Getting Out There

Race to Alaska

I have been toying with an idea for a while now, since before my appearance at DetCon1 last July actually. Human powered endurance sports tend to exist on the bleeding edge of materials science and efficient design. I like to use this in my science fiction writing because it is not much of a stretch to imagine pushing these two contributing factors just a little bit further in the pursuit of glories we already seek.

Today I realize that when I was much younger and had far fewer responsibilities I was living an optimal science fiction life style. Working on the White River National Forest as a back country wilderness guard was the beginning of my pursuit of an ultralight backpack. That first summer I showed up with a huge haul ruck for mountaineering and enough extra stuff that I walked out on my first patrol loaded down with fifty or more pounds strapped to my back. I was young and stupid, but equally motivated by avoiding pain. As soon as that first trip came to a close I realized that I needed to shed weight and bulk rapidly. It was easy enough to repurpose lighter gear from the back of my Subaru hatchback and soon I was skipping down trails thirty-five miles a day. My consistent experimentation was rewarded with easier travels and more miles.

The rest of the family is down for some sleep, and I just got back from a run around the block. Now age is a governing factor in that equation. But I still envy those guys that do amazing distances under their own power.

Gavin McClurg and Will Gadd just flew the length of the Canadian Rockies vol-bivy style in thirty-five days. Heather Anderson powered out a sixty day Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. And the venerable Jefe Branham bike-packed the Divide in sixteen days and change. When people at Geek Fan Expo asked me what are my favorite sports this weekend my reply was “anything single-stage, self-supported.”

My problem is that, while I enjoy watching others do amazing things, doing so fills my pants with ants. Tour the Divide has been an itching welt on my conscious for quite some time. So too each and every PCT segment and thru hike record on the books. Writing about these kinds of things only helps for a little while.

And when I get a bug for long distance races they are very difficult to squish. Right now I’m thinking about how I might enter Race to Alaska. From my seat at this desk I’ve got less than a year to get back into long distance shape for a crossing I should have attempted twenty years ago. Tomorrow the roof top tent goes on the block to generate some seed money and right now I’m trying to calculate my realistic exercise speed given calm conditions.

Ten days. Can I afford that time? Can I afford the hours of training and the gear costs that would put me in a position to compete? Good grief I love and hate it when a mania like this takes hold.

This Should Be a Thing

I’m plum tuckered out. Today I have been more or less consistently disappointed by humanity. Disappointed in general, as well as in particular. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in the last twelve to sixteen hours has figured out a new and sometimes interesting way to let me down. For example, the long line of college aged kids on the trail to Lake Serene who were speaking so loudly I could make them out over the din of the forest and a 200 foot cascade crashing into boulders. Guys, hiking should be a lot like visiting the library. Then there is pretty much everyone on social media for, well, saying dumb shit.

After our hike we picked up some passable fried fish and an okay beer. Expectations thereafter lowered, the Fam and I returned to our castle on the hill and played frisbee at the park for a while. Mostly good, but I caught a disc, thrown at close range by my three year old, with my ear. It’s still throbbing. Eventually, we made our way back to the house and I thought, “Hey, I need a pick-me-up. I should see what my friends are up to,” and then clicked through to Facebook because I’m a glutton for punishment, or disappointment. Take your pick. At the top of my feed the fine folks at Facebook thought I’d appreciate this.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always set me on edge.

I love helping out new authors. But I’m super busy, so I can’t really take the time to pour myself into that kind of critical reading. And whenever I tell someone this, it’s always a crapshoot whether I’ll get a “thanks for your time” or a raging screed about arrogant writers.

I will not name the author that wrote this. He’s a good guy, and I suspect that this was probably written out of frustration. The amount of reading anybody associated with this gig is constantly asked to undertake can be daunting. At some point we all have to draw lines and declare “None shall pass.” Also noteworthy, I am not the author making said request. This guy writes fantasy, I write science fiction; I’m uncertain he would understand my works any more than I get his. Add to this he’s just an acquaintance I’ve made, not a bosom buddy or a connection to an agent or an imprint. Just some dude I was friendly with over beers at a convention. I’d be really surprised if he reads this blog post. Ever.

