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Posts Tagged ‘What Came Before’

America’s Long Hangover

Good morning, America. Are you hungover? Honestly, I think I’ve been hungover since the 2000 election, which was a whopping 16 years ago. Two timelines diverged in a wood, and lo, we took the darker one, and here we are, America, perpetually drunk or hungover.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why nobody cared to show up to that election. We’d come off the prosperity of  Bill Clinton’s 90’s, artificially created by the deregulation of the banks that would eventually undo us all. While the Silicon Valley bubble had already burst, credit was still cheap and easy to come by (and would be until the great crash of 2008).  I know someone who was able to consolidate their student loans during this period at a 1% interest rate. I didn’t have a credit card with more than an 8% interest rate, with most of them coming in at 3-6%. It was a freewheeling time to be alive in America if you could get access to credit. But that bubble was set to burst. And when it did burst, we’d be at war, a war that still wages today.

When everything fell apart we didn’t have somebody at the helm smart enough to figure out what to do. War, instead, would have to solve everything for eight long years. No president is perfect, but Obama helped many of us dig out of that hole. Are things better for everyone? Well. They are better than they were in 2009, say, and they are better for pretty much everyone, though they may not remember it. At the very least, every American now has access to health insurance, whether they have pursued it or not. We are no longer barred from it for financial or medical reasons. But the war continues under Obama, as well as the nefarious spying on Americans, the dubious “war on terror” fought at home at abroad, blowing up kids in foreign countries and inciting anti-Muslim sentiment from coast to coast.

There continue to be “no more manufacturing jobs” which really, we haven’t had since the early 80’s, but my god, so many people continue to mourn them. There are far too many cities trying to woo them back instead of investing in something else. Invest in cell phone towers, IT startups, solar plants, fucking anything but fucking dead manufacturing jobs. We want an America that our grandparents had without the 90% tax rate on the rich that made that America possible. How do you think they paid for World War II? Taxes. It was still patriotic to pay taxes, then. We want that idea of America without making anyone pay for it.

Drunk or hungover, that’s America.

Many elections are characterized, in truth, by a lackluster amount of emotion. Nobody got excited about Bush or Kerry, or Bush or Gore (in part because Gore never talked about things he was passionate about but also see: false sense of prosperity. When you are mostly comfortable, what’s there to get excited about?). The second round Bush made, he was able to drum up the “war on terror” fear-mongering, and hey, that works. But so does Obama’s tact of going with hope. He ran on hope, and he won twice (legitimately, without having to call his brother in Florida to ask him to call the race for him). Hope can win, too. It’s why it’s so aggravating to watch an incompetent bankrupt narcissist run on fear, the oldest playbook, and use that emotion to pull so many people into his orbit. Worse is to watch him go up against the most qualified presidential candidate – maybe ever – who has been knocked down so many times she should not have kept going, but who is going anyway, and fuck you for getting in the way.

We forget that it was Hillary Clinton who was heading that first tentative effort at universal healthcare in the 90’s. And the GOP destroyed her for it. After that failed bid, she went back to safer “first lady” type things, like doing stuff for kids. Even though the very best thing anyone could have done for children and families in America was create universal healthcare (they did manage to expand coverage to cover a lot of kids). So she backed off, but she was not out. She was never out.

Grit.

Hillary Clinton’s dogged perseverance is a thing to behold. Whenever I’m feeling shit about my own life, and my own challenges, I remember that she’s fucking 68 years old, and has weathered the very worst that an entire political party can throw at her, and here she is, still going. The fact that she had to share a stage with some mediocre white man after literally dedicating her life to political service and the political game to prepare her for this moment is fucking insulting to women everywhere. Like, everywhere. Everywhere. Because we have all been in that place, where we’re more qualified than the dude talking over us, where we have better ideas, better work ethic, where we are simply better in every way, and we keep waiting for folks to see it while he froths and gesticulates and jacks off at a meeting, and you can’t lose your shit, even though he is, because while he will be called “passionate” for spitting angry shit at everyone, you’ll be called “emotional.” So you sit on your hands, and you wait for him to wear himself out, and you start again with reason and logic, even knowing that it’s emotion that wins arguments, not logic. And you do all this knowing that no matter how smart and logical you are, it’s very possible he could still win out, because people are fucking stupid. People are emotional. And yes, “People” includes men, there (a VP at a company I worked for threw a cup at a woman once. He was not fired, suspended, anything. Zilch).

