Loyalty is a Flaw

I grew up watching Airwolf like a lot of other kids. Either on NBC, or later on syndication on Channel 20. There were a lot of episodes I gravitated towards. But one in particular still sticks with me: “Severance Pay.”

The plot focuses on Larry, an operative and analyst with the FIRM (Airwolf’s CIA stand-in). The day of his retirement, he discovers there may be a mole in the FIRM and dutifully reports it, as he’s done for 20 years. Imagine Robert Redford’s character from 3 Days of the Condor if he’d had an uneventful career. He and his partner, Joe, go to get their retirement checks and bonuses from the pension office. But, the FIRM still has them classified as ‘temporary’ workers. They are due no retirement bonuses. Worse yet, Joe has a heart attack at the pension office and dies in Larry’s arms. We later learn it Joe’s widow isn’t getting anything from his death: as far as the FIRM is concerned, they received medical benefits they were not entitled to and need to reimburse their former employers. No dignity, even in death.

Larry does what any reader would do: he goes to war against the FIRM. The plot escalates and involves the mole, and a termination order. But the part that always stuck with me was the questions of loyalty, and hard work, and how in the end it got them nothing. That’s what sticks with me.

The stories we tell about work, about how it’s supposed to make us feel, about what we expect from it in the end, say a lot about who we are and what we hope for in the US.

While it’s aimed at a cold, unfeeling bureaucracy I honestly see “Severance Pay” applying to corporate thinking, especially in the days since the philosophy of “Shareholder Profits Above All” took root in America. Employees are not assets, valued and given fair treatment for their work. They’re used and disposed of, with no reward for the uncounted hours spent on its behalf. One good visit from a ‘management consultant firm’ and suddenly, your experience and knowledge base is gone. The American Dream was, from what I understood, the fact you could find a good job you enjoyed, work hard, get due promotions, and then be able to retire with comfort, knowing you’ve earned it.

The American reality is very different. A worker is a liability. You have to pay them a salary, give them benefits, and the longer they stay, the harder it is to give them less and less. When a company needs to make profit expectations but sales are not up, people go. Overhead, cut from the bottom line. Then, of course, the pension funds are raided for more money back. Everyone is asked to do more with less. People start working multiple functions and when their work degrades, they get fired. More money back for the company. By any means necessary, the quarterly numbers must be met.

Before you think the non-profit world is any better, talk to someone who worked there. “Non-profit slave” is bandied about quite a bit. You’re asked to give up so much time and effort for no pay to help the cause. “We work until the work is done.” And never mind the consequences. It can create an atmosphere where people break themselves. I wonder how many non-profits run on the backs of people who don’t realize they’re being under-rewarded for their work.

In the US, we turn work into another kind of faith, thanks in part to the Puritans and their beliefs. Work and success are signs of divine grace. If one is poor, or sick, or mentally ill, it is the Lord casting down judgement on their sins. This flows into the prosperity gospel, which John Oliver took on. Success means god loves you. Only the wealthy will enter into heaven. So if you aren’t doing well – if you are not succeeding at your job – it’s your fault. It’s a character flaw. It’s inherent sin. Never mind you may not like, or be suited for the job you’ve been thrust into. Never mind your career progression path has been so chopped up you’re not sure where you’re going. You, and only you, are responsible for your success or failure. No one is ever set up to fail. And those who have grasped success, they deserve admiration, no matter how they did it.

Chuck Wending wrote an amazing Twitter/Storify essay on his father, and how he related to the bosses in his business. I really encourage you to read it, because it captures how the narrative of the American work ethic, and the truth of how American capitalism and ‘merit’ work run in stark contrast. It also shows that when the narrative we’re fed as children does not turn out they way we wish, it’s easy to push the anger on others. And not on management.

These narratives make it easy to blame workers for terrible working conditions, workers in other countries for lost jobs, and anyone but folks who actually make these conditions. When, for example, a new manager comes in and begins assigning people to jobs they are not trained or suited for, and they don’t do well – it’s obviously the worker’s fault. After all, if they were good hard workers they would be successful.

When workers are laid off in favor of technology – it’s not the corporate managers who decided they were not getting a good RoI by giving folks a living wage. It’s foreigners. It’s the workers who asked for too much, like health care or the ability to work with pride. They asked for too much. They could not compete. If only those workers had gone into real jobs, gotten business degrees or… you get the picture. These narratives enable exploitation, and more.

