Con or Bust Auction Begins Today!

It’s that time of year again. The Con or Bust auction is on, and you can bid to win some seriously fabulous stuff ranging from awesome books to fiction critiques to swag of the highest order. All proceeds benefit the Con or Bust fund which “helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions” by providing financial assistance. If you don’t know why this an important and worthy thing, ask me and i’ll explain it.

Before I get into the links to the stuff you should definitely bid on, I also want to say that if you are a person of color who really wants to attend a specific convention this year but cannot, please do request assistance. You do not have to be financially destitute to ask for or receive assistance. I bolded that because I want to make sure everyone pays attention. There are many reasons why you may not be able to attend a con (including that you are budgeting for other, less expensive for you cons) but really want to because it could be supremely beneficial for whatever reason. You are totally allowed to request money, so please do. The whole reason Con or Bust exists is so that the community benefits from your presence at cons as attendees, audience members, programming participants, and volunteers.

With that out of the way, I wish to call your attention to the following awesome auction lots that you should totally bid on!

Fancy Fan Signed by Star Trek’s Garrett Wang

Garrett Wang Signed This

 

Fancy Fan Signed by BSG’s Edward James Olmos

Edward James Olmos so totally signed this

Yes, that is the type of fan I usually carry. It has the dragon design on the other side, but what you really should care about is that these fans were actually touched by Olmos and Wang. The DNA is still on them!

I also put up collections of magazine back issues that I no longer need (but are too good to just toss) that includes some very pretty issues of Weird Tales and all of the print issues of Fantasy Magazine. Check them out here.

Here are some other great auctions not submitted by me:

 

Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother

Pearls Before Swine - Or, Why I Bother

Just read this really excellent post at Mother Jones by Phil Plait answering the asinine questions put forth by some of the Creationists who attended the Bill Bye debate at the Creation Museum. In the comments you right away get people saying “Good on you for doing this, but why bother? Those people are so stupid and it’s a waste of time to explain things to them.”

This immediately brought to mind a comment on my post from yesterday about making an POC scholarship FAQ wherein Saira basically said the same thing –“Pearls before swine”–and said she’d rather focus on other things. I totally respect that and I say do what you have to do for self care and where you can be most effective. But I get that a lot of from people, the Why Do You Even Bother, about issues ranging from racism in the genre community to sexism in tech. My reasons are probably similar to Phil’s.

Reading through his post I learned things I didn’t know before, and that’s awesome. Any time someone wants to educate me about science I am there. Even if I don’t specifically go looking for it.

Also, I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.

stupidquestion

So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.

If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!

That article will not change every mind. It may not change more than a tiny fraction of minds right away. It will help some people to think, though. And perhaps if they get more information from other people, the new thinking will start to sink in. I know this can happen because I’ve seen it.

At the beginning of my post yesterday I mentioned my friend who was appalled at the Butler scholarship when he first heard about it and then came around later? That didn’t happen magically. It happened because I took the time to explain things to him and argue and challenge him. And I wrote about issues of race on a regular basis, which he saw. And it wasn’t the next day or week or month that he came to me saying “You were right and I am sorry for how I reacted,” it was long after. I didn’t change his mind right away or even all by myself. I helped.

Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry and every other thing I’ve heard said about me over the years[1]. But then their anger and defensiveness went away they and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding. They usually thank me or apologize or both. Doesn’t happen super often, but it happens enough that I keep doing this.

Even if Phil Plait only changes a handful of minds, I still say that his effort is worth it. I’m going to the comments section of Mother Jones to say so right after writing this. And then I’m going to go bookmark every single thing on the Con or Bust auction site I want to bid on. Because I also agree that there are many ways in which to make a better world, and I try not to get mired in just one of them.

Footnotes

  1. I know for a fact that people say some pretty shitty things about me behind my back. A lot of it worse than what they say to my face, if you can believe it. What those people might not know is that many of the nice white people and chummy men they think they have such a rapport with are actually my friends, too, and often inform me of these conversations so I can laugh and laugh.[]

This Is Why White People Can’t Have Nice Things

This Is Why White People Can't Have Nice Things

Years ago when the Carl Brandon Society first announced the formation of the Octavia E Butler Scholarship for Clarion and Clarion West, I got into a heated argument with a white, male friend over the need for such a thing to exist in the world. At the time, I was surprised–shocked, actually–at his vehement objection to this scholarship. It wasn’t right, wasn’t fair, excluded people like him, and was likely some reverse racism. We argued, got nowhere, and stopped talking for a while[1]. It was my first time engaging with a person on an issue like this, it was not my last.

Just last month I found myself in the position of explaining the need for a scholarship specifically for People of Color yet again after the announcement of the Writing Excuses/Carl Brandon Society retreat scholarship. If you scroll down to the bottom you can see my very long response to several comments, most of which boil down to:

This isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it excludes white people like me, reverse racism!

