Balticon!

I need to do a write-up of the SFWA Nebulas weekend at some point, but there’s only been a short break before Balticon 51 starts tomorrow (Friday, May 26th). I’m on four panels:

Friday, 7 PM: How We Imagine the Future and What it Says About Us (panelist)

Sunday, 9 AM: Hacking and Cybersecurity: Phishing, Botnets, and Data Breaches, OH MY!  (Science track, moderator)

Sunday, 10 AM: Hacking and Cyber Ops in Science Fiction (panelist)

Sunday, 9 PM: Handling the Unavoidable Info-dump (moderator)

Balticon is my home convention, though I’ve only been to it once before – which I’m coming to realize is my loss. Special guests this year include my Viable Paradise instructor Steven Brust and S.M. Stirling. It promises to be another great convention. Hope to see you there!

Rolling Into May

Things have been busy in House Appel. On the writing front, I wrapped up the fifth draft of The Frozen Past and as soon as I can wrangle the synopsis into shape, I’ll start querying it. Between the Writing the Other class I’ve been taking online and doing some beta reading, the writer brain has been pretty engaged. In odd moments I’ve begun addressing the changes to the outline of the next book, which lacks a working title. (I’m calling it “Exile Cluster Book 2” for now.) The changes are necessary because it finally became clear that a character I created on-the-fly while drafting some early scenes needed to become a viewpoint character, and ultimately, she’s displacing one of the two existing viewpoint characters. This means ECB2’s protagonists are a couple of 60+ women kicking ass on a space station. I hope I can pull this off.

April also brought a milestone in my bariatric post-op journey: I’ve dropped a full 100 pounds since surgery, about 140 since first starting the process. This brings me to 260 pounds or so. There’s a ways to go and a lot of work to make it down to 200, but it should be possible. And it’s only possible with the great support I get from Michelle, Alexa, Ben, and my medical team at Hopkins Bayview.

Where swords are concerned – well, I’ve plateaued for a bit, while Ben has advanced pretty rapidly. He’s reached a point at which our senior instructor no longer fights him from nach, or “after” – Brian will not take the vor against Ben, meaning he won’t wait passively for Ben to attack, but will seek to launch first attacks against him. I’m definitely not at that level yet (and have the bruises to prove it!) but improvement is coming, if slowly.

Looking towards the summer, this year marks my first as a science fiction con-goer, and I’m doing so as an “early career” writer. The last two weekends of May will be taken up with first the Nebula Award Conference in Pittsburgh, followed by Balticon. And I got some big news on the Balticon front over the weekend: not only will I be heading up a science track panel on real-world hacking and cybersecurity, but I’ll be on four additional panels over the weekend. At the moment, I’m set to moderate one of those. More details on that closer to the con.

June takes me to Minneapolis and the Fourth Street Fantasy convention, and July sees a combo of 25th-anniversary trip for Michelle and I to Cape Cod, followed by Readercon in Boston. We may pop out to visit some folks in western Mass after Readercon.

Somewhere in there, work will begin on the first draft of the next book. I’m also noodling around with a shorter piece featuring a minor character from The Frozen Past that everyone loves and wants to see more of. And in odd moments, I’m playing with ideas for a far-future, is-it-science-fantasy-or-super-science-as-magic story, book length.

Busy looks to be the watchword for the summer. Stay tuned.

I Begin As I Mean to Go On

Permit me to offer some perspective I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve made a conscious effort to meet, talk to, and follow the writings of people of color (especially women of color), LGBT+ folks, and people of different heritages, faiths, and traditions. And this discomfort you’re expressing?

This is their daily life under the status quo. They have to live in a environment in which what’s promoted as normalcy does not account for them.

Telling people in a public forum to stop talking about the issues that concern them? That, in itself, is a political act.

This does not mean there’s a place for vitriol. Nor should one spout falsehoods.

But if there’s anger? It doesn’t come from a vacuum. It often comes from pain. It comes from being smacked around, or watching those you care about being smacked around, and finally reaching the point where one says “That’s enough.”

Unfirend or unfollow me if you feel you need to. But don’t tell me, or others, to be silent.

How to Thank Me For My Service

A friend of my, a female of color, was harassed yesterday by a white man who told her to go back to where she came from. She’s from Louisiana.

The friend of a friend committed suicide Wednesday, because, in part, of fear of losing their healthcare, since dismantling the ACA is very high on the GOP’s agenda.