So, how do we change things?

We need to change the narrative. We need to tell different stories. Maybe ones where we don’t value wealth over humanity? Or maybe stories about people finding jobs they’re good at, and being allowed to work there and improve, without having to jump to another position they hate. Is the idea of being paid well for a job you love so strange?

On the same day I re-watched “Severance Pay” I also saw the film Your Name. At the very end one of the protagonists, Taki, is job hunting. In the interviews, he explains he wants to be an architect because he wants to create places in Tokyo which bring warmth and good memories to people. And as I watched, I hope he would find a good place that let him do just that, and appreciated what he wanted to create.

I’d like to see a story where someone, in the modern world, finds a job that they can appreciate, and can appreciate them. But maybe that’s why we call it the American Dream –  we have to wake up at the end and face reality where the workers we admire, the ones we put in our highest office, are these guys:

 

Oh, The Horror. The Horror….

Oh, The Horror. The Horror.

I love horror fiction, and films. The weirder, the better. But, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to successfully write it. I’ll explain why after this gloomy self-portrait of Sir William Fettes Douglas:

If there was a philosophy to my early childhood, it’s this: “The world is dark and full of terrors.” (Apologies to George R.R. Martin.) I remember growing up in terror of the world, both outside the house (Stranger danger! Don’t run out into the street! Don’t go into that old shed! Don’t play on that tire, you’ll get tetanus!) and inside the house. My family wore feelings like flags. If someone was angry, the entire house knew it. You couldn’t deaden the yelling. It was like living in an emotional bombing zone at the best of times.

Later in life, I realized how lucky I was that this was the extent of my traumas, but that’s another topic.

Fear ruled my life. Some would say it still does but then, my fears were more tangible. They dug into everything I did: I wouldn’t see a movie, because I heard there was a scary part in it. I wouldn’t listen to a record because I heard it drove people to suicide. The constant protective fear I experienced left my emotional skin very thin. I had to thicken it up myself.

I did it with repeated listening of the story record for The Black Hole, with its gurgling audio of Anthony Perkins’ death at the spinning blades of Maximilian, the single most terrifying robot I’ve ever seen.  The pictures of his scowling red eyeslit combined with one of the nastiest deaths in a supposed ‘space adventure’ burned into my brain.

I went through a wilderness of knives with Young Sherlock Holmes and the sacrifice of the young girl, smothered alive by hot wax in a pseudo-Egyptian ceremony. (At that age, I could actually feel the claustrophobia and suffocation she must have experienced). And in my dreams, I fought off the horrifying painting of one of my ancestors which stood in the house, glaring at us with his wire-brush beard and dark Serbian eyes. It made the portrait above look positively cheerful.

Over time, though, the fears of the dark and  what lurked inside faded. I grew to love the fictional horrors out there. I’d dive into films, and books. Junior high was my first deep dive into terrors, as I found Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural edited by Henry Mazzeo with illustrations by Edward Gorey in the Thomwas W. Pyle Jr. High library. The fictional terrors comforted me. Outside the library were real horrors, ones encountered at a young age and kept encountering all my life.

When going to school terrifies you because of the people waiting there, and going home is just as terrifying because of the people waiting there, what’s in a book becomes comforting. Now that I’m entirely too grown, fictional terrors on TV, the big screen, and in literature are a cozy blanket and warm cup of tea for me. I taste terrors the way some taste wine: enjoying the complexities, but never losing myself to the alcohol.

Why? Because every day, at work, I face a monitor which runs CNN constantly. I listen to political feeds, hear twitter conversations, read about the worst parts of humanity. I’ve lived through seeing both sides of my family go from obscure countries no one cared about to shorthands for mass murderers and despots. In my world, when someone racks up a body count which rivals any hockey-masked golem, the first response is: “How can we capitalize on this? Quick, send out a press release blaming the welfare state.”

I’m convinced that, in this world, the horrors of literature would be drowned in the banal horrors of humanity. A dark cosmic void pointing to our insignificance is actually far more inspiring and magnificent than a distant board of executives who consider me just another liability which can be ditched if we don’t make our annual profit margins. At least alien biomechanoids consider me a valuable resource on one level…

John Carpenter said once there are fundamentally two types of horror: external or internal. Internal horror is about confronting the darkness within ourselves – our actions have led to a horrific consequence. External horror features a malevolent force attacking us and all we hold dear. But both start one deep assumption: there is some value in the status quo. It may suck, but at least you’re not being assaulted by undead creatures or your dad isn’t possessed by some entity out to kill you. Right?

