The Future Is Starting Right Now

The Ministry for the FutureKim Stanley Robinson is an optimist.

If you only read chapter 1 of The Ministry for the Future, you might not believe that. But even though his novel opens with a horrific and all too realistic disaster caused by climate change — and later describes several others — he isn’t writing a dystopia.

Rather he’s writing a story in which human beings find ways to deal with climate change without pretending that the process won’t be messy.

I called him an optimist, not Pollyanna. (Do people still read Pollyanna?)

He knows how bad things are and how much worse they can get, but he also knows we are capable of making things better. In this book, the efforts to address climate change include everything from economics to politics to geoengineering to violent actions against those who refuse to take action to stop carbon accumulation in the atmosphere.

There’s also what happens with climate refugees, mental breakdowns among those who have suffered from disasters, and violence against those working for real change. It’s a long book.

I have no doubt that we’re going to see something similar to the disorder he chronicles here over the next 30 years or so. I hope he’s right that we’ll get some of the positive changes, too.

He has more faith in political change than I have, but Wikipedia reports that Francis Fukuyama, who was notoriously wrong about the end of history, has called the book “ludicrously unrealistic.”

If I have to choose between Stan Robinson and Francis Fukuyama, I’m going with Stan every time. Continue reading “The Future Is Starting Right Now”

Helicon Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Jeffrey A. Carver!

Treehouse Editor Crow is excited to report that Treehouse author Jeffrey A. Carver has been named recipient of this year’s Helicon Society’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award!

2022 Helicon Award Badge

From his perch in the treetop, Carver responds, “This came to me as a bolt out of the blue. The Helicon Awards are announced each year by the Helicon Society, ‘a collective of SF/F authors and other creators who subscribe to the Superversive approach to creating SF/F media and look to promote good quality sci-fi/fantasy…’ The judges and membership are anonymous. They have been announcing these awards since 2019. I am humbled and gratified that they have found my work worthy of a lifetime achievement award! Thank you.”

Here are the past winners of Helicon’s Frank Herbert Lifetime Achievement Award:

  • 2019 – Jack McDevitt
  • 2020 – Anne McCaffrey
  • 2021 – David Weber
  • 2022 – Jeffrey A. Carver

Carver is delighted to join their ranks.

See the recipients in other categories here. Congratulations to all of them!

Out of the Silence and into Culture Shock

Today I’m thinking about a group of older Australian science fiction and fantasy books. I’ve just finished writing them up for a magazine (several articles, will appear sometime in 2022) and I am just emerging from culture shock.

There’s a difference between reading something for fun and reading it with intent to analyse. The ‘intent to analyse’ means I have to delve into how the novel is put together, what it carries with it to the reader and a bunch more. It’s where my historian brain tackles my writer brain for my own work, and where my historian brain meets up with my editor and literary brain when I’m thinking more academically. To be honest, I have no idea if it’s possible to shift between different parts of myself in this way. I pretend I do, though, by changing my vocabulary and approach to the novels and working out which audience I’m writing for. Sometimes I go profoundly wrong in this, especially when I’m writing pure literary studies in the middle of writing novel myself, and editors have saved me from myself several times now.

Back to culture shock. The novel in question is out of copyright, so you can find a free copy and argue with what I’m saying here, or nod sagely, or simply get angry. It’s a good novel, but very much of its time. It’s Erle Cox’s Out of the Silence and was first published (as a newspaper serial) in 1919.

The thing about analysing a novel is that I’ve got to get under its skin and see how it works. This brings me up close and personal. When a story has a group of people who decide that their view of their own cultural superiority means they should commit genocide (as Cox’s novel did) I can’t politely distance myself and say, “Thank goodness I am not that person” and put the book down. I have to understand why the story was told in that way and that means reading deeply into it and analysing it word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence… I want to list all the different levels of one type of analysis and move on to another and generally prevaricate rather than address this subject. That’s how bad it is when you can’t say “I’m a superior being.”

The big question is, in this instance, why I couldn’t just say “I’m a superior being and this is something I don’t have to worry about.” I’ve seen any number of reviews and articles implying just this.

Firstly, a century later, it’s easy to see Cox’s prejudices. It’s easy to see that those who actually committed genocide were the baddies as Cox intended, but that all the good human beings were equally potentially culpable. It’s not so easy to see my own bias. Who do I condemn to a secondary position when they’re in my vicinity? How do I do this? I can explain Cox’s novel, but I’m in no position to judge Cox.

Secondly, as I said just a moment ago, Cox is of his time. He was born in 1873. During his lifetime his home state went from being a colony to being a part of Australia. In chronological order, during that same life, Ned Kelly (is Australia’s Jesse James a good description? Maybe…) was tried an executed. Women were given the vote. Many, many people Cox would have known would have died in World War I and then from the influenza pandemic after it. The Russian revolution and so many other world events changed the world as he knew it, and he saw so much of it, as a journalist. All of this was before he serialised the novel.

After he serialised the novel the world changed again and yet again. 1873-1950 is a heck of a time for a science fiction writer to live though. By the time the last edition of Out of the Silence was published (1947), Cox had seen more than one attempted genocide. His novel wasn’t prophetic – it simply turned into story what a journalist saw.

