September 4th, 2013 § § permalink
Con is awesome, and con is weird, and con is cool.
… I’ve stared at that sentence for a while wondering what to add, but there’s too much. To me, WorldCon was a more intense, vaster version of the experience I have at ReaderCon and World Fantasy: constantly surrounded by people who care about the writing and reading of genre. I met people I’ve wanted to meet for years—whose work I’ve followed for decades, in some cases, and for those of you keeping track at home, I don’t go back that many decades. I broke through some old-school inveterate shyness and actually introduced myself to people whose work I admired; I shared drinks with Hugo nominees and winners, cartoonists and novelists and magazine founders and screenwriters and editors and Redditors and fans. I met new writers from China, and if all goes well I’m actually going to start translating some stories from Chinese—something I should have done a long, long time ago but always held back on for lack of knowing the right people.
Cons are in a lot of ways like the beginning of sophomore year of college—you see people you love after long absences, and you meet a whole bunch of new people too just because of the sheer post-hiatus chaos. The social energy is palpable, and new communities are formed in the heat of compression. And these communities endure—people come back, year after year, con after con. They strain their budgets because they feel a bond with the others they’ve come to know. Some members of the group of fans who came to the first WorldCon, back in 1939, still come to this day! There are fans who predate Pearl Harbor. Think about that for a second. People who remember the year The Left Hand of Darkness was published. For whom Zelazny is a living memory—hell, for whom Fritz Leiber is a living memory. I met authors’ parents, and editors’, who’ve been coming to the con for longer than I’ve been alive. That community is powerful, and durable, and wonderful, and beyond any price. It is itself the living memory of the genre I love, and in which I’ve chosen to tell my stories. I was on a panel with Ben Bova, who told stories about John W. Campbell and a young Jerry Pournelle! There was a bridge of the original Enterprise on display—a copy made for promotional purposes when the show was first on the air! I stand in awe.
Now, community isn’t some magic word that means ‘perfect’—small farm towns can be loci of love and fellow-feeling, but they can also harbor horrors, and often, maybe most often, they do both at once. In a way the WorldCon attendee group seemed less diverse than a major media con like SDCC—there seemed to be fewer people whose skins weren’t white, for one thing. Men also outnumber women, though I don’t think SDCC does better on that score (can’t find statistics for WorldCon; San Diego Comic Con skews 60% male, vs. an average 49% in the US population). Looks like the community could do a better job of reaching out to those it claims to represent—that is, all fans everywhere, regardless of nationality, gender, or ethnic background—and exciting them enough to come to WorldCon and join in.
Age is an interesting topic here. I saw some talk today on the internet about the aging of science fiction fandom, but I don’t remember a lot of gray hair at NYCC or SDCC—in fact, with the world population aging overall I’d be surprised if the big comic/media and gaming conventions didn’t have an attendee age much lower than the national average. (This site indicates that SDCC average attendee age falls in the 16-34 bracket, so let’s be bad statisticians and take a midpoint of 25, while median US age is 36.8; I wonder what the median WorldCon attendee’s age is? It’d have to be 49 or higher to be as divergent as our super-statistically-reliable median age of SDCC attendees…) I wonder—don’t know, mind, just wonder—the extent to which perceived age difference between WorldCon and SDCC isn’t so much that the young people aren’t around as that the older folks are. Which, of course, is part of that wild and awe-inspiring living memory I mentioned before. An interesting topic for further study. Demographers, start your engines!
