Connie Willis's Blog
May 10, 2016
I just returned from attending the Jack Williamson Lectureship, which I’ve gone to for over fifteen years. It’s a wonderful two-day conference–like a mini-science-fiction convention, with great guests of honor, speeches, readings, panels, great conversations, and wonderful food.
This year’s Lectureship featured Albuquerque author Vic Milan, the author of The Dragon Lords series, and other guests included Laura Mixon, Walter Jon Williams, Emily Mah, and Joan Saberhagen. There was a reading of Jack Williamson-inspired works, panels on “The Perennial Appeal of Dinosaurs” and “CAUTION: Writers at Work,” a student SF film competition, and, as always, a tour of the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Collection.
Each time I go, I am struck all over again by how wonderful this collection is, and how surprised people passing through the little town of Portales would be to know that ENMU houses one of the finest collections in the country, or the circumstances under which it came to be there.
Jack Williamson was one of the forefathers of science fiction and its dean, writing groundbreaking work like “Seetee Ship”, Darker Than You Think, “With Folded Hands,” The Humanoids, The Legion of Time, and the award-winning autobiography, Wonder’s Child; publishing from 1928 into the next century (and the next millennium); and shaping the field in extraordinary ways. Readers of today might not recognize the names of his stories–but they would definitely recognize the words and concepts he invented while writing them: androids, genetic engineering, terraforming, and artificial intelligence.
He pioneered the study of science fiction as a serious form of literature, and the teaching of it as a discipline, served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and traveled all over the world, from Europe to China, as an ambassador of science fiction.
He won the Hugo and Nebula Awards (the Oscars of science fiction), was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, was named a SFWA Grand Master of Science Fiction, was invited to watch a shsuttle launch at NASA, and had an asteroid named after him.
He also endowed the university and established the Lectureship, an annual gathering of science fiction and fantasy writers, fans, and readers, which has had as guests such luminaries as Greg Bear, George R.R. Martin, Michael Swanwick, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nancy Kress, Hollywood screenwriters Melinda Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt, editors Gardner Dozois and Stephen Haffner, and a record six SFWA Grand Masters: Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, and James Gunn–seven counting Jack.
And he donated his personal collection of manuscripts, correspondence, awards, and other memorabilia to the university, which became the foundation for the “Special Collections” section of the campus library.
The collection is the third largest SF collection in the United States which is available to the public. Visitors can see his awards, original typed manuscripts of his stories, photographs, his correspondence with editors, agents, and publishers, first editions of his books, the SF pulp magazines which inspired him, the original drawings of his syndicated Sunday-funnies comic strip, Beyond Mars, and letters from Isaac Asimov, Algis Budrys, Leigh Brackett, and Ray Bradbury.
The collection also has signed books by a large number of other authors and the Duane and Kathryn Elms collection of first editions, signed editions, collectible publications, and SF memorabilia.
Gene Bundy, his staff, Golden Library’s librarians, and ENMU have worked to make this collection into a first-class archive and research resource. It’s a true treasure and an invaluable collection.
But collections and libraries are only as stable as the social and political climate around them, and they’re always in danger of being downsized, co-opted, or squeezed out.
I know this from personal experience. There’ve been at least two attempts to close the Lincoln Park branch of our public library here in Greeley since I moved here, and at one point a president of our university decided that the university’s library, Michener Library, (which incidentally contains many of the manuscripts and private effects of James Michener) wasn’t necessary at all. After all, CSU and CU were less than 60 miles away; the students could be bused there. And there was always Interlibrary Loan, wasn’t there?
This isn’t new. When Andrew Carnegie set out on his ambitious project to build public libraries in every town in America, he made them sign a contract which would ensure that the libraries wouldn’t instantly be coopted for something else the minute he left town. He knew full well that mayors and city councils would be eager to get their hands on his libraries and turn them, say, into a larger office for the mayor.
Even when things are relatively stable, funding is always a problem and libraries constantly have to fight for space and resources and against the idea that libraries are outdated and unnecessary.
The Jack Williamson Collection is no exception. Right now Golden Library is undergoing a major renovation and restructuring, with the very real possibility that the collection will not be allowed to grow and might even have the space available to it reduced in the future.
Because of this, I’ve written a letter to the president of ENMU, to the head of the New Mexico State Department of Education, to Gene Bundy, and to the head of Golden Library, telling them how much the collection means to me as a science fiction writer and reader.
And Laura Mixon and I are putting out the word, requesting people to send respectful letters and e-mails in support of the SFF Special Collections library and the Lectureship.
The collection is in no immediate danger of shrinking and/or disappearing, but I want to make sure people know now how important the collection is, not after it’s too late. And Andrew Carnegie was right. There’s always somebody who can think of a much better use for that space. It’s up to the people who care about something like the collection to make sure nothing happens to it.
Here are the addresses and e-mail addresses for telling them what the Jack Williamson Collection and the Lectureship mean to you:
Steven Gamble, President
Eastern New Mexico University
1500 S. Ave. K
Portales, NM 88130
Dr. Barbara Damron
Cabinet Secretary, Department of Higher Education
2048 Galisteo St.
Santa Fe, NM 87505-2100
Director of Library Services
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, NM 88130
Gene Bundy, Special Collections Librarian, Golden Library
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, NM 88130
Thanks for your help. Connie Willis
[Connie’s website update for April, 2016]
Because it’s National Poetry Month (are they aware Carl Sandburg called April “the cruelest month?”) and everybody’s talking about their favorite poems, I got to wondering whether I had one. And whether songs count. For the last month, I’ve been listening obsessively to “What Can You Lose?”, the Stephen Sondheim song/poem sung by Mandy Patinkin and Madonna in Dick Tracy.
