So last week I gave a rundown of how four different SF stories used cannibalism in their plots. Most prominent were the first few episodes of this season of The Walking Dead, less obvious was an episode of the almost-forty-year old Space:1999 series called “Mission of the Darians.” Less well-known to those who think science fiction was invented in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry are two of Robert Heinlein’s works, Stranger in a Strange Land and Farnham’s Freehold.
All use cannibalism as a metaphor. In the two TV storylines, it’s a metaphor for denial of the importance of the individual. In Freehold, it’s a metaphor for oppression of one group by another. In Stranger, it’s a metaphor for strangeness, alien-ness, and acceptance of the universe. It’s also used as a gentle poke at Western Christians who consider themselves more civilized than the heathens who go around rubbing blue mud in their bellies.
As with most of my blog posts, this one has grown out of many intertwined roots. The first was the featuring of cannibalism as a theme in the opening episodes of The Walking Dead’s fifth season. The second was my reading, at the same time, of Robert Wood’s well-researched volume Destination: Moonbase Alpha, a re-visitation of the making of one of my all-time favorite SF series, Space: 1999. (A show which many in the SF community hold in utter contempt. 1999 fans long ago learned to stop caring in the slightest.) The final contributing factor was my participation at PhilCon, only days ago as I began writing this, in a panel discussion about William H. Patterson’s authorized biography of the Dean of American SF, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. This was a well-attended discussion moderated by author Michael Swanwick.
PhilCon was before Thanksgiving, and The Walking Dead has already reached its mid-season finale for this year. As you can tell, this discussion has been brewing for a while.
Okay, I had the blog pretty well ready to go this week. It was all about cannibalism in science fiction. Lovely topic, right? Macabre and fantastic. Beyond the boundaries of most of our personal realities. (I’d like to say all of our personal realities, but, well, y’know…)
But before I talk about the macabre and fantastic, life this past week has been a bit… ugly here in the United States, and even here in my own little corner of the world. And a lot of the ugliness stems from anger.
I wrote this novel in 2010. Okay, actually I wrote it probably in 2006. I did the National Novel Writing Month challenge, but I did it in June. 50,000 word in 30 days, and I produced 75% of a usable manuscript. The last four chapters were awful. So I re-wrote them completely in 2009.
I knew it would be controversial, since it deals with religion, war, peace, monogamy, polyamory, polytheism and bisexuality. It also openly mocks a lot of our more prosaic ideas of what a “god” is. I figured the religious right would hate it. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the atheist left hated it more. Apparently, not only is it beyond the comprehension of some readers that a good person can suffer from prejudice and learn better, it’s also unacceptable to a lot of them that a protagonist declare any religious belief.
But people hating my book did not disappoint me. If they’re angry, they’re reading. Trouble was, not enough people were angry. “Peace Lord” just didn’t get the kind of attention that my Arbiter Chronicles stories do. I suppose some would say that means it’s not as good. I can’t comment. You don’t ask a parent to pick a favorite child.
When I discovered the wonderful artist Bob Keck in the Farpoint Art Show this year, I decided to ask him to do a book cover. My son, Ethan, said, “Why don’t you have him update ‘Peace Lord?’ It’s a little dated.” I should point out that Ethan designed the cover of “Peace Lord,” and provided the cover art. I think it’s pretty brave of him to make that assessment.
So, though I’m sentimental about Ethan’s cover art, I decided to take his suggestion. I engaged Bob to bring the characters of Shep Autrey and Xhylanna of Jentana to life, and I think he did a wonderful job. This, then, if the new cover for Peace Lord of the Red Planet. It’s the tale of a Civil War era Quaker physician who, like John Carter of Mars, dies on Earth and is transported to an alien world instead of going to Heaven or Hell. He saves the life of a warrior prince and becomes a hero. Then he commits a breech of etiquette and is sentenced to death. He faces death so bravely that his hosts declare him the bravest warrior alive… all because he refuses to fight. He goes on to unseat the staid traditions of an entire world, including its gods. Along the way he abandons some of his own faith and replaces it with a new understanding of himself and the universe.
If you haven’t read it, its repackaging is a great opportunity to give it a look. If you have read it, now is a good time to recommend it to a friend. Here’s the Amazon link. Don’t worry that it shows the old cover. The new one is now the only one being produced. If by some bizarre chance Amazon dredges up an old copy, let me know, and I’ll trade you a corrected one!
NEW LIFE AND NEW CIVILIZATIONS: EXPLORING STAR TREK COMICS [Panelists: Jim Beard (mod), Joseph Berenato, Rich Handley, Steve
Star Trek comics have spanned almost the entire length of the
franchise. Panelists, including the contributors of the latest
comic, will look at the rich history of Star Trek in the four-color
Sat 5:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)
THE HEINLEIN BIOGRAPHY — OR IS IT HAGIOGRAPHY?
[Panelists: Michael Swanwick (mod), Jack Hillman, Tom Purdom, Steve
William Patterson’s two-volume authorized bio of Robert A. Heinlein
is surely one of the most important works of SF scholarship in
recent years. Our panelists will discuss its strengths and
limitations and what it tells us about one of the 20th century’s
Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)
IS FANDOM STILL PRODUCING THE NEXT GENERATION OF WRITERS?