And then today I looked at the comments[2] of the io9 post about the Con or Bust auction to see yet more white people complaining that such a thing exists. Giving people money to go to a con based on skin color! What about all the white people like me who can’t afford to go! I haven’t noticed a lack of diversity at the one con I go to! Reverse racism!

It makes me want to facepalm and headdesk at the same time.

Since it seems that this is going to keep happening over and over until the aliens arrive to solve all our problems or take a select few of us off to an otherworldly paradise, I wondered if it would be useful to put together a general FAQ. Instead of battling the seven-headed hydra that is the comments section on any post of this nature, why not crowdsource answers to the most common questions/complaints/ridiculous screeds? Then when someone is Wrong on the Internet, you can drop the link to it and mambo away DJ Older style.

FAQ topics could include:

  • Rebuttal to any comment about how it’s about “skin color”
  • Reverse Racism!
  • I’ve never noticed a need for this, therefore there is no need for this
  • I’m poor and white, how come no one is offering to give me money to attend cons/workshops/retreats?
  • What about women/LGBT/people from outside the US/any other group I can name? Why doesn’t your scholarship/grant cover these groups? Aren’t they minorities, too?
  • Not everything is for you, white people

Please do add any others you can think of. Suggest a FAQ topic, answer, or both in the comments. Your answer can be a condensed version of an existing blog post you wrote or found to be useful. Be sure to include a link for further reading.

Oh, and: get ready for the Con or Bust auction! There are so many awesome things!

Footnotes

  1. That particular friend later on realized his error and apologized to me and we resumed our friendship.[]
  2. I heard tell that Will S showed up in the comments but don’t see him now. He might have gotten moderated into oblivion, but be aware that he may return.[]

It’s sort of like an Exquisite Corpse…

It's sort of like an Exquisite Corpse...

There’s a long-term project I want to do with the Interstitial Arts Foundation, but it will require quite a bit of coordination and people power, so I’m not entirely sure how to get it started. However, I know I have about 7 million intelligent and creative friends who might be able to help out or point me in the right direction or give advice, so I decided to post my idea here.

So far the IAF has done several great projects to support interstitial fiction and writing about interstitiality. There are the anthologies, Interfictions and Interfictions 2, and the magazine Interfictions online. We’ve done two auctions where we asked visual artists and crafters to create art based on the fiction, but we’ve never done the reverse and not a lot with interstitial art outside of literature. This isn’t because the IAF is only concerned with lit, it’s more to do with who is doing most of the volunteering and driving the projects–i.e. artists whose focus is mainly writing.

This project will eventually grow to involve artists from all the different disciplines and will start with musicians. The idea is to invite musicians, singers, and songwriters to create songs, symphonies, sounds, or whatever else they’re moved to do based on interstitial fiction. Just as with the last auction, we can provide copies of stories from the Interfictions anthologies. Plus, there are now several available online for free. This time, we won’t limit it to interstitial writing published by the IAF — musicians can base their music on any piece of writing they see as interstitial. I know there’s a list of interstitial fiction around somewhere that we can dig up.

Once all the musicians involved are done and the music available to all, we can move on to the next artist group. My thinking is that we ask dancers and other movement-based artists to create a short performance or dance based on the music. Then, once those are complete, maybe visual artists create art based on the dances or textile artists create clothing for the dancers. And on and on until we hit multiple artistic disciplines and perhaps, way down the line, bring it back around to writers.

This could turn into quite a big project, thus the need for excellent project management. We’d need at least two people to coordinate who are musicians themselves and have contacts in that community. One of these people should be familiar with how rights work and help us craft the best way to present the idea to musicians. The IAF wouldn’t want exclusive rights to publish the music, but would like the ability to include the song on a compilation album of our own. Plus, we want other artists to be able to freely build upon the music for the next step in the project.

There are probably other considerations I haven’t thought of–please let me know your thoughts in the comments. Does this seem like a doable idea?

Wiscon 38 Panel Brainstorming Post

Wiscon 38 Panel Brainstorming Post

NOTE: If you’re coming for the first time, here are the panels that still need work:

—————-

Panel submissions for WisCon 38 close soon, and I have many ideas! I know many of my friends have ideas too, but might need some help brainstorming or fleshing them out. Thus, I have created this post.

Anyone who has an idea can put it in the comments, not just me! Let us know what you need, such as: making a kernel of an idea into a full-fleshed panel, help crafting an effective description, coming up with a punchy title, or finding fellow panelists so you can submit a pre-populated idea.

It will make discussions easier if you put one panel idea per comment (make as many as you want) and then folks can reply below each in the thread.

That’s it, let’s have fun!

 

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here’s How To Get Over It

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here's How To Get Over It

Here’s one of the great circular conundrums of our time:

We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t the default white, able-bodied cis male in speculative literature.

I, a speculative fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/ LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.

I’ve seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. They point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That’s what happens when we try!

There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don’t try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn’t get it exactly, 100% right. It’s that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.

Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren’t helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it’s hard to tackle that first issue without also addressing the second. Luckily, I have the solution.

