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.