I’ll be doing a rare afternoon tour appearance tomorrow in Madison because at 6pm, A Room of One’s Own welcomes the Guests of Honor at Wiscon, the (completely fantastic) science fiction and fantasy convention. So if you’re coming at 4 o’clock to Room of One’s Own to see me, stick around afterward for the GoHs, which include last year’s Nebula and Hugo Award winner, Jo Walton. And if you’re coming at 6pm to see the guests of honor, why not come out a little bit early to see me? It’ll be more speculative fiction writers than you can shake the proverbial stick at.
So remember, Madison: Tomorrow (Thursday, May 23), A Room Of One’s Own, 4pm. Don’t be late! See you there.
The Twitters are abuzz today about Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program, in which people are allowed to write and then sell through Amazon their fan fiction for certain properties owned by Alloy Entertainment, including Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, with more licenses expected soon. I’ve had a quick look at the program on Amazon’s site, and I have a couple of immediate thoughts on it. Be aware that these thoughts are very preliminary, i.e., I reserve the right to have possibly contradictory thoughts about the program later, when I think (and read) about it more. Also note that these are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the positions or policies of SFWA, of which I am (still but not for much longer) president.
1. The main knock on fan fiction from the rights-holders point of view — i.e., people are using their characters and situations in ways that probably violate copyright — is apparently not at all a problem here, since Alloy Entertainment is on board for allowing people to write what they want (within specific guidelines — more on that in a bit). Since that’s the case, there’s probably a technical argument here about whether this is precisely “fan fiction” or if it’s actually media tie-in writing done with intentionally low bars to participation (the true answer, I suspect, is that it’s both). Either way, if Alloy Entertainment’s on board, everything’s on the level, so why not.
2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:
“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”
i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.
Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.
Another red flag:
“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”
Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.
Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.
The argument here could be, well, you know, people who were writing fan fiction weren’t getting paid or had rights to these characters and worlds anyway, so only getting paid for their work once is still better than what they would have gotten before. And that’s not an entirely bad argument on one level. But on another level, there’s a difference between writing fan fiction because you love the world and the characters on a personal level, and Amazon and Alloy actively exploiting that love for their corporate gain and throwing you a few coins for your trouble. So this should be an interesting argument for people to have in the real world.
3. If this sort of thing takes off, I’m interested to see what effect it will have on the media tie-in market, and on the professional writers who work in it. Obviously it has the potential to greatly shift how things are done. If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.
4. This won’t spell the end of unauthorized fan fic, and I’m very sure of that. For one thing, the Kindle Worlds program says it won’t accept “pornography” which means all that slash out there will still be on the outside of the program (Edit: to note not all slash is porn, although I wonder if Amazon won’t simply default it as such); likewise crossover fan fic, so those “Vampire Diaries meet Dr Who” stories will be left out in the cold. And besides that, there will be people who a) have no interest in making money and/or b) don’t write well enough to be accepted into the Kindle Worlds program (there does seem that there will be some attempt at quality control, or at least, someone has to go through the stuff to make sure there’s nothing that’s contractually forbidden). So if this was an attempt to squash fan fic through other means, it’s doomed to failure. But I don’t suspect that’s the point.
5. Speaking as a writer, I wouldn’t do something like this; I don’t generally like writing in other people’s worlds in any event (and when I do, I go public domain — see Fuzzy Nation) and I don’t like the terms that are on offer here. And of course I have my own things to write. Likewise, I would caution anyone looking at this to be aware that overall this is not anywhere close to what I would call a good deal. Finally, on a philosophical level, I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.
The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.
Readers often have default expectations when it comes to their reading — default expectations that we call “tropes.” But where do you go as a writer when the tropes don’t take you where your characters need to be? It’s a question that Rhiannon Held explores today as she writes about her new novel, Tarnished.
Tarnished is the second book in my series, and if I had to articulate an over-arcing big idea for the whole series, it’s that I love to explore emotional truths tied to situations that don’t come up in typical urban fantasy tropes. In the first book, Silver, those non-trope situations were born from the religion and culture that I created for my werewolves. In Tarnished, I decided I wanted to find the emotional resonance in non-trope leadership strategies, and romantic relationships.
At the end of Silver my two main characters, Andrew and Silver, were poised to challenge for leadership of the largest werewolf pack in North America. In the typical urban fantasy trope as I’ve encountered it, usually the protagonist’s resistance to being Grand Supernatural Poobah begins as internal: she wouldn’t be any good at it! No one would accept her! Then, when she agrees, the resistance switches to being external: the rock golems won’t listen to a meat bag! The shapeshifters won’t listen to anyone banging a golem!