Next summer I’m teaching at the Writing the Other workshop/retreat alongside Nisi Shawl, Cynthia Ward, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Tomorrow, registration for this workshop opens up. If you are the type of author who has been held back from addressing the issue of representation in SF by fear that you’ll get it wrong, this workshop will give you tools to help you get it right. There’s no guarantee that you will always, 100% get it right if you attend this workshop. I am confident that at the end of it you won’t be 100% ruled by fear.

Registration opens tomorrow, October 13th, at 12pm Eastern. The workshop fee is $500 and includes meals but does not include accommodations. Click over to the Eventbrite page to see all the details.

How many of you will I see there?

Inspiration | Resonance: The Art of El Anatsui

Peak (2010) by El Anatsui

A couple of weeks ago I saw an amazing exhibition of works by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum. Anatsui takes found materials like metal and wood — considered trash by most — and turns them into amazingly flowy pieces of art that evoke cloth and drapery and alien landscapes. The intricacy of the works and the amount of time he clearly puts into them brings to mind intricate beadwork and quilt-making. Thinking about the time involved in connecting all those old tin can lids or aluminum bottle caps or metal strips from liquor bottles together by hand almost overwhelms me, but then I remember how I feel when I’m stringing beads together or working on an art project that requires tedious repetition. In the moment I’m not really thinking about that, I’m more focused on the end result. Working on projects as big as Anatsui’s would require getting into a meditative state in order to not drive yourself nuts, but it’s not hard to imagine doing so.

The way the exhibition is set up, the pieces get more and more flowy as you go along. In the last room I found my favorite piece: Peak. I immediately saw this as a post-apocalyptic or alien landscape and spent a good amount of time trying to imagine how it would look from eye-level. A bunch of the pictures I took were from as close to that perspective as I could get.

 I also took this video in an effort to get a sense of how it would be on the inside of this sculpture and also how it would look to someone approaching it at eye-level.

Inspiration | Resonance: Cellist Zoe Keating

Zoe Keating at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

A recent conversation with N. K. Jemisin made me realize that I have not been vocal enough about my love for musician Zoe Keating even though I’ve been a big fan for over four years. She’s one of my go-to artists when I need writing music that sets a mood or fades into the background just enough to let me work but not enough that I don’t actively enjoy it. Other than just loving the sound, I also geekily enjoy how Zeating makes music. It’s very techie.

The first time I heard Zeating’s music was on the RadioLab podcast titled The Quantum Cello, and that’s how I think of her stuff: quantum music. Using MIDI recording tools and a laptop, Zeating overlaps repeating phrases to create multilayered music all from the same instrument. It’s hard to grasp how awesome this is when listening to a recording because it’s easy to create layered music in a studio. Keating does it live. She records each phrase as she plays it, then the laptop repeats it back (controlled with a petal) while she plays and records another bit. The layers build and build into ever more complex interactions. Watching this happen in real time is more amazing than I can recount.

The other thing I love about Zeating’s music is the wide variation of sound she gets out of a cello. There are several tracks where, if I didn’t know better, I would swear a piano or a whistle or a flute was involved.

The only sadness with being a Zoe fan is that she doesn’t produce new albums all the time. Her last one, Into the Trees, came out in 2010. Before that she put out two EPs in 2004 and 2005. I can’t very well complain since she’s a label-less indie artist and thus can’t just spend all of her time composing new stuff for me (uh, I mean, for all her fans…). I am pleased to see her music getting attention all over the place. I started hearing it as interstitial music between news segments on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered a few years ago. The Elementary staff and producers love her stuff, too, and so her tracks are all over that show.

You can buy her EPs and album from her website or on iTunes. I suggest buying them all, but if you start with One Cello x 16: Natoma you’ll get a good feel for her overall style. If you listen to the EPs and album in order you’ll note that her music gets more and more complex as she goes on. It makes me excited for what she’ll produce next.

Another kind of backup

Viggo Mortensen's Journal

New post over on the tech blog that will be of interest to you writer types:

“As I was in the process of moving from one house to another… someone broke into the passenger side window of my car and grabbed the backpack containing several notebooks I’d filled, since early 2001, with handwritten stories and poems. The backpack also contained a couple of journals, two screenplays, my passport, and two half-read books. The hardest losses were the stories and poems in the notebooks. I had been looking forward, in particular, to reviewing and fine-tuning hundreds of pages of, for me, uncharacteristically long and unguarded poetry that had been written during a series of very quiet nights spent in the Sahara Desert in late 2002.  

“…I spent a lot of time and effort in the following weeks scouring my part of town, looking through trash cans and alleyways, offering no-questions-asked rewards, doing anything I could think of to find what was irreplaceable for me and probably completely useless to whoever had stolen it. Finally, I let most of it go…”

–Viggo Mortensen

The specific thing that made me recall that story was testing Evernote’s Page Capture feature. … The idea of scanning a paper journal to a digital file isn’t exactly new. But with smartphones being so wide-spread and the cameras in them getting better and better, I wonder if it’s now just convenient enough that writers would spend a couple of minutes every day adding their journals to Evernote and if that would end up being an effective backup system?

