Archive for May, 2009

Final Wiscon schedule

We leave for Wisconsin tomorrow, to spend a couple of days with my parents in Milwaukee before the con, and will be heading home on Tuesday. Here’s my official programming schedule:

  • Fri 9:00AM – 12:00PM, Senate B: Writers’ Workshop
    Open only to writers who submitted stories before the convention.
  • Fri 9:00 – 10:15PM, Senate B: Turns Out This Is Your Dad’s SF/F
    David D. Levine (moderator), Eileen Gunn, Chip Hitchcock, Brad Lyau, Pat Murphy
    Back in the 30s SF/F was a welcome escape from Cowboy and Indian/Detective fiction that consumed American pop culture. The “new” of SF/F built up steam and seemed to blossom in the 50s and 60s. The 70s new weird was “not your dad’s SF” and the 80s cyberpunk wasn’t your dad’s SF, and the 90s/00s post-human wasn’t your dad’s SF. This panel will debate the assertion that there is little “new” that can be added to SF, and that, coupled with the fact that we are clearly living in an SF world, makes SF writing near impossible. How are writers and readers handling the inevitable alchemy of the time?
  • Sat 10:00 – 11:15AM, Room Of Ones Own: Attendees Receive Free Cyborg Unicorn (readings)
    Rosalyn Berne, David D. Levine, Nnedi Nkemdili Okorafor, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Sun 2:30 – 3:45PM, Wisconsin: The Rules: Use or Abuse Them
    David D. Levine (moderator), Ellen Klages, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Joan D. Vinge, Patricia C Wrede
    Many beginning writers are taught such rules as “Never use adverbs” or “Avoid using fancy synonyms for ‘said.’” While these rules may help writers avoid overwriting their prose, the rules can also hamper writers from developing their own unique voices. Are these rules a hinderance or a help? Which rules can be bent or broken effectively? What are the best ways to apply these rules, both to your own writing or to someone else’s?
  • Sun 4:00 – 5:15PM, Caucus: Humor in Feminist Speculative Fiction
    David D. Levine (moderator), Charlie Anders, Cynthia Gonsalves, Heather Lindsley
    A common criticism of feminists is lack of a sense of humor, yet Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman successfully use humor in their work. What about other authors? Is the humor in Russ’s The Female Man missed by some readers? Is humor used for satire more or less successful than other kinds of humor?
  • Mon 11:30AM – 12:45PM, Capitol/Wisconsin: The SignOut
    Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.

Selling a utopia, and “Titanium Mike” podcast

Word count: 3855 | Since last entry: -324

Beautiful sunny day today. Went to the last yoga class of the term, walked down to Stumptown for more beans, mowed the lawn. Also finished up and submitted my story for the Shine anthology.

This story wasn’t all that hard to write, but I had a lot of trouble dealing with the comments from my critique group. Some of them liked the story; some found its utopia implausible; others found the utopia plausible enough, but morally ambiguous (which was not my intent). How to deal with these varied reactions?

The biggest problem with writing optimistic near-future SF, I think, is that if you’re going to write about a future in which some of today’s most serious and intractible problems are solved, and make it convincing, you almost have to come up with a real, workable solution, and that’s something much better minds than mine have failed at again and again. (People will accept a logically flawed dystopia, because they know that stupidity and greed are endless, but a logically flawed utopia won’t stand up.) I tried to deal with the problem by setting the story well after the change point, but I did try to explain how we got there from here and some of my readers just didn’t buy it.

In the end I think that whether a given given reader buys a story like this (and if the reader is an editor, that’s literal) will depend on whether or not they accept the basic premises from which the story’s solutions proceed. In editing the story, I tried to make the utopia more plausible by providing more concrete details… they won’t necessarily convince an antagonistic reader, but may help a neutral reader accept the story even if they don’t buy the utopia.

In other news, the podcast of “Titanium Mike Saves the Day” is now up at StarShipSofa (also available via iTunes). Happy listening!

Charlie the Purple Giraffe and the Very Busy Friday

“Charlie the Purple Giraffe” has now been adapted to audio at The Drabblecast, complete with classic cartoon music and sound effects. I love the production, and I am pleased to have been asked to provide the voice of Charlie. You can listen to it here (embedded QuickTime), or download the MP3 here.

