12 December 2012

And now for something completely different:

Courtesy of Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill.

In other news, the Man of Steel trailer? Pretty damned impressive. Let's see if Snyder and co. can deliver on that promise.

19 November 2012

The Boy In My Heart

11/19/2008, 4:20 am: I see the head first. Misshapen from the trip down the birth canal, covered in a cap of black hair, matted with blood and placental goo, features squashed and smooshed and squinted and yet identifiably family, somehow. My heart leaps in my chest. I can hardly breathe. I tell my wife it's almost over, the rough labor she's been in (and lord has it ever been rough on her; I will tell you that tale sometime--but not now, as this is someone else's story) will be done soon. We're in the home stretch. Stef grabs my hand with a grip I will be feeling in my knuckles for hours hence, and at the obstetrician's urging she bears down.

The shoulders emerge: bloody, thin, fragile. So tiny, my child is. I worry, not for the first or last time, about how small the baby is, how fragile--and how clumsy I can be. It is part of the endless list of father-fears I keep tucked away in a safe corner of my mind, where I leave it and try not to obsess with it overmuch. (Once, when there was a TV story about the vaccine-autism nonsense, my wife turned to me and said, "Do you worry about autism?" My response: "I worry about everything.")

"One last push," the OB says. My wife bears down and the hips, then the legs, slip free. And I see my son for the first time. I have a perfect snapshot of the moment in my mind: The OB holding him by the head with one hand, cradling his tiny backside with the other. I see that he is a boy and I tell my wife, joy in my voice--Stef tells me that this is the moment locked in her memory, her own auditory snapshot, the sound of amazed, dazed, ecstatic wonder in my words as I shout "It's a boy!"

Then comes the messy business of cleaning up--collecting the afterbirth, wrapping the child and placing him in the warmer, stitching up my wife's partial episiotomy, shooing me out of the way as I snap photos of him in the warmer. At some point they bring him over to Stephanie, who holds him, and sings to him in a shaky, tired voice that brings me to the point of tears.

And then they bring him to me, and I hold my son for the first time. And the tears come. And I hold him close and call him my little man, and he cries, oh he cries, in a good strong voice my son cries and wails and says hello in the only wise he understands. And I never want to stop holding him. And I never want to stop feeling the way I feel in this strange, surreal sliver of time: holding a screaming infant with blood in his hair, my heart overflowing with love, my eyes overspilling with tears. And even then I know that this moment is as fleeting as any other in life and will not last, cannot last, that soon it will be past and the next moment will arrive (and disappear as well). And so I commit every detail I can to memory in the hopes of preserving some small portion of it in my heart, to return to when I need it, to sample its emotional flavor and its immediacy and above all, that wonder. That wonder I have rarely felt as strongly since I was a boy myself. That wonder I hope my son feels all through his childhood, and in some form or other all of his life.

That is the bequest I hope to give him, above money, above property, above all other things that men sometimes mistakenly value:



11/19/12, 1:21 PM:

That's me, holding my son on the day he was born. Not sure if you can see the tears, but I guarantee you they are there.  

He turns four today. this is what he looks like now:

The black hair fell out and has been replaced by the straight brown locks you see above. I am proud to say that, clumsy as I am, I never once dropped him. I hope I never do. 

He's in preschool now, and is getting good marks--I will allow myself a small amount of fatherly pride and say that my kid is smart as a whip and thoroughly awesome.Also, he loves the Beatles, as his Halloween costume clearly demonstrates:

... clearly, we must be doing something right.

It's been a long, interesting four years that have gone by in an eyeblink. Liam has grown into an intelligent, quick-witted, occasionally stubborn and willful boy. I have held him when he cried, and sung him to sleep, and bought him books he still reads, and toys he still plays with. Today he's getting (and this is just from me) L. Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz, a velcro dartboard for his room, and a plush Yellow Submarine that he can play with during his endless viewings of his favorite movie. His mom is getting him a bunch of things too, including a rug for his room with a street map screen-printed onto it, so he can drive his cars on the rug. That plus the stuff he got from his grandmother yesterday equals a happy boy.  

Right now as I write this he's at school, probably getting ready for his day to the end. He'll have passed out the treats Stef sent with him (a mini-applesauce and a "fun size" chocolate), and is probably playing or drawing or singing a song right now. Soon the sitter will walk him home, his baby sister Ella in the stroller next to him, as he gushes about his day. And I wish I could be there to hear him do that, and listen as he tells me what his friend Brandon said, and maybe shows me the stamp the teacher put on the back of his hand for being well-behaved and showing good manners (he gets one of these just about every day)--but the sad reality is that I have to be at work, blogging about it and imagining it instead of experiencing it. I will have my chances to walk him to and from school in the coming months, and I know that; I just wish I could do it today, because today is his birthday, and I want to share every minute of it that I can with him. 

Tonight he will get a special dinner--French Toast, his favorite food, and we will watch Yellow Submarine and he will open his presents, and I will think about the last four years of staying up with him when he was sick, and walking with him to the store, and bitching at him to stop chasing the damn cats already, and together we'll tack another year onto the board. And I will keep treasuring every fleeting moment that goes by, and committing it to memory so I will have it in my dotage, to take out as a fondly remembered souvenir. Something to talk to him about when he is a grown man, with children of his own who frustrate him, and fill him with joy, and keep him up late at night with worry, and make him want to be better than the man he is. . . just as he does now, with me. And who will remind him of the wonders of his youth, just as he now reminds me of the wonders of mine. 

I hope he keeps that wonder in his heart forever, just as I know I will keep him--and his sister--in mine. Because it is for all time, this feeling of joy, if we so choose to preserve it. And I so choose. 

I choose for myself what I chose for him, four years ago: Wonder.

Happy Birthday, Liam. Your daddy loves you. And always will.

13 November 2012

And now for something completely the same old shit

Oh for fuck's sake:

I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap.I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake) but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I
 know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: "Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis. But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate. After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION. And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

I really was hoping we could move past this nonsense. I really was. Fandom and the cons have had more than enough of this misogynist crap, and the galloping gobshites who spout it. But clearly we are not fated to be so lucky. And so, since the author of the post seems to have some trouble expressing what he really means, here is a translation of the above tripe:

"I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap".

Read: "Holy shirt am I drunk."

"I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male."

This is the misogynist's equivalent of "I have black friends!"

"Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff" 


"( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake)" 

Because the wimmin folks need to be pwotected from big stwong me and my wangwage. Sowwy for oo's widdle ears burning!

"but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics."

Tokens, in other words. Just the way you like 'em, right?

"So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE:"


"Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl,"

In my opinion, and you can tell just looking at me that I know what's hot and what's not. You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time to talk!

"you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC."

... yeeeaaaahhhhh, can't imagine why anyone would think that about YOU, hoss. You're on cruise control for cool wit' dat caps lock, bro. WHOOOO *fist bump*

"But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis."


"But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public," 

Which don't get me wrong, is awesome and everything, as long as I can shame you for it at my leisure . . .

"and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are )" 


"or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies?" 

