Do Second Hand Bookstores Help Writers?

“Used bookstores don’t help writers.”

I bristled when I saw this remark on Twitter. Fortunately this was one of those rare times when, before I fired off a response, I looked around a little, and realized that this stark statement was a response to a specific question.  Someone had asked, “Do writers get any kind of residual royalties when a book is sold as used?”

When that’s the question, the answer is no. Authors make no money off the resale of a particular copy of a particular book, and it doesn’t enter into the tracking the publishers do when they determine if they want to offer a writer a new contract.

Libraries are different. (This was part of the Twitter discussion.) Libraries react to demand, which means they will order — and pay for– additional copies of new books, and those sales do produce royalties and sales number counts.

But used bookstores help writers in other ways. The biggest way is by introducing a curious reader to a previously unknown writer. Let’s imagine a browser picks up Author A’s  2106 book at a second hand bookstore. They pay $5.50 for it, not one penny of which reaches the publisher or the writer. They read it, they love it. Now they are first in line to pay for the 2018 hardcover new book (probably with a 20% discount)– or to pre-order it from Amazon which helps Author A’s sales count numbers. Plus, they probably tell their friends about this great new writer they discovered. In between, they may even track down the 2017 book and pay full price for that one. If they buy it new (full price) that will generate royalties. Admittedly, this is the best-case scenario, but I know people who have done it. I’ve done it.

The tweeter who opined that used bookstores didn’t help writers tweeted again to say that “writing reviews helps writers.” I’m guessing “writing reviews” in this case means on Amazon or Goodreads, not on a review site, the way I do. I’m not sure I see a direct link between reviews and sales. Then again, there is no easy way for us at Fantasy Literature to gather data on reviews and previous sales. It’s safe to say that new books by popular authors that we review do well –whether our review is positive or negative– but those are the rare books that have a marketing budget and a publicity plan from the publisher. Reviews on Amazon, in particular, have become so transparently artificial now that it’s sad to believe they carry weight. (I say that, and I’ve been known to post my thoughts on Amazon.) An enthusiastic review will probably usually help a book, and by extension the writer.

Reviews aren’t the only place to learn about books though. You know where else you can learn about books? At a used bookstore. Used bookstores are gathering places, places of book-related conversation they way new bookstores used to be in the old days. An adventurous reader can hear about all kinds of new stories and writers, and because the price is right, they can choose the adventure without shelling out $25 or more. It is easier to “try out” a new genre, a new writer, when you’re paying less than $10. And I maintain it is easier to browse a book in paper than it is on your Kindle, even if you “only paid 99-cents for it.”

(And if your concern is for “helping the author,” think for a minute about that 99 cents and how it translates, or doesn’t, to royalties.)

Ultimately, second hand books stores are there for readers and people who love books. Many of those people happen to be writers, but it is for readers that these shops exist. Second hand stores nurture and encourage reading. That can’t do anything but help writers.

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Television Tuesday; Falling Water, Season Two

Welcome to Television Tuesday; the Wednesday edition. I got behind on blogging this week.

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Falling Water returned for a second season, airing Saturdays at 10:00 pm on USA. It’s also available On Demand. I was pleasantly surprised the show got renewed. The second season does not have quite the same level of artistic production values as Season One, and it seems to be playing it safer. It also borrowed some horror tropes in the early episodes, which adds to a general feeling of a loss of confidence in the material.

Mary McCormack joins the cast as Taylor Bennett. I don't think we want to mess with her.

Mary McCormack joins the cast as Taylor Bennett. I don’t think we want to mess with her.

Still, our three principle players, Lizzie Brochere, David Ajala and Will Yun Lee, continue to deliver compelling, layered performances, and this season has added Mary McCormack, and that was a stroke of brilliance.

When Season One ended, Burton (Ajala) had information that would cripple the brokerage firm that was trafficking dreamers, the mysterious Icelandic billionaire Bill Boerd had slipped away, and  Tess (Brochere) was driving out of the city with her son James at her side. Taka (Lee) and Tess’s sister Sabine were tentatively healing their relationship. I know some stuff happened with the Green Tennis Shoe folks (I like to call them the Green Tennies) but I don’t remember what.

Alex. "Are you kidding me right now?"

Alex. “Are you kidding me right now?”

As Season Two opens, Tess and James are living in Connecticut under assumed names. Burton’s legal assault on the brokerage firm has faltered as they circle the wagons. Taka has a new partner, a passionate straight-arrow named Alex who tells him early on that “she knew all the stories about him, but she thought she could work with him.” Things with Sabine take a terrible turn right about Episode Two I think, and it’s hard to see how our dreamers will be able to make things right.

