Tag Archives: Lunacy

Author Moment

I’m going to have a bit of a Moment this week, so if you were expecting whatever it is I usually do on the blog, I apologize in advance.

The thing is that after what I know was a lot of hard work, my publishers at Renaissance have gotten our books on the shelves of some local bookstores here in Ottawa: Octopus Books and Books on Beechwood. This, of course, led to me dashing over to one of the stores in question like a goof and taking the following picture:

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I think the people at the store now believe they are stocking a book written by a certifiable loon, but never mind. For a long time, when I thought about writing and Things I Would Like to Happen, one of the big ones was walking into a bookstore and seeing my book there on the shelf. That happened yesterday and so I’m very very pleased.

I’m not entirely sure why that moment or that image were quite so important to me. Having the book in some physical stores is significant in a practical sense; although lots of people now buy their books online, places like Amazon are not easily browseable in the way a shelf of books is, and some of their content gets filtered by various algorithms that tends to keep stuff by small presses from showing up. Getting on the shelf of actual stores is a big deal because you’re getting in front of the eyes of people who are not specifically looking for your book, but are looking for something to read, and now they might decide that thing is the thing you wrote. So, this is a good deal for me and for Renaissance and so it’s a good reason to get excited.

I know that’s not why I was excited though. I mean, I hadn’t even really thought about those kinds of issues until fairly recently, and I have wanted to see a book I wrote on a bookstore shelf for a very long time. I think it’s more that having one’s book on a bookstore shelf is one of the indicators that one is an Author; and that’s really what I have wanted to be since I was the kid skipping doing my math problems to write more stories about Earth Defence Command. Even with the book published and all, I still seem to keep looking to reassure myself that this really has happened, and yesterday did that very well.

I remember reading an article not long ago about people in my other field of academia, talking about the prevalence of a thing called Impostor Syndrome where people feel as though they, and they alone, are unqualified frauds just waiting to be exposed and expelled by all their colleagues. Having suffered through that as well, I wonder (first of all) if there isn’t a similar thing going on with writing that is (at least temporarily) counteracted by things like seeing your book on a shelf or having someone buy something you wrote at a convention. I also wonder if it might be the case that people in many walks of life suffer from their own versions of Imposter Syndrome and need these little reassurances as well.

No doubt there are plenty of hyper-confident, self-assured folks who never doubt themselves or their own position in life even a little bit. For the rest of us, I guess look for those reassurances when you can find them, enjoy them when they’re there, and then try not to kick yourself too hard the rest of the time. You’re probably much more clever and talented than you give yourself credit for, and you’re probably surrounded by a bunch of other self-described Impostors as well. (Oooh, there’s a story idea in this somewhere now)

I think that’s about all I’ve got for this week. I know it’s a little short. I’ll try to have something more substantial for you next week.

—–

I should of course thank my publishers at Renaissance for their hard work in getting the books into the stores, and thank Octopus and Books on Beechwood for their support of local artists and small press publishing. They are great independent bookstores that have served their neighbourhoods for a long time and deserve your support if you can give it to them. Obviously there’s only so many copies of The King in Darkness that anyone needs to own but they have lots of other great books to sell you; check them out if you’re in the area.

I should also say that Renaissance is having an immense holiday sale on all the products in their webstore (including The King in Darkness if by some vanishingly small chance you haven’t bought it yet) so if you have some spots to fill on your Christmas list (or just, you know, need to feed your book addiction) you should check it out.

Still plugging away on the sequel project. It keeps growing new scenes! I’m going to have to put a stop to this process eventually. 🙂

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Unanswered Questions

Last week I wrote about how I think one of the appeals of SFF is that both writers and readers get to experience answers to questions that we otherwise would not, which satisfies our desire to know how things work out. I still think that’s true. However, one of the comments on the entry and some more time to chew things over about it got me to thinking that there’s another aspect that is just as important.

I really do think we like having answers to our questions. At the same time though, I think that there is a reasonable number of people who also do like the idea of unanswered questions out there as well. I’ve certainly clung to it for many years.