That’s America, too, and that’s my own long hangover. Trying not to yell in meetings. Performance reviews where I’m told I’m, “too smart” and come across as “arrogant,” and all I could think was, “Shit, if I was a dude I’d be getting a huge raise right now.” Oh, certainly, things have worked out for me, too, as they have for Clinton. She’s a fucking major presidential nominee, after all. You don’t get there without moving some large mountains. But you remember the bullshit that wouldn’t be in your way if you were a dude. And she and I would have had a greater mountain of bullshit if we weren’t white, or cis.

Yet there is hope, here, for me and for her and for many of us, because even if this turns into some squalling nightmare, the dark-er, darkest-er, timeline… no, stop. Let’s not even go there.

THE DARK TIMELINE STOPS HERE.

AS KC Green says:

this-is-not-fine-004-4f0492

(updated comic here)

This is not fucking fine. Not one bit of this. Our perpetual drunken hangover is not fine. It’s no way to live. Being angry and scared all the time when we live in an era of unprecedented technological and social change, with a lower crime and murder rate than pretty much ever, is not fine. Falling for the same old fear-mongering bullshit, in every era, is not fine. Repeating the same old far-right hatemongering decade after decade, even and especially when people are still ALIVE who remember fighting against a people whose far-right xenophobia made it possible for them to systematically murder over 6 million people is not fine (and people are still ALIVE who were PART of this murdering).

As a student of history, I find that watching the same historical wheel turn again and again, watching humanity make the same mistakes again and again, really tiring. I get that Hillary Clinton does not represent a passionate positive emotion for people. She is not hopey-changey stuff. She is a tough politician. She will give us a continuation of Obama’s policies. We are voting in the current status quo. Which is SUPER better than the status quo of 2008, yeah. But the status quo is not super exciting. Sure, the path we’re on now is messy and taking forever and change is hard and mean and exhausting, but it’s happening. Because I’ll tell you what’s WORSE than the road we’re on, and that’s the road that leads to murderball, The Handmaid’s Tale, nuclear war with Russia, and internment camps.

Are we living in a dystopia? Sure. We are living in the 80’s Robocop future where corporations control everything because the government is too afraid to tax them and use the money on infrastructure, which would in turn create tons of jobs and improve not only the economy, but working class morale, too. Regan put us on this road in the 80’s, and we’ve never truly jumped back and realized the error of our ways. Deregulation, busting up unions, closing mental health facilities… none of those things was great for the middle class. They were great for rich people.

Yet strangest of all (or not, if you know history) we are living in a Robocop future where dissatisfied white people, in particular, put the blame for this future on immigrants, welfare fraud, and uppity non-white people instead of people like the millionaire running against Clinton who hasn’t paid his taxes in 14 years. I know how we got here, because it’s how we’ve always gotten here. What I want to understand is how we fix it, and how we fix it is the same way we did before:

We pitch hope instead of fear. Change instead of nostalgia.

Sure, the world is a big, scary place. Shit is moving incredibly fast. Snapchat has sunglasses that you can use to record things now, and it will succeed where Google Glass failed because the glasses actually look cool (also you can call them “specs” or “snap specs” and how cool is that). Also there are no more jobs with pensions and no job security but you can freelance any old fucking thing and telecommute from almost anywhere. Healthcare is expensive and can still put you into debt, but everyone can be insured now, which means you won’t get turned away. Also, we don’t have hookworms or other parasites anymore, most of us, and that’s pretty cool.

I mean, take what you can get.

But I’m not going to pitch more fear of the DARKER-EST timeline here, America. Instead, I’m going to tell you to stop drinking and wake the fuck back up (especially you, fellow white people). Wake the fuck up and start doing shit,and be brave, like these folks and these folks and her and fucking her, for God’s sake. And if you can’t fucking DO shit, then at least vote for an actual future. Show up and do the bare minimum and cancel the apocalypse.

