Friday, February 21, 2014
Monday, February 03, 2014
Standing on the Ramparts of my Castle of Perseverance. Well, my Fort of Perseverance. Okay, my Small Cardboard Box of Perseverance
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Years ago -- the early 90's, I think -- Sprite ran a fun, subversive little ad campaign that involved mocking the tropes of soft drink ad campaigns. They turned the tropes up to eleven and then contrasted the overblown hype with Sprite, and the slogan "Image is nothing. Taste is everything. Obey your thirst."
I enjoyed those ads. They were fun, clever and aimed right at my cynical, media-saturated Gen X heart.
My favourite was a commercial within a commercial. Two slacker-types watching TV see an ad for a soft drink called "Jooky". "Jooky: It's a party in a can!" A beach party, girls in bikinis, everybody happy and dancing, a totally over-the-top jingle actually explicating all the implicit promises of commercials -- "Jooky make you really kooky, Jooky make you manly man!"
Then the two slackers, with expressions of great anticipation, pop the tabs on their cans of Jooky. Nothing happens. No beach party. "Aw, mine's broken," says one. Cut to the Sprite slogan: "Image is nothing," etc.
Much as I loved the ad, it didn't work as intended, at least not on me. I don't drink citrus-based pops -- they upset my stomach. I was never going to buy Sprite. So what was my take-away?
Well, I understood the intent, and I appreciated the satirical sting of the commercial-within-the-commercial. I loved seeing the strings of advertising's ridiculous subtextual promises laid bare.
And I didn't care. Because after I saw that ad, all I wanted was a can of Jooky.
To this day, I still want a can of Jooky.
Monday, October 07, 2013
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
All of which is to say that I am so not the target audience for TT: Full Throttle, the debut novel by my friend Nicole Winters, set in the world of motorcycle racing and specifically, at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. A YA novel about motorcycle racing? Yeah, so not my usual thing.
I love this book.
Nicole has achieved something really rare, special and admirable in this, her first published novel -- she has created a window into the world and the passions of a group of very believable characters, and she has done it in a way that makes me, someone who would normally disdain motorcycle racing for all sorts of reasons, deeply interested and invested in the outcome.
TT: Full Throttle is the story of Scott Saunders, a young man in his early twenties who lives for only one thing -- to race in the annual Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, the TT. Scott comes from a racing family, and planned for years to travel to the Isle of Man with his father for the race. His father's untimely death has changed all that, and now Scott eats, sleeps and breathes the TT, intent on travelling to the Isle with his friend Neil so they can race to honour his dad's memory.
Scott shares his home with Neil, Mags, a gifted motorcycle mechanic who Scott is attracted to, and Dean, a former juvenile delinquent who Neil has taken under his wing. The story begins as Scott and Neil are moving forward with their training for the TT, but when tragedy strikes again, Scott must decide whether to go ahead or give up on his dream. With the help of his friends, who join him on his journey and act as an ad hoc pic crew, he travels to the Isle of Man. There, however, the pressure mounts as Scott struggles to qualify for the race with limited resources, no sponsorship, and his amateur crew of well-meaning but not always skilled friends. Together, they must all work to rise to these new challenges if Scott's dream is ever to come true.
I'll let you read the book to learn how that works out, and read it you most definitely should. Nicole has a remarkable ear for dialogue, and every single one of her characters pops off the page. Scott, Neil, Mags and Dean are more real to me now than some people I've met in my real life. In the abstract, I don't care much about motorcycle racing, but I care about these people, their struggles, their tragedies and their triumphs, and I was deeply invested in following them on their journey and rooting for them to succeed.
And if that was my reaction, I can't even imagine how strongly a younger reader, especially one with an interest in sports, would react to this book. This excellent novel is primarily aimed at YA readers, especially boys and reluctant readers generally, but there's plenty going on here to catch and hold the interest of an adult -- even a sports-indifferent one.
TT: Full Throttle is available from online booksellers everywhere in print and ebook versions. I recommend it unreservedly.