Click here for the full post & discussion.

Are You Shocked?

Are You Shocked?

Yesterday I spent more time than is strictly necessary reading blog posts by Vox Day and some other people of his caliber. I started my journey at Vox’s response to N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum GoH speech and ended up in some serious weeds once I got to a giant manifesto about how John Scalzi is the soul of racism against whites. No, I’m not linking. I read it so you don’t have to and TRUST ME you do not have to. I’ve also read many responses to Vox’s post, including this one from Amal calling for him to be booted from SFWA. Amen to that.

In several posts and status updates I came across variants of this sentiment: don’t dismiss Vox Day as just some troll. I feel like this isn’t getting said enough. Not because there needs to be more vehement objection to his very existence (there is plenty), but because I think a lot of people have a tendency to consider him extreme and way far out of the mainstream and maybe even purposefully jerking us around not because he believes what he says but because he gets joy from making us all angry. Old Theo probably does enjoy making everyone angry. He also means everything he says. That is important to realize. He’s not a parody, he is serious, that is really the way he thinks. And there are plenty of other people who think just like him. Not only the pathetic commentors on his blog. There are tons of people with his same attitude in the world.

I know why so many people look at him and want to just dismiss it as whiney baby attention grabbing bullshit. There are likely many people who, like me, are pretty selective about the people they allow in their lives or selective about the circles they socialize in or spend more time on friendships that are mainly digital due to distance. I spend most of my time with awesome people. So when I run across someone who says something super misogynist or blatantly racist I’m often taken aback for a few seconds because: really? People like you still exist? Somebody honestly thinks it’s okay to say something like that to me? Or to her? Or him? Why, yes.

Mind you, I’m used to people saying or doing bigoted things out of ignorance or blindness or unexamined privilege. That’s different. That is understandable if not forgivable. But people who just outright call a black person a savage by virtue of them being black? Who does that?

The image of the type of person who does that is often the southern redneck with a KKK hood in the closet. That person surely exists. They are not the only type of person who would unashamedly say that sort of thing. That’s the reality. You and I may not encounter a person like this every day or every month or year or for many years. They still exist. And pretending they’re just some dismissible hillbilly does not, in fact, make them go away or make them less dangerous to our culture.

Make no mistake, the Theodore Beale/Vox Days of the world are depressingly common.

Instead of being OMG Shocked! by it, acknowledge it and make a determination of what you’re going to do about it. I don’t mean going after the dude with torches and pitchforks. he probably would enjoy that too much. You can go after his ideas, though. Drag them into the light and expose them for the vile entities they are. You can provide counterpoint, a less hateful view, and support for the types of people he seeks to put down and belittle. Make it clear where you stand and who you stand with. Demand the best of yourself and your community.

And realize that by doing so you are not making this all about him but all about the people you do want in your community or your life or your inner circle.

Demanding The Best

Demanding The Best

A couple of weekends ago at WisCon I attended a party where one of the hosts asked people to write down a sentence or two about why they love WisCon. One of the answers was: “I love WisCon because it demands the best of me.”[1] I believe I screamed YAAAAAAS because that is exactly why I love WisCon. The conversations are awesome, of course, and getting to see people I love or really want to meet and discovering how intelligent and fun they are is high on my list. But WisCon isn’t just some old con, it’s a feminist convention with a specific aim and community vibe. And while I am well aware that there have been and continue to be issues and problematic aspects of the con on a systemic and individual level, there are plenty of people who demand the best of all of us and it makes the con a better place year by year.

There are many who don’t agree. I remember being quite pissed at a certain someone saying that WisCon isn’t a “safe space” for him, but when you count safety as “no one ever challenges me on my behavior or speech, even if that behavior or speech is hurtful” then yeah, it’s not safe and that’s good. Those who don’t want to be challenged for hurting other people are best off staying at home in general and away from WisCon in particular because, yes, we demand you be better than that.

Demand is a really strong word, and I know that there are plenty who will bristle at the use. I don’t care. When it comes to the things WisCon attendees demand, such as equality and the ouster of -ist attitudes (sexist, racist, homophobic, fatphobic, plus way more), you have to go right to the strongest possible terms. The history of this country and of many others shows that equal treatment does not come from asking politely, but demanding on the basis of what is right. Even people who want to trot out that old Malcolm vs Martin crap need to understand that MLK never politely, meekly asked for equal rights, he stood at podiums and in front of microphones and demanded it in very strong terms. So, if you want to puff out your feathers and get all harrumphy about the idea of someone demanding you be better? Then you clearly have no place in polite society.

I will acknowledge that out here in the non-WisCon world, it isn’t always possible to be in a community that demands the best of people. I accept that and I have my ways of dealing with it. It is in that context that I’m watching the newest argument around SFWA unfold. There is tons of background here[2], so I’m only going to give the short version. In the latest SFWA Bulletin there is a column (ongoing) penned by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in which they have a dialogue about censorship and bullying that boils down to: Young people and women are liberal fascists because they want to silence us for saying some sexist stuff. Not even Jerry Fallwell ever tried to censor us! You can read their ramblings here[3].