The scary new element is the Shadowman, introduced to us by James, who sees him in his dreams, and in a gruesome and inexplicable murder Taka and Alex investigate. The Shadowman is Freddy Kruger with Cockroaches. I don’t think this was the best choice for the show, although now we are beginning to see the waking persona of this character and it’s getting slightly better. I never watched Falling Water for the gore, though, I watched it for the weirdness, and this season is hewing pretty close to literal and linear.

Tess and Burton, looking skeptical.

Tess and Burton, looking skeptical.

There is still lots to love. Mary McCormack adds a rich layer of suspense and danger, even when the show’s direction of her character isn’t helping her. Alex fully emerges as a character, not just a contrarian, as the season continues. James is now a living breathing boy, and the show wrestles with a common TV problem; you got the kid back (yaay!) and now you have a kid – in a good way. It’s tempting to send James off to his room every time the show needs to deliver exposition and so on… and, to be fair, they do that a lot. But James is not just a boy who has only met his mother in waking life six months ago, he is a dreamer, and probably the most powerful one of all of them. The show has taken the time to have one or two negotiations with him, when he’s wanted to tag along on an adventure that was going to involve chase scenes and guns. Tess desperately wants to keep him safe, but she also needs his abilities. They are walking this tightrope well, so far.

I love Boerd’s futuristic dream-couches with the tube lighting accents. I want one – not for dreaming, just for the family room.

Who wouldn't want a slipper couch?

Who wouldn’t want a slipper couch?

Woody (Kai Lennox), who works for the firm, is a trickster, a shades-of-gray character, who, in a recent episode, took a stand. We’re proud of him for it; we’re worried about him. Clearly, he has endangered himself.

Woody always looked like such a nice boy.

Woody always looked like such a nice boy.

The show has eliminated all of its beautiful water imagery except for an obligatory falling-backward-into-a-pool scene each time one our dreams enters another person’s dreams. It’s unnecessary and a little insulting.

Taka: "I have a bad feeling about my relationship."

Taka: “I have a bad feeling about my relationship.”

This season has added an additional danger for Tess in the form of a follower/stalker who looks like he might be from the Green Tennies group, although we haven’t seen him for a while. Burton finally met the Woman in Red in real life. Her story may be resolved… but I hope not. And they’ve introduced a new dreamer, a woman whose experience mirrors Tess’s in terrifying ways.

I’m happy it’s back and I’m watching it faithfully… I’m not confident there will be a Season Three, but a girl can dream.

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The Hugos: Let’s Get Ready to Nominate!

It’s award season! Currently, the Hugo committee is accepting nominations, from eligible voters, for the finalist list of the 2018 Hugos. I’m an eligible voter.

The Hugos are complicated! Seriously, there is a voting system that employs ranking rather than “one person, one vote.” Nominating has changed this year, too, although not in a way that’s complicated at this end. I can nominate five works in each category. However, the final ballot will hold six finalists. This difference is built it to slow down the kind of ballot-loading that went on in 2015 and 2016.

During the final vote, I don’t just vote for my favorite one each category; I rank them from one to six. “No Award” is a choice. I can say, “Nope, nothing in this category is worth a Hugo this year,” and vote for No Award as number one. No Award can, and has, taken the most votes in a category in the past.

Right now, though, is the nomination phase. There are so many categories, including television shows, movies, “best related work” in the field of science fiction and fantasy, best short story editor, best novel editor, best pro artist, best fan artist, best fanzine (FanLit’s category), and this year Best Series. Whew! And I left off the most obvious ones; best novel, best novella, best novelette and best short story.

I don’t read a lot of shorter works, although I do read some. I have a pretty good idea what my Five Best Novels published in 2017 are going to be, so I’ll start there. (In some cases I’m linking to my reviews at Fantasy Literature because I don’t want to repeat myself.)

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett. I will also nominate this trilogy, The Divine Cities for best series, even though he’s up against N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series.

The Divine Cities is a different take on so-called “second world” fantasy. From the first book, City of Stairs, we were in a newly industrialized world facing issues of racism, colonialism, war, aftermath, and deicide. City of Miracles is, in many ways, the hardest one to read. It’s slower, we share the deep grief of a character who has been a secondary character in the previous two, as he comes to grips with how the trauma of loss in his life has played out. We watch characters treat children like commodities, and we see families crumble, to reassemble based less on blood and more on affinity. And we see miracles. There is no way this is a standalone book, but it is a great book. If you start now you could finished all three before August, when the Hugos will be announced.

