Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aren't You Being Just a Wee Bit Presumptuous

Last night I introduced a friend of mine to this weblog, after he concluded that there is no way I'd be making money from it considering the number of hits I get, so it's a good thing all around that I didn't bother with Blogspot's ad program. One of his comments resonated with me, in that it's something I've been carrying around in the back of my brain for a while now.

"I see you define yourself as a science fiction writer," he said. "Interesting."

How we define ourselves is of paramount importance in modern society. It's at the core of almost every philosophy and religion. In J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5, the Vorlon question - "Who are you?" - was one of the arc words that resounded through the series and bound it all together. Most of us define ourselves by our job, by what we do. He's a paramedic, she's a Member of Parliament, that guy over there is scrubbing ants off a sixtieth-story window. What am I, in that estimation? None of your business - I try to keep my work and my weblog separate. Nevertheless--

Roles have always been of great importance in human communities. Many Western surnames - Smith, Fletcher, Boatwright - have their origins in the responsibilities some distant ancestor held in some medieval town. For the vast majority of history everyone had to work, and work well. It was only with the development of agriculture, irrigation, and centralized communities that an aristocracy had the chance to quaff the sweat of the peasants. Today, for many people it's a simple, if unconscious, equation - your job is who you are.

Me, I tend not to follow that logic. In prosperous times, defining oneself by one's job always struck me as being somewhat hollow, and today it seems a road to needless stress and panic. For a long time I believed I'd be insulated from the recession, but now I've seen a bit of it in the distance, like the Cloverfield monster in Manhattan's metal mountains. It could come as just deserts for failure or it could come as a necessity, nothing personal, but there are only a handful of people who are really safe from losing their jobs.

I've read science fiction for as long as I can recall. During my childhood we had the entire run of Star Trek on Columbia House VHS, I burned through Ender's Game while I was still in grade school, and I only regret that I wasn't aware of the short-story magazines when they could really have given me focus. With the publication of "The Platinum Desolation" in December, I stepped over a threshold which, when I started writing seriously back in 1997, seemed as distant as the summit of Olympus Mons.

There are tons of bottom-rung science fiction authors like me, I know. All I have to my name is one short story in a well-reviewed book of short stories and the briefest of entries on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database - the latter of which I was as surprised as anyone to stumble upon. I still choose to define myself by that because I earned it, and because no matter what happens, no one can take that away from me.

you can't take the sky from me

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