But once they’ve set aside their initial internal objections, would protagonists really automatically be totally committed to leading? Obviously they have to learn how to win everyone over, but would the protagonists really be completely awesome at leading once everyone’s behind them? Book 1 ended with Andrew and Silver’s decision to try to lead, and I decided that Book 2 needed to explore exactly what it would take to get there. Do they have the self-confidence to do it? Is that self-confidence strong enough to withstand everyone else’s doubt? Can they make hard decisions and keep their cool when people question those decisions? Can they admit they were wrong when they make mistakes? Can they delegate and trust others to get things done?
And can they lead, as opposed to just shouting louder than everyone else? Often werewolf alphas are portrayed as being all about physical strength, or if not physical strength, at least strength of emotional bullying. Andrew is somewhat slight in stature and slow from previous injuries; Silver can’t shift and can’t use her left arm. If they want to win the alphaship, they have do something other than shout loudest and punch hardest: they have to court allies, they have to coax people, they have to lead by example. I really wanted to showcase different leadership strategies, because while stories are often about the underdog beating the muscle-bound alpha, the underdog too often uses mystical punching powers that beat the alpha’s physical punching abilities. Why does punching have to be the measure of success?
Tarnished also introduces a new POV: Susan. She’s human and has a child with John, the Seattle alpha. She also has her moments of going toe-to-toe in fights with stronger, faster werewolves, but with her I also wanted to explore a different kind of romantic relationship. In Book 1, Andrew and Silver were somewhat typical of urban fantasies: they met, they were attracted to each other, obstacles kept them apart, but they got together in the end. In Book 2, I show them working as a functioning, loving team, so the romantic tension switches over to Susan and John.
Whether in books, movies, or television, I’ve always wanted more opportunities to cheer a couple on to working out their problems. That’s what gets you through life, after all—not giving up after the first big fight. Work through the fight and the relationship often ends up stronger on the other side. Of course, that’s not to say that life isn’t also filled with truly irreconcilable differences or people who are assholes. Staying to try desperately to change things in those situations can make everyone miserable. The way I think of it is that you want to preserve and care for a precious connection between two people, rather than upholding some ideal of not splitting up for moral reasons even if you have no connection left at all.
The trouble is that in fiction, the relationships being “worked on” are usually only based on irreconcilable differences or assholery. In that case, of course you’re cheering for the couple to break up! That way, one can get with the other hot, passionate love interest introduced in this book who is clearly so much better for him or her. Or else you’re rolling your eyes while waiting for the couple who’s off-again every book to provide cheap romantic tension to get their laughable miscommunication straightened out so they can be on-again.
Susan and John are already together. They have a child. They love each other, but their relationship is on the rocks because John lets himself be ashamed of her and misguidedly tries to protect her by keeping her out of the werewolf world. That’s something that can be worked out—I hope it’s something the readers want to see worked out!—because why should love be sacrificed to social expectations? But reconciliation is something they both have to work hard to achieve.
Hopefully playing with non-trope situations can help knock aside a few of the most annoying tropes as well. If my characters can remind readers that natural charisma doesn’t mean you’re born knowing exactly how to lead; people who aren’t hot, single twenty-somethings fall in love; and protecting your love by keeping them in ignorance of the supernatural world is forgetting they’re a consenting adult… so much the better!
Me last night at the venue for my reading, which was the Methodist church right across the street from the University Bookstore in Seattle. Here I am looking at the patron of the establishment, hoping he would not strike me down, in my naughtiness.
He did not.
Thanks to Daniel Christensen for the photo.
Seattle was lovely. On to Portland now — or more accurately Beaverton, where I am at Powells, tonight, 7pm. If you’re in the Portland area, I hope to see you there.
Yes, Portland! I am returning on Tuesday, May 21st! To feast upon your Voodoo Donuts and other local comestibles! And to read, answer questions and sign books! Largely in that order!
You will find me at Powell’s Beaverton branch at 7pm! Please come and bring everyone you have ever met in your life. Because if I don’t get a good crowd, I’m not allowed to have any Voodoo Donuts. Voodoo Donuts are for closers, you see.
Tell me you’ll come. The donuts, they are calling.
That’s right, Seattleites — as you read this I am lurking about your town, preparing for my event tonight, May 20, at 7pm at the University Temple United Methodist Church — which, in case you don’t know, is located at 1415 NE 43rd St in Seattle.
What will I do there? Read! And talk! And sign books! And maybe play a ukulele if someone brings one! Who knows! What I do know is that it will be fun fun fun. And also, fun.
Please note: This is a ticketed event, and you can get tickets one of two ways:
1. Buy tickets for $5 at the door (cheap!)
2. Buy The Human Division from University Bookstore and get the ticket free with your purchase. Since I will be signing books at the event, this is probably the best possible way to go for this particular (I will sign your other books of course).