Before that, it was Ivor Novello’s “The Land of Might-Have-Been” (Gosford Park) and before that, “The Lady of Shalott” as sung by Loreena McKennitt, which is definitely poetry, and Tennyson, at that. And for years it’s been William Butler Yeats’s “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” as sung by Bud and Travis, the most haunting poem I know and the only one I can recite from memory–though if I listen to “The Lady of Shalott” much longer, I’ll have that memorized, too.
–“Bagpipe Music” by Louis MacNeice, which begins, “It’s no go the merry-go- round, it’s no go the rickshaw,/ All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.”
–“I Remember Snow” by Stephen Sondheim (from Evening Primrose)
–“It Was Not Death, for I Stood Up” by Emily Dickinson
–“Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden (from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral)
–“With rue my heart is laden” by A.E. Housman
–“anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e.e. cummings
–“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot
–“You’re the Top” by Cole Porter
–“How Long Has This Been Going On?” by George Gershwin
And every poem Dorothy Parker ever wrote, including this one:
“Oh, love is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Romania.”
Happy National Poetry Month!
April 1, 2016
WEBSITE UPDATE–MARCH 30, 2016
by Connie Willis
April Fool’s Day is Friday, and I’ve already begun bracing myself for it, not because I don’t love April Fool’s jokes but because I don’t want to fall for them. Especially NPR’s April Fool’s stories. I got fooled by one of them a few years ago in spectacular fashion, and it was truly humiliating.
It was on All Things Considered. I was listening as I drove home, and they were doing a piece on the National Mouth Sounds Competition. It began innocently enough with sounds like bird calls and dogs barking and the wind blowing and then progressed to interviewing some of the contestants, who sounded exactly like the people at science-fiction conventions and birder gatherings and a capella competitions–it was all totally believable.
And then they played the winner of the competition making the sound of an oncoming train, with clacking wheels and steam and whistles and the roar of the train whooshing past. Wow! I thought. How did he do that? And went home and told my husband how talented he had been.
Halfway through my account, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d been had–and what day it was–and went, “Oh, no! It was an April Fool’s joke!” But as you can imagine, that didn’t save me from years of being teased about it, and rightly so.
In my defense, I can only say that I didn’t fall for the “Why don’t Americans read anymore?” one or the “Nixon deciding to run for President again” one. And that, except for the train, the entire mouth sounds piece was all entirely plausible. I mean, there could be such a thing as a National Mouth Sounds Competition, couldn’t there? There’s every other kind: show choir competitions and yodeling competitions and whistling competitions. Why not mouth sounds?
That’s the key to a great April Fool’s joke, of course, that it’s just an inch or two over the line from being plausible. Not: “Oh, my God, I just heard on the news that aliens have landed, but: “Did you see those new skinny skinny jeans from American Eagle Outfitters? You spray them on.”
The “mouth sounds” piece was narrated by Robert Siegel, who always narrates All Things Considered human interest pieces, and NPR does a lot of that kind of stuff: pieces on a Cuban all-female orchestra and tatting and Susan Stamberg’s horseradish-and-sour cream cranberry sauce recipe. (Which I actually made and which in fact might be an April Fool’s joke, considering how it tastes, even though she does it at Thanksgiving.)
They also easily might have done a real story on holographic advertising (their April Fool’s story said physicists at MIT had perfected a laser that could project long-distance holograms and that Coca-Cola had licensed the rights to beaming their logo onto the Moon’s surface, turning it into a giant billboard.)
That’s another key to a good April Fool’s joke–details. The more specific the story is, the more believable, especially if it involves science. Or a technology that’s already in our lives. Like lasers or smartphones. Or digital watches. My favorite April Fool’s joke of all time was the one the BBC did where they announced Big Ben was going to go digital. A bright green digital readout was going to replace the four Victorian clock faces. You can imagine how that was received!
The BBC is probably the best in the world at April Fool’s jokes, beginning with their classic “spaghetti harvest,” which you can still see on YouTube.
Here are some of my other favorite April Fool’s (and other day’s’) jokes:
In 1998, the April 1 issue of USA Today had a full-page ad for Burger King’s new Left-Handed Whopper, especially designed for the 32 million left-handed people in America. It had exactly the same ingredients as the regular Whopper, but the catsup and mayonnaise had been rotated 180 degrees and the sesame seeds on the bun were “strategically placed to ensure the least amount of loss during consumption” by left-handers.
In 1976, Washington, D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Library almost caused an international crisis when it announced that its researchers had determined that the Bard had been born not in Stratford-on-Avon but in the United States. Claiming lines such as “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” (Hamlet), “Westward ho!” (Twelfth Night), and “Whoa, Pilgrim, take it easy there!” (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), and the naming of Shakespearean characters after American cities: King Lear‘s Duke of Albany (New York), As You Like It‘s Orlando (Florida), and The Merchant of Venice‘s Antonio (San) were proof positive of Shakespeare’s American birth, the library demanded all copies of the First Folio be immediately handed over to them. The British were not amused.