Plenty of right-thinking people are upset about this and plenty of non-right thinking people are upset at the upsetness. There’s been a lot of discussion about how this reflects on SFWA as a whole. Mike and Barry aren’t officers or representatives of SFWA, but the column appeared in the official publication of the organization. What does the publication of the column say about SFWA and the people who run it and the people who are in it? There are many answers to that question and many debates around it and plenty of great things being said about the complexities. I encourage you to read them.

I know that SFWA is made up of a multitude of people, some of whom are quite despicable, some who are just annoying, and some who are working to improve the organization. The improvers are tackling issues around how the org works, how it can better help the writer members, and how SFWA can better reach out and tell people about itself. All wonderful things. Then there’s the aspect of SFWA that’s about dealing with the culture of the community. SFWA represents professional authors, not all of fandom. Still, the cultures sometimes mirror each other. And depending on the time and place, fandom might take cues from the culture around the pro writers (many of whom are fans, too). Whose job is it to address cultural issues such as sexism, racism, oppression, bigotry, etc. within SFWA’s ranks? That is the big question, and that is part of what people are wrestling with right now.

The officers and board members can set a tone but they can’t control people. The membership (and outsiders) cannot put all of this on them. What needs to happen is that the all of people who belong to and run SFWA need to demand the best of their community[4]. Demand that sexism no longer be treated lightly, that it be called out and put down and not tolerated. Unless you demand the best of people there will be plenty who will be completely comfortable giving you their worst.

How do I know this to be true? Read the SFWA Bulletin. All the proof you need is there.

Footnotes

  1. If anyone remembers who wrote this, please tell me![]
  2. Jim Hines has a nice link roundup which should lead you to many more[]
  3. Scroll to the bottom for images of the column and an OCR text version[]
  4. I know many SFWA members already do this. Most of them (on this issue) are women. They need all the other members to step up and help them and have their backs. Especially the men.[]

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

Yesterday at Book Expo America I attended a panel titled “E-Books From Libraries: Good For Authors?” because I’m writing a piece for a magazine on the state of eBook library lending. What I learned is that the reason things are going so poorly in the world of eBooks and libraries is because publishers, agents, and people who claim to be representing the best interests of authors are super ignorant and will probably destroy everything if allowed to continue making decisions. Since I can see no pixel-stained techno peasant uprising on the horizon, I think we’re all in for a bad time.

The panelists were as follows: Ginger Clark, Literary Agent (Moderator); Carolyn Reidy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Simon & Schuster; Jack Perry, Owner 38enso Inc.; Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA); Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive; Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild. I’m going to point out from the start that both Ms. Sullivan of the ALA and Mr. Potash of Overdrive both had really great things to say on the panel and are both very smart about this issue. This is not surprising since they both understand the issue from the side of the libraries. Mr. Perry didn’t say too much at the panel. And Mr. Aiken arrived late, and by doing so saved us from having to listen to him be aggressively wrong for too long. That leads us to: Ms. Reidy.

Early in the panel the moderator asked her to talk about Simon & Schuster’s strategy around eBooks for libraries. This is part of what she said:

Publishers didn’t resist coming up with programs because they didn’t think it was good for their business. … They’re protecting not only their business but every author’s, too. We’re the representative of the author in this transaction. Why would we ever want to do anything to destroy that? Publishers have always thought that having an author’s work in a library is a good thing.

What changes with digital is that you can sit at home and if you have a library card you can order any book, you never have to go anywhere. And if you could get every book you wanted free, why would you ever buy another one? That’s the question we had about it in our first meeting. … That is the danger. You could literally undermine the market for every author and for [the publishers]. … Obviously, there is some discovery through libraries. There’s also some ability for people who people who aren’t ever going to buy books to read them and be a part of the conversation. We’ve always believed that the cultural contribution of libraries is important.

But this frictionless ability for people to download books does make a sea change difference.[1]

There is a lot to argue with in this statement, but what struck me is that last line: “frictionless ability.” That right there is an indication of why S&S and possibly many other publishers will continue to have wrong thinking on this subject.

Borrowing an eBook from a library is Not Frictionless. It’s just not. In the past few years, Overdrive and a small number of other companies that actually build the lending technology have made the process a little bit easier, especially if you have a smartphone, tablet, or other iOS, Android, or BlackBerry device. However, if you have an eInk device from B&N, Sony, Kobo, etc., the process for setting things up and moving library books over is more complex than it needs to be and confuses a lot of people. I’m very tech-savvy and I don’t do it because it’s a damn hassle. Think of all the people who want to do it but don’t have access to the technology needed (it’s less expensive to buy a Nook than a computer or a tablet or to own a smartphone) or just don’t understand how to work it. Now realize that this is a major segment of the population that libraries serve.

This is Not A Frictionless Experience.

