For reasons, I’m linking these pages here. If you want to read them, please be my guest! But I’m just going to set them here and go.
For reasons, I’m linking these pages here. If you want to read them, please be my guest! But I’m just going to set them here and go.
Having just moved to Portland from the midwest, it’s obvious I’m looking to start a new life. Well, a new chapter. I like my life, and most of what’s in it, so I don’t want a new one. Just, improved. Full disclosure, a large part of the “deal” with moving here is so that my wife can find her own new life. I won’t go into detail as that’s her story to tell. But, suffice it to say, much of my role, at least initially here, is to support her in her search and discovery. And I’m happy to do so! But, while I’m looking for that elusive and decent-paying tech job, I do have some of my own goals — some I’m already working on. . . .
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m working on the sequel to Singularity Deferred. And, just moments ago, I finished two intense chapters of it and feel really good about where it’s going. I’m making a decision about its structure that fans of the first novel may find annoying, or really like — we’ll see. Anyway, that’s my main personal goal right now. But, ennui, dissatisfaction, the draw and tease of scholarly subjects, many influences have made me pine for grad school. I miss it. I miss the research, the studying, the reading, the papers, the learning and developing and widening and understanding of things…. I miss it something terrible.
Of course there’s no reason to stop learning and developing! Of course. But since graduating with my Masters, it’s felt like a demarcation, a transition from “scholar” back to working drone, and the old habits and floundering. (Although, like I said, I’m somewhat pleased that I’ve been writing semi-regularly, still!)
Today, it hit me hard. I was reminded of my work in mediated experience in a postmodern world, and the writers I used to research and use, and discovered new books by them… and I felt the need, the absolute need, to continue to study them, model them, and carry on my own scholarship and add to the discourse.
Part of me has been in wait. I’ve known since before I graduated in 2010 (oh my god!) that my next step was to be a PhD from Trent University in Ontario. Their Cultural Studies department is enviable and arguably the best in North America. Either their “culture and tech” or “culture and theory” course of study, I can’t yet decide. But, I figured that’d be something I’d do after our daughter graduated high school, three years from now. Sure, by that time I’d likely be one of the oldest PhD candidates they probably have (I was one of the oldest MA students MSU’s English department had), but I don’t care. I can’t let the unstoppable passage of time and my advancing age prevent me from seeking my goals. After all, how many people take up and climb mountains mid- and post-mid-life? Explore other countries? Take up diving and explore the ocean bottom? Why can’t my graduate degrees be my Mount Everest?
But will Trent happen? Even in three years? I’m in Portland now, and Portland is my home. Sure, I could move to Ontario for 2 to 3 years, then come back. But will I? Sure, if I want it enough, and can afford it….
But then, if I want it enough, why wait until then? Why not start now? Why wait until I enroll in a new school? Do Sherry Turkle or Katherine Hayles or Slavoj Zizek or Hardt and Negri wait to get yet another degree before they research and write their next books?! Of course not! They are scholars, and that’s what it means to be a scholar. You research, study, synthesize, and contribute now, despite where and when you are. Why can’t I do that now?
Soon I will have another mind and body sapping job in order to pay the bills, and I will have to conform and contort my writing and scholarship around that. To do that, I’ll have to give up other distractions: Facebook for the most part, TV and movies, sleep. But it’s not enough, for me, just just proclaim abstinence from distraction, find the latest book on posthuman cultural criticism and read… I need focus, goals, a program and a plan. I need to create my own doctorate program. No, I won’t get more letters I can put after my name from it, but that doesn’t matter. Zizek doesn’t get a new degree for every new topic he researches and then writes a book on. Just as I can’t in good conscience call myself “a writer” unless I’m actually writing, I can’t call myself “a scholar” unless I’m doing the work of scholarship. And I know myself well enough to know I’m unlikely to engage in actual scholarship (and commenting on Facebook articles is not scholarship), unless I have a plan and structure and goalposts.
And so, before work takes up most of my time and energy, I need to get to work creating my own personal PhD program. I feel excited, challenged…happy at the prospect!
…starting and editing a regular literary journal has been a goal of mine for a few years now–I wonder how to incorporate that.
