The Extrahuman Union

Archive for the ‘General stuff’ Category

I have updated my bibliography, including all novels (including the forthcoming third book in the Grayline Sisters series, due out this year) and all short stories. I’ve provided links to short stories if they’re available online.

Here’s the full list.

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Yeah, I feel weird about making one of these. WHATEVER.

Here’s what’s eligible for things this year:

Novel:

Short stories:

Essay/Fan work:

And that’s it! Not a bad batch of things for this year.

Okay, I’ll start off by saying I don’t watch “Game of Thrones.”

I tried to read the books, but ran out of resolve somewhere in the first one, and never came back.

And for most things, I’d just leave it there. I don’t watch, I don’t read, that’s my choice. Fine.

But GoT is one of those things that’s really hard to ignore, if you’re a fan of fantasy. It’s pretty much the biggest thing going right now. Loads of people watch the show and talk about it. I largely tune those conversations out, much as I tune out conversations about basketball or Eurovision. Not my fandom. Most of my experience with the show is making fun of people melting down on Twitter about the Red Wedding.

(This is actually how I determine Twitter meltdowns now: how many Red Weddings is it? So far only the finale of Breaking Bad has even come close.)

So that’s my interaction with GoT, and I’m usually happy to leave it there. But every once in a while something will pop up that gives me the twitch. Like, for instance, this from George R. R. Martin:

But Martin told the New York Times that although his books are epic fantasy, they are based on history (the series is loosely inspired by the Wars of the Roses). And “rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day”.

“To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.

Hrk.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time deconstructing this. Others are doing a better job of that elsewhere. The only thing I’ll say is that obviously using “history” as an excuse for perpetrating sexual violence on women is pretty crap; the Middle Ages were no more full of wanton rape and sexual assault as our own day. And in a series where summer mysteriously lingers for decades and there are literal dragons, “history” only applies to women having horrible sexual things happen to them? I see, I see.

Someone asked me today what possible stake I could have in pointing this out, though. After all, I don’t watch. I don’t care. All the Lannisters and Starks (HOW DO I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT THESE PEOPLE????) can fall into a very large pit and I’ll be fine. So why criticize?

After all, isn’t this a conversation that fans should be having? Where’s my place in it?

I don’t know. I’m not just trying to defend my own right to complain about things, though I do like doing that. For sure! But I think what GoT is doing is doubling down on some very toxic trends I see a lot of in fantasy, like the trope of “history” being used as a cover for graphic and gratuitous sexual violence against women and women mostly existing to provoke the men of the story into feeling or doing something, and that’s the sort of thing I think needs to be pushed back against whenever possible.

When a piece of pop culture gets so big that I can just rattle off “Winter is Coming” riffs without even thinking about it, without having watched a single episode or gotten to the end of a single tome book, and I can point to a fairly vast compendium of online reviews, criticism, and conversation that I’ve been reading and following for years, and I can’t walk into the SFF half-aisle in Barnes & Noble without seeing George R. R. Martin’s name everywhere, then maybe I have a tiny little toehold of a stake in this. Maybe as a member of SFF fandom in general I have a somewhat bigger stake, especially because I want to see us get away such a strong focus on sprawling faux-medieval melodramas where white men whack each other with swords.

So maybe the suggestion that not fully engaging with a piece of culture means there’s no right to criticize it isn’t entirely accurate. And maybe there’s some value in criticisms coming from many places, including from those who for all kinds of good reasons don’t want to watch/read.

So, there is an article out there today saying that politics don’t belong in science fiction.

It’s by a guy (Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit) who is known mostly for writing mildly irritating things about politics. I know, I had no idea Instapundit was still around! That really brings me back, talking about him. Ah. Memories.

Anyway, I’m a political writer as well as a science fiction writer, so I took one look at this title and just rolled my eyes. Then I read the rest.

Here’s how it starts:

There was a time when science fiction was a place to explore new ideas, free of the conventional wisdom of staid, “mundane” society, a place where speculation replaced group think, and where writers as different as libertarian-leaning Robert Heinlein, and left-leaning Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke would share readers, magazines, and conventions.