But this very public comment struck me as particularly off-putting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a public declaration characterized by indirect refusal to the request of another. He’s not refusing to help by telling the requesting author, he is refusing by telling his fans. While this avenue of response avoids direct confrontation, it also creates more drama than it solves. While at the same time, the comment itself appears to be a lightly veiled attempt to raise one author above another. The Cliff notes for this post? “I’ve got mine, don’t bother asking.”

Add to the above that I’ve found this attitude somewhat widespread. At conventions I’ve sat next to people, other authors, who spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about the unwashed masses with whom they’re too good to consort. To further the misattribution of a phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” This seems to me the genre specific contemporary version of Marie Antoinette’s contempt. Funnily it is not the people with swimming pools of book revenue that tend to do this. Go figure.

If you “love helping out new authors” than give it your best shot. Do what you can, no one expects any more. Be more than a self-promoter, be an advocate for your favorite stories. Tell others about all the really fine works that will improve their appreciation of your canon. You’ve worked hard to find your audience, and you may have had help along the way. If not, it cannot hurt to pay it forward. If you really don’t have the time to read someone else’s work than, at the very least, be honest and mature. Tell them upfront.

In an attempt to reconstruct my attitude I turned this nugget on its head because I’m not into maintaining a never ending streak of disappointment. I seriously had to let this one go or risk staying up all night thinking about it, thus, this is a little bit of therapy. I probably need to turn this into a policy statement, but in the mean time consider my public declaration an invitation. Feel free to change out the pronouns as you see fit.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always get me excited.

I love helping out new authors because I might have just been given an early opportunity to find my next favorite wordsmith. This is why I will create time in my busy schedule to read his book instead of concocting a series of excuses designed to passive-aggressively justify my own narcissism and surreptitiously segregate him from my social crowd. Besides, I should spend less time playing video games. Whenever I tell someone that I will read their book I am reasonably confident I’ll receive a sincere “thank you” for my time, perhaps some quid pro quo. This is far preferable to the anxiety of waiting on their reply which can range from polite dismissal to an arrogant, raging screed.

It is the last day of August. Today I can officially say I’ve been doing this professionally for a year. Writing, or making shit up for living as I love to call it, is an excellent way to make a living.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last year is that it’s a group effort. No one makes it alone. The idea of an “independent author” is a myth, a complete and utter fabrication. For each and every one of us who takes this chance, who writes something down and then sends it out into the world, there must necessarily be a collection of people to read that wager. If you’ve got your’s, I say, “Great! Good on ya.” But I’d also remind you that you did not find your level of success on your own. Someone read what you had to write and loved it enough to tell a friend, to write a blurb, put it in front of your agent or your publisher, or just leave a review on Amazon.

Don’t crap on your fans. Don’t crap on your peers. Pay it forward when ever you can. And always, ALWAYS play nice.

Textbook Example

Extreme Precipitation in US Increasing Data from the latest National Climate Assessment shows that brief, heavy downpours are increasing across the United States, with the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern states hardest hit.

Good morning! For the first time in a very long while the Seattle area is covered, horizon to horizon, with a dense, probably-won’t-burn-off-today layer of creamy, rich, gray clouds. In celebration of this momentous day I put on my running shorts, loaded up the bulki, added Aral, and ran down into Issaquah. Right now, we’re sitting near the rear of the Issaquah Coffee Company; well I am anyway, he is playing with trains and friends in the play area.

First observation of the day: while it is far cooler, it is dog gamed muggy today. Running in muggy is miserable. The body wants to sweat, but the air is not going to help you out. Not one little bit. So you plow through that air moving faster, because while you might sweat a little more, the movement of air over your body feels marginally more comfortable than clinging, humid, still air.