When Q&A time came I brought this up and then asked: Why are people in publishing so worried about this problem now? No one is having panels with hand-wringing about all those free paper books in the libraries.

Ginger Clark jumped in to answer that question: “Because [eBooks from libraries] can be pirated quite easily.”

Piracy was the big, scary demon in the room for a lot of this panel. But I thought that most of the speakers were thinking about it in correct ways. At one point Clark asked if “windowing” was going the way of the dinosaur. This is the practice of not selling new books to libraries for months or even years after initial release in order to increase sales. Everyone agreed that it was going away mostly because it didn’t increase sales, it increased piracy. Plus, there was a lot of talk of not making the same mistakes as the music industry.

So for Clark to say that there’s this worry about eBooks in libraries because they’re easy to pirate? Guess what: that’s all eBooks. The DRM scheme that Overdrive uses for EPUB is the same DRM that B&N uses and Kobo and Sony and Google and just about everyone else (except Apple). It’s not hard to strip that DRM (so I’m told) and it is no harder to do so if you buy the book than if you get it from the library. So what it seems that Clark and others are actually worried about is that library patrons are more likely to be evil pirates than everyone else. Leaving out that most of the time when media is put up on a torrent or file sharing service, the original was purchased by someone.

I will also point out that NetGalley, a service that provides free eBook ARCs (advanced reader copies), uses the same DRM. And yet I don’t see any hand-wringing about that. Maybe because the people with access to NetGalley can supposedly be trusted? Because they’re not poor people in libraries.

This fear of library pirating also makes no sense in the face of the data brought to the table by Overdrive President Steve Potash, who said that there weren’t many (or any) complaints of library books ending up on torrent sites. This doesn’t surprise me, since Reidy kept saying how there was “no data” on which strategies for library lending would work best and Potash repeatedly said that he had plenty of data, up to 10 years worth, and yet still there was talk of no data.

After Clark got done saying ridiculous things about pirating, Reidy made an answer that showed she has not ever actually used the technology under discussion.

It may be difficult to download a file onto an eReader — although most of them are made so it’s not — but let’s just say that it is today. It could be completely different in six months the way technology goes. We’re not trying to make decisions on what to do just based on what we see in front of us today. After all, it’s taken us a while to get here and things were much clunkier even a year ago. It’s the fact that a digital file can in fact be downloaded very easily. And once somebody learns how a library system works… it will become easier for them to use.

There is a real difference between a digital file and a physical book. And the fact that you have to go to the library and pick it up ad check it out vs. hit a few buttons.

This woman has a real talent for packing in the fail, doesn’t she? Before we even get to how she completely ignored the part about access to technology, let’s address the part where she handwaves away the difficulties and is sure the ones I’m imagining won’t be there in six months.

First, it’s really not as simple as just clicking and downloading a file, particularly if you’re working with an eInk eReader. Even once you’re in the system it’s not that easy. Second, I spent a long time yesterday talking to reps from Overdrive and 3M (who also have an eBook lending platform) and Kobo, and I specifically asked about how they are working toward making the lending process easy and seamless. Every last one of them said that, yes, it’s a goal and, yes, they are working on it, but they can’t always get it done because the eReader companies have to partner with them, except the eReader companies say that the lending software people have to make it work and it’s all their fault.

The only company with a mostly easy mechanism for eInk devices is Amazon, and apparently publishers (or just S&S) don’t like how Amazon brings library patrons into Amazon’s system in order for this ease to happen, and so some books just aren’t available to the Kindle.

Has Reidy spent even the hour I did talking to Overdrive and 3M and Kobo and B&N and Sony about this? Sounds like not. Because from the answers they gave me, this problem is no where near being solved in six months because no one is really working in concert to make it happen. Including the publishers.

Third thing is that last bit about how eBooks are different because a person just has to click, whereas with physical books you have to go to the library and pick it up. What this immediately brought to mind is that the difference is difficulty. It’s okay to let people have free books if there are barriers in place to ensure they won’t take too much advantage of it. Because how dare they. When I countered with this, Reidy was all: No, that’s not what I mean! But then Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild took control and told me that I had made my point in a tone that suggested I should shut up.

He launched into some tirade about how eBooks mean that people don’t have to come to libraries anymore and then we’ll lose libraries and that will be bad for everyone and did we hear about some library in California that was getting rid of all physical books and going digital only and redesigning their library to look more like an Apple store AND ISN’T THAT JUST TERRIBLE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!? I don’t know why anyone allows the Authors Guild to represent them because this dude is all kinds of out of touch.

You can imagine the look on my face as this all went down, but what made it better is that Maureen Sullivan of the ALA spoke after him and said pointedly that my question was a fair one and also addressed some of the stuff I raised about access to technology and how librarians are often the ones called on to help patrons navigate and understand the eBook lending system. She said very many awesome things over the whole discussion and kept bringing it back to how what librarians want is to ensure that everyone has equal access to knowledge and literature at a fair price. One of the things she said in response to my question really shows how much more she (and probably librarians in general) understands the eBook landscape.