I always have an insanely good time in Seattle and I’m looking forward to more of the same tonight. Hope to see you there!
Originally published October 2, 1998, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1298
It is a time of national contrition.
Bill Clinton, whose inability to take responsibility for any gaffes or apologize for anything, has launched his Atonement Tour ’98. It’s pretty impressive as he embraces the newfound ability to publicly say he’s sorry with the sort of eagerness and enthusiasm that is usually reserved for Born-Agains or recovering alcoholics who have made it to the atonement step.
I find a couple of things mildly riotous about this. First, there are those who compare Kenneth Starr’s investigation (which, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to as Starrgate—and for television, Starrgate SX 1) to our last scandal which threatened a presidency, namely Watergate. But there are major differences:
In Watergate, a sitting president used the power and influence of his office to try and destroy a host of enemies and obscure his activities to that end.
In Starrgate, a sitting president used the power and influence of his office for consensual sex and getting people jobs or asking them to keep private matters private.
It’s like the difference between Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
With original Star Trek, when they battle a cosmic threat, it’s the Doomsday Machine, which, if it swallows you, consumes you in searing fire.
In ST:TNG, they battled the Ribbon which, if it swallows you, sends you to a happy place where you have no problems forever and ever.
Watergate was about destruction, Starrgate about distraction.
Second, the birds are now coming home to roost on hypocritical politicians who were demanding Bill Clinton’s head (so to speak) or wanted to give him the shaft (so to speak) because they found fault with his morality. There’s Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Boise, Idaho, who demanded Clinton’s resignation and proclaimed in a TV ad, “I believe that personal conduct and integrity does matter,” only to confess to the fact that she had an adulterous affair with some guy fourteen years ago. As if being from Boise, Idaho wasn’t stigma enough.
Then there’s GOP hard-liner Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, who fathered a child out of wedlock in the early 1980s—although not with Chenoweth, although it was around the same time as her affair. Maybe there was something in the water.
The thing is, we look to our president to set an example for us. In this case, he’s being publicly contrite, confessing to his screw-ups, and openly taking responsibility for them.
And here I’ve been, writing this column for eight years and one month, taking potshots at everyone and everything, holding them up to scrutiny—and yet, I’ve never truly copped to my own screw-ups, my own misjudgments. Well, you know what? I’m going to. Right here, right now. And I’m going to apologize for all of it.
I’m sorry I got Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton ripped out of his body.
Yes, it was me. I did it. We were having a big meeting of all the X-writers, back when I was writing X-Factor. We were discussing the upcoming return of Magneto, and we were searching for some sort of major event beyond the fact that Magneto was going to be really torqued upon his reappearance and slug it out with the X-Men.
And, thinking out loud, I said, “Y’know… I don’t know why Magneto even bothers fighting Wolverine. If I were Magneto, I’d just yank his adamantium skeleton right out of his body and be done with him.”
Eyes lit up all around the table. It was like suddenly being surrounded by a half dozen or so Cyclopses. “What a great idea!” declared Bob Harras. “That’s so visual! That’s so great!”
“I… was kidding,” I said quickly. “It was just a passing thought. You don’t really want to do that. Not unless the intent is to kill the character once and for all. He can’t recover from something like that. It’s too much.”
“He has a healing factor,” was the reply.
“Healing factor?! You’re talking about ripping out his entire skeleton! It’s too catastrophic an injury! If he can survive that, he can survive anything! It’s preposterous! It’s a bad idea! Do not, under any circumstance, do it!”
They did it anyway. And it’s my fault.
I’m sorry. I killed Jason Todd.
It’s true. I hated the character so much that I made three thousand phone calls. I wanted to kill him, just to watch him die. It was me. All me.
The collapse of the direct market? Mea culpa.
There are three major elements that various folks have fingered as the cause of the direct market’s disintegration: (1) Image Comics promising tons of product that shipped late or not at all, tying up retailer dollars; (2) speculators withdrawing from the market all in one shot; (3) Marvel Comics attempting to become its own distributor.
All attributable directly to me.
(1) The fact, which can now be revealed, is that the Image creators were so devastated by my early columns criticizing their press release, that they were rendered unable to get their work done. It was rather pathetic to watch, really.
They would just sit around their studios, staring numbly at the drawing board for periods of unproductive time, before picking up the columns of February 21 or April 17, 1992 again, reading them for the thousandth time, and bursting into tears once more. “Why doesn’t he like us?” they would say mournfully. “We…we just want to write and draw our own superhero books. What’s his problem?”
Rob Liefeld, looking haunted, would move through the offices like a ghost, not even able to make direct eye contact with anyone, that’s how mortified he was. By the time they came out of their stupor, books were already months late. My fault. All mine. Sorry.
