Virtue Signaling vs. Independent Thinking

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On September 9, David Gerrold posted an interesting essay at the Amazing Stories website. Yeah, I know that was two months ago, but I running a little behind on my reading. What makes this interesting is that I can’t make out if it’s a warning, a complaint or an apology.

Gerrold’s title is “Humanity’s R&D Department: Science Fiction.” He starts off saying that the universe is a place of constant change and that SF is a way to investigate that. “This literature is the laboratory in which we consider the universe and our place in it,” he says. “It is the place where we ask, ‘Who are we and what is our purpose here? What does it mean to be a human being?’”

Because he’s talking about SF, I expected this would be about technology and how this impacts the human condition, but instead, he’s aiming at social issues and how it’s inevitable these concerns will be reflected in SF publishing. Then he gets to what’s really bothering him, which is the current traditional vs. progressive split in the SFF community. He calls out some people who have said things that were “ill-considered,” (apparently aiming at just the traditionalist side). He then moves into a parable about “throwing shit,” and what you should do if you’re standing next to a person who’s doing this. His answer is that you need to speak up about it because your reputation in the community is at stake. What he’s talking about is virtue signaling, where you separate yourself from the other side through criticisms, attacks and “me, too” statements that are socially prescribed.

This is now a requirement in the SFF community? That’s what he’s saying, right? So, what does he mean by this?

First possibility: A warning.
Does Gerrold mean that you’re in danger of being black-listed as an author if you don’t take sides? If you don’t clearly indicate your support for the current progressive direction of mainstream SF publishing? In this case, you don’t have to think about issues at all, you just announce your support and you’ll be fine.

Second possibility: A complaint.
Does Gerrold not like being forced to fight this battle? You have to remember that he’s been in the thick of the conflict, He was SWATted in 2015 by Lou Antonelli in response to the conflict about the Hugo Awards. Is he tired of being the figure-head for the progressive movement that crashes into things and takes all the damage?

Third possibility: An apology.
Is this explanation Gerrold’s apology to the traditionalists? Does it indicate that he feels forced into supporting the progressive movement and therefore has no choice other than to attack a lot of people who were probably his friends before this all got started?

In the current climate, I think all these possibilities are disturbing. It all comes back to that first possibility, where you’re required to say certain things and attack certain people because of social coercion. Where you don’t get to think first, or consider the issues, or look at arguments from the other side at all. Instead, you say the right things in support of the right people and you’re fine.

This is pretty much the definition of “groupthink.” According to Wikipedia, this is “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” In other words, the desire for conformity displaces independent thinking and criticism. Note the part about the dysfunctional outcome.

More on this later.

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Review of DAS STEINGESCHÖPF by G.V. Anderson

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This is the short fiction winner of the 2017 World Fantasy Award. It was published by Strange Horizons.

In 1928 Herr Hertzel has recently been made journeyman, and the Schöpfers’ Guild has given him his first commission. Frau Leitner has written from Bavaria to request a small restoration. Hertzel makes the journey and finds Frau Leitner in a small village. She is an older woman with a bad cough, and she takes him to the piece that needs work, a Steingeschöpf housed in her attic. The piece’s name is Ambroise, and he was carved in Queckstein by the French Master De Loynes during the seventeenth century. Ambroise’s eyes are so deteriorated that he can hardly see to paint, and he shows other signs of decomposition, as well. Hertzel feels inadequate to restore a piece of this history, and he tries to refuse the job, but Frau Leitner talks him into it. There are dangers. The Queckstein dust can destroy the lungs and working it absorbs life and memory. Is Hertzel up to the task?

For anyone wondering, Steingeschöpf roughly translates as “stone creature” or “stone golem.” The imagery and characterizations here are first rate. You can smell the snow, and feel it crackle underfoot. Hertzel is a Jew in the years between the World Wars, and working the Queckstein reveals his story of love and loss. The tale also reveals the love between Ambroise and Frau Leitner, and how little time they have left. It’s a very touching story, without a lot of plot, but filled with subtle, understated emotional content. Recommended.

Four and a half stars.

World Fantasy Awards

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While I’ve been doing my own thing, the World Fantasy Awards have happened. Here’s the list of nominees. Many of these are the usual suspects, but I’ll try to do some reviews to fill out the rest of the fiction categories. Many congrats to the winners!

