Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Do Not Go Gentle...

Sunday night I drank hard
I was celebrating friendships rekindled 
and mourning friendships lost 
and mourning the passing 
of friends who are no longer here‬
‪I drank hard enough to spend 
the early hours of morning 
huddled over a porcelain alter
‪I was lucky enough to have a friend 
holding my hair as I paid my raging tribute

‪Thanks to everyone at World Fantasy 2019‬

Friday, February 8, 2019

Cary Heater: bookseller and friend

Cary Heater

Cary was a bookseller. She had eclectic tastes that probably did not match your own, but she was a pro, who knew how to find just the right book for you. She could nimbly jump from genre to genre… when Borderlands was threatening to close, she gamely started working at a mainstream bookstore over at the Ferry Building. One that catered to the tourist crowd. She knew what they liked. She like to talk about them….  She always liked to talk. Not trash-talk exactly. She was never mean. But she didn’t suffer fools. At all.

She was a beast when it came to dealing with distributors and publishers and returns and orders. She just handled it. For many years, she was the reason the books got on the shelves, week after week.

She had a love hate relationship with computers, and that included the Borderlands computers and inventory database. But again, she could bull through it, and just get the job done. She might let you know how persnickety the computer was being, or how frustrating Baker & Taylor was being, or tell you exactly what the publisher had done to screw up the shipment that needed to arrive the next day for an author event, but all that was just the background music to her day. She would see a pile of work and plow through it until it was done.

She was a true San Franciscan. She drank at The City’s drag-bars and loved the people who made them their home. She prowled the streets of Hayes Valley and The Mission after dark, reading in bars and restaurants and generally being exactly the kind of literate San Francisco hedonist that the city is known and loved for.

When I brought my kids into Borderlands, they would swarm behind the counter, and I would always tell them to listen to Auntie Carey – to ask if they could go back there.  She didn’t particularly like kids, but she took a bit of quiet, perverse delight in being called Auntie. Her chuckle when I would say “Auntie Cary” was always there, and I can hear it now.

I enjoyed having her tell me about what she was reading because her tastes were very different from mine. I always enjoyed listing to what drew her to a particular title, or why a book did or did not work for her. She trusted me, in the way booksellers and other intimates trust each other – to NOT kink-shame each other for their reading habits.  Borderlands was a safe space in that regard, and she helped keep it that way.

When she was having an especially exasperating day, I would hug her, and tell her everything was going to be fine. Usually the computer just needed to be rebooted.
I wish I had hugged her more.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s Maginot Line (or How Do We Fight and Win Tomorrow's Political Battles?)

Generals who plan to fight the previous generation’s war are bound to lose. Hillary Clinton had 8 years to crate a presidential campaign, and she spent 8 years building a political Maginot line.
Hillary’s primal political experience at the national level was the DLC of the 90s. After being kicked around by Regan's Republican Party, the Democratic Party essentially followed the “New Labor” model of cozying up to big business and the moneyed elite, at the expense of the working class And labor unions. Essentially the DLC Democrats split the baby in half, trying to be “Republican Light”… pro business, but with liberal social values. And with the charismatic Bill Clinton leading it, this was enough to keep the executive branch, even if it meant losing legislative branches of the government.  The 1990s Gingrich revolution was possible because Democrats abandoned its labor and working-class base.
So it was utterly predictable that the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid was the Clinton Foundation. Cozy up to big money. Get the support of the moneyed elites. Signal, both in dog whistles and in overt speeches, that the wealthy and the powerful have nothing to fear from a Clinton White House… she was one of them.
The problem is she did this in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. She did this in the wake of President Obama winning 2 elections on the promise of CHANGE.  One of the Cornerstones of her presidential bid was something that worked in 1992, but was surely going to be an Achilles heel in 2016. She could have spent 6 years building up a populist base… building up a coalition that could splinter the lower class/lower-information foundation-stone of the republican party. Instead she went with what she knew.  It probably seemed like a safe bet.
But then she went on to make another “safe bet.”  Her time at the State Department could have been spent building up her bonafides as a genuine progressive leader in the realm of foreign policy... she could have been a vocal counterpoint to Obama’s hawkishness… but instead she was the vocal hawk in the Obama administration.
This hawkishness was a cornerstone of Clinton’s Campaign. If you are going to be a woman, and want to have a chance of leading the free world, you better be ready, willing and able to bomb the shit out of everyone and everything. That seems to have been the conventional thinking of her campaign.  Her foreign policy was a weird fusion of Neo-Con imperialism, and Cold War Democratic “pragmatism,” which, given the absence of a cold war, required reigniting one. 
This foreign policy can be summed up quite clearly, by her campaign speech on Israel. Again… she went with what she knew.  She went with what worked in the 90s. She promised another 4 years of the same foreign policy.. the same wars… the same bombing and the same imperialism. The same surveillance state and endless war on terror.  It is unsurprising that in a “change” election, promising more of the same wasn’t very compelling.
Another cornerstone of her campaign was “another 4 years of Obama… I’m sort of like Obama, right?”. The expectation that the racial coalition that Obama had put together would turn out in full force for her… because she was a minority too(?!).. a woman. But turnout was lower for her among these ethnic voting blocks then it was for Obama… In large part because of the economic and foreign policy triangulation she chose.  And the women? White women voted for trump at a 53% rate. There was a serious misunderstanding of gender solidarity in this country… at least in the context of presidential elections.
And finally, the main message of her campaign seems to have been “That other guy is scary and horrible and incompetent. So you better vote for me or else.” And she wasn’t wrong… Trump, or (frankly) any other republican who was running was scary and horrible and incompetent.  But this was the central message of the John Kerry campaign, when Bush won a second term. It was not a compelling campaign message then, and it wasn’t in 2016.  It’s a message that one goes with when one has nothing better to offer.  Vote for me or else we will lose Obama Care… we will lose the right to Abortion… we will lose the racial and gender equity we’ve gained… etc etc. 
Except most of the people she needed to convince and excite and get the vote of were not the beneficiaries of these “gains.”  Its hard to get an abortion in Red States. Racial Equity and justice isn’t terribly visible when the police continue to kill POC with impunity, literary every day. And throughout the rural red states where governors refused to expand Medicare coverage, Obama Care isn’t something to protect, because it hasn’t done anything for most people.   This fear that she shamelessly stoked (Russian agent! Putin! Putin!!) was ultimately not compelling enough, to enough voters.

