Mark W. Tiedemann's Blog
January 30, 2016
Because it’s the end of January and I have too much fiction to do right now to take the time for another long post about anything, so…
[image error]Besides, I haven’t done one in a while.
January 20, 2016
He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not. Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.
I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.
The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape. Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell. By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists. Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate. Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster. But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential. Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights. (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.) We spoke briefly. I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time. We talked a bit about the books and publishing. A few minutes. He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.” He had won one over the corporates. The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.
We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon. I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there. In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement. By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.
A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book. I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums. We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward. The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself. At the last minute, David called Robin. He had seen a notice for the event. He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend. Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel. Rhetorical question. We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel. My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge. His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.
After that he began soliciting work from me. We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward. He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.
Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties. He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness. He had been instrumental in many careers.
He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true. For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.
Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.
David took me seriously. I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.
January 14, 2016
President Obama gave his last State of the Union address this week. I did not watch it, but I read the transcript. To my eye, to my mind, it was as fine a way to cap his presidency as one could hope. He spoke to the future. Make of that what you will. Those who do not now or never have liked him, it was all hot air, empty rhetoric, posing for posterity. For those who believe he has been the best president since the last great one, it was inspirational, an arrow aimed at the next horizon. For anyone with the slightest grasp of history, how politics works, of even a grasp of the last 40 years, it was a gracious and generous invitation to Do Better.
In contrast, Governor Haley’s official Republican rebuttal was a tortured exercise in finding a way to be right in the cracks of a broken legacy, made nearly irrelevant by an evident lack of understanding and, apparently, knowledge of our country’s history.
Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, said in an interview after her rebuttal “we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.”
Let me pause for a breath while I ponder the utter feckless ignorance in that statement. This is the flip side of the Right’s insistence that this country was founded on Christianity, I suppose. More to the point, if that’s your belief, and you did not notice how stupidly wrong that statement from Governor Haley was, then you do have to ask yourself how you square the contradiction. If she’s right, then this country was never a “christian” nation. If it was so founded, then she’s wrong and every single law ever passed has been based on religion.
As to race, please. Have you never heard of the One Drop Rule? Or Loving v. Virginia? Or Plessy v. Ferguson? No? What a pristine place your mind must be, then, unsullied by the grimier legacies of this country.
Saying something like that is tantamount to saying “All that stuff we did—we never really did it, it’s only stuff in books we don’t read.” Wishful thinking and frankly insulting, because for that to pass she has to believe her listeners are stupid and uneducated and ignorant. She has to bet on you not knowing any better.
Nikki Haley is one of the more reasonable Republicans holding office currently, but it is this kind of tone-deaf, ahistorical, reality-denying rhetoric that makes it impossible for me to take her seriously. Or any of them, really, so synced to their Party campaign to undo everything from the 1950s (at a minimum) till today just because their constituency will vote for them if they do. A shrinking constituency, I think. The louder they get, the smaller their numbers. But, my word, they are loud.
By comparison, Obama has shown far more gracious tolerance than—well, than I could possibly have shown.
We seem not to teach civics in school anymore. We should. We should have a course on civics combined with American history, beginning in grade school (when I got it) and continue on until 12th grade. No let up. Cover this stuff in greater and greater detail, ad nauseum, until it sinks in and we no longer think someone knows what he or she is talking about just because they hold high office.
What I will miss most when Obama leaves office is not being talked to like I only have a 3rd grade education by my president. I will miss his erudition. Yes, I will miss his humor, his sophistication, even his syntax.
I suspect the rest of the world will, too.
January 5, 2016
At the gym this morning, listening to the news while doing treadmill, I learned that, quote, it is official, the Rams have filed to move back to L.A., unquote.
Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I am fine with this. Go, leave. Aside from one season and a surprise upset, allowing St. Louis to claim a superbowl win for its archives, the Rams have been…problematic. We built them a dome. We have suffered through the hissy-fits of their owner(s). We have been held hostage by Rams management over the issue of building yet another dome in order to keep a team that rarely (ever?) fills the seats at the stadium they already have. They have been a drain on the emotional (and fiscal) resources of this city and to no purpose.
