Boskone 54

20 02 2017
Inanna Arthen (By Light Unseen Media) minding the Broad Universe table

Inanna Arthen (By Light Unseen Media) minding the Broad Universe table

Arisia and Boskone always get compared. There’s a huge amount of sibling rivalry. Ever since the fiasco that that led to the mitosis of one con into two (that’s a story in and of itself) they have each been working to define themselves.

Arisia has blossomed into a huge circus of fandom, embracing multi-media, expanding programming to include more and more each year, and growing increasingly militant in the field of Social Justice, especially gender and transgender. Boskone has remained small, conservative, and serious. Arisia is a party con. Boskone is not. Arisia is flamboyantly diverse. Boskone, let’s face it, is not.

Until this year. Boskone 54 was different.

Lisi Gagnon: Excuse me, but it wasn't ALL Science Fiction geekery!

Lisi Gagnon: Excuse me, it wasn’t ALL Science Fiction geekery!

Broad Universe always throws great parties. No booze, but fantastic food. This year the Friday night Broad Universe party at Boskone drew an especially good crowd. We had a corner room so there was more space, and knots of conversation raveled and unraveled richly. I got drawn into one which included a SMOF (“Secret Masters of Fandom”, the hardcore folks who organize and run these things) and a long-time panelist and insider.

I love con-gossip. Like most gossip, it can drift a bit from the truth, but depending on the source, can also provide fascinating insights. What they were saying agreed with my own impressions, and with what I’d heard from others. You may take it all with however much salt is to your taste.

Arisia has reached a point where they are beginning to lose many of the more serious fans and professionals. Ironically, in their drive to be all-inclusive, they are making many people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Also ironically, their passionate campaign to avoid offending anyone is starting to offend people. As a result, many in core fandom are turning away from Arisia and looking for alternatives. The obvious one is Boskone.

Boskone is seeing the opportunity and seizing it. There are few if any “Lifestyle” panels. Panels discuss science, writing, books, movies, comics, all the places science fiction has traditionally thrived and continues to thrive. More than one panel I was on talked about the role of SF in shaping society and the future.  Oh, and lest you get the wrong idea, all of Speculative Fiction was represented.  There were panels on fantasy, horror, and all the crossovers and realms in between.  SF is my thing, and it’s NESFA‘s thing, but trying to isolate the genres is pretty pointless these days.

Diverse publishers, from Fantastic Books to Pink Narcissus Press

Diverse publishers, from Fantastic Books to Pink Narcissus Press

In spite of the huge traffic the Arisia dealer’s room gets, book authors and vendors find that their sales are lackluster. I know Broad Universe did almost as well at Boskone as we did at Arisia, even though Boskone is a third the size and one day shorter. Sales were brisk at Boskone right from the first day. The bookseller next to our table summed it up. He observed that the kind of person who attends Boskone is more serious about books. Arisia fans are into media, into lifestyle, into costumes, into gaming; they are not as likely to be readers. Thus, in spite of the difference in attendance, some authors and dealers are deciding that Boskone is more cost-effective to attend.

I wasn't the only one doing the happy dance

I wasn’t the only one doing the happy dance

Boskone had a much “geekier” feel to it than Arisia. There were more booksellers than costumers and “gear” vendors. Fans did come in costume and were admired, but the great majority did not. Because it was smaller, there were far more opportunities to talk to friends and to professionals. (It was also easier to get around; the elevators weren’t constantly slow and jam-packed, and the crowds were thinner.) I had a chance to say hello to all the pros who had blurbed my books. I had a chance to talk to a publisher about a project. (A new book deal may come out of this, but I refuse to say more lest I jinx it.) There were few parties, but they were good ones, very social and conducive to conversation. Even the closed ones were about getting together and sharing interests, not getting hammered.

