Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ad Astra 2014 Schedule

As I look outside, winter is very, very, very gradually lifting away from the part of the world I can see--by which I mean most of the snow is gone and the harbor isn't frozen over anymore, even though it remains staggeringly cold--and that means that Convention Season is about to start for another year! First up on my block is Ad Astra, Toronto's local science fiction and fantasy fan convention, even though it's being held up in the remote wilderness of Richmond Hill: close enough to the Arctic Circle as to make no difference at all.

This'll be the first time I've been a participant there, though. They've put me on two panels, and I will be reading from my new story "Three Years of Ashes and Twenty Years of Dust" as part of the official launch of Strange Bedfellows by Bundoran Press. If you're going to be in the neighborhood, perhaps you'll check them out!

Mining in Space - Saturday, April 5, 2:00 PM, Aurora
Bundoran Press Launch Event - Saturday, April 5, 9:00 PM, Book Launch Room
That Drives Me Crazy! - Sunday, April 6, 1:00 PM, Aurora

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My View on the Ross Thing

You may have heard of the latest controversy to engulf the science fiction community--after all, not only is it less than a week old, this one has been picking up some mainstream media coverage, to the extent that six of the first ten hits for his name deal with it. That's because it pivots around how, for eight hours or so last Saturday, former British TV presenter Jonathan Ross was tapped to host the Hugo Awards at this year's Worldcon, Loncon 3. It was only eight hours because that's how long it took for him to back out of it after the news of his being tapped set off a Twitter storm.

If you've never heard of Jonathan Ross, you may be wondering why he was reacted to in such a manner. He has, in fact, run into no shortage of controversies himself, one of them getting him suspended from the BBC for six months. But that is, in itself, a huge factor in what went down. I get the distinct impression that the Loncon 3 chairs didn't fully appreciate that this isn't just another British con, but a Worldcon drawing thousands of people from all over the world--though mostly North America and Western Europe--many of whom would have never heard of this guy who used to be on the telly. Many of whom had only the stories of his controversies to inform them, and given what the sf community has been through in the last few months, a lot of people out there are understandably on hair triggers.

As an experienced presenter, and knowing that he would be representing Loncon 3 in his interactions with the sf community, Ross should have known how to approach the situation professionally and how to introduce himself to people with no prior experience of him. Instead, this is what we got:


My first introduction to and impression of Jonathan Ross, ladeez and germs.

When you're caught in an incipient controversy, there's one simple rule--don't feed it. Resnick and Malzberg turned the SFWA controversy from eye-rolling and grumbles to flame wars by saying that people rolling their eyes and grumbling at them were liberal fascists trying to censor them. Rob Ford made a mockery out of his status as a crack aficionado by constantly denying that he smoked crack until finally telling reporters that they hadn't "asked the right question." Ross didn't appreciate this, and so he got burned.

But it's more than that, I think. In this, it seems like there's also a measure of fame's blinders. I see plenty of people like Neil Gaiman bemoaning the reaction that Ross received, but how much of this came from an unexamined opinion that everyone would know Ross for Ross? I didn't. I only know Ross from his tweets, and I don't care if Neil Gaiman calls him a friend--I think he's a jerk.

When people voice their concerns about you, the proper response is not to insult them or accuse them of slander. It only makes you look out-of-touch and, frankly, a bit sad.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Photo: Snow Memorial

Toronto got a fair dump of snow a couple of weeks ago on Wednesday, the sort of snow I got used to in Central Ontario but which didn't seem to track down south all that often. University Avenue was a white mess, and not even the American Consulate had shovelled (shoveled?) its barrier-protected patch of sidewalk, and it made the entire area take on a winter cast that doesn't come around all that often. Here, the South African War Memorial stands solid against a storm-obscured skyline.


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Friday, February 14, 2014

Photo: Snow Squirrel

It's been a while since I posted a critter photograph, but the Toronto winter doesn't make the local critters any less busy. I found this squirrel dashing up and across trees at Mel Lastman Square in North York, during the flurries we had a couple of weekends ago. Most of the ones I took got compromised by motion blur, but I think this one works well.

Why am I posting so uncharacteristically late in the day, you might ask? To keep you on your toes, mostly!


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Photo: I Don't Think They're Coming Back

While on walkabout along Yonge Street in North York a couple of weeks past, I couldn't help but notice this bicycle locked up outside one of the entrances to Finch Station--although "locked up" is kind of unnecessary at this point, when you consider how hard-packed that stuff must be. It makes me wonder just who these more-or-less abandoned bicycles you find around the city belong to, and how it happens that they're left where they're left.