The KKK is having open celebrations of Trump’s victory, which they see as validating their despicable views.

Trump’s already cutting off the press, which our nation’s founders knew was our first line of defense against tyranny. That’s why it’s in the First Amendment.

Attacks and harassment of non-whites, females, and non-Christians seem to be escalating. We don’t seem to have good data yet, but the US seems to be following the pattern of increased hate crimes seen in Britain following Brexit.

This is not how this veteran expected to spend today.

If you want to thank this vet for his service, don’t give me words. Give me action.

If you see harassment, defend the harassed.

Believe people when they tell you they’re scared. Consider they are subject to things you may be blind to. Give them aid and comfort and safety.

Give money to organizations which will fight against the coming attempts to roll-back of the last 50+ years of progress in civil rights.

Find candidates for public office who will stand for justice. Support them. VOTE.

Don’t let the bastards normalize bigotry and hatred in our society.

I took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution six times. I did not do so to let my nation fall into autocracy.

Thank me by standing up, speaking up, and taking action.

The Morning After

If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man who, along with his running mate, considers the LGBT people in my circle – members of my family, and some of my closets friends, people I care most deeply for in the world – as less than people, and not deserving of basic rights. A man whose followers have credibly threatened harm against them. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a racist, bigoted man, who considers people of color in my circle of family and friends lesser humans. A man whose followers have credibly threatened harm against my people. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man who by his own words is anti-Semitic, and whose followers credibly threaten harm to my Jewish friends and family. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man whom by his own admission is guilty of repeated sexual assault. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for what appears to be the most corrupt person in my lifetime, and perhaps in history, to stand for the office of President. And you were OK with that.
I am not OK with that.
There may come a time when I forgive you. I don’t see how, this morning, but it’s possible.
But I will NEVER forget.

Research! Or, How to Avoid Lazy Worldbuilding

One thing writing the first Exile Clusters book taught me is that my worldbuilding needed some fleshing out. Despite having noodled around with bits of this setting for more than 35 years (seriously, I have notes dated 1980) a lot of things about it haven’t been written down. A lot of what was written down earlier has changed, as both I and my sense of this world have matured. So one of the things I’ve been working on while beta readers take another pass at The Frozen Past has been pulling these ideas out of my head and writing them down. Another part has been doing research to flesh out some of those better ideas that have come along.

Lazy worldbuilding in SFF has really started to tick me off, and generally boils down to stuff that simply Doesn’t Make Sense. These are things about which I’m unable to suspend disbelief within the bounds of the story at hand. I’m not talking about things like getting the details of computer hacking wrong (which applies to almost everyone besides Chuck Wendig and Walter Jon Williams, who get it mostly right). Nor about breaking the rules of science, which is true of most space opera. I’m talking about fundamental ways in which the world behind the story is put together that defy reason. Stuff that would be easy to get right with a little research.

So – I’m trying to avoid that in my own writing. And since I’m postulating a future history in which few of the people who escaped [REDACTED] came from the “First World”, that means my universe is populated with people from outside the US & Europe. Peoples from South America, Africa, South and Southeast Asia predominate the Exile Cluster.

One of the points really impressed upon me during the SFWA sessions at the Baltimore Book Festival last September, and in an earlier conversation with Tobias Buckell, was that you need to do research about peoples you’re not familiar with if you want to depict them accurately, plausibly, and respectfully. I’m extending that to my worldbuilding as well. I want my characters to reflect a plausible image of a future projection of the cultural mashup I’m building. I also want the world they inhabit to occupy a reasonable “probability cone”. In other worlds, crafting the future history that won’t show up directly in the books in a way that makes what does appear seem plausibly organic, and furthermore a plausible outcome of today’s world.

This leads me to my preparations for writing the second book in the Exile Clusters, bearing the working title “The Shadowed Web”. TSW is set on a world populated by a mix of West Africans and Vietnamese. In my original visions, the West Africans came primarily from Nigeria. Why? Well, what I knew at the time is that Nigeria has a huge population, around 180 million. It’s got oil which has brought it wealth, at least until the crash in oil prices in recent years. Africa has huge economic growth potential, and Nigeria seemed like a place where that might come from.

And then I started digging in. What I found is forcing me to rethink a little bit, but is also driving some new ideas into how my future history developed.

