Thursday, May 28, 2015

DCC messed up their "Diversity Mission", again!

And in pretty much the exact same way they did last time, too. Here's what happened this year at Denver Comic Con. To recount briefly, DCC thought it would be a brilliant idea to run a "Women in Comics" panel discussing the history or portrayal of women in comic books, and include absolutely no women on the panel. Predictably, the men on the panel were somewhat out of touch on the issue. I'm not saying that men cannot advocate for positive portrayal of women -- that would be hypocritical -- but when the absence of female creators in comics is one of the primary causes of the problem in the first place, not including women in the discussion is the kind of oversight that demonstrates you have absolutely no grasp on the issue. During Writespace's Comicpalooza panel on tropes in cliches in SFF, the issue of female stereotypes came up, and for a very good reason I kept my mouth shut on the issue until the women on the panel were done talking and then ventured my own points on the destructive role that gender cliches play in the industry.

Here's what makes this more terrible: this has happened before and failed to generate the same media response. I was there in 2013 when a panel on the same subject managed to argue points so unthinkably self-defeating that I just can't. even. stand to remember them. Maybe if the media had been paying more attention in 2013, history wouldn't have repeated itself. DCC obviously didn't listen to the complaints that myself and other attendees made at that time.

I do want to mention that I don't agree with Geeky Goth Girl in holding the women on the 2013 panel blameless. I recall that the women did their own share of body-shaming during the panel, accusing women in the audience of objecting to the sexualization of the female image only because they are frustrated by their own bodies and that they should just get over it. One female attendee told me after the 2013 panel, anorexia and body-image issues triggered by media representation is not something you just get over. I feel like the attendee who told me this is probably correct.

The 2013 panel moderator, I think, also failed in their task of moderation. On the other hand, I'm male, so don't know what it's like to be a woman tasked with having to moderate a man twice your size slamming chairs on the stage as an intimidation tactic to make people in the audience shut up. I don't think anyone in that room was having any fun.

But what I really have to wonder is if something like this happened in 2014 that I wasn't there to see and that fell below the radar as well? In 2014 I was busy moderating Comicpalooza's panel of Gender in Science Fiction, a beautifully constructive panel that included my friends D.L. Young and Keri Bas (and others, someone remind me?) and went so smoothly that I'm still getting positive feedback a year later. I wasn't able to attend this year's Women in Fantasy panel at Comicpalooza, but I don't hear any muttering (correct me if I'm wrong).

DCC is defending this very obviously ill-advised all-male panel that they've put on. It makes me wonder if they're just trying to save face and are going to fix their act before next year comes around, or if this pattern of behavior is going to continue.

Maybe next year people should fly down to Houston for Comicpalooza instead of going to Denver so that we can show them some respect and actually have a conversation about the issues. What do you guys think?

Here's another article on DCC's 2015 panel for further reading which makes some very unfortunate observations about con and industry trends that are completely correct and need to be brought into common knowledge. Apparently a round-table of woman panelists managed to get together on the last day to try and right some amount of the wrong that was done, but that doesn't reverse DCC's gaff or the duty of conventions like DCC to do so much better. I have to hand it to Comicpalooza: every panel I was on this year had woman writers, scientists and voices represented. Hopefully other Comicpalooza panelists experienced the same, and hopefully that's a trend that we'll see more of.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trying not to talk too much about the Hugos, but...

I'm going to go ahead and let loose a couple of posts about current events and what I think about them. This one is about literature and genre fiction, with a minimum of mud flung at the sad puppies and the rabid puppies and the random wombats or whatever. I don't really have much to say about voting slates and politics in the industry. It all sounds pretty much like the kind of guild drama you get into when playing games online, but with obnoxiously high stakes. To be honest I'm not even watching the Hugos that closely. I don't think any of us get into the business because of awards or have our career plans built around who wins or doesn't win those awards. (with the possible exception of certain jerks trying to rig the rewards, ostensibly to make the point, but maybe also for personal profit. But I'm not talking about that)

The Hugos, the way I see them, are a representation of what an ever-fluctuating controlling minority of the SF community feel deserves recognition and increased visibility. So it's a money-and-popularity contest, maybe now more than other times, and you'll forgive me if I'm therefore giving it a sideways eye and a shrug. This doesn't mean the rabid puppies "win" at devaluing the Hugos or anything; nothing's changed there for me. The thing about literature is it's a centuries-long game that the rabid puppies lost before they frothed their first yip, well before the sad puppies ever wibbled. It's not up to the writers or the readers of now to decide what represents us, but the readers of the future when they look back on this time. It's the literature professors and students who, one hundred years from now, looking back on what we call contemporary fiction and writing essays about what it tells of the psyche of our cusp-of-the-millennial spiritus mundi, will decide what is an what is not literature.