I think about it this way, muggy running should be naked running. Seems you cannot even get away with that at Burning Man these days so I suppose I’m SOL. Otherwise, it was a good run. When we’re done at coffee I’m going to pack everything back up into the bulki, run around town getting some errands done, and then head back up the hill. Perhaps some of the moisture will fall out of the air in the mean time.

Now, beyond contemplating my slimy skin in humid weather, my mind did wonder quite a bit on the run down. I kept coming back to this PopSci article about extreme precipitation, which has been making me say to myself, “Well yeah, this is news?” It’s not news. Rather this is textbook, meaning predictions of a general increase in the intensity of weather events has been around since nearly the beginning of climate science. Meaning that you can literally read about extreme weather predictions in any credible textbook on the subject.

I realize that this may be me experiencing some some cultural dissociation from the rest of the country. Hell, even the rest of the population juxtaposed right next to me. That there are people who still don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change is something I know about. And while I know this, my rational mind wants, desperately, to not believe in this ridiculous state of affairs.

Derp, derp, derpy, derp. Numbers from Gallup’s annual Environment poll, a nationally representative telephone survey conducted each March since 2001. The 2014 update was conducted March 6-9.

So you’re wondering, “Where is Matt going with this? How is he ever going to tie this back into science fiction?” Dear Audiance, that’s the fun part. There is a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction out there which describes a future so morbidly FUBAR that this question is no longer permitted. In these stories, the stark reality that everyone inhabits is so far gone that characters are no longer aloud the luxury of being such bone headed ingrates.

Now here’s the challenging part. John Scalzi has written extensively about white male privilege in the genre. He’s been acknowledged as something of an expert opinion on this topic and having met the man I’d have to endorse that opinion. Dude’s got credit when it comes to recognizing easy mode.

John Scalzi’s linked essay has a line in it which I believe is endlessly quotable:

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

The thought occurred to me while running down from the plateau this morning that writers who write a) in the future and often b) in settings that have been fundamentally altered by climate change are often choosing easy mode. Myself included. In these stories it is a very rare bird that does not believe in what he or she can  easily see happening all around them.

Paolo Bachigalupi’s Ship Breaker series, for instance, lacks characters who persistently ignore their setting. Who insist that climate change is not affecting them. Even Nailer, illiterate and uneducated as he is, knows that things are now much different than they were in the distant past. And those characters necessarily padded by privilege from the consequences of climate change still believe that so much has changed, often for the worse.

This is not a criticism of Bachigalupi’s work, but it is illustrative of my point. Writing in this mode preempts the debate and worse avoids solving a persistent problem of our time. I’m guessing here, but I imagine that Bachigalupi set out to scare/thrill our pants off with Ship Breaker, not quell an irrational dissension on a contemporary topic.

But if you’re writing cli-fi and you’re not writing irrational denial of the obvious you are choosing easy mode. Why? Because, right now, every day, plenty of people are still holding out despite the very real consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

Detroit, Boulder, Kearney, the whole freaking Gulf Coast, the East Coast, the West Coast, the Rocky Mountain Region, you name a place and even the most cursory web search looking for an extreme weather event will likely reveal occurrence as well as increase. And in every one of these locations there will be a population of cognitively dissonant people who will deny the obvious happening right outside their doors. In fact, the will dogmatically cling to the fiction of denial, even when those events come crashing through those doors. If 43% of the US population can ignore these facts of everyday life in 2014, how do we imagine that a similar percentage of people won’t defect from reality in 2040?

Much of my editing of late has been focused on getting Counterfeit Horizon closer to publishing. Not to provide spoilers, but I’ve effectively removed all human agency when it comes to climate change in the conclusion of this story. In doing so I’ve also crossed into the gray area which resides somewhere between science fiction and fantasy and consequently I’ve neglected to realistically solve the very problem that I pose. Humanity does not solve for climate change.

