Friday, September 6, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: How Jay Processes Grief

Spend one minute on the phone with her widower, learning the news and asking the questions everyone does, in Jay's case, because he thinks that's what you're supposed to do.

Spend twelve minutes on the phone with her widower, the widower trying to console Jay when all the widower wants is to hang up and grieve with his family. Jay will spend eleven of these minutes feeling worse about being consoled by the widower than about the death, which doesn't seem real, and socially stumbling and failing to let the widower go do what he obviously wants to.

Spend thirty-two minutes staring at the clouds through his window, drapes halfway pulled. They are snagged in a way he's never understood.

Spend two minutes fixing the cord on the drapes.

Spend all night watching clips of her favorite shows on Youtube, and searching for related things, and forgetting her entirely and laugh at Youtube videos until his alarm clock goes off and he realizes he forgot to go to bed and he remembers why.

Spend eight minutes in the shower wondering if rain on your face could ever really be mistaken for tears.

Spend three minutes toweling off and wondering if he's ever cried in his adult life, and if it's bad that he's not crying.

Spend lunch break spreading the news around the office and finding all the social crannies are already filled with the grief-news. Pause awkwardly whenever someone seems shaken up by her death; despite desiring to share the news, he is utterly unprepared to talk to someone affected by it.

Spend two hours of work time wondering why.

Go to the wake.

Go to the funeral.

Go to the after-work drinks thing on Friday that is not about her death but is absolutely and totally about her death.

Get drunk enough to spend thirteen minutes in a red-faced argument over what her religion was. Get thrown out. Relentlessly kick a dumpster for no good reason.

Spend drive home thinking she'd be on his side for that argument and they're all full of shit and never liked her as much as he did and remember some more Youtube videos to hunt down.

Spend fifty-two years occasionally remembering her because of a funny video, or when bumper repair is mentioned, or whenever someone actually looks happy in a Christmas sweater, sometimes eliciting a pang, sometimes a tranquil smile, and very occasionally eliciting the feeling that "over it" and "not over it" are nonsense terms.

Go senile. Forget her.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

WorldCon Recap, Day 1

"I think I just gave my seat to a bestseller."

Two years of WorldCon has spoiled me. Their guest list is simply untouchable for fiction, routinely hosting many bigger members than their guests of honor. Harry Turtledove cut in front of me in line one afternoon, and I just so happened to take the elevator to check-out with Robin Hobb. Moving between panels with Teresa Nielsen Hayden, George R.R. Martin stopped to greet us. When Charlaine Harris or Joe Haldeman can just so happen to be the dangling last member on a panel, someone you didn't even know was going to be there, it's striking.

I don't get starstruck, but there is a certain fuzzy feeling of walking with gods, or at least some pantheon of creators that's been so distanced. It's neat to chat with a relative stranger minutes before he goes on a stage, is projected on two giant screens and addresses thousands of attendees. When people argue about how to attract more younger people to WorldCon, I wonder how much would simply lie in conveying the chance to meet so many people they likely already read.

Also, Paul Cornell is very good at turning his nervousness in front of such crowds into charm. And more people ought to read his Saucer Country.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Jean Yates, Elizabeth Moon, Martha Wells and Elizabeth Bear talk about fight scenes for an hour.

"The Hugos are great, the Hugos are awful."

My favorite thing about the Hugo Awards is seeing people who didn't expect to win or who get emotional regardless. I could have hugged Galen Dara, a talented and worthy winner of Best Fan Artist, when she so shakily received her award. And Stanley Schmidt realizing on stage why his wife had cajoled him into visiting San Antonio was hilarious.

Arguably the highlight of my entire trip was seeing Neil Clarke, who almost died from a catastrophic heart attack last year and edited Clarkesworld from his freaking hospital bed, tearily accept the award for Best Semiprozine. It was a grand social hug for years of his great work on a truly great market that would have left this earth without him. And in a sense, it's the positive side of "popularity contests" – not in excluding their losers, but in sometimes affirming a winner's great struggle.

Every year there's some category to grumble about; the Hugos are populist with all the shortcomings that can bring. The Avengers won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form in a year when Beasts of the Southern Wild, Robot & Frank and The Secret World of Arrietty weren't even nominated. George R.R. Martin received an award for a Game of Thrones episode declaring we now live in "the golden age" of speculative fiction television, as though Japan hasn't been crushing it with televised anime for decades.

And yeah, I'll put Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex up against any season of Dr. Who you please.

There's an argument brewing on Twitter about not condescending against "media fandom." I love media fandom. Most readers of my generation are also watchers, and many are enthusiastic players as well, and we enrich each other by sharing what others might not have seen yet.