Because your boobies must pass a special test that I just made up, now place them here so I can administer it because BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC

"You are what I refer to as "CON-HOT". Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls."

Because as long as I'm being an offensive asshole, I might as well be one to everybody!

"Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU."

Well, actually, you're just trying to earn a living, they're actually being preyed upon by the people who create and sell the characters you dress up as, but hey what's a strawman argument between friends amirite?

"You have this really awful need for attention,"

Unlike the rest of us, who are just here to put on "The Student Prince" . . .

"for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate."


"After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION." 



Hey, welcome to San Diego Comic-Con! Need a press badge?


Which Greg Land has NEVER, EVER done. EVER!

"And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day." 

And neither would a lot of the girls they liked in junior high and high school, which is where all this deep seated resentment and misogyny comes from. Not that I would know ANYTHING ABOUT THAT! *looks around all shifty-eyed*

"Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face."


"Yer not Comics." 

Clearly it has been established that you are girls! With boobies! Because BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC

"Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up."

And draw things that prey on the geeks in exactly the same way only we didn't think to hire you ourselves and capitalize on it first so WE ARE JEALOUS AARRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH *eats keyboard*


Dude. Why don't you just call them "whores," get it out of your system, and MOVE THE FUCK ON. Because honestly, this is getting vaguely absurd at this point.

Seriously--we need to move on from this shit, folks. We should be better than this. We need to be better than this. The alternative is crypto-chowderhead He-Man Woman-Haters club nonsense screeds like this. And honestly, most of us who are adults and have achieved some level of actual maturity in our emotional lives are tired of this kind of crap. THIS is what is giving geek culture a bad name, not hired-gun cosplayers. Maybe if Tony "Effing" (and that's a hell of a middle name there, d00d) Harris and everyone who agreed with him grew the fuck up a little, we could all move past this shit. 

Just a thought. Your mileage may vary. But in times like these, I fall back on the words of one Wil Wheaton: Don't be a dick. 

It's really not that hard if you work at it a little. Try it sometime, you may be surprised.

(Note: "BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES UNGH GAAAH HNOUC$PHUNT$CPN*$TCHT$NC is a direct steal from john Scalzi. Gotta credit the sources of my thievery.)

11 November 2012

There's something in my eye, you know this happens every time

I posted this on Facebook this morning:

And I went back and found some thoughts I wrote about Jim Croce, which I wanted to share:

Thoughts on "Operator":

He was 30 when he died. His music had just started to hit big the year before, after a brief career that included two albums recorded with his wife, Ingrid. “Operator,” recorded and released on the first album he made without Ingrid, shows just exactly what we lost when we lost him.

It always surprises me how many people are Jim Croce fans, and how many of them are fans because of this one song. Yet none of them love just this one song. Once you hear it, you buy Photographs and Memories or one of the albums he released in his all-too-short career, and you realize listening to it just how goddamn good it is. Sure, there’s some filler on those albums, but Croce’s best filler is still a hundred times better than what most of his contemporaries were doing.

Unlike say, Harry Chapin, who often let his sentimentalism get the better of him, usually to the detriment of his songwriting, Croce had an innate ability to use sentiment without making the listener feel like he or she was being used. You can listen to Chapin’s “A Better Place to Be” and feel it’s overwrought and maybe a bit soppy, and then listen to “Operator” and sit there stunned and think, holy shit this guy’s a genius. It’s more than Croce being a better songwriter than Chapin—Harry had his moments too, though not as many or as tightly packed into a short career as Croce did—there’s just something profoundly human in Croce’s songs, something that captures the myriad contradictions and heartbreaks and the thousand little shocks that flesh is heir to, and compresses and condenses them into this:

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded
She’s livin’ in L.A.
With my best old ex-friend Ray
A guy she said she knew well and sometimes hated

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

Operator, oh could you help me place this call
‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eye
You know it happens every time
I think about the love that I thought would save me

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

No no no no
Thats not the way it feels
Operator oh let’s forget about this call
There’s no one there I really wanted to talk to
Thank you for your time
Oh you’ve been so much more than kind
And you can keep the dime

Isn’t that the way they say it goes
But let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell them I’m fine and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

That’s damned good songwriting. Economy of thought, expressed in well-chosen words that reveal as much in what they don’t say as in what they do say, and an instantly hummable melody, with Croce’s simple yet heartfelt vocal driving every word home, putting you in the moment right there with him—you can hear the sad little smile in his voice when he sings “And you can keep the dime,” and it makes the song.

For all that it’s been played and played and played again on the radio, “Operator,” just like the rest of Croce’s catalog, does not get old. That’s a hell of a thing. Not a lot of songwriters have accomplished that in their careers. And for Croce to have done it not once but several times over the course of just seven years says volumes about what we lost.

He wasn’t even thirty years old when he wrote it. That’s what gets me. There are songwriters twice that age who can’t write a song half this good. Not everything Croce did subsequently was as great as this, but I think Croce knew it didn’t have to be--he'd already done this. “Operator” is to this day one of the high water marks in modern American song.

09 November 2012

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good studio at your side, kid.

I have to admit it: When the news broke last week, I didn't really care. In a way I still don't, partly because I'm forty-two years old and my tastes have moved on from the Star Wars universe. I can't even remember the last time I watched any of the movies. I imagine I'll see them again some time in the next year or so, as my son is now four and will soon be old enough to handle them without getting too freaked out. But for the time being I have no interest in going there, and I think any pleasure I derive from the movies will be of the vicarious sort, as I watch Liam experience the thrill of the Death Star trench battle for the first time. This is because I am getting old and boring, and should not be taken as a commentary about the quality of the movies themselves, as they are great mental bubblegum and are mightily entertaining.

Another reason the news about Disney buying Lucasfilm didn't faze me much is simply because, honestly? It was bound to happen sooner or later. Not because Disney is a monolithic absorber and amalgamator of popular culture (which it sometimes is, but no less so than other media giants such as the Turner networks or Viacom), but because I never expected Star Wars to stay in George Lucas' back pocket forever, anyway. Let's face it, gang: Intellectual properties get bought and sold all the time, and there is nothing out there anymore that is not unfuckwithable. DC has in the past bought entire stables of comics characters from other companies, notably Fawcett and Charlton, and has messed with many of them to such a degree as to make them almost unrecognizable. Case in point: Steve Ditko's Blue Beetle, himself a 1960s "modernizing" of an older Charlton character, who was unceremoniously bumped off in meaningless Tasha Yar fashion several years ago. (Comics fans are still stinging about that too, believe me--though I don't recall anyone screaming that they ruined Ditko's creation. It was just another raw deal from DC, and fans and creators alike have had plenty of those.)

Similarly, Marvel just bought the rights to the vaunted Miracleman series (though whether they'll actually do anything with it is anybody's guess)--and the Doyle estate has gone shit of bat in the last couple of years, allowing both the BBC and CBS to bring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into the modern day, to varying degrees of qualitative success. And let's not even start on the Thursday Next novels, or the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies nonsense. So really, Lucas booting the Adventures of Luke Skywalker over to the House of Mouse is just another example of the modern notion that a popular story is also a popular commodity, which can be traded and bought and sold and priced just like gasoline or peanuts or hog futures, and if people want it enough they will pay for it.

