The prequel chapters thus far posted can be accessed directly from this page. I’ll update it as more material is added.
Hope you’re enjoying it so far.
The prequel chapters thus far posted can be accessed directly from this page. I’ll update it as more material is added.
Hope you’re enjoying it so far.
Yo, Angst Homies! I’m in police custody!
Apparently the long-lost original Scream, Edvard Munch’s masterpiece painting, has been recovered. Robbed in broad daylight from the Munch Museum two years ago, the paintings are now in the custody of Norwegian police.
Well, thank God for that. I was beginning to have angst withdrawal.
Just when I was thinking what a great Worldcon this was, there was apparently an incident that I completely missed.
At the Hugos, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis’ breast. Mr. Ellison is a walking reputation to me; never met him – I suspect that I would be something scraped off his shoe. Connie Willis, on the other hand, I’ve met several times (though I suspect she doesn’t know me from Adam), and consistently lives up to her well-deserved reputation as a charming, intelligent woman. Both authors’ books get prominent placement on our shelves.
So, the incident: Patrick Nielsen Hayden writes
Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos wasn’t funny and it wasn’t okay. I understand (from third parties; I haven’t spoken to her about it) that Connie Willis’s position is that Ellison has done worse and she can handle him, but I really didn’t want to watch it and neither, I think, did a lot of other people in the audience. Up to then the comedic schtick aspects of the Hugo presentation had been genuinely funny. After that, I think, many of us just wanted it all to stop.
Patrick went on to make sure he bashed President Bush in the next paragraph. Welcome to the liberal Ursuppe. Anyway.
And the response has been extensive. Some of it is crap (do you not know what the hell the word “fatwa” means?); but most of it is Patrick’s response, or my colleague and friend Elizabeth Bear saying, “Hey, Harlan? This is so not okay” –
No, it really isn’t. I keep seeing people saying, variously, either “oh, he’s just a jerk, he’s always been like that, it’s not really surprising in the context of everything else he does” or “HA! He really is a jerk! See, Ellison fans? SEE?”
and for fuck’s sake, this is not just another “being a jerk” incident. — because, I’m a jerk sometimes– not of Ellisonian proportions, because I’m also shy and retiring — and I’ve never grabbed somebody’s breast uninvited. It’s a whole universe away from mere snottiness, drama-queenage, or provocative whatever. This is disgustingly sexist behavior, and it is not okay to class rank sexism under the jerk umbrella, as if it’s something we’d all do if we lacked social graces and let our id take control. Being a rude and abrasive person is one thing, and treating women’s bodies like public property is another, and it comes from a different kind of fucked-upness, and one person may do both, but they’re still not the same. pnh’s bit about the ‘meaning of the tit-grab’ was so absolutely right. It drives me nuts to see this classed in the same category as other amusing Ellison anecdotes (I admit, I do find a lot of them amusing, or did.) It’s not. the same. thing.
So, he apparently apologizes:
iT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. . . .
I agree wholeheartedly.
I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.
So. What now, folks? It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.
I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.
The apology sounds like Mr. Ellison, no doubt. He signs it “puckishly, Yr. pal, Harlan”.
A reader suggested that I weigh in on this matter, so I’m doing so as follows. Ellison has apologized, but that’s only being taken seriously by his minions. Ellison does not excuse his own behavior, but retreats to some sort of ‘that’s just Harlan being Harlan’ to explain it. Willis was apparently furious at the time (and afterwards during her interview with Charles Brown of Locus), but hasn’t charged Ellison with assault, blasted him in public, or really done anything that would make me (or anyone) think she was less urbane, less polite, less gracious or less professional than she obviously is.
Both folks have had their reputations reinforced. Lots of people have gotten to vent. I have no venting to do, though as a married man and the father of a daughter, I suspect that I would respond to such behavior to my ladies in the manner suggested by Meredith Patterson:
I have a standard response to things like this: if someone gropes me, I punch the offending party in the face. I don’t care if it’s a friend, an acquaintance, or a total stranger. A friend might get the courtesy of me saying “Hey, cut that shit out,” but if they keep it up, they’re going to get punched.
Yes, yes, violence never solved anything, but it cuts down on the recidivism. I’m guessing that if Mr. Ellison had his nose and glasses pushed up into his cranial cavity a few times he’d cease the offending behavior.