Nigeria has a many, many problems. A lot of these are fallout from the colonial era in one way or another. Others come from the kleptocracy, or government by theft, that has dominated most of Nigerian history since independence in 1960. Deforestation, the encroaching Sahara in the north and the prospect of ocean rise in the south, pollution of the Niger Delta from oil spills and other oil-extraction-related problems are just the beginning of the environmental issues. Corruption is rampant, as is poverty. Extreme religiosity impairs rational problem solving and fuels interethnic suspicion.

All that comes from one book, Noo Sari-Wiwa’s excellent “Looking for Transwonderland”, the travelogue of a diasporan visiting her ancestral home.

How do I take a group of peoples in these straits and make them one of the groups that gets off Earth in sufficient numbers to become one of the foundational blocks of the Exile Cluster’s peoples? How do I integrate these people’s histories, traditions, and viewpoints into the cultural mixing bowl I’m creating in a way that doesn’t come off as Western condescension?

I’m working on that. Meanwhile, I’m hitting the books.

On Being a First-Time Hugo Voter

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy a long time – most of my life. I think I encountered the 1970s reprints of the Heinlein “Juveniles” when I was 11 or 12, along with Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”, but I’d argue that a lot of the children’s books I read were really science fiction, just aimed at a younger audience. I’d certainly been interested in science and space since I was really, really young – four or five. Some of my favorite toys were the “Major Matt Mason” line of astronaut action figures.

But despite reading prodigous quantities of science fiction and fantasy over the years, I’ve never voted for the Hugos before this year. The Hugos, for those who don’t know, are arguably the premier awards in science fiction and fantasy, named for Hugo Gernsback, the founder of many early pulp SF magazines and a major figure in early SF/F fandom. I won’t get into the background (see the explanation at the Hugo site here) but the nutshell version is that they’re voted on by the “members” of the World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon, which actually moves around from city to city and host convention to host convention each year.

So that was one big reason I’ve never voted – you had to either attend the WorldCon, or purchase a “supporting membership” that didn’t give you attendance privileges, but did permit you to vote for the Hugos. And while I’ve been attended many gaming conventions going back to Origins in 1982, I’ve only attended one science fiction convention, ever. I knew about the “supporting membership” thing, but for a long time was hesitant to drop a $60 or more simply to vote on the Hugos.

I didn’t realize that the number of people who actually voted on these storied awards was small. Really, really small. As in 1000 or less each year, out of the millions of people who enjoy science fiction and fantasy. That data point, plus two other events, pushed me over the edge to pay the fee to LonCon3, the host of this year’s WorldCon in London, and vote for the 2014 Hugos.

The first was the outcome of the 2013 Hugos. I’d actually read three of the five nominees for Best Novel: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my all-time favorite authors); 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, who’s best known for his Mars novels; and my favorite of the pack, Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, his debut novel. The winner turned out to be one I hadn’t read, John Scalzi’s Redshirts. So I picked it up and read it.

Now, I like John Scalzi as a human being. I read his blog regularly and follow him on Twitter. I like a lot of what he’s trying to do in making science fiction approachable, and in promoting diverse voices in the field. I’ve read several of his books.

But Redshirts wasn’t the best novel that year. Not by a long shot.* And that led me to digging around and discovering just how few people actually vote on these things.

The other event that prompted me to vote was the publication of Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancilllary Justice, which is flat-out one of the most inventive-yet-accessible science fiction books I’ve read in a long, long time. The protagonist is simultaenously a warship, the warship’s complement of soldiers, a unit of those soldiers, and an individual soldier. It’s a really remarkable feat of writing, but the book isn’t solely about this gimmick by a long shot. (Clearly, I’ll have to post a more complete review at some point.) It’s an excellent book, the best I read last year, and definitely Hugo-worthy.

So I decided that it was time to stop sitting on the sidelines, so I paid my $40 to Loncon 3 in time to submit nominations, and you can bet Ancillary Justice was on my list. (I also nominated The Incrementalists, Abbadon’s Gate and The Great North Road.)

The short list of nominees was released on Saturday, so I’ll be doing my best to read most** of the other nominated work prior to voting. In recent years the publishers have made these works available for the Hugo voters which should save some $$.

* I didn’t read Seanan MacGuire’s (writing as Mira Grant) book Blackout, but having read four of the five, my ranking would have been Throne of the Crescent Moon, then 2312, with CVA in a distant third place, trailed by Redshirts.

** There is apparently a novellette written by a person who is reliably described as a misogynistic, racist asshole, both in person and in his writing. I don’t think I can bring myself to read that. We’ll see; it promises to be in the Hugo Voter Packet.