Too, it's worth noting that we as the movie-going, TV-watching, "expanded universe"-reading public are complicit in this commodification of pop culture. We keep lapping this stuff up, and if we didn't it wouldn't be sold to us. Note that Star Wars is still going strong, whereas Disney's indifferently met Narnia adaptations are dead in the water. That's market forces at work, folks. In fact, it's not outside the realm of possibility to speculate that Disney went after the Lucasfilm properties precisely because its own presumptive epic went nowhere, and they were hungry to get more of that market, especially in the wake of The Avengers. (And I'll get to that in a minute.) Simply put, Disney saw how people are still hungry for new Star Wars content, and not being stupid, decided that four billion was not too steep a price given the potential returns in merchandising, sequels, TV shows, books, sequels to the sequels, and so on and so on and scooby dooby doo. We want more and better Star Wars content--in fact, in the wake of the three prequels most of fandom has been demanding exactly that--and Disney is willing to gamble that they're the ones who can give it to us. And Lucas, by all accounts tired and ready to retire from the front lines of movie-making, has given them the go-ahead. And I for one say more power to them.

There's been a lot of bitching and a lot of jokes, just as there were when Disney bought Marvel, and all of it has just been as off-base as the guff about Marvel was--though some of it has been pretty funny. The image at the top of this post is my favorite of the lot. (It's inaccurate, but still hilarious.) Fans are carping that Disney will ruin the franchise, but honestly? Disney isn't in the habit of ruining things. It wouldn't be a successful multimedia conglomerate if it was. The truth is that since the 1990s, Disney has been in the midst of a renaissance that, barring a few missteps, has been pretty awesome to watch. Pixar of course had a hand in that, but even after Disney bought Pixar out from under John Lasseter, the string of good-to-damn-good-to-great stuff has been ongoing--to the point where Wall-E and Up have become two of the finest animated films ever made. And the spillover has enabled Disney to make wonderful films like Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph--and early word of mouth on the latter is that it's one of Disney's best movies in years.

The Muppets were a bit of a conundrum for Disney, but after flailing around with the property for a few years Disney found a solution in Jason Segel, who injected new blood into Henson's felt-skinned offspring with The Muppets, an occasionally-uneven but heartfelt love letter to Kermit and co. And here is where Disney took the lessons of Pixar to heart, and remembered that the quality of the product is every bit as important as the product itself. There have been markedly fewer of the direct to video "classic" Disney sequels in recent years (which is all for the better as they were bad and Disney should feel bad for making them), and more and better original content as Disney has realized that if they want a hit, all they need is to find the people with the best ideas, turn them loose with minimal interference, and sing "Hakuna Matata" all the way to the bank.

Case in point: Joss Whedon.

To be fair, Marvel has been meticulously building its Avengers property brick by brick for years now, to varying degrees of success: The two Iron Man films went from awesome to muddled, Thor was deliciously overblown, the two Hulk movies were problematic in their treatment of the characters though each had its merits and drawbacks, and though I still haven't seen the Captain America movie I really, really want to (this weekend, probably), and the reviews were pretty outstanding. So Marvel was on a roll. Even so, The Avengers was a pretty ballsy move. And Whedon took all those meticulously set-up pieces and turned in one of the best, most badassed, exciting, and above all fun movies in recent memory . . . possibly since the original Star Wars. Not a hint of Disney-ification to be found. They turned Joss loose and trusted him, and it worked like gangbusters.

Now: Imagine that attitude applied to the Star Wars franchise. A good story, not beholden to Lucas' whims and overbearing, overwhelming control-freak-ism. And imagine what Brad Bird could do with it. Or Alfonso Cuaron. Or Whedon. Or Joe Johnston.

Like I said, I didn't care much about the news, when I first heard it. Now, though? The more I think about it, the more I thing that a Disney-owned Star Wars movie could be the best thing to happen to the franchise in decades.

24 October 2012

My forehead just left a dent in my desk

I'm just going to drop this here.

No lengthy comment offered. Nothing I can say is going to do me any credit as most of my thoughts on the subject are not worth printing. All I will say is that Stephen Jones needs to find another job. Preferably one where there are no girls to give him those awful, awful cooties. And when he does so, we shall be well rid of him.

16 October 2012

Follow-up on David Gerrold

In the interest of fairness, I will note that Gerrold posted this on his Facebook page about four hours ago, in response to the original io9 article:

It's only a book, people!

And yes, I'm a bitch, but I'm not YOUR bitch.

I'll publish the fifth book when it lives up to my standards, not because some spoiled-brat reader has his/her panties in a twist. Meanwhile, I have other priorities. My son's well-being will always take precedence.

And the remark about finishing the series before the end of Obama's second term was a semi-satirical response to the Koch brothers attempting to blackmail 45,000 of their employees to vote for Romney. 

Having seen this I will cheerfully retract the portion of my previous post that took Gerrold to task for playing cutesy-pie with politics.

The rest, however, stands.

"B-b-b-but, I'm weary": Why I stopped caring about David Gerrold and the War Against the Chtorr

Okay kids, it's story time.

When I was twelve or thirteen I was a regular reader, like many fanboys, of Starlog magazine. It was a great time. There were interviews with Tom Baker, with Gene Roddenberry, with Rick Baker and Tom Savini, and reviews and previews galore of SF and Fantasy books and movies I might not have known of otherwise in my dull suburban doldrums. And there was a column by David Gerrold, called (as I remember, though this memory may be faulty) Soaring. In it Gerrold would expound on subjects near and dear to his heart--on one memorable occasion he wrote about what makes a hero a hero, and how the context of the heroics matters--otherwise Darth Vader would have been the hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, not Luke Skywalker. (Which, seen through the lens of an additional thirty years and the sad reality of the second trilogy, is more than a little ironic.)

One day I picked up an issue of Starlog, brought it home--and, instead of Gerrold's usual column, something else had taken its place: the introductory chapters of Gerrold's new novel, A Matter for Men. 

For those of you not in the know, A Matter for Men is the opening book in Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr novels, detailing the fight against a vicious alien ecological infestation that threatens to devour (literally) the world. The story is told from the first-person point of view of Jim McCarthy, a biologist and US Special Forces soldier fighting what looks like a hopeless battle in a post-plague ecological apocalypse, painted in hellish shades of red, and splashed with buckets of blood. The opening chapters (and here I will give you a very minor SPOILER ALERT) deal with a very young, very green Jim McCarthy, who watches helpless as one of his fellow soldiers is forced to kill a little girl playing in a Chtorran settlement, and exactly how he discovers that there was no way to rescue her.

I was taken--no, that's not the word. I was mesmerized, and transported, and knocked for a loop, and haunted, by those opening chapters from the novel. They were dark and mature and unlike anything I'd ever read--they were Heinlein-like (the basic idea of the novels--young soldiers fight against buglike critters--is very much descended from Starship Troopers), but also light-years beyond Heinlein in scope and theme. I was quite seriously blown away by what Gerrold was doing, and I knew immediately I had to get that book.