The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno Garcia, is a lovely, sweet romantic fantasy with telekinesis. It has the feel of an early nineteenth century French novel, with a villain we completely understand, even if we dislike her intensely. Moreno Garcia has a gift for tone and she nails it here; the magic is important, but she uses it at the end in a way I did not expect.  This is not my kind of book at all. I picked it up because I like the author. I was delighted by this book and it remains one of my best reads of 2017.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gergory. The biggest stumbling block to recommending Spoonbenders is describing it. It’s a period piece; a comedy about a family of psychics in the late 1990s; it’s about astral projection and telekinesis and psychic powers; it’s a caper book with a coming of age story and a couple of love stories. You see the problem. It’s one of the best books I read in 2017.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle. LaValle created a contemporary dark fairytale horror story that encompasses so much. New parents, the fear and exhilaration of parenthood, racism, social media, trolls, giants, witches, books… I could go on. It’s a no-brainer for a nomination.

Of course I’ll nominate The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin. The final book of her Broken Earth trilogy delivered the backstory we needed, the resolution we craved and, probably broke our hearts (it broke mine a couple of times). Her world-building is wonderful in this series, but it is her characters I remember. There are no easy ways out from the problems created in this civilization; there is going to be pain, but at the end there might be justice and love.

The Broken Earth is also eligible to be nominated in the Best Series category, but Jemisin has asked that people not do that. She points out that the first two books each won a Hugo for best novel; she doesn’t feel that she needs the trilogy to get a second bite at the apple. I see her point; if The Stone Sky wins, it wins on its own merits, so to speak, but if the series wins, then two of those books will have two Hugos for what is, basically, the same story. It’s something the Hugo committee is going to have to work on as Best Series evolves.

As much as I loved Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti: Home,” I probably won’t be nominating it for Best Novella. Binti: Home is the middle novella of three linked stories. Binti: “The Night Masquerade” which came out in 2018 is brilliant. I liked “Binti: Home” a lot; I just didn’t think it was as good. I haven’t read many other 2017 novellas this year, so I’ll wait and see what the final ballot brings us. I’m making a private bet with myself that “River of Teeth” by Sarah Gailey will be on there, and a strong favorite.

The October 2017 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had a melancholy short story I loved. It was called “On Highway 18” by Rebecca Campbell. There is a supernatural element to the story, but it isn’t cutting edge SF. Instead, it is a thoughtful character study about being a teenager, about freedom and fear, and nostalgia. I will be nominating it. It’s kind of a “manifesto” gesture, but it’s also true that I loved the story.

I will comb through the stories we reviewed to see if anything stands out. I read a lot of shot fiction this year, more than previous years. Almost none of them stay with me.

So much more! “Best show, short form,” means a single episode of a series. “Long form” means a movie, but I will have to see The Shape of Water before I nominate it. As for editors… I simply don’t know.

If you know of any great artists, pro or fan, please let me know. I will probably nominate Brian Fies for “A Fire Story.” (Artists don’t have to be connected with a work to be nominated). Other than that… send me your recommendations.

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Three French Islands

About twelve miles off Canada’s eastern shores (Newfoundland and Labrador) there are three islands that are still part of France. St Pierre, Miguelone and Langlade sit at the entrance to Fortune Bay. The islands are a French Territory.

As you might expect, the islands have bounced around somewhat in nationality, belonging to France, to England, and then, through the Treaty of Paris, to France again. During World War II they were part of the Vichy government and after that part of Free France. The official language is French, although according to a couple of travel articles, they are bombarded with Western Canadian tourists and students, so they tend to be more patient with non-French-speaking foreigners than the rest of France is. They have fine dining restaurants, bistros and some nightlife.

Probably the islands’ best economic period, though, was during the USA Prohibition period.

Canada had various temperance movements and various types of prohibition itself, mostly province by province. Certainly, during the 1920s it was illegal to ship alcohol to the USA. It was not illegal at all to ship it to France, which, conveniently, was about twelve miles away. Al Capone was apparently a frequent, and welcome, visitor to St Pierre and Miguelone. One article joked that every basement in every house on the islands was turned into keg storage, and while that is probably an exaggeration it may be only a slight one.

My great-aunt Ella lived with us when I was a child. She died at the age of 93, when I was fourteen. In her youth, she and her husband ran a hotel in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. During the 1920s Uncle Frank (I never met him) made trips to Canada to “stretch his legs” about every two months, Ella said. He’d drive most of the way.

She did not go with him usually. Someone had to keep an eye on the hotel when Frank was gone. He would often get home late at night, Ella said, come into her room, because they had separate rooms, and leave a token on her bedside table, a small bottle of Canadian whisky. For the next several weeks, the hotel lounge would be quite popular.

She did go on some motorcar trips during this time period and later. Here she is with three women, probably in the 1940s or late 30s. There is no notation on the back of the photo. I’m looking at that saloon in which they are traveling, and even though it’s a later model than would have been around during Prohibition I think, I’m imaging how easy it would have been to tuck away a few forbidden bottles here and there.

 

Ella is on the far right in the pale coat.

Ella is on the far right in the pale coat.