“…this is the classic example of disruptive innovation. It causes a lot of misunderstanding, it brings fears to light. … When we experience disruptive innovation, it’s much more effective to think not ‘either/or’ but ‘and’.”

Yes. That.

Many of the people in the audience were librarians and the ones who got to ask questions also seemed concerned with the attitudes of the publishing folks about a host of things. They swarmed the Overdrive guy once it was over to thank him for standing up for libraries in a similar way to Ms. Sullivan. Overall, I would trust the two of them to look out for the real interests of authors on this issue than some of the others on that panel.

It’s so disheartening to go to an event like BEA and have supposed industry experts show you how clearly they do not understand the deeper issues surrounding eBooks or even the underlying technology. Before Carolyn Reidy makes any more decisions about eBooks and lending, she should be forced to use the system. And not just with one piece of technology, but one from every platform: eInk, iOS, Android, computer, NO computer, library computer. Before Ginger Clark talks about the ease of piracy for library eBooks I need her to talk about all the worrying she’s doing over piracy of eBooks from a major retailer and how that is different. Before Paul Aiken opens his mouth ever I need him to not do so.

Until all of these people and the others like them actually do some real work in concert with the software/hardware developers and the librarians on the eBook lending ecosystem, it’s not going to get any easier or less confusing for library patrons and it’s not going to get any better for libraries themselves. But considering the desire to keep eBook lending from being too “frictionless” lest people stop buying books forever because of Free, I suspect this problem isn’t going to get fixed. Not in six months and maybe not in six years.

Footnotes

  1. I have a recording of this panel which I will provide to anyone who wishes to listen. On this quote, I re-arranged some of what she said to make it flow better, but I did not change the context at all. Also: emphasis mine.[]

Favorite Fiction (Feb & March 2013) plus new ways to find my faves

Favorite Fiction (Feb & March 2013) plus new ways to find my faves

Over at io9 my list of best short stories from February and March is now live. Those ten stories represent my very top picks, but there are several more I hearted over the past couple of months. I listed them below.

Before we get to that, a couple of things! First, I created a Flipboard magazine recently where I intend to collect all the stories I favorite each month. It’s the same list you’ll see here, so it’s basically another way to see the same info. With a Flipboard magazine you’ll get an update every time I add a new story and won’t have to wait for the end of the month. Plus, the stories will just show up in your regular Flipboard, no need to do anything extra. To subscribe, search for “ktempest” in Flipboard. The magazine is called Fantastic Flippin’ Fiction.

I mentioned in January’s post that I was looking for a venue where I could discuss short stories in depth. Not just the ones I like, but any one worth discussing, including stories I don’t like. To that end, I’m doing some experimenting. I created a Google+ community. I intend for it to be a participatory thing, not just me. Anyone can post links to stories, start a discussion, or make recommendations. If you have a Google account, you can join.

Now, onto the picks!

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

Utopias In Literature (Scholar & Feminist Conference 2013)

Utopias In Literature (Scholar & Feminist Conference 2013)

This year’s Scholar & Feminist Conference theme is Utopia, and I’m honored to be leading a workshop about Utopia and Literature. I’m going to discuss mainly speculative fiction novels and short stories (thus the reading list below), explore how writers have handled the idea of utopia and dystopia, and discuss the ways writers can think about utopia going forward. I’m also going to get into how fiction handles utopia affects the reader and/or culture.

In preparation for this workshop I had some great conversations with other speculative fiction authors about utopia and dystopia so that I could incorporate their viewpoints into the discussion. I want to thank Justine Larbalestier, N. K. Jemisin, Rahul Kanakia, Nisi Shawl, Eileen Gunn, and Catherynne M. Valente for helping me expand and explore my own ideas about utopia by offering their own.

The ideas I will use as a jumping off point are:

  • Science fiction as a genre is well suited to utopias because it “explores our world by positing another one that works a bit differently.” (Eileen Gunn)
  • If utopia is an ideal, is there such a thing as an objective ideal? Can a utopia ever be a utopia for everyone? Or if you create a perfect society for one group, who then becomes dominant, does that mean the non-dominant group/s must be oppressed?
  • Utopia is relative. The utopias we see in fiction may work for one set of people but are dystopian for another set.
  • Many modern stories and novels are specifically dystopian in nature or are utopias that reveal themselves as dystopias. Why is this the modern mode of exploration?
  • What do the types of utopias we see in fiction reveal about the authors who write them and the society or culture they come from? The ideals they include and the ones they leave out speak to their point of view and what they value and don’t.
  • Is it possible to show a true utopia in fiction? One view is that fiction requires conflict, so the author must show the utopia to be flawed in some way. Another view is that the conflict doesn’t have to come from within the utopia itself but from outside. The point being not to show that the utopia is flawed, but that the outside forces are.
  • Utopia as positive text. Creating a positive text, be it a positive feminist text, positive womanist, positive toward the idea that people are equal and should be created with respect — can this be a form of utopian writing? What affect does this have on the reader, on culture?

