Everything Good Must Come to an End – The Baltimore Bookfest Edition

It’s over.

I was glad I decided to come down to the Inner Harbor on Saturday to meet some of my colleagues in SFWA. I was able to catch the last 15 minutes or so of the Black Sci Fi panel before attending the “Second Breakfast to Snozzberries” panel all about food.

My apologies to Fran Wilde for a slight derailment of the panel due to a discussion of casu marzu. The resultant explanations of how the Sardinian cheese is made and eaten was hilarious.

I got to speak with Sam J. Miller, and was surprised when he remembered a story I’d sent him more than a year ago. On Sunday, while on the Short Stories panel, he referenced my story again, and said every rejection like that is a little bit of pain an editor carries with them.

I was floored by his kind words, and if that had been the only panel I’d been scheduled to attend, I’d have gone home happy.

However I went on to moderate two panels after that.

In any case, this is one of the reasons I love this community–we do strive to be encouraging to each other, and I thank Sam for his kind words.

 

 

I’ll Be Speaking on Panels at the Baltimore Book Fest!

I’ll be speaking on panels on September 25th at the SFWA tent.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity, and will be speaking about short fiction in Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as what to read while waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones.

My schedule will be as follows:

1:00 PM – Short Stories: The Heart of SFF

A discussion of why short stories are the heart of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and where these gems can be found.

3:00 PM – Near Future/Far Future

Science fiction has been touted as being predictive of what happens next, but what’s the difference between what’s around the corner, and far beyond our imaginations?

4:00 PM – Beyond Game of Thrones

Yes, everyone’s waiting for either the next season of Game of Thrones, or the next book. What can you read until then? We will discuss other books (and series!) where intrigue and politics are the norm.

This will be my fourth time going to the Baltimore Book Fest, and it’s always fun. If you’re planning on visiting, come by the SFWA tent and say hi!

The Get Down is the Best Netflix Series I’ve Seen All Year

If you haven’t seen The Get Down, you’re missing out.

This series is so much fun, and unapologetic about how brash and hopeful its story is. I also have to say that the cast is almost entirely brown and black, with all the colors between, which is such a refreshing thing to see. I watched the first 10 minutes of the first episode with a smile on my face because the show knows exactly what it wants to do.

The series takes place in a mythic version of 70’s Bronx, mixing together references to Blaxploitation and Kung-Fu movies, along with a dash of The Warriors and West Side Story. Add to this  amazing, soaring musical numbers, and you realize this series doesn’t care about naturalism. The storytelling is crafting a world that is epic and operatic, and I’m along for the ride.

Go see The Get Down. Seriously.

 

Colonial Mindsets and Ancillary Sword

I came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico because of the economy, a slo-mo apocalypse that many people I know here can’t begin to understand. I have family and friends who still live there, and I’ve been following how it’s been reported in the U.S. as a result.

$72 billion is an astounding number, and is a debt the island will likely never be able to repay in full. However, the U.S. government appointed a group to preside over Puerto Rico’s economy. The Junta wasn’t voted for, yet they will have the power to override the democratically elected government of Puerto Rico whenever payments to service the debt are endangered.

This could mean pension plans and other welfare could be slashed to ensure the debt is serviced. It also means that young people (up to 25 years of age) can be subject to a minimum wage of $4.25.

I’ve seen many articles which point to Puerto Rico mirroring the Federal minimum wage as a cautionary tale for the Fight for $15 people in the U.S. Most of these articles don’t really delve into the economic and political history of  Puerto Rico. This would illustrate a far more complex picture.

I’ve been critical of how the U.S. decided to handle this crisis. I hoped for more than what amounts to a bunch of debt collectors flying down to the island to ensure hedge fund managers get their payments.

Why am I telling you this?

