Thursday, March 29, 2012

o genre! my genre!

io9'ers and those who otherwise keep their fingers on the SF pulse will have read this news already, but Christopher Priest has just thrown a gauntlet at the feet of the Clarke Award. (You might remember him as the World-Fantasy-Award-winning author of, among other things, The Prestige.) He’s said some very unkind things about the short list, you see, and more unkind things about the jury, and how unbecoming, and well I never, and won’t someone think of the children.

The gist is that this was a bad year for SF to begin with, and the jury has compounded it by selecting some embarrassingly low-brow novels to vie for votes. Speculative fiction already suffers the stigma of being stupid/silly/arcane/immature in the wider world of literature, so why reward work that simply proves them right?

I’ve written extensively about this before (here, here, and here). It often surprises me that more people have not (witness, for example, how a much of a tizzy Priest has stirred). But it should be clear by now that the wall between speculative fiction and literature is maintained just as steadfastly by the genre community as it is by the literary community. To take Priest’s point home, for example, we talk all the time about Charles Stross, but the guy writes juvenile chewing gum kitsch and has a big head about it. Meanwhile literary masterworks like Delany’s Dhalgren go virtually unheard-of (and mostly unread by those who even know the name). MiĆ©ville, for all his sales and Clarke awards, writes unchallenging creature features, yet Genius-Grant-winning Octavia Butler (the only author of speculative fiction to be so recognized) is rarely mentioned in SF circles, and then mostly because she’s black. I’ve never had an SF fan insist I read The Female Man, but countless people have thrust well worn copies of Ringworld upon me, as though I couldn’t find more fully developed characters in a physics textbook.

The Clarke Award has never produced a list that might interest an English major, so Priest is probably barking up the wrong tree—people who cling to Heinlein like there are no real writers left in the world should have a venue that honors the kinds of things they want to read. But he’s right to worry about how the SF community assigns the value of quality. Because there is actually no difference between a brilliant piece of writing and a brilliant piece of speculative writing. In an ideal world, the people who didn’t read SF would be those who simply couldn’t tolerate the cosmetic differences, but in today’s world, the differences are not just skin deep.

As writers of literature, SF authors have a duty to put these things right. Go to.

Monday, March 26, 2012


So the first thing is, I have been commissioned to produce a video piece for the Harakiri exhibition at CentralTrak. It has always struck me as more of a think tank than a gallery (at least as administered by art/architecture tastemaker Charissa Terranova)—the sort of place that hosts symposia with Michael Fried and W.J.T. Mitchell, and work by artists like Gabriel Dawe.

So what exactly am I doing there? This is the question that wears my nails to the quick as I try to figure out what sorts of things I want to say with video. The potential to embarrass myself here might actually outweigh the prestige, which is saying a lot.

Meanwhile I sift through the remains of the festival push for Hayseeds and Scalawags. The Dallas International Film Festival (along with countless others) didn’t want it, but the program head liked it nonetheless and wants to send it to a new festival in Oak Cliff (silver lining? I’ve always had a soft spot for fledgling venues). The question of the next project is so complicated, because this last one took a lot of work and money and has yet to show any real returns—except now as a producer I’ve got chops. Post-production houses are calling for my advice. I’m making lists of resources for other filmmakers getting into DIY distribution. I have a solid grasp of the legal needs that accompany a larger budget (the goal). So which project do I pursue? How do I avoid another “flop?”

I’ve also thought about abandoning production for the time being and devoting some real time to legwork as an actor—studying, practicing, reading plays, auditioning. I’ve got a feature under my belt (with some good work in it), but not one that is likely to be seen. Respect your art, right?

But I’m also a writer, and my creds at the moment are decent, but few. A series of essays and reviews at Reflection's Edge. A piece at Daily Science Fiction. A featured reading at the Secretly Timid podcast. My short “The Sleepers” has recently been accepted by the new market Kzine (from the publishers of KIMOTA, which got some love from Datlow in one her Year’s Best anthologies). I’ve got several shorts in the works, including a piece about the Etruscans, but the question mark comes in a message I got from a friend who is now a fiction editor at Baen, telling me in his tough-love voice that he expects to see some novel ideas from me (as in, fleshed-out workable ones) in the near future.

This is an in if I want it (and have anything remotely appropriate for that publisher). But you’re beginning to see the problem, right? So much work to cover, and not nearly enough time. Priorities have yet to suggest themselves. Tackling all of this is spreading myself too thin, and none of it is low-hanging fruit.

I’ve joined the masses of people who have this problem. What will we do?