[Panelists: Elektra Hammond (mod), Anastasia Klimchynskaya, Victoria
Janssen, Steve Wilson]
There was a time when virtually all of the hot new writers (like
Asimov, Bradbury, Pohl and Kornbluth) came up through the ranks of
organized fandom. This seems to be less true today. Is that the
case? Would it be a bad thing or just a sign of the field
broadening its appeal
Sun 1:00 PM in Autograph Table (1 hour)
AUTOGRAPHS – KT PINTO, STEVE WILSON
So last week I took some well-deserved shots at Marvel’s self-serving list of their 75 greatest comics, comic storylines, and graphic novels, published in their 75th Anniversary Magazine. Supposedly, the list was voted on by fans. If that’s true, I’m very disappointed in what’s left of Marvel’s fans. Anyway, as promised, here’s my picks for 15 of Marvel’s greatest.
A few of these are just personal favorites. But largely, I feel they represent the building blocks of the Marvel Universe, the foundation of all that came later. The modern creators who dub themselves “architects” (when perhaps they should merely be called “remodelers”) stand on the shoulders of giants. Without these stories below, and many others like them, all the shocking character death, all the sudden moral reversals and changing of heroes to despicable villains, all the experimental water color art and all the boring nine-panel grids of the same two characters in the same positions with the same expressions, could never have seen the light of day. For their highly referential presence would refer back to nothing.
There is no order of importance here. They’re just chronological.
X-Men 12-13 (7/65,9/65) “Who Can Stop the Juggernaut?” Okay, actually its first part was titled simply, “The Origin of Professor X.” Either way, it’s the scariest comic I’ve ever read. Cain Marko is not seen in his mutated form until the last few panels. Instead, like the Alien in Alien, he slowly stalks the mutants throughout the issue while Professor X explains his history and tells the teen heroes just how truly f____d they are. I kid you not, I had nightmares in fourth grade. Continue reading
Recently I happened to come across the Marvel 75th Anniversary Magazine. Reminiscent of “house” fanzines like FOOM or The Amazing World of DC Comics (but slicker and lacking their folksy charm), this all-color celebration of the company’s 75th birthday includes an interview with Marvel founder Stan Lee, a history of how a little company called Timely Comics ultimately became Disney’s Marvel Entertainment, and–disappointingly–a feature titled “The 75 Greatest Marvel Comics of All Time.” This includes cover shots representing, as promised, 75 individual issues, graphic novels or storylines from Marvel’s history. There’s an emblem on it, “Chosen by YOU!” Apparently, Marvel.com allowed its readers to vote.
Apparently, nearly all of Marvel.com’s readers began their comics-reading careers after 1990. The breakdown of time comics selected, by decade, goes like this:
I’ve been working full-time since July, 1987. I think it was July. That was the Summer I graduated from college. I’ve had no gaps in employment for the past 27 years.
I started out in the working world with a Journalism degree, an attitude, and one piece of good advice. My High School Art Teacher told me, “When you start working, always make friends with the secretary. First thing. They run the place, and you want them on your side.” Over the years, other wise elders added to the list of those to befriend: the custodian, the security guard and the guy who fixes the phones. Continue reading
So I don’t really do flash fiction — stories less than 1000 words. I’ve never really understood the point of them. It’s just not enough room for an author to get a story out! But when my friend Phil Giunta decided to start Flash Fiction Fridays on his site, I decided, what the hell, I’ve been trying to learn to write short.
It’s not necessarily easy. It’s hard to find good models. The shortest fiction in the mainstream is that of Saki — H.H. Munro — and even his stuff is 30 – 50% too long.
But I did manage to come up with an idea. Last year, I wrote my third entry in the ReDeus series, published by Crazy 8 Press. Titled “Chinigchinix Nixes Pix,” it was dubbed by editor Bob Greenberger to be “The Weirdest Story We’ve Received So Far.” Gotta love earning a superlative, huh? “Nixes Pix,” as I affectionately call it (mostly because the name of the patron deity of the Tongvah people is really hard to pronounce!) was the story of a Hollywood screenwriter who must deal with meddling gods while trying to adapt a bestselling young adult novel called Call Me Sam. The idea of the novel was a throwaway gag. With all the supernatural stuff that’s thrown out (and possibly up) in the YA field, it seemed that the only thing left to commercialize was a kid who finds out he’s actually the angel of death.
But the idea grew on me immediately, and I realized that, someday, I’d like to write the story of the young man who becomes the collector of souls. I don’t have time to write another novel just now, but here’s the kernel of that story, “Call Me Sam.”
Saturday, this was the thought of the day for me. I awoke to learn that a young man I knew, not a close friend but someone I liked very much, was dying. Indeed, he was dead before I finished my first cup of coffee. I’d known he was sick. I’d known he was in the hospital. I’d just thought, “This is a young, healthy guy, and he’s coming home.”
He didn’t come home. I was… angry. How stupid is that? It’s no one’s fault. Someone catches a rare infection. I assume doctors do everything they can, but, we’re not immortal. What’s the point of getting angry?