Novel
• Winner: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North (Redhook; Orbit UK)
• Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
• Roadsouls, Betsy James (Aqueduct)
• The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
• Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff (Harper)

Long Fiction
• Winner: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
• The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
• Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
• “Bloodybones,” Paul F. Olson (Whispered Echoes)
• A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)

Short Fiction
• Winner: “Das Steingeschöpf,” G.V. Anderson (Strange Horizons 12/12/16)
• “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” Brooke Bolander (Uncanny 11-12/16)
• “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
• “Little Widow,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Nightmare 9/16)
• “The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me,” Rachael K. Jones (Clockwork Phoenix 5)

Anthology
• Winner: Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann, ed. (PS Australia)
• Clockwork Phoenix 5, Mike Allen, ed. (Mythic Delirium)
• Children of Lovecraft, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Dark Horse)
• The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams, eds. (Mariner)
• The Starlit Wood, Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe, eds. (Saga)

Collection
• Winner: A Natural History of Hell, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer)
• Sharp Ends, Joe Abercrombie (Orbit US; Gollancz)
• On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, Tina Connolly (Fairwood)
• Vacui Magia, L.S. Johnson (Traversing Z Press)
• The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu (Saga; Head of Zeus)

Artist
• Winner: Jeffrey Alan Love
• Greg Bridges
• Julie Dillon
• Paul Lewin
• Victo Ngai

Special Award, Professional
• Winner: Michael Levy & Farah Mendelsohn, for Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction(Cambridge University Press)L. Timmel Duchamp, for Aqueduct Press
• C.C. Finlay, for editing F&SF
• Kelly Link, for contributions to the genre
• Joe Monti, for contributions to the genre

Special Award, Non-Professional
• Winner: Neile Graham, for fostering excellence in the genre through her role as Workshop Director, Clarion West
• Scott H. Andrews, for Beneath Ceaseless Skies
• Malcom R. Phifer & Michael C. Phifer, for their publication The Fantasy Illustration Library, Volume Two: Gods and Goddesses (Michael Publishing)
• Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, for Uncanny
• Brian White, for Fireside Fiction Company

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Tales of Blood and Squalor Release

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Tales of Blood and Squalor
I recently sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology titled Tales of Blood and Squalor. My first horror sale, yah!

This will be available for sale at Amazon on November 20. There are 14 stories. From the Dark Cloud website, the description reads: “A novelist a tad too committed to realism in her craft, a tourist thirsting for blood, the king of a trailer park dungeon…” If you’re a horror fan, check it out!

Contributors:
Lee Allen Howard (Editor)‎
Joshua Bartolome
Lee Forsythe‎
Jay Seate
Sarah Gribble
Rob Francis
C. W. Blackwell
Rainie Zenith‎
James Edward O’Brien
Gab Halasz ‎
Bryan Dyke
Rachel Verkade
B. D. Prince
Lela E. Buis

The Legend of Guinevere

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In honor of the release of Tales of the Once and Future King by Superversive Press, I’m doing a background piece on my story in the anthology, “The Knight of Crows.” This is about Guinevere as a girl-queen, and the first encroachments of evil to bedevil her soul. This is just one contribution to a longer work. Look for the full tome available on Amazon.

Camelot is about perfection. The legend came together out of oral tradition, a tale of heroes that devoted their lives to defending Britain against the armies of evil. As Christianity came along, the legend absorbed these doctrines, becoming more and more about purity and the quest for the Holy Grail. This quest is about living your life properly, of course, and about trying to be perfect, but we all know how that goes. Bad things just happen to good people regardless.

In this case, the problem was falling in love. Guinevere the girl-queen is married to the perfect man. She has everything a woman could possibly want, but she falls in love with her husband’s best friend instead, the flawed but heroic Sir Lancelot. It’s uncertain in the tales about how this happens. Maybe it was engineered by the evil Morgan le Fay as a way to get to Arthur, and maybe it’s just the vagaries of the human heart, but whatever, it grows from the first tiny seeds to an obsession that extends through years and eventually grows so heated that it’s visible to everyone. At this point, the affair is a wedge set to crack the golden walls of Camelot into ruin. Arthur condemns Guinevere to death for adultery and goes to fighting his own knights, who see his distraction as a weakness and an opportunity to further their own ambitions. Guinevere escapes to a convent; Lancelot escapes to becomes a monk; Arthur wins his fight for the kingdom with the usurper Mordred, but is mortally wounded. The Lady of the Lake takes back the Sword Excalibur into her safekeeping. Fini. End. But will Arthur return in a different guise?