Has it really been an entire year since my last post? Well, no John Scalzi am I! I plan to remedy the lack of communication issue in 2014, especially since I’m working on some projects this year that I can’t wait to talk about.
On the novel front, I’ve switched my focus. I had been working much of last year on my epic SF/fantasy trilogy. Some good research, some good outlining, and a decent amount of narrative written. But I reached a stopping point at the same time that thoughts of finally getting that sequel to Singularity Deferred out of my head started to peak. So, I’ve shelved the trilogy for now and picked up the sequel–which should make 6 people on Amazon and a couple on Smashwords happy.
Now, some truly awesome news: I just started working with FASA on one of my mostest favoritest role-playing games evar! Fading Suns. (Some additional info.) I’ve been into this system since the late 90s, ever since I got the “Emperor of the Fading Suns” strategy PC game, and then checked out the RPG it was based on. (That game has a truly amazing soundtrack that could be ripped off the CD! I’ve used it for years as part of my writing soundtrack.)
So they released a newly revised edition of the core rules about a year and a half ago, and a new game master’s guide this last December (with much old, revised material). Now, they’re working on redoing the supplemental source books. And that’s where I come in!
I can’t say much, but I’m working right now on a source book that’s going to contain a pretty big ratio of new content! It’s very exciting! And the fact that I get to have a role in the creation process really is like a dream come true.
As for the game itself, I’m quite pleased where it’s going. I won’t get into the messy details, but the original creators of the game were supposedly working on an entirely new 3rd edition of the game before Crazy Stuff Happened, and the line changed hands and people left…. And what happened instead was the Revised Edition was released. And as much as I was really looking forward to a new version, I think this is better. I mean, at the core of Fading Suns is a very good rules system that really did only need some fixing and enhancing. Which they did. It’s a much better system now.
Though, I’m still unsure about the physical copy of the new book. It’s a nice, portable size now, but it doesn’t lie open on the table anymore. Which is a shame. But I think I’ll live. I’m excited to see what the source books end up looking like.
I said, oh, just a post ago, that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. I come to this assessment primarily because of his 1st-person Vlad Taltos novels, and the Alexandre Dumas homage Dragaeran novels. They take place in the same world, but where the Taltos novels are a combination of Raymond Chandler and Robert Block while the so-called “Khaavren Romances” are some of the most clever and fun novels as if written in the style of Dumas. Then there’s the hard-to-get Brokedown Palace, which also sort of takes place in the same world, but takes on yet another completely different style.
But, oddly, I’ve hardly read anything else by him. His “Firefly” fanfic was pretty fun (and I hate fanfic, even by successful authors), and Freedom & Necessity, written with Emma Bull, was intriguing. So, when Nebula-winning Jo Walton wrote an article a few months ago extolling and wonder and glory of one of Brust’s older stand-alone books, Agyar, and primarily focused on the fact the there’s a huge spoiler involved that changes the entire way the book read when you know it, well, I just had to finally read it before I got spoiled, right? Amazed that all these years of being a Brust fan, I hadn’t yet been ruined.
I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t even bought it yet (I have a couple others of his I’ve bought and hadn’t read yet) because well, it’s a vampire story and I hate vampire stories. They have been so over-done, and honestly, Anne Rice (despite the brilliant Interview With a Vampire), completely ruined me on them with her horrible later novels. I just could never bear to try to read another, especially from my favorite author. I didn’t want to have that bad taste in my brain and taint on my fandom. But, Jo Walton was so over-the-moon with it, and her spoiler-focused article made me really wonder if maybe it really even is a vampire novel (perhaps it’s about a guy who thinks he is), I was convinced.
The next week I bought it, and devoured in in 36 hours (darn work days). And now, it is easily my favorite Brust novel, and one of my all-time favorite novels. It has some issues, it’s a little plodding in places, and, very similar to his Vlad novels in many ways, has a mystery that needs solving that doesn’t really get much attention until it kind of solves itself around the anti-hero protagonist. But the writing is beautiful and compelling, and the sense of danger and drama Brust creates around the eponymous character, is strong and brutal.