Meanwhile, just to keep me humble, I received three rejections in a span of 12 hours. This is the downside of writing and submitting a lot. However, I’ve already resubmitted two of them and sent a query about the third.

I’d been noticing lately a funny noise coming from the front end and the car pulling a bit to the right, and had made an appointment for a front end alignment. However, on our way to dinner Thursday night (with writers Mark and Elizabeth Bourne at the home of our friends Janet and Ron Lunde), the problem seemed much worse. We pulled over and took a look, and found that the right front tire was completely flat. I could have changed it myself, I suppose, but we’re paying for AAA, and as it turned out a big dyke with the right tools could change it a lot more quickly and easily than I could. Unfortunately, because I drove on the tire for a day or more after it had gone flat, it was too damaged to be repaired and had to be replaced. I don’t feel too bad about that, though, as the other front tire was low enough on tread that it made sense to replace both of them. The good news is that I could then cancel the front-end alignment appointment.

The tire repair ate up much of this morning, and the rest of it was taken up by a trip to the UPS store to fax the Certificate of Coverage from our just-expired COBRA to our two new insurance companies. Kate now has a conventional plan, and I have one of those plans with a Health Savings Account. My plan has a $5000 deductible, which means that unless something serious happens it will never pay anything at all, but it’s inexpensive and it comes with all kinds of discount cards for prescription drugs, diagnostics, medical imaging, etc…. which remind me a lot of the kind of crap free software that new PC’s tend to come with. Basically it is medical disaster insurance; the HSA is used to pay for regular and minor medical expenses. I’m a little uncomfortable with this plan but it does make the best economic sense for us, for a variety of reasons.

In the afternoon we saw Star Trek with our friend Nancy McClure, followed by a lovely dinner with her and her husband Martin. Omigod. It’s been a long time since I wanted to go right back and see a movie a second time! And we definitely will be doing that while it’s still in its first run. There’s so much amazing detail in every shot! The worst thing I can say about this movie is that there’s way too much lens flare. I am a happy Trekker.

Why there is no equivalent of a corset for men: a theory

(Some thoughts prompted by this blog post)

A question I have often asked, and never gotten a satisfactory answer to, is this: what can I wear to a science fiction convention that would be as sexy as a corset?

Lots of women wear corsets at conventions these days. They make nearly any woman look sexy, whether she’s svelte or generously proportioned. But I’m not aware of anything equivalent for men. One answer I’ve gotten to this question is “a corset, duh.” But I’ve tried male corsets and they don’t do anything for me. Fundamentally I believe the problem is that they don’t change my shape at all. Another answer is “a tux.” I can get into that (and have), but it’s not quite the same thing.

I realized the other day that the reason there’s no good answer to this question arises from Western society’s ideas about gender. A corset is not sexy principally because it emphasizes a woman’s secondary sexual characteristics. A corset is sexy because it emphasizes the differences between a woman and a man — where “man” should be read in the deprecated meaning of “human being.” In other words, a corset emphasizes the difference between a “woman” and a “person,” or between “mark” and “norm.” Thus, there is no equivalent of a corset for men because there are no differences between a man and a person (societally speaking) to emphasize.

Clothing that emphasizes a man’s secondary sexual characteristics can still be sexy, and appealing to individuals. But it’s not “sexy” in the societally-endorsed way that a corset is.

Note that I am not endorsing this view, I’m just observing it.

Your thoughts?

An idea for a computer product

What I would like is a screen saver that, when you sit down at the computer, will not unlock until you answer the question “What did you come to the computer to do?” and then displays that answer prominently but not obnoxiously on the screen (perhaps in a floating or semi-transparent window) until dismissed. Perhaps to dismiss it you would have to type in some text indicating what you had done about the whatever-it-was. Perhaps the prompt and the reply would be recorded, time-stamped, in a log file.

This is intended to address the problem of going to the computer and getting sucked in by LiveJournal or Facebook or Twitter or such for an hour before you realize you didn’t even do the simple five-minute thing you went to the computer to do.

Does this exist (for the Mac, please)? Or do any of you have the skillz to write it?