Also that year (it was apparently a great year for April Fool’s jokes), the British astronomer Patrick Moore appeared on BBC Radio 2 to announce that at 9:47 a.m. Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, and the alignment would counteract the Earth’s gravity and make people momentarily weightless. Hundreds of listeners called in to say they’d experienced a floating sensation. One even claimed he’d cracked his head on the ceiling and intended to sue for compensation.
In 1977, The Guardian published a seven-page travel section on San Serriffe, a little-known island chain in the Indian Ocean. Its cities were named Bodoni, General Pica, and Thirty Point, and its two main islands–Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse–looked suspiciously like a semicolon.
In 2013, YouTube announced that it was going to shut down. Communications director Tom Liston admitted they’d only started it to find the best video in the world, which they had, so there was no reason to continue. What was this best video? YouTube said it would be announced in 2023. My money’s on the skateboarding bulldog video. Or the sneezing panda one.
In the 1800s two con men announced a plan to tie iron chains to one of the islands in the Hudson River and float it down-river to New York City. They sold hundreds of shares in the scheme before people remembered that islands don’t float.
In 1996, Taco Bell took out ads in six newspapers on April first, announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell and planned to change its name to the Taco Liberty Bell.
When P.T. Barnum opened his museum in New York City, he had big signs posted just inside the front door with an arrow and the words “To the Egress.” When people followed them, they found themselves outside on the sidewalk and were forced to pay again to come back inside.
The April issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter reported on a vote that had just been taken by the Alabama State Legislature to change the value of pi from 3.14159 to 3.0 to bring it more in line with the Biblical value. “We need to return to absolutes,” legislator Leonard Lee Lawson said and quoted I Kings 7:23 and its description of Solomon’s Temple as his authority for the change: “And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was around all about, and a line of 30 cubits did compass it round about.”
In 2005, NPR did a frightening story about maple sugar harvesting. So many people were dieting that sales of maple syrup had plummeted, with the result that fewer trees were being tapped, and the built-up sap was exploding, causing injuries to people all over Vermont.
And this year (jumping the gun by two days) Frank Bruni published a column on the editorial page of the March 30 New York Times, reporting that Stanford had dropped its admission rate for next fall to zero, claiming that there hadn’t been any truly exceptional applicants. The op-ed quoted a Stanford administrator as saying they hadn’t received a single application from an Olympic medalist and that “while there was a 17-year-old who’d performed surgery, it wasn’t open-heart or a transplant or anything like that. She’ll thrive at Yale.” I can’t wait to read the letters to the editor tomorrow.
Finally, the most spectacular hoax of all was perpetrated in April and May of 1944, when a handful of radio operators and intelligence officers convinced the Germans there was an entire army in southeast England, poised to attack Calais, when what there actually was was a few dozen inflatable rubber tanks, some cardboard and plywood airfields and army camps– complete with smoke coming out the chimneys and washing hanging on the line–and a bunch of judicially placed fake news stories and letters to the editor.
And the fool who got duped by all of this? Adolf Hitler himself. So much so that he was convinced Normandy was just a feint and refused to release Rommel’s tanks to go help till it was too late to stop the D-Day invasion. Best April Fool’s joke ever!
(Note: If you want to know more about it, read Hoodwinking Hitler: The Normandy Deception by Gilles Praeger or The Secret of D-Day by William B. Breuer. Or my own Blackout and All Clear. I wrote all about it.)
(Second Note: One of the above 12 listed hoaxes isn’t real. I mean, none of them are real, but one of them wasn’t done on April Fool’s Day. I just made it up. And no, it’s not the D-Day one!)
Happy April Fool’s Day!!!!!
November 9, 2015
NOTES FROM THE ZOMBIE APOCALYSE
A REPORT FROM SPOKANE AND THIS YEAR’S WORLDCON
As if there wasn’t enough anxiety about Worldcon this year after what Bob Silverberg described as a summer of “apprehension, tension, and dissension,” in science fiction, our trip to the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane got off to a bad start before we even arrived. Lots of people had decided not to come because of the Rabid/Sad Puppies controversy, I was nervous about flying only four weeks after having had eye surgery, and when we arrived, there were no cabs at the airport, and the people in the line we joined said there never would be any.
“We’ve been here forty-five minutes without seeing one,” they reported. A call to the hotel’s shuttle number produced a reprimand to the effect that we should have received a place on one when we booked the hotel or earlier (???), and a subsequent call to the number for the taxi service taped to the wall connected us to a semi-hysterical voice saying, “We don’t have any cabs! They’re all out! You’ll just have to wait!”
After many moons, a shuttle from our hotel finally arrived, and we got on, feeling like we were taking the last lifeboat on the Titanic, and looking guiltily back at all the fellow convention-goers we’d left behind. The mood wasn’t helped by the shuttle driver, who cheerily pointed out the casino we were passing on the way into Spokane (still several miles away) and saying, “It’s got a really fancy gourmet restaurant. Lots of visitors come out here for dinner.”
“How?” we asked, but he didn’t hear us. He was busy praising Spokane’s other fancy gourmet restaurants. “We’ve got an Applebee’s. And a P.F. Chang’s.” But at least we were on our way to safety.
