Thursday, February 23, 2017

Not Easily Conquered

Last Saturday, I listened to FDR’s Fireside Chat number 20 on Steve Darnall’s Those Were the Days radio program on WDCB, a local college station. It’s an Old Time Radio (OTR) extravaganza, and for thirty-nine years they have declared February “Jack Benny Month.” Jack Benny is too good to miss, so I snuck away from the sf convention I was attending, sat in my car, listening to the radio.
This year, Darnall has also been observing the seventy-fifth anniversary of our entrance into the Second World War, therefore the playing of the Fireside Chat, broadcast February 22 – seventy-five years and a day from today.
 The news wasn’t all that bright. We were having our butts kicked in the Pacific. Rumors abounded about our unpreparedness for this struggle. The isolationists had quieted down, but some of the most adamant were still suggesting some sort of negotiated settlement that didn’t sound much better than capitulation or appeasement.
FDR, interestingly, didn’t sugar-coat the circumstances. The situation was dire, but he tried his best to present the facts and dispel the rumors as “honestly” as could be expected in those days. I put “honestly” in quotes because the U.S., after all, was in a war. Nevertheless, it was intriguing to hear how forthcoming he was. He asked American newspapers to print a map of the world in their Sunday editions so that listeners could follow along as he described the battlegrounds and strategic locations where the U.S. and its allies were engaged.
FDR was not an entirely exemplary figure. He made a number of decisions we have lived to regret, not least of which was the internment of most of our Nisei population. And yet, compare his approach to that of the executive who currently resides (at least weekdays) in the White House.
What most impressed me was the way he ended his chat.
He quoted Thomas Paine’s “These are the times that try men’s souls,” then said, “Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much.”
General George Washington, FDR tells us, had this quote from Paine read to his troops (who had been suffering defeat after defeat): “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the sacrifice, the more glorious the triumph.”
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.”
Plenty of us need to remember that now.
Any struggle against any tyrant at any time is never easy. Any struggle against any injustice is never short. It can, in fact, be the work of a lifetime.
When we forget that, we risk the loss of all we’ve gained so far. We risk it now, as we have so many times in our history.
Tomorrow can be better, but not by trying to bring back yesterday, especially when it’s a yesterday that never was. Tomorrow can be better, but every advance needs to defended.
FDR ended the chat: “So spoke Americans in the year 1776.
“So speak Americans today!”

And maybe, if we're lucky, today as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A "Bomp" May be in Your Future

And so, another saur story comes into the world.
I’m very glad and relieved to say that “The Man Who Put the Bomp” will be in the March/April 2017 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
What took me so long?
Well might you ask.
You may recall that “Orfy” came out in 2010. That’s a long span between stories, isn’t it?
Life always gets in the way of a good story, at least for me.
Many people like these stories, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Another group of people are not so fond of them. Well, you can’t please everyone. Those folks usually talk about them being maudlin or sentimental, and I wonder what it is in my work that comes off that way. I’m not particularly maudlin, not very sentimental – not really. If anything, I would think folks would object to my stories because they’re just crazy. Bioengineered dinosaurs! DIY robots! Dinosaurs sending messages to “Space Guys”! Misanthropic stegosaurs! Tyrannosaurs writing novels under pseudonyms! Sauropods in cardboard castles and shoebox labs!
What insanity is this?
Honestly, I don’t know. I paint what I see.
I see creatures trying to recover from a bad experience with humanity. I happen to know a lot of folks who can empathize with that situation. Humanity is an experience from which many of us need to recover. Every time it looks like we’ve found the right path to a sort of Arthur C. Clarke-ian transcendence, we scoot down a blind alley of ignorance and despair. It’s like we can’t help ourselves.
A number of people insist my saur stories aren’t science fiction, but fantasy. Call them what you like, but I write science fiction. It’s just that the science may not be in the places you expect to find it, but it’s there.
A lot of readers who like the stories like Axel. A lot of people who don’t like the stories don’t like them because they don’t like Axel. A lot of readers on both sides mistake me for Axel. Would that I were. Maybe then it wouldn’t take me so long to write a saur story.
When we write, we incorporate many parts of ourselves to fill in the places we need for our characters. At times I can be Axel. At times I am Agnes. I would like to be Doc more often, and would like to be Tibor as little as possible, though too often I find myself humming the Tiborean National Anthem.
I have never been Geraldine – well, maybe once or twice.
Science fiction, like any other literary form, is a way to exercise our need to tell a story. A story can be simple and straightforward. It can even be superficial. But, as E. M. Forster pointed out many years ago, you’ve got to have one. A story is a construction. A story is artifice. A story is a tool. A story is a structure. But it can be more than all these things combined, if you’re lucky, if you’re doing it right, if you’re willing to risk looking like a complete fool when you’re done with the thing. And science fiction, at least for me, is the form that is most flexible – that can take any shape, imitate old shapes or create new ones.
You have to keep looking for the story until the story finds you. Once it has found you, the best thing you can do is follow it, trust it – trust it with all your heart, craft, skill and anything you have that passes for talent. Trust it enough that you’ll abandon all those gifts to keep the story on its trajectory.
Whether I’ve managed to do that with this novella, I can’t imagine. The great Chicago poet Paul Carroll used to say, “Our poems are wiser than we are.” I would respectfully add that our stories are also wiser than we ... even when they’re stupid.