(2) I was at a comics show, looking at the high priced comics, while collectors and speculators ran right and left in a constant feeding frenzy. “We could keep buying these things for years! They’ll be worth millions!” one of them told me.
Then one of my daughters came to me with a small, bean-baggish teddy bear that had a red heart with the letters “TY” on it. I held it up, studied it carefully, and said, “This is cute. You know…this’ll probably be the next big collectable.”
There was dead silence. It was like an E.F. Hutton commercial. The fans had heard me say it. The dealers quaked in fear. It was just a passing comment, but it was too late to snatch it back from the air. It was out there, and the effects were catastrophic. As with one great gestalt mind, the speculators stampeded from the room, heading for card stores and dinky gift shops. The dark fury which radiated from all the dealers was palpable. Word spread throughout the internet in no time, and just like that—the comics frenzy came to an end.
Whoops. My bad.
(3) So there I was in a steam room, taking a shvitz with Ron Perelman, Marvel’s head honcho, who was whining about the poor treatment that Marvel was receiving at the hands of the distributors. As I shrugged with the sweat cascading off my face, I said, “So, nu, Ron—if you don’t like it, do it yourself.”
I didn’t know he’d take me seriously! It was like the Wolverine comment, only worse!
God, it’s great to be getting this off my chest. What else…what else…
Spider-Clone. Spider-Clone was mine. That was a typo in a proposed storyline of mine. I meant to say, “Don’t you wish sometimes we could just leave Spider-Man alone?” But I typed “leave Spider-Man a clone,” and my spellchecker didn’t pick it up.
Foil covers. That was me, too. It was at a party, and I said something—I don’t remember exactly what, I was kind of drunk at the time—about getting people to take a shine to comics, and it just kind of blossomed from there. I’m sorry.
Disco Dazzler: My fault. Sorry.
DC Implosion: I caused it. I wrote a really cranky fan letter, next thing I knew, blammo. Sorry.
The screenplays for The Punisher, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Howard the Duck—all mine under various pseudonyms. Sorry. Sorry. My fault. Sorry.
I also cancelled Star Trek, I personally green-lighted both Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate, I was on the grassy knoll, and my grandfather misplaced the binoculars on the Titanic.
And I was really, really, really upset about it for a good long time.
But I’m feeling much better now.
(If you are feeling likewise burdened and want to make a clean breast of matters, send your confessions to Second Age, Inc., PO Box 239, Bayport, NY 11705. Don’t you get nostalgic for the days when a presidential sex scandal consisted of Jimmy Carter admitting he had “lusted in his heart”?)
Anyone who reads fairy tales knows that things happen in the tales for seemingly no reason at all. But just because there’s no reason in then doesn’t mean something interesting can’t happen when reason is added to them. Just ask Madeleine Robins, who mined a classic fairy tale when imagining Sold for Endless Rue.
It started with a conversation. Or rather, an idea about a conversation.
When my kids were small we read a picture book of Rapunzel, gorgeously illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. You know: pregnant wife craves rampion, sends husband out to get it; he steals it from the garden of a witch, who catches him and demands his unborn child in return. The witch locks the child in a tower, where the girl grows her hair long enough for a passing prince to climb up. Merriment ensues.
Zelinsky’s art sets the story in an early Renaissance could-be-Italy, and the central spread, chock full of drama, is of the witch taking the baby. There’s a rumpled bed with the mother, post-partum, lying exhausted among the sheets. There’s the young husband, sitting with his head in his hands, horrified at what he’s given away. And there’s the black clad sorceress, a classic old hag, stealing from the room with the newborn babe in her arms.
Well, that musta been a hell of a conversation. Imagine the husband coming home: Honey, I got you your vegetables, but there’s a catch: the witch gets the kid. What would his wife say to him? And why does the witch want the baby? In fairy tales motivations don’t matter: the witch wants the baby because she’s a witch. But I am contrary and difficult and I want a real motive for taking that child. Sold for Endless Rue is, among other things, my attempt to do that.
As happens with these sorts of bolt-from-the blue notions, it sat around gathering dust-bunnies and stray factoids while I wrote other things. I began cursorily reading up on daily life in the Renaissance, thinking of ways to rehabilitate the witch. Maybe she’s a midwife? At least that would give her a reason to be in the room when the baby was born. But why take the kid?
I had nuthin.
And then I stumbled across a factoid that rewrote my whole idea of the middle ages and, by the way, this story. The first medical school in Europe, the Scuola Medicina Salernitana, not only had women as students, but women instructors. One of the most famous, Trotula di Ruggiero (immortalized in the Jack and Jill rhyme as “old Dame Trot”), specialized in women’s medicine–what we’d call OB/GYN. Her texts on the subject were in use for centuries. Dame Trot was not a damsel or a peasant. She was a professional woman. How cool is that?