Do any fans really care about seeing them in a new arena? Other than the ones with stock options involved?
Be that as it may, I understand. This isn’t about money. It’s about a devotion with which I have some understanding but no connection. And it would not bother me in the least if the only money involved were private money.
But somehow these uber-rich owners keep demanding municipalities pony up a bribe to keep these teams local, as if they have a right to expect us to pay for their profits before, during, and after, so that a minority of people can go to a handful of games that could be watched on television—in which case it really wouldn’t matter where it was played, you could green-screen any venue you wanted—and task the resources which could well be spent on something vital, like schools or poverty programs or that aquarium proposed several years ago which keeps being ignored but would actually serve a purpose, namely education.
If the powers that be in St. Louis can come together to bypass the right of the citizens to vote on an issue and allocate many millions for a purpose which, as far as I can see, is nothing but the real world equivalent of an XBox thrill, then why can’t they do the same for something that actually benefits people?
The Rams matter to me not a bit. Stay, go, I don’t care. But the politics around this do matter because they are indicative of skewed priorities and a mindset that finds it easier to throw bread and circuses at people rather than do anything constructive that might improve lives. The Board of Alderman and the local courts have demonstrated an ability to act on something relatively unimportant only because money is involved. They can damn well do their jobs and act on things that pertain to the commonwealth and stop assuming our tax dollars are well-spent on distractions and short term diversions.
Let the Rams go. Now, can we have a serious discussion about that aquarium?
January 2, 2016
Yesterday, in fact.
Somehow, seeing the new Star Wars film on January 1st was the perfect thing to do. We went to the Moolah Theater on Lindell and had popcorn and sat back and became 12-year-olds for over two hours and it was…wonderful.
I have seen much back-and-forthing over this film the last few weeks, including some ill-advised and unwelcome splenetic blathering from George Lucas himself over how he disliked the direction J.J. Abrams has taken. I have also seen for myself the new action figure set at Target which failed to include the key character in what must be considered one of the most blatant examples of denial in industry marketing since…I don’t know. What? You really don’t think little girls will buy these even with such a full-on kick-ass role model as Rey? Or are you afraid they will buy them and we’ll have another round of how de-feminized the character is and how she’s a bad example for little girls who might opt out of the whole cute-girl-whose-brains-are-secondary track of socialization?
To get this out of the way right now, I think Rey is possibly the best thing about the new Star Wars. Vertently or otherwise, something significant has been achieved in her and I applaud it. Take note, ye unwitting crafters of the female entity for screen and page, this is how you do it. Simply put, she is her own self. She does not define herself by the men in her life, she not trade herself for favors, she does not bow to fashion conventions that depend on genitalia. She has her own concerns, her own goals, and runs her life on her own, the only constraints on any of that being the same exact constraints put on every other being in the world she inhabits.
And she is a deeply, deeply ethical and empathetic person. One who is not afraid to act on her own judgment, consequences be damned.
And she pays for it with doubt and fear and the agon of the compassionate.
As if she were a real person.
(Why does he go on about this? Why is he getting loud? What’s the deal?)
The deal is, so seldom in something like this do we get to see a woman as Person First, self-consistent, competent, and heroic, who does the rescuing, fights (and wins) against the bad guy, and can remain herself as a human being. She also has friendships. Not lovers, there’s no suggestion of that, not even as foreshadowing. Friends. They didn’t even try to dress her up in some form-accentuating bit of impractical gauzy revealing nonsense so we’d all see that while she’s running around kicking ass and being amazing she has cleavage and nice thigh. She’s dressed for work, for survival, for movement, for function. Her hair is even done practically.
By accident or intent, they did Rey right.
So how come she’s not in the action figure collection?
