On fandom, and the liking of things

cccrowdFandom has been getting talked about a lot lately. There have been statements made by the vague body that is fandom, followed by contradicting statements saying that that part of fandom isn’t the real fandom, and thus should not be listened to, leading to other voices within the fandom community trying to draw boundaries within fandom, articulating which parts of fandom are which, which leads to a better articulation of who is allowed to say what about what.

The whole thing feels like a much-less-alarming version of what’s going on in Crimea right now, where suddenly Russia is saying that this huge tract of land is basically theirs because a lot of them speak Russian and have a Russian identity, and you know what, maybe the Ukraine never actually left the USSR at all. Meanwhile, in Kiev, everyone’s trying to try and quantify exactly what makes an autonomous republic, and is the Ukraine legitimate? Is Crimea? How do you tell them apart? And so on, and so on…

How the hell do you draw lines around this stuff? How do you define such a large body of people?

I’ve been told that fandom is actually really easy to define. Do you like The Thing? If so, then you’re a fan. If you don’t like The Thing, then you’re not a fan. End of story.

I wish it was that easy, but I feel like that’s not quite true, not anymore. Fandom’s gotten elevated in the past ten or so years. It feels like it’s no longer, “Do you like The Thing?” but rather, “Do you like The Thing, and are you willing to buy airfare and a hotel room and hang out for days and nights discussing The Thing, forming relationships inspired specifically by The Thing, and when you go home do you create extensive, elaborate online communities for this world formed around The Thing?”

It’s different now. The digital age allows us to like things on a higher level than ever before. Being a fan no longer means like a thing, it means liking a thing To The Maxx™.

And when you like a thing To The Maxx™, suddenly you’re invested in it. It’s like teenagers saying they don’t care about politics, but then ten years later they’re working and they do their taxes, they suddenly say, “This costs what? And it’s being spent on what? Well then shit, we had better be doing the things I want to have done with this stuff!”

Fandom means having skin in the game now. It means having a budget set aside in your daily life for doing fan shit. You have to ask yourself, “Can I afford to like The Thing to the extent I’d prefer to this year?” To a certain extent, it’s a ridiculous question, yet it’s a true one.

And this, I think, is why we’re seeing increased (but not completely new) arguments over fandom agendas, over the liking and the creation of The Things. We want to see our personal agendas and beliefs exercised and realized in our pop culture. We’re paying in tons of money toward pop culture, so it had better do the shit we want it to do, right?

This leads to the current state of affairs, which is, I think, the normal state of affairs whenever it comes to large groups of human beings marshaling and spending their resources. It’s just far less systematized than voting or holding share in a company. Hell, we can’t figure out how much to charge for art, much less how to use money to make art say the stuff we’d like to be said. (A depressing idea, really.)

Where does this leave me, the writer? Completely alone, as far as I can see. I don’t feel like I’m a part of this. That’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just kind of weird.

The reason for this separation is that – in my own opinion – if you really want to be a writer, if you really want to create, then you need to be clinical in how you view your art and culture. When I really started writing, it suddenly became a lot harder for me to fall head over heels in love with books and movies and TV, because I’d trained my brain to dissect and seek out weaknesses. Suddenly, nothing was perfect, nothing was mind-blowingly-amazing, because I could now see the thumbprints in the clay and the strings that made the puppets dance.

And I’ll probably always see those things now. I’m never going to like a thing To The Maxx™. I can’t anymore, I don’t think. That organ has atrophied or withered away. If someone says to me, “OH MY GOSH I LIKE THIS THING SO MUCH RIGHT RIGHT,” my instinct is probably going to be to say, “Yes, it’s good, but…”

Things are no longer perfect. Maybe because if they’re perfect, I can’t learn from them. But there’ll always be a distance there, like how a doctor can’t love a patient and still have the mindset to put a stent in their aorta. I’ve turned my brain into an artistic chop shop, which isn’t exactly a lovely place to hang out and discuss fiction.

So for me, this intense passion that’s the nature of fandom is less and less accessible. I’m on the outside looking in through soundproof glass: I see a lot of people yelling, but it’s hard for me to feel too involved in it.

There’s one firm dividing line, then: those who can still like a thing without abandon, and those who can’t.

***

When I was at World Horror last year in New Orleans, I felt pretty out of place. I was the guy wearing a bright pink button up and linen slacks in a room full of people wearing various shades of black and gray. I looked more like I worked for the damn hotel than like I was going to the convention.