Anyway, all this is a sidebar to the true point. Attending SDCC and sundry I can struggle to find human beings to connect with in the mess of media; I do, and it’s a great deal of fun, but damn if I don’t feel the marketing crosshairs of a billion brands settle on me soon as I walk through the doors. That’s part of the plan, after all. We go to big media conventions to see crazy stuff and meet people, and also to walk in the presence of small gods—Lord Nintendo and Lady Legendary Pictures and Sir Lucasfilm and Lord Has of Bro. Attending WorldCon I felt more like I sat down at a large fire surrounded by very cool people, ready to chat, make friends, tell stories, share drinks. I made great friends—not least the other Campbell nominees, Mur and Chuck and Stina and their families, and David and Steve and Justin the other folks from r/fantasy, John and Patrick and the rest of the SF Signal crowd, Steve of Elitist Book Reviews, Shaun of Skiffy and Fanty, and a ton of people from Tor, and of course Valya and Nancy, and Editors Without Parallel Marco and David, and I shook hands with Howard Tayler and with Phil Foglio and John Scalzi and Saladin Ahmed and I met Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch in line for drinks and Elizabeth Bear said she really liked my book, like in person and spontaneously, and I hung out with Nick Mamatas and Paolo Bacigalupi and Jason Heller at an airport and I was in the nominees audience for a Campbell Award with my wife and I went to the after party and and oh god I’m going to stop now or else I’ll overload my keyboard with excitement.
Con’s awesome, and con’s weird, and con’s cool. I probably should have left it at that. If I had, I wouldn’t have missed fencing tonight, that’s for sure.
September 3rd, 2013 § § permalink
There is so much to write about WorldCon and I’ve spent all day so far writing emails to the crazy cool people I’ve met in the last few days and if I don’t eat lunch soon my stomach will decide to attack other vital organs. There will be more! But for now, here’s the pull photo of the weekend:
All the Campbell Nominees were just great, great people—it was a pleasant surprise to be sitting in the Hugo audience with Mur and Stina and Chuck, all of us up for the same award, and thinking that I’d be excited for any of us to win. For those of you who don’t know, the Campbell Award is a plaque, and for the last several years the plaque has been accompanied by a tiara; as a show of solidarity, we all got tiaras. And, of course, since we were on a panel with Ben Bova, creator of the Campbell Award and a man who really needs no introduction in the field—well. Tiaras for Ben Bova too!
More later. But that should be a good indicator of how well the weekend went.
August 27th, 2013 § § permalink
The next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting for me. Most notably because, this weekend, I’m going to WorldCon! The World Science Fiction Convention starts Thursday in San Antonio, TX, and I’ll be arriving Friday evening. If you want to see me, here’s where and when you can:
Saturday 10:00 – 11:00 Autographing Session: Paige E. Ewing, Max Gladstone, Mark Oshiro, Patrice Sarath
Saturday 14:00 – 15:00 What Does SF Tell Us about Dealing with China in the Future?
The Chinese government supports sf magazines, trying to inverse-engineer what sf did in the USA: inspire interest in science & engineering among the young. Can this be a useful way to see into China’s culture? Can a Chinese sf community help bring a Communist regime to a peaceful opening toward the West?
Gregory Benford (M), Emily Jiang , Derwin Mak , Max Gladstone
Saturday night, 19:00 or so Rockin’ Reddit Fantasy Party
Sunday 17:00 – 18:00 40 Years of Campbell Awards
The Campbell Awards celebrate their 40th anniversary this year.
Stina Leicht (M), Ben Bova, Mur Lafferty , Chuck Wendig , Max Gladstone
There will also be an awards ceremony Sunday evening, I understand. I’ve been reading the other Campbell nominees and I am so excited to be nominated on this slate.
Other news: I just did an interview with Leticia Lara of Fantastica Ficcion, which was a lot of fun. Here it is in English, and in Spanish!
Also, you all should read Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva, by the way. It’s a great graphic novel retelling of the Mahabharata. I just posted a review about it over on Fantasy Book Critic—go over there if you want to learn what I think.
August 26th, 2013 § § permalink
I don’t watch television live. I’m not even sure what channels my television receives; I think the answer is ‘very few.’ I’m not a cord cutter. I never had a cord. I miss most movies in theaters during their first run. I rarely listen to the radio. As a result, I don’t often have informed opinions about pop culture, except in a longitudinal “How does this film fit into Quentin Tarantino’s career” sort of way. And I try not to talk about things concerning which I lack an informed opinion.
