Accepting the Gauntlet: A FANifesto

Let me share my story, as Brad Torgersen enjoined us here:

I am a fan of Speculative Fiction.

I have provided hotel security for Conventions a couple of times. But I’ve never been able to attend one otherwise. And I actually forgot about the Sci-Fi convention I provided security for until now. Given that I’d provided it for a hundred other functions in my time there. They were fun. But that was most of a decade ago.

I’ve shared for-fun geek tests with people. I don’t think I’ve ever lost one of them. ūüėČ I don’t think of them as defining my fandom against their own. After all, if we want to engage in such a contest, we’re already pretty tied into that franchise.

I grew up on the DA-DA-DadaDA-DA! of the Star Trek Original Series combat music. Watching Kirk call for Scottie to beam him out of the dying Constitution before the Doomsday Machine killed him. Then I watched him and Khan trade barbs as Ricardo made Shatner out as his Moby Dick–that might have been symbolic, at the time. ūüėČ When Picard took the chair, I endured Wesley and the ever-growing array of time travel episodes because of moments like this:

I’ve read through three copies of the Lord of the Rings. For almost twenty years, it was an annual rite to read through it. I first entered Tolkien’s world at 12. I don’t think I’ve left it yet. I ground my teeth when the hobbits were dragged to Osgiliath and Faromir turned into Baromir-light. But that still hasn’t kept me from wanting to go back.

I watched every episode of Battlestar Galactica AND Battlestar Galactica 1980…try finding THAT one anymore. ūüėČ

I still have 1st Edition AD&D, along with Baldur’s Gate, Victoriana, and Shadowrun. Anyone want a game?

I’m not afraid of a female lead, with Sydney Bristow tracking down Rimbaldi’s NostraVinci artifacts. Or when Delenn rode the White Star past Babylon 5 with perhaps the most awesome Big Damn Heroine moment of all time:

And while we’re on the subject of Big Damn Heroes: The best dialog ever to come out of Nathan Filion’s mouth. And he’ll tell you that himself.

And Kate Daniels carving her way to Roland is every bit as amazing as Harry Dresden riding a T-Rex to me. Or Honor Harrington turning the Grav-Lance on the Peeps. Or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in the dark, festering streets of Lankhmar.

Color of the hero doesn’t matter. Quick Ben’s shaved knuckles are just as impressive as Jake Sullivan spiking gravity. Race doesn’t matter, because as G’Kar says, “We are one.”

You don’t have to be Right or Left. Conservative, Liberal, or Libertarian. You only have to believe you want to make a future better than what we inherited. That you believe in a story. That you believe in heroes that will walk through Hell to make the world they believe in reality. And that they inspire you to reach for that world yourself. And if you believe that telling others you know what a fan is better than someone else, well all I can say is quote Ambassador Mollari: “Arrogance and stupidity, all in one package.”

That’s what being a fan is. To be inspired to believe in a better world. And the desire to make it so. And sometimes, that means a hero is someone who was a villain…like Mollari himself:

So Say We All.

You Know, I Can Think of Better Uses for $1,000,000

But apparently Gawker had to double down on stupid so hard in #Gamersgate that they spent that much trashing game-players.

And yet, their President and a chief editor STILL went down in flames over it. Yeah, so perhaps the Mainstream Media might want to reconsider who is ‘winning’ on this issue. Because you don’t see any of the defenders knifing their own to survive. But hey, Gawker-owned Kotaku would rather defend the sexual freedom of a person trading horizontal favors for positive reviews. When you set your standard for journalistic integrity THAT low, it’s probably no surprise heads are rolling.

So I’m saying Arrow is Going to the Lazarus Pits.

My guess is his old ‘host’ knows Oliver didn’t really murder Sara, and gives him the dip to bring him back.

Given that while Arrow as a series is in the crunchier/realistic end of the DC universe, this might seem a cheat. Except that Flash has been in play as well. So there’s no reason to believe the Pits couldn’t exist.

Seeing as the rumor mill says that the 1st 3 post-break episodes will be Canary-centric, I think this will give Star City a chance to break again while its protector is away. The 1st half of the season was rather introspective. And at times that might have seemed problematic. But I think it paid off in the end, as explanation for why Oliver would take Thea’s place.