Linda D. Addison and Remy Flagg

Linda D. Addison and Remy Flagg

There was something else about this Boskone. In the past, it has had a reputation as a con dominated by white males. Not so anymore. Boskone 54 was visibly more diverse. Panelists, vendors, and attendees included many non-white non-males. There was a different feel, a different energy. Without fanfare, Boskone is welcoming new blood. For many, it was their first Boskone, and they were enjoying themselves. For those of us who had been coming for years, it felt fresh, re-energized. For me personally, this Boskone was one of my best conventions. It had the personal, friendly feel of Pi-Con (RIP). It had the emphasis on books without Readercon‘s snobbishness. It had the feel of a traditional SF convention, but brought up to date.

Kudos to the organizers of Boskone 54. You all did a superb job. You are onto something here, and we are delighted to see it happening. I look forward eagerly to Boskone 55, and I think a lot of others do, too. If there is only one convention I attend next year, Boskone will be it.

[photos courtesy Remy Flagg and Robert Finegold]





The Great Divide

3 02 2017

political-brainsWhat is the source of the great conflicts that divide us? Is there a way to find common ground? The answer might be no, and the reasons could be biological.

Whether nature or nurture, genetics or environment, there is a distinct difference in the way people think, in their values, in what they judge important. It may be the way our brains are wired. (Scientific American: “Unconscious reactions separate Liberals and Conservatives”)

Our gut (our subconscious, our deeper, non-rational instincts) tells us what is important. What makes sense. We build our moral values from there. I expect, as with many binary characteristics we observe in human beings (feminine vs. masculine, extrovert vs. introvert, etc.) there is more of a grey scale than black and white. But that might just be the way my mind works.

Because there are those who insist on black and white. They value absolutes. Certainties. There is a right way to do things. Immutable laws that God has handed down. This group tends to identify who are the good people and who are the bad people. The good people are those who agree about what is right. One takes care of and supports the good people. Unquestioning devotion to duty; party loyalty and national pride; my tribe, right or wrong. The world is a dangerous place filled with bad people. One must always be suspicious, cautious, defensive. Bad people are always trying to get away with something and they must be hunted down.

Sticking to principals is an admirable virtue. Compromise is a weakness, because why would one compromise is one is right? There is no point in trying to see the other’s point of view, because they are at best misguided, and at worst an evil which must be stopped. Good people must constantly be vigilant and battle evil whenever it arrises, and nothing short of complete victory and domination is acceptable. Superior power is the only way to ensure that good will triumph over evil. Weapons are power; wealth is power; the more the better. Only through power is there safety.

It is very important to make sure the bad are punished. If a few innocents are caught and suffer, that is unfortunate, but that is the price one pays to make sure the law is upheld and evil is crushed. Truly good people, smart people, do not allow themselves to get into bad situations. If they do, they suffer the consequences.

Nature is red in tooth and claw. Competition is a fact of life. It brings out the best in us and assures the steady progress of the species/race/nation/tribe. This is true in economics as well. A free, unregulated market is the best way to weed out the lazy and inefficient and reward hard work and cleverness. If one falls behind, it is one’s own fault. Or possibly bad luck, but there’s really nothing anyone can do about bad luck. In order for there to be winners there have to be losers. Poverty is inevitable. Jesus said the poor will be with us always.

The worldview I have just described is what makes sense to some people. They believe it, and there is much in the way the world works that supports their view. There is much in history and philosophy that they can point to. This is why no amount of argument can change their minds. Arguments that contradict their worldview make no sense to them. The same is true for those at the other end of the scale.

These people see the world as filled with uncertainty, in constant flux, and one must constantly adapt and grow. We are meant to be happy and life can be filled with joy. People are basically good, or a mix of bad and good, and one can’t make blanket judgements. Laws and rules which allow no room for exceptions are unjust, because every case is unique. Each must be judged reasonably and compassionately. Laws which are unfair or which prove to be useless should be abandoned. It is better to risk a guilty person going free that to punish someone who is innocent.

Nothing is immutable; everything is complicated. All opinions have a right to be heard. One must constantly be ready to change one’s mind. Wisdom is found in unexpected places.