I hope the Democratic Party learns the right lessons from this defeat. And to be frank… after 30 years of watching the democratic party form a circular firing squad, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I’m not terribly hopefully.
But I have children. I’m fighting now, for their future. I don’t have the privilege of despair or denial or disengagement. The struggle is long, and exhausting. But I’ll keep fighting. I am tired, and filled with rage and horror and frustration.  I had hoped that the Bush Regime would be the most horrible thing that I would have to explain to my children.  It turns out it is not. There are far worse horrors in the world, and they are banging on our doors.
But I will keep fighting. I hope others are willing to continue as well, with eyes wid open, and a willingness to face hard truths about our Maginot Lines and conventional wisdom.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Depictions of, and Insights Into Media, Power, and Ethics (Plus a Side-trip Down the Spike Lee Trivia Rabbit Hole)

So... I have felt for a long time now that the movie Network perfectly captured, at a very early date, the political and financial pressures that drive modern media.

https://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/137/MPW-68503I wanted to put Network into a larger film and historical context, and point out some of its inspirations, and some of the things it inspired.

Network can be seen as a foundation of media criticism, because it eschews the self aggrandizing narratives that usually go along with Hollywood movies covering journalists and the media. From All the Presidents Men, to Good Night And Good Luck, the roll of the reporter, or journalist is usually a heroic one, or at least is tangentially friendly to the idea that the 4th estate is in irreplaceable pillar of Democracy. Network doesn't wear those tinted glasses, and that's one reason why it has withstood the test of time, and why TV shows and movies obviously inspired by it (Newsroom, for example) don't quite ring as true.

http://derekwinnert.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Sweet-Smell-of-Success.jpgAfter Network, I want to jump to a classic, underrated movie that is usually considered in the context of Noir, or Jazz; that movie is The Sweet Smell of Success.  While the narrative focus is on that of the small time PR hack played by Tony Curtis, the driving engine of this movie is the indomitable character of J.J. Hunsecker... Played by Burt Lancaster, and based on real life columnist Walter Winchell.  The technology may change, but the dynamic is the same.  J.J. Hunsecker is a Mid-20th-Century Matt Drudge, power mad, and paranoid. Watch this movie with an eye on the relationship between the Media and the political machinery, and watch how personal drama's influence both. 

https://trekkerscrapbook.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/face-00.jpgSweet Smell leads nicely into the thematic inspiration for Network... which is A Face In the Crowd. This movie chronicles the rise from obscurity too fame, of a folksy country singer who ends up with his own national television show. While his public persona is that of all around nice guy, he is in fact an angry, mean drunk. One of the beautiful ironies of this movie is that the folksy, yet secretly angry-mean-drunk is played by Andy Richards, who turned in this performance before he became the folksiest every-man of 20th century American television. This movie captures perfectly how the media manufactures fame, and eats up and chews out the people it uses, and also captures the strange relationship between fame, Media, and politics.  If Hunsecker from Sweet Smell... is Matt Drudge, then the Andy Richard's character in A Face In The Crowd is Michael Savage.