Lewis Beale Has Appointed Himself the Czar of Sci-Fi

And he doesn’t have a clue it began before Asimov as his screed indicates here:

He tries to convince us the first commercial Sci-fi was Star Wars. Should we discuss Star Trek, from a decade before? Or Flash Gordon or the entire sub-genre of pulp fiction sci-fi?

His claims as to ‘smart’ sci-fi not being made movies is laughable, given the immediate concessions that are. Not to mention that Johnny Mnemonic was a Gibson short story, as was Blade Runner. And oh, btw, may I note there is a script for Neuromancer being developed presently? Sorry to break your heart on that.

And then he says Matrix was original. Did he note the second and third entirely annihilated its own mythology and emptied the 1st of meaning? Did he forget that Grant Morrison believes it to be a plagiarization of his own The Invisibles.

At least he doesn’t claim Glittry Good, Not-Glittery Bad.

And here’s the kicker: Not all ‘smart’ sci-fi is good. And even he is forced to admit Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back were good movies. Star Trek II is one of the best sci-fi movies to be made, and that despite it being in one of the most pulp of all franchises. Now I’m not saying smart sci-fi is necessarily bad, either. I consider Babylon 5 smart, even when I disagree with some of its messaging. It’s still my favorite series of all time. I can watch Blade Runner marathons of nothing but the various versions.

And I can enjoy everything in Star Wars up to the Ewoks, and the Thrawn books within the Expanded Universe, before it was rendered defunct. The problem with Lewis Beale’s article is he gets the problem with Star Wars exactly wrong. The Prequels weren’t bad because they were pulp. The Prequels were bad because they forgot the joy of the optimism inherent to Space Opera. The Prequels failed because they became obsessed with their own importance–and in no small part because they attempted ‘smart’ messages that didn’t fit the nature of the story. And the less said about political commentary in the Prequels the better.

The issue isn’t ‘smart’ or ‘pulp.’ And we all want to talk about ‘original’ stories. But honestly, what’s ‘novel’ to the first person is trite to the second. What matters is trying to tell a good story. Not concerning yourself with how ‘smart’ or ‘edgy’ or ‘novel’ it is. Rather, does it take us someplace we don’t want to leave? On an adventure we want to be part of? With characters we enjoy, even if we’ve seen them before? If yes? Then we have the potential of a ripping yarn. If not, it’s going to disappoint.

Am I The Only One Who Thinks

that there are a spate of authors whose works are TRYING to suck the fun OUT of Steampunk?

Books where everything Steam or Airship related is EVIL. Where the main characters are too busy with their angst to have an adventure. Where the wonder of invention and the Future That Never Was is turned into a joyless recreation of their assumption of the Industrial Revolution.

I met Steampunk through the Difference Engine, The Anubis Gates, The Peshawar Lancers, and The Parasol Protectorate. They made me want to write steampunk adventures as well. Sure, there’s a lot wrong with the world, Otherwise what wrongs would our heroes right? But they didn’t get burdened with soul-sucking angst or hate every contraption invented.

It’s almost as if a certain segment of the writing community is afraid that someone, somewhere, is reading purely for fun and Escapist entertainment, and they have to be converted to reading ideological treatises masquerading as fiction. The problem is, Steampunk exists on the Rule of Cool. There is nothing cool, or fun, or interesting, about political narrative overriding fictional narrative. It isn’t enough they are destroying classic Sci-Fi, now they must branch out and neuter every other subset of Speculative Fiction as well.

If you’re asking what books I’m aiming at, well why would I be so mean as to link to them?

In Marked Contrast to My Retraction Regarding Gotham

The Misgivings I had regarding the Season 6 finale of Castle were born out by the Season 7 opening.

Warning, if you have not seen the episode yet, SPOILERS ENSUE. You have been warned.

The point of a cliffhanger is to heighten drama, and thus attention to your production. Thus it behooves one, when using this device, to ensure that said drama can support the weight of additional attention. The Season 3 finale of Castle did this well, with Beckett shot, maybe dead, and Castle’s admission of love just before she faded to black.

But a bad cliffhanger can backfire. And this was one. Why? Because it seems the writers were caught between their urge to continue to play will-they/won’t they with Caskett, and the fact that realistically, at this point, the only way to jeopardize their relationship is to make an end with one of the characters. Really, they’ve survived Bracken, separation, their own polar opposite personalities, Beckett’s thick skin and Rick’s worst jackwagon behavior. What was going to separate them, other than flat out death?