As for me, I may be something to scrape off Ellison’s shoe, but at least I can look Willis in the face and smile. And shake her hand, and tell her how much I admire her work. Ellison . . . I’ll steer clear, and I hope my ladies do the same.
This is the fifth chapter of the prequel, Sword & Sun, which is the story of how the Solar Empire came into existence. It’s not presently on submission for publication.
This is a draft of Chapter 5; it wasn’t originally to be the next thing, but I felt that it needed to be here. One of the neat things about this format is that I can offer something in draft form and get feedback, then change it in place. So I hope you find this to your liking.
This material is Copyright © 2006, Walter H. Hunt.
Aliens have opened the gates of the universe to all nations, but it is a special gift for us. For more than a century, the Middle Kingdom has been a mighty engine with the throttle held at low gear. The constraints of our native world and our home solar system gave rise to difficult choices and bare branches. In the space of a few years that has all changed. Now there are a thousand worlds, a thousand places for China to plant its seed.
To those who go forth I echo the words of the great Comrade Mao: let your gardens bloom. While other [nations] mght cultivate fragile blossoms, you possess the strength and will of Chinese. Let a thousand Chinas bloom: bright flowers in the distant darkness . . .
- Wei Kuan, Analects for A New Century, Addendum 2124;
People’s Press of Shantung, 2125
Xian Che, Chairman of the Council of People’s Deputies, secured his parka over the bulky vest. It was a good enough fit to look well-tailored on vid, but it was uncomfortable as hell. Somehow it didn’t seem to conform as it had when they’d fit him for it on New Beijing.
He knew what Wan would say. She would smile – that distant, ethereal smile – and say, “It is not only the vest, my love. If you had eaten fewer char siu boe at the banquets given in your honor . . . “
It would have to do. With a last tug on the hem, he left off adjusting the garment. “Any last minute advice, old friend?”
Liu Ho, Chairman of State Security, looked away. He touched his ear for a moment – some agent reporting from elsewhere. “Advice? You don’t listen to what I freely offer. My advice, Comrade Chairman, is to cancel this entire stunt –“
“It’s a stunt, now, is it.”
“There is nowhere on Anbang that cannot be reached by ‘copter or aircar. I can protect you inside one of these. But walking from this hotel to the People’s Palace – you know it’s just for the vidcams. And because it annoys me.”
“Not just. But you see an assassin in every crowd.”
“Comrade. Old friend. There are assassins in every crowd. Some of our ‘thousand flowers’ have thorns. My briefing already stated that the Sunrise League has operatives on this world, in this city.”
“I realize that. But this is something I feel that I have to do. For me to distance myself from the people defeats the purpose of my visit. How can I celebrate the New Year with them from an aircar? What would they think of me if I showed fear?”
“They would think you wise, Comrade Chairman.”
“They would think me a coward. And –“ he held up his hand. “And yes, I remember Thompson. Who could forget? But that was forty years ago. These are different times, and China is not the North American Union. If you are doing your job, Comrade, there are no armed terrorists on any Greater Chinese world.”
That should hold him, Xian Che thought to himself. Either he has eradicated any terrorist threat – and I am safe – or he hasn’t done his job. But he’ll never admit that.
“Of course, Comrade Chairman,” Liu said. “Wisdom and bravery. The people are in good hands.”
“You’re being sarcastic.”
“The newsvids say that I have no sense of humor. I’m sure everyone believes that, for newsvids never lie.”
Liu again leaned his head slightly for a moment. “All right, Comrade. The people await.”
A few pictures from the tail end of Worldcon: me with a couple of guys you’ll recognize – Richard Herd and Robert Picardo. They were hawking signed pictures and stuff, and were more than happy to be photographed with me. Walter Koenig, on the other hand, declined to let Mattie Brahen take a picture of us (but I did shake his hand and tell him how much I still enjoyed the original series. Courtesy counts, at least to me.) The gentlemen in the pictures are extremely friendly – and confident in their celebrity. Herd is an artist and singer, and a local boy; Picardo was as friendly and personable as the characters he plays. Are they putting on a face for con-goers? Perhaps – but I wasn’t a customer, and don’t have anything to offer. I’m not likely to get invited out to their Beverly Hills mansions anytime soon, but I appreciate being treated like a regular person. So if you find something of interest from these two guys, I encourage you to give them your patronage.
