cannot last. Both act out of love of family — one for a father, the other for a child. Both embrace hope despite knowing that ultimately everything ends in death.
I’ve heard some quibbles that the explosion aboard the alien ship in Arrival came out of nowhere and felt like a studio note. I don’t agree. I thought it was set up well, but this was a movie that required enormous focus and concentration. Three times they go to the officer who ultimately sets the bomb aboard the ship. He talks with his wife. He watches an Alex Jones/Infowars type figure, he talks with his fellow soldiers. Ultimately he acts out of fear and with the only tools he has — violence and killing.
What can I find to critique in Arrival? Not much. Perhaps Jeremy Renner. I didn’t totally buy him as the brash, brilliant physicist. I thought Amy Adams was damn near perfect. It’s a brave actress who allows herself to be shown as older, rumpled, dressed in cargo pants and a tee shirt. Not since Ripley in Aliens have I seen it handled so well.
I have more quibbles with Rogue One — I wanted a bit more of Jen’s life before she was a criminal in a work gang. I thought they wasted Forest Whitaker. All of the companions were appealing though Baze Malbus got short changed. His gun seemed to get more attention then him. It also might have been interesting to have one of those characters be an alien rather then all humans.
I thought the references to the Force felt out of place and didn’t mesh with the first film where everyone viewed the Jedi as quaint figures and the Force as something silly.
I was fascinated with Vader’s choice of a home base. The world where he was maimed and lost the love of his life? He decides to build a palace and live there? Really? Wow that guy has some real psychological issues. And it was also an incongruous moment given the fact Vader seemed to be a lackey of Tarkin in A New Hope. Now he has a palace and a majordomo?
I thought the use of the Death Star twice undercut the point of the first film where it kills a planet. I also didn’t believe the Empire would blow up its base where they stored all their data. I was ultimately willing to buy the shield that could cover a planet, but I did have to swallow hard a couple of times.
The recreation of Peter Cushing was uncanny. My first viewing of the film was just a few days after we had lost Carrie Fisher so it was a very bittersweet moment to see our princess at the end.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more of villain in this film. He was interesting and more complex then most. I also would have wished for more from Mads Mikkelsen. He’s a wonderful actor.
There were also some very uncomfortable resonances to real life. The images of the stormtroopers moving through the crooked streets of the city with a tank grinding along in the midst of them, the exotic dress, the stone buildings brought to mind other images of occupying troops. One couldn’t help thinking about American troops patrolling ancient cities in the Middle East. And we were being asked to cheer and root for terrorists.
Which is the point where the two films diverge. One explicitly embraces violence as a tool for change. The other eschews violence, begs for patience, for communication, for understanding. Near the beginning of Rogue One Cassian kills an informant, a man who has been helping the resistance because he fears he’s become a liability. I still found Cassian yummy; he broods so well.
The aliens in Arrival tell us they are bringing us a weapon, and it turns out to be the gift of language. A new way to see the universe and ourselves in that vastness, and a new way to communicate. The impending war is averted with a message from a dying wife to her beloved husband.
What both of our heroines accept is loss and death. Jen knows that she and her companions are on a suicide mission. She eschews love and life for the greater good, and perhaps there is a sense of expiation of her and Cassian’s sins.
Amy knows that her daughter will die. That the man she loves will not accept that inevitable death and will leave her. Embracing love and motherhood is going to hurt, but she accepts the pain and the sacrifice so that she can truly live.
All in all a very good year for science fiction movies. I hope Arrival wins Best Picture though I know it won’t so may it win the Hugo and the Nebula. In a year without Arrival I would be cheering for Rogue One, but ultimately Arrival is the deeper more compassionate film.
