Friday, June 28, 2013

Abaddon's Gate, by James S. A. Corey

Buy the book, support the blog!

With the political shifts in the United States just this week, namely through SCOTUS decisions, I'm glad I waited to post about Abaddon's Gate, the third piece of James S. A. Corey's The Expanse space opera. (I wrote about the first two books here and here.)

You see, I was going to write about personal change versus external change. Plot versus story. Who has the most room to grow, to change, to fall, and how that's the character whose story should be told.

Completely separate from that, I enjoyed this excellent tweet:

Spoiler-free context: one of the point-of-view characters in the book is a female Methodist preacher who is married to a woman. Also, her sexuality plays no significant role in the plot. Her role is not to advance any agenda, promote any political schemes, or rub her crotch all up in her wife's business for your viewing pleasure/disgust.

The Expanse books excel at projecting forward a plausible development of humanity. What happens when cultures and languages are isolated together in a carved-out asteroid, what happens when colonies on other planets become independent political entities, what happens when our current social "debates" become an accepted part of existence. Things like, for example, homosexuality.

Our society changes just as characters change. In both cases, I find the most effective change to be an internal shift. When people view the world differently than they did before, and their outlook changes how the interact with the world, they have changed. It's no coincidence that my favorite characters in each of the Expanse books are the ones that undergo the most internal growth.

This change cannot be prescribed. It is not simply the acquisition of knowledge or awareness. You're not a new person because you took Algebra II. And for all the celebration over the end of the Defense of Marriage Act this week, we're not a different society because of it. Sure, the rules are different -- but as a culture, our views on marriage have not changed a whit just because some judges decided on the constitutionality of a law.

But that change will come, and it will be aided by the politics. Abaddon's Gate isn't wrong to presume a lesbian preacher will be no big deal in the future. In a few hundred years, it should be so NOT a big deal that it's hardly worth mentioning.

Just as the plot of a novel affects the characters, the repeal of DOMA this week affects our American society. (Maybe even some other societies out there -- shout out to you, Irish friends!) Now, let's wait and see how everyone grows by the end of this saga.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

All things must pass. Old proverbs know this to be true, and so does George Harrison. So why doesn't The Night Circus?

I worried about the end of this book for a looong time. The last several months have involved several road trips, and the audiobook of Erin Morgenstern's novel filled part of each leg. So ever since about March, I've recognized that this book is a lovely book. The descriptions are magical, and the magic is moving. Yet the whole time, I sensed that the ending of this story would be more than a simple climax/resolution. It would be more than tying off loose ends and tidying up the character's messes. It would define the whole book.

Unfortunately, I was right.

The magic of existence is that it ends. We die. Someday, the sun will burn up our planet. To pretend that flowers never wilt and ice never melts is to deny the very beauty of their existence.

Besides, put beauty aside for a moment: the excitement of existence sprouts from what comes next. And what comes next can only come if we let go of what came before.

A clinging unwillingness to let things pass (like a nun in public -- ba-dum-chah!) is, essentially, a refusal of mortality. Death makes life all the more beautiful, and stubborn permanence undoes all the charm that exists in Morgenstern's truly magical world.

Can you sign someone else's love letters? Can you paint someone else's masterpiece? I don't think so. I think we are all meant to create our own dreams. Collaboration and continuation are parts of creating in a community, but you must be free to add your own strokes to the painting. Otherwise, you're simply lacquering someone else's love letter to the world until it is entombed, a preserved mummy of the beauty that once was.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Involution: The First Two Years of Line Zero

The soul of publishing, I'm increasingly convinced, nestles in the bosoms of small presses. The big publishers might get the publicity and the bestsellers, but the chances and challenges, the risks and the dares, come from the publishing houses you've seldom heard of.

That artistic spirit thrives when readers keep the true indie publications alive. Line Zero picked up my first published story in its second year, and I'm tickled to announce that the magazine is still chugging along. Not only is it rolling down the tracks, but it's doing well enough to warrant a retrospective.

I'm really tickled to announce that my story, "Such a Lovely Girl," is included in that anthology. Involution: Stories, Poems, and Essays from the first two years of Line Zero just came out, and the Kindle e-book version is available now on Amazon. (For those, like me, who still enjoy the flutter of pages, Pink Fish Press has the hard copy available here. But, you know, you could already be reading the Kindle version by now. So it has its advantages.)

(UPDATE: The print version is now available on Amazon, as well. Prime eligible!)

Thank you, Microphone readers, for supporting me and my writing career. Thank you, Line Zero, for supporting dozens of artists like me. Be sure to hang on to your early copies of the magazine, because I have a feeling many of the contributors could turn out to be stars.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

As a writer, I can vouch that a primary writer’s worry is whether or not our fictitious worlds are plausible. Believability is key. Never mind that a story exists as a façade of ink and paper, or e-ink and screen, or voices. We want the story to transcend the medium and transport the reader into a world as vivid -- more vivid! -- than the "real" one.

To let the construct of "story" show is like revealing your panties on the playground.

Sometimes, I wonder why authors go through all this trouble to shroud the fact that we work in words and metaphors. Readers know the seams are there. We can either spend all our time muting the seams and hiding our undergarments. Or -- like an open-raftered building, or a pinup magazine -- we could let the supports become the show.

You want to know why most writers don’t drop the veil? Because it’s a hell of a lot easier to putty over the cracks than it is to incorporate them.

Kurt Vonnegut figured out how to make the workings of a story become the story, like a watch with a transparent back or a Japanese chef who cooks at your table. He figured out that his voice drives his stories, and that people read them not for Billy Pilgrim or Kilgore Trout, but for Kurt Vonnegut. The author is the main character, his antics the reason to follow the other characters.

So in Breakfast of Champions, he made himself an actual character. The author-within-the-story decides who should meet whom and what calamity should drop next. And in the best commentary on writing I’ve ever read, the characters he creates enact themselves against him, despite his being the Creator of this little Universe.

By the rules of writing, I should not believe for a moment that this story is "real." My disbelief should never be suspended. And yet... I still care. The book still compels me to read. I still cannot wait to see what happens, even after Vonnegut tells me what will happen.

The strip is no longer the tease. The seams become the show. And the fireworks are no less spectacular, no less magical, even though I watched them get lit.