From A face in the Crowd, lets jump forward to Spike Lee's massively underrated classic Bamboozled.  Which is in direct dialog with A Face In the Crowd, and Network... but adds the complicated issue of the media's depiction of race into the mix. This movie is  powerful, and filled with amazing performances. The depiction of race, and issues of complicity and collaboration with the media industrial complex's racism is at the heart of Bamboozled, and it can be painful to watch at times. But it should not be missed.

 It was from the Spike Lee himself, in the film's directors commentary, that I learned of the existence of the movie A Face In the Crowd, and how Lee was consciously making a film in this tradition.  What went unsaid, however, was some of the other cultural references in Bamboozled. Lee didn't give away everything in the cliff notes, and one of the biggest mysteries for me in Bamboolzed was the origins of Pierre Delacroix's accent. In one memorable scene, the character's own father confronts him, saying "N****r, where the fuck did you get that accent?"

http://www.headstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/bambooooo.pngFor years, I never found an explanation for Pierre's accent. Spike Lee seems to never have commented on it publicly, and neither (from what
I've been able to find) has actor Damon Wayans who turned in an absolutely stunning performance.  In 2013 (at the Noir City Film Festival), I discovered the 1951 Argentinian adaption of Richard Wright's novel Native Son, starring non-other than Richard Wright himself. And it it, he has a unique, idiosyncratic, and vaguely European accent that is clearly the inspiration for Pierre Delacroix's accent. Mystery solved! Given this accent would have been completely out of place for the character Wright was playing, I can only assume it was in fact his  actual accent, and not an affectation for the film... though I would love to find some recordings of the author to confirm this.

http://www.noircity.com/img/nc11/still/Native-Son_still_horiz3.jpgI am sure there some who probably took this Richard Wright allusion for granted, but I feel like its an obscure enough tidbit that it should be mentioned... and I've never seen it mentioned anywhere, in any conversations about Bamboozled, Damon Wayans, or Richard Wright.

Please let me know if there are any other films or TV shows that fit into this cycle of media and political criticism. As I alluded to above, I'm painfully familiar with Newsroom. :)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Yet Another TFA Review: (Spoilers)

My favorite part of the movie was the Musical cue, when Han Solo died.

I spent most of a month trying to figure out where I heard it before. Upon my second viewing, about ten minutes after Han died, I realized it was from Cemetery man.

Check it out:

Cemetery man Score:

Han Solo Death scene:

pretty cool, right?

I'm pretty sure this means that a zombie Han Solo is going to come back at some point.  I mean, that's the only thing that makes sense, right?

Friday, November 13, 2015

On Statues, History and Community...

Let me make something absolutely clear. I will never tell someone what they should or should not be offended by.  I also feel that a larger,  more inclusive and welcoming tent is a better tent, and that any changes that make the tent more inclusive are generally good. Got it?  Good. I don't want anybody to misunderstand where I'm coming from, though Goddess knows someone probably fucking will.

Have you out there ever been really angry at Conservative right wingers in america?  Okay, let me refine the question. Have you ever felt uncomfortable critiziing the policies of the Obama Administration because the other people critizing him are raving fucking lunatics screaming about Muslim Manchirian Candidates and socialist FEMA trailers?  Seriously. Its hard to be a left leaning critic of the Obama Adminstration because MOST of his critics are fucking crazy, and you face the real danger of getting lumped in with the crazies.

I feel like that right now. Because I have an opinion on the relevance of the World Fantasy Award trophy, but the REASONS for that opinion have little in common with the kind of rabid culture-war/Sad Puppy/GamerGate confluence that has included grandstanding, bloviating, death threats and other horrible fucking things.

Most of the rhetoric from people opposed to changing the award statue do NOT seem to interested in talking about why a silly statue, based on a silly sketch by Gahan Wilson might be important or relevant to 21st century Fantasy literature.  Instead they want to behave like spoiled children who have had toy taken away from them.  Fuck you and all you spoiled, entitled fuck-ups who have derailed any meaningful conversation about this. You are the reason we can't have nice things.

And one of those nice things is the ability to have a conversation, to politely disagree, and to be willing to accept the choices made by others, even though you disagree with them. 

Your rhetoric, and your threats, and your animosity and resistance to change do nothing to make the Fantasy genre and the community that has grown up around it better, in any aesthetic or moral way.  You are all Cthulhu cultists who would rather destroy the world instead of seeing it change. You are the problem.

But there are always people like you. It is in your nature. And the rest of the world will move on, and you will fade into the night, and be remembered poorly, if at all.

The people I don't want to fade away are the people who created the world fantasy award.  They helped create something good and lasting and important to the broader literary community. I want the judges from years past, and the adminstrators, and the board members who have shepherded this unweildy mass of craziness from year to year, and decade to deacde to be remembered, and respected for their contributions to to the community.

And I would like their reasons for doing things, and the icons they chose, and the shit that was important to them to be remembered and respected in its proper context.

