Monthly Archives: June 2016

Person of Interest

I submit for your consideration a television show called Person of Interest, which ended its 5-season run last week. A show I initially had thoroughly modest expectations of, it became one of my all-time favourites. You may not have seen it (because the ratings were never great), but if you’re the sort of person who reads this blog I’m going to suggest you probably should have. In hope that some of you will now go check it out, I’m going to try very hard not to spoil too much as I write a little about it today.

I understand why people didn’t necessarily jump on board. I gave it a shot because there is a dearth of entertaining SFF-y programming on TV and it looked like it might be diverting, although the premise wasn’t the most exciting. It’s basically this – after 9/11, the US government bought a computer system that monitors every camera, every microphone, every email, every damned thing in search of data that lets it predict terrorist threats. (At first it seems like this might ‘just’ be in the US, but we soon learn that it’s the entire planet.) It also predicts other kinds of crimes, but the government considers these irrelevant and ignores them. The guy who designed the system does not, and receives the identities of people (in the form of their SIN number) who are about to become the focii of violent crimes, in time to prevent them. He’s not an action sort of dude though, so he hires an ex-CIA operative to do the actual preventing. Sometimes the number is the perpetrator of the crime, sometimes it is the target.

This sounded like the procedure-iest procedure show that would ever procedure. Each week they’d get a number, have a case to solve, most of the time the number would be the target, and every so often there would be the SURPRISE TWIST of it being the perpetrator instead. I mean, you could make a show like that and probably do all right with it. But that’s not what the creators of Person of Interest had in mind.

There were (initially) lots of shows about individual numbers and their cases, but very quickly the show demonstrated that it wanted to get into deeper questions about surveillance in society, and about artificial intelligence and the ethics around both. By the final (truncated) season, the procedural part of the show had basically been jettisoned in favour of a really meaty exploration of these questions. It got deep into an extended storyline about the balance between freedom and security, and which we should value more, as well as some fascinating (and vaguely terrifying) stuff about the rights of artificial life and what our relationship with an intelligence that is much, much smarter than us might be like. Obviously a lot of this is pretty topical and only got more so after the Snowden disclosures. I thought they did a great job taking us into interesting terrain and not really giving us easy answers.

They also created some fantastic characters. They’re hard to talk about without getting too spoilery, but consider for a moment one Lionel Fusco. Fusco is introduced as, basically, the stereotypical dirty cop, initially as an antagonist for Our Heroes and then as a reluctant asset as he gets strongarmed and blackmailed into providing information and assistance to their cases. This was pretty much where I figured he’d stay, for a few episodes, until he tried to get one over on the main characters and disappeared.

Boy was I wrong. Instead the writers gave us a guy who gradually figures out what he’s being asked to help with, and gets to remembering why he became a cop in the first place. We learn some of his reasons for becoming crooked in the first place and it’s hard not to sympathize. There’s a story where they need Fusco to keep pretending to be dirty to be the inside guy in a ring of corrupt cops, and his pain at having to keep being a crook was palpable. He gets through that, and without belabouring this point, by the end of the show Lionel Fusco is a heroic SOB and a character that I thought was going to be a fairly 2D throwaway became one of my favourites characters ever, a centrepiece of the show, and one of the more convincing redemption arcs I have ever seen done.

And that was just *one character*. We got a bunch of really good ones. The acting was consistently great (even Jim Caviezel, who I initially didn’t think was acting at all), the writing was fantastic, and the Person of Interest we ended up getting was the closest thing to a William Gibson story that I ever expect to see on television. I am sad to see it go, although I’m glad the writers (mostly) got to tell the story they wanted to, and I’d rather it went out still an excellent program than hanging around to trail off into mediocrity.

This is far more disjointed than I hoped it would be, but perhaps it may convince a few of you who didn’t watch the show the first time ’round to give it a shot. I think you’ll be pleased. By way of an ending, here’s one of my favorite speeches from it. This is Michael Emerson’s character, the creator of the AI from whence the numbers come, during the time when he was teaching it how to do its job.

You asked me to teach you chess and I’ve done that. It’s a useful mental exercise. Through the years many thinkers have been fascinated by it, but I don’t enjoy playing. Do you know why not?

Because it was a game that was born during a brutal age when life counted for little and everyone believed some people were worth more than others. Kings and pawns.

I don’t think that anyone is worth more than anyone else. I don’t envy you the decisions you’re going to have to make.

And one day I’ll be gone, and you’ll have no one to talk to. But if you remember nothing else, please remember this:

Chess is just a game, real people aren’t pieces. And you can’t assign more value to some of them than to others. Not to me. Not to anyone.

People are not a thing that you can sacrifice.

The lesson is, that anyone who looks on the world as if it was a game of chess deserves to lose.

I thought that was pretty good, and a pretty good example of why I’ll miss the show.

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Refocus

So I’m hoping this will be a big week for me. Over the last month or so, I’ve been working two jobs (which is good in some ways) but, as I’ve complained about previously, it got very difficult to find time for writing in there and I’ve honestly not done much of anything. In a probably-not-unrelated story, I have also gotten derailed in getting in to the gym and doing my weight training.

