Kelly’s story “Two Year Man” is out today! It’s her first appearance in Asimov’s, and it is gentle yet thoroughly hair-raising. The August issue just hit newsstands; the virtual edition is available, and there’s even an interview with Kelly and some other Asimov’s first timers, by James Patrick Kelly, that you can browse for dessert.
Yesterday’s Joss Whedon post was something I’ve been cogitating awhile, and when I got the first few thinky grapes off the vine I took it to Kelly and the ingenious Linda Carson for a good stomp. It was an effective creative ferment, and I’m pleased with the essay. But things got said and thoughts got aired that didn’t quite make it into the final draft, which is why now Linda has tackled another piece here, in her essay: “Cutting Edge Doesn’t Mean Solo.”
The Joss essay is part of something larger. I am seeing signs, here and there, that a hearty portion of my corner of the Internet–in other words, the SF and fantasy writing community–is open to finding ways to counterbalance the online expression of ancient, vicious human behaviors. These are things that have been around forever: silencing, bullying, shaming, pile-ons. There’s some talk of developing tactics that take us beyond snark. Joshua Choplinksy, for example, lays this out:
That’s not to say snark can’t be done well. Kurt Vonnegut could be a pretty snarky motherfucker. But snark was just a single tool in his well-furnished kit. And let’s not kid ourselves with comparisons to a master.
I feel that this, which comes to me via Doug Lain, is the essence of an article I no longer have to write. I love a good snarky piece as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to write a piece of that kind without giving lots and lots of energy and attention to the thing or person you’re against. It’s a reward for bad behavior that also acts, fundamentally, as a tactic of escalation.
As I’ve said, I’d love to see a flowering of sharp, hilarious, infinitely readable clickbaity articles that didn’t involve taking someone down a peg. It’s harder to make praise or kudos or approbation interesting and giggle-worthy. I know this, because I write book reviews. Believe me, a brilliant novel is much harder to write about than an interestingly flawed one. But making up the word noises is our primary skillset. If snark has a comedic polar opposite, we’re up to the task of inventing it.
Setting aside the specific issue of pointed responses to oh-so-deserving stupidity online, I’m also seeing conversations whereby people are gathering up How-To articles on the healthy responses to trolling, bullying, and other kinds of internet pile-ons. (If you have a good resource, let me know and I’ll send it to the compilers of same.)
As for me, I’m hoping to get up some kind of Troll-Starving 101 post in the near, after I’ve had a few lovely ferment-style conversations with people at Readercon, and hopefully drawing on work that has already been done. My basic working concepts will probably be something like:
Instead of buzzing like a kicked-over hive of bees about the assholes, the assholes, OMG, the assholes, minimize attention to the bullying/trolling behavior and its perpetrators. How little can we actually say about or to them, whoever they are, whenever they arise, without descending into vagueblogging?
Meanwhile, maximize positive attention to targets of aggression. Find out what they need and give it to them. Post about how awesome they are. Offer to be the guy who reads their Twitter feed for them for a week and compiles a Block/Report list so they don’t have to take the poison in directly. Write about how they changed your life that year they taught at your Clarion. Repost the thing they wrote last year that rocked your world.
Where possible, feed the thing the trolls fear. Is someone pissing on Chuck Wendig this week? Is one of his books is going for $2 in the Kindle Store? Can you buy it, or give to his favorite charity, or something? Awesomesauce!
Conspiracy Keanu is into peace and love.
Kelly and I rewatched The Avengers: Age Of Ultron not long ago, and there are things about it that are just plain better on rewatch. The pieces of the plot make vastly more sense when you know where everyone ends up. In an fast-moving and fairly noisy movie, there are lines of dialog that just slide past me.
Turned out a few of them actually mattered.
The problematic stuff with Natasha is still problematic, no doubt about it. You can choose to believe that every word she utters to Bruce is, on some level, exactly what she thinks he needs to hear. There’s a little bit of set-up for this, and it’s a reading that can serve as the sugar necessary to make her monster speech go down. Still, if we give the film this reading, we do it knowing that we’re superimposing meaning, adding in stuff that isn’t really on the screen.
And, wow, Bruce really should have replied that not having ovaries and or a uterus isn’t monstrous, OMG. Or that cutting them out of your baby spies, against their will, is.
For my part, I was bothered by a related disconnect between them, one Nat’s failing to acknowledge. Bruce’s position in this exchange falls somewhere in the neighborhood of I’m afraid we can’t share a normal life and have babies because what if Hulkie Junior rips out one of my silky chestnut hair locks on a particularly bad day and I go all ARRRHGHGHGH!! and then pound everyone I love, you included, into a gooey red stain?