One of my secret vices: I love medical history, medical mysteries, medical technology. Now I had an excuse to research the Scuola and dig deeper into medical theory of the time. Boy, did they have theories. Most of them are scary-laughable, but some of them were solidly sensible (for instance, the Scuola recommended a moderate diet, clean living, and lots of sleep). Pretty quickly it was clear to me my witch wasn’t a witch but a doctor, and that her reason for taking the baby was rooted somehow in her ambition.
I hate the sort of historical fiction where the heroine is a 21st century soul in a 13th century houppelande. Unless you show me why that character is an outlier from her own culture, you lose me. How would a peasant girl even think of becoming a physician, a profession overwhelmingly male, occupied by those wealthy enough to have the education required to enter the Scuola? Where would she get, for lack of a better word, the balls?
Then, among the dust-bunnies and factoids I’d been collecting, I got this image of a child running up a hill, trying to escape someone very scary who is as determined to catch her and beat her to death as she is to escape. She reaches the top of the hill and is stopped cold by her first sight of the sea, stretching out from the bay of Salerno. It overwhelms her with its vastness and strangeness, the sight of the city spilling down into the harbor, the newness of things she’d never imagined. And then she hears the sound of her pursuer and runs again.
That’s where Laura’s story begins. Everything she is comes from one moment when even terror can’t stop her curiosity, and when determination is all that keeps her alive. That’s how she can go against the grain of her time and place.
There are things Laura loses in gaining what she wants. There are people she loses. Just like now, devoting yourself to your profession can have very personal cost. Taking that baby, in Laura’s mind, evens old scores.
But of course, taking the baby is only half the story. Babies, even babies raised in the towers of academe, grow up, and make plans of their own…
One is near the end of his term! One’s term has yet to begin! Can you guess which is which?
Photo by Catherine Shaffer.
The winners are in bold. Also noted: The Norton and Bradbury awards, as well as the Solstice and the Kevin J. O’Donnell Service to SFWA Award.
- 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
- Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
- Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
- The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
- The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
- Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
- After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
- On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
- “The Stars Do Not Lie,” Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
- “All the Flavors,” Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
- “Katabasis,” Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
- “Barry’s Tale,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)
- “Close Encounters,” Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
- “The Pyre of New Day,” Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
- “The Waves,” Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
- “The Finite Canvas,” Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
- “Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
- “Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
- “Fade to White,” Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)
- “Immersion,” Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
- “Robot,” Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
- “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
- “Nanny’s Day,” Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
- “Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
- “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed8/12)
- “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” Cat Rambo (Near + Far)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
- Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight)
- The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
- The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
- The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (writers), (Lionsgate)
- John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
- Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book
- Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
- Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
- Black Heart, Holly Black (McElderry; Gollancz)
- Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
- The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
- Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
- Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
- Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
- Every Day, David Levithan (Knopf)
- Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
- Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
- Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)
Solstice Awards were awarded to editor Ginjer Buchanan and astronomer and entertainer Carl Sagan, the latter of which was accepted by his son Nick Sagan.
The Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service Award was awarded to Michael Payne.
Also, of course, we formally invested Gene Wolfe with the title of Grand Master. He was gracious and touching in his speech, which is of course no surprise at all.
I am delighted to say that my final Nebula Award ceremony as president went along swimmingly, with Robert Silverberg as our emcee. I got to introduced Bob and give him some good-natured ribbing; he got up and dropped a house on me, which may go down as one of the highlights of my time as SFWA President. If you ever get a chance to get zinged by Grand Master Silverberg, I highly recommend it.
Congratulations to the winners, commiserations to the other most worthy nominees, and many thanks to the volunteers and other who made the Nebula Ceremony, and indeed the entire Nebula Weekend, possible. It was a great time. As a fan, I was thrilled. As the President of SFWA, I was relieved.
Me and Jay Lake at the Nebula Mass Signing yesterday. I taste of executive power. For another few weeks, anyway.
Picture borrowed from jay’s site, here.
Welcome to Saturday.
First: Look! A video interview with me from RT Book Reviews, taken during the Booklover’s Convention a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City. I talk about The Human Division, the RT convention and some SFWA matters:
Second: Jamie Todd Rubin reviews The Human Division in Intergalactic Medicine Show, and has nice things to say about the book. For example:
The Human Division is not just John Scalzi at its best, it is science fiction at its best.
Yup, that’s a jacket blurb right there.
Third: Nebula Weekend fabulous so far. Wish you were here.
And to answer the age-old question, no, I don’t know the way to San Jose, on account that for the last two days I was driven around by other people and have no idea, navigationally, how I got here. Thank God for GPS.
Nevertheless I am here, in San Jose, and about to formally embark on my last ever Nebula Weekend as president of SFWA. It’ll be fun. Those of you who are in or near San Jose, remember that there is the mass signing today at 5:30, with me and dozens of your favorite science fiction and fantasy writers; here are the details. See you there!