There is a better world out there, but achieving it requires good people to actually do something. All it takes for the worst to come out in all of us is for good people to do nothing, and just keep drinking.

So which will you do?

future

 

You Don’t Owe Anyone Your Time

One of the drawbacks to our “always on” culture is this expectation that if we see something, we have to respond to it. “Sea lions” take advantage of this knee jerk reaction we have to engage with people who ask us questions on the internet. They can get you to waste hours going around in circles “explaining” things to them that can be easily googled. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself spending all day “explaining” why women should have the right to vote and why slavery is bad and why police shouldn’t shoot unarmed people in the street and yes, the Holocaust really happened my grandfather helped haul the bodies out of the camps.

The fact that we feel we have to reassert reasonable moral positions and actual facts which should be common knowledge over and over is depressing in and of itself. But when you feel the urge to do so I want you to remember this quote from Toni Morrison:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

In case it’s not obvious, this quote can easily apply to any other type of “ism” out there. No one wants you to do your work. Doing your work can change the status quo. And that’s why they work so hard to keep you from doing it.

Certainly one in a position of privilege does have a moral imperative to state, “This atrocity is wrong.” But when you buckle down to engage the haters on any issue, consider what your end goal is in having that conversation, and consider what other valuable work you could be doing with that time. I can pretty much guarantee you that, say, writing The Geek Feminist Revolution and getting it into people’s hands was worth about a billion times more than spending that time arguing with dudes on the internet who were just there to distract me. They aren’t here to change minds. They are here to keep us from doing the work that changes the world.

We all have a finite amount of time on this earth. Those of us with chronic illness or who have had near-death experiences appreciate that more than others. I feel that it’s my moral imperative to remind you that you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And if you did, would you regret how you’d spend the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year before?

My goal is to live the sort of life where I won’t feel I’ve wasted my time if I die tomorrow. It has kept me on target through a lot of bullshit. The truth is that all this shit is made up, and because it’s made up, it can be remade. But only if we focus our efforts on creating the work that moves the conversation forward, instead of letting ourselves get caught up in the distraction.

The Establishment Has Always Hated the New Kids

 

“I hope that when the New Wave has deposited its froth and receded, the vast and solid shore of science fiction will appear once more.” 

John W. Campbell, frothing about the New Wave

If you spend a lot of time studying history, you’ll know that it helps to put the slings and arrows of the present into perspective. If you’ve been reading science fiction for the last ten or twenty years, you have likely noticed a certain shift in the field the last couple of years. A certain… bump in the level of its quality, particularly at the prose level. There are some award-winning stories from the last decade that I could poke fun at here for their cardboard characters and clunky prose, but on the whole the shift we are seeing in the science fiction and fantasy field is exciting. So exciting, in fact, that if you love great sff books, as I do, it’s impossible to keep up with all the great stuff out there.

About a decade ago, the worlds that I really enjoyed in books were marginal. They were stuffed into the New Weird category for a time, which we all soon learned wasn’t a genre at all. China Mieville was the genre, and the New Weird was a blip. Those experiments with prose and gooey weirdness got subsumed completely by the publishing meltdown in 2008, when editors and authors found their livelihoods lost, and fear sent publishers back to the basics. Many books got the ax, including my first novel, before they could even see the light of day. The field turned inward, betting on solid hits, easy to read prose, simple styles, proven genres.

There were those of us who kept writing, though. There were writers there pushing for more diverse work, less easy to define, and they were publishing slowly but surely, folks like N.K. Jemisin and Tobias Buckell and David Anthony Durham. Daniel Abraham put out a lovely but alas, far ahead of its time series called The Longprice Quartet that was fairly masterful.  Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor continued to publish and inspire writers coming up after them. While we fought and continue to fight about what science fiction is and who should be writing it, a lot of people are just fucking out there writing it already, and go fuck yourself for trying to put us in a box.