Whereas Nat’s is I’m afraid we can’t share a normal life because I have no organs anymore that will combine your genetic material and my genetic material. How ever will we find ourselves some tiny green-eyed, red-haired Baby-Gap wearing gamma monsters to raise and love?
She’s not concerned about becoming an abusive, family-annihilating nightmare. Come on, Nat, agree that it’s not the same. He’s pointing out that of the two of you, he has way more superpower, and he’s trying to be responsible about it, and do the stand-up thing.
This movie does barely pass the Bechdel test – Nat and Laura talk about baby names. And I am, like many a fan, curious to see whether a director’s cut can restore the things that felt missing from the story.
AAoU, and particularly the above segment, threw gasoline on some commentary that had been smoldering around the Intertubes for awhile. People have been asking things like: is Joss Whedon that much of a feminist anymore? Was he ever? They’re realizing that the Serenity crew from Firefly were basically bad guys and wondering if the feminist emperor ever had clothes.
Some of this conversation is legit critical discussion, respectfully phrased. Some of it is a big ol’ Internet pile-on. (The SF community’s started talking about pile-ons, just lately, and how to fucking not, and I couldn’t be happier. Have you all seen Andrea Phillips’ How to Not Be A Bullying Mob flowchart? I heart this!)
I’m not going to argue that AAoU is a better film or a more feminist movie than you think it is. If you want to get into legit critique, and give that deeper consideration, here’s an open letter by Sara Stewart to Whedon that looks at all the women in the film.
I am, instead, going to argue a proposition that I hope many of you will buy into:
For starters: during the BtVS years, Joss Whedon was at the heart of a creative team who produced a cutting edge, explicitly feminist, heroic fantasy adventure.
Cutting edge doesn’t mean perfect, or without challenges. It simply means “The position of greatest advancement or importance. The forefront.”
If the idea of putting heroes of the female gender on our flicker boxes could be said to be some kind of distance race, Buffy ran a lot of her predecessors–fantastic fictional women who inspired us all–into the ground. She and Willow surpassed Red Sonja, Uhura, Leela, Romana, Captain Janeway, Ellen Ripley, Xena and so many more. The show set a pace that was hart to beat.
Hard, but not impossible.
Other creators started running faster. Nobody wants to be running behind the shapely spandex-clad ass of Cutting Edge forever. They want to be out in front. Otherwise, why run?
(Yes, my metaphor has bled into itself, and Buffy has somehow morphed into Joss, and they’re both being hopeless jocks. I hereby apologize for this now, which is helpful to me financially because, as you all know, Canadians who never apologize for anything do pay higher taxes.)
Where was I? Joss’s fellow TV and film creatives, running bigger, harder and faster. Meanwhile we in the stands were howling–with glee and joy and the occasional burst of fury–as our expectations rose. And rose. And rose some more. And were, occasionally, disappointed. We have been hoping for the best and making fan GIFS on Tumblr and examining strong female characters wherever they pop up. We’ve been asking if we can have more diversity. Can we have more heroes of color? Can we have female-led Marvel movies that aren’t Electra? When Imperator Furiosa punches someone in the face with her nubbins (as Nospockdasgay puts it) or I turn on Sense8 and am confronted with what might as well be an actual snapshot–not an approximation, not a rose-colored glass half-full skewed vision–of my fucking queer GenXer life… well, holy shit, right? We see a world created in this massively expensive and entertaining art form that is welcoming. That is delightful and kaleidoscopic and more complete than the tunnel we’ve been staring down since the days of Star Trek and Charlie’s Angels.
We are insatiable. We want more. We want better. We want to be surprised and blown away and damned well included.
And the creators respond. Art is a conversation. People coopt and embroider upon the best that front-runner can do. So George Miller and the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski have pulled ahead of Joss Whedon, for now. Look at the cool things they made, and rejoice!
Is this a reason to throw dog doots all over the track?
These things have a natural rhythm. Having one person drive that cutting edge forever would, in itself, be limiting. If Joss kicked forward our standards in the Nineties, how much of a shame would it be if nobody had, by now, exceeded him? The fact that people are busting their buns to give us things that make BtVS look hokey and retrograde in comparison? Hey, that’s cause for joy!
Falling into the pack for awhile… this may not be the sexiest phase of the artistic life cycle, but is comfortable ongoing success really the thing that makes you try harder? After seeing the second and third Matrix movies, I forgot about the Wachowskis. I would never in a billion years have expected them to turn up in my living room and blow my mind to smithereens. Maybe I should have. Maybe I should’ve been sending them ransom-style cut-out notes of encouragement over the years.