And here, Dear Reader, my troubles began.

 I bought the novel--Timescape had it out in a trade paperback with a beautiful Boris Vallejo cover (above)--and read it from cover to cover in about a day. I was so thrilled buy it I began recommending it to my friends who were also SF/F fans--I even read the first few chapters aloud to a couple of them, something that in retrospect had to be annoying as all hell. I was a Witness for David Gerrold, and little would dissuade me from my proselytizing.  I think I must have read that Timescape edition about ten times over the course of a year. I wish I still had it, if only for the Vallejo cover.

In 1985 the sequel, A Day for Damnation, was published, and I rushed right out to buy that, too. It had another sumptuous Vallejo cover (and man, I miss those Boris covers--he and Kelly Freas were the shit and the tits, folks), and the sequel in many ways deepened the mystery of the invasion and  what/who the invaders were, and brought a deeper, even darker human element to the story. It was clear that Gerrold meant business with these books, and I thought (and still think) that A Matter for Men and A Day for Damnation were the best one-two punch I have ever seen a science fiction writer land on an unsuspecting readership. I eagerly awaited the appearance of the promised third book in the series, A Rage for Revenge.

Only it didn't appear. 

It was rough being a fan before the internet. You had to haunt the bookstores and the libraries, and hope your favorite author's new novel would show up in the stacks at some point. There were few other ways to get information about upcoming publications unless you subscribed to fanzines or Locus, and even then who knew how accurate the information was--one look at the continuous parade of fail that is the history of The Last Dangerous Visions will tell you that. (No offense Unca Harlan, but that bad boy was supposed to be out when I was three. I'm now pushing forty-three.) So every month or two I would check a copy of Locus and haunt the stacks, and hope that Gerrold's next book would hit the shelves. No such luck.

Time passed. I found other stories to read, began to write myself (inspired largely by Gerrold and Stephen King, in fact), and moved from the suburbs of Chicago to the city proper. I still haunted the bookstores, and still checked the G section halfheartedly, more out of habit than anything else. And then I found them--new editions from Bantam, standard paperbacks this time with new covers (nowhere near as compelling as the Vallejo covers on the Timescape editions), and containing (and this was the big selling point for me) a great deal of content that had been excised by Timescape for reasons that were plainly absurd, and which when restored to the original two books actually made those books better and more cohesive.

And, bonus of bonuses, A Rage for Revenge was finally in print. Bought, devoured, reread to tatters just as its progenitors had been.

In 1993 A Season for Slaughter came out and I thought hot damn, we're in high gear now. I read the hell out of it as soon as I could get my hot little hands on it, and was again duly amazed. The book ended on one hell of a cliffhanger, and I could hardly wait to see what would happen in the sequel, A Method for Madness.

Nineteen years and some change later, I'm still waiting.

Gerrold's contract with Bantam ran out sometime in the mid-to-late 90s, I understand. Since then the first four books have been out of print, available only through secondhand sellers. My copies still haunt my bookshelves somewhere, though I haven't read them in years now. Jim McCarthy's fate hangs in limbo, along with his new wife's, and that of their unborn children, and the mystery of the Chtorran has yet to be solved, though many guesses abound online I am sure. David Gerrold's career has continued unabated; he has kept writing, turning out champion short stories, novellas, young adult novels, and a beautiful book called The Martian Child about his adopted son that was adapted into a sadly indifferent movie. But the Chtorran invasion has languished in the meantime--or it has appeared to do so. Aside from a sample chapter that appeared on his website and a couple of brief excerpts published in anthologies, the Chtorr have disappeared from the SF landscape, leaving behind a series of purple memories, like bruises.

Gerrold himself has gone from garrulous about the subject to circumspect and even tight-lipped. At one time on his website he was voluminous about the status of the project: there are just 40,000 words to go, there is a contract with Tor, there will be revised and expanded editions (in hardcover, yet!), with new cover art, and possibly even publication of The Red Book, the vast "bible" of the Chtorran ecology Gerrold has been working from (and slowly expanding) all these years.

All these . . . holy shit, thirty years.

In that time I have worked on my own writing, buried my mother and discovered my father was dead, gotten married, attended Lollapalooza a total of four times (three in the 1990s and once in 2009) had two children, saw my son start preschool, lost my hair, developed a quite impressive gut, started to go gray, met Harlan Ellison, Peter Beagle, and Spider Robinson. I've written headlines for Fark.com, become a kind of half-assed pop culture critic with this blog--and finally in the past year or two gotten my writing to a point where I finally feel comfortable with it.

I also did one other thing: I stopped waiting for David Gerrold to finish the Chtorr books. I look at it as vaporware in a sense--something whose long-delayed release would have been nice at the time, but now? Well, given the indifference which greeted Chinese Democracy and Duke Nukem Forever after their long-postponed debuts . . . you can imagine how my enthusiasm has waned over the years. (For more than one reason, though I'll get to that in a moment.)

I hadn't given Gerrold's Chtorr books much thought in recent years, aside from occasionally checking his website out of morbid curiosity (and finding the exact same lack of helpful information ever time, I might add). I had other things I was reading, other things I was interested in.

And then this happened. And I sort of sat blinking at the screen for a minute or so, and then made a comment I would prefer not to repeat again, on the off chance my children should hear it.

Speaking now not as a fan but as a writer and as a halfassed pop culture critic, I will now say:

Seriously, Gerrold? Fucking seriously? You dick your readers around for a couple of decades, and then you pull this? Talk about crapola.

First of all, assuming Obama has a second term (which still seems likely but hardly a given), you're then giving yourself three or four years two finish, polish and publish one book and then write two more in rapid succession, all this after claiming on your website that the writing has been difficult and challenging and complicated, so much so that Slaughter has taken two decades of your life to finish, while contracts have run out, publication dates have come and gone, and your fan base is aging right along with you--and the fucking thing is still not done? And yet if Obama gets a second term you'll apparently be able to suddenly jerk off into Open Office and c'est viola! NOVELS!

That's a lot of inspiration to take from a potential lame duck presidency. Just sayin'. Pardon me if I seem less than convinced by your level of commitment here. Especially since the Chtorr FAQ on your website actually lists the reason Book 5 has taken so long as "I don't know."

(What if Romney gets elected, by the way? Will you still write the books? Or will you go back to teasing your fans and giving non-answer answers on your website about what's going on with the Chtorr series?)

Second, this is what it takes to get you off your ass (or more appropriately on your ass) and writing again? Not the need to tell your story, not the desire to share it with others, not even the hopes of earning enough dosh with which to spend your dotage comfortably . . . just a lame political ploy? Jesus wept. The lack of any sort of passion for the work is painfully evident. 

Third: I have to say, speaking as a halfassed pop culture etc.etc., the viable half life of any sort of work is short, and getting shorter every year. By which I mean to say that Gerrold started writing these books thirty years ago, and has only gotten maybe halfway through his story in all that time. An entire generation or two of children has since been born who know nothing of the Chtorr novels, simply because the last time one was in print was when most of them were just starting school, or not even out of diapers. Chew on that for a while, David. And while you're enjoying the savor of the flavor, think about this: while you've been treating your signature series with all the seriousness and urgency of a summer stroll, the genre is moving at lightspeed . . . and leaving you and the Chtorr in the dust. Aside from your core fans, the genre as a whole barely remembers these books. And based on the sample chapters of Madness you posted online about ten years ago (sheesh), nobody is going to want to remember them if Madness ever does make print. 

