January 2013 Archives

I guess it's official now: Tor signs new Charles Stross trilogy.

(No, I can't tell you the titles, except that my working project folder is called "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" and the opening sentence for accuracy reasons should, but for literary reasons should not, be "fifteen years later". Oh, and this is what all the work in 2012 towards re-drafting and re-releasing the first series was leading up to.)

Note: a trilogy is, in my view, a big-ass story that splits into three pieces, each of which is just about readable as a separate book, but which work best when read in sequence. It's going to run to about a third of a million words, or, in the unit of authorial bloat, about a thousand milli-Hamiltons. That's a lot of work, so it's unlikely to show up in print until 2015. Meanwhile, you get to chew on a new space opera and a new Laundry novel (both written).

Q: Why are there so many stupid people?

(Please don't try to tell me you've never, even in the privacy of your own skull, asked this question ...)

I have a speculative answer:

Edit: No, forget that question. It's misleading. Pointless. And everybody in the comments thread is completely failing to understand the point I'm trying to make below. Let me re-frame it:

Why is the human species only as intelligent as it is, and not more so?

I have to admit I've been struggling with the idea of continuing this discussion. When I started this post with Part 1 I'd intended to talk about a number of articles that had popped up about male culture and violence over the past six months. Here's one from last summer that asks the question outright: Why is gender always in question when females commit crimes but never in question when males do? It also brings up several other really good points. Does American culture promote "characteristics such as dominance, power, and control as means of establishing or maintaining manhood."? Must male power equate to causing fear in others? At the time, I thought those were good questions, but then they got swept under the rug as they always do. I was glad to see  a number of other articles crop up again this month.[1] But again, the subject seems to have been shoved aside. Honestly, I think it's an important discussion that needs to happen. I have my doubts about it going very far, sadly. Still, I want to know. Is the real problem related to how we think about masculinity? Or is it something else?[2] No, I don't think violent video games are the problem. I don't even think that violent films are the issue. I believe the problem has to do with how masculinity is portrayed as this idealistic person who always wins and is always in charge.

In a seemingly unrelated note... Alan Bellingham asked me what I thought about Lance Armstrong admitting to doping--you know, since I'm an Austinite and all.[3] I had to admit that I a) wasn't even remotely shocked and b) don't give a damn. Because I don't admire the man and never did.[4] Frankly, this need to make athletes into anything more than people who are talented at physical competition has always confused me. Here's why. It takes a great deal of discipline to be a professional athlete, but it also takes just as much to achieve a lot of other things in life. For example becoming an astronaut, a martial artist, a ballet dancer, a doctor, a professional artist--even a professional writer. Let's have a look at that word: discipline. It's related to another word disciple--which according to my online dictionary means "a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosophy." What are athletes motivated by? Winning. So what? How does that make the world a better place?[5] So, again, am I surprised by Lance's fall from grace? Hell no. It was inevitable. He only ever stood for one thing: winning at all cost.

Does the second paragraph relate to the first paragraph? Well, I think it does. Maybe it's time to spotlight other aspects of being a man. Men aren't one-dimensional creatures any more than women are.

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[1] I won't link to them because they touch on a topic I promised Charlie I wouldn't blog about again. And for the record, if we start swaying that direction I won't wait for mediation out of respect for Charlie. So, do not mention the gun debate. I'll have the moderators delete your post.

[2] A friend of mine's theory is that the violence is about the far right losing their damned minds. They're terrified that they are now living in a fascist state and acting accordingly. That's a very good point. Ever heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy?

[3] For those who don't know, Lance came from Austin, TX.

[4] Also, my impression of him has always been that he's extremely aggressive and that he doesn't treat women very well. Mind you, I don't keep up with celebrities. I'm of the belief that a persons personal business is their personal business. It isn't mine. I don't care how famous they are.