We must all work to alleviate the hardship in the world. Jesus told us to help the sick and the poor. Suffering is the enemy. No one is beyond help (with certain untreatable, unreachable exceptions). Knowledge and understanding are the real sources of power. Weapons and money should not to be pursued or amassed any more than necessary.

One’s principles, leaders, all authority, must be called into question if more harm is being done than good. Compromise is not weakness; it is the way people work together to achieve common goals. Empathy is of critical importance. Compassion should know no borders, no nationality, no religion. One must risk trusting others. The potential for good outweighs the dangers.

Capitalism and a free market are good up to a point, but regulations are needed to prevent abuses. Socialism is a useful way for people to cooperatively pool their resources and make sure things get done that benefit everyone. No one should be left behind. The government should have a strong role in protecting and helping those who are in need and addressing social injustices.

Cooperation and compromise vs. competition and ambition.

Responsibility for all beings vs. take care of me and mine first.

Tolerance and flexibility vs. absolute right and wrong.

Trust vs. suspicion

Each side is quite certain that their way is the best way. Each side is baffled that the other side does not agree. Hardwired inside of us, this fundamental difference governs how we perceive reality. Like how cilantro tastes to us, or whether a particular color makes us happy or sad.

If this is so, I am at a loss. In this climate of high passions and violent rhetoric, how do we keep these differences from destroying us?





Welcome to the Madhouse

20 01 2017

scream-insanity

Barking, face-eating insanity.

If the United States of America were an organism it would be terminally ill, diseased and demented, biting itself in rabid fury.

How can anyone living in this toxic society maintain their individual sanity? Or maybe they don’t. It would explain the epidemic of violence, anxiety, depression, and suicide.

We are surrounded with visions of dystopia. We are hammered with reasons to be angry and afraid. Urged to fight back against the enemies who want to destroy us and all we hold dear. Every difference of opinion is turned into a desperate battle of ideologies. Instead of rationally discussing our differences and finding ways to peacefully coexist, we go to war for what we each believe in, creating a hostile cacophony.

Our competitive, success and money driven economic system, powered by greed, justified by free-market mythologies, brings excessive affluence to some and leaves the rest struggling. The successful shame and taunt those left behind, calling them losers, lazy, unworthy. When the savage inequities of our economy push people into the street, those with comfortable homes turn up their noses and demand that the homeless be swept out of sight.

Why is there so little compassion towards the poor and so much contempt? Why are appeals to offer aid met with parsimonious outrage? Why are there cries to slash programs designed to ease suffering and assist the vulnerable? Where is the sense in praising tax cuts for those most able to afford them, while the budgets of schools and the salaries of teachers are paid grudgingly, each penny counted and questioned?

Insanity.

It percolates down to the local level. Individuals claim to be posting news and information when all they are spewing is bile and bias, gossip, half-truths, innuendo and opinion. They are as much a “news source” as Fox. Perhaps they look to the national travesty for validation. Their opinion is the truth. Other’s opinions, if different, are lies. Facts are cherry-picked to push their agenda. Contrary data is ignored. If the Town chooses not to go along with their demands, or grant their petitions, they protest that they are being ignored and threaten a lawsuit. If other citizens criticize their actions and say so publicly, they call it slander and libel.

Funding for social programs is being slashed at the state and national level (all in the name of cutting taxes, although such gutting of programs actually reduces the average tax burden very little). More and more we are called upon to do what needs to be done at the local level. Complex regulations confuse the effort and confound the needy, whose numbers continue to grow as the population ages, and as crushing social and economic pressures take their toll. And yet there are people who seem deliberately oblivious of this, refusing to acknowledge the need for a skilled and savvy welfare officer, refusing recognize the increasing burden on schools, ignoring the pleas of both the fire and the police departments. It is as if they, and those like them at the state and national level, are determined to frog-march everyone back to some blissful era reflecting 1950s television, when what they are actually doing is sending us into a Dickensian social nightmare.