I'd love to post a link to those sample chapters, but somehow all trace of them seems to have been removed from the internet. I can't imagine why. If anyone can find it I'll give 'em a cookie. I did however find my ten-year old summation of said chapter from a discussion board I used to frequent, and I have excised a portion of it for you, because I'm just awesome like that:

"Thoughts On David Gerrold And A Method For Madness While Drinking Too Much Coffee And Waiting For The Sugar Rush From This Morning's Cinnamon Roll To Wear Off:

"I'm trying to be charitable here. I really want to say that the sample chapters from A Method for Madness are amazing, delightful, action-packed fun, that make me want to rush right out and buy the next book the minute it hits the shelves–assuming it ever does. I really want to say that Gerrold's prose was as captivating to me as it has always been, that the characters of Jim McCarthy and Liz Tirelli-McCarthy are as fascinating and entertaining as ever, and that the Chtorran infestation/colonization of Earth continues to be one of the best ideas ever put forth in a science fiction novel or series. I really want to say that. But I can't.

"Instead, my reaction is: I've spent over a decade waiting for this?

"It isn't that the sample chapters for Method are bad; they aren't. They're as well-written and well-thought-out as Gerrold's writings always are. Unfortunately, what they also are is more of the same.
A brief synopsis: The sample chapters follow the misadventures of Jim and Lizard as their evac chopper, piloted by a bounty-happy pair of bozos, crashes in the Amazon River. Jim and Liz, both injured badly in the previous book, wash ashore with a group of misfit types, who then Abandon Our Heroes To Their Fate In A Most Cowardly Fashion. The pair then encounter Dr. John Guyer, a research scientist who has spent too much time in a Chtorran mandala, and who has "gone native" in a most unsettling way. The end of the last chapter leaves Jim and Liz stranded in the Amazon rainforest, just a handful of kilometers away from the mandala, after Guyer has gone off to get his 'friends'—ooohhh, spooky…

"...What I said about more of the same? This is what I mean: Gerrold continues with his same-old trick of playing the 'making it worse' game. For instance, it's not enough that Jim and Lizard's chopper has to crash in the Amazon; it has to crash into a tree first, the weight of which helps the chopper to sink. Then the supposedly unbreakable emergency radio breaks, and no rescue choppers arrive to carry them back to civilization. Then the Special Forces guys with Liz and Jim want to off them because wounded are a liability, necessitating a lot of lying and storytelling by Our Heroes to avert said fate. Then the soldiers abandon Liz and Jim to their fate, taking the inoperable radio and emergency supplies with them. Then—well, you get the idea, I'm sure. It gets to the point where these 'surprises' aren't surprising any longer, and I found myself anticipating the abandonment well before it happened. More on that in a minute. Another area of sameness is the banter between Liz and Jim, which veers from skin-peelingly-bad puns to skin-peelingly-bad declarations of love. All of this we've seen in other books, and all of it seemed much fresher and more interesting the first dozen or so times around. This time it feels forced, and old hat…and while I understand Gerrold wants to keep his characters' behaviors consistent, I think the 'less is more' approach might serve them—and him—better. And remember, this is a big ol' romantic mush-heart and avowed lover of bad puns telling you this.

"... All of which leads me back to my original thought: making people wait over ten years for the book has done Gerrold far more harm than good. It's given people time to think, and reread the first four books obsessively, and think some more, and to come up with a lot of answers on their own. It's also given people a lot of time to become thoroughly irritated with Gerrold's mercurial writing habits . . . Because while Gerrold has wasted his time (and, frankly, ours) . . . he has left what I consider his best work to suffer needlessly. As a result I think a lot of us are going to be reading Method next year saying things like 'Yep, saw that coming,' and 'Gee, wonder what that could possibly be foreshadowing," and 'I've spent over a decade waiting for this?'

"The caffeine high and the sugar rush have both worn off, and I'm left with these thoughts:

"Stephen King once wrote that even a long, complicated book should take a good writer no more than two years to plan and write, and that any writer 'who produces one book every seven years is not thinking Deep Thoughts, but is simply dicking off.' Gerrold has not exactly been doing this, of course, but it's pretty damn close. And I know that he writes what he wants to write and not what the fans want him to write, but even so he has come perilously close to ruining this great series of novels for me. There's a fine line between eager anticipation and 'just get it the f@#* over with already,' and Gerrold is very close to pushing me over it. . . [He] hasn't really sunk into creative oblivion yet, though he needs to get off the stick, for sure. My fear is that he's spent too much time in between these books, and the rest of SF has passed him by as a result. There are other authors out there doing more creative things than this, and doing them faster and more regularly"

Yeah, I'm a long-winded bastard; so sorry. Door's over there, don't let it hit you in the ass.

The crux of all this is, I honestly stopped caring about the Chtorr novels at around the time I was writing the above comments nine years ago. Gerrold stated elsewhere around this time that he was about 60,000 words from finishing Book 5; ten years later, Book 5 still isn't done and Tor has pushed the publication date back to 2014. Gerrold blames the complexity of the work and the difficulty of the writing process. My response is that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's and is still writing. Stephen King got hit by a fucking truck and kept writing. Ray Bradbury was working almost up to the day he died. Gerrold can't finish these books because they're hard, and . . . ohhh, I don't know. I don't know! Wahhh.

Now, none of this is to say that Gerrold has not been writing--he has been, and I understand that the Chtorr books are not his only raison d'etre. He has other projects to work on. Nor am I saying he owes his fans anything. He can write what he wants, and more power to him for doing so. I once dismissed The Martian Child as "piffle" but looking back on it now, from the perspective of a middle aged father of a young boy, I understand and appreciate the book a lot more. If he would rather produce something meaningful on that level, I can't gainsay it. 

What I am saying in regards to Gerrold is that maybe he's been writing a check his ass can't cash. Twenty years he's been working on these last three books, and the end result is zip, zero, zilch, nada, bubkes. Goose eggs. Maybe it's time to hang up the purple worms and Jim McCarthy's flamethrower and allow them to take their place in what-might-have-been. Because this constant Lucy-Van-Pelt-with-the-football bullshit with A Method for Madness is just absurd and insulting to everyone--to Gerrold's career most of all. And this latest antic disposition of his is just the sour icing on a fallen cake. Enough is enough, already. Boris Vallejo was in his forties when he painted those original covers for Timescape. He's now seventy-one. I was thirteen; Now I'm forty-two. Gerrold was in his thirties. Now he's in his sixties. And I think David and I both have better things to do with our time than keep beating this dead horse.

I don't care about the Chtorr any more. If the books ever come out I will probably read them at some point, just to satisfy whatever is left of that morbid curiosity I mentioned.. But I don't believe they ever will see publication, and I don't give a rat's raunchy backside if they do. My emotional investment is gone. You can tell me differently all you want, and tell me I should care. And you know what? I will simply respond in the immortal words of Porky Pig:

"B-b-but, but I'm weary." 