The interesting thing about the evolution of this legend is the way Guinevere became the central figure over a span of centuries. In the beginning, there was only the hero tales, and not much information about the queen—varying stories of her parentage and background, about how she came to marry the king. Stories of heroes are one thing, but they don’t tell us that much about the human condition. Fully developed, with Guinevere in place, we get to see how the quest for perfection is undermined by human nature and the inability to deal with our failings, our needs and the attractions of our darker side.

Tales of the Once and Future King from Superversive Press.

Contributors:
B Morris Allen
Bokerah Brumley
Lela E Buis
Katharina Daue
Jon Etter
Declan Finn
L Jagi Lamplighter
Anthony Marchetta (editor)
Mariel Marchetta (assistant editor)
K A Masters
R C Mulhare
Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney
Peter Nealen
Morgon Newquist
Victor Rodriguez
Matthew P Schmidt
Jonathan E Shipley
Justin M Tarquin
Joshua M Young
Ben Zwycky

Review of The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

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This novella is volume 6 of the Penric and Desdemona tales, following Mira’s Last Dance. It was published by Spectrum Literary Agency in October 2017 and runs about 139 pages.

Temple sorcerer and demon host Penric and his friend the widowed Nikys have successfully escaped to the duchy of Orbas, but Penric has put off returning to his work as a temple scholar, hoping Nikys will accept a proposal of marriage. She stalls, concerned about the chaos demon that Penric always carries around with him. However, she accidentally intercepts a letter to her brother saying her mother has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in Cedonia. She comes to Penric for help. Can the two of them rescue mom? Will Nikys ever accept Penric’s proposal of marriage?

Like all the other novellas in this continuing story, this is a quick, entertaining read. The novella is nothing really profound, but Bujold is an accomplished writer and her characters are well-developed, absorbing and entertaining. The world is pretty well built by now, and I don’t have any problems visualizing the houses, towns or shrines. I thought Mira’s Last Dance was a little weird, but maybe it was all to put Nikys off. She’s having to make up her mind here if she can buy the package deal.

Recommended. Three and a half stars.

Review of The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

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This is the debut novel for Rivera. It runs about 500 pages and was published by Tor in October 2017. Rivera is Puerto Rican and currently lives in New York City.

Qorin tribeswoman and warrior Shefali Arsalayaa writes a letter to her friend and previous lover O-Shizuka, Empress of Hokkaro. In this letter, Shefali details their childhood together beginning at age three, and follows Shizuka’s growing conviction that the two of them are divine, favored by the gods and destined for great deeds. Shizuka becomes an accomplished swordswoman while Shefali favors a bow. The two of them slay a tiger at a young age and then move on to tackle the demons that are sucking life out of the kingdom. This is a difficult and dangerous task, and they both suffer for it. They become lovers, but are separated when Shefali is exiled by Shizuka’s uncle, then Emperor of Hokkaro. Can the two of them find one another again?

Tor’s announcement bills this as Mongolian inspired, and Shefali might be, but Shizuka and her culture come across as heavily Japanese. This generated knee-jerk complaints on Tor’s website about a “white” woman appropriating Asian culture, which degenerated into something of a mess when others pointed out that Rivera isn’t white and others questioned whether non-whites can appropriate culture. Certainly Rivera hasn’t written the book about her own cultural heritage.

Good points: The Tor editor described this as “stunning,” and the prose is very well done. The imagery, especially Shefali’s descriptions of her lover, is sometimes striking. Characterization of the two main protagonists is also well-done, as the two of them have depth and substance. There’s a suggestion of power plays in the court, but the intrigues aren’t the main story.

Not so good points: I like women’s adventure, but the literary device of the letter made this primarily about the love story. It also removed all immediacy from the action and events. Who writes a 500 page letter detailing whole lives and mooning about the attributes of their lover? The result was that I got bored about 1/3 of the way through and had a hard time finishing. Despite the imagery, the world isn’t well defined, and I had a hard time integrating the steppes and the kingdom. Characters other than Shefali and Shizuka tend to be flat and don’t always ring true. There’s a huge gap of years here, and no indication of how Shizuka displaced her uncle to become Empress. Did he die childless? Did she off him in some way? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Three stars.

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