It also demonstrates the effect which the removal of Igor Kenk has had on the city's bicycle ecosystem. Time was that a bike like this would've been stolen by one of Igor's flunkies long before it had a chance to get buried.


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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oversight, Looking Under

Here's some free advice for today. Never get too close to people you look up to; they can only disappoint you. I say this because of the latest flap to engulf SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which brewed up out of weekend rumors and exploded onto the net yesterday. The context is a bit involved, going back to last year's controversy about cheesecake chain-mail chicks on the cover of a professional industry magazine and certain comments within, so I'd recommend reading this link for the details, and potentially also this takedown before you go any further.

So, yeah. That petition. Full of appeals to the First Amendment, of course--which is irrelevant in this circumstance, because the First Amendment only prevents the government from abridging free speech. SFWA, as a private organization, is not required to let anyone in particular use its bullhorn. Given that the signatories are of an age that predates the present-day educational system, you'd think they'd have learned that in Civics class. What really gets me is that writers, of all people, can work themselves into such a tizzy about the prospect of editorial oversight.

The point of editorial oversight is a simple one: to keep crazy stuff you didn't intend from getting into the pages. This is why newspapers have things called editorial boards. Just because the Bulletin, the magazine at the heart of this, is a publication funded by SFWA, it's not obligated to accept submissions by SFWA members. Under the new rules proposed for the Bulletin, its editor would engage in the "proofing and review process with select volunteer and board members." Because, as we all know, any editorial oversight whatsoever leads inexorably and immediately to politically correct Stalinism, and contributors will no longer be able to talk about how good lady editors looked in bikinis in the pages of an industry journal.

the horror

Especially for writers, this is rich. I'm still just getting started out in this game, but one of the first lessons I learned was this: you are never the best judge of what you write. I send all my stuff to beta readers as much as possible before I try to find it a home, for very important reasons. Part of that is the accessibility factor--when I write I'm carrying the world around in my head, and it's something I understand well enough that important things may not make it on the page because I don't think to put them there. Another, even more critical, part is the matter of perspective; someone looking at your work from a different angle may see something entirely different from what you intended to write.

I have direct experience with this myself, and it wasn't fun. Last year I was working on the draft of a story (which has yet to find a home, alas) where the antagonist relied on illicitly-obtained medication to endure in a specific environment. Now, when I'd been writing, what I was carrying around in my mind was the notion that this medication was a poor solution to a problem that could have easily been corrected by a simple medical treatment, but the antagonist refused to do this out of pride or fear. When I passed the story to a beta reader whose opinion I put great stock in, what I got back was an understandably ruffled comment about how the notion was insulting to people on medication, and how it was essentially saying "not only are drugs bad, but so are the people who use them."

My first, gut reaction was to get my back up and fulminate about how that wasn't what I meant at all. Fortunately that only lasted  a fraction of a second before the cool winds of Not Being a Dick blew in and I rewrote the thing, because fuck, that isn't what I wanted to say at all. I suspect this is the same way the original Bulletin flap started up, except Resnick and Malzberg had the window closed that day. Some people act like they think apologizing means weakness and that you're wrong, and that's something that they could never do. Hell, the entire reaction feels like it could be boiled down to "what's the matter with you, don't you understand we're PAYING YOU A COMPLIMENT, YOU STUPID FUCKING BITCHES?"

Once you get to that point, it's real easy to keep the train going. Braking? Less so.

I even have experience with the whole "need for editorial oversight" thing. Back in university I was editor-in-chief of the Absynthe newspaper for two years, and though we were directly funded by the student body, that didn't mean any frood with a student card could send us whatever they wanted and they had to publish it. In fact, I remember a bit of a flap that emerged as a result of insufficient editorial oversight, and while it eventually blew over it wasn't particularly fun to live through.

What oversight is _not_ is censorship, despite the petition's cover letter suggesting that SFWA is about to experience a "censorship explosion." By that logic, every rejection letter I've ever received is censorship, because the Bulletin is no more obligated to print my stuff than is Clarkesworld. What's more, it's ridiculous coming from science fiction writers, of all people. Not only do we live in the goddamn future, it is a future where it is easier to get one's message out than EVER BEFORE. Setting up a weblog is free and takes two minutes, and all of a sudden you have your place to publish "the article that the Bulletin refused to take!" for all the world to see.