Herd, Picardo, and some writer guy
Disneyland was just across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center. It had been dangled as an incentive to A. during the con, and her wish came true on Sunday. Wife and daughter went over late morning with our California friends (whom we had first met in Scotland last year) and I joined them right after my Bradbury encounter.
I took some pictures, but haven’t included them here, as it looked very much like you’d expect – lots of crowds, lots of kids, lots of lines, lots of rides. The California version resembles the Florida version but is older, like a “classic” edition. It’s smaller than WDW; we didn’t go to California Adventure – we only got the one-day one-park pass, since we only had until middle evening to visit. The girls got on to Space Mountain a couple of times; we rode the Matterhorn (not replicated in Florida – when I got off I said in my best Dr. Z voice, “Now we have found ze Hokey.” It was hokey. But fun.) and the Indiana Jones adventure.
This is the tail end of the Disneyland 50th anniversary. Disney is linked to the most significant World’s Fairs of the past century: 1893 (Walt’s grandfather was a vendor there; the “White City” and Midway Plaisance set the tone for the next century of forward-looking fairs); 1939 (the fulcrum point between the Depression and World War II; Disney attended, and you can see echoes of “Democracity” and the forward-looking exhibits in EPCOT); and 1964, where there was a Disney exhibit.
Dismissing the Disney cult and culture is easy to do, and glib commentators tend to view its patrons as willing sheep and the product as mindless and Panglossian (not to mention sometimes racist – a not completely unfounded accusation) . . . but with all of that, our visits to WDW have been thoroughly enjoyable. I’m sure that will get my snide intellectual credentials pulled, but I don’t care; the parks were clean and friendly, the staff was unfailingly helpful, and we had a great time both as adult visitors (1993, 1994) and as the parents of a small child (2000). Food and merchandise was expensive, but no more so than, say, at a major league ballpark. There are too many places I want to see to make it a regular visit, and I would rather see a real historical site than trust Disney to show it to me, but I expect to visit again and look forward to it.
The Disneyland visit wrapped up our California stay. Toward midnight, with all of us pretty well exhausted, we boarded a redeye that took us home via beautiful Cleveland/Hopkins Airport, and our vacation was over. Almost all was well at home, though our 20-year-old fridge failed sometime during the previous week . . . ah well. There are lots worse things that could happen. And I have my little Goofy statue to console me.
Worldcon was sufficiently busy that I hardly had any chance to post entries while I was there. I also took very few pictures.
LACon was big and long. It started on Wednesday; we flew in from Phoenix late in the afternoon and didn’t get into the swing until Thursday morning. I was very heavily programmed: nine items, including a Kaffeeklatsch and an autograph session. My panels fell into two categories: gaming and writing about aliens. I’m happy to say that I’m qualified to talk about both.
The gaming panels were well-attended and surprisingly interesting. What’s more, they were extremely civil and polite – a nice change of pace. They did feature some of the sort of loud pontification that is completely alien to me :-) but were very informative. I had the chance to make cogent points about gamemastering; to my shock, I actually have a year or two on Steve Jackson – but am under no illusions that I know more about RPGs than he does. We had a chance to chat a bit in the Green Room after the panel we shared. I remember his mad genius from the 1980s: somewhere I have a button he gave me that reads SPI Died For Our Sins; he is the sort of guy that seems to let you know immediately if he doesn’t have time for you – and we were able to talk for a little bit, so I’m pleased not to have been filtered out. My most important comment (which apparently sold some folks on buying my books) was the idea that, regardless of the GM’s style, his/her objective was to achieve a “moment of transcendence” where the player forgot that it was a game and that the character was merely writing on a page. Having the room go quiet and attentive after I said that was very gratifying.
The writing panels mostly focused on aliens – writing about them, describing them, making them alien enough to be different and familiar enough to be readable. I made the point that dialog helps reveal alien types; for example, my rashk speak in inverted word order, my zor don’t use contractions, and all of the aliens use different numbering systems. These things are the little things – if the reader hasn’t noticed them but still feels the “third dimension” that brings reality to a story, you’ve succeeded.