That’s the thing. We write science fiction about futures and about strange worlds. They always include us and are always about us. I can’t know if I have Cox’s level of prejudice against some people or his capacity to be honest about racism. I can say, having looked closely at his work, that he intended his novel to reveal uncomfortable truths and to help address them. I doubt if he saw his own biases clearly.

I need someone to analyse my work if I really want to know these things about myself. I do. I want to know.

It’s moments like this when honesty about ourselves when we read and analyse can bring the most uncomfortable truths into daylight, where it’s very hard to ignore them. This is the culture shock. It’s not the first time I’ve suffered from it, and I sincerely hope it won’t be the last. I hope I don’t ‘recover’ from it and bury these truths. Insights may sometimes be terribly uncomfortable, but both my own fiction and myself will be the better for this one.

What the Humans have been Up To

Bright MorningThe humans have been busy working on a book together. This is something we crows have not seen them do before. The book is in honor of someone they knew who died. We do know about honoring the dead.

They call this book Bright Morning, and they have filled it full of stories. Being the resident editor of the Treehouse, I looked it over. There are no stories about crows, but there are some about horses, dogs, and dragons, so that’s all right. At least the humans are thinking about beings other than just themselves.

Here is their announcement about the book, and a picture of the cover. There will be a paper book with a shiny cover next month, they say.

Vonda N. McIntyre preferred to keep her author’s biography short and sweet: “Vonda N. McIntyre writes science fiction.” While true, this modest claim conceals accomplishments that earned her multiple accolades and an enduring place among the most influential fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Even more important to the authors of this tribute anthology, McIntyre was a kind and generous supporter of other writers. In Bright Morning, eleven career writers of science fiction, fantasy, and other genres share stories of hope in her honor, along with their memories of working with McIntyre. Profits from the anthology will benefit a charity that promotes literacy for children all over the world.

Bright Morning
An Anthology of Hopeful Tales
In Honor of Vonda N. McIntyre

from the Treehouse Writers
edited by Deborah J. Ross

Order Bright Morning from your favorite bookseller

 

Award-Eligible Works by Treehouse Residents

As 2021 draws to a close, writers in the Treehouse want to call attention to the new works they published this year. These works are eligible for writing awards based on year of publication. These works include three novels, a novella, and three short stories that are already in print.

Additionally, four of the stories in the forthcoming anthology Bright Morning, which will be published on December 20, 2021, qualify as short stories. Bright Morning, edited by Treehouse resident Deborah Ross, honors the late Vonda N. McIntyre. All proceeds go to Room to Read, a nonprofit supporting literacy and education for girls.

Novels:

A Valentine for One – book 8, Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021.  (mystery)

The Green Children Help Out, by Gillian Polack ( (fantasy)

For the Good of the Realm, June 2021 by Nancy Jane Moore (fantasy)

Novella:

Intermezzo – Household Matters” – novella, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. January 2021. (mystery)

Short Stories:

“Mannikin,” by Madeleine Robins in the March/April 2021 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. (science fiction)

The Missing Forget-Me-Nots,” – mystery short story, tie-in to Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries, by Patrice Greenwood. August 2021. (mystery)

Karen’s Secret Story,” by Gillian Polack (science fiction)

Original Stories from Bright Morning (forthcoming December 20), all science fiction:

“Sanitizing the Safe House,” by Leah Cutter.

“More Lasting Than Bronze,” by Judith Tarr.

“Panacea,” by Pati Nagle.

“Harden,” by Gillian Polack.

A Psalter for Our Times

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A few years back, when Becky Chambers was a guest of honor at FOGcon, I checked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet out from the library and promptly got hooked. We ended up with a complete set of the Wayfarers books.

So despite the teetering piles of unread books cluttering every flat surface in our place, I got a copy of her new novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which is the first in a new series of Monk and Robot stories.

The dedication page reads:

For anybody who could use a break.

And while I knew I needed a break, I don’t think I realized just how important that was until I read this book.

There are two good reasons why this book provides just the kind of refreshing break that we all need these days. Continue reading “A Psalter for Our Times”

Not a Fairy Story

I’m researching fairy tale retellings right now, so I want to start this post with Once Upon a Time. The story has a fairy tale element to it. It starts with a dream and ends with a happy surprise. It is, however, no fairy tale. Let me start it with the right words anyhow, because I can.

Once Upon a Time I had a dream. It was only a little dream. I woke up with an image from it so firmly imprinted into my vision memory, that, even before I had coffee, I went to my computer. I looked to see if I could find a picture of Io, because my dream was looking up at Io through an old telescope and seeing it as if it were our moon.

I found the picture almost immediately. Io looked the way my mind had dreamed it. I don’t remember if I took time for coffee, or if I wrote the story immediately, but by the end of the day I had a first draft of a story set in a far-distant planet, where a society re-enacted the eighteenth century.

I was chatting with a friend and told her about it. She read my draft. Then she told me her dream, which was to run a magazine. I let her have my story to use to build that magazine. She set up the organisation and edited everything and I and a couple of other friends built a world writers and artists could play in. That world was New Ceres. My story was its backbone and its heart, but it was never published. Life got in the way.

