Friday, June 30, 2017

Face Bleeding

My wife and I were eating breakfast this morning when Leslie found herself caught in a quagmire.  Called Facebook.

The liberal vanguard of my family was raging about the latest Presidential controversy.  (This doesn't have to be a date-specific post, since mayhem seems to be a daily occurrence.  But in this case, I'm talking about "face-bleeding.")  The conversation's hope of hopes was that this would be the final insult that would lead to impeachment, or something.  Which would be a great victory for their tribe and maybe the nation too.  Or at least I assume that was the heart of the messages.  Leslie was trying to ignore the beeping phone, and I was reading the Times on my phone.

You know, people really do love their stories.  Which is why we get ourselves into so much trouble, and more importantly, why we can never quite get out of our messes.  Trump is a villain to many, yes, and an embarrassment to the nation, and a threat to the future of humanity.  No doubt about any of that in my mind.  But he's a villain with millions who believe his story.  And he's also obvious and ineffectual and surprisingly weak-willed.  Meanwhile impeachment will be a very slow business.  When this chapter ends--and I hope it can end without catastrophic suffering--someone else will conquer the Oval Office.  Pence?  An ideologue who might not survive the Russian intrigues or having dinner with women other than his wife.  Paul Ryan?  No man woman or computer software with a boner for Ayn Rand should be allowed near the highest office.  After that?  Orrin Hatch, I believe.  Which says something.  I mean, when in my life have I ever imagined that President Orrin Hatch would be good news?

My advice is not to waste much hope for an early end to President Trump's clumsy reign.  In part because I am a writer, and there will be more chapters, and there's no end to the shit that can happen.  There are legions of people and well-funded causes that still stand behind the man.  But more to the point, they never stop telling the same few stories to themselves.  Maybe they're standing a few steps farther back now, sure.  But still, their outrage is like cruise missile attacks.  This is wrong, he shouldn't have done that.  The man is learning as he goes, and so on.

There's another Trump somewhere, shrewder and far more capable.

And standing against him?  A political party that cannot seem to make three good decisions in a row.  That spends millions getting beaten in the wrong campaigns, and that still, despite evidence of a growing mandate, can't find the voice or vigor to support far more progressive ideals.

The next Trump will be very much like our Trump:  The elected leader of the Confederate States of America.  But there isn't going to be an old-style civil war.  If violence erupts, it won't be pretty like it was in the 1860s.  No uniforms.  No neat borders.  No Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The military leaders on both sides will not have gone to school together, and there won't be an ending written in the noble language of treaties and exhaustion.

No, our next civil war will belong to Facebook, chaotic and full of beeps while you're trying to eat your Raisin Bran.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Giving up SFWA

June is when I traditionally renew my membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  But this year, for the first time in approximately three decades, I plan to pass.

SFWA is older than the vast majority of its members, and for good reason.  For a certain kind of author, the venerable organization has accomplished quite a lot.  I'll even say that each newly-minted professional should pony up the dough, feeling proud about his or her inclusion in the club.  But for three years only.  Of maybe seven years.  No investment should turn into an annuity for the organization receiving your money.  After the initial honeymoon, the author needs to look hard at  benefits and costs, and if the gains are inadequate, then those funds should be shipped somewhere else.  To your website, to a new Chromebook.  To the rice and beans that you'll need over the next couple weeks.

I'm not using SFWA.  And sure, that underscores my limits as a professional.  I don't nominate works or vote on the Nebula ballot.  I'm miserable at networking, and I certainly don't haunt the websites associated with SFWA.  From conversations with colleagues, I imagine that there's quite a lot of chatter going on day and night.  Writers are battling over politics and the value of recent works, they make or lose friends with a single posting, and if some of these people spent as much fuel on their own work, they would have quite a bit more work.  But I don't involve myself with any of that, because I don't see any way to win at this game.

The SFWA suite at conventions.  That's the most tactile benefit accrued from my membership.  For years, there was no better place to meet other writers for the first time, and hear rumors, and culture the image that I belonged to a small organization that had some power inside a small corner of the shrinking publishing universe.  But the last several conventions have proved less than satisfying.  Some of the friends aren't coming to WorldCons anymore, shouting at strangers is less fun than it used to be, and not being involved with the on-line scene puts me at a deep disadvantage.  But mostly there's the problem that I don't have plans to attend any future conventions.  Which kind of makes the free pop and chips to be less of enticement than it used to be.

Good old days.  For me, the glory time in SFWA was in the late '80s, early '90s.  News came in the form of small cheap and charming booklets filled with minutes from meetings and letters from disgruntled writers.  Harry Harrison was a fountain of angry noise, constantly complaining about how we were idiots to work for so little and we were ruining the business.  There were always a few angry letters, and that's what I adored.  Drama.  The taste of discord.  Which is the last thing that the Internet can supply.  A taste.

SFWA can help with publisher troubles.  But I don't have many publishers, certainly none that my agent isn't suited to handle.

SFWA manages to fill its offices, but those ballots are barely more interesting than the Nebula ballots.  One candidate for every post, and maybe the wild card that nobody wants.  Which is understandable, since being an officer sounds thankless and occasionally grim.

The Nebula is a major award.  Ideally, the best works should be found and every voter should read everything nominated and vote only for the finest reasons.  But we don't and don't and don't.

Years ago, I was called by a fellow writer who wanted my vote.  It was a pretty ballsy act, I thought at the time.  And ever since.  I don't remember which way I went with my vote.  But the poor fellow didn't win, and I heard that he was furious after the award ceremony, complaining about all the butt-kissing that didn't pay off in the end.

Friends vote for friends, and that means everything in a club with a few hundred avid voters.

If I was Emperor of SFWA, I'd start a 5-year moratorium on the Nebula.  Nominate nothing, vote on nothing.  Then relaunch the trophy by judging the works still available five years after their first publication.  That gives the world time to assess, and what seemed valuable and wise in the past may have vanished altogether.  Or it's genius has only grown.

But even if this is a good idea, it won't happen.  If any President makes such a creatively radical proposal, he or she will be the first SFWA president to be cooked and served in the suite at the next WorldCon, alongside the chips and dip and little green florets of broccoli.

And maybe that's the best reason to give up on SFWA.

It's not half as creative as it believes itself to be.