Not long after I posted something on social media someone I know told me I

shouldn’t post anything that could be construed as Anti-American. To be clear, I posted this:

Three Conquering Forces
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

 

Puerto Rico has been conquered twice before, and in the right-most picture the Junta can be seen debarking to get to the Condado Beach Hotel (out of the frame are hundreds, if not thousands of citizens protesting their arrival). I liked the how the juxtaposition of these images told a story of an island which has always known colonial status.

However, the person who contacted me is not alone in believing that they are not a colony, that because the oppression is economic it’s not happening.

What, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, does any of this have to do with Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword? I came here for the sci-fi, not the poli-sci, you also might be saying.

One of Ancillary Sword‘s subplots has to do with the downtrodden people of the Undergarden. After reading it, I couldn’t help but agree with Analee Newitz:

 To the extent that there is an overarching plot, it’s simply that Breq is a kind of human rights superhero, able to dispense equal rights wherever she goes.

The underclass presented is somewhat monolithic, with no splinter groups. There aren’t any splinter groups or schisms that complicate things. Granted, Breq may be thousands of years old, but she’s also a ship perhaps used to strict, military order, and could have slipped into the ever-growing chaos of people being people. This plot didn’t ring true to me.

Take another look at that picture. Imagine how wave after wave of Radch came to “civilize” you (as if you weren’t already civilized in your own way). Imagine how much more angry you’d be if–after the Radch sand away all the rough edges of your culture that aren’t compatible with theirs–even their promise of bringing you a better life isn’t true. There would be people who are angry and want change, but there would also be people frightened who don’t want it on the off-chance it might anger their Colonizers. There might also be people who want to see it all go down in flames.

None of these things happen in the book, which disappointed me. Sure, there’s some effort to bring awareness of this aspect of Leckie’s impressive world, but it’s not really important enough to place Breq in any danger.

Ancillary Sword was a good read, and I enjoyed visiting the world of the Imperial Radch again, but I wished it could have been more than what it was.

The Use of AI in Science Fiction Stories Has Changed

One of the first science fiction books I read which seemed to make my synapses fire off all at once in a cognitive supernova was William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In it, Gibson presents both AIs Wintermute and Neuromancer as complementary halves of one family’s mega-corporation. In essence, by unifying both the AIs the corporation started by the Tessier-Ashpools, their corporation–and by extension, their family influence–would become immortal.

Sort of like the literalization of a corporation’s “going concern.”

As can be expected, the AIs here are vast demi-godlike entities, alien and threatening by turns.

Re-reading Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” the AI there is more interested in finding ways to please or help different people who post cat pictures online. It’s a cute and very positive story. It also offers a clever explanation for why cat pictures are one of the currencies of current internet culture. The story is told from the point of view of the AI itself, which self-actualizes with no one noticing, able to decide its own purpose and what rules it will follow.

This story predates the release of a twitter bot into the wild. You may have heard how it turned out.

I liked the story quite a bit, but after reading it, was left with questions. Does this mean that AIs–and by extension, corporations–should be viewed as people?

This message sounds familiar.

So, the Hugos. . .

While I enjoyed reading Chuck Tingle’s posts, I must admit that I’m not at a point in my writing career where I followed all of the ups and downs. I also realized that the one thing I read was Naomi Kritzer’s award-winning story, “Cat Pictures Please.”

What I’m getting at is that I’m woefully behind on my reading.

 

Trying My Hand at Interactive Fiction

I worked on converting my story “Choice, In Sequential Order” into an interactive fiction story using a program called Twine. It was somewhat easy to learn the basics, but I want to learn more about both Twine and Inform.

I would love to be able to create something as complex as the old Infocom games using Inform. I remember countless hours in our school’s computer lab, either typing in commands, or huddled around three or more friends watching the story unfold in all its green-screen glory.

This dynamic continued with stuff like Ultima III. I was the cartographer, pushing pins into the cloth map “gimme” the game included to mark locations of secret places, dungeons, etc.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for interactive fiction. I learned that I was not alone. Every year, there are the XYZZY Awards to honor the year’s best in that field. There’s also a new online magazine for interactive fiction short stories called sub-Q Magazine.