The problem with this strategy is, often, silence looks a lot like acceptance, especially of a majority viewpoint. Terms like “the silent majority” exist for this reason. If I don’t speak up when others do, I must be okay with this or that absurd thing some guy on talk radio said, or I must think Seth Green did a great job hosting the Academy Awards, or, recently, I must feel Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance was unremarkable. Often, I don’t—or I wouldn’t, if I knew what was going on. I’ve just missed the events that led up to the conversation, because I’m not watching TV.
What do I do instead? I read, a lot. No wall of my house that could have a bookcase lacks one, and all those bookcases are full. I write. I fence three nights a week. I draft Magic. I keep up with news via the Internet, NPR, the Economist, and Rolling Stone. I have great friends in the area, and we hang out. We play board games; we go to pubs. I cook. I play video games long after their release, and rarely. I watch shows on DVD, with my wife or with friends. (My wife and I are working through the first season of Orphan Black now, and the second season of Escaflowne, not to mention our stalled watchthrough of Samurai Champloo. We’re also paused at Game of Thrones s01 e03. This is the rate at which I watch television.)
I don’t mean to say that television is unimportant, or bad, or that people who consume pop culture and talk about it are wasting their time. Quite the opposite. Pop culture is enormously important—18 million Americans see each episode of the Big Bang Theory, give or take. (I know this because I looked it up. The Big Bang Theory, to me, is that show that Walter’s human alter-ego from the new Muppets movie stars in; I’ve seen the first episode on DVD.) On any given Thursday, just under twice as many people tune in to watch The Big Bang Theory as there were copies of Mein Kampf sold or distributed through the entirety of World War 2 (says Wikipedia). Even moderately successful television shows have viewership that makes average book print runs look tiny. What we as a culture consume in such quantities says a lot about us, and should be discussed.
I’m just rarely the person to do it. For me to talk about much of this stuff would involve hunting down the original source material, researching the context, and offering a pith-helmet-wearing anthropologist’s position, which would sound paternalistic and weird and be very much an outsider’s view. Alyssa Rosenberg is an observer who knows what she’s observing; it’s thanks to her journalism, and to the work of others like her, that I understand the pop-culture world to the limited extent I do.
Now, that said, the fact that I am posting this essay places even more of an onus on me to speak out when I do know enough to have an opinion. That’s an area where I need to do better, and try harder. In the meantime, I’ll keep working to write good books, and leave the swift cultural response to people who have knowledge of, and investment in, the context.
August 7th, 2013 § § permalink
Monday, while I was pulling on my glasses to go fence, they broke right up the middle. Seven year old pair of frames, fine, not a huge deal. I mean, yes, they’ve been with me up and down the Yellow Mountain five or six times, they rode with me across the steppe, they rode on the roof of a speedboat up the Tonle Sap, I was wearing them when I married my wife, but that only means they deserve a Viking funeral and threnodies chanted by an army of pegasi-riding angels, not that it wasn’t their time.
Still, it’s funny wandering around without glasses. The world feels like it’s cushioned in cotton. I’m two days in, and having fond memories of my childhood—I cheated on my eye exams until I was seven or eight (because you weren’t supposed to fail an exam and anyway they had us wait in line in the room where they had the eye chart and they wouldn’t let me bring my book so what was I supposed to do, not memorize the damn chart?)—in which everything felt like it was padded in cotton. The world’s a softer place without distance vision.
Of course, this is also causing me to look back on my childhood and wonder whether the eyeglasses thing didn’t have something to do with why I didn’t enjoy live theater or movies without explosions very much when I was a kid (look, a flesh-colored blob talking to another flesh-colored blob!), or with all the trouble I used to have with names (Hello, strange flesh-colored gingerbread person! of course I remember you!). I’ve been reading more even than usual in the last day or so—no Orphan Black Blu-Rays or Dragon Age or whatever for me, unless i want to sit two feet from the television—but that strategy exploded on me this afternoon, because I got my pupils dilated for an eye exam, which kept me from seeing anything nearby or far away. So, oy. I played violin, but there’s only so much violin you (or at least I) can play.
Finally, I discovered that if I kept my eyes unfocused, I could write longhand well enough. So now there’s a quarter-done short story in a fresh notebook which I’m looking forward to finishing in the next couple of days. Written with my long-dormant fountain pen, no less! So hah.