The two situations seem to me to have a lot of similarities. Both activities (writing and working out) are objectively good things to do, and both of them make me feel good when I do them. Both require a certain amount of time, and a minimum level of energy (or I guess a maximum level of fatigue) to start or there’s no point in doing them. Both are things that I am trying to make a long term commitment to and have as a continuous part of my life.

So there’s been a bit of a blip, or two blips, depending how connected whether both these interruptions are part of the same problem. I think they are; my work schedule really ballooned up in a way I wasn’t prepared for and I didn’t adapt to it very well. I’m trying not to kick myself about it too hard. These things happen to most people and while I wish I’d written 30,000 words in the past month there’s no point expending energy ripping myself up about it now. I did what I probably needed to do to handle the work situation and what’s important now is what I do going forward.

One of the jobs is ending this week (which, as ever, is both good and bad) and so this is an opportunity to refocus on what is important and get back into good habits. I’ve set up an appointment with my trainer to change up my program a little and get a fresh start. I’m going to get back at the project I wrote a bit of last summer before deciding it was a better idea to do Bonhomme Sept-Heures. The ideas have been slow in coming and I think the first thing to do is to re-read what I wrote and remind myself why I thought it was a cool story to begin with. I think I can do 10,000 words by the end of the month and I’m setting that as a kind of provisional goal. The main thing is to start writing again.

In both cases, just refocus on what needs to be done, and get back to doing it. It’s both as easy as it sounds and (of course) far more difficult, but a lot of things are that way.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. I think that while we should try to have good habits all the time and be consistent in doing the things that are important to us and for us, we’ve also got to recognize that we’re probably going to fumble the ball from time to time, and be basically ok with that. It happens. Pick it up and refocus.

That’s my job this week. Good luck with yours.

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We’re about a month out from the Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston! I’m very excited to be attending for the first time this year, participating in some of the discussions and meeting people who love writing and reading about fantastic things. Renaissance Press is coming and I will be hanging out at their table at least some of the time, and enjoying what should be a great weekend of soaking up awesome literature the entire time.

You should come too! Check out the website and register here.

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On Orlando

On Sunday, a terrible thing happened in Orlando. I’m sure you’ve read about it or heard about it. A lot of people lost their lives or were badly hurt, apparently for no reason other than some empty, angry man hated them for who they loved. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

I have been trying to decide whether or not to write anything here about it. I’ve tended to stay away from these things because there are so many really important issues involved, and I’m far from an expert on any of them, and in general the last thing whatever Conversation needs is the viewpoint of another straight white dude. I understand (I think) that a lot of times it’s better for someone like me to listen rather than speak and hear what wiser people and people closer to it are saying and take that stuff on board and learn how to help. So that’s part of why I thought maybe I wouldn’t write about Orlando, but then I think that when something this horrific happens, staying silent can’t be right. So I kind of want to write something.

Another part of why I’ve hesitated is that after all the horrific events that have happened over the past months and years, the only reaction I have left will sound terribly facile. But I think it’s true, so I’m going to write it down anyway, even in the awareness that others have already said far more eloquent things about this than I will, and that sending this out on the internet from my wee blog is sort of screaming into the void, or (more accurately), a whisper in the tumult.

But I still think it’s true, so I’m going to write it down.

Whenever these awful things happen, whatever the specific motive of each perpetrator turn out to be, it all comes down to hate in the end. As a species, we’re awfully good at finding and inventing reasons to hate one another and then kill each other over that hate. It’s not a thing particular to this time or place. Humans have been doing it for a very long time. And we’ve got to find a way to stop.

There’s no reason for it. There’s no reason in the world to hate each other over the colour of skin or who other people love or what spiritual beliefs they may or may not have. It just shouldn’t matter. We’re all people and just trying to do our best in the world. With all the real problems we have as a society and a civilization and a species, we need each other and we need to work together, not tear each other apart. Whether you look at it pragmatically or ethically or empathetically, we just have to stop hating each other.

People are just people. I think if I’ve decided one thing after studying history for as long as I have, that would be it. No matter where or when we’re talking, no matter who we’re talking about, people are just people, who want a place where they feel like they fit and they feel safe, they want someone to care about them and they want, by and large, to get by; to have someplace to live and food to eat and some reasonable prospect that their life is going to be OK. I want that. You probably want that. That’s basically what every person is looking for and just as I’d like all those things, they deserve every one of those things, because we’re all just people.

We’ve built a whole bunch of bullshit in our society that has made that a lot more complicated and separated people from each other and pushed some people down while lifting other people up. It all more or less came from fear and hate and we gotta stop. We’ve got to take it all apart and just let people be people. We don’t need to be divided against each other. It’s heartbreaking that we are. It’s sad and it’s wrong and it comes from hate and that’s where it has to stop. We have to stop hating each other.

The thing is that we have to be taught to do it, too. No-one comes into the world hating someone else. We have to learn it. So we have to, urgently, stop teaching each other to hate somebody else, too. We have to stop pointing at whatever group of people and saying ‘those people are bad’, ‘those people are out to get us’, ‘those people are no good’, ‘my life is bad because of them’. It’s bullshit, it’s a stupid argument we use to make ourselves feel better and we have to recognize that and reject it. People are just people. Individually some are good and some are bad but as groups? Just people.

We just have to stop hating each other.

I’m not saying we can’t ever be angry. Sometimes we have to be angry if change is going to happen and I’m sure not going to tell someone who is being denied their rights and denied their status as a person not to be pissed off about it. You should be. You should demand better. We should help. And the man who gunned down innocent people in a nightclub, I’m not saying you have to forgive him. I wrote a couple weeks ago about things that are unforgivable and irredeemable in fictional characters, and killing unarmed, innocent people who were never any kind of threat to anyone is certainly on that list. Hate that guy if you need to. But other people who look like him or have a name like his are not the same. Don’t hate a group because of something an individual did. They’re just people.

I think I’ve written before that whenever we let an event like this turn us against each other and make us afraid and make us hate, the people who do these kinds of things win. It’s what they want. They want us at each others’ throats and throwing away everything good in our society looking for security or revenge. We can’t let it happen.

The way we win is to be amazing to each other. Despite the people telling us we should hate one another, we need to look out for each other and take care of one another and generally treat the other person like we wish they would treat us. Fundamentally that’s how we get to where we want to be and need to be; just treat each other right. There’s still a lot of bullshit in the way that makes this more complicated than it should be, and those are important issues that we need to be engaged with and do what we can about, but on the other hand, on an individual level – we can absolutely treat each other right, right now. That doesn’t fix everything, but maybe it’s the foundation of fixing things.

I don’t pretend this is a magic trick that I have discovered, lots of other people have said it, but I felt like I needed to write something (heck, I basically always feel like I should write something) and I think it’s true. There’s a lot more to be said and I’m going to go back to listening because I honestly think that’s the best thing I can do. That, and I’m going to try as hard as I can to follow my own advice. I know some days it’s easier than others when someone cuts in line ahead of you or gets in your face for not getting their order right or whatever else. The thing is to try to do better.

There is one other important thing that needs to be done, and I haven’t been as good at it as I should have been, but I’m gonna recommit to it now. We need to call out hate when we see it and say that we see it and it isn’t acceptable and it isn’t ok. I’m in a pretty privileged spot in society where it’s safe for me to do things like that and I need to remember that and not let those opportunities to push back against hate slip by.

I’m gonna try.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope it made a kind of sense. Please be amazing to each other today.

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Bonhomme Sept-Heures

This week I have some exciting news: a few days ago, I received confirmation that Renaissance Press will publish Bonhomme Sept-Heures, the sequel to my first novel, The King in Darkness. I can tell you that having a second novel accepted for publication is just about as thrilling as the first time around. I imagine it’s inevitable, given the amount of time that goes into writing a manuscript, to put some emotional investment in there as well, and so the ‘yes’ to the piece of art is a ‘yes’ to a little piece of the soul as well. Given my own ever-present doubts about my own work, too, it’s wonderful to have a pat on the back from people who take books very seriously and have them tell me that they think mine is good.

Of course now there is a great deal of work to do to get ready to share the story with all of you; the next months will be filled with editing the manuscript so that it will show its best when it arrives in your hands. Having been through the process once, I now have a better idea of exactly how much labour there is to be done, and how much of a team effort it really is between the author and the editors. I think I may already have told the story here about how I didn’t expect there to be too much work to be done on King in Darkness after my own rewrites and feedback from the Eager Volunteers, and then I got thirty pages of notes from the first editor. It was a bit sobering, it was enlightening, and the book was very much better as a result.

At the same time, I am thinking of writing the Next Thing and hoping to regain momentum on my new project. I’d still like to have a first draft of it done by summer’s end, although somehow we are now already in June and I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ll have to see how it goes.

For now, thank you to everyone who has already read some or all of Bonhomme Sept-Heures and has helped me get it this far. Your ideas and your encouragement made it possible to make the story as good as it is and I am tremendously grateful. I’m also pre-emptively grateful to the editors at Renaissance who will be working with me over the next few months; I apologize in advance for the length of some of the sentences.

I don’t yet know when Bonhomme Sept-Heures will be released, although obviously I’ll keep you updated as the process goes on. I’m excited for you to read it, but I also want to make sure it’s worthy of your time when it gets to you. One final thanks today to everyone who read King in Darkness and told me that you wanted to read what happens next; the response to the first part of Adam Godwinson’s story was really encouraging and gratifying and I hope you’ll enjoy the next part just as much.

I look forward to putting the story in your hands and hearing what you think about it.

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This past weekend I was interviewed on the Sunday Morning Coffee podcast by my friend Scott Gardiner; although it is no longer Sunday morning, I’m pretty sure he’d still be all right with you giving it a listen. We talked about writing, my early experiences in publishing, and how goddamn old I am now. You can find the episode on iTunes or from the SMC website here.

Just like with your favourite authors, if you enjoy the podcast, it would be a great help if you left a review on iTunes.

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