In the interests of full disclosure: I originally posted this on Goodreads -- but a) I'm still figuring out how to integrate Goodreads with the rest of my social media activity and I didn't want this to get lost in the shuffle and b) it's past time for another volley in my Blog! War!!! with Greg Beettam. Mr. Beettam, the ball is in your court now.
And also in the interests of full disclosure: I did mention this in my review, but it merits repeating. Nicole is a friend, and I am in that sense not at all unbiased here. That being said, I think I would love TT: Full Throttle just as much if I didn't know the author at all.
And finally, if you still need convincing, why not check out the book trailer here?
Thursday, September 05, 2013
For some important background and the discussion to date, you can read the #DiversityInSFF tweets, as well as blog posts from Chuck Wendig, Madeline Ashby and Jim McDermott.
I wasn't at this Worldcon. In fact, I’ve never been to a WorldCon (I attended the 2012 World Fantasy Con, and I was a pre-supporter for TorCon 3, and look forward to attending future Worldcons), but I'm very much pro-Worldcon. I love cons, I love science fiction and fantasy and the SFF writing and fandom communities – our wonderful, strange little subculture. I want the things I love to succeed, and to continue to succeed for years to come.
Here are nine suggestions. Nine things we could to address the problems of diversity in literary SFF conventions and fandom.
A note on my own positioning: I am a member of various fandoms. I am a writer who aspires to work professionally within SFF. I occupy positions of privilege, since I present as male, white, cis and straight. I know that affects my experiences and my thinking, and that I am not always aware of how. So these suggestions are just that. Suggestions, my attempt to contribute to a vital discussion, to indicate my willingness to do my part to make things better. I hope for feedback, so that I can learn more and that better ideas can emerge from the conversation. I hope to listen and learn so I can be a better ally. I welcome dialogue.
Another note: This list is really focused on conventions because that's where a lot of the current iteration of the conversation started. There's lots more work to do in diversity with regards to diversity among writers and in subject matter, for instance -- but others have been writing eloquently about that.
But that’s part of the point – these ideas aren't revolutionary, aren't terribly complicated and shouldn’t be controversial. In many cases, they're kind of obvious. Some might take time, planning and money to implement. Some would require a will to change that might not be there. But we are a bunch of people who pride themselves on our intelligence and creativity, right? Well, if we can’t pull off the basic level of problem-solving required to address these issues, then we might have to re-evaluate that opinion.
And with the appropriate background and mea culpas out of the way...
So, failing that admittedly bold step, simply holding the awards ceremony at Dragon Con would, as Paul points out, be a brilliant way to open the Worldcon door to the Dragon Con community. Everyone gets awards shows; you don't need to be an insider to understand the dynamic. They have built-in drama and fun, and you get to see celebrities dressed up in clothes and making goofy jokes.
And reaching out to Dragon Con attendees, to be clear, isn't just about raising the profile of Worldcon, or the Hugos, although both of those are worthy goals in themselves. It forwards Diversity in SFF by making an active effort to welcome and include Dragon Con's much larger (about ten time the attendance of an average Worldcon) audience of younger, more diverse fans. Hook them with the awards show, get them interested in the books, the programming, the discouse and the community -- and connect them to SF&F's powerful traditions of celebrating those things, and you're already half-way to winning the next generation.
There are huge differences between Dragon Con and Worldcon besides the age and diversity of the fans -- Dragon Con is commercial, Worldcon is non-profit; Dragon Con is devoted to all media and all things fannish, Worldcon is firmly and almost exclusively literary in focus. And Dragon Con isn't without its flaws or problems. A lot of the comparisons are happening because the two conventions happen at the same time, and therefore form a really clear contrast to one another. The issue isn't Dragon Con per se, just as it isn't Worldcon per se; it's that fan media cons are more diverse, younger, and growing, while SFF literary cons are less diverse, greying, and have plateaued -- for years, in many cases.
But those young, diverse fans who are helping the media cons to surge should be a massive feeder market for Worldcon and other literary cons, creating the next generation of, for instance, Worldcon and World Fantasy attendees.