Sorry, David.

UPDATE, 8/7/2015: Well, it looks like I've been proven wrong in the nicest possible way, as Gerrold has now apparently finished the first draft of Method, and hopefully there is only up to go from there. Congratulations to David, and good luck with the new entry in the series.

14 September 2012

Pardon my dust . . .

I'm fiddling with the template and background a little, and there are going to be some changes made over the weekend, most likely. This stuff is just by way of experimentation, so far. I'll finalize something before long, I promise.

21 August 2012

On Weird Tales, Save The Pearls, and What Censorship Actually Is

Some days you bait the badger, some days the badger baits you.

That's my best summation of the current state of speculative fiction, fantasy fiction, horror, slipstream/bizzarro/New Weird/Old Weird/Weird Harold, what have you, and its fandom. There's a lot of damn bait and a lot of damn badgers out there. And the lines cross between who and what and where and when, and the result? A goddamn mess. There's far too much claptrap out there right now, far too many voices shouting when more ears need to be listening, far too many "tough guys" flexing their internet muscles and writing screeds like a bunch of bargain basement Norman Mailers with a bad drunk on. It gets wearisome, tiresome and just plain somatic past a certain point. Honestly, it puts me to sleep. And that's the danger of all the shouting--past a certain point you tune the shouting out, or you do if you're a smart person, and you miss the important stuff when you really need to be paying attention.

For instance, if I didn't follow Jeff VanderMeer on Facebook I might not have known about the Weird Tales fiasco until the incompletely reported io9 articles on it surfaced yesterday. As it was I had the pleasure--if that's the word--of watching the disaster unfold like a slow-motion airshow crash, until by the time I went to bed last night I was thoroughly disgusted with Weird Tales and its insanely tone-deaf treatment of race, racism, and its readers.

A little background: Weird Tales has a long and storied history as one of the giants in genre fiction, a place where horror and fantasy and SF and a bunch of other things could intersect freely and co-mingle. That was especially true of the years between 2007 and 2011, when Ann VanderMeer and Steve Segal turned WT, which had become a flailing shadow of itself up to that point, into a Hugo-winning showplace for some of the best genre fiction on offer, with an emphasis made on finding and cultivating new writers. Then, last year, the magazine found new ownership, and promptly shitcanned the people who made WT into the showplace it was. Ann VanderMeer graciously offered to stay on as a contributing editor, and the new ownership and editorial regime proceeded to leap boldy into the past by returning Weird Tales, not to the flailing shadow of itself that it had previously been, but by . . . well . . .


Nora Jemisin said it better than I could, so I direct you to her post on the subject. But I will add:

Seriously? Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden? This is what passes for literary, thoughtful fiction in the post-VanderMeer era at Weird Tales? A poorly written polemic on so-called "reverse racism," penned by a privileged white woman, which deliberately goes out of its way to employ just about every patronizing cliche you can think of in pursuit of its dubious "white man's burden" theme? (And if you doubt me,  please note that the whites are called "pearls" in Foyt's book while the blacks are called "coals," and it only goes on to get more blind-bat ham-fistedly condescending from there.)

Sorry, no. Not buying it. Nor am I buying EiC Marvin Kaye's self-important editorial on the book, his dismissal of the vast roar of criticism Foyt has faced as "some Amazon readers," or his impossibly wrong-headed comparison of the book (I won't sully the term "novel" by using it here) to the brilliant satire of Zanna, Don't! Nope, it won't wash. Not even close.

As Nora Jemisin said, "It’s more than the fact that the editor has chosen to introduce the revamped magazine with a diatribe against evil anti-racists, or evil people with no sense of irony, or something. It’s more than the stunningly poor judgment that he displays by hitching his magazine’s new applecart to this spavined old horse. It’s also the fact that they’re going to be publishing the first chapter of this hugely problematic book in Weird Tales. What the hell is that about? In all the furor over this book, no one is defending it as high-quality literature. It’s not even “weird”, in either the old-school pulp sense or the VanderMeer-era modern sense; it’s a slushpile-stock discrimiflip with implausible science and banal writing."

This.This this this. Dear sweet butterscotch sundaes in a banana cup, THIS.

The fallout was swift and intense. Ann VanderMeer resigned altogether as editor. Her husband Jeff went off on Weird Tales on Facebook and Twitter, and later that evening on his blog. Writers stood up and called for a boycott. More writers stood up and withdrew submissions from the magazine, and in at least one case a writer actually withdrew a story slated to print in an upcoming issue and offered to refund the money paid her for the work.

Then came the fallout to the fallout. Weird Tales killed Kaye's editorial, possibly in an attempt to evade responsibility for their own dunderheadedness in this matter, possibly as evidence of further and ongoing dunderheadedness. But cached copies exist, and despite WT's attempt to kill the controversy by damming the river, the river just spilled its banks and the controversy continued. Online commenters defending Foyt turned up in some corners, wondering how people could vilify a book if they haven't read it--completely ignoring the fact that plenty of other people have read it and think it's shit.

And then Weird Tales publisher John Harlacher issued a half-assed apology and stated WT would no longer be publishing the first chapter of the book. And there was much indifference, because the damage was already done, and nobody was willing to take Harlacher or Kaye seriously at that point--especially after Harlacher's admission that he never read the book in the first place, and apparently knew of no way to find out that, as noted above, the majority of the people who have read the book think it's a gigantic steaming pile of rhinoceros puckey.

And then Robert Silverberg apparently compared the furor and the calls for boycotting Weird Tales to the calls to ban Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 from libraries (and I haven't found a source on this, so if anyone can locate it for me I'd be obliged), which led to the inevitable wrong-headed cries of censorship and "why can't we talk about race, you're horrible for trying to shut down this discussion!" And I'll get to all that in a minute, because hang on to your hats, folks.

The last word on the mess is Jeff VanderMeer's, from this blog post:

"Ann VanderMeer, my wife, was the editor-in-chief before being forced out by Marvin Kaye and his financial backer John Harlacher. She tried to be a team player because they offered her a role picking one story by a new writer every issue. This appealed to her because of her ongoing commitment to up-and-coming writers and new voices—it seemed like she could still do some good work. But ever since a meeting with Kaye and Harlacher in New York in June, it had become obvious that she would be extremely uncomfortable working with them. Although they did not consult with her on editorial decisions, they did mention during that encounter that they planned to publish an excerpt from a YA novel written by the wife of a film director about 'the last white person on the planet trying to survive in a world of black people.' This seemed deeply problematic on the face of it, and Ann was kind—perhaps too kind—but adamant and firm in saying that they shouldn’t do this. Ever. During this meal, a startling lack of understanding about international fiction and other subjects was also evinced, to the point that afterwards both Ann and I wished we had not stayed for the entire meal. It was one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had. Still, Ann believed that John Harlacher had gotten the point and that perhaps a lesson had been learned. Clearly not."