The other problem is with all the angst threats to Beckett the last few seasons, there was a real–and correct–need in the writers to restore balance. To make Castle the star of his own show again. The problem is, you cannot KILL Castle. We know this. Castle dies, show’s over. (OK, we might have a couple wrap-up episodes, but that’s the end of the story.) So the whole car-crash at the end of Season 6 was obviously not a ‘death.’ It would be a pathetic way to end the series, and if the series comes back, Rick comes back. Period. So the drama is supposedly in who takes him.

Oy, and here’s where things go haywire. There’s the whole “Castle wasn’t kidnapped” line. Yeah. Because a guy whose never roughed it in his life would WILLINGLY live in a tent. So either the tent is false, or we know he was held there under pretense. The dinghy has bullet holes in it. Yeah, he tried to put those in it himself. Erm, do recall, we’ve seen Castle shoot before, he’s proficient. So somebody did the shooting. And then there was the ‘questioning.’ Yeah…wait. Pardon me…the people who spent 2 months taking and holding Castle, leaving a false trail for Beckett & co to chase the entire time, suddenly up and vanish the day after speaking to them, and let all the real people come back? No…really. So they had all the resources and money to make a false trail, only to fold it up literally the DAY after Beckett talks to them. So they have limitless resources and are incompetent. Gee thanks for that.

Oh wait, they’re going to have WANTED Rick to go back to Kate? So why did they try to take him away in the 1st place? Meh. That doesn’t work. Either way, it reeks of incompetence. Which makes it strange that they would so efficiently whisk him from the world. Hmmm. Could be two different groups…I suppose. Maybe. But why would group 2 do the charade at all then? Still stinks.

Executive Producer Andrew Marlowe, who left at the end of last season as Show Runner, conceded they were going to ‘take their lumps’ early on as they introduced this ‘new mythology.’ But here’s the thing: It wasn’t necessary. There was a simpler, cleaner way to do it: End the Season with a wedding, but right before the end, cut away to the villains talking about how ‘the target is moving’ as they go to their honeymoon.

Note, this is no less effective than a Cliffhanger. They did it this way at the end of Season 4, where Beckett and Castle faded to black, and then we saw Beckett’s tormentors still at work. It made sense. Happy ending, and yet not ‘the end.’ Give them their moment, and then bang, on the island, while they’re alone, separate them. After all, it would’ve been a whole lot easier and more efficient to get them while it’s just the two, then to evade an entire police force, FBI, and everything else, on the mainland. The logic of the plot follows better. You still get the hint of the new mythology at the end of last season (in fact, more of it). And yet the fans don’t have a reason to go, “huh”? for months.

And after last night, to be honest, we’re still going ‘huh’? And how long can viewers scratch their heads before the ‘lumps’ the writers take translate to lost viewers? The show’s ABC’s biggest cash cow, so they’ve done something right. But mind the golden goose.

What Do You Have Without Genre?

Perhaps this is why Damien Walter has lived for four years on the UK Government dole without producing the novel for which he was fronted. First of all, whether he likes it or not, Science Fiction is a genre.

Here is the definition of genre: “A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” From the 19th century French, for ‘a kind.”

Now, what is disagreeable with the idea of Science Fiction as a category of art? It is, most certainly literature. We can debate the quality of each work on its own merits. Are there similarities of form, style, and subject matter? Well yes. Damien Walter could not speak to the return of the space opera (Though Peter Hamilton in particular might ask when it ever went away), if there was not a form Ancilliary Justice was attempting to utilize within the Science Fiction genre. Yes, authors might subvert or turn their forms at places. In fact, I’ve heard some argue that Space Opera is better rightly considered “Fantasy.” And no less an authority than George Lucas considered Star Wars “Space Fantasy.”

This is not a new thing. Nor is it entirely new that it be done solely for the purpose of ideology: C.S. Lewis did this with his Space Trilogy. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, I heartily despise allegory, with its forced symbolism and outside narrative attempting to force the reader to see the world the same way. It’s a cheat, a bore, and an intellectually dishonest approach to writing, IMHO. I find this just as true when the symbolism is one I agree with (Like Lewis), or something I do not. So the attempt to subvert or play with genre norms does not prove something is not that genre. One has to recognize the fact norms exist in order to subvert them. Eric Raymond’s article discusses what they are in some detail.