So, what’s up with Jo? Why am I upset? Because I think she unintentionally sold me false expectations. I think she is implying in her article, that the fact that Agyar is a vampire, is the spoiler. This is so absurd of an idea that I have no problem mentioning the vampire issue in this blog because it’s referred to not just on the book’s back and jacket, but it’s obvious within the first chapter.
But here’s the absolute cool thing about what Brust does: Agyar is the narrator. So never once in the entire book is the word vampire mentioned. Now, it’s not like how zombie films act like there aren’t such things as zombie films so you get zombies being called “walkers” and stuff. Vampires and their representation likely exist in the world of Agyar, but there’s ever any reason for the character to ever say the word. And when he describes vampire-like things he does, like mind control/hypnotism and blood drinking, it’s described in the same manner anything normal is described, by focusing on outcomes and reactions, not the act itself.
Like this, it sounds like Brust is being opaque and annoyingly obscure, but when you read it… well, it’s just brilliant and skillful writing. And why I’m afraid Jo might be implying that the vampire thing is the spoiler, when it’s so not. It’s obviously Brust does not intend Agyar being a vampire to be secret and surprising — what he is doing, at worst, is playing a game with the reader (in a good way) in seeing if the reader can grok what’s going on when Agyar describes something with spare and careful description.
Now, there is one actual spoiler, that actually isn’t revealed until the end, and it does affect the early reading of the book. And it is brilliant and incredibly emotion-wrenching. So, why do I think Jo wasn’t referring to this spoiler? Well, yes, she could have been. But as impactful and emotional as it is, it’s still not that significant and mind-altering as to claim it changes the way the entire book is read, like say “Sixth Sense” of “Fight Club” did.
Well, if you’re a light horror fan, an anti-hero story fan, a vampire fan, or even fantasy/drama/romance fan at all, you must read this novel! In a way, I’m glad I did wait so long to read it, so that my life of experience and emotion could help Agyar make as strong of an impact on me as it did.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that Steven Brust is my favorite fantasy author. (In fact, I’ll be making another post shortly regarding his novel Agyar, which I actually only recently read for the first time! Wow.) He’s made a couple of blog posts recently about the kerfuffle regarding the raving homophobe Orson Scott Card’s stint writing some Superman for DC comics, and whether the calls for boycott and forcing DC to refuse to have him is ethical or effective, especially for those of us who identify as liberal or politically left.
Allow me to break in for a moment with some dreaded metablog stuff: This here lil blog of mine, I’ve set up and desire to keep in the style of John Scalzi’s (one of my favorite SF writers). That is, keep it reasonably politics-free and avoid controversial issues too much. I get all controversally elsewhere, and I want to keep this blog focused primarily and nice ol’ writing and craft-related issues. But, well, when you have something like my favorite writer talking about one of my most disliked writers, regarding an issue that I find personally important–well, I guess I have to take a moment to risk controversy.
So, Brust’s latest post, “Free Speech, Blacklisting, and Tactics,” provokes thoughts and challenges many ingrained liberal reactions to go beyond protesting a perceived injustice to boycotting and preventing someone from work and expression of their opinions. In very brief, he essentially says that limiting the free speech of someone whose purpose is to actively harm the rights and liberties of another group, is right and just. However, what possibly outweighs that lesser evil, is the greater evil that the tactics of boycott and censorship and limiting people’s speech and right to free enterprise, is far too easily turned on to and used against the usual minority that fights for rights and liberties of the oppressed. In other words: because we leftists and liberals are the usual victims of fascist oppression, we should not use the same tools of oppression that those in power use on us, regardless of the rightness of the intent.
It’s a very compelling argument, and, naturally, better presented and explained in Brust’s own words. That said, while, I may no longer support efforts to keep Card from getting work or speaking his bigoted opinions, you can be sure as shootin’ that none of my money will ever be going to him and his works. (Seeing the upcoming “Ender’s Game” film, a book I loved before I realized what a d-bag Card was, is problematic. Maybe I’ll see it when it hits the second-run theater where it’s less likely much of my money will end up in his pocket. Even .001 cent is too much.)