At sub-Q, there are several different flavors of interactive fiction, but if you want a head-scratching experience, I can recommend “Lime Ergot” (listed under the horror submenu there). This one awakened the old puzzlehound in me, and I failed to grok it until I noticed one, tiny discrepancy in the descriptions. Go try it out!

I will post something about the Hugos in the next few days, so keep an eye out for my next post!

Maine Vacation

Just like on the tin: I’m in Maine, on vacation for a week.

Some interesting notes, in no particular order.

  • I found out how to actually pronounce the “Ayuh” affirmative, as per the boatload of Stephen King books I’d read
  • Maine loves its ice cream very very much–there are ice cream places all over, sometimes within sight of each other
  • There are thousands of tiny blueberries growing along the sides of the road in many places
  • I saw a young bull moose!

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It was a massive animal, and we kept the car in gear just in case it didn’t like us very much. I feel very fortunate to have seen a moose my first time up here (some of our group hadn’t seen moose in several years).

Now, back to my regularly scheduled vacation.

What I’m Learning From Edgar Wright and “The World’s End”

I watched “The World’s End” the other night, and found it to be an outstanding piece of storytelling. The basic premise is: Gary Knight, wanting to relive his self-professed “best night of his life” cajoles his estranged friends into trying to try The Golden Mile, and complete it this time.

This is told in obvious flashback, where we get to see just-out-of-school Gary, Andy, Steve, Peter and Oliver as The Fateful Night played out. . .

And then, we see Gary King in his present context: telling this to the other participants in some type of group therapy or 12-Step program. He stares off into the distance, a smile frozen on his face. Note: the Golden Mile is comprised of 12 pubs, a detail Edgar Wright likely included in the story as a parallel of the 12-step program.

I won’t go into all the particular layers in the movie (and there are), since they have been covered already–and with much more mastery–over here.

No, after watching it twice, I realized the opening sequence explained the order in which the plot would unfold. It’s all there, with the difference being that the friends are all older, and all of them have grown up and “put away childish things” with the exception of Gary.

The thing is: none of them have changed much at all from their younger selves. Once the friends are gathered, you find that they all harbor bad feelings dating back to their time in school, that they haven’t grown up much at all. At heart, Andy is still holding a grudge over how Gary reacted to an accident Back In The Day. Granted, that Andy may have nearly died and required surgery and physical therapy to get better makes it understandable, but to hold onto that grudge for so very long seems. . . unhealthy. Peter, we find out as they’re already on the Golden Mile 2.0, was bullied throughout school, which hints at what how we see his situation now: hidden from his wife, working under his overbearing father, always a bit of a second-fiddle in his own life. Steve carried a torch for Oliver’s sister since high school. . .

Overall, with these things in mind, it becomes apparent that Gary–despite being a drunk and a bit of a fuck-up–is the only one of them who is honest with himself about living in the past.

There’s little bits about “where have the days of yore gone?” throughout the movie. When it becomes apparent Andy has gone teetotal, Gary makes a convoluted plea involving King Arthur, Camelot and mead being the King of Beers. There’s the nostalgia evoked when they find out the pubs on the Golden Mile have all been converted into cookie-cutter copies of each other. There’s the mutual respect of Peter when he was able to hook up with the “marmalade sandwich” (two blonde girls, with a red-head between them), and the paranoia the remaining companions feel when they reach the Smokehouse.

It’s all there, and I cannot imagine just how crazy-detailed Edgar Wright is to pull it all off. If I can pull off even half of what he’s able to to do, I should be able to make sales left and right. . .

 

Great News! I Made My First Sale to Daily Science Fiction!

It’s been a few days since I got the news, but I was thrilled to receive the news I sold my story “Every Orphan Child to a Good Home Must Go” to Daily Science Fiction.

The story is in conversation with the “Chosen One” tropes in fairy tales, and the people behind the scenes who make sure all those special orphan children destined for greatness achieve their purpose.