Though there has been momentum building for some time, a backlash against the backlash, I’d say it wasn’t until about 2013 when publishing started to catch up. Ann Leckie wrote a space opera (a woman wrote a space opera! With women in it! AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT SHOCKING I KNOW AS IF NO ONE HAD BOUGHT LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS OR ANYTHING BY CJ CHERRYH OR OCTAVIA BUTLER), and it swept the awards. We Need Diverse Books was able to organize the conversation about the overwhelming whiteness of publishing, bringing together disparate voices into one voice crying out for change in who writes, edits, and publishes books, while the first Muslim Ms. Marvel comic book (written by a Muslim, even!) broke sales records.

The water has been building up behind the damn for a long time, and it’s finally burst.

Watching the pushback to this new wave of writers finally breaking out from the margins to the mainstream has been especially amusing for me, as I spent my early 20’s doing a lot of old-school SF reading, including reading SFF history (I will always think of Justine Larbalestier as the author of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction). I was, of course, especially interested in the history of feminist science fiction. Women have always written SFF, of course, but the New Wave of the 60’s and 70’s brought with it an influx of women writers of all races and men of color that was unprecedented in the field (if still small compared to the overall general population of said writers in America). This was the age of Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Sam Delany, and nutty young upstarts like Harlan Ellison. These writers brought a much needed and refreshing new perspective into the field. They raised the bar for what science fiction was. And so the writing got better. The politics and social mores being dissected got more interesting and varied, as one would expect when you introduce a great wave of writers into a field that was happy to award the same handful of folks year after year. They shook up the field. They changed science fiction forever. The established pros had to write their hearts out to catch up.

And clearly, as the Campbell quote above illustrates, not everybody liked them. They hated all these different viewpoints, all these upstarts, all this young energy from these literary backgrounds. As far as they were concerned, the New Wave was ruining science fiction. 

In fact, what history has shown, and what we see on looking back, is that – if anything – the New Wave saved science fiction. It saved it from obscurity, from the endless circle-jerk, from the literary and social margins where it seemed content to argue with itself, and wither, and die. These talented and passionate new writers forced established writers to up their game. They raised the bar.

Here’s what Ursula Le Guin said about the New Wave:

Without in the least dismissing or belittling earlier writers and work, I think it is fair to say that science fiction changed around 1960, and that the change tended toward an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing. The sixties in science fiction were an exciting period for both established and new writers and readers. All the doors seemed to be opening.

It was this bit, here: “All the doors seemed to be opening” that I was thinking about while at the Nebula Awards weekend in Chicago. Here were these astonishingly talented authors entering the field, young and old, yes, but fresh to the field, with new perspectives, incredible talent, and alternate ways of looking at the world. I read Cassandra Khaw’s short story “Breathe” this morning and shook my head at how wonderfully it experimented with language for effect (and achieved it! Nailed it!). There are a dozen stories that wowed me recently that I could just go on and on about. I read The Fifth Season in awe at its technical brilliance, and found that when I sat with my Hugo ballot this year that I’d read so many great books that narrowing it down was actually difficult for me for the first time.

There is, in fact, so much exceptional work out there right now that I find I can’t keep up. We’ve come a long way from the whale rape story, is what I’m saying. Because while there has always been great work, it was a lot harder to find ten years ago, as much of it was coming out in chapbooks and small press editions and stuff like the then-obscure, scrappy little magazine called Strange Horizons. But today, publishers are taking a few more chances, and then a few more, and a few more… and this change is led, more and more, by readers as well as writers.

We are inside a new wave, folks. And it’s amazing.

This is an incredible time to be writing speculative fiction. It is an incredible time to be in the field. And while I understand how it’s easy to get riled up by slap fights and naysayers and racists and extremists who will hate every New Wave in whatever form it takes, stop and take a breath for a moment and look around you. Because the wave doesn’t last forever. The wave washes over a genre and transforms it utterly, but you can only ride the peak of it for so long.

Enjoy that view from the peak.

Yes, Mercenaries Die. That’s Why You’re Getting Paid So Damn Much

Watched a documentary tonight about profiteering in the Iraq war by private companies like Halliburton, Caci, Titan, Blackwater, and others. I’m always amused that the same folks protesting using tax money to provide healthcare to their neighbors didn’t raise a peep when Halliburton was charging U.S. taxpayers $100 a pop to do a load of laundry for soldiers, and whose blatant disregard for said soldiers’ health resulted in death and dismemberment of troops and civilians.