(Yes, it could be overridden by typing gibberish, and after using the thing for a while one would probably get in the habit of doing so. It’s as hard to outsmart oneself as it is to tickle oneself. But one must try…)

Getting up and doing something else now.

“Firewall” in Chinese

A while ago I learned that my story “Firewall” (the link goes to the complete story at Baen Books’ WebScription.Net) had been translated into Chinese, without authorization or payment, by the magazine SF King. I tracked down an email for them and sent a request for author copies, at least. Well, the other day a very battered package arrived from China containing five copies of the magazine.

I have to say that, even though it’s pirated and all, I’m really happy with it. I don’t know SF King‘s readership but even if it’s a minor Chinese magazine it probably has many times the readers of F&SF or Asimov’s. It’s a quality magazine, my story is second on the cover, and it’s got five lovely illustrations (three of them are below, click to embiggen).

   

I love seeing foreign illustrations of my own stuff. The illos are always apropos, definitely representing images from my story, and yet they are characteristic of the translator’s country (for example, the version of Walker in the illustrations of the Polish translation of “Tk’Tk’Tk” looks Polish to me). In this case, as usual, the characters are nothing like I’d pictured them but totally like themselves. Although they are kind of anime versions of themselves. Which is very cool.

If anyone reading this reads Chinese, I’d be happy to send you scans of the whole story (25MB of JPGs). It has footnotes, and I would love to know what they say!

Shine on, you crazy muppet

Word count: 4179 | Since last entry: 1623

Finished up the first draft of my story for the Shine anthology in a burst of 1000+ words, and sent it to my critique group. Stories always go quicker for me at the end, when I’ve built the world, established the character’s voice, and set up all the plot bits to set up the ending. In this case, though, I got to the climax and realized it didn’t match up with the character’s situation at the beginning of the story, so I went back and changed the beginning to set up the end I’d come to. That’s the nice thing about fiction, as opposed to real life. I’m not 100% satisfied with the story as it stands, but that’s what critique is for.

Yesterday we went to the art museum for an exhibit centered on a new Ganesh stele they just acquired, which was quite nice although the exhibit was smaller than I’d anticipated (only about a dozen pieces). As we walked in, we noticed that the two large stone bowls in front of the museum’s Mark Building (a former Masonic temple) were spewing flame, which they don’t normally do, and we guessed that a movie or TV show was using the museum as a location. But when we came out, we found ourselves in the middle of a colorful parade of academics. We eventually determined that the parade was part of the ceremony of installation, or investiture, or some such, for the new president of Portland State University.

The parade was led by a drum corps, followed by the Royal Rosarians, followed by a hundred or so people wearing doctoral gowns. These are a lot more interesting than the usual black graduation gowns, as each institution and department that grants doctoral degrees has its own special gown and hood, and sometimes hat, and the tradition is that on ceremonial academic occasions each person with a doctorate wears the outfit of the institution where they obtained it. (I believe they are usually rented rather than owned… the job of stocking and renting out the appropriate academic garb for hundreds or thousands of colleges must be daunting.) Some of them are quite flamboyant and colorful.

We went back to the art museum today, for a presentation of rare footage of the Muppets (including the original pilot for The Muppet Show, titled Sex and Violence and featuring the Swedish Chef subtitled in Chinese). Original Muppeteer Dave Goelz (Gonzo) was scheduled to present it, but unfortunately was unable to appear. We still laughed harder than I can recall doing in a long time. One of the highlights was a string of ten or twenty of the thirty-second “this week on the Muppet Show” commercials, each of which was a delightful dollop of concentrated goofiness despite the fact that it was so brief and held to such a strict formula. We’ll be back again tomorrow, for another Muppet show entitled “Commercials and Experiments.”

More Wild Cards news

Word count: 2556 | Since last entry: 555

Here’s the squee-worthy detail I couldn’t reveal before: I have been selected to write one of three new stories in a hardcover reissue of Wild Cards Volume One! It’s kind of like a Director’s Cut with additional bonus tracks… we’re trying to create stories that feel as though they were left out in the first place. It’s quite a challenge, but also an amazing honor — like getting to write a new episode of the original Star Trek, then getting it filmed (somehow) with the young Shatner and Nimoy and then seeing it broadcast right along with the classic episodes.

George R. R. Martin has more details over at his blog.