I would add to his list that typical to science fiction is the question: “What does it mean to be human?” As opposed to Fantasy, where the question is: “What is the cost of Virtue?” Another distinction is that science fiction, as Asimov stated, must both internalize science and form lively prose fiction, or it cannot be both “science” and “fiction.” Fantasy has no external rules on plausibility in its world, only internal coherence matters, both within the worldbuilding proper, and by the characters to the setting. This is true in China Mieville’s steampunk: where Khepri are forced to confront the question of humanity and society as much as the main character. Of course, maybe Walter, considering steampunk the ‘halfwit cousin of cyberpunk,’ couldn’t be bothered to read it, even when the writer is from his own political persuasion, far more clever, and capable of actual character depth in a way Ann Leckie’s work was not. Really, the gender-pronoun confusion issue is hardly new, or innovative, or confrontational. It’s been done. And better.

Unlike some, I do not assume everything at a publishing house can be discounted as if you know what it writes. Nor do I despise any particular house. My favorite current authors are Jim Butcher, Steven Erikson, Ilona Andrews, Larry Correia, Daniel Abraham (and his alternate identities), Sarah Hoyt, and Brandon Sanderson. I used to count Neal Stephenson, but his last two major works (Anathem and Reamde) do not, IMHO, match the standard he wrote from his cyberpunk up through The Baroque Cycle. In that list are authors from Ace, Baen, Orbit, Penguin, and Tor. Given my stance in the Hachette/Amazon controvery, one might assume Orbit doesn’t belong on that list. But there are a number of their authors I enjoy (Gail Carriger is another). And there are Baen authors that do not interest me.

I would also note that I doubt the politics of that group is monolithic, and to say Butcher, Erikson, Andrews, Abraham, or Sanderson have catered ‘to Right-wing’ at any point is ludicrous. Nor did I know Larry Correia’s politics when I started reading him (at the suggestion of fans on both Butcher’s and Erikson’s forums). Stylistically, the prose of these authors range from the minimalist and action oriented of the International Lord of Hate, to the Iowa-trained “literary” flourishes of Erikson. So it’s not the form of prose that catches me either. It is the ability to tell a story, in any genre. Whether playing straight with the conventions, subverting them, or mashing them together (as Urban Fantasy is famous for doing, and I’ve done a bit in my own writing). You have to know what the norms are to use them. Otherwise, you cheat the audience and turn them off.

It’s telling in Damien Walter’s article that he doesn’t consider entertaining the reader, or even keeping their interest, a primary purpose. It also informs me that if, in the next four government-sponsored years, his attempt at science fiction were to actually emerge, I’d be safe to ignore it. Not because of the politics. Only those on his side of the fandom divide care about the politics over the story. No. It’s because he has no respect for the form, the history, or the nature of the art-form. He is not writing to entertain. But to pontificate.

For that, I say the best place to write is in a political blog. I’m sure Huff Post could use another writer.

Shall Cthulhu Be Overthrown?

So the Progressive March through Science Fiction and Fantasy continues apace. Not being sated by ensuring the dreaded Sad Puppy slate was skunked (Despite Toni Weisskopf having more 1st place ballots than anyone and clearly meriting the award on more than one occasion. But hey, anyone who doesn’t support the Group Think abrogates all minority status for their evil independent thoughts.), now the Glittering Ones wish to cast down H.P. Lovecraft as the image of the World Fantasy Award and replace him with Octavia Butler. In true Progressive Fashion, they’ve gone to Change.Org, so we can have the White House talk about things other than what truly matters. Because they’ve done so well at handling the economy, foreign policy, and Ferguson.

OK. I get it, H.P. Lovecraft is a very problematic person to uphold as a patron. His racial statements were difficult even in the time, and only become more raw in our over-sensitized age. (I have my own issues with his statements on faith and atheism.) Octavia Butler is a hero of modern Speculative Fiction. Both of them are generational talents, though I think only the most desperate Progressive would claim their proposed replacement’s legacy will ever match the foundational impact of Lovecraft on the genre. Personally, Butler isn’t my cup of tea, but I can respect her talent. I can even concede that as important as Lovecraft might have been, he’s not even, in the modern sense of the term, a Fantasy Author (though closer than Ms. Butler).