I took my version of New Ceres because I had new dreams about what could happen on that planet. Alisa took hers and she published a lovely anthology. She then started a publishing house and that publishing house has put out amazing book after amazing book. I watch to see where her dreams taker her next, because they’re always to fascinating places.

My dreams took a while to realise. First, I wrote them into a novel. An editor from a well-known science fiction press asked if I could send it to him. Whenever I asked about how he was going with it, I was told that it would be read the next week, that it was a priority, that I should not worry. Eight years later I took my manuscript back, and resolved to try elsewhere.

The novel was accepted somewhere else almost immediately, but that publisher imploded. Another publisher took it on. They asked one of my favourite artists to do the cover and he built (literally, built) a scene from the novel, and photographed it. A street from New Ceres lives in the Blue Mountains.

My novel was released straight into the first COVID inversion, where no-one looked for new novels by small press on the other side of the world. It was going to be celebrated at WorldCon in New Zealand. New Zealand is so close and so friendly and… the pandemic changed that, too. At least, I thought, it was finally published. I could close that chapter on those dreams and move on. Its final name was Poison and Light. Here, have a link to it. Admire the cover.

Tonight I had news about the novel I thought no-one could read because all the publicity and distribution were hit so hard by the pandemic that it simply wasn’t very visible. It’s been shortlisted for an award.

In that short-list are novels by wonderful writers whose work was issued by that first publisher. The editors won’t remember the eight years I had to wait, nor the emails that went unanswered in the last year, when I tried to find out what was happening. I remember. And now, finally, I know that the initial request to see the novel was serious. That it was an unlucky novel, but not one that was poorly written. And that readers are finding it, despite its travails.

I shall dream again tonight of that acned moon. And, finally, I will move on.

Readings From the Treehouse

Logo for Virtual Events from FOGcon

Treehouse residents Nancy Jane Moore, Madeleine E. Robins, and Gillian Polack are all reading on Sunday, July 25, beginning at 5 pm PDT as part of FOGcon’s Authors Read.

Nancy is a featured reader along with San Francisco author Claire Light, and Madeleine and Gillian are part of the rapid-fire readers participating in FOGcon’s ongoing virtual event program.

The current schedule is three rapid readers, followed by Claire, then a break before three more rapid readers. Nancy will close the readings. There will be time for questions and the event will close with breakout rooms with each of the featured readers.

All of this takes place on Zoom. Register here to get the Zoom link.

Science Fiction and Sociology, Economics, History, Philosophy …

Once upon a time, there was a lot of science fiction in which tech discoveries saved the day. Or so I’ve been told.

If you asked me to come up with something like that, it would be The Martian, which is very recent. The so called “Golden Age” stuff that I’m familiar with isn’t all that tech-driven. Asimov’s Foundation was rooted in psychology tempered by history. All the Heinlein I’ve read is about his philosophy.

Truth is, I suspect an awful lot of science fiction that is touted as “traditional” and “the way it ought to be” is mostly about some white guy solving all the problems with a well-timed punch to the villain’s chin.

Still, there were a lot of stories from the 1950s and 60s that either focused on or mentioned amazing tech, especially computers. Now most of us are carrying around that tech in our pockets.

These days, a story about a fancy new technology is more likely to show up on the business pages than in an SF/F mag.

Where we need to deal with tech in SF/F today, particularly in near-future stuff, is how we incorporate it into our society in a reasonable way. That is, we need tech tempered by economics, sociology, history, philosophy. Inventing new things is nice, but figuring out how to live with them is crucial. Continue reading “Science Fiction and Sociology, Economics, History, Philosophy …”

Clarion West Write-a-thon and Some Thoughts on Why I Like SF/F

Clarion West Write-a-thon

I just signed up to participate in this year’s Clarion West Write-a-thon. Since this works as a fundraiser for Clarion West, you can sponsor me in my writing endeavors. Of course, this is also a tool for making myself write.

I’m planning to work on a sequel to For the Good of the Realm, which just came out from Aqueduct Press. I plan to do a little work on it each day. I notice in looking at the pages for this year’s Write-a-thon that there are many other things I may be doing, but that’s the starting point.

Signing up for this got me to thinking about Clarion West, past Write-a-thons, and the whole science fiction and fantasy world.

Going to Clarion West was one of the pivotal experiences in my life. The intensity of the process was crucial for me. It not only made me write, but it made me believe in my writing. But I think the key part was being a writer in community, doing the same kind of work along with others who shared my interests and desires.

I bonded with the people in my class. Twenty-four years later, I remain close friends with several of those people and can usually pick right up where we left off with most of them.

The Write-a-thon doesn’t bring that back, but it does make me remember Vonda N. McIntyre, who always participated and always sponsored other writers who were participating. Of course, Vonda was well-known for her generosity to other writers, so this was no surprise.

Signing up for the Write-a-thon reminds me of how much I miss her. Continue reading “Clarion West Write-a-thon and Some Thoughts on Why I Like SF/F”