Or so we thought. But instead of being taken to rescue on the Carpathia–or even the Hyatt–we were transported to a true shipwreck of a hotel.
It was brand-new and ultramodern, but upon closer examination, it was like those strange nightmare hotels in a “we’re already dead but don’t know it yet” movie. The blinds couldn’t be worked manually, and we couldn’t find any controls. There was no bathtub. The shower closely resembled the one in a high-school locker room, and there was no door between it and the toilet. (I am not making this up.) The clock had no controls for setting an alarm–a call to the front desk revealed that was intentional: “We prefer our clients to call us and request a wake-up call”–and when you turned the room lights off, the bright blue glow from the clock face enveloped the room in Cherenkhov radiation, and there was no way to unplug it. We tried putting a towel and then a pillow over it and ended up having to turn it face-down.
That wasn’t all. If you sat on the edge of the bed or lay too close to the edge, you slid off onto the floor, a phenomenon we got to test later on when we began giving tours of our room to disbelieving friends. “Don’t sit on the end of the bed,” we told them. “You’ll slide off,” and then watched them as they did.
We had encountered a mattress like this once before in LaPorte, Indiana, but that was at a fleabag hotel we stayed at because it was the only place with a vacancy. here the slidiness seemed to be a feature, not a bug. There were signs all over our room and the lobby telling us how we could buy a mattress just like it to take home with us. (I am not making this up, I swear.)
Best of all, the driver of the hotel shuttle that took us to dinner (because there still weren’t any taxis) assured us we could just call as soon as we were done and they’d pick us up immediately. When we did, he said, “It will be at least an hour,” and the maître d’ told us our chances of finding a taxi at this hour (9 p.m.) were nil. So we walked.
Through the smoke from the forest fires burning on all sides of the city. It went from hazy on the first day to thick yellow fog full of drifting pieces of white ash on Saturday. The TV news declared a Code Red and advised people to stay inside and take shallow breaths, and the people filming Syfy’s Z Nation, a Zombie-Apocalypse TV series which films in Spokane had to put filters on to remove some of the smokiness from their end-of-the-world landscape.
In the meantime, the sun had gone bright orange, the moon had turned to blood, some of the Strolls with the Stars walks had to be cancelled, and the maps showed that the fires were getting closer and closer to Spokane–at which point we started wondering what the eleven thousand people at the con were going to do if we got the call to evacuate–and there was only one taxi in the entire city.
And face it, we were already nervous. The Sad/Rabid Puppies mess had been escalating all summer, with threats from them of dire consequences and organized disruptions if even one “No Award” was given. And one of the Puppies had sent a letter to the Spokane Police Department making false and possibly libelous accusations against David Gerrold (see File 770 for a full account.)
So it was no wonder we approached the night of the Hugo Awards Ceremony with…shall we say? trepidation. Which wasn’t helped by the fact that for the first time in my experience of Hugo Awards Ceremonies, we had to go through a security bag check to get into the auditorium.
But none of the disasters the omens had been predicting came to pass (except, of course, that half the state of Washington burned down.) But the Hugo ceremony went off without a hitch. The co-emcees David Gerrold and Tananarive Due were great, everyone there had a great time, and I witnessed something I never thought I’d see in this lifetime: Robert Silverberg leading the audience in a soothing chant of “Hare Krishna.”
The membership voted overwhelmingly to reject the Puppies’ coup attempt and their slate of nominees, giving “No Award” in five categories, and everyone who appeared onstage was terrific, including the people who won. They gave thoughtful, serious acceptance speeches about what the award meant to them and how they felt about what had happened, saying many things that the people charged with running the ceremony couldn’t and emphatically voicing their love of science fiction.
As you may know from my previous statement on this website, I had refused to present an award at the Hugos because I didn’t want to lend credibility to the hijacking of the award nominations by the Sad/Rabid Puppies.
On the other hand, I very much wanted to support emcee (and old friend) David Gerrold, and when he asked me to come onstage to give him and his co-host Tananarive Due a supportive hug and then do a little schtick about emceeing, or as David said, “go off on a wild tangent”, I was more than happy to oblige.
I talked about the trials of emceeing the Hugos and all the things that could go wrong, from reading the wrong name to having the award literally fall apart in your hands, plus all the stuff completely out of your control, like technical glitches, unruly award recipients (you know who you are), and Brazilian mediums.
I’ve posted my speech below, in case you want to read it. I wish I was able to post Robert Silverberg’s, which was, as usual, hilarious and delivered in the cool, dry, sophisticated manner nobody can come close to imitating. I also wish I could post the emcees’ great riffs on Star Trek, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones (“George R.R. Martin isn’t on Twitter anymore because he killed all 140 characters”), and trying to find the right page in their script.
I was really glad I was there, in spite of the smoke and the Kafka Hotel and all the apprehension, tension, and dissension. [You can watch the entire ceremony here]
This is not to say that I’m not still furious about the whole thing. Because of the Puppies’ machinations, people who should have won didn’t, people who should have been nominated weren’t, people who were felt they had to turn down the nomination, and innocent people were caught in the crossfire. But my greatest fear, that the controversy would tear science fiction apart, didn’t come to pass. The community presented a united front and affirmed the tolerance, diversity, and classiness of the field I love.