I have my opinions and they are not charitable. But it may turn out to be beside the point.
As to all the other dross being spake about how it stacks up to the rest of the films…
Sure, it’s a broad retread of the very first film. So what? This is myth, which is cyclic, and the value is in reaffirmation and validation. It is a Hero’s Journey and going all the way back to Gilgamesh certain forms remain constant. There are tests and trials and the plot matters much less than the manner of challenge and the quality of its confrontation. George Lucas forgot that when he made episodes 1, 2, and 3. He tried to turn a quest fantasy into science fiction, he tried to interject politics, he tried to justify things in a way that didn’t so much subvert what he had done before as crack the road in front of the calabash. J.J. Abrams, or whoever was principally responsible for the storyline here, went back to the Campbellian mythic underpinnings (Joseph not John W.) and brought back what mattered and made the first couple so compelling. Certain mythic forms reoccur, time and again, and Joseph Campbell understood this and Lucas sort of did, we think, at least in the beginning, but it went off the rails when a certain gravitic pull to compete with Star Trek seemed to drag everything off in an inauspicious direction. In spite of the superb craft of those later films, the genuinely well-executed action, and even the plot logic of much of it, they were curiously empty. One thing after another, with only a few moments of transcendence that failed to rescue them from essentially tales about bureaucratic failure. Lucas can be as snarky as he likes, but Episode VII has gone back to what made the first three films work.
And did it very well.
Episode IV and V were all about Becoming. Episode VI was about coming to terms with what you have Become.
Episodes I, II, and III were all about breaking things.
Episode VII is about Becoming.
And Rey? Pay attention, fellas. This is how it’s done. This is what a human being looks like. This is a hero.
December 30, 2015
I should be working on my novel. Instead, I’m bingeing on Elementary, working on my end-of-year ruminations.
I’m not sure if these serve much, if any, purpose. I’ve never seemed able to sustain a journal or diary before. Blogging (such a clutzy name for it, but we seem stuck with it now; certainly some examples of the “art” fit the nomenclature) for whatever reason, seems suited to my temperament in this regard. On the other hand, I never tried using my past journal attempts for editorializing.
Be that as it may, it’s one method of tracking…progress?
I’ve been working on a new novel. I’ve mentioned that before, of course. As of today, I’m about a third of the way through and I feel it’s going well. I still have one more in the alternate history trilogy I’ve been writing the last several years, but this new one—a full-blown science fiction work involving interstellar travel, aliens, fey physics, and immortality—has my more immediate attention and the enthusiasm of my agent. I finished the first draft in the summer, before we went on a short vacation, long overdue, to see friends in Pittsburgh. No telling how long it will take me to finish it, because I’m taking my time with it.
I’ve had less free time this past year to work on it, but that can’t be helped. Besides graduating to full-time employment at Left Bank Books, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, the situation with Donna’s parents has continued, consuming time and emotional energy. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that Donna has been magnificent in her attention to detail and the execution of her responsibilities toward them. As always, I feel privileged to be part of her life. Matters have reached a point now where she need not spend so much time.
What I had taken to be signs of stress turned out to be an ear infection she has been suffering for an unknown length of time. It never got to the point of actually hurting, so it went untreated till recently. She’s doing much better now.
All that to say that circumstances, once again, are changed, and I’ve had to accommodate the new dynamic. I am. I’m working at an acceptable pace and I am pleased with the product. We are starting to take more time for ourselves again.
I underwent surgery last March to repair a rupture tendon in my right arm. I have scrupulously followed doctor’s orders and the recovery has been satisfactory. I’m back at the gym. I’m about 20% down from where I was before the injury, but I’m not complaining—I’m 61, after all, and in fair shape, but I am realistic about what I can do. I tire more easily. Aches and pains don’t go away as fast. Still, I worked out this morning and did incline presses at 90 lbs per hand. It will do.
