Plenty To Be Humble About

As soon as I read John Scalzi plans to spend the month of August away from his blog it occurred to me I should volunteer to fill in for him. That’s the least I could do.

John must have known I would respond in that neighborly kind of way because he stopped in the middle of his post and said —

Don’t ask to be a guest blogger. If I want you I will ask you. For serious, y’all.

Wasn’t it thoughtful of him to spare me from writing an unnecessary e-mail? Means I can go straight to working on my post for Whatever. Which, frankly, is a little bit intimidating.

Picture this as the equivalent of Captain Nemo asking you to sit and play something on his pipe organ. Yes, sure, what a privilege! Only I don’t want to end up seated at the console and find the only thing I know how to play on a keyboard is “Chopsticks.”

So I’ll be hard at work writing up the insights from my professional writing career. Like that big $20 sale I once made to Mike Resnick. And… And…

2012 SF&F Translation Award Winners

The Association for the Recognition of Excellence in SF & F Translation (ARESFFT) announced the winners of the 2012 Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards at Finncon 2012 on July 21.

Long Form Winner
Zero by Huang Fan, translated from the Chinese by John Balcom (Columbia University Press)

Short Form Winner
“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld #59, August 2011)

The winning authors and their translators will each receive an inscribed plaque and a cash prize of $350. Authors and translators of the honorable mentions will receive certificates.

The full list of nominees is here.

John Picacio’s Experiment

John Picacio accepting the World Fantasy Award for Best Artist in 2005. Photo by Keith Stokes.

John Picacio is an eight-time Best Professional Artist Hugo nominee, winner of a World Fantasy Award, four Chesley Awards and many other honors. Fans saw a lot of him at last year’s Worldcon, Renovation. He spoke on 8 panels, exhibited in the Art Show, appeared in the Artist’s Alley, and even joined Stroll With The Stars.

Picacio was asked to write an article for Journey Planet #13, an invitation that provoked a thought process and decision that will result in fans seeing a lot less of him at Chicon 7.  

He’ll still be there – faced with the prospect of two Labor Day weekend conventions, Dragon*Con and Chicon 7, Picacio chose both:

I’ll be attending Atlanta’s Dragon*Con all day/night Friday, August 31, and the initial part of Saturday morning, and then I’ll jump on a plane, gain one hour in the process, and attend Chicago’s Worldcon for the last half of its run, until it closes.

Hellacious? Yes. Suicidal? Let’s hope not.

But Picacio also told readers of his blog  that he won’t be on the Chicon 7 program or exhibit in the Art Show:

I’ve announced that I’m foregoing all programming participation and art show presence at this year’s Worldcon. By doing so, I hope it opens up my chair, and my art show space, to new female artists who will hopefully present new viewpoints and perspectives. The call for “Gender Parity” has been a controversial one… Admittedly, I’m still unsure to what degree my gender and participation on sf/f panels and art shows has prevented females from participating in the same. Did I have opportunity that they did not because I’m male? Did my gender, and not my fifteen years of hard work, make the programming directors and the art show directors select me over an equally-deserving female? It seems more than a bit far-fetched, to be honest. But that being said, I’ve heard the discussion, and I’m willing to think beyond myself, and offer a self-imposed experiment. Let’s trust the process and see what happens.

His Journey Planet contribution takes the form of a letter to his young daughter and explains the gender parity issue and John’s decision. It’s a good read, so good that one almost forgets that Paul Cornell started the current controversy with a unilateral decision, not because women were “tapping him on the shoulder to step out of the way.”

However, Picacio is emphatic that his decision is sincere, not satirical, and that words weren’t enough, action was required. After reading in Journey Planet his explanation why he is stepping away from Worldcon programming this year I contacted him and asked:

Did you feel Chicon was closely identified with the 50/50 initiative or did you have another reason for choosing it to set this example?

Picacio replied:

I love Worldcon. I have so many friends there — professional, SMOF, and all across the gamut. This was a hard decision for me, especially in a year when I’m nominated for a Hugo, and wanted to participate to the best of my ability.

Frankly, since many of the personalities that were generating this discussion (for and against) are people who dwell at, or near, the epicenter of Worldcons and SMOF-centric sf/f cons, Chicon 7 seemed like the natural site to try this experiment. It’s not easy for me because I have a lot of friends on the Chicon committee. I wasn’t planning to do this until I got invited to write the essay for Journey Planet. That was the spark that prompted me to do something more than say “agree” or “disagree”. If it would’ve happened next year in San Antonio, I would’ve tried there. It just happened that this year was Chicago. Love the town. Love the people. No example being set against this con. Simple as that.

I don’t plan to make this an ongoing policy. It’s a one-time experiment — and I emphasize the word “experiment.” I’m hoping that some great female talent steps up and makes themselves known to Bobbie [DuFault, Chicon 7’s program organizer] so they can do some great programming, and I’m hoping that others take my place in the art show. I’m giving those who feel ignored and under-represented a pretty giant opportunity, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s see what they do with it. It’s up to them to make their case to the programming committee and the art show director. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Again, not an easy decision for me. Let’s hope some good comes of it.