[5] While I'm not a big sports fan, I do understand that people enjoy watching sports. There's nothing wrong with that. However, I do have a problem with sports when it becomes all-consuming to the point that it's more important to win than to have integrity or value human life

Writing requires a certain amount of self-examination. The reasons why have to do with the fact that good writing--or dare I say it--great writing requires the author to put something of themselves into the story. If you're unclear on what I mean, have a look at Writing What's Real by Christie Yant over on the Inkpunks site. Speaking from personal experience, she's right. Writing does require intimacy and vulnerability. That's what makes it so brutal--this being open. Self-protection isn't really an option. Criticism is part of the gig. In this age when anyone can call themselves a literary critic without any qualifications to do so, nor any sort of required standard for their criticism... it's even tougher.[1] It's not easy being a real, flawed human being in public.

When I signed on with my agent he asked me a question. "Why do you write from a male perspective?" It was a good question. At the time, I thought it had wholly to do with my desire to be taken seriously as a SF writer. For the record, I still have to fight Romance genre prejudice just because I'm a female. For example: the first question I'm asked when people discover I'm a writer is a variant on the "which type of Romance or YA do you write?" Male writers aren't asked that question and even if they are, they aren't asked it in the first three seconds.

That said, because of my agent's question I pay attention to the gender of my point of view characters, and I've noticed a pattern. If I'm writing Fantasy, I tend to favor male point of view characters. If I'm writing SF, I tend to write female point of view characters. The reasons for this are many, and I'm sure I haven't discovered all of them. I don't necessarily feel this is a good trend to have, but it's there. Part of it is that I associate Fantasy--even Urban Fantasy--with the past. Let's just say being a female in the past wasn't a hell of a lot of fun, at least that's been my impression. When I write about female characters in historical settings I feel I have to ignore everyday issues that I don't need to avoid in the present and future because they have solutions. Things like birth control, menstruation, and well... basic human rights. Right or wrong, part of me feels I have to re-write history when I take on a female POV character in Fantasy--not because of the fallacy that women didn't exist in the past, but because most of our (women's) history has been obliterated. I have so many more freedoms than my Great Great Grandma had, or even my Grandma--this in spite of the fact that so much more work needs to be done. To be honest, I find it difficult to identify with women in the past. What was it like then? Really.On one hand, to focus directly on issues like birth control and menstruation is incorrect. They are everyday problems. They'd be in the background, no matter how life-threatening.[2] Women are people, and people have a tendency to accept things they don't have the power to change, after all. On the other hand, I don't feel right just plunking down a modern point of view into a historic setting. It feels like a lie, and I hate that kind of lie.[3] It does modern women a disservice. It pretends that things were different than they were. It pretends that women don't have anything to worry about regarding human rights because it pretends that there never have been any problems. I hate that every bit as much as I hate it when women aren't portrayed at all--even in the background.

So, I find it easier to write from a female point of view in future and present stories. For now. Obviously, I need to work on this. It's another hold out of the internal misogynist that was installed at birth--and yes, I have one of those even if I'm a woman. Do I hate that? Hell yes, I do. 

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[1] I've been criticised for things like "How dare you write a book where a mother doesn't tell her son everything about his father! Especially when his life is in danger!" In real life, families are like this. I still don't know my real grandfather's full name, and I don't know a damned thing about him either. Is this life-threatening? When you consider I have no information regarding that part of my family's genetics/medical history, it could be.

[2] And having babies is life-threatening and becoming more of a problem in the US.

[3] See Quest for Camelot. While I was one of those little girls who wanted to be a knight when she grew up, I can't bring myself to watch this. It just seems offensive. I feel much the same about Milla Jovovich in the recent Three Musketeers remake.

I am in warm, sunny Detroit (at least, it's warm and sunny compared to the UK right now), with a mild throat infection and jet lag on top. Our luggage should even catch up with us in the next half hour. (We allowed 80 minutes for our connection in Paris, which would have been fine if our flight from Edinburgh hadn't been delayed on the taxiway for an hour waiting for a landing slot to open up at the other end. Paris really doesn't handle snow well. Luckily our onward flight was also running late, so we made a mad dash across Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle. Alas, our luggage wasn't so agile.)

Anyway, I now have mobile broadband, or something like it ...