The year has been a mix of up and down. One of my musical heroes (Chris Squire) passed away, leaving me sad in the way people a few years older must have felt about John Lennon’s passing. You will find my thoughts in the previous post, under the link Passing of Giants. There were other deaths that bothered me, made me feel the world that informed me has shrunk considerably, but none quite so trenchant as that one.
On the high side, though, Harlan Ellison came to St. Louis to attend our local convention, Archon, somewhat at my instigation, and it was, as I wrote, a Peak Experience. That I can say that Harlan is a friend is one of the most unlikely claims I ever expected to be able to make. The visit was anxiety-laden, of course, as he’s not in the best of health and there were…concerns. But it all came off well and he had a great time, which was all I hoped for. Several of his friends came from all over to see him at the convention. It was magical.
I’m not reading as much as I’d like. Yeah, I know, I work at a bookstore, what do I mean I don’t have time to read? Well, I work for a successful bookstore, so no, there’s no reading on the job. I’ll outline my year’s reading over on the Proximal Eye. I have read some very good books, though, and I’ll take quality over quantity any day.
All in all, 2015 was much better than 2014. Things are happening. I am grateful for the people in my life. My lifelong friends are still among the best and we have added new friends, some unexpectedly, who have added enormously to the quality of our lives. (You coworkers at the store, I’m referring to you. Thank you all.)
I’m not saying as much as I have in the past. I expect the reports filed over the course of the next 12 months to be filled with positive developments. We don’t make resolutions, but we have Intentions. 2016, should we manage to achieve even half of what we have in the works, will be incredible.
But it already begins thus. The various elements surrounding us have already promised to aid in great things. And, again, I go forward with the best partner anyone could ask for.
So I’ll leave it brief this year and a bit less detailed. I’ll leave it with a hope everyone has a better year going forward and a thank you to everyone who has made the year just past as good as it was.
December 28, 2015
December 27, 2015
A lazy, restful day. A walk with the dog, a nap, then later in the evening time with good friends. Next few days I’ll be doing my year-end summaries. Meantime…
December 15, 2015
We’ve had a banner year of in terms of bizarre homicides. I could say that all homicide is bizarre, but somehow when it involves people who actually know each other it seems more…expected, I suppose. Tragic, shocking, but after a little thought you can see how it happened.
So-called mass shootings are another matter. These are exercises in mindless spleen-venting on the part of people who are then portrayed as mentally ill, “radicalized,” or some variation of misanthropic moron, either an ideologue or a racist or sometimes just someone who has reached the end of the apparently short string by which life was hanging. Collectively we try to make sense of them. For most of us, this is like making bricks without straw: work the material all you want, it’s just mud in the end and nothing that holds up. We just don’t know.
Into this once more we have another round of what has since 1968 been a cyclic iteration of the Gun Control Debate. The question arose on the federal level during Prohibition when gangsters were running around with Thompson machine guns. The police argued that the ownership and use of such weapons outside the military represented a public danger, and limitations were duly enacted, but this was by no means the first instance within the borders of the United States when possession of firearms by private citizens was an issue of law. And to be sure after the Civil War the question had teeth in the face of Reconstruction policies and the subsequent reaction of the defeated South to the condition of free blacks. There is ample in our history to make a case that the idea of restricting access to personal firearms is a matter of oppression. Hence these arguments cannot be quietly put to rest.
One thread is the presumed constitutionality of the matter. The 2nd Amendment is seen by many to guarantee unrestricted access to firearms. Strict Constructions line up in odd combinations with Survivalists, militant preservationists, and others to claim the Founders meant exactly this. On the other side are those who argue they did not. The fact is, it’s an open question. A good deal of American law was based on English Law and Blackstone’s Commentaries served as an often unacknowledged guide to the writing of local and state ordinances as well as hovering in the back of all the conventionists’ minds while drafting the various state constitutions and the federal constitution. This is one reason so many early state constitutions look so much alike, even in language.
What did Blackstone has to say about possession of arms?