And Spokane turned out to have some great restaurants, including Anthony’s, which has a great view of the falls, yummy fish, and a delicious peach slump (though they might want to work on the name. On second thought, cobbler isn’t much better as a name.)
Our favorite, though, has to have been Luigi’s, located just a couple of blocks from our hotel. It was an old-time Italian restaurant with wonderful sausage and peppers and an amazing spaghetti mizithra. It was great.
And so was Worldcon. In spite of all the challenges, Spokane put on a great convention. And a great Hugo Awards ceremony.
Oh, and my eye’s fine.
— Anna Senek (@AnnaSenek) August 23, 2015
Emceeing the Hugo Awards ceremonies is a much tougher job than most people realize.
You have NO idea how many things can go wrong.
I mean, like you might forget an entire category.
Or the name of the wrong winner’s in the envelope.
Or the right name’s in the envelope,
but a completely different name is on the screens behind you.
Or the tech doesn’t work,
and you have to improvise for 45 minutes
while they try to fix it.
Or the tech DOES work,
only the slides somehow get out of order somehow
so that as you’re announcing Best Fan Artist,
the screens are showing the name of the Best Novel Winner.
Or the Hugo Awards fall completely apart.
I’m not talking about the ceremony.
I’m talking about the awards themselves.
This one year they had these great Hugos,
with sort of a modernist sculpture look,
a big angled ring of Saturn thing with the rocket ship sticking up through it
and marbles representing planets,
and brass nuts and bolts and stuff.
They looked great,
but they weren’t glued together very well,
and by the time Samuel R. Delaney got off the stage,
his Hugo was in both hands
and his pockets
and on the floor,
and mine had lost several pieces altogether.
“Did you lose your marbles?” I whispered to Gardner backstage.
“No,” Gardner whispered back in that voice of his
that can be heard in the back row,
“My balls didn’t fall off, but my toilet seat broke!”
I told you, emceeing’s a tough job.
So many things are out of your control.
One of the winners can trip coming up the steps.
Or pass out at the podium.
Or make a speech that goes on and on and on,
and just when you think they’re finished,
they go off on some tangent,
and you think they’re never going to shut up.
So anyway, it’s a really hard job,
which is why I’m here to give the emcees a big hug,
and tell them they’re doing great!
Though you can do a great job
and still have everything go to hell.
Like that time in Baltimore
where somebody thought it was a good idea
to have a crab feast before the awards,
which meant everyone in the audience had a wooden mallet!
And then there was the time I was emceeing,
and I had to present an award to H…um…Never mind.
My POINT is, that no matter how well-prepared you are–
this year, for instance,
I wrote down my speech so I wouldn’t go off on a tangent
and shortened my skirt so I wouldn’t trip over it
and got my rabies shots in case I got bitten by a bat again
like I did when I was emceeing at the Locus Awards.
Well, I didn’t actually get bitten at the Locus Awards.
I was at home.
Two days before I was supposed to leave for the Locus Awards.
And this bat bit me.
While I was asleep!
Just like Dracula!
Only it bit me on the ankle,
and I didn’t turn into a vampire…
although the last few days I’ve had this insatiable desire
to read all the TWILIGHT books.
Which are the best-written, most literary novels I have ever read,
and I don’t know why they didn’t ALL win Hugos!
Where was I?
Oh, yes, giving the emcees hugs.
They deserve them.
Because no matter what you do to plan a well-ordered Hugo ceremony,
things can get out of control.
Like this year, for instance,
you could be bitten by a rabid marmot.
Or an old man could come up to you and make you sing “Hare Krishna.”
Or the smoke could get so bad they tell us to evacuate–
and there’s only one taxi in this entire town!
Or there could be some kind of problem with the ballot.
I don’t know if you’ve heard about what’s been going on recently,
but down in Brazil
there are all these spiritualists
claiming their books were dictated to them
by the ghosts of Victor Hugo
and Charles Dickens.
None of them have claimed they’re channeling SF authors yet,
but what if they do?
Who do we give the Hugo to, the medium or H.G. Wells?
And if we’re giving it to Wells, HOW do we give it?
Do we have to send somebody to the other side to deliver it?
And if so, who should we send?
As I was SAYING,
emceeing is a thankless job.
So thankless our emcees not only deserve a hug
but a medal of valor.
And let’s hope I don’t stab them
as I try to pin the medal on,
or suddenly feel an insatiable desire to bite them on the neck…
umm, maybe I’d better let them pin it on themselves.
Let’s hear it for our terrific emcees,
David and Tananarive!
October 29, 2015
I FINALLY FINISHED MY NOVEL!
Oh, frabjous day! Calloo-dallay!
Happiness! Fireworks! Delirium! Joy!
I’ve finally finished my novel. I know, I know, I said that a year ago, and I did think it was finished when I turned it in– and then spent months and months doing the revisions (three separate rounds of changes and cuts) and cursing the day I’d decided to write the stupid thing.
But now it’s done–well, not quite; I still have the copy-edited manuscript and the galley to go–and it will be out next fall! Yay!
It’s called CROSSTALK, and it’s about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!
