2013The Woodshed and the Story’s End…
As an erotica writer who’s always attempted to portray both men and women as realistically as possible (yes, even my dragons, centaurs, and so on), I have a deep sympathy with the crisis Kameron Hurley shows in her brilliant essay, We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative. The essay is about how stories have always been wrapped around the narratives of men, and how she’s trying, harder than ever, to depict women faithfully, to slough off the cultural baggage of women constrained to romantic, sexual, or subservient roles in any given story, and show women as just as capable of action as men.
In a paragraph toward the end of the essay, though, she struggles to re-write her women characters so that they’re explicitly not depicted in one of those roles– even when those roles might be appropriate.
I thought about that because I just finished a story where Ken is mourning the death of a beloved friend from a relatively rare (for the Pendorian Corridor) species, and how he encounters another fem from the same species. She plays the role of confidant while he sorts himself out. It is a stereotypically “feminine” role– but all she is is confidant. The love scenes are all male/male, starting as a dive into explicitly drunken abandon, and ending as something more romantic and holistic. Which was sorta the point of the story. It’s a nice arc, not at all challenging. (To me, at any rate: I understand that male/male romance is challenging for some people.)
I thought about Hurley’s struggle, and applied it to the paragraphs when Ken and Evane are talking. After a few iterations I found myself back at the beginning. Confidant is a fine role for just about anyone. Evane is not explicitly locked into anything in particular. She has understandable and humane reasons for her interest in Ken. The story doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but that’s hard to achieve when you have a first-person narrative from a male character.
So I reverted back to the original. It’s good as is. Another story done.
2013Elysium, and the Generalized Resource Curse
I was at an SF convention a few years ago, attending a panel with lots of my favorite writers on it: China Mieville, Charlie Stross, Ken McCleod. China dismissed the Singularity with a classic “Rapture of the Nerds” line. He said something to the effect of “Nerds evaporating through the smokestack of history.” I’m sure that quote isn’t precise, but I do remember the word “smokestack” clearly: Mieville is very much a socialist writer in the fin de’siecle mode, and dirty coal big machine industrialization is one of his favorite images.
This summer, the ultimate “The rich few live in a gated community, the poor live in shit” scenario will play across movie screens in the Jodie Foster / Matt Damon flick “Elysium“. The gated community is a large 1970s-style Stanford torus habitat high above the Earth, a place to which the hoi-polloi have no chance of getting. (An interesting choice as it cuts out an entire class of guard labor requirements.) The trailer implies near-singularity technology, but apparently hasn’t quite gotten there.
The other day, Steve Randy Waldman discussed techonolgy as a generalized resource curse. A resource curse is when an impoverished country discovers it has a commodity that everyone wants. Commodities require little labor to extract relative to a country’s population, and the “curse” is that a few in that country end up very wealthy and the rest of country ends up even worse off than they were before the resources was discovered.
The Generalize Resource Curse is easy to understand: between the cheap movement of goods and the widespread distribution of both intelligence and communication, “commodities” are becoming less “raw goods” and more automated manufacture “prefab goods”: machined parts, engines, motherboards, modular housing units. Until very recently in human history, education was rare; now it’s a commodity, but only a few exploit it well, know how to maintain it. Even as the world gets richer, fewer and fewer people are needed to keep the economic machinery going for the sake of the economic machinery.
If you listen to most politicians, you’d think the economy was the only real good. That there is no social institution of any moral worth compared to The Market. Unfortunately, this idea that juicing the economy is the only real benefit politics can provide, regardless of the cost to individual human beings, seems to have gripped just about everyone who benefits from it– but that number is shrinking. Relative wealth in the US has stagnated for 30 years; the rich have gotten richer, everyone else has gotten poorer.
It’s clear that Elysium is the pre-singularity endgame of a generalized resource curse: The wealthy require very few “middle class” to maintain their station; more importantly, there is a very small subset of people on Earth with the education and training needed to provide terrestrial resource support to Elysium, and it may be that they’re incapable of generating bargaining power relative to the economy that supports Elysium. (The easiest way to do this is to subsidize education in enough places to produce a viciously competetive underclass grateful for a chance to work at all.)
There are two strains of SF: the authoritarian one, stemming from “Science tells us human beings are like such-and-so, and any denial of this is folly and doom.” The writers from this tradition are Heinlein, Pournelle, Card, Weber, Neal Asher, among many others. The other is “Human beings, like the universe, are genuinely diverse and weird, and we should learn to learn from that weirdness and like it.” The writers from this tradition include Iain Banks, Ken McCleod, China, and a ton of women.
These two strains lead to different endgames: Elysium or The Cassini Division. The latter ultimately, if we don’t fuck it up, leads to The Culture. The former, well, I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to see Sean Connery in a red leather diaper ever again.
I have a headache, and its name is Honest Impulses. This is the sequel to Honest Question, and it’s meant to be novel length. Honest Question introduced two characters I hoped would become important to the series, Misuko and Linia, and was meant to explore a great many details about what it means to be a robot, to be in love with a robot, to have morality and ethics, and a lot of other questions that I’m vastly interested in persuing.