Yes, in those days you could read books with cardboard characters by white guys from America AND Great Britain. How were there not literal wars in the aisles during conventions in 1968? The past was amazing.

But of course what Reynolds is actually irritated about is the sad treatment of Vox Day and Larry Correia, whose fans decided to troll the rest of us by nominating them, by intolerant liberals who, let’s face it, seriously can’t take a joke. “Purging the heretics” is how Reynolds refers to it. He also says that liberals have “colonized” science fiction. Yes! I know.

I just have to sigh, because here are these poor benighted souls getting attention from a national libertarian columnist in a national newspaper which has millions of readers all across the globe. I’m reminded of the endless parade of politicians and conservative celebrities who have been making the pilgrimage to Bundy Ranch. Conservatives are very good at using their power to present a united front against this vast army of liberals, some of whom may have blogs or Twitter accounts.

As for the headline itself and the premise behind the column: it’s laughable. Science fiction, not political? Have you actually read any science fiction, Mr. Reynolds?

Science fiction is inherently political. It always has been. Science fiction is, in many of its forms, about either the future we want to see, or the future we dread seeing.

The things we say about the future, about technology, about how humans grow and work and interact, all of that reflects on the world we live in today. Almost all science fiction books that I’ve read have had something to say about now, even if it’s something very quiet.

I write political books and stories. Sometimes the politics are more obvious, sometimes more subtle, but they are there. I can’t take the politics out of my stories; they’d be a lot lesser if I did that.

This struggle between various opposing camps in SFF fandom can’t be boiled down to the tired trope of “We are too politically divided these days, and it’s because of [insert name of political opponent here]!” This is about change, and about what happens when big sections of fandom who have been ignored for decades demand to be seen and heard.

It’s also about the future: we are trying to define the future we want to see. Sure, it’s political.

How can it not be?

Hugo nominations are out, and there’s some good stuff, some awesome stuff, and some excruciatingly awful crap.

But before we get there, the good: holy shit there are some amazing folks being nominated. The Book Smugglers got nominated for Best Fanzine, as did A Dribble of Ink. Skiffy and Fanty was nominated for Best Fancast. The list for Best Fan Writer has Liz Bourke, Kameron Hurley, and Foz Meadows on it. ANCILLARY JUSTICE is up for Best Novel. And Benjanun Sriduangkaew got nominated for the Campbell!

YAY.

The awesome: QUEERS DIG TIME LORDS got nominated for Best Related Work. Something I’m actually in! This is very exciting.

Ahem.

And then there’s the bad stuff.

sigh

Okay, look. Everyone complains about the Hugos. It’s a fan rite-of-passage, it’s something that happens every year because certain things get on and other things don’t. Everyone has opinions. In those cases the right thing to do is usually to shrug, admit the Hugos are flawed, celebrate the winners, and work to see that things get better next year.

This isn’t that.

This is about what I and a lot of other people felt when we saw a novelette by Vox Day and a novel by Larry Correia make it on to the ballot, after a campaign to get voters to do just that. This is the about the sense that we are being maliciously provoked by a bloc of ultraconservative fans who hate that the genre isn’t all about them anymore.

This is about the horrible realization that they are using the Hugos to troll us, and enjoying themselves immensely while doing it.

And it’s also about the fact that I didn’t want to say anything about it at first.

Okay. I was bullied a lot as a kid. I know what it looks like, and what it feels like. I know what’s it’s like when someone writes something hurtful on a poster you spent all weekend making, or takes a picture of you just so they can laugh at it later. I know how it feels when someone takes something you love and uses it against you. And that is sort of how this feels.

I didn’t want any part of it. Not at first. My instinct is always to hide, hope they don’t see me, hope they go away.

But then I read what Natalie Luhrs had to say about standing up.

I used to be afraid to speak. Instead, I read. That is how I participated in the community. I still read.

But I am no longer afraid to speak.

She said that despite having tons of miserable trolls come into her space and try to shut her up.