Here’s the set-up: My heroine Briddey Flannigan works at a smartphone company . Her on-the-fast-track boyfriend Trent has just talked her into the two of them having an EED, a minor surgical procedure that makes it possible for the couple to sense each other’s feelings–but only if you’re both emotionally committed. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.
“Oh, you’re so lucky!” her assistant enthuses. “It proves he loves you!” And everyone else is thrilled for her–except for C.B. Schwartz, the scruffy tech genius down in the basement, and her constantly meddling Irish-American family, who all think it’s a terrible idea. And dangerous.
“What if you come out of the surgery a vegetable?” C.B. asks her.
“It’s perfectly safe,” she assures him. Brad and Angelina have had it done. And Kate and William. And nobody’s had any bad side effects. What could possibly go wrong? And in spite of their warnings, Briddey goes ahead and has it done.
And nothing does go wrong: she comes through the surgery just fine, and even begins sensing emotions earlier than the doctor said she would. Only they’re not Trent’s emotions. And a few minutes later, when she finds herself not just empathetic, but telepathic, she’s linked not to Trent, but to C.B.
And she can’t tell Trent because you’re only supposed to be able to connect to someone you’re in love with, and she can’t tell her family because they’ll say, “I told you so!”, and she can’t tell the doctor because he’ll think she’s crazy, and meanwhile, C.B. is making smart remarks and offering all sorts of unhelpful advice. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Things are about to get much, much worse…
The novel was partly inspired by our wildly over-connected world, in which we’re constantly bombarded with communication, most of it unwelcome, and partly by the misconceptions people have about what being telepathic would be like. They always assume it would either be profitable (finding out people’s computer codes or social security numbers or blackmailable personal secrets) or fun.
So not true. In the first place, people think all kinds of things we don’t want to hear. “No man is a hero to his valet,” Madame Cornuel famously said. Or to anyone who can hear what he’s thinking. I mean, do you really want to be privy to all the crabby, spiteful, nasty, malicious, and downright unhinged things people think?
In the second place, listening to people’s thoughts would be terminally boring. I often write at Starbucks and unwillingly overhear lots of conversations. On one occasion I was stuck next to two women having a riveting discussion. “I’ve got to go to the grocery store after I leave here,” one of them said. “I don’t know what to buy for supper. I was thinking a beef roast and potatoes with carrots or maybe green beans, only Bob doesn’t like them. Maybe I could make a meat loaf. Or pork chops.” This went on for forty-five minutes while her friend said not a word. (Actually, it might have been interesting to hear what she was thinking.) Do you really want to be stuck listening to that? Or to some guy going on and on about how he hates his boss–or his ex-wife? And just think what the upcoming election season would be like?
And there’s no reason to think you’d be able to just listen to the parts you wanted to, like Mel Gibson did in that awful movie, What Women Want. Or that you could choose who to listen to. You might very well hear them night and day. And there’s no guarantee it would be limited to people you know. You might be stuck hearing that bratty five-year-old on the plane behind you. Or the thoughts of a serial killer. Or a Wall Street broker. Not a pretty picture.
I considered all these unpleasant possibilities–and a bunch of others–when I was writing Crosstalk. So I guess you could call it an anti-telepathy telepathy novel. On the other hand, there might be some aspects of being mentally connected to another person that might be truly lovely, like…
No, I’d better let you find those out for yourselves. Crosstalk, coming out from Random
House next fall. I’ll keep you posted on exactly when.
And in the meantime, Hurray! I’m done!
August 17, 2015
Connie Willis and her daughter, Cordelia, will be doing programming at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention happening this coming weekend (Aug 19-23) in Spokane, Washington.
Connie’s schedule on the Sasquan Web Site
Cordelia’s Schedule on the Sasquan Web Site
Here’s their schedules in text format
Hard SF Movies: Rare but Not Extinct
Wednesday 14:00 – 14:45, Bays 111C (CC)
Hard SF has always been rare in the movies. Forbidden Planet, 2001, 2010, and a few others set the standard. Recently, Interstellar had a well-known physicist keeping the science (mostly) in line with reality, and next year we’ll have The Martian. What are the great works of hard SF in the movies? What tried and failed? Are there cases where they tried to keep the science so hard they hurt the story? (We can all name pieces of written SF that did that.)
Connie Willis (M) , Fonda Lee, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Reading – Connie Willis
Thursday 16:00 – 16:45, 300C (CC)
Kaffee Klatche – Connie Willis
Friday 11:00 – 11:45, 202B-KK3 (CC)
Join a panelist and up to 9 other fans for a small discussion. Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.
Requires advance sign-up
Stroll with the Stars
Saturday 09:00 – 09:45, Breezeway/Statue (CC)
A gentle morning stroll with some of your favorite authors, artists and editors. Meeting each morning at 9AM in the Breezeway between the INB Theater and the Convention Center (check your map), and returning in time for 10AM programming.
Stu Segal (M), Kevin J. Anderson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Troy Bucher, Vincent Docherty, Doug Farren, Toni Weisskopf, Connie Willis
Autographing – Brenda Cooper, Daniel Kimmel, Fonda Lee, William Campbell Powell, Kristine Rusch, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis
Saturday 15:00 – 15:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)
Colleagues as Family
Sunday 13:00 – 13:45, Integra Telecom Ballroom 100B (CC)
Unlike many other jobs, it is a brave, lonely, and financially very risky thing to be a fiction writer. But despite the physical distances, many writers develop close friendships with other writers and editors.
