A Not Entirely Disinterested Public Service Announcement

Fantasy writer Jo Walton is running a Kickstarter for Scintillation, a small convention to be held – provided the Kickstarter succeeds — in 2018 in Montreal.

Jo (who deservedly often has Homeric epithets like “acclaimed” and “award-winning” affixed to her name) ran the Farthingparty convention in Montreal from 2006 to 2014, before time-management issues and the stress of worrying every year whether or not the convention would draw enough members to break even brought the run to an end.  She’s coming back now with the new Kickstarter model, which she explains in detail on the project page.

I really really want this Kickstarter to succeed.  (Yes, I’ve already thrown in my mite, and will throw more as more becomes available.)  Farthingparty was the closest convention to where we live,† and I think we made every single one of them, even the one which we had to do as a Saturday day trip because we were moving one of our offspring into their dorm in Boston on Sunday.  I’ve missed it ever year since it ended, and having a new convention we could attend in Montreal would be a wonderful thing.


Yes.  We live that far north in New Hampshire.

Banned Books Week Has Rolled Around Again

Because the people who want to control what the rest of us read just don’t ever stop.

(Confession time here.  I’m a First Amendment purist, of the stripe which, if we were talking the Second Amendment instead of the First, would undoubtedly get me labeled a “free speech nut” and have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms searching my house.  And I regard with a cold and fishy eye the sort of statement that begins, “Of course I’m in favor of free speech, but….”)

Judging by the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016 list, children’s and young adult books tend to get hit the hardest — unsurprising, since everybody agrees that Protecting the Children is important, as is Molding Young Minds.

This year’s top ten list is mostly full of books that were challenged by people who wanted to protect the children from LBGTQ characters and issues.  Presumably, they’re afraid that reading about such things will cause their offspring to “turn gay”, which is unlikely (as Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York observed about a censorship issue of an earlier day, “I have never yet heard of a girl being ruined by a book”) — or maybe they’re just afraid that said offspring will find validation in those books for something about themselves that they already know.

Support your local library, people.  They’re fighting the good fight to keep books on the shelves for the readers who need them.

The Hugo Awards

Congratulations to everyone I know and like who got a Hugo!

And congratulations to everyone whom I don’t know personally, but still like, who got a Hugo!

Looking over the results, I don’t think there’s anybody whom I know well enough to dislike who did get a Hugo (unlike some years past), so that’s good, too.

It’s nice to see that science fiction’s signature award is still doing well.

First Impressions and Timing Issues

It matters a lot, sometimes, what age you are when you first read a particular book.  Most of the time, though, the bit that matters isn’t whether or not you’re old enough for it.  Those of us who are members of the siblinghood of compulsive readers spend a lot of our early years reading books that are, according to the gatekeepers, “too old” for us, and most of us benefit from the mental stretching exercises involved.

I do think, though, that it’s possible to come to some books too late.  Once you’ve acquired the taste for deconstruction, for examining the underpinnings of a work – teasing out its buried contradictions and unexamined assumptions, and speculating on the untold stories and the differing viewpoints of secondary and minor characters – it’s hard to look at a book with the open and receptive eye of a new reader.  Texts instead become things to be approached with suspicion, lest they pull the wool over our eyes or trip us up when we’re not looking, and a suspicious approach is no way to make friends.

The books that are destined to become our lifelong friends, I believe, are the ones we encounter when we’re old enough as readers to understand what’s going on in the text, but before we’ve had the chance to become cynical about it.  Consider, for example, The Count of Monte Cristo.  On second or third reading, even a young reader can see that Edmond Dantès is, frankly, kind of a dick†, that there’s something more than a little bit skeevy about his relationship with Haidee, and that his first love Mercédès gets handed a raw deal by fate, Edmond, and the writer, all three.‡  But if the reader’s had a chance to first take the story straight  – the escape from the Chateau d’If! the mysterious stranger! (and the other mysterious stranger, and the other mysterious stranger – really, the plot is absolutely infested with mysterious strangers!) the villains, so villainous, and so aptly punished by their own base natures and continuing villainy! – then subsequent, more critical, readings lose much of their power to tarnish the effect of the work.


He’d have to be, to spend so much time and money on getting even when he could have taken the treasure of Monte Cristo and spent the rest of his life having a good time anywhere he wanted. I’m just saying.

Really – what was she supposed to do when her betrothed got hauled off and thrown into prison as a Bonapartist conspirator on her wedding day?  Starve to death genteelly while pining for his return? Take up a career as a streetwalker?  Nobody told her that the fallback boyfriend she ended up settling for had actually masterminded the whole frame-up.

Tales from the Before Time: Finding Fandom

The internet, as usual, has changed everything.