Last night the campus of Berkley was roiled with protests that turned violent, led to objects being thrown, fires being set, and ultimately the cancellation of a speech by noted alt-right gadfly and baby Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos. This is not a productive way to resist, people. Let us not fall into the trap of the anti-war protestors during Vietnam who turned a complacent middle class against them, led their, perhaps, persuadable parents to vote for and support Richard Nixon in a backlash against the violence. I wrote a story for an upcoming Wild Cards book dealing with the chaos at the Democratic convention in 1968. I did a lot of research and what became horribly clear was that the violent clashes between police and protestors help put Nixon in the White House.
Now before everybody starts yelling at me — I’m not saying don’t protest. By all means protest, but protest smart. Follow the example set by the gigantic marches the day after the inauguration — not a single arrest while millions took to the streets around the world. (I was at the giant Women’s March in L.A. It was a joyous, uplifting and empowering experience.) Be pro-active. Schedule a speaker opposite Yiannopoulos who will counter the loathsome bile being spewed by Yiannopoulos and his ilk. Since the illegitimate president has made crowds such an issue see who draws the bigger one and make sure the press covers it. Make that the story. By causing chaos we take attention away from a dark and divisive message that will shock most decent people. Instead of isolating Yiannopoulos and revealing to the world what he and the alt-right stand for the protests have become the story and the white supremacist gets to play the victim.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are bedrock foundations for this country, and while, as a nation, we sometimes stumble and take a few steps back we have so far managed to move forward because we allow for vigorous debate and the hateful, violent, evil ideas lose when measured against truth and justice and American ideals.
Let them talk. Let them reveal their crabbed and shriveled souls. If they call out an individual by name then be prepared to help that person with the cost of hiring a lawyer and going after them. That’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center brought down a number of branches of the Ku Klux Klan. Not by throwing things and setting fires, but by taking them into court and destroying them with the rule of law.
Justice Holmes in his brilliant dissent in Abrams v.United States wrote: “The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
This standard was based on the writings of English poet John Milton “And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
A friend of mine just posted a long and very moving post about his father who managed to get to America out of the ashes of the Holocaust. It got me thinking about these white nationalists and the angry Trump voters who want America for the Americans and would shout out the Nazi tainted slogan “America First”. You want to measure who gets to be here. How about this?
So Tor has a special on a Wild Cards book bundle. If you’re interested to jump in here’s a way to start. Wild Cards Book Bundle. There is a new Youtube interview up where a number of us talk about Wild Cards. Wild Cards Interviews. And finally here is the cover for Tor’s reissue of ACE IN THE HOLE. The amazing and really creepy cover is by the very talented Michael Komarck.
We have a Wild Cards Website, and every so often various writers who play in our shared sandbox write blog posts. Stephen Leigh who has been with us since the beginning of the series has done a blog post about one of our most iconic villain — Senator Gregg Hartmann. It certainly feels relevant at this particular moment. You can read it here:
I’m re-reading Tolkien’s brilliant Lord of the Rings trilogy for, I think, the eighth time. I first read the books when I was a kid visiting Los Angeles with my father. My dad had business meetings and in an effort to keep me amused, Rodney Pantages’s wife, Lois, took me off to a bookstore and said, “Pick any book you want.” I fixated on those amazing covers and cajoled until Lois agreed to buy me all four books, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. I then vanished into the upstairs bedroom at the house in the Hollywood Hills and devoured all four books over four days. As I recall I emerged for meals and the occasional swim or hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory. When I finished I realized I had just gobbled these books so I started all over again, this time taking my time. When I was a child I had been obsessed with Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom and wanted to go there. Now on the cusp of being a teenager I wanted to go to Middle Earth and ride with the Rohirrim.
I’ve written on this blog how I didn’t fully appreciate the books until I was a great deal older. I thought all that Scouring of the Shire was really boring. What did it matter after Aragorn became king and married Arwen? With age came wisdom and I realized that those final chapters are the entire point of the books.