Originally published September 25, 1998, in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1297
I still remember the first time he showed up in Tomb of Dracula, with a bandolier full of wooden knives, tinted goggles, a duffle coat, and more attitude than any five vampire hunters put together. He called himself “Blade” (which, admittedly, if you’re going to name yourself after your weapon of choice, is probably a catchier name than “wooden knife”). It always seemed to me that, whereas Dracula seemed to hold the rest of the book’s supporting cast in open contempt, there was something about Blade that the master vampire found unnerving.
Perhaps he saw the movie potential. Perhaps somehow he was able to intuit that while Marvel’s headliners would wash out in a series of films that ranged from embarrassing (The Punisher, Howard the Duck—although I suspect that if they were making the exact same Howard script now with the duck done in CGI, the film would be a hit) to unreleasable (Captain America) to unreleased (The Fantastic Four) to unmade (Spider-Man, tangled—naturally—in litigation), that it would be this third string character in a second-string title (no offense, Marv) who would be the first to vault to the number one box office slot.
Dracula is no longer a player in the Blade storyline. Intact, however, is Blade’s origin: Blade’s mother, while in the throes of giving birth to her son, is attacked by a vampire named Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff in the film, although he’s not silver-haired as he was in the comics). The attack has an even more pervasive influence on Blade than it did in his comic origin: In the film, he’s part human, part vampire, with a vampire’s strength and speed and also a vampire’s thirst for blood with which he’s constantly struggling. In a way he’s an amalgam of the comic Blade and another Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan creation, Hannibal King, the vampire detective (and boy, if they make a second Blade film, would he be an ideal character to introduce).
In the film, vampires are not simply monsters creeping about in the night. They are everywhere, having infiltrated the entire power structure of the human world. And within the vampire society, there are power struggles, with the old guard of “born vampires” struggling with the hotshot young vampires (led by Frost) who tended to remind me of the Lost Boys, or those vampires in that recent sunglasses commercial.
Bad to the bone, the young vampires like to get jiggy with it in nightclubs that spray blood from the sprinkler system and dream of a time when the world is entirely populated by vampires. Unfortunately, what the vampires would actually feed on should there be no humans to serve as two-legged hot lunches for them is never addressed. Then again, most of the vampires involved have the IQ of squash anyway, so it figures that no one would ponder the long term consequences involved in acing the entire vampire food source.
As incarnated by Wesley Snipes, Blade no longer bandies about wooden knives. Instead he wields a shotgun firing silver nitrate, or silver stakes, or some damned thing like that—I’m not sure, but it certainly was very loud. The duffle coat has been replaced by a long black duster, the ensemble of choice. Protruding from the top of the coat is the conspicuous hilt of his sword—which is probably not the smartest move, since we’re told that the vampires “own the police” and the visible sword virtually paints a target on the back of one of the most conspicuous guys in town anyway. Considering he walks about in broad daylight in that get-up, the police should be able to pick the guy up inside of two days.
But he still has the shades, and the attitude has made the transition intact as well. In fact, his single greatest strength remains his single greatest weakness. Blade cares about killing vampires in general and nailing the one who killed his mom in particular. That’s it. Nothing else. He has no hobbies, no other interests. He doesn’t engage in deep philosophical discussions, he doesn’t stop to smell the roses, he doesn’t take bossa nova or samba lessons. His character definition begins and ends with his name: Blade the vampire hunter. He uses a blade and he hunts vampires. That’s it. There’s nothing else. I mean, Batman is no less obsessive, but at least he’s got the mansion, the other identity, the playboy life, and a kid sidekick to lighten things up.
In short, Blade’s character is that he has no character. Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man had as much development.
Fortunately enough, the filmmakers (Steve Barrington, who directs the film as a cross between a Universal horror flick and an MTV video) and screenwriter David Goyer do not try to “cute” themselves around Blade’s unswervingly one-note presentation. This would be the ideal vehicle for presenting a hero who mutters annoying one liners that serve as substitute for characterization. You know—like having him decapitate a vampire and say, “Now he’s a head of himself,” or impaling an opponent and saying, “Have some stake for dinner.” Instead, Blade—for the most part—says nothing.
There hasn’t been a lead character with so few lines since Holly Hunter in The Piano (unless you count Godzilla). Even Blade’s nominal love interest serves more as a means to an end (the end being, naturally, hunting vampires) than a source of affection. If Blade has any affection for anyone in the film, it’s Kris Kristofferson’s “Whistler,” (“He makes the weapons… I use them”) and even they are united by their mutual devotion to eliminating bloodsuckers. You don’t get the feeling that these are two guys who ever kick back and discuss the football scores.