But that stuff’s old news. Halliburton and the private contractors’ abuses are a rant for a whole nother post. Don’t get me started.

In this instance, what struck me as interesting was the way they portrayed the civilian contractors as totally naive casualties of war. These folks went over there with a passionate desire to help, yes, and they felt fucked over when it turned out they were just part of a profiteering system.

BUT.

The company I worked for back in Chicago was among those called on by Halliburton and others as subcontractors in Iraq, and you know what? The package they offer you is pretty sweet. 2.5 times your base salary plus combat pay, generous vacation time, and you only had to sign a 6-12 month contract. I’d have been getting paid almost $100,000 as a project assistant/glorified admin. I gnawed hard on this and finally decided that, you know, we made the mess, we should go over there and fix it.

That was the moral piece I needed to push me over there.

But let’s be honest, folks.

It sure as fuck wasn’t moralitythat got me interested.

It was that sweet, sweet, $100,000.

The morality just made me feel better about it when I sent off my resume.

Anybody who went over to rebuild Iraq as a private contractor was doing so as a mercenary. As a mercenary, there are certain things you’re going to expect: 1) you’ll be in a lot of danger, and there’s a real possibility you’ll come back dead or maimed, 2) because of this, you’ll be paid an assload of money 3) because you’re a mercenary and are expendable, your employer really doesn’t care too terribly about your safety.

Time and again I was struck by these families’ outrage that their son/brother/husband had gone over into a war zone to make 100-120-140K driving a truck or 200-250-300K setting up water sanitation sites and being absolutely stunned that they’d been hurt/maimed/killed.

Death is a horrible, horrible thing, but if a soldier dies in a war, do we ask why the government didn’t do more to protect them? These days, perhaps we do. Why didn’t they have better armor, better intelligence, better logistics? We demand amazing things from our government and rightly so. In a perfect world the war machine would run magnificently and folks whose countries we invade wouldn’t fight back. But this is what war is. War is dirty and messy and horrifying and people die. Did we expect something different?

Maybe this is just because I’ve read and written so much about war, and because so much of my family has served in war (including the Iraq war). Maybe it’s also because when I sent in my resume for consideration as a private contractor in Iraq subcontracted to Halliburton that I was very, very clear about just what kind of shitstorm that would entail. I would likely have been one of the folks in the video decrying the abuses of Halliburton as far as waste and endangering soldiers’ lives, but I don’t know that I’d have been upset because Halliburton put me in a war zone.

Halliburton didn’t put me in a war zone.

I had a price, and Halliburton was willing to pay it.

That’s what being a mercenary is, and it’s not all candy and roses and “hey I’ll drive a trunk for 100K and come home smelling like the desert.”

Anybody who thinks they’re getting paid 100K just to drive a trunk is woefully naive of what the fuck a war zone is, and has absolutely no conception of what it’d be like to be a member of a country that’s just been invaded, no matter how right or just or patriotic the invaders feel.

Are we really all this isolated and naive? Do we all make the same sorts of moral justifications like the one I made back then, (“wellllll… we broke it, so we really should fix i”t) to make ourselves feel better about being profiteering mercenaries? You can pretty it up any way you like, but if you were to offer the same job (“drive a truck and get shot at”) to somebody for 20-40K, see just how many sign up for patriotism.

The ones who signed up for patriotism are the soldiers. You know, the ones actually getting paid the shit money to get shot at in the desert. Everybody else is a fucking mercenary.

Me included.

At the end of the day, I was not among the folks selected to go oversees. But I would have gone. For $100K to pay off all those student loans and credit card debt and come back with a fresh new start?

You’re damn right I’d risk driving a truck across a mine field for that.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Because in the face of Nazi invasion, this is generally the best thing you can do as a civilian.

Well, that, and join the resistance. But for those of us often overwhelmed by simple daily living, it’s not a bad mantra for life-crazy. Sometimes we get worked up over the daily grind like it *is* a Nazi invasion, and you know? Not so much.