Considering Fandom

One thing I seem to have gleaned from the flurry of comments to Tuesday's post about Arisia is that I went to the wrong convention. In the words of one of the commenters:

Arisia started as a "reaction" to another more literary "Con" - Boskone. To make it short, Boskone was trying to focus more on literary works, and in short become more "serious". Arisia was started as a "fun" con. There was a very specific focus in the early days on - Costuming (in the halls and masquerade), Parties, and an openness to movies/anime/"whatever". (Please be aware that I am simplifying grotesquely here) But the basic idea behind Arisia fundamentally is that it's a less "serious" con, even though there's a strong contingent of interest in literature & Science/Science Fiction.

Looking at the schedule for last year's Boskone and the guest list for this year's, I see none of the "alternative lifestyle" material of Arisia and quite a lot more writers I enjoy and topics that look interesting to me personally. Had I done any research whatever, I might have discovered this and saved myself a lot of bother. I won't be going to Boskone next month, for a number of reasons not the least of which is I'm a little conventioned-out after Arisia, though I may go next year while I don't think I'll be attending another Arisia. (I do wonder if I'll find myself something of a pariah at conventions from now on because of my posts. I suppose I'll have to go and find out.)

Fan Service

"When I moved here from the west coast," said Marlin May, a black, homosexual SF fan who I met first on Twitter, and who compared "coming out" as an SF fan to "coming out" as gay, "I didn't know a lot of people. But when I started going to con[vention]s here, I felt like I was home. I was back where I belong."

It was a sentiment I heard over and over again from people at Arisia, New England's Largest Science Fiction Convention (attendance: about 3,000). On one panel, the moderator opined that cons are “where we seem to fit. In other places is where we're playing roles,” with the deliberate irony that the convention was full of role playing games. One woman I talked to referred to Arisia specifically as a “lifestyle con”. This was a convention run by fans for fans to come and hang out and play and fuck. Which helped explain the lack of corporate presence that one finds at your average comic book convention. There were no booths for major publishers here, no b-grade sci-fi actors being paid for autographs, no developers giving advanced previews of their latest video game offering. A panel on the future of Doctor Who, which at New York or San Diego Comic-Con would have been made up of writers, producers, and/or stars of the TV show, was instead made up entirely of fans. The moderator began “Well, we've only got fifteen seconds of footage to go on, so I'm not sure what we're going to talk about,” and then the panelists started talking about their favorite episodes of the show instead. Most of the panels were simply manned by other fans, who didn't seem any more qualified to talk about a given subject then those in the audience, which was probably why the audience felt so entitled to give their own opinions at length whenever the mood arose, as if everyone was part of the panel.

Off to Arisia

I'm on a bus (with WiFi!) to Arisia, "New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention". I decided that after the wonderful time I had at ReaderCon, I should take a look at a more traditional SF con. I'm skeptical as to how interesting it will be for me; looking at the schedule, the literary portion of the sf world seems to take a side role to television, films, and role playing games, and there's far fewer names I recognize on the panels. But I'm willing to keep an open mind.

Also, sadly my cell phone is in the shop, which means I probably won't be able to twitter up the storm I normally do at conventions (we'll see if there's any wifi at the con). On the other hand, I now have a video camera, which means there may be some interviews to be had.

Stay tuned.

Atlas Shrugged?

Just a quick note to let people know that I do plan to eventually return to the Atlas Shrugged project. The problem is that I have moved and I can't find my copy of the book. At some point I'll break down and buy another one. But spending money on that trash weighs heavy on my heart and there are so many good books to read...

that having been said, to the jackasses on the Dune forum who were talking about me behind my back? Frank Herbert still couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. Dune is bad because the story stripped of the admittedly wonderful sci fi setting is predictable and boring, the quality of the prose is extremely poor, and the characters are wooden and one dimensional. there's much better space opera out there. Or at least there ought to be because really, there isn't.

Weekend Reading

There are officially too many damn ebook readers.

There will soon be two kinds of happy ebook-reader owners. The people who paid a fair amount for a reputable ebook reader from one of the companies they already buy books from, and the people who spend like $50 on a no-name ebook reader that supports a lot of formats, who gets every book they can think of as a pirated copy over BitTorrent. Everyone else—both the buyers of tier-two ebook readers and the makers of them—are going to be screwed.

Not quite the way I would have put it, but not wrong.

E-Ink Is Dead, Pixel Qi's Amazing Transflective LCD Just Killed It

It's a real LCD display that turns seemlessly into a non-backlit display a la eink, without the lag in update time or the other difficulties of eink. I'm still waiting for a production model, though. Show me something I can buy!

Catherynne M. Valente tells us How to Write a Novel in 30 Days. Suck it, VanderMeer!

And finally, Avatar and American Imperialism gives us a pretty good analysis of the film Avatar's psuedo-anti-imperialist message.