At heart, Blade is a tragic character, never capable of having a “normal” moment of life, unlike Batman who can at least pretend to enjoy the sham playboy existence of Bruce Wayne. To be at its most effective, a tragic character should at least have some inkling of the tragedy that is his. Some modicum of self-awareness of what “might have been.”
Blade is wrapped so tightly, speaks so little, is so goal-oriented, that it’s impossible to get any sort of read off him at all. The events that Goyer’s script put Blade squarely into the middle of are sequences that could crack through his exterior, just a little, to get just a peak at the man rather than the killing machine. But it never happens. Blade is exciting, make no mistake. The visuals, the pyrotechnics are all exceedingly well crafted. Dorff makes a gleeful villain, and Snipes puts the “ic” in “stoic”—which is fine, if that’s all you want out of your heroes. It just becomes too one-note—by halfway through, you’re dying for comedy relief, for a bit of humanity within the hero, something to engage the heart as well as the mind. When you leave Blade you feel, appropriately enough, drained. But it’s not a particularly good feeling.
What did feel good was seeing the names of Blade’s creators up front in the credits. Big as life, Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan.
It’s unfortunate, then, to learn that Marv has since had to file suit against the film’s producers. “Blade” and “Deacon Frost” were, after all, created as part of the beloved work-for-hire agreement with Marvel. Called into question is whether Blade, as a character, could be shopped out by Marvel as a movie.
I’ve seen a lot of folks online debating the matter, because naturally this sort of thing always brings up recollections of comic creators going up against large corporations—usually with great futility—going all the way back to Siegel and Schuster. What breaks me up is when some folks proclaim that a deal is a deal, that’s it, graven in stone, no turning back.
It’s a very nice theory, and certainly the law backs that up. The entertainment industry, however, is a business, and in doing that business, renegotiation is routine, particularly when a property takes off beyond anyone’s expectations. (Which only makes sense, I suppose. No one ever wants to go in and renegotiate when a property does poorly.)
We see it all the time, particularly and most visibly when it comes to actors. Contracts which tie them to five figure salaries get tossed aside in favor of six and even seven figures if they’re in a position to make the demands. And the producers will enter into renegotiations because it’s the smart thing for them to do, at least in the short term. The entertainment industry is simply too small to annoy people who—when they’re in a position of strength—could turn around and cut you off when you’re angling for their services again. It’s smart business.
Two recent cases in point:
Parker and Stone, the creators of South Park, signed a fairly lousy deal with Comedy Central when the show was just getting off the ground. Who knew? Who knew that it would take off the way that it has? Who knew that there would be t-shirts with the many deaths of Kenny, or Cartman demanding Cheesy Poofs, or plush toys, video tapes, etc.? All of this largesse was going mostly into the pockets of Comedy Central.
It could be argued that Comedy Central was the one who took the risks, who paid out the money to Parker and Stone in the first place. If the show had tanked, Parker and Stone wouldn’t have felt constrained to give the money back. All quite valid. On the other hand, it was their creation which put all that money into Comedy Central’s coffers. It bugged the hell out of Parker and Stone seeing their creations merchandised, and they were making virtually no money off it. They complained loudly and publicly, and my understanding is that Comedy Central renegotiated their contract. If so, that was good business.
Then there’s James Cameron. With costs running wildly out of control on Titanic, Cameron signed away both his director’s fee and his profit share on the film. In a way, that was indeed an example of someone renegotiating downward when things weren’t going well from a profit point of view. At that point in time, Titanic looked to be a major money loser. Again, who knew? Certainly not Cameron.
However, as the movie receipts flooded in, Cameron steadfastly did not ask to renegotiate, even though the circumstances under which it had been made were hopelessly moot. “A deal is a deal,” said Cameron. The studio was within its rights not to do anything to change that status quo. Again, though, my outsider understanding is that they did, in fact, “do right” by Cameron. It would make sense. After all, this is the writer/director of one of the most successful films in history. It’s smart to make him happy. Good business.
And then there’s Marv Wolfman. Marv, who has no big power in the industry. Marv, who is part of the lowliest, most disposable rung on the Hollywood ladder: the writer. It would be smart for the producers to have made some sort of respectable monetary settlement up front. What would it have cost them, I wonder, if they’d been willing to do right by Marv? The monetary equivalent of one day’s shooting? Two, perhaps? This wasn’t a shoestring art film shot on a budget of fifty grand. This was a major studio, big budget release. The smart thing to do would have been to settle up front and quietly. Unfortunately, too often you deal with corporate arrogance—all the more pathetic when you consider that those same corporations will be more than happy to cut new deals for big-name actors.
Not with writers, though. “Come and get us, sucker,” they’ll say to a Marv Wolfman or an Art Buchwald. “Don’t even think that the art of renegotiation belongs to you. We’ll cut you to pieces, because we can.”