I still enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed the discussions I heard and took part in, but I could tell these people were About This Stuff in a way that I just wasn’t. It was like saying, “Yeah, I watch football,” and then going to a fantasy football camp and realizing, whoa, these people are just on another level. I was inadequate. Like, these people were going to go home and keep talking to each other about this stuff until the next World Horror rolled around. I was just going to go home and write.

Then I happened to meet a much more established writer than me. This was a dude who’d been in the vanguard during the horror (and publishing in general) heyday of the 1980’s, the sort of writer that the current writing crop probably all wanted to be when they got started. I hadn’t read any of his books, but he was a terribly nice gentleman, so we got to chatting.

I brought up the sort of weird alienation I felt coming to things like this, the strange existential dread I had where I was aware that I was not like these people, and yet I was supposed to be making the stuff that they liked. I knew in my head that I was writing stuff for everyone, for all kinds of people, something that’s applicable to humanity in general rather than people like me, but it was still odd to see it right in front of me, these people I wasn’t like, and know that I was writing for them.

He looked at me and said, “That’s because they’re not your people. They’re not. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are.”

It was a startling thing to hear. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think about it a lot, even today.

CITY OF STAIRS cover launch

Hey y’all.

Did y’all know I wrote a book called CITY OF STAIRS.

Well I did.

CITY_OF_STAIRS cover

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city—from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

Book’s out in September. For fun blurbs and whatnot from respectable folk, click here.

To the Hugos and LonCon: I’m your man.

It’s been a trying few days for SFF. There are a lot of hurt feelings floating around out there, a lot of accusations and counter accusations, movements and countermovements, blog posts and tumblr posts and controversial Facebook likes.

What we need right now is a period of healing. What we need is a cool balm to be laid upon the countless wounds and injuries this debate has caused. What we need, I feel, is a spiritual cleansing, a laying down of burdens and grudges, and in this delicate moment, we need to gather around a sensitive, thoughtful, perceptive figurehead who will calm our inner waters, and lead us to our Dharma.

And who’s got one accessible thumb and is all that shit I just said?

me

That’s right. It’s basically just impossible for anyone with two eyes and a brain to ignore that I am 100% the perfect guy for this job.

I can already hear the objections out there. Sure, I’m not perfect. There could be some more worthy people out there. But let’s simmer down here, gang, and consider the pros and cons of my nomination:

Pros

1. I don’t have any controversial history.

Since Katrina wiped out years and years of municipal and state records, I’m basically lily white at this point. If anyone still contends that a person who looked and acted like me tried to shepherd, maintain, and occasionally slaughter a flock of goats in an outlying New Orleans sewer, then where’s your proof, asshole?

2. I am good with crowds.

Cult leaders get a bad rap, what with all the murders, but you can’t deny that my involvement in a backwoods sex cult, then a backwoods death cult, and finally a backwoods sex-and-death cult has given me the experience I need to maintain the attention of a large group of people and control the energy in the room, or the energy in the moonlit forest clearing lined with bones. Related: would LonCon consider moving the Hugos to a moonlit forest clearing lined with bones?

3. I have handled metals in my day.

I might not know my way around trophies, but when I was in my prime I could strip a government tenement of every fucking inch of copper in less than three hours. I could butcher an abandoned house just like a Spaniard does a pig, and though my time in a chop shop is maybe a little less meaty, I could probably still make short work of a Volvo. Make sure you clear out any corpses in the trunk, they fuck the machines all up.

4. My body will soon be capable of standing upright.

No one likes an emcee who has to sit, or lie down on the floor and scream their announcements up at the ceiling. So I’ve shuffled around some of my more lucrative bitcoin investments, making connections with a prominent underground vaping lounge in Raleigh, NC, and any day now I expect a husky gentleman in a fedora to 3D print me up a new spine. If that fails you can maybe hang me from the ceiling sort of like Boris Johnson.

5. I’m a pretty good dancer.

bennett_got_moves

Check that out. I just got the air pregnant. I could just do this shit off in the corner while the nominees are making their way to the stage, I guess.

6. I’m familiar with the writing life.

I survived it, after all.

7. I know my way around London.

To this day I can’t explain why the juvenile center I spent my formative years at only played the 1966 Michael Caine film Alfie on repeat, over and over for 7 years, but I watched it so much that I basically have a map of London in my brain at this point. London hasn’t changed any since 1966, right? If not, then we’re golden.

8. I can eat.

There’s a meal served at the Hugos, right? I can eat the meal. My mouth works, and it’s in the right place, as is all the other stuff connected to it. (I smuggled in a lot of electronics once and some of the little cameras kept going off inside me, so I know.)

9. I exude sex.

I don’t know if that’s important or not, but it couldn’t hurt.