The Best of My 125 Book Year

Some years ago a "52-books-in-a-year" meme sprouted up, in which people "challenged" themselves to read a book a week for a year. I thought at the time, as I do now, that this is an absurdly small number of books; reading for merely a half-an-hour to an hour a day one can easily polish off a book a week (depending, admittedly, on the length and difficulty of the book and the reading speed of the individual). Considering that the "average" American supposedly watches four hours of television a day, sacrificing a quarter of that to book reading doesn't seem like much of a challenge, and I'm under the impression that most bibliophiles read quite a bit more and watch quite a bit less. To prove the point at the beginning of 2009 I decided to simply keep track of my reading. My final tally came to 125 books. You can see whole list at Library Thing. (The Doc Savage book "The Man of Bronze/The Land of Terror" counts twice as it's two books collected as one.) Below are short reviews of the best of this list.

A Real Solution to the Piracy Problem

Given that I recently went off on a bit of a rant about Cory Doctorow and his repeated failure to propose a workable solution for the problem of online piracy, I thought I would take a few minutes and suggest a possible solution that I think makes a bit of sense and wouldn't be that hard to institute. It has the benefit of also being a solution that fits with Bono's criticism of piracy that Doctorow used as his jumping off point on Twitter for his usual mindlessly didactic self-repetition.

The fact of the matter is that copyright of certain kinds of intellectual property is complicated. It is particularly complicated for music and with the rise of DVD sales and streaming video on the internet is poised to become much more complicated for visual media as well.

Why I Hate Cory Doctorow

First, yes I've read his books. Well, some of them. Well, part of one of them. I got fed up and stopped because it was stupid and poorly written. But that's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that I hate Cory Doctorow, I hate Boing Boing, and it's time somebody called Doctorow and his cohort of yes-men what they are: a bunch of assholes.

Normally it's not something that I feel like wasting too much time on, the hate of all things Doctorow. I mean, live and let live, right? If people want to waste their time on his weird brand of egomania, that's fine. I'm not going to worry about it. Just like I don't worry about that douchebag from Wired who wrote the Longtail book justifying the hegemony of global capital or nutjob libertarians like Eric S. Raymond advocating for creepy lifestyles dedicated to polyamory, computer programming, and owning guns. By and large the creme de la creme of geek nobility are fairly safely ignored. Although I have written elsewhere of the danger of confusing "geek chic" with "being cool," usually these people are no threat to anyone or anything I care about because the things they care about (file-sharing, Linux, web pornography, SF fandom, memorizing monty python sketches) are not things that I give a damn about one way or another. Occasionally tho, these people cross over into my real world life and I'm reminded that they are out there, festering, and are even occasionally presenting the danger of being taken seriously by real people. That, my friends, is a possibility I find absolutely intolerable and so am setting aside my usual Laissez Faire approach to The Doctorow Problem to outline in detail why it is that I can't fucking stand the the man.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

So gin tastes like pine needles. I've always thought this and wondered what the appeal was. I like my liquor to taste like liquor, not some weird watery piney furniture cleanser.

Still, my dad always has loved his Beefeaters, and I suppose that there are other folks who like gin just fine. It's not my cup of tea, but there are more pressing concerns than wondering about taste.

All of this to say that I think I've had Tanqueray two or three times in my life. And yet for some reason the internet has chosen to assault me with ads for Tanqueray gin two or three times an hour.

And what's been striking me as strange about this ad, and the other liquor ads I've been seeing lately, is that they seem to be bent not on selling a liquor but on selling a lifestyle. The lifestyle on display appears to be thirty to forty something gen exers still partying like they did in 1994 but now with more of the money and accoutrements of the upper middle class that they didn't have back then. It's an inherently shallow vision: guys in tailored sport coats and dress shirts without ties with four day growths of beard, girls in low backed dresses and pumps. Lots of wet asphalt and coarse voiced narrators talking about what people on screen are doing as if it's the coolest thing in the world. These are people who in the words of the Tanqueray narrator can "go to paris repeatedly and never see the eiffel tower, the mona lisa, or the arc de triumphe."

It bothers me because I am clearly the target market of this crap, and yes I recognize myself in the caricatures of people living the good life presented in these commercials as something that in broad contours resembles what I want out of my life. They want to sell me a more glamorous version of the lifestyle I already have. And I don't like it.

Michael Moorcock: The Wet Asphalt Interview

This is part of my series on the work of Michael Moorcock.

Today marks the 70th birthday of Michael Moorcock, and for more the vast majority of those years the man has been publishing fiction read by millions. For more on his career, refer to my review of The Best of Michael Moorcock, from earlier in this series. Our interview took place via email over the course of a few months, and ranged widely in topics, including genre, ethics, feminism, imitation, comics, Jung and more.

In my initial email to him, I described my own introduction to his work. Normally, I would edit this sort of thing out of the interview, but I leave it here because it becomes important to his initial responses. In some cases where multiple questions were asked in one email and responded to in another, I spliced the emails together, or moved follow ups next to the questions they referenced, to make the whole thing read more fluidly. I apologize for any clumsiness caused by this technique.

Michael Moorcock's most recent book is Elric: In the Dream Realms.