Jim Hines brought my attention to this quote from someone in science-fiction fandom:
Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more people of color into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)
Many of these guys would love to befriend an alien… in the abstract. But I’m pretty sure that if we did meet aliens, they’d be, well, alien. They wouldn’t understand humans all that well. They’d arrive from an entirely different culture, one they’d consider to be the “default” culture that all sentient beings follow in their heart of hearts, and they’d make constant mistakes. You’d get invited to the alien’s house, and they’d forget, oh hey, you eat chicken strips and not cans of semi-sentient slime.
Man, that’s so messed up that you eat dead chickens, the aliens would say. Why would you do that? Why aren’t you drinking our slime? Hey, check it out, this guy eats dead chickens – do you just snap their necks and gnaw on the bodies?
You don’t? Crazy. Anyway, all we got is slime, so here, we put some ice in it. You humans all love ice.
And the aliens would be thrilled, showing you around to all their friends, because you’re their proof that they’ve got a human friend. You have the vague feeling that they really don’t give a crap about you per se, you could be any human, but they’re very happy to show you off like you’re some kind of prize they won when you go to their alien parties.
And when the aliens are a little tipsy on their slime-drinks, they make comments. They high-seven each other and talk about how great it is that we helped you. Because you guys – you’re always “you guys” – never did invent intergalactic space travel. We had to give it to you. Oh, yeah, I’m sure you would have gotten there eventually! But it’s good to help the races that just don’t put it together as fast. You folks were pretty much stewing to death in your wars and garbage and whatnot, and, I mean, wow, you sure like killing each other.
“I never killed anyone,” you’d protest.
Your people do, though, they’d say, and you’d have this discomforting feeling like there’s no distinction between you and everyone else like you.
And at parties, some of the aliens would dress up like you, putting on a comically oversized Texan hat and dancing Gangnam Style and putting on that big, swinging foam genitalia they think is so hysterical because they all reproduce asexually and eyew sex, and they’d wander around mashing your whole culture into one discrete wad, and they’d laugh because you humans have so much of interest to tell us. And their stories would all feature humans as a stock figure of The Race That Didn’t Really Want It, a bunch of backwards hicks who were so caught up in strangling each other they never thought to look to the stars, either the tragic figure who had to be killed to make way for progress or the goggle-eyed comic figure who wandered around Jar Jar Binks-style, astounded by all their magical inventions.
And after a while, you might stop coming to the parties, because the slime-drinks weren’t any good and their movies made fun of you and the aliens kept getting drunk and touching your junk because oh my elders, is that how you reproduce, lemme see that! And when you complained, they assured you that you were making too big a deal of things, those were just jokes, and these were just movies, they didn’t think that way about you, come on. We love you guys. We love you. Just stick around.
You might stop attending those wild alien parties. And the aliens would talk among themselves, trying to figure out why the humans were staying away. We were friendly! they’d cry. We bought them chicken strips!
What’s wrong with them, that they don’t show up?
I am, as they say in “the biz,” a pantser. I don’t plot anything; I just find an interesting starting point and get to writing.
This is a high-wire act, rife with failure. Neil Gaiman once likened it out leaping out of a plane and hoping you can knit a parachute on the way down. And I have the smashed wreckage of many stories that I could not find an ending for, including one sad novel that devoured half a year of my life before coughing up blood on my vest.
Yet I am currently rewriting the last third of a novel, after someone In The Biz pointed out that the last third didn’t fit with what had happened before. (Oh, the plot made sense, but thematically it’s like Dorothy went to the Land of Oz and then jetted over to visit Christopher Robin; the last third wasn’t bad, but it was addressing entirely different concerns than the first bits.) So I made a detailed outline (10,000 words!) and ran it by some very smart friends of mine who’d read the book for me, and they agreed it was pretty good.
Writing the actual words has been a vacuous hell.
As it turns out, I write to see what happens next. And knowing what happens next, all the bits afterwards are boring transcription: I’m left with all the tedious details, the equivalent of choosing camera angles after the actors have been cast and the sets built. And some really get off on selecting camera angles, there’s nothing wrong with that, but for me I know what they’re going to do and they can’t vary all that much from it because it’s a quite good outline, so now what?
This novel will make me gain weight, as the only way I can force myself to write it is to promise myself a large glass of chocolate milk when I am done with the day’s work. And nothing is better than a large glass of chocolate milk.