Instead of working together, the Boards and Budget Committees have adopted an adversarial stance. Individuals appoint themselves crusaders in a great battle, demanding justification for every dollar in the budget and slashing ruthlessly if they deem the justification insufficient. Lines are cut with no regard for the consequences. They use “socialism” as a pejorative, ignoring the fact that it is nothing more than people pooling their resources (as taxes) to take care of things they cannot do individually, like maintaining roads and schools. Their sociopathic insistence that government has no roll to play in advocating for the least powerful of its citizens denies all the history of horrors that made social programs and labor unions necessary. They dig in their heels and refuse to back down even in the face of new information, as if this makes them heroes.

A bit like Congress. Never compromise. Never allow the other party to have the smallest victory. Stick to the party line with absolute inflexibility, as if this were an admirable virtue and not psychotic self-destruction.

I am a writer. Words well up in my mind: stories, ideas, thoughts, haunting me until I write them down. I have been told I ought not to express myself freely in this blog. Such is the state of fear and antagonism in this small town of mine, reflecting the national pathology. Goodness knows the Town has reason to be nervous; in spite of tirelessly beating the drum of saving the taxpayers money, one litigious individual has cost the Town many thousands of dollars in frivolous lawsuits. (One judge referred to the person as a “vexatious nuisance” in a public ruling). Indeed, the free expression of my opinion in a previous post evoked an almost immediate threat of a libel suit. Nonsense, of course, but this person knows such threats frighten people. It is a way to control them and silence them, a way of getting revenge on those who disagree or refuse to behave as this person thinks they ought.

It brings to mind the psychopathic absurdity of the Red Queen shrieking, “Off with their heads!” every time something displeases her. This nation has become a dark and menacing Wonderland. The last election and the present inauguration set the tone for the rest of the country. Appalling beyond comprehension.

I sincerely regret any collateral problems my writing self may create for others. True, speaking out can complicate things. Many feel it is better to be quiet and not stir up the bees (or the Red Queen). But as our civil rights and liberties slowly erode, I will cling to the one that may save us: our right to free speech. Our freedom to speak allows us to share truths that might otherwise be suppressed. To call out the insanity. But freedom is always a double-edged sword. Free speech has also allowed far too many people to shout “Fire!” in the crowded theater of our national discourse. The ensuing panic has led to the present madness.

Barking, face-eating insanity.





Of Bluejays and Titmice

9 01 2017

jaysfighting

It’s cold outside. The temperature plunged into the negative overnight and this morning is not much improved despite a bright sun rising. I was out first thing to haul water to the ducks and hens. I filled the wild birds’ feeders last night, so they’d have breakfast waiting for them. I ought to be getting ready for Arisia, the SciFi/Fantasy convention in Boston next weekend. I’ve got a new book to plug. I’m presenting a workshop on “Reading Your Work Aloud.” I’ve got several panels to prepare for. I have half a dozen emails in my inbox waiting to be answered.

Instead I am sitting here lingering over my coffee, watching the jays quarrel over bread. They make me think of the Municipal Budget Committee meeting I have to attend tomorrow night.

I suppose most small towns are like this. Combative factions with different agendas plot and accuse and gossip and grandstand righteously. Saner heads try to calm everybody down and talk sense. It doesn’t work. Trouble-makers and self-appointed white knights strut and lecture, stoking the fires of controversy. They love a spotlight.

And I’ve gotten sucked into it.

I really did try to keep my head down. But I work for the town and with the public. I’ve been involved with the Historical Society, and when a difference of philosophies and a clash of personalities forced me to quit in disgust, I wound up working for the Heritage Commission (the latter being a town organization and the former being a private organization; they don’t play together well).

My boss, the Library Director, is retiring. When she announced her intentions a while back, the Library Board of Trustees unofficially approached me, hoping I’d take over. At first I said no. It’s a bit more responsibility than I really want, and my boss leaves very big shoes to fill. She’s a town institution, been in the position for as long as most folks can remember, and a damn hard act to follow. But then I was suddenly left on my own, with a mortgage and a house to take care of, and an income of $10K per year. Now the director’s position looked a tad more appealing.