Don’t know if there’s a moral to take from this, outside of ‘you can always do something like work’ and ‘guys, really, don’t cheat on your eye exams.’
August 6th, 2013 § § permalink
After I returned from tour, I first dug into final stages of editing Full Fathom Five, because I needed that book done. Then I went around seeing friends, and reassembling pieces of the house that had decayed or gone missing in my absence. And now, I’m churning through my bookshelf, because every writer needs to fill the tanks without distraction. Some books I’ve finished recently:
- The Big Roads, by Earl Swift
- Seeing Like a State, by James C Scott
- 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Hugo Deathmarch ahoy!)
- Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (ditto!)
- The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, by Gene Wolfe
- Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone (though that one is sort of cheating)
Some books coming up:
- The World of the Shining Prince, by Ivan Morris
- Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (re-read) by Sara Gran
- Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (first-through) by Sara Gran
- Divided Highways by Tom Lewis
- Up Jim River, by Michael Flynn
- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
- Green, by Jay Lake
What are you reading these days?
July 30th, 2013 § § permalink
It’s been a whirlwind of a last couple days, but all good things must come to an end. Not counting today, I was on six airplanes in five days, passing through four cities, giving four readings at four very different, but nonetheless awesome, bookshops. I drank cocktails in a steampunk bar beneath a shrine of Emperor Norton I. I participated in napkin-wrapped sushi smuggling. I saw Holy Boise Chalk Art Batman and crashed (well, walked past, but it sounds better if I say crashed) a forty-person river baptism. And then there was Portland, home of the second-largest copper statue in America, and the only one that looks like it’s about to stab you in the face with a trident. Not to mention the beer, and the enormous and topologically complicated bookstore.
But I’m back, which is great, because there are lots of things that I needed to do at home. Before I ka-pwing (nautical term) off to my work, though, I wanted to engage in some of that Blatant Self Promotion that I’m so bad at!
First, tomorrow voting closes on for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer award, along with the Hugos—if you’re not already registered for the award, you can’t vote, sadly, but if you are registered, get yourself over to the Hugo Ballot and vote! I’m the only person nominated to be in his first year of eligibility, so, you know. Stick up for the little guy. Also my book’s great, so there’s that!
EDIT: Wait a second, it looks like you actually can still register to vote for the Hugos & the Campbell Award! I misremembered. The link to register is here. Register now, though, so you have time to receive your voter PIN before the ballot closes on the 31st.
And here’s the Hugo Ballot Link
Also, I’m on the long list for the David Gemmell Legend Award, the voting for which closes tomorrow. You don’t need to have registered to vote on this—just go to the link below, read the list of nominees, and vote. The Legend Award itself, were I to win, is a scale model of Druss the Legend’s axe, laser-engraved with the winner’s name and novel, so you can imagine how excited I am to be nominated! There are a lot of great novels on the long list, but dude. Axe.
David Gemmell Legend Award Voting Link
The last link has nothing to do with me winning something, but rather with helping a friend. My grade school friend Andrew Booker has had a lot of health trouble—a nasty combination of epilepsy, diabetes and a suite of autoimmune disorders—and he’s trying to raise money to get himself a service dog. Any contributions to the fund over the cost of the dog will be donated to Retrieving Independence, the organization that trains the service dogs (warning: cute puppy pictures on the other side of that link). There’s 36 hours left in the campaign; if you have extra change lying around, drop on by.
Help Andrew get a service dog.
July 29th, 2013 § § permalink
Four days, four signings, four cities, and now I’m going home! It’s been loads of fun to travel up and down the west coast, meeting people and signing books. Some great questions, including one from SF about the ways theology could enlighten, or deepen, understanding of markets & capitalism that I’ve been mulling over nonstop for the last couple days. In some ways those are my favorite types of question because they open up huge new vistas of inquiry, but I always feel I don’t do them justice on the spot, & end up flailing around. This is the point in the academic version of the book signing where I’d be able to smile and say, “that’s a very interesting question, and would be grounds for further inquiry,” and wink meaningfully in the direction of whatever grant-granting authority happened to be nearby.