The dream for populist awards is to get enough people aware of lesser known things that they are opened up, and that's happened in previous years, such as when Moon won. This was merely a year where the category more resembled Nerds' Favorite Blockbuster. It's likely tied to the same nerdy complaining that all Summer movies are the same these days – because too many nerds are only looking in one or two places for their movies.

 "I'm not a people person."

I'm getting the hang of conventions, which is to say, I'm getting to know people who have the hang and will hold on for me. Teresa Nielsen Hayden and the Reddit crew were exceptionally welcoming on the first day. Emma Newman continued to be one of the nicest people I've met in publishing, this time introducing me to her party at Booksworn as "an extremely talented author who will be represented by the end of the year," easily one of the most touching things anyone has ever said about me. And writers kept insisting it wasn't "if" I'd make it but "when," something that clearly needs to be beaten into my grey matter.

I've never liked selling myself, but there's a flipside, in that I like helping and being of service. A huge part of making conventions worthwhile is being kind to strangers. I happen to be the sort who loves holding doors and fetching water for elderly panelists – I don't have the health to volunteer, but will do that much. If someone is looking confusedly at a map or struggling with their wheelchair, asking if they want assistance is the connish thing to do. And it has never hurt to ask your fellow nerds for their con highlights, what they loved or are most looking forward to. It's not a terrible way to discover parties, either.

But you cannot pester. This goes beyond sexual harassment, because for whatever reason our nerd conventions attract droves of people who don't want to talk to anyone. Do I get it? More than is comfortable, because I have my mental modes of solitude. Let them enjoy things their way.

I'm learning not to be an accidental creeper. Sometimes I lapse into just enough shyness that I will linger instead of introducing myself, which, as an adult man whose physical problems often makes him grimace, can wig the hell out of people. So I didn't get to talk to Jo Walton – better letting her go than lingering near her conversation for several awkward minutes. She's semi-abled and standing and walking are difficult, though that broaches disability and convention accessibility, which I'll have to blog about this weekend.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

RAQ 2013: The Rarely Asked Questions

It's my birthday! And that means it's time for the R.A.Q. – the Rarely Asked Questions. Here, I celebrate my birthday by collecting and answering questions that readers normally never ask anyone. They can be as serious or as absurd as they liked. Here we go…

1. Nicholas Sabin asked: If Jesus Christ played Dynasty Warriors, who would he play as? Follow-up: Could he defeat Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate?
Nick Sabin, going for blasphemy out of the gate.

I suspect Christ would play as one of the Qiaos, as he was about empowerment of the least of us, and they are the youngest, the least consequential, most disenfranchised and most underpowered characters. He might co-op with his Dad as the other Qiao.

And by Dynasty Warriors 7, anyone can beat Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate. Christ, however, wouldn't need to abuse the save feature and by the end Lu Bu would be renamed "Paul".

2. Tony Noland asked: If using normal baryonic matter accelerated to 0.2C, how hard would I have to hit Mars to initiate a self-stabilizing magnetic field?
Understand that if you've already fixed your matter and your speed for impact, then adjusting the "hardness" of the blow is quite difficult. Moreso the Moh's hardness for pentaquarks. Given that you're hoping to initiate a field, which must mean rebooting or hijacking Mars's own, I'll hazard that you'll have to hit it quite hard indeed.

3. Chaz asked: The Greek description of the sky is 'bronze' for it shone as bronze. If there were no color adjectives or understanding how would you describe the sky? Blood? The ocean after a storm?
Chaz here is clearly playing to my deep and abiding love of Homer. God bless you, atheist.

I suspect my system would be based on decoration and opacity. Here night and day are irrelevant, as during both there is some illumination that defines by degree of presence. We'll describe the sky by how many clouds and how thick they are; partially cloudy, overcast, mild and diffused haze, or the super-cast as when you can't even make out the contours of the cloud system taking up the sky. Storm lighting utterly differs, and so it stands out. This also allows for days and nights of particularly light-intensity. Cloudlessness would be "full sky," whereas a super-cast time would be "absent sky." When the sky is full of birds, "birdy sky." Full of locusts, "pestilent sky."

By not actually describing the sky itself here, but rather degrees of interference with its visibility, we will supply young artists the ability to feel clever at the expense of the vernacular for generations to come.

4. Danielle La Paglia asked: I know everyone likes to ask funny questions, but I'm not a very funny person, so...what book has had the biggest emotional impact on you? Whether it made you actually cry or laugh or love (despite your granite heart) or whether it changed you in some profound way or gave you hope or spurred you on...whatever your definition of "emotional impact" is, I'll take it.
You're right that it's difficult for fiction to have significant effects on me. I know Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Roger Zelazny's "Divine Madness" both got me to gasp and take a few minutes to collect my mind at their conclusions – maybe the only thing the two stories have in common are absolutely crystalline final paragraphs. Zelazny's Lord of Light did that to me at least four times over the course of the novel, so that would be a leader in the category. Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the only poem to suck me in deeply for its poetry.