Apparently, Charlie is a good influence. My writing output has exploded. I started a new novel project on the 2nd, and I hit the 20,000 word mark today--which would be why y'all haven't heard much out of me.[1] While I was otherwise focused, something important cropped up. (It happens.) For most of y'all this is going to be old news, but an American SF writer, Jay Lake, had a medical emergency. Our wonderful community being our wonderful community--a few days pass, and it's no longer an emergency. Boy, is it no longer an emergency. Just... wow. However, I asked Charlie if it was okay to mention the fundraiser here, and he's cool with it. So, I wanted to highlight it--not because more help is needed[2]--but because it's a fabulous example of human beings using their super powers for good.

That said, I hate that something like this is necessary in order to make up for a failure in the American health care system. Listen up, people: capitalism isn't a panacea. It just isn't. Money shouldn't be the deciding factor as to whether or not a doctor performs a procedure that might save a patient's life. It just shouldn't.

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[1] Or anyone else for that matter. And well, I also want to make sure I've got all my ducks in a row when I post the second half of that Unbreakable post. You all totally rock. :)

[2] Twice the goal amount has been raised. Twice. And there's 30 days left on the fundraiser.

What use is a human being — to a tapeworm?

A mature tapeworm has a very simple lifestyle. It lives in the gut of a host animal, anchoring itself to the wall of the intestine with its scolex (or head), from which trails a long string of segments (proglottids) that contain reproductive structures. The tapeworm absorbs nutrients through its skin and gradually extrudes more proglottids, from the head down; as they reach the end of the tape they mature into a sac of fertilized eggs and break off.

Nominations for the Hugo awards are open. If you want to find out what's eligible, there's a handy Livejournal community for sharing recommendations. (Disclosure: I am not a member of this community and have nothing to do with it.)

For my part, I only published three eligible works in 2012 ...

So, I just wrote and handed in a vampire novel.

What bit me?

(Author pauses to allow the shower of rotten tomatoes to subside ...)

Having just handed in the manuscript of "The Rhesus Chart", I'm taking some time over the next 3 months to make various public appearances at SF conventions.

I'm going to be appearing as one of the guests of honor at Immortal ConFusion from January 18-20th in Dearborn, MI. Also on the guest list are editor Scot Edelman, science writer Jennifer Ouellette, Usenet personality, RPG store owner, and spec fic reviewer James Nicoll, and author, puppeteer and voice actor Mary Robinette Kowal. Not to mention some secret guests of Subterranean Press who I can reveal (unsurprisingly) to be authors: Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, and, stealing the show, SF mega-star Alastair Reynolds!

More details on registration, in case you didn't know about it and want to go.

I'm also going to be appearing (albeit not as guest of honor) at Boskone 50 in Boston (February 15th-17th). (I will not be hanging around North America between these two conventions; these are two separate trips.) And I'm due to appear as guest of honor at DORTCon in Dortmund, Germany, from March 9th-10th, and as one of the guests at SwanCon 2013, in Perth, Western Australia (March 29th-April 1st), along with Lucy Sussex, Gail Simone, and John Birmingham. After which I will crawl home to nurse my jet lag by way of a short interstitial vacation before I start work on the project provisionally titled "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation".

Those of you with acute eyes or well-primed calendars will have noticed that this schedule leaves no time for me to get to the UK Eastercon this year, mostly because it coincides with SwanCon and we don't have sub-orbital passenger delivery or teleportation booths yet. This is a bit of a bummer: Bradford is an ace city, and the guest list for EightSquaredCon includes Walter Jon Williams, who I consider a national treasure of the SF firmament. If there's a repeat of the 2010 Icelandic volcano eruption and all flights are grounded before I make it to the antipodes, I'll be there drowning my sorrows. But the plan for Q1/2013 is to hit Detroit, Boston, Dortmund, and Perth in pretty much that order.

Stina the trouble-maker is back. Mwhahahahaha! I hope your holidays were excellent and that you're all rested up and ready to take on 2013 full force. Me? I had a wonderful time. Got some gaming done. (I finally made significant progress in BioShock for one thing.[1] And saw a lot of folks I missed for another.) And now, it's time to get back to work because it's January. And stuff. This first post for 2013 will be a two parter, by the way. I've to much to say to squeeze it into one post, and I'd like to think and discuss along the way.