The first world fantasy convention was held in Providence, Rhode Island, as a tribute to HPL . The people who attended, and helped create the award were inspired by WEIRD fiction as much as it was by High Fantasy. "The Extruded Fantasy Product" craze had not yet come to dominate the publising industry, and the label "fantasy" was still a very big-tent label that encompassed all the "weird fiction"of the 20th century.

Some contemporary commentators don't see the connection between horror, and fantasy fiction, and that is just one more reason why this history should be remembered. I often hear "what does horror have to do with fantasy" and it is a conversation that I would like to see carried out in a respectful, wide ranging way -- contemporary weird fiction and horror fiction writers are a very important part of the Big Tent that I spoke of earlier. I hope in the wake of the currently ugliness, this important history... of the award, of the genre, and the people who created the award is not lost or dismissed.

Over the course of my professional career I have worked with and published the work of many people who were involved in the Fantasy community in the 70s, when this award was created. I invite anybody who has personal recollections of those conventions to contact me, publicly, or privately, and please share this history. 

I am not interested in getting into a shit-slinging contest with anybody. I am not interested in attacking this decision, nor the people who made it, nor the people who advocated for it. I'm intersted in the history of the Fantasy genre and the people who helped shape it. I would love to see a host of primarly source materials come to light. Convention reports and Convention histories. Fan histories. Writer's auto-biographies (published and unpublished) and their first hand observations. As anybody who attends world fantasy knows, it is a secrete carnival of folks who LOVE fantasy fiction, filled with circles within circles within circles. The world Fantasy convention that I go to is not the world fantasy convention that other people go to. And that is part of the magic. And this applies to the literature as well. The stuff that moves me may not be the stuff that moves others, but it is all part of a larger tradition.

These are the types of things that I would like everyone to remember. These are the types of conversations I would like people to have. The shit-slinging cultists who just want to destroy everything should be ignored until they fade into the night.  But don't let the productive and important conversations about our genre's history go away or be forgotten. Remembering and talking about this tradition honors the history of the genre and the people in it far better than a single face on an awards trophy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Course topics: eras and themes

Chronological Examinations of Science Fiction:

Pre-pulp SF, and the early Gernsbeck Years
(Wells, shelly, Jules Verne, ??, Amazing)

Planetary Romance and the later pulp years
Burroughs. Burroughs Burroughs. EARLY FANDOM.

Golden Age of SF
Camble/astounding. House writers and the big 4. Camble ideas as written by various house writers (mirror themed novels). Non-astounding Golden Age material. Compare US to British in this era (very different mix. Also, Orwell, and non "genre" science fiction of era).  Serial Structure... or why those golden age novels are structured the way they are. Fix Ups.  Transitions from Fantasy markets to Science fiction markets (How Pern and Darkover became science fiction). Fandom.

The New Wave
Early Galaxy deviations from the golden age norm, and other new Wave Anticedents.  Feminist SF. New worlds/morchock and Harrison.  Changing standards of paperback publishing (more explicity sex allowed) and now that fueled the later half of the new wave period.  Again, not differences/similiarites in Britsh/American SF during this period. Fandom.

Gibson's first published shorty story, Fact Sheet Five, through the publicaction of Snowcrash, which offically ended the "cyberpunk" era. Cover some antecedents. (brunner?). 

Trends in Modern SF (The last 30 years):
New Space Opera, Dystopia, Steampunk, HardSF Renascence,  and other big fat reprint anthologies

Thematic and other ways to look at SF

Young Adult and juvenile Adventure Science Fiction:
 Tom swift to Heinlien to Suzanne Collins

Feminist Science Fiction Revolutions
The Language of the Night (Le Guin, 1979) and How To Suppress Women's Writing (Russ, 1983).

British Science Fiction Traditions and trends
Orwell, brunner and Ballard, with Whindim and others.  Banks. New Space Opera.

Utopian Traditions: advocacy vs observation
Early pre SF utopian Novels, Rand, KSR, etc etc 

Dystopian Literature
Brave New World, Orwell, brunner, ballard, Kim Stanly Robinson, Atwood, paolo.

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic literature
M. P. Sheil, Walter Miller, The Road, Kim Stanley Robinson

 Alternate History
Turtledove to Kim Stanley Robinson. Steampunk.

Paradox of Other in Science Fiction literature
Disproportionately homogenous nature of Science fiction literature and fandom, and how this is at odds with its immigrant roots and thematic concerns. Writers of Color, and how minority writing communities view Science Fiction. Passing vs not passing (pseudonym)

How Science Fiction won the War and made itself irrelavant.
larger examination of science fictions influence and presence in other facets of popular culture, and how this impacted the literature of SF.

Science Fiction and Imperialism:
British and American science fiction. Steam Punk and Alternate history. Dystopian reflections on empires in decline.

Dying Earth Traditionns in SF
Hodgson, Jack Vance, Wolfe and beyond...