Convincing others of the obvious, then somehow compelling them to act in their own best interests, that’s hard mode and even I haven’t written that story yet. The good news is that the plot arc is now written, the outline is right there. I don’t believe that the existing mechanisms for changing people’s minds will be any more effective in the future than they have been up to this point. The fun and the challenge is going to come making up workable solutions to this problem.

Blind Date with a Book (GIVE AWAY)

FeetForBrains:

Reblogging because free stuff from Little Red. Seriously, I’m guessing that some of these could be Hugo winners. I want the red one with the snow flakes, because snow flakes. Ugh, I’m done with summer.

Originally posted on the Little Red Reviewer:

2014-08-17 18.16.56

I’ve got books to give away!  But we’re gonna do this the fun way. And by fun way, I mean blind date with a book!  that means I give you a little bit of info about the book, and you get to decide if it looks interesting.  I won’t tell you the title, or the author, but I can tell you that these are all new books published in the last 12 months,  from publishers like Orbit, Tachyon, and Titan Books. They were all sent to me as review copies, and either I have duplicates, I’ve read them and don’t plan to read them again, or it’s a title I opted to skip on.

Here’s the rules:

– due to the cost of shipping overseas, this give away is for US only

– let me know in the comments which book(s) you’re interested in, and yes, you can request more…

View original 222 more words

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Treatment Party

“Did you get one too?” Melanie asked Anita, interrupting her enjoyment of the beam of sunshine now creeping onto her chair. The tone of the question contained just enough snark to signal her friend that, yes, indeed she could not believe the contents of the invitation now being displayed on the surface of her cartabla.

Anita hated it when people pulled out a device at a table. The morning shared with Melanie at the little cafe had been pleasant, until her girlfriend had gotten bored with the lazy silence and tea. Default mode for her was always-connected to the speely. Invariably, Melanie would find something to get snarky about. It was irksome, but Anita didn’t want to make an issue of it; so, she signed, pulled her cartabla from her hand bag, and checked her message queue. Sure enough, near the top, under an advertisement for a spa, was the invitation in question.

“Yes. Hold on, what’s this? Isabel has cancer?” Melanie let Anita finish reading the invitation. Anita couldn’t understand how her friend might feel even the least bit snarky about the invitation. Then Melanie interrupted Anita’s train of thought to explain.

“Oh yes, hadn’t you heard?” said Melanie, not really asking. Anita hadn’t, in fact, heard anything. “Isabel was diagnosed, I don’t know, maybe a month ago. Stage three breast cancer. Can you believe that?”

“That’s bad right?” Anita was not too sure about the implications. People she knew just didn’t get cancer.

“Terrible I’m told. I had to speel some old medical locus to figure out how bad. I guess that twenty years ago it would have been a death sentence,” said Melanie.

“But Isabel is going to be okay?”

“Oh, of course. Read the invitation. She’s just trying to drum up some sympathy. It’s a ‘Treatment Party.’ I mean who throws a party before they go to see their oncologist, right?” The snark was back, and this time Melanie had turned the dial all the way around. “La-di-da, do you think anyone will go? What do you bring to a ‘Treatment Party’ anyway? I just don’t know.”

Anita still didn’t think it was very funny, but she could see her friend’s point. It was much like throwing a shindig because you were headed in to the shop for a manicure. She sat back in her chair and let the beam of sunlight illuminate her face and chest. It felt divine. “Well, are you going?” Anita asked Melanie making sure those three words betrayed their sardonic edge.

“Oh, of course. Isabel’s shindigs are usually pretty good. Everyone will be there.”

Anita looked down at her cartabla, then swiped down to the response panel. Everyone is going to be there? She would have to think about it. She touched the button labeled “maybe” and leaned back into the sunshine.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Defunded

Naomi slapped a sticker to the side of yet another full JAG car as it raced past the only functioning station in the Five Points. It read “I’m defunded! Jacksonville Active Go can’t serve Florida,” and the cut and pressed suits that occupied the Personal Rapid Transit car would have to read its day glow lettering all the way to the South Hill Metroplex. When Prop K was on the ballet last fall those ultra-privileged wage-zombies voted to defund JAG. Yet they always magically managed to get priority service from the call-to-ride transit system. The Five Points station was crammed with riders waiting for their turn. Every last one of them had paid their fare in advance to get access to the platform, and Naomi guessed that not a single one of those waiting along side her had voted down the funding prop.