I need to go play Security Tango (literally, I opt-out in TSA lines), but here are a few links Which May Amuse You:
First, I’m giving away a few copies of Three Parts Dead on reddit’s r/Fantasy community! The giveaway doubles as a contest for identifying awesome fantasy writing; for rules and to enter, go to the contest page. Even if you don’t win, it’s turning to a ‘best lines of all time in genre fiction’ list, which is awesome because genre fiction has some of the best lines.
Also! On the most recent issue of SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear (!!!) talks about how much she liked Three Parts Dead. Which is totally awesome, and makes me feel all kinds of warm and bubbly inside.
Okay, time to go act in the No drama of TSA. Catch you all on the flip side!
July 19th, 2013 § § permalink
Guys guys guys Comic Con is big.
Overwhelmingly insatiably big. I may have been to larger collocations of humanity (scouting jamborees, for example, are enormous, as are Jay Chou concerts). I have never, though, been around so many people who were all trying to SHOW ME THEIR COOL THING. The prospect is amazing. The experience daunts. I was daunted.
To preserve sanity I broke yesterday down into small, accomplishable tasks. Find badge. Walk across room. Purchase t-shirt from BBC America booth. Meet Steve. Meet Tor folks. I think the legendary standing-in-line experience is perfect for this con, even helpful. In line, you have freedom to check out for half an hour, or an hour, or three, to watch the world go by and revel in your little bit of purpose, even if it’s no more than finally getting into that BBC America booth so you can buy a con exclusive t-shirt.
Also I met Felicia Day last night, and she seems very cool!
I don’t have more for you today, and I really should be rolling out of my indulgent hostess’s apartment to find myself some coffee and a bagel and a bus. For those of you interested in more writing of mine, check out this piece I wrote over on Lawrence Schoen’s blog, about the Everglades and wind and the best meal I’ve ever eaten (sort of).
July 18th, 2013 § § permalink
But up here in La Jolla, I’m sitting in a Peet’s Coffee after a hair-raising game of real life Frogger that involved me passing through a breach in a wire fence, crossing a freeway and a couple of six-lane roads in order to find a CVS and replace my long-suffering travel size can of shaving cream, which chose the worst possible moment to give up the ghost—that being halfway through a shave on the first day of Comic Con. C’est la guerre.
After five years of living in Boston, Southern California feels increasingly weird to me. The weather is perfect even at its most horrible, so, of course, you want to walk everywhere. Right? Only, good luck with that, unless of course you want to drive somewhere where you can walk. In Somerville, errands are a great way to spend a Saturday: you walk to one square to go to the spice shop, to another square for groceries, a third square because they have a bookstore you haven’t visited in a while. Not so, SoCal.
Then again, in late July, when Boston’s peaking in the high 90s with humidity, Los Angeles is mid-seventies, dry, and sunny. And in February, when Boston temperature plummets down to wickedness, even if it never reaches true depths of Michigan evil—well, in Los Angeles it’s also mid-seventies, dry, and sunny. So there’s that.
As for the con, well, I haven’t reached the floor yet, though I keep hearing joyful rumors—like that the Legend of Korra Season 2 will premier there on Friday, guys guys guys Season twooooooooooo at last it’s been so loooong. I can give only smatterings of evidence. In front of the Peet’s where I sit writing this, a man and two women all wearing black t-shirts and con badge necklaces are negotiating whose turn it is to drive their car. The guy’s black t-shirt has written in red, “I (snake) COBRA” where the (snake) is the logo of COBRA, the heinously ineffectual terrorist organization from GI JOE, only with a little dimple at the top to warp is silhouette into a heart.
On our drive from the airport last night, we passed the Ghostbusters mobile, like from the movies. A perfect reconstruction, just driving around the streets of San Diego, back brimming with movie-reconstructed props and plastic ghosts. What do they do with that the rest of the year, my host asks. I say, it’s probably like those 1930s trucks people drive occasionally around the waterfront in Boston—most of the year is a process of upkeep and repair, waiting for the weather to change. And now, here, the emotional weather is right.