And it’s funny, because I do speak, on lots of issues, every week in my political column. But even there I can feel myself trying to stay on this side of it, trying to stay “safe.” I’ve discovered, though, that even when I do that there will be trolls who want to shut me up.

If I stay safe or stay silent then the other voices get to keep the entire field. And that’s not right.

So. What’s going on here is malicious. Nobody should use the Hugos to make not just a political point, but to actually try to upset other parts of fandom. And there is nothing that’s going to make me believe that’s not what this is.

I don’t particularly care to read their works and judge them on the merits. I also don’t care to engage with these trolls.

But I do care to speak. I may not be much of a deal in the SFF world, but I have my tiny little voice and I shall use it.

Yesterday I got into a conversation on Twitter about whether killing off characters is always cheap or an easy way out in some way, and I’ve been turning that question over in my mind ever since.

I actually agreed when the topic came up, mainly because of where my own head’s been at lately when it comes to character death. For three of the last books I’ve written (none of which are published yet), there has been a moment where I killed off a fairly major character, and for a while I thought this was a great idea.

But then, after I’d written the really satisfying scenes where the character is there and then just… gone, and everybody deals with the fallout, I thought better of it. I started to wonder why these characters needed to die. What purpose in the larger story did that fulfill?

I had to admit that I didn’t know.

Eventually I came to realize that I’d done it for a couple of different reasons. In Book A, I did it to remove one leg of a love tripod. In Book B, I did it to make another character suffer, and out of some sense of justice for what the dead character had done. In Book C, I think it was purely for shock value, because the character had been a major part of three previous books.

And in each case, I think killing off these characters was taking the easy way out.

In Book A I thought, wouldn’t it be more interesting if the person survived, and they had to find another “solution” to the protagonist’s feelings for two other people? In Book B I thought, wouldn’t it be better if this character lived and the other characters had to figure out what to do with her? And in Book C I thought, wouldn’t it be better if the character wasn’t killed and remained in the story to be a pain in everyone’s butt?

In all three cases, the answer was yes. Book A was the most satisfying, because the “solution” to the love tripod was pretty novel, and fit well with the ethos of the book. Book B? It turned out not to matter. And Book C… well, I’m still fixing that one up, but I think it’ll be an improvement.

But I will say that my position on this is a little more nuanced than I’d originally thought. Sometimes character deaths are very meaningful, and belong in the story. In Book B another fairly major character does die, because that’s what the story basically screams for. The moment of her death is extremely high-stakes and is a turning point for the protagonist in a lot of ways. The entire book seems to be building up to it, and it works.

There is also an incredibly important death at the end of my first book, BROKEN. I won’t spoil it. But it’s the sort of death that some people, including my wife, are annoyed at me about years later. Was that death worth it? Was it necessary?

I go back and forth. Yesterday, I said I might do it differently. Today, I don’t think I would. It’s good that I can’t edit it anymore! My own self-doubt as a writer sometimes leads me to make unfortunate decisions.

That death did serve the story in very important ways–in fact, that death was the story in a fairly obvious way–and the entire universe of that book and the following books would be vastly different if that character had lived.

So I think you can do character death well. I’m planning a major one for the end of the series I’m working on now, and I’m doing everything to make sure it counts, it’s meaningful, and it serves the story and the character well. I think you can have death that doesn’t feel cheap or wasteful, and you can have death that isn’t just there to tug at heartstrings.

But it’s also definitely possible to have character deaths that are the opposite. As writers, I think it’s smart to not just toss characters away, but to really think about why we’re doing it. When we do that, our stories get better, and when characters do die, their deaths have a bigger impact and are more meaningful to readers.

Behold: what happens when I drink too much coffee and have access to the web:

Read the rest of this entry »


Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

Hey! Welcome to the Extrahuman Union, home of Susan Jane Bigelow. Prepare to be stripped of all meaningful identity. While you're processing, check out more about me on the about page!

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BROKEN

Extrahuman Union #1

SKY RANGER

Extrahuman Union #2

THE SPARK

Extrahumans #3

THE DEMON GIRL’S SONG

YA LGBT epic fantasy!

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