In other words, Harlacher and Kaye have been planning this for months, never gave a shit that other people thought it was maybe not such a good idea, and were probably patting themselves on the back for thinking it up the entiire time--right up until the moment it blew up in their faces. They either didn't know what the hell they were doing, or knew exactly what they were doing and just didn't care, on the assumption that no publicity is bad publicity. Given that Marvin Kaye has pulled this kind of horseshit before, in the form of Orson Scott Card's god-awful, revisionist, homophopbic "bad touch" version of Hamlet, which still has Shakespeare spinning in his grave, I can only think that it is the latter rather than the former. They knew what they were doing the whole time, and Harlacher's protestations that he has not read Foyt's book are a bunch of rhinoceros puckey. Nothing like this happens in a vacuum, not in this day and age . . . and even if Harlacher hadn't read the book, he couldn't be unaware of the heavy criticism of its premises, its imagery, its promotional video, or its amateurish writing. There is simply no way he could be, unless he's been trapped in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for the last two months with no access to the internet. And Harlacher doesn't strike me as the type who owns a hyperbaric chamber.

So: Weird Tales has screwed the pooch, and has done so in such a spectacular fashion as to create a scorched-earth version of a once-great magazine, with a ring of incompetent stench and flop-sweat around it so large that it will be some time before actual professional writers want anything to do with it again. With the possible exception of Robert Silverberg. Which leads me back to that.So, here we go with that again:

I've posted about banned books on this blog before, and most likely will again--my Banned Books Week posts about Maus and Slaughterhouse-Five still get page hits to this day, even though they're well in the past. I'm married to a librarian, and I am vehemently anti-censorship. Which is how I can stand here (well, sit here actually, because if I tried to type this while standing it would be really tough on my back) and tell you that, in no uncertain terms, what happened with Weird Tales was not censorship.

Allow me to explain: Weird Tales is a privately owned and operated organization. The readers and professionals who withdrew support and/or work and/or money from Weird Tales are private citizens. At no time did anyone hold a gun to anyone's head here and say: stop publishing Victoria Foyt, or stop buying Weird Tales because of what they are publishing. At no point did anyone run to their congressman or village assemblyman or write a letter to the President of the United States demanding that Weird Tales be shut down by legal fiat. None of that happened. What happened was, Harlacher and Kaye did a thing that many, many many people regard as stupid, those people spoke out about it with their voices and their wallets, and Harlacher and Kaye realized they had done a stupid thing and stopped doing it. Pure and simple.

But Jay, I hear you ask: what about the tyranny of the majority? What about the right to free speech? What about the fact that Foyt is using the imagery of racism to promote tolerance? What about Robert Silverberg and his point about Ray Bradbury?

So, here are my refutations of those points: Where was your worry about the tyranny of the majority when Prop. 8 was passed in California? Because if you're more concerned with private citizens legitimately boycotting something they dislike over private citizens using the public arena to actively prohibit and proscribe what other private citizens are allowed to do, you need to take another look at your motivations. Put another way: private citizens can spend their money or not as they like, and if they choose to do so to make a point about speech they dislike, then as long as they do not use the law or government (i.e., the public arena) to try to legislate against that speech, they are free to do as they like. Harlacher and Kaye were not forced to abandon their plans; they did so voluntarily when faced with the consequences of their actions to the organization they run. They could just as easily have stuck to their guns and not backed down; the point is, they had a choice, just as the people calling for boycott had a choice. That's how it's supposed to work, folks.

Free speech? Well gee, hmm. Maybe you can show me whose speech was abridged and/or censored here? That would help. So, go ahead. Show me.

Harlacher and Kaye? Nope. They weren't censored. They changed their minds. And before you go on about how they were forced to do that, no they weren't. Read the paragraph above again until you figure it out.

Foyt? Last I heard she was still free to publish and publicize and sell her book, and nobody's tried to have her book confiscated, removed from libraries, or burned, which is more than you can say for Kurt Vonnegut or J. K. Rowling . . . so nope. Sorry. "But her critics forced them to . . ." No, they didn't. She is the target of heavy criticism and if that makes her uncomfortable, then too bad for her. And if it makes Harlacher and Kaye uncomfortable enough to withdraw their support and publication of her book, then that is likewise too bad. Whether you agree with it or not is also too bad, because it's still not censorship, no matter how much you want it to be.

Foyt was using the imagery of racism to promote tolerance? Maybe. But she was doing so in such a clumsy, facepalm-inducingly, ham-handed way as to make you wonder whether she had any idea what she was doing. I'm not getting into an extended discussion of what does and does not constitute racism in the context of Foyt's book and how people who have actually experienced racism have experienced it, but here is a good analysis if you want one. As to Foyt's use of every dipshit racist cliche you can think of, up to and including unironically describing black men as rapacious sexual beasts and  putting white characters in blackface . . . well, I'll let John Harlacher say it for me, because it is the one thing in his half-hearted apology that is entirely accurate: " It seems like the work of someone who does not understand the power of what she is playing with." I will freely admit that context means something, but so does how one approaches said context. Stephen King once noted that the original version of I Spit On Your Grave is, despite its intent, the work of morons with cameras. So it is here: Save the Pearls is, whatever its intent (and based on the author's comments about it that intent is ridiculously condescending and high-handed), the work of an idiot with a keyboard--and whether she meant it to be racist or not is irrelevant, because that's exactly how it comes across. Context cuts both ways.

So, that's that shot to shit too.

So what about Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury?

Well, what about them?

I don't mean that to be flippant. I seriously don't see, especially in light of my arguments above, how Silverberg's opinion is in any way a) well-informed about the issue, b) well-reasoned, or c) relevant. Bradbury's novel has been the subject of numerous attempts to use local government to legislate it away. Foyt's book has not. Therefore, this is not germane to the subject at hand. Dismissed back to Majipoor. Sorry, Robert.

I'm going to make a few final notes here about censorship and freedom of speech, and then I'm going to leave off.

First of all is one you hear all the time, but which I will repeat anyway because nobody ever seems to fucking hear it: Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. You have the right to say what you like--and if I then think what you said is a big stinkin' load of rhinoceros puckey, then I have every right to tell you so. And just because ten or twenty or thirty people also tell you so does not mean those people are trying to suppress your right to say what you want: it just means that ten or twenty or thirty people have now told you that what you said is, in their opinion, rhinoceros puckey. At that point it becomes incumbent on you to a) argue your point intelligently enough to convince them otherwise, or b) rethink your opinion in light of others'. Note that you are free to do either one. Criticism does not mean censorship--never confuse censure for a censor. If you do then you had better undertake some education because you clearly need it.

Second: Censorship is indeed bad, and I will never say it is not. The second someone tries to have Foyt's book banned from a library, let me know and I will make note of it. I honestly think you'd be better off reading something by Richard Wright or Eldridge Cleaver--but if Foyt floats your boat, be my guest. Even a shitty book deserves the right to be read. Which is how John Saul keeps getting published.

Finally: I would like to make the point that if you buy the argument that no publicity is bad publicity, then in writing about this, I and anyone else who has approached the subject from its various angles has become a de facto publicist for Victoria Foyt and her piece of printed excrement. That being the case, I would like  Ms. Foyt or her representatives to contact me regarding some form of recompense forthwith. Because while I may have the freedom of speech, my speech doesn't come for free.