Oh, there are little surprises, enough to keep me going: here’s a need for a secondary character, here’s a scene that turned out more powerful than I’d envisioned, and of course I need my protagonist to be more active in his fate. (Always my problem in early drafts.) But in general, this is loathsome writing to me, a thing I find mechanical and hateful.
Many outline their plots wonderfully. Every time I’ve tried, it’s ended in disaster. My inner muse doesn’t like being bossed around, and I guess I’d better let her run amuck.
Which is the real lesson for all writers: There’s nothing that works. There’s only what works for you. Find it.
Regarding my concern over how many female writers I am reading, pktechgirl phrased it wonderfully:
The premise is not that women are lesser writers who need a hand up. The premise is that the same quality of book will get less attention when written by a woman, and we should actively work to counter that.
In case you were hoping to share my essay “How Kids React To My Pretty Princess Nails” but were blocked by work because it’s adult content, the Good Men Project has reprinted it in a slightly changed format. Go check it out, comment, love, whatever you crazy kids to do it. Also, it gives them traffic, which I support.
I really wish I knew who to petition to have my site taken off the “adult content” lists. I put it on to be nice because I swore a lot and occasionally wrote about the vajayjay, and I thought being scrupulous would protect my site from kids. Now the whole Internet is 4chan, and I wish I could say, “Hey, all I do is words, you don’t need to treat me like I’m cow-felching porn,” but I don’t know to whom. There’s plenty of links to put yourself on the porno lists, but few I’ve found to get off.
(…so to speak.)
In any case, my essay is live and has pictures of me and more shareable, and on a larger website to boot. So check it out.
It started innocuously enough – when long-time reader Snippy left a comment on my Christmas List:
I’m curious: aren’t there any women writers whose work you’d like as a gift?
To which my snap reply was:
No, because I bought them all. (Or, in the case of Ann Leckie, won the relevant one I would have bought.)
Which was true. My Christmas list rarely reflects what I actually like, as I am a man of little restraint and tend to rush out and purchase what I want now, now, now. So when I heard Holly Black had a new book, I immediately zipped out and purchased that, and was literally about to purchase Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice when she announced she was holding a book contest, which I won. (In retrospect, Ancillary Justice was so good that I wish I’d purchased it just to give her money.)
My Christmas List was, in fact, originally developed as a defensive mechanism for friends and family, because before I started locking everything off, I bought ALL THE THINGS. So the Christmas List isn’t necessarily what I’m lusting to read – which are usually in my hot little handles – but rather what I’m curious about but not so rabidly curious as to get it that very moment.
Still, it’s a valid question. Do I read enough female authors? Certainly the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the last four months skew female: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, and Joe Lansdale’s The Thicket are my favorite books, so 66% wimmen. I’m reading Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted, and that’s lovely enough that it’s going to be the topic of one of my upcoming podcasts.
But I don’t know. I tend to be more enthusiastic on the whole about my female authors than male authors – I’m a big fanboy for Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin, so much so that there’s actually a hidden reference to them in the novel I’m writing now, and that novel is heavily inspired by Kij Johnston and Suzanne Collins. And while Daniel Abraham is my latest big fantasy crush I’m really kinda psyched to get around to Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, who I love as a blogger. (I’m actually sort of irritated that that’s not on my Christmas list, as I accidentally marked that as “purchased” on my wishlist when I didn’t mean to.)
I don’t know. It’s a tough call. Of the books on my to-read shelf, there’s only two females on it right now out of about ten books (hellooo, Seanan McGuire and Jo Walton), but I do tend to read more books by men because I have old and accreted tastes. Which is to say that ZOMG NEW STEPHEN KING BOOK and ZOMG JOE LANSDALE BOOK and ZOMG TERRY PRATCHETT and ZOMG OTHER DUDE I GREW UP READING do tend to clog the ol’ bookshelves, as I have a long history of acquiring my reading tastes during a time when women were not well-represented. And I love those guys severely. When they have new stuff, I get it reflexively. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But they do tend to get in the way of reading newer authors. Every book by an old favorite I’m reading is time I’m spending not reading some new hotness.