The workshop begins at 12:25pm Eastern (3/2). You can follow what people are saying on Twitter about the workshop and the conference by checking out the hashtags #sfutopialit and #sfutopia. This post will evolve and grow as the workshop goes on and afterward as I incorporate what the workshop participants have to say. I’ve invited all of the people in the workshop to liveblog and Tweet as well as bring the discussion to the comments on this post. Even if you’re not in the workshop physically, I hope my regular readers will also offer their thoughts on utopia.

Very Selective Reading List

I will add links to all of these works later on. During the workshop I expect we will generate more stories and novels to include in this list.

  • Octavia Butler
    • Parable of the Sower
    • Parable of the Talents
  • Steven R. Boyett
    • Elegy Beach
      • N. K. Jemisin: Takes place 20 years after Ariel. The protagonist grew up in this world where magic works and science doesn’t, and he’s excited by the world’s magic. His father remembers the world as it was. It’s a utopia for the son, not for the father.
  • Suzy McKee Charnas
    • The Holdfast Chronicles (Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, The Conqueror’s Child)
  • John Crowley
    • In Blue” (short story)
      • Nisi Shawl: a future utopia, a socialist world. It’s hard to envision what a totally happy utopia can be. He does this, but from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get it. It’s not a perfect utopia for him but it is for everyone else.
  • L. Timmel Duchamp
    • The Marq’ssan Cycle (Alanya to Alanya, Renegade, Tsunami, Blood in the Fruit, Stretto)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • Herland
  • Kathleen Ann Goonan
    • This Shared Dream
      • Eileen Gunn: This book posits an attempt at creating a utopia. Here’s the blurb I wrote for it: “What if you could travel through time to fix what is wrong with the world? The world would resist, and the very act of trying would create parallel worlds with their own problems. This wondrous book, the story of a handful of people who seek to alter the twentieth century to create a better future, acknowledges the inhumanity of war and yet celebrates the joys of music, art, friendship, and family. And it reminds us that the future is made by the children of the present. I loved this book, and I heartily recommend it.”
  • N. K. Jemisin
    • “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” (short story)
      • Example of a relative utopia
  • Rahul Kanakia
    • Next Door” (short story)
      • Written from the point of view of a character who sees the world as dystopian, but when flipped to the antagonist’s POV could be utopian.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Kat Meads
    • Sleep
      • From the Tiptree Award website: This is a fierce, unrepentantly experimental, somewhat raw novel about motherhood in a highly gray utopia.
  • Marge Piercy
    • Woman on the Edge of Time
      • From the Tiptree Award website: Piercy not only creates a complex and intricate utopian vision, but tosses in a dystopia and an all too realistic real world as well. Connie Ramos is one of science fiction’s most genuine heroines. She has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into utopia. The rest of us, at the end of the book, have to be dragged out.
  • Joanna Russ
    • The Two Of Them
      • Nisi Shawl: Secret agents across time go to this planet that’s been settled by people who are trying to set up a religious utopia based on Islam.
    • The Female Man
    • “When it Changed” (short story)
      • Takes place in the same world as The Female Man
    • “Houston, Houston, Do You Read”
  • Starhawk
    • The Fifth Sacred Thing
      • A post-apocalyptic novel depicting two societies, one a sustainable economy based on social justice, and its neighbor, a militaristic and intolerant theocracy.
  • Catherynne M. Valente
    • The Orphan’s Tales cycle (In the Night Garden, In the Cities of Coin and Spice)
  • Connie Willis

Anthologies

Favorite Fiction from January 2013; New Related Projects; Fiction Review Contraption?

Favorite Fiction from January 2013; New Related Projects; Fiction Review Contraption?

First favorite fiction post of 2013 and there is a lot to talk about besides the fic I liked! I’ll begin with business.

First, I am posting a short list of favorite fic every month over at io9 now. Click here to see January’s picks. Each month I’ll choose my top favorites, usually 5 or so, to list there. I’ll also do more with print/subscription/non-free fiction there and podcasts. That list won’t mean that these lists will go away, though. There are shorts listed here that aren’t listed there.

Second, I’m now part of the Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth crew, so I will contribute to the Twitter account and possibly the podcast (I’m not in Australia or anything, so I have no clue how that works). So if you want to keep up with the stories I like as I read them, follow that account. I’m not the only one who tweets, so you get bonus thoughts from other folks doing the same thing I am.

Last, ever since I started reading short fic regularly I’ve wanted to have a place where I could go to have discussions about the stories. Not just the stories I like, but the ones I don’t that I still find interesting enough to discuss. Last time I brought this up on Twitter many were interested, so I’m bringing it up again. The thing I’m unsure about is where to host this discussion. G+ communities are now live and could work. DreamWidth communities might be better since it can be a little bit (but not totally) private. I’m just worried about people who may want to join the discussion feeling like they can’t unless they join DreamWidth. Maybe that’s an unfounded concern. Anyway, I would love to hear suggestions on this.

Okay, all that taken care of, it’s now time for the favorites list!

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.