She checked the sweet spot on her wrist where her interactive ink was even now counting the minutes since she had called for her ride. “Ninty-three minutes. Well if that isn’t a pile of fang pi,” she mumbled while looking up the rail for the next potential PRT car. There was nothing. Naomi wondered if she might be able to slip away for a cup of coffee. She switched arms and started playing with a map of the city searching for a mobile cart. Little coffee cup icons inched over her skin. There were two a short walk away, but both of them were still peddling. Naomi decided to wait and see if one of them might park near the entry gate for the JAG. If that happened she could reach through the hurricane fence for a cuppa without losing her place in the queue.

The huge cargo bikes were pumped around the inner city by young people with sexy-burly legs. If she had that kind of augment it would be nothing to bike down to Ponte Vedra every day and the devil could take the damned JAG and stuff it up his can. But, for the time being, that was out of the question. Margo had picked her because she was still mostly stock. Skinny little, pencil legs and an A-cup. Naomi modeled swim suits in a swank tourist beach shop next to a golf course and she had to maintain her “assets” if she didn’t want Margo kicking her to the curb. It paid the bills. Most of them anyway.

As it was, Naomi knew she would show up late, really late. Margo would bitch at her, following Naomi around the dressing room grunting her discontent. Margo knew that there was nothing Naomi could do about it, but that knowledge never stopped her. The JAG cars came when they were available. Naomi planned how she might get the old hag to shut her trap; first she would slip into a bikini, then get onto the show floor. Finally, Naomi would turn up the ink like only she could, and that would silence the lao tai po. It was a Friday, there were already two cruise ships in port and all the New York money wanted something to look at, Naomi knew how to get the message across. Desperate old men would come and watch while their women scoured the mercado. And all those eyes meant piles of cred for Margo-san.

Dance and strut and upgrade the ink. Eventually she’d cash out and buy a long john coffee cart. “If the JAG keeps falling apart,” she mused to herself, “then I know where I’ll park my bike too.”

I Hate Conflict

Yep, this author really does not like it very much. My problem with conflict is that it gums things up, making it more difficult or impossible to get anything done. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize that there is no escaping it, and eventually, if you’re involved in any pursuit where conflict is happening you may actually need to chose a side. I hate that most of all because I usually find myself not agreeing with any particular party. If party A is busy bickering with party B over something that ultimately just creates obstacles for me, why should I line up with either?

The whole Amazon v Hachette cluster event has once again taken center stage. Instead of focusing on some highly anticipated releases, the ring leaders are begging for all the attention. They want to know that we support them in their cause. They’re writing open letters, building grass roots media campaigns, and waving big banners.

Friday evening, what should appear in my inbox, but a letter from The Amazon Books Team with the subject “An Important Kindle request.” Within this multi-page tome (and I possess a big monitor) I’ve been obliged to take Amazon’s side in this contemporary cluster event of monumental proportions. If we just hold hands, sing songs, and spam our adversaries with emails we can eventually go back to pretending to be nice to one another. After reading this letter I felt dirty.

Amazon would love for you to buy into the idea that they’re on the side of readers. Hachette wants you to trust that they’re on the side of creatives. In my opinion, both of these companies couldn’t give less of a damn about readers or writers. Here’s why.