Ella never talked about this aspect of her marriage but my father and I both thought that Frank had a woman on the side up there in Canada, and furthermore, that if Ella knew about her, she didn’t care very much.

I wonder if Frank made the occasional short trip to France while he was “stretching his legs” in Canada. I don’t think he was a dedicated rum-runner. I think he was a hotelier with a commitment to good customer service. And if he was able to sell a few other merchants in Mattapoisett some liquor along the way, well, it’s good to get along, isn’t it?

An aside; motorcar travel was high-risk in the 1920s, as you can see here. And are they standing on train tracks?

Two roadsters wrecked while spectators stand by. Cars have always been a risky business, even on Oct 29, 1922.

Cars have always been a risky business, even on Oct 29, 1922.

This entire rambling blog post exists because I think having France in such close proximity during Prohibition is a great tidbit for fantasy world-building. Everyone is writing about Prohibition right now. (Actually, everyone wrote about Prohibition two years ago and it is getting published now.) Still, with the states decriminalizing marijuana and the feds refusing to accept those laws, Prohibition is a good fictional model for certain things that are happening now. Imagine a rum-running hotel owner and his wife (perhaps magical?) … and three French islands off the coast of Canada.

Much later in her life, Ella (front right) on a Holland America cruise ship.

Much later in her life, Ella (front right) on a Holland America cruise ship.

 

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One-Card Tarot Pull; a Reading

I parked my car downtown one day about a week ago. When I came back to it I saw a playing card by the rear passenger wheel. It was face down. I picked it up.

Well, I mean, of course I picked it up. I’ll pick up coins, single earrings, and unless they’re drenched in the viscous ichor of the tentacular, eldritch beings of the beyond (or something else nasty), I’ll pick up playing cards. I pick up paper and candy bar wrappers too, but those I just throw away.

I have mentioned in another post how superstitious I am, and a playing card that drifts into my path – or better yet, a random tarot card – will always spark my imagination.

This was a playing card: The ten of diamonds.

The Ten of diamonds, looking like it has been run over once or twice.

The Ten of diamonds, looking like it has been run over once or twice.

This translates to the minor arcana tarot card of the ten of pentacles. The playing cards do correspond:

  • Diamonds = pentacles/coins/disks
  • Hearts= cups
  • Clubs = wands
  • Spades = swords
    and, generally speaking:
  • Diamonds/pentacles relate to earth (material things)
  • Hearts/cups relate to water (love, connections, the unconscious)
  • Clubs/wands relate to fire (will, emotion)
  • Spades/swords relate to air (intellect)

I’ve seriously simplified there.

The Ten of Pentacles (shown here from the Rider Waite deck) looks like a pretty good outcome. A happy family surrounded by coins. That looks good, doesn’t it?

The Ten of Pentacles, to which the Ten of Diamonds corresponds.

The Ten of Pentacles, to which the Ten of Diamonds corresponds.

 

Tens usually mean the culmination of a project or a cycle. Most of them are good. There is an exception; the Ten of Swords won’t make your day if it shows up in a spread or under the tire of your car.

The Ten of Swords. This card will have you side-eyeing your colleagues if it shows up in a spread.

This card will have you side-eyeing your colleagues if it shows up in a spread.

The Ten of Pentacles, though, usually means material gain or riches. It can be called (this made me laugh) the retirement card; hard work, thrift and clever investments all paying off. It can mean the culmination of a project or an achievement, usually after a long hard trial.

It’s also the card of conservatism, which I choose to think means conservation, like husbandry and stewardship; conservative in the sense of “frugal”, although a couple of tarot books talk about being a valued member of an establishment and a person who plays by the rules.

The card can mean an inheritance. This will be interesting, because there is no one left for me to inherit from, but there is an ongoing situation in my life that involves a lump sum of money. It’s not mine, but I will touch it before passing it on. This card could be referring to that. (Now that I think about it, that’s the most likely interpretation for a random playing card I found next to my car.)

I’m going to ignore that and make it be about writing.

Writing has been as struggle for me lately. Actually, that’s not true. Writing has gone okay. Rejection has been a struggle for me lately. Everything I’ve sent out has flown right back, either with a form rejection or a personal, encouraging (still a) rejection. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, everybody in the entire world but me is published, has their story on a “Recommended” list, or is having a story reprinted somewhere. I know this is what Twitter is for, but as I kept reading this over the past few weeks, I was getting more and more discouraged. I was deciding there was no point in even submitting. What good is an encouraging rejection when they still didn’t buy the story? There just wasn’t any point.

Now I’ve decided, though, that the ten of diamonds near my car means that my hard writing work is going to pay off, and soon. (I refuse to define “soon.”) And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way you do a one-card reading.

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Tapas Platter

I borrowed (cough:stole:cough) the idea of a “tapas platter” blog post from award winning writer Brian Fies.