5. The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defense, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute . . . and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765
Right there we see the basis of our legal understanding and the problem with clarification. Under due restrictions. Blackstone—and presumably most if not all the Founders—understood that some regulation was necessary. But by pairing it with a right both Blackstone and the Founders left the issue vague enough to result in precisely the argument we now have. I wrote a piece about my interpretation of what the Founders were thinking here.
Recently I saw this debate once again where the minds of the Founders was being analyzed for both pro and con. I thought to chime in, then held back. I realized suddenly that it simply doesn’t matter what they had in mind.
People will take what they want from the Constitution, just as they do from the Bible, and use it in any way that serves their personal view of how the world ought to be. The vagueness—assumed vagueness—of the 2nd Amendment in this regard allows for the evolution of civil construction to suit a changing situation. The whole Constitution is like that. “What does it mean?” is open to interpretation as long as the issue is recognized as fundamentally important.
(Scalia is simply wrong in his view that the Constitution is not a living document, that it is somehow set in stone and inviolate. If true, that makes it all but worthless.)
The intent of the Founders, however one wishes to construe it in practice, was to guarantee that the armed power of the state came from the express consent of the people. That the “king” was not to hold that power exclusively to the detriment of his subjects, but they would hold it to keep the king in check.
How they held it was and is open to debate and certainly open to reformulation.
In that regard, we should also remember that the United States has traditionally been a state opposed to the idea of standing armies and until WWII, when our current arrangement of maintaining a large federal armed force came into acceptance, we raised armies at need. Consider this from Teddy Roosevelt’s Sixth State of the Union address:
“Our Regular Army is so small that in any great war we should have to trust mainly to volunteers; and in such event these volunteers should already know how to shoot; for if a soldier has the fighting edge, and ability to take care of himself in the open, his efficiency on the line of battle is almost directly Proportionate to excellence in marksmanship. We should establish shooting galleries in all the large public and military schools, should maintain national target ranges in different parts of the country, and should in every way encourage the formation of rifle clubs throughout all parts of the land. The little Republic of Switzerland offers us an excellent example in all matters connected with building up an efficient citizen soldiery.”
And by the way this was one of the primary functions of the NRA before its lobbying arm expanded to dominate the entire machinery of it.
But the fact is, the situation has changed and we are not talking about abstract political philosophy but about with access to military style weapons and head’s full of junk going out and popping off at targets of opportunity because they think their world is ending. Or they want their 15 minutes. Or they didn’t take their meds. Or they overdosed on paranoid social media and Fox News. Or they think—
And we have a multi-billion dollar arms industry that thrives on this stuff, because every time it happens people run out and buy more guns. Naturally they don’t want to see restrictions.
But to argue that restrictions are in some way a violation of the Founders intent is not only a narrow and self-serving view but beside the point, because for the most part the people making that argument wouldn’t change their mind if they could be proved wrong. This is religion for them and like people who insist that Leviticus supports their view of the present world and its ills they will interpret it as they want.
Just as those who find the 2nd Amendment a vestigial piece of antiquated nonsense that perhaps ought to be expunged.
The Founders certainly never intended us to be hamstrung by what they did. The world is a different place—technologically if not politically—and refusing to sit down and try to find a solution to a problem because “the Constitution says” would likely strike them as absurd.
I don’t believe any rational person feels the guy who shot up San Bernardino is mentally or morally qualified to have had unrestricted access to weapons. To defend his ability to have them because you think it means you can’t have the same access to the same weapons is a troubling and frankly myopic attitude. We have a real problem in this country with firearms in the hands of people who, with just a little thought, we know shouldn’t have them.
However, the debate must be had before we can come to any solution. But stop using the Founders as an excuse. Be honest—this isn’t about them. It’s about us.
December 8, 2015
I’m still fiddling with the new software. This is an older image on which I did a little new work. Because I am itching to make some intemperate remarks on the current political scene, some of which would likely be ill-considered and of dubious utility, I’m doing this instead, because…well…I can.