I don’t think so. Horror gives us an enemy. You can focus on the terrifying thing caught in a home movie. You can try to defeat it. How do you defeat the fact your neighborhood was red-lined into persistent poverty?

True horror is a private security firm’s attack dog with its teeth red from the blood of anti-pipeline protesters. True horror is an athlete caught raping an unconscious woman, let go after three months because he’s a white kid from the right school, with a sympathetic judge. True horror is a neighborhood dying from toxins in the soil and water because they’re too poor to register on anyone’s political radar.

This is why I can’t write horror myself. Because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write anything as terrifying as humanity at its worst.

Our Map is Not The Territory

I originally wrote this before the events in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge unfolded on our screens. It’s leading me to rethink a lot of things, especially what is happening in Baton Rouge, where a good chunk of Metaphysical Graffiti takes place. Will I have to revise the book so what happens to Ieshia Evans becomes commonplace? Should I be telling this particular story, seeing as I’m a traveler to this world and not one who has to live in this reality every day? –

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Thinking about how to process these events, my need to tell a story about them, and how they could be seen had me reflecting on an article I’d read earlier on about the novel Underground Airlines. Go ahead and visit, I’ll wait.

For a good summation of the response amongst many, I recommend this article from the Daily Dot. This quote in particular stood out:

Some found this positive coverage galling for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s demonstrably harder for authors of color to receive equal media attention alongside white writers. Secondly, the Times story plays into a long tradition of white artists being celebrated for tackling topics others have already covered with more personal expertise.

Now, from all accounts, this is a < href=”http://www.tor.com/2016/07/07/book-reviews-ben-h-winters-underground-airlines/”>good book. But as the reviewer says, “Movies, TV, and books have repeatedly sidelined PoC-penned narratives in favor of white creators.” And all the while, these white creators get heaped praise for work build on the backs of other authors, who never get the credit or voice they deserve.

Call it “Literary Colonialism” if you will, but you can apply it any number of cultural aspects, like music or history or just ideas. For now, we’ll focus on literature itself.

Imagine an author striding upon what he (and it’s usually a he) feels is virgin country. Chin out, he braves the “perils” of this untouched land of storytelling, mining it for golden ideas or tilling it until his crop of tales grows to harvest. He then returns to his native lands, arms overflowing with plunder, and is praised for his “bravery” in bringing civility to this barbarous new world.

Of course, our bold explorer never bothers to notice there are already people living in this “dark country.” They’ve been mining and growing and creating for ages before he stepped foot on their shores. But if they are acknowledged, it’s either as inferiors who didn’t realize what they had or obstacles to conquer.

In the end, the work of the original inhabitants were not worth noticing. That is, until the anger builds up and someone screams out “Enough!” That’s when revolutions begin.

Literary fiction often treats fiction by marginalized groups (or genre fiction) as little more than new grist for their mills.

There are exceptions, of course. I like to call them trading partners – people with a genuine love of the genre, or understanding of the culture – that wish to share that love, and facilitate travel between these lands. They use their inherent privilege to say, “We were not here first – you need to see and understand.”

But they’re few, and don’t have the influence of the grand conquerors. The establishments don’t support anyone trying to counter the grand default narratives.

So these literary colonizers take the stories of minority authors and recast them (figuratively and literally). They plunge into genres and literary traditions, rip loose stories told within and yell, “Look what I’ve created! ME! I’m the God! I’M THE GOD!”

What can we do? First, speak out when we see it. Don’t let it go unrecognized. But when speaking out the second thing we can do – and the most important – is to point out the others who have been there before us and were ignored. In the case of Underground Airlines, many are pointing out Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking novel Kindred as an alternate. But they’ve also mentioned Derrick Bell, Robert O’Hara, Sigrid Gilmer and others.

But most importantly we have to realize we need to step aside, to listen and to amplify the voices for whom these stories have deep, personal resonance. And if the people who should be, and are, telling these stories cannot be heard then it is incumbent upon us to help them be heard.

Co-opting a story is, in a lot of ways, worse than silencing it. It shuts down any real conversation and exchange. It demeans the original tellers and their experiences. And it makes it easier for us to not question uncomfortable narratives, or confront ugly truths about ourselves.