I want to copy here a follow-up quote that Brust posted on his blog later:
This brief excerpt is from The Mayor of MacDougal Street, the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk (one of my heroes) page 75:
“Years later, I was talking with him [Oscar Brandt] and expressed my disgust that that he, or maybe someone else, had put on a show with Burl Ives, who had outraged us all by naming a string of names in front of HUAC. Oscar just quietly said, ‘Dave, we on the left do not blacklist.’ Put me right in my place.”
Just learned today something I should have known for a very long time but for some reason has completely escaped my radar. Every edition of OMNI Magazine is available for free on the Internet Archive! How has that missed me completely? Thank you Io9 and Patrick. (When you click on the Internet Archive link, you need to scroll down and click “more” to get to the full magazine archive.)
I started reading OMNI when I was about twelve, around 1983. I remember taking the long road trip from Colorado to Missouri to visit family, and the parents allowing us kids to get a magazine. The cover of this OMNI magazine in the rack was compelling and promised SF fiction and science news, so I convinced her to get this somewhat pricey glossy mag for me. I was hooked! I begged for copies every month after until finally I was gifted a subscription. It was probably the longest subscription to a magazine I ever had (mainly because until I was old enough to have a job, it was paid for by someone else) and I think I was getting them right up until about 1989.
I don’t really recall OMNI being on shelves much after that. But those formative six years entrenched OMNI as being an integral part of who I am. Yeah, weird, huh? But it’s from OMNI that I learned about William Gibson’s fiction and started me on cyberpunk, made me familiar with the name Ellen Datlow and made a teenager a fan of an editor, of all things. (Wow, I was and am such a nerd!) …and I’m still a huge fan. The magazine was a slick, stylish, almost exploitative companion to the SF genre and exploding science culture. I believe it was a forward-thinking contribution, years ahead of its time, to the cool-making of geekness. Back then, in the 80s, it was still a social stigma to be geeky or nerdy, to be too into computers and genre fiction, and know more about the space program than what was mentioned in weekly readers regarding the shuttles. If you read SF and liked Carl Sagan, you were pariah as a kid.
But little did we know that in 15 or 20 years, geek would be chic, and OMNI helped lay the groundwork for that! Loving looking through these very familiar past issues that I’d read and reread so many times as a young nerd.
Time to play NaNoWriMo once again! I give it a go every other year or so. In the past I’ve not participated because, oh, I was busy writing my thesis or editing the novel I’d finished… things like that. I have a friend who recently lamented that he couldn’t play NaNoWriMo this year because he was busy with a freelance writing project. I found it tres amusing that he should feel bad about not participating in an arbitrary get-people-to-write gimmick because he was already writing productively–for pay.
Well, I have writing I’m working on, but it’s always good (great, actually) to have set goals, to write every day, to give yourself rewards and social punishment for being productive or being lazy about writing. So, I like NaNoWriMo and what it does for me (at least for the first couple of weeks before I realize that trying to write for two hours lat at night, after a day of work, doing cooking and cleaning and laundry, makes being productive writer on a forced writing march, very emotionally draining and leads to poor output). But in the meantime, here I go….
Though, I must say, preparing for NaNoWriMo this year (what? You don’t prepare?) gave me a massive epiphany! I have a handful of story ideas percolating in my noodle at a time, sometimes for days before I start writing them down, sometimes years. My first novel, the seeds of that one I’d been playing around with for four or more years before I finally started it. Well, among others, I’ve had the bits-n-pieces of three different novels working around for a very long time. Except one of them, the young adult novel I started thinking about a couple years ago and started writing a couple of months ago — that one’s the newest. Well, I decided I’d take one of the other ones and work on that fro NaNoWriMo, and as I started to outline the events and thumbnail the setting, something amazing came to me! These three particular, separate novels, are part of one giant epic that spans centuries! And the ways and reasons why the three settings are different, but similar, give me some really fun effects of time and social evolution to play with. But, there’s a distinct connecting line through them. Each novel can be read separately (and in the case of the young adult one, which sits as the middle book, it really must be distinctly separate because I want to keep that young adult while the other two are certainly for more mature readers), but the experience is much richer for having read the one(s) preceding it. Anyway, it’s been real fun working on the nuts and bolts of this more expanded universe that just opened up for me.