Well, this has sucked me even further into the machinations of town politics. Naturally the job of director has to be posted, and there is no guarantee I’ll get it. But the Library Board of Directors is favorably disposed towards me. If a better candidate comes along, they must consider them, but given what the town is willing to pay, a competing highly qualified candidate is unlikely.

Oh yes, what the town is willing to pay. That brings us back to the Municipal Budget Committee and the annual sturm und drang of the budget process. Remember the political adage about making sausage?

What makes this whole thing even more “interesting” is that I have stirred the animosity of the one person in Deerfield that no one want to upset. It’s a long story, but this individual has been notorious for years, both in our and surrounding towns. This local icon is a self-styled authority on The Correct Way of Doing Things. Woe betide anyone who has a different opinion on the matter. Icon has a good working knowledge of the RSAs regulating town government, and quotes chapter and verse. The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

Anyway, I’ve been following the antics in various public meetings over the budget, and both witnessed and heard reports of what, in my humble opinion, is sheer arrogant ignorance. I was mentioned on a couple of occasions, but mostly I was furious at the way good people trying to do their job were being maligned and attacked by Icon and the members of Icon’s gang. I wrote a scathing indictment of them for the local online newspaper. The next thing I know, Icon is emailing me threats.

The subject line was “Do you know what LIBEL is?” Icon listed all my offenses, real and imagined, accused me of having no honor or scruples, and said I’d better be ready to “legally prove your writings.”

I am not surprised. Folks go in terror of saying a word against Icon that might be overheard. Icon has sued the Town on multiple occasions. The most recent one was thrown out, but still, every lawsuit costs the Town money which it can ill afford. Icon knows how to make trouble for anyone who dares to speak against Icon or that which Icon judges to be The Correct Way of Doing Things. In short, Icon is a bully, and all the kids have been handing over their lunch money out of fear of getting beaten up.

Bless them, there is a group in town which is fed up with this bullyshit. A growing number of folks are ready to go public in united opposition to Icon and the gang. The result will no doubt be loud, nasty, and litigious. I do not wish to be a part of it, but here I am.

The blue jays have gone off, taking their shrieking and squabbling elsewhere. The feeders are now being visited by chickadees and titmice. They politely take turns, flying up, grabbing a seed, and going to a nearby branch to enjoy it. It is a pleasure to watch. It brings joy to my heart. I’d rather be a titmouse than a jay.





2017

2 01 2017
Micheal Cook - Weary Traveller

Micheal Cook – Weary Traveller

Happy New Year. I am weary.

I am weary of the steady parade of problems to be solved; too often the solution is beyond me.

I am weary of the constant barrage of outrage, calamity, and impending doom: the incoming administration, global climate change, incendiary international politics, pollution, poverty, and social injustice. I have no power to change any of it. Yet I am scolded for not “doing something about it”, for not “fighting back”, for “giving up”. I am supposed to at least “care”. But I am too tired to care anymore.

I am weary of causes and calls to increase awareness of everything from breast cancer (as if I am not painfully aware of it already) to all the variations on the mental norm: autism, depression, PTSD, etc., etc. I am exhausted from trying to be sensitive to a dizzying array of “triggers” and possible sources of offense. And I am beginning to resent the guilt trip that is laid on me for not being sympathetic enough. When I read about the shocking abuse children have suffered—starved, beaten, sexually assaulted—it is difficult to feel a lot of pity for adults who cry abuse because their childhood and their parents were less than perfect. When I read about the persecution—shunning, death threats, beatings, shaming, and horrific “cures”—of people who are not mainstream male or female, it is difficult to take seriously righteous crusades over pronouns.

I am sick of people who act as if everyone around them should treat them like pitiful victims, brave survivors, fuss over them, lavish special treatment upon them, when really the only thing that has befallen them is Life. We all struggle with some inner pain or another, unique to us; we’ve all been back-stabbed and gut-punched. We all have to do things we hate, deal with people and situations that make us miserable, cope with unbearable losses and the death of treasured dreams. We turn to friends and family for sympathy and support and then we pull ourselves together and push on. It is not up to you to declare yourself worthy of pity or preference, a tragic martyr or a noble hero. That is for others to judge.