From time to time conrunners need something to challenge us to work better. The sf field has grown quite large, making it hard to become personally familiar with everyone’s performance as a panelist. And there are so many willing participants who are known quantities, I don’t know how easy it is for new people to get noticed as quickly as they may deserve, especially here in North America with its large number of active writers, artists and editors. Does anybody want Paul Cornell or John Picacio to step aside? Unlikely. But the fact that they’ve done it may goad us into scouting the field more thoroughly and doing a more effective job of reaching out to the people we discover — actually doing it, not just agreeing it’s the real solution.

Journey Planet Tempts Fate

If there were any triskaidekaphobes on the editorial staff of Journey Planet would they have dared fill issue #13 [PDF file] with arguments about sexual politics?

Guest editors Emma King and Helen Montgomery rounded up nearly three dozen fans to discuss gender parity on convention panels, a topical controversy ever since Paul Cornell announced his personal plan to do something about it, and the 2013 Eastercon made it a policy.   

A few writers uphold the 50/50 side of the argument against all comers, and a good thing they’re able to do it because most of the contributors oppose a fixed male-female ratio of panelists.

As Carol Connolly frames the question:

After all, this is the 21st Century! It’s not as if anyone is deliberately keeping women away. Surely as long as the con has a generally welcoming environment towards women, they’ll just turn up on panels. Like mushrooms in a field (translation for city folk: “like Starbucks franchises”).

Except that hasn’t happened, has it? Although women make up over 50% of the population, that fact is not mirrored in panel demographics.

That fundamental disparity is always on my mind as a program organizer, even if I am not a 50/50 advocate.

Opponents of 50/50 make forensic arguments about whether panels should mirror the population when the community of pro writers does not, and logistical arguments about the difficulty of aiming for 50/50 amid all the variables of assembling a convention program. Several women even argue that 50/50 would not advance feminist principles. For example, Emma Jane Davies feels 50/50 might be an impediment to dealing with the genuine issue:

Panel parity effectively makes a genuine problem invisible to fandom and the rest of the world. Are we so ashamed by the paucity of female SFF writers that we must deny the disparity, even to ourselves? Would the truth not act as a better motivation to those who wish to correct the real problem?

Certainly the zine will be must reading for conrunners because so many of their colleagues are in it and it’s a great way to see some of the other players’ cards.

(Full disclosure: I wrote for #13, too. Was that good luck for the editors, or bad?)

Aurora Theater Massacre

A gunman opened fire on the audience at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Dark Knight Rises in Aurora (CO), killing 12 and wounding 59 others. Early reports said some waiting in line wore costumes. Even the suspected gunman had orange-dyed hair, and police say he referred to himself as The Joker. The Denver Post has extensive coverage.

I decided to write something because Dave Langford noted the story on Ansible Links as “Depressing News From Denver.” I don’t know his exact reasons, though he’s certainly right, and fannish news blogs really need no more reason than that it’s a sad story which obviously involves people we would characterize as science fiction fans even if we don’t know who they are.

George Takei made this comment on Facebook:

Many victims of today’s tragedy were fans of science fictuion/fantasy. They stood in line to be the first to see, to be inspired, and to escape. As a community of dreamers, we mourn this terrible tragedy and this senseless taking of innocent life.

Over 150,000 people had already clicked “like” at this writing.

SF Site ran a brief report. Someone left a comment on SF Signal’s review of the movie saying they live near the theater in Aurora but had not attended.

The shootings happened at a Cinemark Century theater, and there have been media reports about new restrictions on costume-wearing patrons. I did not find anything from Cinemark addressing costumes, however the spokesman for the large AMC chain issued a statement:

Contrary to media reports, costumes are not banned, but we will not admit guests with face-concealing masks and we will not allow fake weapons in the buildings. We want all our guests to feel comfortable at our theatres and we will be closely monitoring.

The dead and wounded have yet to be named in news reports. I made a list of of people in early news stories identified as being in the theater and checked it against Denvention III members from the progress reports and got no matches. Hopefully it will stay that way — we’ll see. I note Aurora does have enough of a fan presence to be the host city for next year’s Costume-Con.

Chabon Interview in Wired

Wired’s interview with Michael Chabon in the March issue is a love letter to all his literary favorites, from Dickens to Iain Banks.

I had been taught early on in college and graduate school that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I wrote genre fiction…. I might have stood up to it more han I did, but I wanted to be read, and I wanted to receive whatever benefits there were to be received from the people I was in workshop with, and he teachers I was studying from.

And you know, I wasn’t looking for a fight, and it wasn’t like I don’t love F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jon Cheever, and Vladimir Nabokov, and Eudora Welty, and all those people. I love their work just as much — if not more in some cases — as Arthur C. Clarke, or Frank Herbert, or whever it might have been. So I had just sort of allowed myself to fall into this channel as a writer that at some point I realized I didn’t want to be limited anymore.

[Thanks to Francis Hamit for the link.]