Although, spoiler warning: everything we write is the body of literature produced by our generation. Just, by definition, that's what it is.

The Hugos decide who gets the recognition and the cash prize. Okay, but that's it. It's not going to change what is and is not literature, it's not going to change what any of us write, and it's not going to change how the future looks back on our words. That's not for any of us to decide.

This is literature.
So here's what I really want to get at, because I find it kind of hilarious in the worst possible way, but also funny in this crooked kind of way that smooths out over a longer period of time. It's hilarious in the way that sometimes a good wine tastes awful on the first sip, and you choke and hiss and then the aftertaste hits and you realize that the rest of the bottle is going to be just fine. It's hilarious like that.

Literary writers look down on genre writing. They don't look down on genre writers, as a rule, but "The Academy" of scholarly, literary think-tanks does not look on commercial fiction as valid literature. It just does not count to them. This is something I deal with plenty because I'm one of those writers that sort of wants to be on both sides of this thing. So I've talked to lots of people on both "sides" of this, and most people kind of agree that the distinction can be arbitrary. Which I find weak because the distinction is powerfully arbitrary. 1984 is literature, and A Brave New World is literature, but Dune is not. Why?

Just because it's written to make money and not for the sake of its own art? Who are we to say why it was written, and why does it matter? Do we think that the author didn't consider it literature, and for some reason that means it can't or doesn't tell us anything at all about the society from which the story originated or the society that consumed it, and we can't learn something about ourselves by interrogating our own dialogue with the work? 
This is not literature?

If you want some fun, ask a hoity toity literature professor about Ursula K. Leguin's The Left Hand of Darkness and watch them do the whole literary-science-fiction dance. Then keep the dance going by insisting that either science fiction can be literature or it can not be. Criticize the number of the time they use the word "but" to add a qualifying clause to their praise of Leguin.

The flip-side of this is how the rabid puppies are all offended that science fiction is getting too literary. I understand that right now it's popular to complain about science fiction being less about exploration and the achievements of the future and more about "literary navel-gazing". It's a silly complaint, like saying science fiction is too pessimistic right now, but it's a complaint I understand. The problem for me starts when people draw this line -- and they're doing it from both sides now -- that science fiction isn't allowed to have literary implications, and literature isn't allowed to have genre elements. Literary writers don't want any elements of genre fiction in their journals or curricula, because for some reason that disqualifies all literary value in a story. And the rabid puppies don't want any literary elements in science fiction, because for some reason that disqualifies its... entertainment value?
This is [Redacted]!

For the life of me I can't understand the issue there, because the complaint is utterly incomprehensible. Like everyone is required to write according to these formulas that were invented by rebellious thinkers before our time, or else we're doing it incorrectly and that's bad.

My favorite thing about this entire mess is the way the rabid puppies pointed out how popular the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, as though it's the perfect example of what science fiction is supposed to be. People want action and fun, say the high-voiced puppet dogs that represent the rabid puppies in my head, just look at how many are going to watch the Avengers fight an army of robots! Science fiction should be more like that!

This has no literary implications
whatsoever no stop I mean it stop
talking or you can't have a Hugo.
I love the MCU so I'd be totally fine if more science fiction was like the MCU, but I wonder if the puppies have ever watched one of those movies? Because it doesn't take a genius to understand that Iron Man is literally the embodiment of America's military-industrial complex struggling with the fact that the repercussion of past-wars are forcing it to take an interventionist policy which is only causing more wars, leaving it riddled with guilt and helplessness even as it becomes more and more powerful. And it's not like Captain America isn't the manifest ideal that America has always wanted to be but could never achieve, serving as a constant reminder to both Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the viewers of their failure as leaders on the world stage. And don't even get me started on Bruce Banner representing the drive of science allowing itself to be bullied into serving the military-industrial complex, the way Tony and Bruce are always hanging out together but Bruce is always slightly nervous about (if not completely terrified by) whatever they're working on.
Probably written by a self-important
undergrad who thinks he knows
what literature is and isn't.

I mean, seriously. What movies are the rabid puppies even watching? Superhero movies are extremely literary and in the future academia is going to produce some exemplary literary theses about our society's addiction to the idea of the superhero, as well as our obsession with the utopia, the dystopia, and the legendary heroes of high fantasy.