On this re-read I was struck by the fact that Tolkien is the only writer who ever made a committee meeting interesting. The Council of Elrond is an amazing chapter and it’s just a committee meeting. On this reading I stopped to consider why the scene worked when so often they don’t. Too often writers use a committee meeting to rehash events they’ve already dramatized. It’s almost a mental throat clearing, a way to vamp while you try to figure out what to do next. And often the decision reached at the committee meeting plays out exactly as planned when the writer finally gets around to dramatizing the plans that were agreed upon at the meeting. My advice — pick either the meeting or the caper/battle/campaign. Or if you must do both make sure that whatever plan is concocted it goes completely pear shaped when they try to execute it.
So why did the Council of Elrond work so well? A few reasons. First Tolkien introduces new and major characters in that chapter — Boromir in particular though Legolas is also present. He skates very lightly and very quickly over the events that have proceeded the meeting and instead focuses on giving us new information — tracking Gollum and his subsequent escape, Gandalf’s capture by Saruman, what’s been happening in Gondor, Strider/Aragorn is revealed as the rightful king, we learn how the sword was broken, etc. etc. Finally it’s a major turning point for a main character. Frodo is forced to make a decision he fears and loathes, but he accepts the burden.
Next time I find I have to include a meeting I’m going to try and remember how Tolkien did it and follow suit.
So I’m working on the fourth EDGE book — tentatively titled THE EDGE OF INFINITY. I’m writing on the plane coming home to New Mexico and I suddenly realize that this book is set about fourteen years after the events in THE EDGE OF DAWN.
All three of these books have been very closely tied to the real world, and real world events and I suddenly realized that Donald Trump will be president and that is going to have a profound effect on the state of the world in 2031. Advances in science will no doubt suffer. The rights of minorities may well be in jeopardy. Women’s rights may be curtailed. The fight against climate change will have been delayed and perhaps derailed. Which given Lumina Enterprises stated purpose to increase knowledge and understanding of the universe and the world we inhabit a real headache. It means my paladins have been fighting a rear guard action. That’s going to change a lot of the tone of the book, and perhaps change the emotional content of the final scene. It might be less triumphant and more the act of people striving to find a better way on a planet far, far away.
Or in the words of Peter Diamandis —
“The meek shall inherit the earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.”
Carrie Vaughn, one of our amazing writers has given us a terrific story about the character she created for Fort Freak. This is all about Rikki before she became a cop, and it’s a lovely slice of life about Jokertown. Not everything in a superhero universe has to be about saving New York, or the world, or the universe.
Here’s the link The Thing About Growing Up in Jokertown Enjoy.
Last night I finished reading a terrific short story by my friend Connie Willis. She is a wonderful writer, and also a terrific human being. I’m not generally a reader of short fiction. I love novels where I can wallow and spend a lot of time with the characters, but Connie is one of the masters of the short form. Right now I’m reading a collection called The Best of Connie Willis, and I hit the story “Inside Job”. It’s about a skeptic writer dealing with a “channeler” and H.L. Mencken figures large in the story.
Which made me realize that we really need Mencken now. Yes, there are clever people sounding the alarm and pointing out the absurd on numerous platforms, but in this age of scattered news it’s hard to have that one defining voice shouting at us not to be imbeciles and listen to “infernal gabble”. But here we are where a president elect can stand on a stage uttering falsehood after falsehood. Where idiotic conspiracy theories take hold — Jade Helm, where the governor of a state actually took seriously the idea that a military exercise was an attempt to conquer Texas, as if Texas wasn’t already part of the United States. And Pizzagate that led to a moron ending up in a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. brandishing a gun because “think of the children”. Or birtherism that pernicious, racist theory that the president of the United States was born in Kenya.
Mencken had a quick wit and a vicious tongue that could flay an opponent. Not like the exchange of profane laced insults that one sees thrown about on social media. He pointed up the absurd with laser-like precision that left his opponents bloodied and humiliated. He is quoted frequently. Here’s one that is especially relevant today:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”
And this, which I think is going to become the new signature tag on my emails. I had been quoting Craig Ferguson musing about Dr. Who, but I think this works better for the indefinite future.
“In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.”