Abraham Lincoln’s Suspenders of Disbelief

Two movies I made sure to see this summer were Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Prometheus was an easy sell. The prequel to Alien promised to deliver the origin story of the franchise’s nemesis.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could have been a hard sell. After all, I quit reading the novel on page 15. The last vampire movie that was “must-see” for me starred Leslie Nielsen. And I’ve been self-conscious about films with splatter scenes since Watchmen (wondering, is this really my idea of entertainment?) Somehow the trailers for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter hooked me despite these objections.

Prometheus came out first. It was so beautifully made and so stupidly written. The characters behaved so cluelessly it was impossible to understand how they avoided being killed in traffic on the way to the spaceport, never mind on an alien world. Overwrought horror movie fans used to yell warnings to the people on-screen. I wanted to shout, “Yeah, smack that egg! Pound those buttons! Evolution in action, baby!” What a disappointing film.

Then I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It had its share of absurdities. A svelte Mary Todd and a handsome Abe Lincoln – clearly the originals could never get a job in Hollywood, even playing themselves. However, aided by the audience’s vague recollection of American history, and driven by characters who are consistently faithful to the tenets of this particular mythos, the movie overcomes its ridiculous premise in a very satisfying way. For two hours I was willing to believe what was on the screen.

Did I give Abraham Lincoln the benefit of a certain amount of “chronological snobbery” (as C. S. Lewis would call it)? And did Prometheus suffer in proportion? Chronological snobbery is the implicit (and erroneous) belief that people’s capabilities in earlier times were inherently inferior to ours today. If people today are wiser, as a corollary I am less likely to question bad choices made by 19th century characters – they simply couldn’t be expected to know any better.

Prometheus, on the other hand, is forced to shoulder the burdens that come with being about the future, a place created by people who have wisely used the intervening years to prepare for an alien encounter. I have the same prejudices as Bruce Willis’ character in Armageddon when he shouts in exasperation, “You’re NASA for cryin’ out loud, you put a man on the moon, you’re geniuses! You-you’re the guys that think this shit up! I’m sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking shit up and somebody backing them up!”

Maybe that’s why I was far more judgmental about future space explorers rushing unzipped into situations I would know better than to touch with a 10-foot pole than I was about seeing our Civil War president chasing danger on a battlefield with a 3-foot axe.

Joe Lansdale Defends Walmart

Joe Lansdale mounts a serious defense of Walmarts, though not before admitting he can understand why its customers have inspired a website devoted to their mockery:

It’s easy to make fun of them because, dammit, they’re funny, and I’m ashamed that I think so. Missing teeth and plumber’s cracks are not a cause for celebration. Few of us wake up in the morning wishing we were overweight, underfinanced and unattractive with medical problems. But then, who is out there laughing at me? I’m not George Clooney material, either.

It seems the ones who make the most fun, like the ones who view the Walmart-hilarity Web site regularly, are small-minded, insecure turds who would not understand Mark Twain’s statement about there being “no humor in heaven,” meaning humor is primarily based on the misfortune of others. I can see the humor, too, when I’m in a mean mood. I’m not a saint, or I couldn’t write about Walmart’s clientele with an eye toward humor.

He defends the superstore despite its impact on small-town America because in his opinion the lamented downtowns of East Texas weren’t nearly as romantic as some remember.



While on her way to the office Tor Art Director Irene Gallo often sees painters covering the side of a Park Avenue South building with the latest movie advertising. When she met one of them at the Illustration Master Class she was able to learn “This Is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman”

The process is clearly physically taxing but there seems to be real joy in being able to work so loosely and so large. At the distance the viewer is seeing the work, the giant brush strokes all tighten up, making the image look crystal clear. Still, Dan says that portraits do require special attention and are reserved for the lead painters on the crew. I asked Dan who he has painted most often and it was, as I had guessed, Johnny Depp. (Did I mention that I have been obsessed with watching this wall over the past two decades? Cripes, Alice in Wonderland looked like a lot of work.)

Large, painted outdoor ads apparently are rare in New York. Out here, Hollywood entertainers and superstar athletes still vie for attention and prestige on immense outdoor advertisements but hardly any buildings have paintable sides. Although billboards on Sunset remain important, they’ve been upstaged by “supergraphics” made of plastic or vinyl that can be stretched across the side of a building.

K. C. Ball Gets SLF Grant

The Speculative Literature Foundation has awarded its ninth annual Older Writers Grant to K. C. Ball. The $750 grant is intended to assist writers who are 50 or older at the time of the grant application and are just starting to work at a professional level.

Ball is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and her entry in the Writers of the Future Contest, “Coward’s Steel,” appeared in one of its collections.

“Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Holle,” her SLF entry, was praised by Grant Administrator Malon Edwards: “There is a good building of tension that is well-paced. I was excited and nervous to find what happens next. This is a well-written story with solid, believable science fiction “a very enjoyable read.”

Honorable Mentions for the Older Writers Grant went to Deb McCuctheon, Catherine Holm, Rumjhum Biswas, Ada Milenkovic Brown, and Sabrina Vourvoulias for “their diverse, thought-provoking and entertaining submissions.”

The full press release follows the jump.

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