Joss Whedon has put his money and his mouth as well as his creative visions on the side of the angels for years. Surely we can criticize AAoU and all his other work while allowing him a little space, now and then, here and there, to be imperfect. We know he has the talent and the resources to create something, some bright future day, that could jolt the whole media-creating pack of his peers into the next breakthrough. Won’t that be fantastic? Imagine how much you’ll love it! Take a breath, send him a good vibe, and keep an open mind. Give the man time to pick up his pace.
And, by the way, M. Night Shyamalan and Sam Raimi, innit time you laced up your running booties and gave us all a run for the money?
Brain Food: Kelly and I spent a few hours at the Royal Ontario Museum‘s Pompeii exhibit, checking out the mosaics and the lava, the buried household goods and statuary, the centuries-old flash-preserved olives and figs and the plaster casts of victims’ bodies. Afterward, we went upstairs to Viva Mexico and marveled at the intricacy of the weaving and embroidery.
Kudos for the Deserving: There are some good reviews and kudos out for Kelly’s “Waters of Versailles,” here at SF Signal’s Women to Watch and at Quick Sips. There’s also a James Patrick Kelly editorial in Asimovs, about Kelly and some other people who’ve broken into that magazine lately. It’s called meet the firsties. It’s meant, among other things, to remind aspiring writers that they might be… nextie!
Still Seeking Scenius: My regular writing date with Gemma Files and Madeline Ashby had a special guest star–author Charlene Challenger, whose The Voices in Between
is currently on the Sunburst and Aurora Award ballots for English Language YA. We went to a new-to-me place, the Istanbul Cafe, which was a completely lovely working environment, and where they played every hit of the Eighties that I ever wanted to sing along and/or boogie to.
My Teenage Cheeseball Obsession: The very best thing that happened this week was that I giggle every time I walk down to Queen Street, because the local shrine to vinyl here on St. Patrick, a store that often has some hilarious blast from the past in its window, had this:
And now this is happening to you, oh yeah:
Jessica Reisman’s “The Chambered Eye,” in Rick Klaw’s Rayguns Over Texas anthology, was one of Gardner Dozois’s Honorable Mention picks for the Year’s Best Science Fiction in 2013. Her stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. Reisman’s first novel, The Z Radiant, published by Five-Star Speculative Fiction, was described as, “thinking reader’s sci-fi.” Her story “Threads” was awarded a Southeastern Science Fiction Achievement Award. She was a Michener Fellow in Fiction in graduate school and is one of my beloved Clarion West classmates. See her website for more.
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?
As a child it was an amalgam of all the heroines of the Scholastic Book mysteries I read, and the heroines of Mary Stewart’s mysteries. A little later in life I really imprinted on a couple of C.J. Cherryh’s heroines, specifically Bet from Rimrunners and Raen from Serpent’s Reach.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
With the mystery heroines, it was their brave no-nonsense intelligence and good will as young women left alone in the world and faced with nefarious doings. With both Bet and Raen, it was their cussedness, reckless heroism, and somewhat dominant way with a pretty young man.
How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your heroines owe her?
All these heroines are definitely the literary ancestors of my female characters; the gene sets are clear–to me, at least.
About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. This link will take you to the other interviews, with awesome people like Martha Wells, Jane Lindskold, and Gemma Files.
Uno: I have the pass proofs for A Daughter of No Nation! This means I am one careful read-through away from being able to call this book … well, it’s already a book. And it’s already done. Medium rare? Even more done?
On a related note, a few metrics have come in that make it clear to me that more than one of you bought Child of a Hidden Sea and Among the Silvering Herd last week when many lovely folks were pushing the idea of buying Tor books and authors for all the reasons. I want to thank you all for supporting me, my fellow Tor authors, and my publisher.
Due: The most recent round of feedback from my UCLA Novel Writing III students was extra-wonderful. They had a good time, they learned much, they loved each other, and they said glowing things about me. The feeling was mutual–they were an exceptionally hardworking and dedicated group, and there were some great breakthroughs.
These comments come in the form of anonymous comments on a survey, with numerical ratings. I don’t see the answers until final grades are posted. There’s no kiss-up factor, and often where there is a critical comment, it’s about something I can address before teaching the same class the next time. But it was extra nice, in a week with germs and other challenges, to get a perfect score. The student happiness with the most recent course was also gratifying because I have been restructuring these courses all year–UCLA changed its classroom software–and what I think this means, at least in part, is that after wrangling with Canvas for three terms, I’ve found the best way to teach, me-styles, within this new course shell.
Tre: I have the world’s most ridiculous reason for being excited about Ant-Man. Which is that it’s being released on Kelly’s birthday. (I do also like Paul Rudd.) Clearly anything associated with Kelly’s birthday is already a brilliant thing, covered in sparkly, and best accompanied by some delicious Prosecco.
Also, I think one of our oldest friends is coming to town that weekend. Hmmm, I should write to her.
(This is an experiment – @KellyRobson)