Plus, my old tastes had been reasonably constricted for the past decade or so. I used to read very widely, when I worked at Borders, and then there was a long period where I wasn’t as in-touch with the book industry, so what I read had calcified a bit into old favorites. Now, with Twitter and Facebook, I’m constantly hearing my friends micro-squee about awesome books, and my tastes have become much more catholic. There’s just a lot more authors I’m hearing about, period.
And those new tastes tend to skew very equal, if not actually biased towards women, as I read more women bloggers than men and as such I’m more likely to stumble across a really exciting female author. I think in about ten years that to-read shelf will have adjusted towards gender equivalence, as eventually I’ll have accreted enough new and exciting female authors that I’ll have to have their latest on the shelf, too, clogging up the path for even newer writers who I feel guilty about not reading.
It’s a good question to ask. I mean, the ultimate goal is to ensure that I’m reading good books, regardless of the author’s gender. Picking several books at random from girl-writers just to equalize the playing field would be crazy. But it is good to stop and analyze your reading habits occasionally, to see whether the new books you’re reading could be chosen a little more widely. And I’m glad to say that I think they are. I’m still reading probably about 70% guys at this stage, but a lot of those guys are – ahem – grandfathered in. But of my new and squeeing fandom-reads, a lot of them are women, and I think that ultimately balances out over time.
I won’t read a book just because someone’s a woman, just as I wouldn’t read a book just because someone’s a man. But questioning what you’re reading? Questioning what slices of life you choose to experience? It’s good to be called on that, and even more pleasant to come to the conclusion that you’re well on the path.
My goddaughter Rebecca has brain cancer, and may pass on before she sees her seventh birthday. So naturally, this fact sent me spluttering into rage:
And, no; no. I don’t want to hear it. There are all sorts of understandable root causes as to why a cartoon dog gets more attention than dying kids, and I’m sure you can make excuses for humanity, but I’m not going to listen today.
I’m going to fight it.
Here’s the deal: For every donation you make to the Cure Search For Children’s Cancer Fund in Rebecca Meyer’s name before December 31st, 2013, I will match that donation. (Up to $500.) The thing about children’s cancer is that we think we’ve whipped it, but in many cases mortality rates for kids are worse than for adults. And nobody likes staring into that abyss. Much more pleasant to watch Family Guy, which at least gives you a few laughs along the way.
But kids need the damn help. So if you donate, I will, and we’ll make the world a better place. (And while you’re at it, take a few moments to sign the petition to increase funding for children’s cancer from its current small base of 4% of total funding.)
The time has come for my Annual Greed List – the large (and, yes, uncut) list of things I desire for Christmas in 2013. Why do I do this? If you’re really interested, here’s a brief history of the Greed List.
The briefer version, however, is that I think “What you want” is a reflection of “Who you are” at this moment – your music, your hobbies, your fandoms, who you are as a person. I find it fascinating as a history, watching how what I’ve desired has mutated (the shifts away from physical objects is so bizarre, as I used to want tons of CDs and DVDs and now that’s mostly a computer file somewhere), and remembering what I thought I wanted so badly but turned out to be too much effort to turn into a hobby (last year’s fire poi), and the things I did want that became habit (last year’s straight razor).
And while I guess I could just toss all this on an Amazon Wishlist and send you over, why bother? I want you to know who I am in this moment, and so I not only list what I want, but explain why I want it.
So here it is. Here’s who I am this year, expressed in what I want, in descending order of most-lust to least-lust.
The Xbox One.
I’ve gone back and forth on this one, as I want to like the XBox One, but have listed the reasons I probably won’t buy it right away. And it’s early in the days of the Console Wars, and maybe the XBox One will turn out to be the Nintendo Wii-U – an embarrassing, underpowered platform. And that’s why I won’t drop $600 on the sucker.
But if someone wanted to get it for me as a gift….
I don’t know who would, honestly. The only person who might conceivably splurge that much is Gini, and she’s made it clear she won’t. (I can’t blame her.) But if someone out there has a spare $600 and wanted to drop it on a random blogger, well, I’d definitely play it. Probably. I promise I’d be extremely excited about it. At least on Christmas Day.
Okay, maybe not your best idea.
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero
At our house, we have a tradition: we lure people into watching The Room, the worst movie ever made. Most of the so-called “bad movies” are a little sad, and a little monotone – I don’t like MST3k because they mock guys who were doing their best with no budget, on one-joke films. After about ten minutes of these bad movies, we get that they can’t act and there’s no SFX budget and oh ha ha I am bored.