I’m still going to write about Baton Rouge, but I will do it with care. And I’ll likely write about everything that’s happened in the last few weeks as well. But I will try very hard not to pretend I’m the first, or best, voice on this subject. And when better voices need to speak up, I will step down and insist the mic be passed to them. That’s the least I can do.

And if I allow myself to be called “brave” or “daring” for it, may Huey Freeman strike me down with a folding chair.

HueyFreemanChair

Narratives in Echo Chambers

Warning! The following article will have a discussion of events in Orlando, as well as spoilers for The 100 and Penny Dreadful. Please proceed at your own risk. To act as a buffer, please enjoy this artwork of Chirico Cuvie from Armored Trooper VOTOMS…shirtless:

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(a.k.a Fitness Goals)

Humans build narratives. We have a need to understand, and to do so we create stories. The scale can change from “Why is he wearing that shirt?” to “Why did the universe form?” but we look at the world and dream structures around its elements. This is both a good thing, and a bad thing. The ability to create narratives, to build stories, allows us to explore and dream. The scientific method is storytelling with fact-checking and testing.

The danger comes when we create stories in echo chambers. Not vacuums – no one operates in a vacuum – but echo chambers. Writing is often thought of as a lonely endeavor and, yes, the mechanics are very solitary. You need to focus to get words down on the page and it’s difficult to do that with other folks hovering around. Even collaborations require separation. Listen to the “Making Of…” for Cabin in the Woods and you’ll hear the writers talk about working on different floors in the same house.

But once the mechanics are done, you need to get the work out there. Other thoughts, other perspectives, and other voices are vital to honing any creative work. This is magnified when you start on very collaborative forms, like television, film-making or writing partnerships. It’s very easy for the echo chamber to expand and create an atmosphere of groupthink. Decisions are made which, when looked at from outside the chamber, now seem questionable.

For me, two recent examples of this were the death of Lexa in The 100 (and the whole Bellamy storyline) and the ending of Penny Dreadful. In both cases, I see the seeds of echo chamber narratives. I’ve written about The 100 before, but in the case of Penny Dreadful it’s the head writer, John Logan, and the man in charge at Showtime thinking this sudden ending was thematically and dramatically appropriate.

Had they a engaged in a conversation with someone outside the office, I think they would have gotten a distinct, “Yeah, that’s BS” response most watchers of the show are now evincing. Genevieve Valentine said it better than I could. But this decision, down to the “no announcement that this is The End” smacks of one made in an echo chamber, with no outside views or dissenting voices. Just the show runner’s voice reflected back on him and amplified.

Now, the showrunners of Penny Dreadful and The 100 have every right to take their shows wherever they wish. That’s their project, their job, etc. And it can be said that these are ephemeral narratives. But these narratives have more of an impact than we like to admit. They enforce larger societal narratives which color the way we see the world, and interact with other people.

It creates lazy, self-justifying narratives one doesn’t have to question or examine. You can simply say, “I feel this completes her journey back to God and a retaking of agency” without actually demonstrating it. In the echo chamber, everything reflects back and says, “Yes, it does.”

Where this becomes terrifying are in cases like Orlando. The story of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub is a complicated and horrifying one, which touches on threads of gun violence, terrorism, toxic masculinity, and homophobia. It is not a simple one-note narrative, but a tapestry.

Echo chambers unweave the tapestry. We like simple narratives. If you believe this is a terrorism issue, then your echo chamber amplifies those aspects of the narrative – drowning out questions about gun access, abusive machismo and hatred of LGBTQ individuals. It works the other ways as well. You filter out all which doesn’t fit your narrative, and surround yourself with a protective, re-enforcing shell.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Negotiated Strategic Arms Reductions

“Ah, we come in peace!/shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, men!”

If one believes a good chunk of the science fiction literary canon, diplomacy is the refuge of fools and cowards. Problems can’t be solved by “talking.” Negotiating a “peace treaty” is a fool’s errand. In the end, all problems are solved through the deployment of military forces.

After all – diplomats are vain, stupid creatures who think more about their precious negotiations than getting real things done. That’s left up to the (men) of the armed forces, who do the real work to bring peace into the world. There’s no room for niceties. Talks will get you no-where. The bombings will begin shortly. Violence Really Is the Answer.

Unless I’m really under-read, and I admit this could be an issue, SF seems to have a diplomacy aversion. There’s no action. No great clash of fleets. No brave armored marines standing against implacable alien foes. A negotiated solution doesn’t allow our hero, Slab Bulkhead, to toss a bad guy over a railing in cathartic excess.