Here's my conclusion: all the things that people are saying to try and force this great divide between genre fiction and literature are plainly absurd if you think about them for ten seconds, and it's getting more and more mind-boggling the longer it goes on. What I write for my readers and what I write for UH's creative writing department aren't that different. I tackle very similar themes across both, and I'm grateful the professors at UH are thoughtful enough to let me get away with the occasional monster in my literary work. If I'm saying the same thing in my genre fiction as I am in my non-genre fiction, then they're both literary. And I guess that upsets some people, but that's how it is, and no amount of arguing, complaining or barking is going to change it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Excerpt from the prologue of "The Dusty Man"

Another crash shook the dome, and this time Angida extended an arm to the catwalk’s railing to steady himself. This jolt came with orange light, though, and moments later a blast of distant heat. It came from the east, and when Angida looked that way he saw a sizable detonation of fire, steel and glass rubble falling from the dome into the city below. As he watched, a dark-bodied helicopter – one of his Z-19 Black Whirlwinds – fired another missile from where it hovered between the city and the dome, punching a hole through the glowing barrier from inside.

Angida straightened. “Hm.” The detonations were not too near any of the operations platforms, and were over a less-populated part of the city, so immediate casualties were likely negligible.

He turned and paced back toward the platform he had just vacated. The annoyance on his features had softened and sunk beneath his skin, now visible only by the tightness of his lips and his eyelids sinking low over his eyes. On the platform, the soldiers had changed from a relaxed pose to a more ready but equally useless one. The engineers, however, were very busy over their workstations.

The giant demon Marduk surged westward through the sky, emitting a long, earthy sound as it went. The demons covering its body made shrill noises, happy and eager, their bleak gazes transfixed on the hole in the dome.

Angida didn’t have to speak. As soon as he set foot on the platform, an engineer with thick fingers and a round face shouted at him. “There’s a hole in the dome! We need to get some patches in place before the demons get to it!”

“Yes. That’s your job, isn’t it?” Angida looked at each of the soldiers in turn, pointing toward the gap in the dome even as the helicopter that had ripped it open flew through it into open air. “Go.” At that single word, the soldiers ran onto the catwalks, weapons in hand. The engineers shouted back and forth at each other, speaking into microphones to the other platforms, frantic.

Watching them with disinterest, Angida brought his thin, black-gloved hand up near his face. He pressed his opposite fingertips to the underside of a metal gauntlet on his wrist, watching a lighted display flicker at him before he spoke into it. “This is Vice-Chairman Anvidya. All surface defense canons, activate and target Marduk’s head. Use the lowest range and yield weapons available. Remember that we are not capable of hurting him. Just get some smoke in his eyes. However, do not miss any shot you choose to take. Those with poor aim will be reprimanded.” A din of affirmation erupted from his gauntlet, and immediately the dome began to creak with the sound of pivoting guns. Angida took a single breath before going on. “Soldiers manning the dome, get as close to the hole as possible and shoot anything that comes in. Patrols in the area of the Shuizhui depression congregate beneath the incident. Kill and collect every demon. Do not let any evade you.”

Already, small winged demons from Marduk’s body that had first taken to the sky and flown ahead of it, threw themselves through the hole into the city. The soldiers he’d sent ahead opened fire on them, rending their bodies, but allowing them to fall broken to the ground below. If not collected and contained, the demons would heal and return to life. No matter how small or weak a demon was, they were all immortal, and even a single demon inside the city could do incredible damage if it was clever and patient enough.

An alarm went off through the city, a shrill siren that shook the gray, battered buildings and the dilapidated roads far below. The canons that sat on the outside of the dome came to life with concussive blasts, the slam of metal and the hiss of rockets. Gleaming projectiles ripped through the brown clouds outside of the city and slammed against Marduk’s shell. Missiles detonated over its featureless head. The giant demon ignored them, flying eastward, though smaller demons fell from its body temporarily dead.

Angida twisted his hand and moved his fingers, the displays on his wrist changing. He spoke again, “I have a question for you, Réveil.”

A woman’s voice replied from the gauntlet immediately. “I’m sorry! Someone stole one of the Black Whirlwinds. I don’t know how this happened.”

“Your apology is not encouraging. I will make note of your ignorance.” He watched as more soldiers arrived at the hole in the dome just in time to join in the slaying of even more demons. Dozens of winged bodies of all sizes punched through the hole. No human casualties yet, though. “Réveil, why did someone just flee the city in one of my helicopters?”

“I don’t know. I’m trying to find out.”

“I expect you to know very soon. Do not make me inquire with other parties.” He twisted his wrist and the display went dark, his gauntlet silent.

The Dusty Man, book one of the Ruin of the Fifth World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Get the pre-order for the special price of only $0.99, and read it when it releases on May 15th!