But as far as writing, let me hazard that it's the junction between two authors: J.R.R. Tolkien and Akira Toriyama. The former wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, so classic, so immersive, so brilliantly escapist that two generations of writers ripped him off to disgusting degrees. But very shortly after I read these books, I read Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball (not the later Dragon Ball Z – though I happily read that later).

Tolkien gave me kings and wizards on horse back with staves and swords and magic rings out to fight armies of orcs and braving into a volcano.

Toriyama, abruptly, gave me a monkey-boy who thought a magic ball was his grandfather, cars fleeing from dinosaurs, a perverted martial arts god in a Hawaiian shirt and clouds you can only ride in you're innocent.

If I'd gone from Tolkien to Wheel of Time or Lyonesse or Sword of Truth, I might have gotten mired in the Medievalist mindset forever, but because I had these two wildly different visions of the Fantastic, it left me always thinking about how much fit in Fantasy's boundaries. It's why, today, I'm stunned by how little apparently fits into what's supposed to be "Epic Fantasy."

That's certainly why you got Puddle out of me.

5. Katherine Hajer asked: When do you sleep?
Answer: Optimally, from midnight to nine in the morning. It's been off lately since visiting Texas's timezone and WorldCon's insane anti-sleep schedule. You are now amply educated to rob me.

6. Helen Howell asked: How do you stop your worm from slipping down the plughole when you wash it in the sink? (worms are covered in dirt!)
While I have limited experience with worm-cleansing, I would always stop the plughole up with a drain cover before cleansing began. This prevents aquatic descent.

7. Larry Kollar asked: You're in your writing spot. You look out the window (if you don't have one, pretend). What do you see?
I'm fortunate enough to have a real writing spot – my desk, by my window, in my room. I have a privileged view of the top of the woods descending toward the lake, and while I cannot see any water, the other half of my view is raw sky. For more on that view, see Chaz's question.

In Winter it snows over; other seasons I get to watch the life span of leaves. I cherish working to it.

8. Valerie Valdes asked: If you could have written any story or novel by someone else, which would it be?
Ooo, there have been very few works that struck me with serious writing envy, but they definitely exist. Most commonly I find a work fascinating and am grateful for the creator, thinking about their process, rather than imagining emulation. Jo Walton's Among Others, Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars – I wish I had the time write like that too while also writing the works I already do, I wish I'd done something in that neighborhood, but really, I'm just inspired by their existence. I don't envy or desire to swipe destiny.

The second Lupin the 3rd television series was one envy-project – so funny, such character, and when my Trio novels see the light of day, you'll see the obvious influences. Similarly, I'd write the heck out of Gail Simone's Agent X and was unduly influenced by her.

The movie Stranger Than Fiction explored and even executed several meta-fictional ideas I'd been playing with for years. That's a case of someone beating me to the public. I envied them insofar as I wanted to get my take on something so defined by ideas that I couldn't write it and stand apart after they got to it. Jerks. Smart, talented jerks.

9. Medeia Sharif asked: Think about your skills, talents, quirks...everything. If you were a computer software, what would be your function in someone's computer?
Firefox browser. Dozens of tabs open, studying several topics and participating in too many conversations for my own good until I trip over my own re-hashed coding and crash.

10. Scribbler asked: How important is the reader?
Important enough that I'm answering any questions they have!

The slightly more serious point is that they're vital to the career of any good writer. I had the pleasure of boarding a plane Monday with Mary Robinette Kowal, who played down that she'd succeeded because of talent or hard work. To her it was the readers who supported her career and gave her this status.

11. Elephant's Child asked: Is life random, or is there meaning?
Both suppositions are exceedingly true. Complexity Theory demonstrates for us that many systems in which life exists or is comprised have chaotic and random sets of particles and outcomes. However, elements of randomness can only be identified because they are meaningful. If anything were meaningless, we wouldn't be able to recognize it. Finding, creating and encouraging positive meaning has been much of my best experiences of God.

12. Peter Newman asked: How would you define yourself as a D&D character? I'm talking class (or multi-class), race, alignment, stats.
Did Peter ask this because he knows I hate the false reductionism of D&D? That's a question I don't normally ask.

The first time friends goaded me into playing D&D, I defined myself as a midget orc. Thus I had lower than average intelligence and appearance, but none of the physical benefits of being monstrous. True to myself, his religion was ALL, and he believed himself to be chaotic-something-or-other. For the sake of the experiment, let's say I'm Chaotic Good because I mean well but don't know what I'm doing as often as I ought and that takes me down many ethical alleys.

And that wraps up everyone who asked me rare things this year! I'm off to find birthday cake. Did you enjoy the Q&A?
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