I also did a panel on Sunday with David Brin, which was to have addressed the idea of a preference for monarchies in f/sf by readers who were largely descended from rebels like Thomas Jefferson. We left that quickly behind (though I observed that the larger the hegemony, the more it would have to be something like a feudal system; representative democracy doesn’t work well if it’s not possible for the representatives to get together regularly.) Well, Brin is Brin; he even describes some of his flights of speech as rants: insightful, intelligent, and rarely boring. I don’t completely agree with him, but always try to listen. Check his comments on LA Worldcon – an excerpt follows:
The con committee deliberately (not by oversight) eviscerated nearly all panels about education or outreach to a new generation – even though everyone was talking about the decline of science fiction, the drop in sales, the disturbing swing in favor of anime and feudal fantasy. Still, despite the fact that all fan organizations have charters that dedicate them to outreach and spreading the positive messages of SF, very few of them are interested at all in doing anything about it.
When he was GoH at Boskone a few years ago he made this very point.
The number of elderly people, riding scooters and wheel chairs, at least equaled the number of teens and tweens that you could see wandering the halls. As for children? My own three kids made up a large fraction of those attending. And yet, nobody seems to notice or mind, in the slightest.
The literature of youthful, forward-looking openness… is graying and (in many ways) dying, even as its tropes and glossy surfaces have been embraced as never before.
His political remarks, um, diverge from my own; so I’ll leave them aside without comment. But this observation is important and spot on. There are more youthful conventions – Arisia in Boston comes to mind; but I’ve attended cons which are exactly as described, and I see what he sees and have the same concern.
My favorite comment on any panel I attended was by one of my favorite con people, Lawrence Schoen. The Klingon Guy, who’s also a pretty good writer guy, jumped in when the infamous Jar-Jar Binks oozed into the conversation. “You know,” Dr. Lawrence said, “he’d be a hell of a lot more interesting if Lucas had just given him Tourette’s Syndrome. You know, ‘Meesa go to Boss Nass / You filthy %$%#$%@#$%@ why don’t you go #$%@#$@ yourself / Jedi help rescue Gungans.” I was pretty much useless for a couple of minutes after that.
Jar Jar and Tourette? It could work.
By Sunday I was exhausted, and so was just about everyone else. But Sunday’s festivities also featured a brief, but memorable encounter with one of my idols, Ray Bradbury. As I was helping out the autographing area I was able to get my copy of Dandelion Wine autographed – and there were two hundred more people waiting to meet the man.
Ray Bradbury, pen in hand
Sadly, I may not get another chance. Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles may have more impact and power, but for me it’s always been The Book. It’s close to his heart as well. I’m in a long line of writers who would venture to say that they could not be as good as they are without having read his work. I wish I could’ve spoken with him, even briefly, but that didn’t happen.
Next: Disneyland, and home.
I’ve been asked by a few readers why I moderate comments to the blog, and whether I delete any posts. The answer is that I don’t delete posts – but I do filter out spamming posts. There are a lot of spamming posts. A lot. 40 a day. They mostly look like this (as seen in my siteadmin page – the URI is deleted so that it doesn’t actually appear in this entry):
Name: james | E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | URI: [DELETED] | IP: 22.214.171.124 | Date: August 2, 2006
fg hdfh df h
Sometimes the content is actual English, but most times not. The object appears to be the insertion of a link back to some page selling medications, penis enlargement, online gambling, or pornography. They get deleted. 40 a day.
I don’t know any easy way to make it stop, but at least I can quickly delete a pile of them when they come in.
Real content has made it to the blog; I haven’t found any comment so offensive that I’ve gotten rid of it. But feel free to keep trying. :-)
Update August 11: Akismet is working! Thanks, PS!
Update August 27: While things aren’t flooding in at 40 spams per day, I’m starting to get a new generation of spam posts – 15-20 per day – and they’re not getting Akismetted. Any suggestions?
In a very close vote, Denver has won the right to host the 2008 World Science Fiction Convention. I believe the outcome was something of a surprise; the buzz around the con was that Chicago was most likely to win – they’d served thousands of hot dogs over the last couple of years across the country. Late last night the word came down that the other competitor, Columbus, had been eliminated first and that Denver had defeated Chicago by the tiny margin of 12 votes.