The Room, however, is a chameleon of suck, mutating into an entirely different terrible movie every ten minutes. When you think you can’t take enough terrible soft-core porn, it becomes an incomprehensible drug family drama, and then a crime thriller. Sorta. It’s amazing. And they had $6 million to make this fucking thing, and it looks awful. I have watched The Room at least ten times, and its charm has not faded.
So an inside story by one of its lead actors? In a book that is well-reviewed? Be still, my beating heart.
The Black Guardian Trilogy, on DVD
This is where I fell in love with Doctor Who.
I hadn’t really seen Doctor Who before, but my friend Mark Goldstein had them all on tape. And I watched this show where a man in a weird suit woke up in the cellar of a ship, a big 17th-century schooner, then walked out on deck to discover that the ships were sailing through space.
That is an iconic image for me. It is all of sci-fi for me, this wonderful blending of tropes. And I hadn’t really known you could do that, until Doctor Who showed me how.
And it is not a good series, Lord knows. Even in terms of mid-1980s Doctor Who canon, Peter Davison fighting the Black Guardian isn’t his high-water moment. But this is out on DVD now, and I want to recapture that magic, even if as with most old-school Doctor Who it is wrapped in tons of padded storylines and recycled “Oh, the Doctor has been captured again” moments so they can get the most usage out of the few sets they managed to build.
I do not believe in guilty pleasures, only indefensible ones. My heart longs for this. I know it’s not good, but it is fundamental to me, and I must have it.
Tangled, on Blu-Ray.
One of my favorite movies of all-time, right up there with The Princess Bride. And we have the boring old regular DVD, which has no extras.
I wish to see the extras for one of the best movies of the last decade. (Frozen may be better, but it’s not our on DVD yet. I’ll just sing along with all the songs until Gini bashes me in the head with a frying pan.)
I don’t know a better way to put this, but it’s the kind of bike that has two handles so that you can work your arms out while you work your legs. I use one of these at the cardiac rehab center, and it is so much better than a stationary bike. And it’s so much better than a real bike, where you have to go outside and get sweaty and have people watch your ugly flabbiness carted around town, when I could just stay in my basement and watch Batman: the Animated series that I got last year for Christmas. (Thanks, Dad!)
This doesn’t have to be new. One suspects we could pick one up on Craigslist for $75. I’d be happy with that.
Better Angels, by Greg Stolze
One of the unexpected benefits of getting into podcasts – which I did because we got a dog, and to walk the dog for an hour a day involves needing some auditory distraction – is getting back into RPGs. And so I discovered this gem from one of the creators of Unknown Armies, which may be my all-time favorite RPG (and a larger influence on my current novel than I’d like to admit).
Better Angels asks the question, “Why are supervillains so evil and so smart yet so incompetent?” And the answer is that there is a secret organization that imprisons demons inside the bodies of the noblest men. These noble men (and woman!) agree to harbor the demon so it will do the least amount of damage – but the demon needs to be appeased. And so these poor sacrificial lambs enact huge plans they know are doomed to fail, big splashy things to make a demon happy yet easily toppled by the right people.
They are the supervillains. They are the heroes. And you play them.
Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone
Again, listening to a lot of podcasts – which are mostly roleplaying and book-related ‘casts for me – puts me in touch with a lot of really good books I want to read. Max Gladstone was nominated for the Campbell this year for his debut novel, which mixes law school with magic. That’s an interesting combo I hadn’t seen, and so I want to read it in the tub. I need physical copies of all my books, man. The tub is where my reading gets done, and I can’t risk my iPhone in there.
…Okay, I can. And do. But I like being able to put my electronic instruments of text-distraction aside for a while to just turn pages. There’s a quiet beauty in that that I still like to experience. It’s a joy that will doubtlessly be old-fashioned in another twenty years – is now, I guess – but I’m not willing to give it up, and so I want the dead tree editions.
Hamlet’s Hit Points, by Robin D. Laws
Robin Laws is one of the better RPG designers out there, and he wrote a book on plot structure – from an RPG point of view.