  • In Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors they liken the rise of ebooks to the historical shift in publishing between hard bound and paper backed books. Their history is on the fuzzy side, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Amazon’s claim that the ebook can revolutionize book sales the way that paperbacks did somewhere between WW1 and Vietnam.I find it perplexing that as a distributor of books, Amazon fails to realize that words have value. People, good people in fact, spend lots and lots of time and effort collecting those words into big piles. They’re banking on the notion that a lower price point will increase sales volumetrically. Fast and cheap is what they’re going for in their segment of publishing, but this is incredibly shortsighted of the company. As an author who first bleeds on the page and then slaves away at revisions until I’m cross eyed, I don’t want readers stuffing their Kindles with my work. This does me absolutely no good. That kindle stuffed with cheap words will never get read and the return I can expect regardless of how I publish will always be much, much lower. Amazon is pushing writers to produce more if they want any hope of maintaining financial viability. You get to choose two: fast, cheap, or good. By chasing cheap, and pushing fast, they’re losing good.

    The whole Readers United bit seems concocted. It’s like eating soylent green snack cakes. Amazon is clearly trying to win my support in their corporate struggle but they are not actually doing anything to gain my support. So like a big, self-interested, for-profit company.

    If you’re a reader and you think this is a good thing, think again. Short term, with the ever-decreasing value of the printed word, each time you buy a mobi on your Kindle Paperwhite™ you’re likely wasting your hard earned money. You’ve given me a sale, but I’ve lost a reader because Kindle-stuffers don’t read, they collect. Long term it is actions like this that push down prices on everyone’s works, thereby devaluing the cost of the written word to the point where it becomes a worthless pursuit for creatives. I’m not motivated to write and then jump through hoops to publish something at a net loss.

  • Hachette has brought out their honor guard to make the point that Amazon is an evil, multimillion dollar, monopolistic company whose only concern is hurting Hachette’s precious writers. “It’s not our fault that Amazon chooses to behave this way,” they’re saying. “Be on our side because we’re the good guys, ebooks at a slightly higher price point ($14.99 instead of $9.99) just means that much more money will end up in the hands of the people who really deserve it.”I’m not buying this line either. Hachette has its own turf effort underway. A bunch of big name authors have published an open letter in which they “respectfully ask you, our loyal readers, to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon and tell him what you think.” Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you lost agency when you sold the rights to your work. Sure, what Amazon is doing is craptastic. Refusing to accept pre-orders on Hachette authors’ books and eBooks, refusing to discount the prices of many of Hachette authors’ books, slowing the delivery of thousands of Hachette authors’ books to Amazon customers, and indicating that delivery will take as long as several weeks on some titles is the opposite of what any company formed around the idea of efficient, low-cost distribution of goods should be doing. This is how the bully behaves, but Hachette seemingly hasn’t seen fit to make any move to help these authors. Amazon is stoking the fire, Hachette is making certain that the shackles are nice and tight.

    The painful part of this effort is that each and every one of the people that signed this open letter seems just fine with the heat. By bandwagoning Hachette’s efforts you’ve effectively let this company off the hook for their part in this kerfuffle.

Neither of these companies is doing anything for the people that they say they care about. Authors don’t make any more if either of them win. Reading doesn’t get any better if either of them win. From the perspective of the people that matter, this is all lose-lose. We lose because attention within a saturated media market is necessarily diverted to business matters pertaining solely to middlemen.

What do I want? Amazon and Hachette to sit down and work things out; both of these companies need to solve this problem sooner than later. They’re hurting everyone who creates or consumes. These business entities are losing business. Do I hate either of these companies? Not so much — they both have a lot to offer. I’m a businessman working at the creative end of this funnel. When things go wrong, when things get stopped up, I notice. But that’s just it, I am interested in selling my stories, not winning some sort of imagined moral battle.

We’re not on the verge of some epic ebook publishing breakthrough, neither are we at the threshold of some amazing renaissance of traditional publishing self distribution. Rather we seem to be hopelessly bogged down in some sort of middleman mire. Amazon, you’ll never get anywhere bullying Hachette authors. If you want to win authors over to your way of thinking, offer them a better deal. Hachette, you’ll never get anywhere pretending you hold some sort of moral high ground. If you want to win readers over to your way of thinking, give readers a better deal.