I am weary of people who think their opinions are a valid argument against facts. I am tired of echo chambers and circle jerks and people who reduce complex issues to memes and soundbites. I am tired of those who pass single-issue judgements on others, who hold grudges, who think anger is a productive strategy, or that rage-quitting is a reasonable response. I am worn out dealing with those who crave drama and search for excuses to cause it, who use criticism and contempt as a way to feel better about themselves, and who loudly level unfounded accusations, seize upon gossip, persecute with innuendo, and always suspect the worst of people. I am frustrated by those whose response to a disagreement is to unfriend, block, ban, slam the door, shut down communication with anyone who doesn’t see things as they do.

I am saddened by all the misfortunes that have occurred to those around me, by the suffering, terrible luck, losses and heartache. All the misery I feel helpless to do anything about. I am battered by my own struggles, wounds, and failures. I am disappointed in my shortcomings, that I am not strong enough, clever enough, determined enough, to overcome this adversity. That my compassion has become so fatigued, my optimism exhausted. That I am so tired.

I have no confidence that 2017 is going to be better than 2016; reality does not recognize our calendar. I do what most of us do, get through each day, take care of those I love and who depend on me, and try to be cheerful about it so I don’t bring down everyone around me. 2017 might not be better, but it will certainly be different. Everything changes, everything passes away.

So perhaps, one day, I will not feel so weary.





Priorities

31 12 2016

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
Then fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
This is America, dear Liza, dear Liza, dear Liza,
We don’t fix things, dear Liza, we throw them away.

Because buying new instead of fixing is better for the economy, and
the economy matters
more than
anything
else.
greatpacificgarbagepatch





Eloise and Avalon released

7 12 2016

ea-front-final

Greetings fans and readers! I am very excited to announce that my new novel, Eloise and Avalon, has been released from Double Dragon as an ebook and as a trade paperback.  The ebook, including a Kindle version, is available here for purchase.  Here is the gorgeous cover designed by Angi Shearstone from artwork supplied by Michelle Bouchard. Michelle also did some lovely sketches which appear in the text of the print version, which you can order from Amazon here.

Eloise and Avalon is part romance, part science fiction, part social commentary. In other words, pretty much what my readers have come to expect from me. To summarize the story, Eloise Smith is a history geek. She rebels against her family’s plans for her to devote herself to the subject she loves. In doing so, she finds herself drawn to the brilliant and reclusive Peter Avalon, an iconoclastic professor of history (and damn near everything else). She develops the classic student crush, devoting herself to him as his assistant, and kicking herself for succumbing to a cliché case of unrequited love. Eloise eventually discovers that not only is her love not unrequited, but Peter Avalon is not at all what he is supposed to be.

Pi-Sigma Avalon is indeed a historian, but from a world eleven hundred light years away and twenty-two thousand years into Eloise’s future. And he isn’t supposed to be there at all.

The prototype time/space transport device developed by the Thalesians has been judged by their scientific and philosophical councils to be too dangerous to risk using. But Avalon cannot resist the temptation. Just one quick jump, back to Old Earth, the lost world of their past, shrouded in mystery. No one need know. But he stays much longer that he intends, and comes back profoundly changed.

Eloise returns with him, and she confounds Thalesian expectations of what primitive humans are supposed to be like. So does the information Avalon brings back, blowing the carefully crafted theories about his people’s origins completely out of the water. The consequences of Avalon’s unauthorized expedition threaten to throw the peaceful, orderly society of Thales into chaos. And if the philosopher monks of Eden are correct, Avalon and Eloise face an unimaginably challenging future which cannot be avoided, because it has already happened.

I’ll be at both Arisia and Boskone promoting my new book (look for me at the Broad Universe Dealer’s Table), and hope to have copies in local independent bookstores. And, of course, it will be available at my local library. If it’s not available at yours, ask for it. Please!