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I went into downtown Santa Rosa on Friday. For those of you not “in the know” about Sonoma County, a brewery on Fourth Street named Russian River Brewers releases its limited run IPA Pliny the Younger for two weeks in February. It started on Friday. There was line for three blocks. People bring lawn chairs and groups take shifts. People will put 2019’s release date on their calendars today. It’s a big deal.

After I got my printing done at Fed Ex (my printer died) I walked across the street to check out Treehorn Books. Then I went to a taqueria called Palomar for lunch. It was nearly empty after the lunch rush but while I was eating a couple came in. The woman said, “What’s going on? No, seriously, what’s going on? Are they filming a movie down there or something?” The counter man said, “Pliny the Younger,” but she didn’t understand him, partly because of his accent and partly, I think, because the title “Pliny the Younger” is not something you generally hear in casual conversation.

“What? What?” she said.

I leaned around the corner and repeated, “Pliny the Younger. It’s a beer release.”

“A what?”

“A beer release.”

“No, seriously? Beer?”

Seriously. Beer.

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The news said that it was 76 degrees in Santa Rosa yesterday. My car thermometer read 79, but I parked on the top floor of the parking structure in direct sun, so that might have read high.

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I haven’t written a review yet, but already, in January, I have read what I know will be one of my Best Reads of 2018. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn West, is hard-headedly realistic, brutally naturalistic and filled with magic. No elves and unicorns magic here, but the supernatural; the influence of unsettled spirits and a deep connection to the earth. The book’s structure is a road trip, a terrifying one. West’s characters are complete, deep and nuanced, and perhaps the best example of that is Leonie, the character I wanted to hate. Leonie is the neglectful mother of the main character JoJo and his three-year-old sister, and believe me, “neglectful” doesn’t begin to describe her. I wanted to hate her, but by the end I couldn’t. I still didn’t approve of her, but I actually understood her. This is a writing triumph.

I will write something longer, but for right now, put it on your list. Warning: physical violence, foul language, graphic descriptions of animal butchery and torture of humans. Not a word of that is gratuitous.

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Friday Spouse and I were sitting in the family room reading with the slider open because it was so warm. We heard a squirrel chattering. From the neighbor’s redwood tree, a jay started squawking. A crow answered, and another squirrel joined in. Then one of the hawks shrieked, three times, and the yard got silent.

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Writing hadn’t gone well for a couple of weeks. Then I finished up a second draft of a story that was inspired by a writing prompt. A few days after that, I got an idea for a novella that continues “the adventures” of the characters in that first story. I have 5000+ words on the novella so far.

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Locus has put out its reading recommendations from 2017. If you like speculative fiction you will like this list.

 

 

 

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Ursula Le Guin: Be Always Coming Home

Ursula Le Guin published Always Coming Home in 1980. It was, from an experimental writer and a leading voice in speculative fiction and feminism, an experiment. It was Le Guin, the “anthropologist’s daughter” (as she sometimes named herself) playing with anthropology, and creating a “future ethnography.” Certainly she had already done that with many, many of her books, but in Always Coming Home the thread, the stitches that make a community were her first interest; the stories, the songs, the poetry. If I remember rightly, there wasn’t even much of a story in terms of a plot and a through-story until the second half, or maybe the final third, of the book. The “back of the book” contained “scholarly” essays on the life of the Kesh; “What they Ate,” What They Wore.”

I bought mine as soon as it came out, and it had a cassette (yes, a cassette) with it of the music and songs of the Kesh, created by Le Guin with a composer named Tom. Courtesy of Le Guin, here is a free preview of one of the songs (no, it isn’t in English).

I don’t think Always Coming Home was a best-seller, and I don’t think Le Guin cared. I think it did what she wanted it to do. It wasn’t a favorite of mine although I appreciated it technically. I heard Le Guin speak at Diablo Valley College in Marin County, and she read from it, and then a funny thing happened.

I used to go up to Oregon quite a lot in those days. I’d drive over St Helena and somehow get on 505 to I-5 and— oh, who cares, that’s not even the important part of the story. There was a place I’d drive through, a narrow, shallow valley. A creek twined through it, rippling with water in the spring, dried out to gravel and a meander of water-rounded stones in the summer. The grass, in summer, was the color of caramel. There were madrone trees and oak trees on the hills, and sometimes I’d see a family of deer dosing in the shade, their oval ears, like flower petals, turned toward the road. When I’d drive this stretch, I’d hear a voice in my head say, “Be… always coming home.”  It was Le Guin’s voice.

Le Guin was an inventive story-teller, a curious scientist, a brave and compassionate feminist and an inspiring teacher. She epitomized, for me, science fiction; the taking of a Big Question (or even just a “what if?”) and crafting a story with real people around the question. In Left Hand of Darkness, for instance, the question might be, “Just what’s the big deal with gender anyway?” although another question that underpins that book could be, “Why do we find control so attractive?” At the heart of her work was always an exploration of the nature of community. As a writer, Le Guin carried home with her, and she was always coming home.