Corporations don’t concern themselves with matters of morality. Okay, to hell with morality, then.
This kind of arrogance—it’s just bad business.
Appropriate that it happens in relation to a film about bloodsuckers.
(Peter David, writer of stuff, can be written to at Second Age, Inc., PO Box 239, Bayport, NY 11705. Support Marv. Buy his new The Curse of Dracula comic book from Dark Horse.)
Want to see literally dozens of SF/F writers in one place at one time? Who are there to sign books? For you?
Then come on down to the San Jose Hilton (300 Almaden Blvd), from 5:30 to 7:30pm tomorrow (Friday, May 17) for the SFWA Mass Signing. It’s free and open to the public. Come see me! Not just me: Here are the some of the others signing books:
John Joseph Adams
Sonja A. Bock
Jason V Brock
Aliette de Bodard
William C. Dietz
Sarah Beth Durst
Karen Haber Silverberg
Joe W. Haldeman
Maria Dahvana Headley
Howard V. Hendrix
Mary Robinette Kowal
Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Edward M. Lerner
Michael J. Martinez
Diana L. Paxson
Michael H. Payne
Kim Stanley Robinson
Deborah J. Ross
Lawrence M. Schoen
Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to show up. It’s science fiction/fantasy Nirvana. Borderlands Books will be on hand with books to buy, or you can bring your own. We’ll be happy to scrawl in them.
See you there!
Oh, yes. My “just woke up” hairdo brings all the girls to the yard. And yes, of course, I am seriously considering this for my next author photo. Because, obviously, why wouldn’t I.
My Thursday will be spent in SFWA board meetings, followed by my appearance tonight at Books, Inc., in Mountain View, Ca at 7pm. If you are in the vicinity of Mountain View, come on by. I promise what little remains of my hair will be under control at that point.
The headline says it all, but in case you need more information, here are all the details, including the address of the store.
This will also be useful for those of you who are in San Francisco but for some reason can’t make it to see me tonight. Yes, it’s an extra jaunt for you, but that will make the appearance all the sweeter, I think. Right? Maybe? Hmmmmm?
Come on by. We’ll see you there.
And it’s a very good read (and also a positive review — the two are not always related), looking at THD in the context of the military science fiction genre, and giving readers a useful overview of that storied sub-genre. Here’s the takeaway, which hearkens back to the overview:
Entertainingly exemplifying the maxim that “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means,” The Human Division is the type of intelligently crafted and inventive military-political science fiction that reminds us that though we might be able to pinpoint a genre’s takeoff point, nobody can predict how far it it will fly.
I’ll take that. Check it out.
It is: I am almost always able to wake up within five minutes of when I need to wake up.
Today is a perfect example. I wanted to be at the airport in time for my flight, which is at 10:20 am. This being LA and me needing to travel on the 405 and return a rental car with a full tank of gas, and me generally preferring to be early than late, I decided that I needed to be up at 6 am.
I woke up, wide awake, at 5:56.
This is a very useful unearned talent.
It impresses my wife, who does not have a similar talent, and who in the morning hits the snooze button enough that the poor thing probably had PTSD at this point. There have been at least a couple of times where she has not wanted to be woken up my the alarm and has just asked me to take her up at a specific time. I think this shows maybe a little too much faith in my innate abilities to wake up in a timely fashion, but on the other hand I haven’t yet failed to get her up at the requested time, so you tell me (note: when I do this, Krissy does not hit me repeatedly, in snooze button fashion).
Please note that this talent is not infallible: about five percent of the time I manage to sleep until my own alarm goes off. This is why, I will note, I actually do set an alarm. It’s nice to have backup (and not to miss important things). I’m confident in this brain quirk of mine, but I also have a healthy respect for the fact that human brains are less than perfect machines. What it ultimately means is that nineteen times out of twenty I don’t have to wake up to a harsh buzzing in my ear, and that is its own reward.
This is actually my second superpower; the first one was that when the phone rang, I could pick up the phone and tell the person on the other end who they were. This was not because I was psychic (I’m guessing) but because I was good at making educated guesses as to who would be calling me at any particular point in time. I was rarely wrong. However, these days, announcing to people on the phone who they are does not mean you have a superpower, it means you have Caller ID. Thank you so much, march of progress.
And I’m very excited about it, because Borderlands is one of my favorite bookstores in all the land, and it’s always so much fun to be there. Will you be there? You should be! That is, if you’re in the San Francisco area. If you’re, like, in Idaho, it’s okay if you sit this one out. One day I will come to Idaho, I’m sure. But if you’re in or near San Francisco, Borderlands is going to be the place to be.
The details are on Borderlands Books events page; scroll down a little bit.
See you there!