I remember reading an anthology of powered armor related short stories and one, in particular, seemed almost archetypal in its handling of diplomats. The key diplomat and main staff of this embassy on an alien world were oblivious blowhards, unable to see that the assurances they received from the aliens that the embassy would not be attacked didn’t match with the near riot taking place outside.

It took the brave action of the marines, who not only read the sociologists report on the alien behaviors but also found a way round heavy arms restriction placed by the near-sighted civilians, to save the day.

Now, I could believe appointed diplomats being rather oblivious. I could even believe he hadn’t read the sociologist’s report on the alien’s culture, maybe skimmed the executive briefing instead. What I couldn’t believe was the rest of the diplomatic staff did nothing, said nothing and hadn’t even looked at the report. No one. No one even thought to say, “Hey, who’s our local expert? They think these guys are blowing smoke up our ass?”

I could see everyone I knew who worked for an embassy or the State Department sighing, and shrugging. Why the shrugs? Because this is typical of how they’re portrayed in popular media, much less in SF. Civil servants make great targets,apparently, but terrible heroes.

A while back, I asked around for positive examples of diplomats in science fiction and fantasy. The first one I received was Keith Laumer’s Retief – a character who, by nature, is designed to satirize the hide-bound upper echelons of the diplomatic service. Not exactly a shining example of the merits of statecraft.

Another person lauded Babylon 5. I love the show dearly, but as the show itself said – Babylon 5 was intended to be a place of diplomacy and commerce, so the powers of the galaxy could work out their differences in peace. It failed, and instead became a center-point for three different wars. But this is a step up – it does deal with more than just the big battles. And in the end, the great galactic conflict was solved not by force of arms, but by exposing the real motivations behind the fight.

The closest example I’ve found to a positive portrayal of a diplomat was in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. Jo Walton has a great re-read on Tor.com. You can check it out here. The central character is Bren Cameron. He is the phadi or translator/negotiator/diplomat between the technologically advanced humans who arrived on the world of Mosphera and the native Atevi. While he has two bodyguards, he is forbidden to carry a gun. Even when he breaks this rule, using it is his last resort. Through though all of the books the art of diplomacy – of understanding, negotiating, and seeing mutual benefit – is his chief weapon.

In one key part in the series, both the humans and the atevi are confronted with an immensely powerful race of beings compared to their own strength. It is Bren’s diplomacy, along with a well placed spot of tea, that prevents a massacre. And it is his efforts, along with Illisidi, one of the single most powerful atevi women on the planet, which time and again turn chaos and bloodshead into a hope for something better.

The book series is deep, but I’ve never seen or experienced any books where understanding – talking, learning, becoming proficient in a language – is the key to survival.

Another series which was recommended, and one I have barely touched, is James White’s Sector General books. Tor.com, once again, has a great write-up here. The series started in 1962, yet it’s still very unique as far as I’ve seen. There’s no medical SF genre, for example. I don’t see any stories about the interplanetary equivalent of the Red Cross, for example. And if they are out there, they’re hidden away.

How does this touch on diplomacy? Health missions – helping others at the expense of yourself – are prime examples of soft power, and one of the key tools of diplomacy. In White’s universe, Sector General was created to help build peace and understanding between races – it exists to save lives, not take them. It’s a shame the idea didn’t take wing.

But I’d like this to cease being a rarity. Where are the tales of diplomacy and intrigue? Where are the stories of dedicated professionals looking to build bridges, to understand and communicate? Where are the doctors without (galactic) borders?

I’d like to see more futures where the answer isn’t a quick tactical nuclear strike followed by Miller Time…

Suggestions welcome!

On Love, Death & Responsibility

Issues of love, death and responsibility – from a creative point of view – have been on my mind during last week.  What follows will contain thoughts on a recent episode of The 100, on representation, on choices, and on the responsiblity of a creator.

So, here’s a picture of Edward James Olmos as Lt. Castillo from Miami Vice as a spoiler break, and a warning. I’ll explain why EJO at the end of this entry.