Melinda Snodgrass (M), George R. R. Martin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Connie Willis, David Gerrold
Stage Movement and Presentation
Thursday 15:00 – 15:45, Spokane Falls Suite A/B (Doubletree)
How to move effectively on the masquerade stage. What does it mean to upstage someone? How do you get across an idea quickly and easily within the confines of the masquerade time limit? People should be prepared to get up and move.
Tanglwyst de Holloway, Torrey Stenmark, Cordelia Willis, Kevin Roche
Getting Started: Costuming
Thursday 16:00 – 16:45, 206A (CC)
Where do you find information? Resources? Who to ask? Where to look? Where can I find other people who share my interest? The information that most newcomers to costuming want to know.
Jared Dashoff (M), Tanglwyst de Holloway, Leslie Johnston , Cordelia Willis
Bad Science on TV
Friday 13:00 – 13:45, 300C (CC)
Science is a hot topic in TV entertainment: from CSI to Orphan Black to The Big Bang Theory to Person of Interest. Some of it is good, but much of it is bad. The panel will bash the bad science and clue you in to those shows that seem like the science is good, but not really.
Deb Geisler (M), Julie McGalliard, Janna Silverstein, Cordelia Willis
Getting Started: Cosplay
Friday 14:00 – 14:45, 206A (CC)
How to find information, groups, and Internet sources for cosplay topics.
Alicia Faires, Johanna Mead, Torrey Stenmark, Cordelia Willis
Masquerade Versus Cosplay
Sunday 11:00 – 11:45, 302AB (CC)
What are the differences between what everyone thinks of as a standard Worldcon masquerade and cosplay?
Ada Palmer (M), Johanna Mead, Cordelia Willis, Tanglwyst de Holloway
August 3, 2015
There is now a “Fans of Connie Willis” facebook page where short updates may occur as well as other news.
The latest update from Connie post surgery is
Dear Everybody: I’m recovering nicely from the surgery (as witness the fact that I’m able to write my own updates now.) No more double vision, which is wonderful, and not a lot of pain (though I’m still on painkillers, so maybe I do have pain and just don’t know it.) My main problem is exhaustion. I think I feel fine, but then when I try to do anything, I wear out very, very fast, and so spend lots of time taking naps. My eye looks horrific–like something out of a scary movie or King Lear or something–and I have a black eye, but otherwise no signs of the surgery. Cordelia was here for the surgery and the first few days, and that was great! I don’t know if Courtney or I appreciated it more. She was a wonderful nurse. My brother Lee is here now for a couple of days. Thanks to all of you for your kind thoughts and cards and everything.
July 20, 2015
Every year on D-Day, my husband and I watch The Longest Day, one of my all-time favorite war movies. This year, because we were going to be in Chicago for the Nebula Awards Weekend, we watched it the week before–on two nights since it’s so long (and we are so old.) When we originally saw the movie in the theater way back in 1962, it had an intermission, but our current DVD doesn’t, and Courtney and I had a fight over where it should be, the particulars of which I can’t tell you without giving you spoilers.
I know, I know, what spoilers can there be? We landed on Normandy beaches, lost gazillions of soldiers, won the war–all of which I assume aren’t spoilers, although you never know. When I was writing Lincoln’s Dreams, which is set in the Civil War, a member of my writers’ group said, “You need to explain more. I mean, who’s this Lee person? And Grant? And you don’t even tell us who won!” I am not making this up.
But how we did it is an amazing story most people don’t know the particulars of, and that’s what The Longest Day is about. It’s an impossible story to tell because the invasion isn’t just about the landings on Omaha Beach, but also about the French Resistance who cut the lines and blew up railroad tracks, about the paratroopers and gliders who went in the night before, about the game plans and diversions and disasters–the plan hadn’t been going five minutes before everything went completely to hell, but it didn’t matter. They had backups. And backups to the backups. It’s about the codebreakers and the generals and the soldiers and the intelligence officers and even the meteorologists, who gave the forecast that made Ike say, “Go.”
And that’s just on our side. There’s also the German response to the invasion, composed of over-confident generals and bad decisions and unlucky coincidences, which has to be shown, and the local farmers and housewives and nuns and… The D-Day invasion involved hundreds of thousands of people scattered all over France and Germany and much of England, and they’re all in this movie. (It stars virtually every major actor and teen idol in Hollywood in 1962, from John Wayne and Henry Fonda to Fabian and an impossibly young-looking pre-Bond Sean Connery. Plus there’s a bulldog.)
I have no idea how they came up with the script for this movie. It must have been a nightmare to keep all these people and events straight, let alone make a coherent movie out of it, especially with no centralized locations, no characters who saw the whole thing, and dozens of small and scattered plots to follow.
Yet they somehow manage not only to pull it off, but to do a spectacular job. The Longest Day not only shows you the invasion in all of its sprawling and deadly complexity, but it also shows you the small, intimate, improbable details that make history so much more fascinating than fiction could ever be, from the soldier who gets a “Dear John” letter right before the invasion to General Rommel’s going to Berlin for his wife’s birthday at the worst possible moment, from an airman’s wound being safety-pinned together by a medic who’d lost his kit on landing to officers on both sides muttering disgustedly, “I wonder whose side God is on.” Which they actually said. Many of the lines spoken by characters are straight out of the history books.