Should be, could be, but so far aren't. So the question of what can be learned from those cons, and how to reach the fans who attend them, and make them aware of and excited about literary cons is vitally important. Dragon Con and Worldcon happen at the same time and so they're obvious candidates for some form of cooperation and synergy, but there should be stronger ties and connections between literary and media cons in general.
And let's be clear: The cost of attending major conventions is significant and it is a barrier to participation. In Mary Robinette Kowal's survey on Diversity in SFF, of respondents who had never attended a con, 57.4% cited cost as one reason.
Making conventions -- including but not only Worldcon -- more accessible to people who can't currently afford to attend will address Diversity in SFF via age (young people are often less well-off) and social class. And people in groups that are less privileged or marginalized for other reasons tend to have less money and be less financially secure as well -- so there'll be a ripple effect.
(Oh, and on the subject of that survey question, 36.5% cited "I would feel out of place" as a reason they've never attended a con -- another reason that addressing Diversity in SFF will be good for cons!)
And new initiatives should be created to support participation at cons by other under-represented populations (the differently-abled for instance, or the neurodiverse).
It could and should. Every WorldCon could have an International Guest of Honour, bringing a creator from a spotlight non-English-speaking country or culture to the con. Programming could explore the IGOH’s work and the speculative fiction tradition of his/her home country, culture, or language.
Expose con attendees to more diverse SFF from around the world, and they will find something to love -- and that will spur more sources, more voices and more diversity in SFF.
Panel parity is just a basically sensible idea. Panels, and therefore convention programming, and therefore conventions, will appeal to more and a more diverse set of people, if they see via the panelists that their participation is wanted and welcomed. More women on panels = more women going to panels and participating in the discussion. The same principle can and should be applied to people of colour, and to other forms of diversity.
If the makeup of panels, that is to say, ignores a significant percentage of humanity, those people will go somewhere else instead -- somewhere that acknowledges, welcomes, includes and reflects them and their experiences.
But why should this be up to individual panelists to police, when it's not only just straightforwardly the ethical thing to do, but is actually in the best interest of conventions? The answer, clearly, is that it shouldn't. Panel parity should be adopted as a core principle by cons.
Now, the people who organize programming for conventions already work really hard -- scheduling those panels and events is like playing Jenga, except that everyone is yelling at you and the pieces are on fire -- but I can't imagine that ensuring parity and diversity in participation would be an unbearable addition to the burden. Indeed, in the long run, by expanding participation, panel parity will expand the pool of available panelists, which will make panels easier to organize -- making it a matter of enlightened self-interest yet again!
Again: No. Freakin'. Brainer. This issue has been discussed at length over the past year or so, but it's central, it's vital and it bears repeating. Conventions need robust and robustly enforced policies and practices to ensure that all fans feel welcome and safe there. There must be policies to prevent harassment and bullying of any kind, and clear, consistent, transparent procedures in the event somebody breaks those rules.
There are other factors, important ones, that haven't been as widely discussed yet, that are vital to cons being safe and welcoming for all: Accessibility for people with reduced mobility; accommodation for the differently-abled and the neurodiverse; on-site child care are just a few.
So many people have done so much work on these issues -- harassment at conventions being particularly prominent and thorny lately -- that it would be difficult to name them all. A very short list of the ones who have helped me towards better understanding would include Rose Fox, Genevieve Valentine, John Scalzi, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jim Hines and groups and organizations like SFFragette, the Backup Ribbon Project and the Ada Initiative. We all owe these people, and the others who have been dealing with these issues, a tremendous debt of gratitude. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself into the maw of frothing internet-hatred that this struggle too often is. To acknowledge their efforts properly, we should do two things: Thank them, and then do the work required to make sure these problems are resolved.
That's important for all these ideas, in fact. Many, many people have done a lot of work to change things for the better, so that conventions and fan culture will be more diverse and therefore better, stronger and more sustainable. Let's take a moment to thank them.
Now, using these suggestions or the other, better ones that will emerge from the ongoing discussion, let's fix things.