I can't help but feel like this is the sort of thing that happens when authors gain Protection from Editors--they forget that the perspective they're writing from isn't the only valid one.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Photo: More Than a Couple of Buses

The time I spent in Ottawa to attend Can-Con last year was the first opportunity I'd had to hang around the city for any protracted time, and parts of it left a bit of an impression on me. In particular, the state of its transit. The Transitway is one thing entirely--but for a city of a million people that relies almost exclusively on buses for its public transit needs, things can get a little backed up. This is, I believe, Rideau Street at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon; I count some seventeen buses here, both OC Transpo and Société de transport de l'Outaouais, and there are undoubtedly more hidden behind that one on the right. There would be at least that many more waiting if this photo had been taken while looking in the opposite direction.

It beggars belief that the city government's allowed pressure to get to this stage without relief.


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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Photo: You Keep Using That Word

I don't think it means what the people who've been pitching the big black garbage bags into it think it means. Low quality due to it being a smartphone photo taken at night, but really. I couldn't let this go unremarked upon. It's like an encapsulation of the world's problems in miniature.


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

You Got 科学幻想 In My Science Fiction

No matter what form the future takes, there's one country that will take a major role in guiding it from those things that it does, or does not, do--China. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that the 21st century will be a Chinese century, if for no other reason that it accounts for a significant fraction of humanity and shows no signs of letting its influence fade. As it stands, China's looking toward the future--witness the Chang'e 3 landing and Yutu lunar probe, for example, or its plans to have its own space station in operation by the 2020s. Appropriately enough, science fiction is big business there; its Science Fiction World, with estimates of more than one million readers per issue, is the most popular SF magazine on Earth.

Still, something of a gap remains between Chinese and Western SF--at least, from the Western perspective. It's not unusual for Western science fiction to be translated for the Chinese audience, going back to translations of Jules Verne in the early 20th century, but there's far less of it happening in the other direction. Ken Liu is active in translating Chinese science fiction and fantasy for publication in English, I can't think of anyone else who's doing it. The English translation of Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of the Fireflies," which appeared in this month's Clarkesworld, is the first I've come across.

It's the sort of thing that should change. I mean, this is the 21st century after all. Science fiction is a conversation, and when people are excluded everyone else misses out. If I had the opportunity, I'd start a magazine half in English, half in Chinese, translating stories to carry them across the language barrier... maybe someone will start something like that, one day. Maybe someone already has and I just don't know about it. But connections are important.

So I wasn't entirely surprised to find, the other day, about a group that's bidding for the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention--in Beijing.

It's a bit of a quixotic bid, really. The voting for 2016 is going to be held in London this August, and it's been Kansas City running unopposed for years. The KC bid has built up enough steam at this point that I doubt Beijing would be able to finagle an upset. It's my suspicion, and the suspicion of others, that the bid organizers are rather new to the whole thing--for one, none of the standard questionnaires detailing the dates being bidded for, bid officials, and so on seem to be present on their website. A website, for that matter, which I can only read after passing it through Google Translate, as it's entirely in Mandarin. The organizers seem to be some kind of scientific society where people can go for answers to science-related questions, talk about science and technology, and that sort of thing.

I think there's a definite opportunity for a Beijing bid: not in 2016, but down the road. 2018, for example, only has two candidates so far, New Orleans and San José. Targeting a more distant year would give a Beijing bid group more opportunity to level out a foundation and build bridges to bring the Chinese and Western science fiction communities closer together--which, really, should be the entire point of it.

That's not to say I don't have misgivings about how well Beijing would fare in competition--just after I heard about this bid, I saw those photos of the sunrise being broadcast on big TV screens in Beijing because the smog was thick enough to turn the sky grey.* Still, I am reminded that Loncon 1, held in 1957, came only five years after a particularly vicious smog descended over London. The more things change, the more they really don't.

I have to say, though, I do like the logo they've chosen.

* Postscript 01/24/2014 - As I have subsequently seen, that is not what those pictures accurately represented, but the fact remains that the air in China's urban centers is hideously polluted.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Photo: Encased

This past month's ice storm was the first one I'd experienced first-hand; while I remember the 1998 ice storm, it confined its punishment to Eastern Ontario and Quebec while I was living up in Barrie. What this one showed me is that ice storms can change the environment in ways that seem almost unreal even when you see it for yourself. To find the branch of a tree contained entirely in a sleeve of ice that follows its contours, as if the air itself froze, is a hell of a thing.

The property damage, like the fence in the background knocked down by a fallen tree limb, is also a hell of a thing--but in a different way entirely.


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