"The first and final thing you have to do in this world is to last it and not be smashed by it." ― Ernest Hemingway

For the record, I'm not a big fan of Hemingway. There's something about all that self-obsessed macho bluster that totally turns me off. Although, I do think he did get a number of things right--not the least of which is the above quote. Strength has multiple definitions, but speaking as a daughter of a mechanical engineer and as someone who studied architecture, strength has always meant resilience to me. However, somewhere along the way, (in American culture at least) it appears to have sloughed off all definitions but one: imperviousness.

I like crime fiction and action movies. It's entirely possible I like them more than my husband does--judging by our film collection this is certainly true. However, it came to my attention sometime during the Arnold Schwarzenegger era that the Action Hero™ was evolving into something I no longer liked. That is, a crass bastard who didn't give a shit about anything but vengeance and sex. By the time Hudson Hawk came out in 1991, action heros were so impervious that the laws of physics had ceased to factor against them. Gunshot wounds that would send a normal person into stupefying shock were laughed off. Most actors don't even flinch any more. Leaps from three story buildings, car crashes, all result in carrying on as if nothing happened. Hell, they're even known to out run, even out walk explosions.[2] And then there's the psychological aspect: emotionally, your average action hero might as well be dead. The only emotion that remains to signify life is anger. I had a hunch back then that this culture of vengeance wouldn't lead in good directions. It's one thing when such stories are but part of what one consumes--it's quite another when they are the ONLY thing one consumes. Stories are important, you see. What we strongly identify with says a great deal about who we are, or who we want to be. They can influence our outlook too.[3] To quote Madge from those dish soap commercials, "You're soaking in it."

And somewhere along the way emotions (particularly emotions like empathy, kindness, and love) got a reputation for weakness. That's something that I simply don't understand. It takes far more strength and courage to risk being hurt through emotional availability than it does to be closed off--particularly when you've been hurt before. 

So I find it interesting when people claim that my characters aren't strong because they do get damaged. To me, that's only realistic. Strength is getting hurt, getting back up again, limping forward, and reeling with the blows. Strength isn't about not getting hit in the first place. That's something else. That's luck, maybe even privilege. Strength is feeling and hurting and crying and continuing to do what needs doing anyway. Ask any mechanical engineer or architect about strength, and they'll tell you that any substance that can't react to outside forces is brittle and more likely to fail. Bridges and buildings in earthquake zones are designed to bend with the flow of forces around them. The tallest buildings are designed to give way to the wind. Those are the buildings that remain standing. Those are the ones that last.

And you know what? When I think upon Hemingway... as much of a reputation as he had for manliness and strength--he shattered in the end.

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[1] I may even finish a game for the first time ever. When we have a new game in the house, Dane plays it to death. By the time I get to it, everyone has moved on to five or six other big games. I've read that in a mixed gender household with one computer, the male gets the computer access. I hadn't considered it before. However, it's very true. Luckily, we're not a one computer household. Nonetheless, if I start to play a game I almost instantly feel I'm intruding on Dane's space--even if he's playing a game on his computer, and I'm on the XBox. We both react like that, only he's merrily telling me it's okay for me to play, and I'm apologising for being on the system so long. (Note to self: get out of that habit.) He works in the gaming industry. I don't--not any longer. So, I feel it's more important for him (like reading is for me.) In addition, I feel bad for taking so much time away from writing. Dane wants me to play because he knows I enjoy it, and it's one of the things we have in common.

[2] The worst of this lot was Hollow Man in which Elizabeth Shue and one of the male characters slowly climb up a ladder and yet somehow avoid being hit by an explosion.

[3] Before anyone goes off on a tear about violence in entertainment please take into consideration that while the effects of sustained exposure to violence are inarguably real, they are also short term in most people. This is why I believe awareness is key, not denial or absolute avoidance.

Specials

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