This was written in response to Episode 7 of The 100‘s 3rd season. There’s been a lot said about the episode. I’ll point to The Mary Sue’s article as a starting point, but you can go anywhere for comments and write-ups. I found a particularly interesting one regarding the writers of the show, and in particular Javier Grillo-Marxuach – the man who wrote this specific episode, as well as episodes of Lost and Helix, and creator of The Middleman. He’s also the show-runner on the upcoming Xena reboot. And I sincerely believe him when he says he’s taken all the comments he’s received to heart. I also think he will act on what he’s heard in the future.

He’s also made two key statements about the story arc and this episode in particular. The first was that he was one writer on another person’s show, with a specific job. His job was to take all the plot elements given, and to create an effective narrative for them to deliver a strong episode.  He also said that he, and the writer’s and creators as a whole, were arrogant and naive about the impact of their choices.  Both are true.  Like any professional, especially on a show he did not run, he had a job to do.  And he, like the other creatives behind the show, thought the work would be taken the context the writer’s room intended.  The also thought the good will they’d built with the fanbase, along with the story elements they’d set in place,would help them put the death in the right perspective.

But they were wrong. As they focused on the context of the show, they forgot they were not writing in a vacuum. And there’s a lot of very naked pain on the net right now because of this.  As I read the reaction, and sorted through my own feelings, I put myself in the shoes of both the fans, and JGM.  It started thinking about my own writing, and the responsibilities I had as an author, and about the novel that’s dominated my recent years, Ivre.

Now, if you want to stop here and throw something at the screen, go ahead. “What ‘responsiblity?’ You’re barely published! Not like that novel of yours is out there in the world.”

“True,” I’d say (though I’d admonish you for throwing something at your monitor). But that doesn’t mean I have any less of a responsibility for the content I create and choose to let loose into the world.

I’ve been posting Ivre in bits and pieces here. If you’d like to see the whole thing, I can generate a draft and post it for folks to look at. But I’ll give a spoiler here: there are a lot of deaths.  And I intended it this way. The story was structured to follow Adia and Tellus as they discovered the city of Ivre, its people, its politics and the impact it held on a much wider war between the Gallatian Empire and the non-human Krell.

Then, there was a terrible, tragic act of violence which began a chain of retributions. At the very end, the characters you’ve been introduced to in what I’ve posted so far begin to fall like it was the last two episodes of Zeta Gundam. Or Ideon. (Check out the TV Tropes page on it – first entry under Anime & Manga).

That included Ufric and Cormac, two soldiers of the city of Ivre – lovers and love interests for Adia. They died fighting off a horde of Krell soldiers, defending the Lady Protector as she sought to end the horror engulfing her city before there was nothing left of Ivre. I thought it was a tragic, brave and necessary scene given the stakes involved. It was episode 23 of Zeta Gundam, and the final battle was on. They were soldiers, defending their city, their friends and their lover. They died together, insisting she do her duty and protect the last chance the Ivre had to survive.

But I also killed an LGBT couple as well as two dedicated soldiers. I did it after showing them meeting Adia, falling for her, and seeing all three have serious conversations about where they want the relationship to go. I did it after showing them as happy, functional and kind. And I knew it would happen, right from the start.

This is where the responsibility comes in: I do not live, work or write in a vacuum. If stories of happy LGBT couples living tragedy free lives common as rain, it would be a wartime loss with all the appropriate emotion involved. Were there no tropes of “the gay couple gets it” or “the black man doesn’t survive the horror movie” or “the transsexual man is a serial killer!” I would feel more comfortable about the scene. It wouldn’t keep needling at me.

But that’s not the world we live in. Right now: we live in a world where charities like The Trevor Project are absolutely necessary. Right now: we live in a world beautiful young souls commit suicide because they feel they’re alone, or trapped in bigoted households. Right now: we live in a world where friends of mine won’t travel through specific states police pulling them over and arresting them for “driving while black.”

And right now, in my own world – the one I have total responsibility for – the one which exists just on paper: I don’t know how to change the scene without changing the book as a whole.

So I’m going to stop working on it until I can find a better way out, that still keeps with my themes but doesn’t make my most prominent bisexual characters sacrifices. And that’s much harder than any tragic LGBT couple ending. People think the Tomino style “Kill ’em all” endings are hard. Here’s the secret: They’re not. Writing an ending where people live and have to survive with what has happened is far, far harder. We don’t give it the dramatic cache of a pile of corpses. You have to work for it. You’ve got to fight for it and justify it. Even the grimmest of stories sometimes needs an ending where the hero and the heroine float off into space in their cryotube, hoping for a better future when they awake.