10. I know to never end a list on a 9.

Bam.

Now, that’s all great and chipper cheese folks, but there are plenty of cons to me, as well. I’m a fair and equal-minded person, as one learns to be when wrangling backwoods cult members, so I’ll be honest about myself.

1. I am a white man.

I’ve had multiple doctors confirm this, and several respectable mailmen. I am, and likely will be in August, a white man. However, my parole review board once said I was “more animal than man,” mostly due to my choices in disposing of my own waste when in solitary, so who’s the expert here? You or a state review board? They have badges and stuff, and you’re probably just some chump.

2. I’m tall.

Freakishly tall. When I climb onto my riding lawnmower (my preferred method of transportation) I am basically just a tangle of knees and elbows. The mere sight of me terrifies children to the extent that I only converse with my own son through a hole in his bedroom wall, and only when he’s sleeping. This may be an issue with the Hugos, as I understand people prefer to see the emcees.

3. Animals have a distinct dislike of me.

I don’t know what it is, but whenever I’m around an another alive thing that’s not a person, they freak the fuck out, even fish. (But not plants, plants are okay.) I don’t know if many SFF writers are dogs or cheetahs or horses or anything – I haven’t read the LonCon bylaws – but if a horse shows up to the Hugos, it’s going to flip out. Related:

4. I will be armed.

Because of #3, above, I have to kill a lot of things, basically constantly. I have been attacked by too many cats and birds in my life and I would have to be a dang fool if I wasn’t packing something that could throw a lot of death in any given direction. I am told that London is in a country (a recent development???) that does not allow guns, but I have never met a law I couldn’t break, usually as a result of not understanding the law or basic property concepts. Regardless….

5. I will almost certainly kill something during the Hugos.

It’s okay, I will bring the tarps. I urge you to reconsider the moonlit forest clearing lined with bones idea I suggested above, I think it’s a real corker.

6. I have no concept of gender or race.

I am not saying that I am an open-minded, considerate person here. I mean that I am incapable of interpreting human life as anything other than a screaming bag of wet errata. Sometimes I forget where the eyes are on other people. (The neck, right? Somewhere around there.)

7. I am constantly losing teeth.

They just keep falling out of my body, usually out of my mouth, but not always.

8. I will not permit another man to write down my name.

Then he has power over me, and that I cannot abide. I will not allow my name to be written on any of the LonCon publications. I do not even want to have a name tent at the Hugos. Actually, please refrain from saying my name at all throughout the promotional activity leading up to the event, onsite, after the event, and preferably for the rest of your lives.

9. I have to sleep in a crawlspace.

It’s how I was raised, it’s a cultural choice that you need to respect. Please reserve me a tight, dusty crawlspace, preferably between two rooms filled with weeping children. This is what I know and this is who I am.

10. I do not know what the Hugos are.

Seriously, are they like some kind of rocks or something?

City of Stairs ARC dispersal, and a general thanks

Advanced Reader Copies for my new novel, CITY OF STAIRS, should be ready to go in about 3 weeks or so. CoS (as I’ve been calling it in my head) will be out in September of this year, and you can find more information, and some blurbs, here.

I’ve brought it up on twitter, but if you’re a reviewer and you’d like a copy, either ping me on twitter or leave a comment with your contact information on this blog post. I won’t publish it, but I’ll send the info on to my editor at Crown and their PR people. You should be contacted to receive the ARC or proofs or however the hell you want to receive it in about 3 weeks.

On a more sentimental note, I was genuinely astonished at the response I got to ARC requests – from other writers, from bloggers, and from certain people who’ve been following me for several years by now. The idea makes me feel ridiculously humble and thankful, because there’s about 10 to 20 people who’ve been beating the drum for me since 2012 or so, and maybe even further back, and the only thing I can say is thank you. Writing is a weird and lonely way of work, but liking a midlist author enough to keep bringing up their work must be even weirder and lonelier – and, at the same time, I don’t think I’d have had much success without those people doing it.

So, thank you.

This is cool

AMERICAN ELSEWHERE has made the 2013 Locus Recommended List! This is good, and I actually thought it was the first time I’d made the list, before doing some googling and remembering that THE TROUPE made the 2012 list as well. (So, double yay.)

As such, AMERICAN ELSEWHERE has made the ballot for the Locus Awards. If you read it and liked it, please consider voting for it. If you read it and didn’t like it, please consider voting for it. If you did not read it, and thus had no opportunity to like it, and in fact are here on this blog completely by accident by googling something like “tina fey on the toilet,” why not throw a dude a bone and consider voting for it anyway, because what the hell, it’s not like you’ve got anything to lose.