Worldcon now turns its attention to the 2009 bids, Montréal and Kansas City (along with any other bids that surface over the next few months). We’ve presupported Kansas City and may presupport Montréal as well; I’ll certainly be attending in either case. The interesting thing about the coming year is that the final vote will be held in Yokohama, Japan, where the 2007 event will be held. (I’ll not be there, unless a large bagful of money is left on my doorstep. Not counting on it.)
I’m going to jump over the Taliesin description until later, because I wanted to put up a few pictures of the Grand Canyon.
According to my cousin in Arizona, the average length of stay in the Grand Canyon national park is a little under half an hour. Disturbingly many tourists drive into the park (at $25, if you haven’t bought some sort of pass), pull up to a car-accessible observation point, look into the canyon and drive away. When I said that we felt that a day was hardly enough, she congratulated us on giving it a whole day.
Driving up to the Grand Canyon is a good chunk of a day. The main highway from Phoenix to Flagstaff is I-17. On the map, it looks like a straight line through the middle of nowhere; in practice, it’s a straight line through the middle of nowhere that climbs almost a mile in altitude from 2000 feet above sea level to over 7000. A lot of it looks like the view from the Sunset Point rest stop, as shown below;
Sunset Point, Arizona
But once you’re above Flagstaff in the Kaibab National Forest, it looks a lot more like Maine than Arizona. The outside temperature isn’t 100° plus either: it’s more like 70°. Well, it’s a forest, I suppose, so that makes sense.
We arrived late in the day and were able to visit Yavapai Observation Point, where we got our first look at the Canyon. It was an amazing sight; I’ve got a few pictures of the sunset we saw, but it can’t hope to do justice to the view. It’s been photographed millions of times by far more talented artists; but when you can sit on a rock ten feet from the precipice – no guard rails, no fences, just the view – it renders you speechless.
Grand Canyon Sunset
Afterward we sat in an open-air amphitheater and watched a narrated slide presentation about Phantom Ranch – a campground down in the canyon proper. There’s only so much you can do on the rim: it’s a touristy place with things to see and do, but it scarcely conveys the grandeur and the natural wonder of the canyon. With only one day, there was no chance of going down inside – but we did get up in the dark to see the sun rise. With some effort (and leaving A. behind in our room to sleep), my wife and I got up in the dark and walked over to the bus stop. We took the shuttle out to the easternmost outlook accessible by bus – Yaqui Point – and with only one other fellow-tourist on hand, watched the sun rise over the canyon. A few more inadequate pictures appear below.
Grand Canyon Sunrise
With a long drive ahead of us back to Phoenix, we could only stay a little longer in the park. We walked around the Village a bit, peeked in at the magnificent El Tovar hotel (built in 1905) and the neighboring Hopi House and Verkamps, which sell souvenirs and native crafts, did a little more looking around, then got back on the road. By late afternoon we’d returned to the heat of Arizona.
Next: Worldcon in LA begins for us.
The Old Master
One of the things my wife especially wanted to do in Phoenix was to visit Taliesin West, the winter studio and workplace for the old master, Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright came out to Arizona in 1937, and for the next twenty-two years wintered at this place – not at the top of the hill, as we were told, but at its “shining brow”. On a blistering hot day we took a tour through the complex.
Views of Taliesin West
It was impressive. It was interesting not only for its historical context – Wright is probably the best-known American architect; he might be the only one you can actually name – but because of the feel of the place: part artist’s colony, part genius’ workshop. Wright built a kiva as a meeting place (and movie theater); it was also a place where he experimented with different types of lighting. He experimented with different types of materials: construction, adhesive, and so forth. He scavenged things from various places to decorate it.
I don’t need convincing of Wright’s genius. Unlike some sort of wacky cubist art, you can look at a Wright design (even the most postmodern ones) and be impressed with his vision. Some of it makes you say “wow”. As is so often the case, I have to yield to my wife’s superior knowledge on the subject – but the question I asked (and have no answer yet) is: why was Wright considered so novel in his time? Who did he break away from? There’s a known relationship between Wright and the hero/rebel character Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Was Wright just that to the architectural community at the beginning of the 20th Century? If so, he succeeded far beyond Roark.
It only will lead to more reading, I suppose. Not that it’s a bad thing . . . In any case, we enjoyed our visit, and were impressed with the knowledge of our terrific guide (pictured below). Her day job is in forensics, apparently.
Our Tour Guide
A highlight of our Arizona visit.
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