Honest Impulses happens shortly after Honest Question, although there are two shorts before it, Necessary Repairs and First Impulses. Honest Impulses basically asks the a simple question: if the robot Linia’s purpose is to be Misuko’s ideal beloved, and Misuko’s ideal beloved is a human with all the humane impulses Misuko admires, then what if one of those impulses is to fall in love with someone else?
Especially when that someone else is a fucked-up, fragile young woman who’s just as confused about the universe as a college kid is supposed to be.
There’s an entire mystery plot, too, about how robots are mistreated, neglected, and taken for granted, and about how one man, reacting to the mistreatment of robots, decides that the only way to prevent that mistreatment is to convince all robots that killing off humanity is in all sentients’ beings best interests, and how he’s going to use Linia, whose antique mind is a great proving ground for his plan. I’ve written over 118,000 words on this story– and I can’t get it to finish.
I have some fabulous scenes. Some of them are downright amazing. There are great smiles and laughs. The individual chapters have some really great moments. But dammit, I can’t seem to bridge the muddle in the middle. You know, the part where Linia decides she can love more than one person, where Misuko decides she can let Linia be poly, where our heroes investigate, Scooby-Doo style, exactly why Saia Omertum blew her own head off in a very public and grisly fashion.
Gaah. I’ve re-written this three times. Something has to come together sometime. Right?
2013The simple truth: I’m swamped
I got an email today asking me if and when I was going to fix the Yowlers series so it was at least readable. The answer is “Yes, I will, but…”
Ever since the great layoffs of 2008, I’ve been in one of two states: either fully employed with a wife and two teenage daughters to look after, in which case I was overloaded with absolutely no bandwidth in which to write, or unemployed with that same family, in which case I was a neurotic wreck sending out a gazillion resumes in the hopes of getting a bite, and no will to write.
Yesterday I got laid off. So now I’ve switched from overloaded to neurotic.
But in a good way, because I already have two job offers. I’ve figured out The Secret To Finding Work As A Developer, so that’s taken care of. Both offers, by the way, come with a bonus: commuting by train. The last few jobs involved commuting by car, in which there was no way to write, but writing on a train is old-hat to me: most of the Aimee and Blood Beth series were written on buses or trains. I went to an interview yesterday that took the train: in two 35-minutes rides I wrote 2200 words of hot, angsty, mel-on-mel human/squirrelmorph porn.
The other problem is simple: Narrator 3.0 is old and a headache to use, and fixing it is a serious problem, and every time I think about fixing it I also think about how the Journal Entries and other series ought to be responsive and mobile-friendly, and I look at my to-do list and realize that there’s a gazillion projects to take care of that have a higher priority, especially if I want to maintain That Thing That Makes It Possible To Find Work. Right now the top priorities in my project list are revamping my wife’s website for modern typography and a better color selection, future-proofing my skillset, deploying another Thing to my professional portfolio, and revamping that portfolio so that live Things (like Fridgemagnets and Priorities) are the very first thing someone reads on the sidebar.
I have ambitions for Narrator 4, ambitions that, sadly, I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to realize. And equally sadly, low on that priority list is fixing the IE-8 oriented CSS that’s completely fucking up the Yowlers pages. I will get to it. I am writing more. I just can’t promise when you’ll see those changes.
2012Playing Tag: The Work In Progress
1. What is the working title of your next book?
Loyalty. That’s just a working title, and it was developing into a theme. It’s a sequel to the my nowel Sterling, which had the original title “Heroines.”
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
A challenge given to me by a playwright. He told me that the purpose of a play is to illustrate a character’s vices or virtues, undiscovered by both the character and the audience at the beginning of the play. I’ve written several serials where the hero’s or heroine’s virtues are visited time and again. I wanted to strech out and say, “Given what we saw at the end Sterling, do my characters have any more to give?” I believe the answer is yes.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction erotica. It’s set in my grand SF space opera.
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh, good grief! I don’t watch much in the way of movies so I wouldn’t have the first clue. The main character’s mothers I imagine would be Glenn Close and Judi Densch. Dove’s boyfriends could played by a short, younger Leo DiCaprio. I think Sigourney Weaver would have once made a great Zia. I don’t have a good visual on the main character; I try not to, too hard; I don’t want to taint the reader’s ability to place herself there.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Having secured herself on a new world of unimaginable technologies, a young woman is forced to choose between joining her primitive homeworld’s fight for survival and her own loyalties, intimate and otherwise, to the civilization that has embraced her.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published, like the last one, which did pretty well.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About four months.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A lot of people basically compare my work to either Terry Goodkind or Iain Banks in terms of setting– which puzzles the heck out of me. There’s a lot of sex, which is kinda my forte’.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and work.” – Chuck Close.
“If inspiration arrives, it had better find me working.” – Ruyard Kipling
Snide comments out of the way, I just believe that there are several threads left in my grand space opera that deserve more closure than they’ve received. The “happily ever afters” aren’t convincing enough. Every good book must convince the reader that there’s more to the character’s lives than what you were left with. I don’t know that that’s true at the end of Sterling.
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Although there’s much less of it than in the previous volume, Loyalty continues with themes of gender confusion and transhuman considerations of sex, gender, and capability.keep looking »