These days, any young sf/fantasy reader or watcher with access to a computer can connect with other likeminded souls in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.  They may not be able to meet up face-to-face, but that’s not necessary, and wasn’t necessary even in the olden days.  It’s enough, most of the time, just to know that there’s somebody else like you out there.

Back before the internet, things were harder.  If you lived anywhere other than a major city, your chances of encountering another reader who shared your particular obsession were low.  (I was fortunate; my best friend in high school also read sf, and the local news and magazine shop owner must have been a fan as well, because the shop carried all the new paperback releases and all of the major sf magazines, as well as some of the second-tier sf mags.)  As a result, a young fan’s reaction upon encountering a large, organized (for fannish values of “organization”, which is to say, not very) fan group, or a science fiction convention, was often something along the lines of “My people!  My people!  I’ve found you at last!”

A note:  It’s also necessary to understand that this era came not just before the internet, but before the Geek Ascendancy.  People who liked sf and fantasy and computers and techy/sciency stuff in general were pretty much universally regarded as weirdo loners, rather than as weirdo loners any one of whom might possibly have a greater net worth than the entire city of Chicago.

When a collection of weirdo loners (and yes – I, too, was a weirdo loner) come together and discover that they are not alone in their weirdo-hood after all, the community that is created has both good and bad features, and a lot of those features are connected like good and evil twins.  The fandom of those days, to give just one example, was tolerant of all sorts of social awkwardness and nonconformity (because we were entirely too aware, most of us, of our own flaws in that regard); the flip side of that virtue, unfortunately, was a willingness to put up with just about any bad behavior short of running away with the cash box.

Post-internet fandom is . . . well, it’s different, in ways that as a pre-internet fan I’m not entirely capable of understanding.  But the old pre-internet fandom is still around, and still inhabiting a lot of the same virtual and actual spaces as post-internet fandom, and the places where they rub up against each other sometimes chafe.

I’m not sure what can be done about this problem, or even sure that it is a problem of the needs-something-done-about-it variety.  The best we can do, I guess, is be kind to each other, and remember that we all love the same thing even if we don’t necessarily do it in all the same ways.

Why So Much Online Discourse Sucks: My Theory

It’s simply this: In order for local standards of civility (whether those be vanilla-custard bland or three-chili-pepper strong, it matters not) to be maintained, what’s required is vigorous, hands-on, and visible moderation. Simply providing users with a “flag this post if you find the content objectionable” button isn’t enough. All that does, so far as the user can see, is push the problem off onto a faceless, and possibly automated, minion someplace, for said minion to deal with, or not, according to whatever invisible algorithm may or may not be in place. This does nothing to chide the offending user, or provide immediate feedback to the offended user, or steer the discourse into a less offensive channel.

To do all that, you need a person — a name, a face (even if that face is a cartoon avatar), a consistent presence — to be on the spot and monitoring the venue for discourse that’s about to go toxic. A good moderator can defuse or shut down toxic discourse as needed; a great moderator can spot the warning signs far enough in advance to change the conversation before the toxicity gets a chance to arrive.

Done well — and it has to be done well, if it’s going to be done at all — this is a full time job, and not one to be undertaken by volunteers. If you want somebody to stare into the abyss 24/7 — or better yet, two somebodies, so that they can take enough time off to stay sane — you need to pay them for it.

And sooner than pay good moderators a regular wage, most commercial online fora will either close down comments altogether, or go to one of the now-standard automated systems that end up pleasing nobody.

Not because these sites are run for profit. But because they are run for profit by cheapskates.

I Think It’s a Rule

If you’re driving into Boston from out of town, you have to get lost at least once on Massachusetts Avenue.

Normally, our GPS navigator saves us from this, but the rules caught up with us this trip, because the navigator went toes-up on us shortly before departure.  Fortunately, we were able to access Google Maps via my phone — not by using the phone’s web feature, because it doesn’t really have one, but by calling our younger son back in Colebrook and having him find the necessary directions and relay them to us.

After that mini-adventure, we made it safely to the Westin hotel, and our first programming item is a signing at 2 PM in the Galleria.  We’re signing alongside Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross, so if you’ve got a book (or a short story in an anthology, or a bookplate, or whatever), feel free to bring it in and we’ll happily sign it for you.

And if you’re one of the people who mostly own our stuff in electronic format . . . if you can figure out how to get us to sign that, we’ll happily do that as well.

(Surely somebody, somewhere, has invented an app for getting author signatures on e-books.  Heaven knows, they’ve got apps for everything else.)

Bad Moon on the Rise

If everything in this article at blogcritics is true (and that does appear to be the case) then there is some very bad stuff going down at All Romance E-Books.

Hard to tell, from the available info, whether the root cause is malice or stupidity, but for the authors caught up in the ongoing mess, it doesn’t make a difference.

(This is also why, when I purchase an e-book, I prefer to take what measures are necessary to make certain I have it stored on my own hardware, and not on somebody else’s.)