Le Guin’s what-ifs didn’t assume that colonization was the natural order; that war was the resting state of humanity or that that capitalism was the default. Her books weren’t westerns in space or war stories in space (although there certainly were wars). Her stories were about societies, economics, and power structures, real things, the things conventional space opera was ignoring as a given. Nothing was off the table for Le Guin. There was not a thing that could not be questioned, explored, or put under a microscope of diligent, questioning fiction.

Her “philosophical statement” (or, as I like to call it, short story) “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” asks a simple question, and answers it in a away that does not let any of us look away from the injustice of a society that lets one group suffer to provide for the happiness and well-being of others. To put this another way, watch Jordan Peele’s brilliant movie Get Out, and then re-read this story.

As the decades went on, it was entertaining and instructive to watch Le Guin wrestle with writing and philosophy, and her own work. At the time she wrote and published The Left Hand of Darkness, she was adamant that she would not make up some inclusive pronoun for the story. She said those were silly and made her twitch. In the opening pages of the book, the mono-gendered male narrator explains that he will use “he” because it’s available and it’s less specialized. In the past few years, Le Guin had stated in interviews and on her blog that she wished she had come up with a way to do that differently.

An aside: the narrator’s clinging to male nouns and pronouns when they are completely inadequate to discussing the culture he is visiting actually makes Le Guin’s basic point about rigid sex roles. Le Guin, however, grew as she watched and listened to the world around her.

She got into a famous spat with Kazuo Ishiguro when he worried publicly that his book The Buried Giant would not be read because it would be considered fantasy. Ishiguro was taking the same side of an argument Le Guin made often; fantasy is art and it can be the highest form of art; and it can be a vital tool to help people imagine a better world. Le Guin didn’t recognize that and sprang on him like a mother cat defending kittens, because she thought he was denigrating fantasy. Later, she gracefully and publicly apologized, stating she had misunderstood him. A good scientist, she could admit when she was wrong.

Better writers than me have talked about her legacy. Lately, I reread The Left Hand of Darkness, and a book of Le Guin’s essays. The detail, the observation, her love of nature, the things that spoke to me in Always Coming Home, shone through the essays about the house in which she grew up in Berkeley. The Kesh, the people of Always Coming Home, live in an area like the valley through which I used to drive, and Le Guin had been to those places, absorbed those places with a scientist’s eye and a writer’s discipline. And, I should say, a writer’s love.

I have to recommend Steering the Craft, her rewritten and reissued book on the craft of writing. This is for writers at any stage of development. You need her voice and her encouragement.

But how, if we go out into the world to question, to help, to learn, can we be always coming home? Home, community, is something that Le Guin’s character carry inside them, in their memories, their hearts, their spirit.

Ursula Le Guin, wherever the energy of you currently resides, wherever your subatomic particles have migrated, wherever your spirit rests, we hold your legacy and we share your words and we thank you. For us, you will be always coming home.

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L16; The Camera of the Future is Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

I saw the Light camera L16 profiled on a local news show (it was invented in Silicon Valley after all). I was fascinated. Of course I knew it would be expensive, and of course I thought I wanted one.

Wired’s review has induced a dash of wisdom into my yearning. At $1950, the proof-of-concept camera actually costs less than I had projected… until I factor in that I would need to get a new computer to manipulate the images. In fact, I would probably want a computer dedicated solely to images. Faintly, in the distance, I hear the ka-ching of cash registers.

Also, right now this technology intimidates me. I’m only beginning to learn how to take good pictures with my phone camera, and confronting the limitations of that device. Like the reviewer, I’m more comfortable with a DSLR although I am clearly not at the reviewer’s level. The fact that the camera named Light is not good in low light seems ironic (unless the name refers to what it needs, like a vampire calling itself “Blood” or something). I’m often shooting things in motion; animals, birds, ocean waves, and the current generation of the L16 doesn’t handle that very well.

I have difficult wrapping my head around the technology. (That’s nothing new.) The L16 doesn’t rely on optics, on ground lenses, or anything I kind of do understand. It’s all algorithms. Do I need yet another piece of technology in my life that I don’t understand? On the other hand, the new washing machine is computer driven and I can use it just fine, while I haven’t got the slightest idea what it’s doing while it’s chugging, pausing, “sensing” and so on.

The reviewer gleefully envisions a time when you can take a photo with your paperback-book sized camera, manipulate the image on the screen and “upload to Instagram” without ever looking at it on a big screen. To my that’s a scene straight out of hell, which just proves that I’m old and the tech has passed me by.

But still… you can take such cool photos with it.