The sort of World War II movie I usually like is the “keyhole movie,” a story which deals with one small part of the war. Hope and Glory is like that, showing you the Blitz from a little boy’s point of view, and so is Father Goose, which involves a plane-spotter in the South Pacific, a stranded schoolteacher, her charges, and a Japanese cruiser.
Both show just one small aspect of the war, but by getting involved with their story, you glimpse the wider war. It’s like looking through a keyhole, and it’s usually far more effective (and emotional) than trying to portray the whole thing.
It’s what I write, too, and why I chose to show you World War II through the eyes of a handful of time travelers, a small group of Londoners sheltering in the Tube, and a couple of kids, rather than, say, writing The Winds of War.
Panoramic views of the war are rarely successful (I include The Winds of War in the unsuccessful category) because World War II was just too big, and I can only think of a couple that work: Tora, Tora, Tora (which is great) and Midway.
And, of course, The Longest Day. It’s got everything, sweeping battle scenes, cruel tricks of fate, acts of astonishing courage, humor, tragedy, horrific moments, and stuff you could never make up. It’s great watched on D-Day, but I wouldn’t wait. I’d watch it now.
NOTE: I said The Longest Day was one of my favorite war movies. Here’s a list of the others, in no particular order:
Hope and Glory
The Big Red One
Tora, Tora, Tora
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
The Imitation Game
Mrs. Henderson Presents
I also love Hanover Street and Force 10 From Navarone, even though they’re bad movies–Hanover Street has a plot hole you could drive a bus through right in the middle of it, and Christopher Plummer is not a boring, middle-aged British bureaucrat, and I know I’ll only be accused of liking them because Harrison Ford is in them, which is probably true. But I still like them, and Force 10 has a great ending. Plus, of course, Harrison Ford is really cute.
It’s got it all.
The only thing missing is the letter Eisenhower wrote the night before the invasion to the American public telling them why it had failed.
You know how Queen Elizabeth talked about her annus horribilus–the awful year when her daughter Anne got a divorce and so did the Duke of York and Fergie, to say nothing of Windsor Castle nearly burning down? Well, I’ve been having a mensis horribilus.
It all started a few weeks ago when I was bitten by a bat. Yes, a BAT! I was lying harmlessly asleep in bed when I woke to find the cats going nuts. I assumed they were chasing a moth–we have tons of millers this time of year–and then realized they had a bat cornered up by the ceiling. I called Courtney, who hadn’t come to bed yet, and we chased around after it, trying to confine it so we could call Animal Control, in the process of which I realized that my ankle hurt and looked down to see two bleeding puncture wounds.
So we went to the emergency room, where I had to have the first round of rabies shots–no, they’re not in the stomach anymore, they’re in the leg, but you still have to have four rounds of five shots, one a bright purple rabies vaccination and the others very large shots of gamma globulin to pump up your immune system enough that it can (hopefully) hold off the rabies, which is pretty much always fatal.
This, of course, was right before I was supposed to go be the emcee for the Locus Awards and the next two rounds of shots were the day I was supposed to leave and the day I was supposed to fly home, so travel arrangements had to be changed and the possibility that I couldn’t go at all considered.
Luckily, we caught the bat, which tested negative for rabies, and we got the test back just in time to keep me from having to have the second round of shots–and from having nightmares about that scene in To Kill a Mockingbird where they have to shoot the rabid dog. I was able to go off to the Locus Awards and do my emceeing (which was way fun), and the only thing I have to worry about from the experience is a sudden, overwhelming desire to read the Twilight novels.
The worst part about the whole affair was finding out that bats really do attack you while you’re sleeping, just like in Dracula, which I had always assumed was a made-up thing, but no!
Well, so anyway, I dodged that bullet, only to do a face-plant at a garage sale the day before I was supposed to leave to teach at Clarion West. It was on a steeply slanting driveway with one of those curved, molded-all-in-one-piece curbs, and I didn’t so much trip as step wrong, but because the driveway was slanted, instead of hitting knee first, then hand, then head, with each impact slowing your momentum, I pretty much hit every part of my body with the same impact, or, as Courtney said, I went down like a board, and then couldn’t see anything–it was like one of those Picasso paintings where the image is all sliced into triangles, followed by double vision.
It turns out I’d fractured the floor of my eye socket, and the eye muscle was trapped in the fracture, which sounds disgusting and is, though the eye surgeon seemed unfazed by it. (He called it a blowout fracture with entanglement and said the surgery has an almost one hundred percent chance of success.) I’m having it operated on on Wednesday, after which point I’ll hopefully be able to read–and write–again instead of just watching one-eyed television (you have no idea how many truly awful movies are on the Turner Classics channel) and not lifting, not bending over, and not blowing my nose, all of which are forbidden activities.
Lots of people have inquired about how I’m doing, so I thought I’d better try to let everybody know just what was going on. And yes, I am wearing an eye patch (this in response to a question from Bob Silverberg.) And no, it isn’t just like Johnny Depp’s. And, yes, I am aware that Queen Elizabeth was wrong about that being her annus horribilus and that things got way worse for her just a short time later.