The problem is this: Nothing that Butler is known for is related to FANTASY. She wrote Speculative Fiction, Alt-History, and Science Fiction proper. The World Fantasy Award, contrary to the Hugos and Nebulas, is specifically not a blanket Speculative Fiction award. If you want to change the patron, then name a candidate that actually represents the GENRE. Of course, the blog can’t even be bothered to point out this minor problem in the proposal. They’re too busy carrying the water for the long march of the Progressives:

So here, let me share some alternatives, if the politics of Lovecraft and Howard are beyond the pale:

Tolkien? Only the founder of modern fantasy. And he’s the only writer with a larger footprint in the genre than either of the current patron or the proposed successor.

Roger Zelazny? The Amber Chronicles remain relevant, and his legacy is as rich as any.

Terry Prachett? Ok. This one might be a tad controversial. But it’s in the right way. He pokes at everything, and to be fair, Discworld, at its best, did one of the hardest things in writing: Merged coherent story telling (at least internally plausible) with effective satire.

Robert Jordan? I’m not a Wheel of Time fan. But I can’t deny its impact on the genre.

Any of these four, to me, would have been a better alternative, and one that actually fits the criteria of being a patron of Fantasy, than Ms. Butler. If this is actually about embracing the entire community, and not just giving another sop to political correctness, then we should name a candidate ALL of the fantasy community can support. And it’s best to start with someone who actually wrote in the genre, thank you.

Well, I Never Thought Such a Good Result

Could feel so much like a loss. Gutted by that Portuguese dagger at the end. But then, we stole a game with a similar strike. Soccer is a cruel game, but it often has a certain wicked symmetry. 

Still, one thing that’s always true: I’m never ashamed of the way this team plays. The US Men’s team plays every game with grit and resolve and never-say-die. We’re not the best technicians on the ball. But we never, ever, give up. And most fans, people who actually follow the team, when they saw THE GROUP OF DEATH, would’ve said, “If the US gets four points, that’s an accomplishment.”

Well, we have four points. And the job isn’t quite done yet. One more game to go. But it might not have to be as rugged as the first two. Not saying the US knows how to play for ties. But both teams know the score. And both the US and Germany can advance with a draw. No one knows how to massage a scoreline like the Germans. Then again, I could be talking out my hat, and both teams could charge at each other for three points. Who knows in this World Cup? Best thing to do is root for Portugal to down Ghana by 1 goal. Draw for them works too. Whole lot of scenarios work, which is a lot better than many people hoped for the US when we saw the draw back in December.¬†

Change This Title to “Since 2005”

And it’s closer to right.¬†

I can’t argue with most of the list. The final season of¬†Lost literally destroyed my enjoyment for the years before. Of course, the article makes the popular canard of saying J.J. Abrams was still involved with the show then. He wasn’t.¬†Alias, a show he was involved in the entire run, had a very good finale, IMHO.¬†

What’s the difference? Well, it’s not a matter of difficult mythology. Alias had its Rimbaldi myths, which dominated most of the early seasons, and then slid into the undercurrent of early Season 4, when they rebooted the show. But the finale bathed in it, right down to using Sloane’s quest for eternal life against him.¬†

BTW, Jack Bristow’s line in that scene is one of the greatest lines I’ve ever seen. And he was right, Sloane trapped in Rimbaldi’s tomb forever. Poetic Justice on the ultimate scale. How is¬†that¬†for a perfect finale? Oh yeah. There was still Sydney’s finish. Which was almost as satisfying.

Lost? Well. Not everything can make as much sense. But at least it could’ve answered half its own questions.

But my choice for ‘best finale ever’ has to be¬†Babylon 5’s “Sleeping in Light.” A quiet, emotional piece that even in repeated viewing wrings manly tears from me. The choices they’ve made have consequences that cannot be avoided. But Sheridan, Delenn, and Babylon 5 itself has changed the galaxy in every way they could hope. It is the opposite of the expansive, explosive Alias final act (though the station gets a big boom). And yet no less rewarding.

And that’s why, compared to the ones on the list, they worked. Those finales were honest with their characters, worlds, and the fans who had invested in them. They gave real payoffs in return, and answered the key questions of the story. That’s what a good ending should do. To me, that’s why I’ve never bought the argument against the Scouring of the Shire in¬†Lord of the Rings¬†as a proper ending. The readers don’t see the events of the story through Aragorn and Gandalf’s eyes. But through those of the Hobbits. And we have every reason to see they are capable of solving their own problems now. No longer hiding from the world of men or easily cowed. It’s important to demonstrate¬†the growth of our heroes.¬†

A proper ending provides resolution. If it can leave another story to tell beyond that, all the better.