Maybe I’ll start saving my pennies and wait for the next generation of the L16. By then, they may have the 600 mm lens done. That would be awesome.

Posted in Ruminations | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Counterpart: Checkpoint Charlie Still Leads to the Other Side.

Why yes, I do talk to myself. All the time. And your point?-- J.K. Simmons with J.K.Simmons

Why yes, I do talk to myself. All the time. And your point?

Starz premiered a new speculative fiction series on Sunday. It’s called Counterpart, starring Oscar-winning character actor J.K. Simmons as both nice guy Howard Silk, and lying tough guy Howard (Silk) Prime, in a cold-war-flavored dystopian Berlin, where a secret tunnel leads from our dimension (home of the nice Howard) to another dimension, cleverly called The Other Side.

Howard plays go every morning at a café and then heads off to the job he’s had for thirty years, in a clandestine agency in a monolithic Berlin building. It is not completely clear yet what Howard does, but he is depicted as a drone. Early in the first episode he requests to be considered for a job in Strategy, and is coldly turned down. “You’ve been here thirty years,” the arrogant boyish boss says. “If it were going to happen it would have.”

Well, just hold up there, cowboy, because it is about to happen. Suddenly, Howard’s routine is upended when he is dragged off to a secret meeting with an emissary from The Other Side – himself. Howard Prime, a hardened field operative, brings an incomplete tale of an assassin from his side who is coming over here and killing people from the agency, as part of an attempted militant coup from his side. Suddenly, our Howard and his vulnerable wife Emily, who is in a coma, are at risk, and Howard has to be “read in” to the reality of another reality, with people who are us, but not just like us.

No, he's not waiting for a toilet stall. Did I mention his job was boring?

No, he’s not waiting for a toilet stall. Did I mention his job was boring?

There is a lot to like here. The biggest thing to like to J.K. Simmons, playing both a steadfast, nice, “beta” male and a decisive, ruthless rogue one. The cinematography  expertly evokes the Cold War (even though the story is supposedly set in our present). In modern-day Berlin, there is still a Checkpoint Charlie, and it still leads to the other side – it’s just that the Other Side is no longer the Eastern Bloc, it’s an entire dimension.

I like the sense of surrealism and paranoia that already swirls through episode one, especially when we find out that Howard Prime has already lied about something important on his side.

The acting is good to great. I love how the one establishing shot we see of Howard Prime’s Berlin gives the sense of great changes while capturing the same city, and I love how the game of go is used as a theme throughout.

In Episode One, there is a sense that Howard and Howard Prime both think – and seem to agree—that they are the same person, which means they share traits even if they are not exercising those traits. We see this when Howard Prime, imitating Howard in Emily’s hospital room, confronts the unlikeable brother-in-law. More importantly, we see it again at the very end, when Howard points out to his boss that they need him… and he’d really like that promotion to Strategy. Just because nice Howard hasn’t been ruthless doesn’t mean he can’t be. Clearly part of the story here is the good old-fashioned, “What makes us a person?” For instance, when Howard is playing go with his café partner, he ruminates that every decision we make in our lives creates our personality (clearly he is thinking of Howard Prime). His opponent says that’s nonsense, that we are the people we are without our decisions. I think that will be debated in action over the course of the show.

Counterpart rings a lot of bells. There isn’t really new ground in the double/clone/road-not-taken plotline. I was reminded, pleasantly, of China Mieville’s The City and the City although Mieville’s take is original. I was also reminded of Fringe, and spouse said, “This’ll sound weird, but I’m thinking of the original show The Prisoner.” In the sense that a man is expected to provide information when he never knows what’s going on, that’s pretty appropriate too.

The show is violent; it’s a spy thriller, after all. It’s a premium channel, so there is a lot of rough language, and I think we’ll see polite, steadfast Howard begin dropping f-bombs after a while (Prime already can’t get out a sentence without one, almost.)

There are a few things I don’t like. Putting Howard’s wife in a coma looks, at first glance, like the storytelling trait called “fridging.” This term, which comes from superhero comics and the website called Women in Refrigerators, means killing off or injuring the wife/girlfriend/partner so that the male character’s quest for vengeance will be seen sympathetically by the audience. I am warily giving Counterpart a pass here, so far, because there are clues in the story that Emily’s “accident” is related not to her relationship with Howard but to her own work for the agency.

I do not love the showrunner’s decision to casually call the cold, decisive, murderous field operative Howard “Howard Prime,” as if he comes first. On one hand, I do like that our dimension is not the “prime” one (although the other side is called “The Other Side”). On the other hand, rating the killer as automatically better than the caregiver offends me.