I wrote a while ago about how one of my memories of Leonard Nimoy was a TV show he did called In Search of that was about all sorts of mysterious and strange things like Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle and swamp monsters. That may be what got me started on loving the idea of unsolved mysteries and strange phenomena in the world. I don’t remember where I got it but I had huge tome from National Geographic called Unsolved Mysteries that was a compendium of (allegedly) unexplained things through history. I read it cover to cover many times. I somehow convinced my parents to subscribe to one of those Time-Life book series on the same subject area. I got about 15 of those before stopping. I still have a book by Jerome Clark that examines a lot of the classic ‘unexplained’ stories and puts some of them to bed, leaving others (from his point of view) up in the air. I read that thing into a ragged state as well.

So, for a long time I have loved stories about Bigfoot and UFOs and people displaced in time or disappeared from history. Probably not a huge surprise there, given what I write I guess, and there’s likely some cause and effect with the literature I became a fan of as well. All these things at least purport to be great Unanswered Questions, riddles that we don’t have the solution to and parts of the universe that we can’t yet understand.

I will say that as time has gone by it has gotten harder to keep a lot of these unanswered questions alive. A lot of them just don’t stand up to scrutiny. The Bermuda Triangle is my favourite of those, because its ‘mystery’ was easily disposed of by a tool I am quite familiar with: archival research. It turned out, once someone bothered to put in the spade work, that a lot of the reports of ships or planes vanishing in perfect weather had in fact involved huge storms and rough seas, that many vessels ‘lost forever’ had been found years ago, and that the number of craft lost in the region was no greater than any other similarly-large region of well-travelled ocean. The Triangle stories (of course) ignore all the many, many people who travel through the area perfectly safely, and weave together a bunch of quite mundane maritime tragedies into something more than they are. Not so much an unanswered question there, in the end, as the lack of a question at all.

Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, suffers in a slightly different way – there are, among the clearly ridiculous and obviously fraudulent tales, a few reports of something in the wild that genuine anthropologists and biologists have found puzzling. Perhaps an unanswered question? Of course the trouble is that it gets increasingly hard to believe, in this ultra-monitored, urban-encroaching, satellite-imaged and wilderness-adventured age, that there can be anything as stupendous as an anthropoid ape (or whatever explanation you prefer) out there, mostly undetected by modern society. You either have to adopt one of the rather more outré versions of the stories with psychic ape creatures from another dimension or, reluctantly, start to think that the answer to the question may really be earnest misidentification and misinterpretation after all.

I don’t like it, no sir. I would have been much happier if the forests and mountains of northwestern North America had really turned out to have some kind of fantastic creature in them. I would like it if there were giant serpentine creatures making their slithery way through the ocean depths, and I think it would be wonderful if there were dinosaurs in the depths of the Congo. I don’t really want anyone or anything to disappear without a trace (in fact this was one of the Horrible Fates that used to fill Young Me with dread, back in the day. Well, it still kind of does.) but the idea of there being parts of the planet that we don’t quite have nailed down yet still appeals.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, judging from the popularity of ghost hunting and ancient alien and alien visitor type programming on television. Perhaps this is a reaction, to some extent, against the supremely rational and sceptical society we have constructed for ourselves in the Western world. We’ve deified reason to a level that would have pleased the Jacobins and most people, I think, ultimately believe in a universe that is amenable to our analysis and understanding and, finally, thoroughly explicable. Not to say that this is wrong, but perhaps some part of our imaginations, or some ancestral part of our spirit, rebels against it, just a little.

This is where speculative fiction steps in again. You can experience (again, through creation or consumption) worlds in which all sorts of wonderful and amazing things are possible, after all. There are amazing and (of course) perilous creatures out there. There are wonderful realms yet to be explored, arcane secrets waiting to be revealed, and Questions awaiting Answers, if they can be answered at all.

We can experience, for a little while at least, a universe in which it is possible to travel faster than light and discover that the galaxy is awash in intelligent life, both wonderful and perilous. We can have magic and lost cities (well, until we discover them and get to walk down their streets) and dragons on the map again.

I guess this is far from a subtle point – fantasy and science fiction allows us to experience the fantastic. I think it is interesting, though, that speculative fiction really lets us do both things that I’ve talked about on the blog recently. We can answer the unanswerable, and reintroduce the unanswerable to our ever more answer-filled world. I don’t know whether it’s a contradiction that both things seem to be going on in the genre, or if perhaps that explains its special appeal to those of us who get hooked on it.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts for the week. Now I should get back to seeing if I can create a little more of my own personal fantastic world. I hope you’ll be doing the same.

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Geese and Things

So I have finally gotten a chance to start reading Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning short story collection (and what a treat) and in his Introduction he kicks around the idea of whether or not fiction should be ‘safe’ – whether we should be able to read stories without taking any risk that we will be frightened, upset, or disturbed by what we encounter in them. This is a pretty interesting question and also dovetails so nicely with what I wrote last week about the anti ‘my story made a swear’ app that for a minute I thought about writing this week’s blog entry about it.

Then I remembered Writing Crisis #2 (see previous entry if you’re interested) and that Doing the Same Thing as Neil Gaiman does not end well.

So I won’t do that, but will suggest you go read the Introduction to Trigger Warning, and while you’re at it you may as well read the rest of it too.

——

I did think about that question and another book I finished recently, Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With the Devil. If you’re not familiar with it, it describes General Dallaire’s experiences as the commander of the UN mission to Rwanda that was originally tasked with facilitating the implementatin of the Arusha peace agreement and ended up bearing witness to an unspeakable genocide.

This was not an enjoyable read, in any conventional sense of the word. A lot of it was deeply distressing and frustrating and enraging to read, in part because of how saturated the work is with Dallaire’s own pain about what happened in Rwanda. So this was not a ‘safe’ book to consume. I am very glad I read it, though, because I think the issues Dallaire raises about the global community’s collective failure in Rwanda, and the fundamental mistakes in the world’s approach to the crisis in Rwanda, deserve to be heard and are clearly (it seems to me) immediately relevant to problems we grapple with today.

I think it’s an important book, even if it isn’t a safe one. Sometimes it’s fun to read something that isn’t very safe (think Neil Gaiman’s stories), and sometimes it may be good for you. Sometimes the unsafe has something to tell you. Obviously safety is a good thing, but I don’t think it can be the only thing we ever look for. So read something unsafe, I think.

I don’t have much else to say about it, though, so that’s not really going to make a blog entry either.

——-

So still flailing about for something to write about this week, that is kind of uniquely mine, I latched on to something I said on Twitter. About geese.

What? No really.

It is the time of year here when the Canada Geese are doing their big spring migration northwards, so the skies over my house are periodically, but consistently, filled with these immense formations of birds, on their way to various destinations. From time to time you will glance at the sky, and see something there that seems impossibly huge, to be up there, and it is moving and what can this be, and then you will realize that it is not one Big Thing, but just That Many birds, travelling together. If you step outside you can hear them calling to each other as make their pilgrimage; to me it is a pleasant wilderness kind of sound in the middle of my urban world, although obviously your taste may vary.

There has always been something about this that has stirred something in me. When I was small(er), I would run outside the house when the geese were going over, just to hear the sound of it. The birds are quite large (if you haven’t seen them) and they travel in real armadas of the air (which is not at all the right term) and the sight and sound of them rushing overhead, twangs something deep inside me with a sense of Going Somewhere. Time to go, let’s go together. It’s very compelling. If I could fly I’m sure I would have followed along, and ended up in some marshy spot or other, deeply disappointed.

At times it is even reassuring – sometimes there will be only a scattered few geese, perhaps broken off from one of the really big squadrons of birds, still travelling on. It especially strikes me when it is getting dark, and these three or four birds are still going, and still calling to each other. It’s ok. I’m still here, you’re still there. We’ll get there.

(There’s a comparison to be made here, maybe, between this and social media, which I am not up to this morning)

I don’t know how they choose which ‘there’ to head for, how they choose who goes where in their great ragged Vs, or even really how they know and agree that it is Time to Go. I do know that there are great untold adventures in these journeys, stories that we will never know, and just guess at as we watch the sky.

Whatever you were expecting when you came to read the blog today, I bet it wasn’t that. My apologies.

——-

I feel like I should say something about the Hugo Awards ruckus, since I am arguably ‘in the field’ (albeit in the brambly, fence-posty periphery part of it) although I also know I don’t have much standing therein. I am also not deeply familiar with the process whereby the Hugo Awards happen, nor the recent history that has (apparently) brought us to the controversy around this year’s nominations.

So perhaps best to say nothing.

However, to say nothing seems cowardly at best and at worst might appear to endorse a particularly hateful agenda, so I decided in the end not to do that.

All I’m going to say, in the end, is that I firmly believe that the people who oppose diversity in writing, in characters in fiction, and in the world in general, are on the wrong side of history. I suspect that in the roots of their souls they know this, and that is why they lash out in the ways with which many people are familiar. This doesn’t excuse it; no-one should receive death threats for writing a story while being a woman, or having a particular sexual orientation, or belonging to a particular ethnic or cultural group. Trying to silence these voices is flat out wrong and it diminishes us as a people. However, I believe that love really is stronger than hate, that this old world keeps changing, and that history will eventually tell the story of the triumph of diversity.

And yet, if my years as a history student have taught me anything, it is that history is nothing but the actions of people. It is, really, just what people do. So what to do. I don’t have any ideas about what could or should change about the Hugos or the industry or anything along those lines. But, what to do as people who love amazing stories – read works by all kinds of different and diverse authors. When you find ones you like, tell people about them. Give someone the gift of a wonderful story, which is to me one of the best gifts you can ever receive. Give an audience to writers who deserve one and help them find a bigger one. That’s how we, as fans of speculative fiction, can best foster a plurality of voices in the field. To me that might be more important than who wins an award, anyway.

Peux ce que veux. Allons-y.

Anyway, that’s it. I know this week’s entry is a bit of a mess. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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More complaints, I suppose

Day 12 in the Congo:

One of our expedition disappeared last night.  No-one saw him go, but his tent was empty in the morning and before noon we had become concerned.  Such is the sapping blight of the climate here that it is hard to imagine a journey of any length, much less one of several hours.  Our expedition has therefore become an increasingly fantastic idea, and I am not sure how many of us truly believe that it can be accomplished.

We can set ourselves to lesser goals, however – moving from one shaded spot to one that might be slightly cooler, changing sweat-soaked clothing for damp, arguably fresher apparel, and eventually, searching for our absent comrade.  Once it was established that he was not anywhere within the perimeter of our camp, the operation to find him became more vigorous.  It is no exaggeration to say that the poor man, thus the cause of unplanned-for exertions in these conditions, instantly became the most unpopular member of the expedition.  It is with effort that I was able to make myself recall the person who I had quite liked but a few days previous.

It is hard to imagine what might have caused a generally amiable man of science to suddenly depart into the night.  We are no longer within hiking distance of anything but mud, trees, and stinking water.  Of course at night it is dark here in a way that those of us trained to town life cannot truly understand, so it is possible a brief and mundane excursion turned into one that took the rest of his life.  Perhaps he fled the camp itself, with its quiet, resigned despair.  Perhaps he thought there was something to embrace, there in the steaming, dripping woods.

We found his body in the forest, perhaps fifty paces from camp.  Something was already growing on it.

 

(It’s still very hot here.  We’re supposed to get a break soon which is probably best for all concerned)

Word Count: 51,249

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What is this

Day 5 on the Congo:

The air is palpably wet even when it is not raining, and the first realization is that nothing is dry, here.  With work, one can effect a transition from ‘soaked’ to ‘damp’, but only at the price of becoming soaked oneself through the exertion.  Most of us quickly adopt a posture of languid immobility, waiting, waiting for something to change.

The heat oozes through you, and over you, and soon you feel its weight upon your flesh and become uncertain that movement is possible, even if it were desirable, or necessary.  I recall a lecture about certain amphibians, and their propensity for being cooked alive, if only the water was heated gradually enough, and for a moment the base camp has the feel of an immense cauldron, perhaps gradually coming to a boil.

And yet cooking pots and kitchen fires are the trappings of civilization and there is nothing but wildness here, a riot of vegetation surrounds us and through it all there is a constant slithering and pittering of feet and antennae, or perhaps it is merely droplets of water falling from the leaves, though one suspects not.  No, we are surrounded by life, and life that does not hew to the constraints of humanity.

All around, in the trees and the undergrowth that has no name and the glutinous mud by the water, and in the water, is the sound of that life growing and thriving, and despite that abundance, the chorus brings with it a strange, abiding dread.  And then the explanation for it – the realization that all that life is waiting to feast upon your exhausted corpse.

Already I fear that is the only change that awaits us here.

(We are in for several days of very high heat and humidity here, which I am reacting to with my usual stoicism and not descending into insanity, even a little.)

Word Count: 49, 135

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