I’m going to work my way towards those endings. But I’m not there yet.  So for now, Ivre is shelved. Time to work on a new story.

-30-

Oh – why Edward James Olmos? When I was growing up, I was stuck on TV as much as anyone in the world. Back then, no one had heard of Serbia or Venezuela. Most couldn’t even spell Venezuela No one knew where to put me. Was I Latino? Something else? There was no one who looked or sounded like anyone in my family – on either side. And certainly no one in authority.

Then came Castillo. In the world of Miami Vice, he was a badass. Edward James Olmos could, in a glare, say more than pages of scripted dialog.  In the days when most Latinos were given parts like drug lords or cocaine cowboys, calm and commanding Lt. Castillo was a miracle. It’s small wonder my favorite episode is “Bushido.”  The fact he existed, the fact he looked like my cousins and myself, meant the world to me because it said that I existed.

And at ten tender years of age, the world of TV was the only world that mattered to a kid like me.

So I know why this is so precious – why having a positive narrative where you are the star is vital. And that’s why I probably won’t be doing more work on Ivre right now.

(This is also why I’ll never ask the man for an autograph – I’d revert to a 10 year old again and weep.)

My Science Fiction Can Beat Up Your Science Fiction

I admit, this entry was inspired by the most recent in a series of articles about science fiction getting ‘real’ as opposed to being fantasy with science fiction trappings (I’m looking at you NPR). But I think this really harkens back the old hard SF versus “soft” SF versus using SF as a literary mode debates. In fact, it’s as old as some of the genre’s founding documents.

Both Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote about travels to the moon, but while Verne stuck strictly to the technology of the time, Wells brought his protagonists to the moon using Cavorite, which can negate gravity and, as yet, is undiscovered. Verne took Wells to task for this, asking if he could show the wondrous material which blocked gravity.

Wells wasn’t that interested in detailed realistic plans for reaching the moon. He was interested in what he would find there, and how he could relate it to life on Earth. (Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. has a lovely take on this.)

The fight between ‘show me the blueprints’ and ‘I’m trying to talk about colonialism’ continues today. We’ve added another layer to it with the debate between so-called ‘hard’ sciences (engineering, material sciences, physics) and soft sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology).

It’s something I’d expect a stereotypical Dad to go on about, “Forget one of them girlie degrees in a hippy science with trees and shit. Get yourself a real job, with like an electrical engineer. Or one of them guys who makes jet fighters!”

All these debates, discussions, ‘sudden trends,’ all boil down to the same fight in my view.

“I like SF. This is my view of what science fiction should be: If it doesn’t have the following elements, well it’s pseudo-literary-fantasy nonsense and doesn’t belong.”

Or, put another way, “Hey, they’ve got a keyboard on stage! That’s not real rock & roll!”

I have my own personal definition of SF. For me, SF is a literature discussing the impact of change in our world, using ideas and speculation as its toolkit, and thoughts of what could be as its materials. It still is the literature of “What If?” but the style is what comes after the “What if?”
What if we could mine the asteroids? Great question. What about the ones you ask afterwards?

  • How would it be done? What would be the technical requirements? (traditional hard SF)
  • What would be the impact on the global economy when wealthy nations can get their resources from space, and pull out of developing countries? (a soft SF approach)
  • What would one of these remote asteroid miners be thinking about as he watches a drone destroy a worldlet? Is he imagining some greater civilization doing the same with planets? (Space opera. Or Literary SF depending on the tack you take. Or a poem!)

Fantasy takes the tools of What If, of ideas and speculation, but applies it to what was or what was dreamed about in the past as its materials. “What if the War of the Roses happened in a world where magic was returning, slowly, and people ignored a great threat in the north?”

I think you may know that one.

When we have these articles about “Big thrusting spaceships are back!” and such, we’re basically redrawing lines in the sand from old debates. And those old debates honestly boiled down to the same boring argument: “This type of story is better than others, because it’s the type I like.”

But it’s not. It’s just different. Check out just one of the many Best Of lists out there: Barns & Noble’s best of SFF of 2015 There’s a variety out there, from hard SF to more fantastical notions of the future. And we should celebrate and promote that variety.

To mangle Voltaire, “I may not enjoy your style of science fiction, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to enjoy it.” And I’d rather talk about the vast variety of SF out there than rehash the same partisan debates and weaponized nostalgia.

Unless you’ve got a good story about weaponized nostalgia… I’d be in for that.