. . . yeah, I ain't exactly holding my breath on that last one.

In conclusion? Ladles and Jellyspoons, this little tempest in an intertube is best left behind us. It's been a tough year for fandom already on a lot of levels, and this is just one more unfortunate mess to be added to the pile. My sympathies in the whole thing honestly lie with Ann VanderMeer, because it has to be just utterly heartbreaking to see the thing you spent years building and nurturing reduced to not just a shadow, but a shell. I know the VanderMeers themselves would rather put this behind them and move on to pastures greener (or at least weirder), so I will respect that and forbear any other commentary on this subject (you there in the back, stop cheering). I would suggest we all do so, rather than get drawn into another Series of Unfortunate Comments that hurts speculative fiction, fantasy fiction, horror, slipstream/bizzarro/New Weird/Old Weird/Weird Harold, what have you, and its fandom. We've been baited enough, and we've been badgered enough. And enough is enough.

06 June 2012

All Summer In a Day

(Note: This may or may not mark my return to these fields. I have been mulling over, for the past year-plus, this blog and what I ultimately want it to be, how I ultimately want it to feel, where I ultimately want it to go, and how I ultimately want it to grow. I do want to have a more regular web presence as my writing life picks up again. This is hopefully a first step in that direction. I will keep at it and will try to pop in here from time to time with stuff, and we'll see how this evolves.)


So . . . we lost Ray today.

He was 91, for the love of God. I shouldn't be sad. He lived one long life, one hell of a life. he had successes most of us don't even know how to dream of achieving, and he never stopped working, even when his health started to diminish. He stayed positive about his life and his work. Sad is the last thing he ever wanted anyone to be, and he would probably (if he knew me and were still here to talk to me), gently scold me for misplacing my sorrow.

“Death doesn't exist," he wrote, in Something Wicked This Way Comes. "It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing."

But: What a loss. Yet: What a darkness. 

2012 has been a rough year. Half over and we've lost a lot of damned good people. Losing MCA hit me especially hard, because we were so close in age; I was reminded uncomfortably and suddenly, as so many of my generation doubtless were, about my own mortality. But Ray Bradbury . . . damn. 

Even though I knew how old he was and how frail he had become in his sunset life, I saw the news this morning and said to myself: "Son of a bitch. No." It didn't seem possible. Because Ray seemed indestructible, somehow. He persevered,year to year, moment to moment, story to story, word to word. Knowing Ray, he'd probably just finished a new story the night before, and was already thinking about the next one. 

You're going to hear a lot about Ray over the next few days. Biographical information, mostly. The dry, chalk-dust details of a man's life, facts and figures scrawled in a ledger, faded-ink dates in a well-thumbed datebook, a few quotes here and there when something particularly pithy or notable (as we defiine and redefine notability) was said. All of it added up is still less than the sum of the parts. All of it added up will still not bring you the man that was. None of it will explain Ray Bradbury to you. It's just numbers and moments.  

So let me tell you about Ray Bradbury.

Ray was magic. 

I don't use that word lightly or glibly. I mean what I say. Ray Bradbury was wild, un-bottle-able, lightning-like, impossible magic. Not a magician; magic itself. His stories were the best kind of illusion: the kind that, while you were in them, were visions of such crystal clear wonderment that they took your breath away and left you inhaling something purer, deeper, more wonderful than plain old air. They stopped your heart and filled it with a thousand different shades of joy and love and terror and fear and wonder, and a hundred other things in their purest forms, and left you reflecting how similar those feelings were even as you thrilled to hear the beat of your own heart once more. Ray could give you a pocket thunderstorm on a spring afternoon, or a moment of music in the silence of a desert, or a moment of silence in the cacophony of your own life, and leave you not only grateful for the moment but thirsting for more. And that's the best kind of magic there is.

Ray wrote about everyone, everything, everywhere he could think of. No situation, no character, no concept was too outlandish; no joke too corny; no tear too maudlin. Not for Ray. It was all part and parcel of the hilarious tragedy, the terrifying comedy, the heartbreaking triumph we think of as life. Ray wrote fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction, comic vignettes, romances, slices of life--and transcended them all. Reading Ray at his best is like watching a benign eclipse unfold before your eyes: something blocks the sun and, instead of blinding you, it shows you things in the shadowed darkness you never knew were there. And that, too, is the best kind of magic there is. 

To read Ray Bradbury, to sit down and crack open one (any!) of his books, was to open the door on Oz and Wonderland and Barsoom and maybe a little Narnia and Middle Earth too, all rolled up chopped fine, and dusted across a world that was, in Ray's eyes, hardly mundane to begin with. And because he refused to see the world as anything but wonderful, he forced you to see it that way too. His grandson called him "The biggest kid I knew," and if you look at a picture of Ray at any age, that's what you see: A big grinning kid, bubbling over with delight at the possibilities of every single moment. And that Ray could transmit that glee across hundreds of pages, thousands of words, millions of miles, and infect your heart with that selfsame wonder, that selfsame bubbling soda-pop glee? Well damn it, that too is the best magic there is. 

In his best work--and "best" is a relative term when talking about Ray, because even his duds were a damn sight better than the "best" some other word-whittlers are capable of--Ray Bradbury took you to places you never imagined could be--and even if you didn't want to stay there, you were nevertheless grateful to have been transported to those places for the briefest of times. Places where five men pool money for one wonderful ice cream suit. Places where soft rains come. Where a tool of the system learns that all he needs to defy that system is the power of one word, after another, after another. Where a brief summer shower can transform a day into a diamond. Where the dust witch laughs and the merry-go-round takes the years, one by one, or gives them back in the same wise, and both burdens are too much for any lonely heart to bear. Where Mars can be heaven and hell and everything in between. Where two lovers can be Laurel and Hardy. Where an old woman can find lost love, even after decades, and where an old man travels back to warn his young self to treasure the love he has, lest he recklessly spend it to tragic ends. And where a pair of new sneakers holds in itself all the potential of summer, of running through fields like gazelles, like antelopes, and leaping from adventure to adventure, from the rising of the sun to the twinkling of the stars at twilight.

That is the magic of Ray Bradbury, most of all. His magic was--is--all of summer, in a day. His joyful heart poured out onto the page with every word he wrote. If you want to pay tribute to him, go out and read those words, and let that joy, that glee, that unbound wild magic of all summer in a day, fill you up to overflowing, and then pour it all out into the world. Let it color everything you see, everything you say, everything you do, every heart you touch. And try to touch as many hearts as you can, and show them all that summer wonder in turn . . . and in turning, ask them to show the same to others. 

No words, no works, could be a more fitting expression of gratitude to Ray Bradbury.

And now, I cannot be sad. Not in the face of all the joy, all the summer, all the magic, that he brought to my life. I can but smile, and say thank you. And if I cry, it is from the joy that overspills my heart, in gratutude  for all the wonders he has shown me. 

Thank you, Ray. So very much. For everything.