Now, I’m actually terrible at plotting. Or, actually, I’m good at it, but I can’t outline to save my life, and I don’t think like other plotters do; I’m very organic. I stumble across all my plots, and when I hear people saying things like “A scene is where two people walk in with conflicting motivations, and one is successful in achieving that,” I think of my own stories where that often happens, but it’s inevitably by accident. I don’t think in terms of setting people up like some sort of mechanical clockspring. I just put them in a room and they do things, and mostly those things result in a story.
And so I’m fascinated by the people who do get the internal structures of plotting, as Robin does. I’d like to see his take on it, because I don’t know that it helps me write but Holy God is it neat to see.
Yurbuds Ear Plugs
My earplugs fall out all the time. These come recommended, and I can wear them under my sweet hat.
Shadowrun 5th Edition Rulebook
Shadowrun is one of the classic RPGs, a mixture of fantasy and cyberpunk. It’s known for being intensely flavorful, and almost utterly unplayable thanks to FASA’s traditional love of really complicated rules for little upside, and also for having characters interact in planes where the rest of the party is utterly useless. (You’re a hacker, huh? Well, you get to go play in cyberspace, where none of the other PCs can venture! Oh, and the mage has kipped off to the astral plane, similarly masturbating!)
Still, I have a lot of fondness for Shadowrun, and they brought it back thanks to a successful Kickstarter, and I would love to see what they’ve done with it. Maybe the rules don’t suck quite as much! Maybe the guy who drives the car can do something other than cowering in every firefight until it’s time to peel out! And even if I never play it, it’s still fun to read!
Beyond The Rift by Peter Watts
Peter Watts wrote the most mind-blowing novel I have read as an adult: That would be Blindsight, which is actually a cleverly-concealed argument that mankind is…
…oh, I’ll let you read it. But really. It changes your view of life. Itself!
That’s because Peter Watts is a biologist, and so his aliens are really alien. And unsettlingly plausible. And his story “The Things” is also awesome, and so this short story collection of his is something I covet.
But don’t read Blindsight unless you want to know something about your biology you may not want to know. It’s that good.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon, I know mainly for being very nice to me at a convention when he didn’t have to. He’s a big author, huge, and yet was very nice to this short story writer and offered to play Magic with me. So I like him. And he’s great on panels, as he would be because his podcast Writing Excuses (well, his podcast with several other smart writers I admire) is awesome.
He’s also famed for really consistent magical systems, so much so that his fans have actually hypothesized (and correctly!) what had to happen in future books because according to the physics of his spells, X would have to happen… and it did. So when I hear he has a YA book out with a new magic system, I want to try that.
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
Speaking of Writing Excuses, I heard Wesley talk on there, and his background as a martial artist and stuntman sounded fascinating. The only other guy I know who is a martial artist who writes is Joe Lansdale, and Joe is one of my pantheon of Godly authors. So that’s intriguing. Then you throw in the idea that Wesley wanted to write a story about a pudgy, middle-aged nobody who, via alien possession, becomes a badass, and that character arc snapped me right into “interesting.”
Muppets Animal Underwear
Do I really need to give an explanation of my deep need for this?
Cloud Atlas on Blu-Ray DVD
Cloud Atlas was a very underrated movie about reincarnation – while it’s beautiful and ambitious, the horrible makeup pretty much killed it. Yes, you can turn a South Korean woman into a ginger, but the results are kind of eye-searing. And I know, they were trying to show how people can change races and sexes through their various lives, but by God that horrible yellowface makeup on Jim Sturgess did not help.
Still, I have a long habit of loving movies that are more about the idea than the execution, and this is no exception. Cloud Atlas has been on HBO several times, and I’ve enjoyed it more on each watch; I’d love the bonus features, and I’d love to watch it whenever I see fit.
Dishonored, for the Xbox 360
I’ve heard good things about this game, and I need a shoot-’em-up to occupy my time. (Note: Good games are thin on the ground this year. This may be the first time in recorded history where a videogame didn’t make my top four.)
Microphone Pop FilterI’m getting into podcasting, and I’m told this is nice to stop all my plosive “P”s from bursting people’s eardrums. Though the first podcast I recorded sounded pretty good to me. Thankfully, this is cheap.
Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite, by Barry Deutsch
The first book in this series promised: “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.” And lo, they did fight. This quirky little graphic novel was charmingly unpredictable, and I’d like to see if the second in the series is as good as the first.