My biggest problem with Episode One comes with nothing in the episode itself. Starz always does a little afterword, behind-the-scenes thing, and in this case, showrunner Justin Marks went on and on about how special the scene with Howard talking to Howard was. Marks is apparently hoping that there is no overlap between his viewership and those of us who watched Orphan Black, who pioneered the camera work necessary to film an actor working with herself. A nod to the techniques championed by that groundbreaking show was required. If Marks and his whole crew were ignorant of Orphan Black, and somehow re-created the wheel, then he is incompetent and stupid. I think “arrogant” is more likely. It’s a bad mark against him. I won’t let it ruin my enjoyment in the show.

I’m waiting to see where Counterpart goes. So far, it offers up plenty to keep me watching.

UPDATE: I tweeted Justin Marks to ask if he used Orphan Black techniques in his show. He replied that they used some, “but we had to figure out our own.” Hmmm.

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Women’s March, January 20, 2018

The Sebastopol Women’s March of 2018 was supposed to start at 12:00 on Saturday, January 20. I thought that meant the march, which was really more of a walk, since we were only to go a block, started then. It didn’t. We didn’t walk until 1:30.

Clearly I am unfamiliar with events.

You tell 'em, sister. Girl with "Girls can do anything" sign

You tell ’em, sister.

I got to the plaza about 11:40 and there was a small gathering of men and women, mostly wearing pinks, carrying signs. Mr. Music and the Peacetown group (which is also, I think, the Love Choir) were already set up in the pavilion. There were one or two booths, notably a Peacetown booth.

What was not there; voter registration. I thought that was odd, but it might be that most eligible voters in Sebastopol are registered. Wouldn’t you think, though, that it would be the primary thing form our outreach you’d want to make at this kind of event?

They started playing music shortly after I showed up.  And people started arriving. And arriving. And arriving.

One view of the plaza.

One view of the plaza.

There was lots of pink. There were lots of signs. There were lots of men, too, many carrying signs or wearing them. It’s nice to live in a town where so many men consider themselves feminists and are willing to give up a Saturday afternoon to support women.

Another crowd view.

Another crowd view.

When I was in the crowd or on the fringes I couldn’t hear a word being said over the speakers. When I left the crowd and went across the parking lot, every word was as crisp as fresh lettuce.

A speaker from the Graton Day Labor Center talked about the work done by undocumented women and how it is foundational. As she put it, “Without the work they do, the other work would not get done.” That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? Well, if you consider the people who care for your children, fix your meals, make your sandwiches, clean your hotel rooms, wash and bundle the vegetables you buy at the store, pick the vegetables you buy at the store… it’s not far-fetched.

The front was a standard "Vote" sign. But the back... Animal collage on back of sign.

The front was a standard “Vote” sign. But the back…

Another speaker noted that within the Downtown Merchant’s Association in Sebastopol, nearly half the small-businesses are woman-owned. That was inspiring. Later, when I was over at Second Chances, Emma and I made a list, and it is impressive.

On Main Street and within a block in either direction:

At least one of the yoga studios. There are three.

I think but don’t know that Reenie Bird’s has a woman owner, and I don’t know about Kitty Hawk Gallery.

One protester was against reproductive autonomy for women.

One protester was against reproductive autonomy for women.

There was one anti-reproductive-rights person there, with a friend and her son in a stroller. I don’t know if her sign was a common “sign-making” error, or a clever strategy to lure people in close enough that she could talk to them. Still, I admire her courage. Several times, she was close the “I support the 1 Amendment” person, and that seemed apt.

There were funny signs.

"I've seen smarter cabinets in Ikea."

Of the funny signs, the Ikea one is my favorite.

Dumbledore's Army Still Recruiting

Dumbledore’s Army.

There were serious signs.

Climate Reality, not Reality TV

There were inspiring signs.
Notable women in America History

We the People

We, the People

There were signs that were bitter and true.

"We are the daughters of the Brujas you didn't burn."

These are the witches that Trump warned you about.

After singing, some speeches, and more singing, then some pep-rally-level chanting, we went on our march.

Cowboys love the Goddess.

The Hub-bub Club started us off, including playing over the final speaker who was rousing the crowd, but then I lost track of them. It was a quiet march. The women next to me said we had agreed to be quiet since we had to be on the sidewalk and we didn’t want to disturb the merchants (who supported us). Still, as demonstrators go, we were pretty docile. There were a lot of us, though. I maintain, although there are no numbers provided, that about 1200 people  attended.

My favorite moment came as we walked east on Bodega Avenue, a tide of mostly-white, many gray-haired, mostly women, many in pink, most with signs. A family group came out of the ramen restaurant. The two kids had dark skin and shiny black hair. The adult woman had dark skin and long black hair. The man behind her had dark skin and  black hair. They stepped right into our group. (They had no other choice.) The man cupped one hand around his mouth and stage-whispered to the woman, “Blend in! Blend in!”

 

Posted in View from the Road | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments