This post couldn't have appeared on my Tumblr dash at a better-timed moment:


…because I’m working on a question someone posed during Karen Joy Fowler’s KU talk last week on feminism in SF and the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award. The question was why does the supposed literature of change appear - at least from the outside - to be conservative or non-imaginative in its projections of the future, especially in terms of gender, class, and so forth compared to the literary mainstream.

That’s a fair and interesting question. I mean, if you’re aware of the Sad and Rabid Puppies and what they’ve been trying to do to science fiction, particularly the Hugo Award, and not an avid reader or scholar of SF, you’re unlikely to know the best that the field has to offer is much more diverse and socially progressive than what you typically see in movie theaters or on best-seller shelves.

But I also think it’s a flawed premise, because you can’t pick the best of any other genre (say, the college-literary-journal genre) and compare that to the worst of another (in this case, SF).

The first part of my answer to the question is, if science fiction is, as Sir Arthur C. Clarke repeatedly said, “the only realistic fiction,” that’s in part because of his love for what SF can do, and in part because its practitioners are held to a (often ridiculously) high level of realism, necessary for maintaining the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief - while at the same time developing alien or future or worlds otherwise  utterly different from our own. I mean, I’m working on a story right now where the editor’s only revision request revolves around working out the punishingly challenging math of some new physics I’ve proposed (for Analog SF magazine, naturally). Why? Because we can’t have the highly educated audience being distracted from the main drive of my story (how poisonous traditions and sense of communal honor combined with conflict can lead to tragedy) by faults in the reality of this future alien world-building.

It’s a real challenge to create, for example, an anarchist utopia populated by humans that’s believable (though I was deeply influenced by Le Guin's The Dispossessed). But it’s easy to write yet another dystopian future, because so much of human history provides examples of the horrors humans bring upon the world. It’s not difficult to imagine a future with increasing power differentials between rich and poor, and the power of our technologies suggests that the world is more likely to look like a gritty cyberpunk vision than a Kim Stanley Robinson future.

One of the drivers of my series of Jupiter stories (which will accumulate into an eventual novel) is that I wanted to experiment with how we as a species could evolve human civilization beyond capitalism (at least as practiced today in our culture) to an egalitarian, socialist society - and to transition in a natural and realistic way, co-existing within a broader capitalist society.

The best answer to this question is to refer the questioner to Sturgeon’s Law. Theodore Sturgeon (known for his urging everyone to “Ask the next question” - his signature included a stylized Q with an arrow through it; more here if you’d like to see his essay on this) had grown weary of defending speculative fiction for so many years and pointed out that SF was the only genre evaluated by its worst examples rather than its best.

“When people talk about the mystery novel,” he said at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in 1953, “they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say there’s The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it ‘that Buck Rogers stuff,’ and they say ‘ninety percent of science fiction is crud.’

“Well, they’re right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important. And the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere.”

SF authors are and have been for a long time addressing progressive social concerns right now. I could point to some of the biggest contemporary names, such as Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, Cory Doctorow, Ann Leckie, Ian McDonald, Seanen McGuire, Linda Nagata, Nnedi Okorafor, Kim Stanley Robinson, and a thousand others who might not be published through major presses but which, nonetheless, have a major impact on the genre.

I posed these thoughts on my Tumblr blog and my private SF-workshop alumni group, who quickly engaged in vigorous discussion of the topic. A few very smart insights from their responses:

A theater-program director and author added more authors to my abbreviated list: Daniel Jose Older, Malka Older, Nisi Shawl, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, Amal El-Mohtar, Ted Chiang, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Sarah Pinsker, China Mieville, and Samuel Delany. We could go on for days, but that list, alone, is solid argument against the notion that progressive-change-oriented SF isn’t being written or published.

The Tumblr blogger @saffronhare​ says, “I’m commenting here not as a literary scholar or even as a person who reads a wide variety of SF, but I am a professional communicator. Part of what I think happens is that storytellers bring an audience through certain levels of agreement and acceptance in the process of world-building. Before we can get a person to believe in what a better future could look like, there is the work of getting that person to agree on the extreme effed-up-ness of things.” Great point! I suspect this is a major reason we see so many more dystopias than utopias.

A former NASA geologist and professor (now SF author) adds, "many of these stories are indeed being written. They just can't get published. Many of the stories appearing in mainstream lit are in fact written by self-proclaimed SF folk that couldn't get their stuff published by the supposed SF publishers." This suggests that the age-old problem of publishing's conservatism is part of the problem, rather than the genre-mindset itself.

The author who blogs under @copperbadge sent a link to this fantastic piece on the subject, addressing the importance of empathy in SF, and “meditating on why so many scifi writers appear to be so conservative.” From near the conclusion (my bolding):

“You can’t control the future. There are too many variables. And if you can’t control the future, but you desperately want to, the next instinctive, illogical step is to prevent it from happening. Keep things the way they are. Maintain the status quo and you don’t have to worry. Ray Bradbury likened social justice to censorship, and was violently opposed to his book about censorship being turned into an e-book that literally could not be burned. Orson Scott Card is terrified that legalising gay marriage is going to screw up the social fabric of the entire country, despite the fact that gay people were happily cohabitating with each other long before he was born and will be long after he is dead. Science fiction writers don’t automatically want to see the future. Some want to script it. Some think the only way to do that is to prevent it from happening.” A great read!

Along those lines, I’d like to share a book that does strive to provide visions of a positive future: Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future (I mean, it’s even in the title), put together by Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn, the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, which provides great support for their SF center (and one of members of our new International Science Fiction Consortium). That project proves it’s possible to write excellent future-leaning SF that isn’t dystopian.

Another alum wrote, "One of the problems is the intersection between forward-thinking literature and experimental literature. Often the best examples of literature of change are the least accessible. Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was a tough read for me. Because I've lived my life in a society mostly dominated by men, but making space in language for women, reading her book with the default of female pronouns was difficult. [...] I presumed that the most exciting literature of change, the most progressive in the genre, would not be best-sellers. Then I looked up Ancillary Justice and Slaughterhouse Five. Both were best-sellers. [...] When the majority of writers are the ones in positions of privilege (who list no women writers or writers of color as influences on their work), we are not going to see as much writing exploring gender, race, class, etc."

This last observation points to the problem rests on societal issues rather than the genre. In fact, the genre has often been the first to call out those very problems: How often do we use “Orwellian” these days? Or refer to Fahrenheit 451? Or any of the vast back-catalog of speculative fiction which has shaped how we view not only the future but also the world we live in? We cannot accurately predict which of our contemporary works will endure the test of time, or shape the future.

Back to the original question: Why does SF so often appear to not address (especially in utopian ways) progressive social change? Partly it’s because it’s really tough to create realistic worlds that demonstrate such change, partly because humans are kind of terrible. But largely it’s because, like anything humans do, 90% of it is crud. And unless you’re deeply involved in any genre, you only encounter the best work by accident.

I believe it’s safe to say that SF doesn’t shy away from the tough questions, the big criticisms, or exploring all aspects of change. It is the literature of the human species encountering change.

In "How America's Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future" (May 2014 Smithsonian), author Eileen Gunn writes, "Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions. Samuel R. Delaney, one of the most wide-ranging and masterful writers in the field, sees it as a countermeasure to the future shock that will become more intense with the passing years. 'The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes - sometimes catastrophic, often confusing - that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.'"

She quotes MIT professor and engineer Sophia Brueckner, who "laments that researchers whose work deals with emerging technologies are often unfamiliar with science fiction: 'With the development of new biotech and genetic engineering, you see authors like Margaret Atwood writing about dystopian worlds centered on those technologies. Authors have explored these exact topics in incredible depth for decades, and I feel reading their writing can be just as important as reading research papers.'"

In her speech at the National Book Awards, when she was awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."

This is what science fiction does, and why it has remained at the center of my life for as long as I’ve been a self-aware being. And why I made it the Gunn Center’s mission to “Save the World Through Science Fiction!”

Now that I feel this is complete enough to blog here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this discussion, as well!
 

Next Tuesday, March 14, Karen Joy Fowler speaks at the University of Kansas:

Exploring and Expanding Gender in Speculative Fiction: The Tiptree Award at 25.”

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and the University of Kansas Department of English are delighted to bring world-renowned author Karen Joy Fowler to KU to offer this year’s Richard W. Gunn Lecture, “Exploring and Expanding Gender in Speculative Fiction: The Tiptree Award at 25.”

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of author of six novels and three short story collections. Her most recent novel, WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES, won the 2013 PEN/Faulkner, the California Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2014. She has won the Nebula and World Fantasy awards, and this year she will be the Guest of Honor at World Fantasy in San Antonio.

Among her many achievements, Fowler co-founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, first announced at the 1991 WisCon, the world’s only feminist-oriented science fiction convention. For 25 years, the Tiptree prize has been awarded annually to a work of science fiction or fantasy that contemplates shifts in gender roles in ways that are particularly thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. The lecture will provide an extraordinary opportunity to hear from a pioneer thinker about the relation between feminism, gender, and speculative fiction, from one of the most important and accomplished writers working in the field today.

She lives in Santa Cruz, California where she is currently pretending to write a new book.

Facebook event page.

The event is free and open to the public.

When:
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
7:00pm  - 8:00pm

Where:
Jayhawk Room
Kansas Memorial Union
University of Kansas campus
Lawrence, KS 66045

Cost:
Free

Everyone is welcome!

mckitterick: (Galaxy Magazine cover)
( Feb. 24th, 2017 10:16 am)

I have so many thoughts on this article, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds,” how changing our minds is vital to human survival, and some suggestions for how to achieve change.

* In my teaching and personal conversations, I repeatedly stress that the most important lesson anyone who wishes to become a better writer (or artist, or teacher, or scholar, or partner, or friend, or human being, or...) can learn is to work on developing one's empathy, on being able to see outside one's point of view. To follow the scientific method in everything we do.

* That means becoming less selfish, less self-centered. If, as this article argues, our form of "reason" evolved from the need to not be taken advantage of by others in our civilization, we need to evolve our minds beyond this inherent self-centeredness. Technologies like capitalizm reinforce it to such an extent that, combined with our primitive fears, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia - plus military, biological, computer, and other technologies - puts us on a perilous path toward self-annihilation.

* We need to admit we're wrong more often. Especially when faced with evidence that undermines our unexamined beliefs.

* More evidence that human intelligence is hella flawed.

* Evidence for where bigotry comes from.

* More reasons to worry that human civilization is doomed.

* This study also reinforces the importance of being a polymath, or at least of studying outside one's limited expertise, working across disciplines, and getting to know and understand a broad diversity of people who are also interested in expanding their POV.

* And, of course, it explains why reality has a "liberal bias" - progressive-minded people actively strive to see outside of their limited POV (at least they should if they want to call themselves good liberals or good progressives). Encounter a fact that counters what you used to believe? Well, if you seek human progress, that means you need to grow your POV to encompass this new information.

* Closed-minded people (extremist conservatives, extremist liberals - anyone unwilling to embrace a new POV or facts that counter their established beliefs) will ultimately be left in the dust... or reduce civilization to dust. Change is vital to the long-term survival of any species, especially one that is capable of utterly transforming its environment, as we do. If we cannot change, we'll perish. And - in reference to yesterday's post about how the Earth is going to try to throw us off in very short order - we better get right on that. Or we'll all be dwelling in the flooded rubble of our collapsed civilizations.

The question becomes: How do we create a fundamental shift in our social relations where listening to others is valued higher than winning arguments or disagreements? Where logic and the greater well-being of our people is valued over individual wealth or power? Where we are taught to exercise literal reason from an early age? Where we are taught from childhood to see the world from others' POVs, to embrace diverse thinking, to not fear the Other, to welcome those outside our tribal associations, to put the good of the species and our habitat above short-term acquisition?

These are huge – perhaps insurmountable – challenges. These shifts in perspective do not appear innate to the human mind. But, now that we've achieved a level of technological advancement that threatens our very survival, these changes are necessary.

Short of a YA-fiction-style apocalypse that wipes the slate clean, how do we get there from here?

The solution might not be as challenging as trying to transform the very basis of human civilization to something that feels too akin to socialism. Perhaps all we need to do is teach the scientific method. Actually teach it, from the very earliest moments when reason begins to appear in the child's mind. That's when we begin to shape our perspective on the world. Children are full of wonder, full of questions. When adults give kids unsupported information, they're passing on a mental disease.

But when we encourage them to explore the question to "Ask the next question" per Theodore Sturgeon's rule, we might be able to transform human reason into something useful, something non-destructive. We might transform humankind into a species that might be welcome into a galactic civilization, if such a thing exists. (Because you know any intelligent aliens would stay the hell away from a species as primitive-minded as ourselves, one willing to destroy itself in order to sustain its worst aspects out of fear and selfishness.)

Changing the adult mind in such a radical way is possible - I've seen it happen in my classes! - but way challenging, and requires dedication and effort on behalf of mentor and changee alike. But positively shaping children's minds in these ways from a very young age is far simpler. And ought to be the purpose of parenthood, anyhow.

The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's motto and mission is, "Save the world through science fiction." I've given a couple of keynote addresses recently, both of which centered around the notion that we all need to think like science-fiction writers. And that means thinking like good scientists. And that means using the scientific method in everything we do. The only way to do something better is to eliminate the flaws in our actions and our reasoning. The way to do that is to incorporate new information and new points of view into our understanding of the world and of ourselves.

We can do this. It'll take at least another generation of people who are dedicated to the hard work of changing our entire way of thinking, of raising a new generation of people who are better than we are. But we can do it.

It's imperative that we do. We owe it to our children. We owe them a world of possibilities limited only by their imaginations. We owe them a future.

- Chris
 


Just watched the PBS Hamilton musical documentary, and it made me cry all over again to witness the genius that went into making this brilliant show. I got to relive in some small way that once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I realized - this right here is the parallel experience with those lucky few who got to see Shakespeare’s plays live, the first time, with him on stage if he actually did that, at least sometimes.
 
I can confidently say this show is one of the greatest works of art I have ever witnessed, perhaps the greatest work of art of our time, because it represents such a vast array of genius concentrated in a single work, which is accessible to every type of audience from first time fan to most educated scholar. On top of that, it’s so perfectly relevant for this moment in history, when it’s most needed.
 
AND I GOT TO SEE IT IN PERSON, in its Broadway premier run, with the original cast, from the perspective of the best seats in the house, right behind the most excited people in the world because they’d just won the lottery to see this historic event from the front row - and beside me was my partner who was so happy and excited to be here, too! OMG.
 
Perfect in every way.
 
Oh! How delightfully our popular media has changed! I love so much of today’s popular art. When I want to feel happy, I can put on Bob’s Burgers or Brooklyn Nine Nine, or Jupiter Ascending, or read something by John Scalzi or Iain M Banks, or go to so many others, and just like that I find joy and truth. There’s always a movie in the theater I look forward to seeing some time in the near future. There’s always a book I want to read, or graphic novel, or YouTube short, or Tumblr post, or song, or piece of art from other disciplines. There’s always some science or technology I want to learn more about. Photos of distant worlds or microscopic realms. Potential better futures abound - they’re all around us, if only we’re willing to partake of them. And every one of us is invited to be a part of it - not only in the consumption of it, but also the creation.
 
Now feels like the cusp of the most democratic moment in art and scientific pursuit and progressive justice and positive progress the human species has ever seen. Sure, we have a long way to go, but the zeitgeist is moving firmly away from the haters (which is why they’re getting so afraid and vocal) and toward the positive. Art always leads the way. It shows us who we are and guides us toward better possible futures (and warns us away from the bad ones).
 
We no longer need to trade our sense of justice, or fairness, or truth, or intellect, to fully enjoy today’s best art. We no longer need to only fear the changes that are coming ever faster. We can have it all!
 
When has this ever been true before? We’re living in the transition moment into a Golden Age! And it’s one where people are finally beginning to understand the interdisciplinary nature of creative and scientific work.
 
All this got me thinking… what’s so appealing about the idea of a new Magnificent 7? I mean, what’s the point of making a new cowboy movie now, or a remake of this story all over again, at all? And why all the other reboots we’re getting? 
 
And why is science fiction quickly becoming perhaps the most popular and relevant art-form of our time - and becoming more so every day?
 
Because, I would argue, for the same reasons that so many people love the new Star Wars movie, and Hamilton, and the new Mad Max, and the new Ghostbusters, and Agent Carter, and the idea of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, and so much more:
 
These narratives help us perceive essential truths about human nature that have long been ignored, or undiscovered, or rejected, or hidden away by the mainstream. Because we now understand you can’t separate science from art - or art from science - any longer without causing violence to both… as well as to the truth. These contemporary expressions show us how great humans can become - better than ever! - if we face our past and potential futures honestly, and understand ourselves and others better, so we can reenvision the past and ourselves honestly while being able to imagine better futures and help bring them about.
 
What a time to be alive right now! This is so important, and so incredibly inspiring, both as a creative person and teacher, and human being as well.
 
And I was in the room where it happened. THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED!
 
You who are striving to create a better, wiser future, or to overtly express it to others in whatever way you do best, I salute you. Thank you. I love you all! 

This year, the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's usual Campbell Conferenceserves as the academic-programming track for MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City. Want to attend some of those? *Full academic-track program schedule here(.pdf)* Don't miss this one, because we'll have hors d'oeuvres for 200 and a cash bar:


And here's McKitterick's MACII Program Schedule:

Thursday Aug 18, 2016

12:00 noon - 1:00pm: Kaffeeklatsch
Convention Center, 2211
Kathleen Ann Goonan (Georgia Institute of Technology) | Bill Higgins | Christopher McKitterick | Brianna Spacekat Wu

7:00pm - 8:50pm: Campbell & Sturgeon Awards Ceremony
Convention Center, 2501D
Join us as the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction honors the winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best science fiction short story of the year. These awards are unique in that they are selected by incredibly well read authors and scholars in the field. This process side-steps the politics of other award methods. Tonight we will announce the winners and honor their talent with a brief reception. 

Friday Aug 19, 2016

5:00pm - 6:00pm: Autographing
Convention Center, Autographing Space
William Dietz | Derwin Mak | Ian McDonald | Christopher McKitterick | Martha Wells | Sheila Williams

Saturday Aug 20, 2016

9:30am -10:45am: Campbell Conference Round-Table: "The World of Tomorrow is Today: John W. Campbell, Astounding, the Futurians, and the Legacy of the Golden Age”  
Convention Center, 2201
Kij Johnson | Christopher McKitterick | Michael Page | Dr Gregory Benford (UCIrvine) | Elizabeth Anne Hull | Joe Haldeman | Robert Silverberg | Sheila Finch | James Gunn | John Kessel | Elizabeth Bear

This year’s Campbell Conference round-table discussion, as part of the MidAmeriCon II academic programming, considers how the Golden Age shaped science fiction (including this convention) and contributed to the shaping of the present world at large.  We will discuss how the legacy of the Golden Age (especially the legacy of the namesake of this conference) continues to provide inspiration, discussion, and criticism among the writers, scholars, and fans within the field; and how contemporary science fiction extends from (and sometimes diverges from) that legacy.  We will also consider in what ways the World of Tomorrow envisioned by the Golden Age writers exists in the World of Today.

Sunday Aug 21, 2016

10:30am -11:00am: Reading: Christopher McKitterick 
Convention Center, 2203

I'll also be in the Benefit Auction as soon as I can after my Sunday reading, because the Gunn Center's educational-outreach program, AboutSF, is one of the recipients.

Hope to see you there!

Chris


Guess who came back to life after the power outage - these cute little robots!

Lightshow-lamp robot wakes
so other one does too.
They sing and dance
with their lights and their arms.
Little clock-robot smiles so hard
he forgets how to tell time
mckitterick: (write hard die free)
( Mar. 8th, 2016 01:11 pm)

I just realized that losing my religion as an early teenager led to a lot of troubled times throughout my teens and even into my early 20s.

I'd actually believed this religious stuff before then. I'd been raised as a Christian, and everyone I knew was a church-going Lutheran or Catholic (though the latter was eyed with suspicion), with a couple Evangelical Free friends. As I begin drafting this late at night, after pondering this article (about how Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts) and this debate on the Facebooks, I can clearly recall being really emotionally moved by hearing certain sermons or reading stories about Jesus and salvation through love and sacrifice. About how, after He came along to burn down the authoritarian patriarchy, we could throw away all those old hateful bigotries and prejudices, and look forward to a utopian future based on love - if only everyone would just believe in Him!

What ruined this for me was when my confirmation teacher forced us to say that the unbaptized go to hell. (It was a fundamentalist strain of Lutheranism that no longer exists, closest to the Missouri Synod.)

"What about babies born in areas where they could never have heard of Jesus?" I asked, trying to fit this logically into what I'd studied about this religion's eponymous founder.

"It's tragic, but that's the Lord's law," she said.

This bore no relation to anything I had come to believe about Jesus, or the very foundations of what I believed Christianity to be. So it couldn't be right. But this religious teacher - and the pastor's wife embodying the Church itself! - was insistent this irrational notion was true. When I asked my Mom about this, she said to do what I was told (ah, the underlying virus of religious authoritarianism) and "just say the damn words! You don't have to believe them."

But if that were true, what was the point of the Church (in its broadest sense), the most-massive and enduring undertaking in all human history? If we simply recite the words but don't believe in them, how can we call it "faith"? More importantly in the societal sense, if we don't need to believe what we're told or what we say, what's the purpose of organized religion at all?

The existentially horrifying part of all this is that seemingly everyone in America (where 83 percent identify as Christian) was part of a conspiracy of fear ("You'll burn in Hell for eternity if you're a disbeliever!"), or else consciously trying to suppress reality - and trying to infect the minds of their children with this mind-virus. So it seemed that either everyone was aware of the lie and complicit in its perpetuation, or they were dangerously out of touch with reality, allowing fear to control their minds so they could accept blatant untruths, or some mix of scary-unhealthy world-views. Or all of these.

So on that day, like the clouds parting for the first time to let sunlight illuminate what used to lurk unseen in the shadows, it became lucidly clear that my faith in the teachings of Jesus as told in what I'd thought of as historical documents bore no relevance to what humans had hammered into doctrine.

Worse, what if this thing that had consumed so much of human creativity and ingenuity over the millennia had merely been a tool for authoritarian oppression devised by men seeking to control a populace who appear willing to swallow nonsense and spout things they don't even believe? And who continue propagating the lies and delusions, forcing their children also to blindly obey?

This was terrifying. Remember the movie THEY LIVE? It felt like that, as if I were surrounded by threatening aliens. How could the people around me not see them? Certainly pre-teen me couldn't be smarter or more insightful than the vast milling masses of adult church-goers. So were they collaborators in some vast alien conspiracy to take over the minds of children?

Which is worse?

Regardless, this is the moment I point to, when I lost my religion and my faith in anything. From here on out, unless I see verifiable evidence of something bandied as truth, or morally right, or real, I disbelieve. Just because some authority says something is so doesn't mean a thing, because clearly authorities were fallible, all the way back to the dudes responsible for founding the early Christian church - and obviously those who created early superstitious religions were wrong: Not only are we taught this by the leaders we're told to believe and obey, they're falsifiably incorrect. I mean, only the most protean animistic religions bear any relation to the real world, because we can see how lightning causes fire or how animals behave in the face of storms. Only the philosophy-based religions seem to offer anything useful to their practitioners, yet look at how even Buddhism has been twisted by the patriarchy.

Before this revelation, I had seriously considered pursuing a career (or at least an avocation) in religious work. During my years of crisis, I spent a great deal of time and energy researching religious systems, seeking to piece together a core set of universal and rational beliefs in an attempt to construct a religion relevant to our times. Something I could believe in, something that might help make sense of a world that otherwise seems intentionally insane.

Nothing came of the search except a deeper appreciation of the universe. I've never lost my spiritual connection to nature - the animals who've inhabited this world far longer than we've built cities, the planets where such beings can live, the stars that provide the energy to fuel our lives, and the rest of the universe, which provides the soil for everything else to grow.

But that wasn't enough to soothe my existential angst. I suffered pretty traumatic and turbulent teenage years, and barely made it out of then alive. Because this is also when I lost faith in human beings. I mean, if the single greatest communal effort to build and maintain something in all of human history - the Church in its diversity of manifestations - was either a lie, or a delusion, or a shield against fear, how could we hope for a better future? If people choose ignorance, accept on faith things that are verifiably untrue, and oppress those who do not believe mutually incompatible articles of faith, there's no hope for a long-term human future.

I just now also realize that my rejection of Christianity (and organized religion in general) is probably a big part of why my Mom treated me so much worse than she treated my brother. For whatever reason, and despite her powerful intelligence and terrible childhood, she was deeply religious. She's the one who forced child-me to go to church every Sunday and holiday, and to attend Sunday school and Confirmation classes. When I was an adult, she forwarded me so many hateful, bigoted, racist spam-mails that I had to filter out most of her messages (once such capabilities appeared). These were indications that she was probably one of those hateful Christians who now rule the American discourse. She probably hated me for rejecting her God, and her Church (she did every so often tell me that she hated me). Despite her strong advocacy of feminist concerns, I know she hated how I reject out of hand all forms of authoritarianism. She was always a leader in everything she did - work, church, friends - which was an outstanding trait for a woman in the 1970s. But it was still authoritarianism, and she still served the patriarchy.

So when my brother told me at mom's funeral that my childhood experience under Mom was nothing like his, it makes sense. He went to church, and Sunday school, and Confirmation. He accepted authoritarian rule. He continued to say the words that he was supposed to say; he might not have believed them, and I know that in his heart he was not obedient to authority, but he pretended to be. And that seems to be all that really matters to religious extremists.

To Mom, my brother was one of Them, or at least a willing conspirator, whereas I was loud and determined in my rejection of the entire enterprise. Burn it all down and start fresh!

As a boy standing alone in the dark beside my telescope, I remember calling out to the starry sky, begging benevolent aliens (for what other type would visit such a flawed world yet not eradicate us like vermin?) to take me away. I drew spaceships that I could imagine piloting far away. I dreamed of exploring the moons of Jupiter alone, far from the insanity of Earth, of the coming changes that would transform our society and ourselves into something worthy to endure into the future. I wrote stories about these things, and the fall of adult civilization, and imagined a world where I could bear to live.

See, this was also the time during which I discovered most of my friends and many of my closest relatives had endured horrifically abusive childhoods. What kind of species tortures their young? The same kind that holds them down and injects cognitive retro-viruses into their brains.

I spent a great deal of my teens and early 20s in deep depression, suicidal on occasion but mostly fearless of death, because how could it be worse than having to dwell in the shadow of the monsters who rule our world, whom we must obey - or at least pretend to obey? I've never been any good at pretending such things.

Under such rule, there can be no bright future. There can be no utopia.

Ever since I discovered it, science fiction has served as my primary existential comfort, and it remains so. SF needs no gods, and if it has religion, it can illuminate what's wrong with how we do it. It offers visions of futures where things can be different.

It taught me that change is good. That it is, in fact, necessary for growth, healing, learning, and everything else that is positive in our lives. If we're not changing, we're dying. (Huh, I just realized something else: This is what The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is all about, and where its themes come from.)

Only by finally letting go of desperately clinging onto the plague-ship of religion was I able to restore my faith in humankind. Only be letting go was I able to imagine futures without hate or bigotry, where we can build something instead of expend all our energy dragging along the toxic casks from our past.

I sometimes joke that my religion is the Church of Science Fiction. Looked at in the right light, SF does serve that purpose better than any church I've ever encountered, in that it also offers stories about the Big Questions, about our origins and our ultimate end, what's right and wrong, transformations and transcendence. It's a space where we can identify flaws in our world today and envision possible futures where those things have either gotten worse or where we've solved them. It needs no gods but those within us and around us and illuminating the sky. It does not demand faith; it rewards knowledge and imagination and creative re-envisioning. Like science itself, it questions everything and accepts nothing that cannot be verified. Best of all, it's a community and an ongoing conversation. It's a family.

And SF is more true than any religion could hope to be.

Organized religion almost killed me. Science fiction kept me from falling into the abyss. I survived to become a science-fiction writer, a teacher of SF literature, and - like long-time friend and SF writer Frederik Pohl - a science enthusiast.

The only way our species can survive is to transcend as a whole the self-perpetuating, outdated, and damaging authoritarian structures we drag along from our past, which hold us back from reaching for the future. Science provides the tools and methods to determine what needs to be changed, and science fiction provides the safe laboratory where we can test-run alternate visions of ethics, societal structures, and an infinity of other things, including ourselves.

So, yeah, if I retain any semblance of religion in my personal life, it's definitely science fiction.

Illustrator and author Ron Miller specializes in, among other things, incredible visualizations of other worlds. He has rendered the surface of Titan, peered into black holes for Discover magazine, and designed a Pluto stamp that is currently hurtling toward the far reaches of our solar system aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Now, Miller brings his visualizations back to Earth for a series exploring what our skies would look like with Saturn's majestic rings. Miller strived to make the images scientifically accurate, adding nice touches like orange-pink shadows resulting from sunlight passing through the Earth's atmosphere. He also shows the rings from a variety of latitudes and landscapes, from the U.S. Capitol building to Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

We'll start with Washington, D.C. and work our way south.

Rings over Washington D.C.
Ron Miller

Rings over Washington D.C.


From Washington, D.C., the rings would only fill a portion of the sky, but appear striking nonetheless. Here, we see them at sunrise.

Rings from Guatemala
Ron Miller

Rings from Guatemala


From Guatemala, only 14 degrees above the equator, the rings would begin to stretch across the horizon. Their reflected light would make the moon much brighter.

Saturn's rings from Earth's equator
Ron Miller

Saturn's rings from Earth's equator


From Earth's equator, Saturn's rings would be viewed edge-on, appearing as a thin, bright line bisecting the sky.

Equinox at the equator
Ron Miller

Equinox at the equator


At the March and September equinoxes, the Sun would be positioned directly over the rings, casting a dramatic shadow at the equator.

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight
Ron Miller

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight


At midnight at the Tropic of Capricorn, which sits at 23 degrees south latitude, the Earth casts a shadow over the middle of the rings, while the outer portions remain lit.

Gallery assembled by Jason Davis for the Planetary Society.

EBOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

In the new original anthology Mission Tomorrow, science fiction writers imagine the future of space exploration with NASA no longer dominant. Will private companies rule the stars or will new governments take up the call? From Brazilians to Russians to Chinese, the characters in these stories deal with everything from strange encounters, to troubled satellites and space ships, to competition for funding and getting there first. Nineteen stories of what-if spanning the gamut from Mercury to Pluto and beyond. Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

Stories by:

Robin Wayne Bailey
Ben Bova
Michael Capobianco
Curtis C. Chen
Jaleta Clegg
Brenda Cooper
Michael F. Flynn
James Gunn
Sarah A. Hoyt
David D. Levine
Jack McDevitt
Angus McIntyre
Chris McKitterick (yrs truly!)
Mike Resnick
Lezli Robyn
Alex Shvartsman
Robert Silverberg
Jack Skillingstead
Jay Werkheiser

At the publisher's request, the ebook is sold without DRM. (The paperback edition comes out on November 3.) And because Baen Books is cool in a lot of other ways, too, they're letting the contributing authors give away copies. So...

Because my story takes place near Jupiter, I'm making my contest simple.So, want to win a free copy of the Mission Tomorrow ebook? Here's how:
  1. Share your favorite image, video, story, or other cool thing about the planet Jupiter. Can be science-ey, science-fictional, or whatever most toots your horn. I embrace multitudes.
  2. Post on a social network we both use. I'm on Dreamwidth, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, LiveJournal, Tumblr, and Twitter.
  3. Mention the new anthology of space-exploration stories, Mission Tomorrow.
  4. Tag me in your post so I get a notification (and can therefore see your post!). My day-job combined with a writing career and running the Gunn Center makes me perilously busy, so unless I'm tagged I miss tons of great stuff.
This is an ongoing contest! I'll be giving away a copy to my faves through the week of the release event (at Jayhawk Ink Bookstore at the University of Kansas), November 16.

How do you know if you've won? I'll tag winners here or on whichever social-network we share! Then just drop me an email and I'll send you your free copy.

So, let's see some awesome Jupiter stuff! I wanna give away some FREE EBOOKS!

A few words on the results of this year's Hugo Awards, and how it was a win for science fiction.

It's science-fiction's job to point out the problems of the world. When we see the dominant paradigm as harmful, we seek change. We're subversive and transgressive.

Hierarchical, conservative, or privileged people and organizations don't like to hear what's wrong with them or the status quo. People who don't like having problems with the world pointed out don't respect science fiction. Academia can be one of the most like this, which is why for so long the study of SF – and still, in most places, the graduate study of SF – has been discouraged, blocked, or disrespected. Organizations that fear and loathe change really don't like having colleagues whose job it is to study and point out what's wrong with the status quo, and elaborate on how to fix it. Especially if the fix means they'll lose power.

On the other hand, this aspect of SF is a big part of why disempowered, disrespected, and disenfranchised people have always been attracted to SF. For them, life is always difficult. The world is not kind to the disempowered. SF offers critiques of the world-that-was and visions of the world-that-can-be.

We need to attract more people of color, women, disabled, and so forth into the SF community. We need to support and welcome those who are disadvantaged or oppressed by society at large. Their perspectives are vital to the SF conversation. Fresh new voices offer novel critiques of the world (and our community) and new visions of ourselves and the future, and if that isn't what SF is all about, nothing is.

Your motivations need not be altruistic. Excluding those best at keeping SF vital would mean missing out on a huge audience for our work. People rejected by SF will go elsewhere, seeking writers and publishers who listen to what they want.

This is why I'm so pleased to see how the Hugo Awards turned out. Though it's painful to see so many worthy people and works fall below the Puppy Hate-Slate, the voting proved that the SF community won't be bullied. It proved that we reject rejecting change. It proved that we want to be inclusive, that we still want to boldly explore the unknown, that we still critique the status quo – even our own.

But the war is not won. Those for whom the status quo provides privilege fear change, because saying things could be different suggests they're no longer entitled to continue running the world as it has always been just because that's the way things are. Change threatens the eternal, unchanging perpetuation of their power structures. If you're incapable of change yourself, change is scary. People who can't get past their fears come to hate what they fear. Change is dangerous and threatening.

But not all futures are dystopias.

SF's enemy is not just the entrenched elite and powerful, not just the Establishment. These last few years have revealed a sickness within the SF community. People like the Gamergaters and Rabid Puppies. Misogynists and racists and other types of bigots seem to be suddenly appearing all over SF's domicile. But they've always been there, festering in the back rooms. We turned on a light in a store-room and discovered cockroaches scurrying about. Many of us just weren't aware of them, oblivious and happily chatting with others like us on SF's light-filled patio. The patriarchy might not be alive and well in SF, but that roach-farm has certainly been energetic. Fear-mongers – all people who don't question their privilege and prejudices – will continue to fight change unless they can open their minds and embrace SF's core values: Question, Critique, Change.

Whenever we see it, we must immediately combat the attempts at exclusionism of such people. Keep shining lights into the dark spaces. Keep stomping out those cockroaches when they try to infest the kitchen.

This is not a war we can win through combat. We need to swiftly support the disadvantaged and make them feel welcome into the SF community. Because if we don't, we lose out on gaining valuable new members of our community. Fresh new voices with fresh visions. Losing them would mean weakening the heart of science fiction, while – to stretch the metaphor a bit – bringing in new blood only strengthens us.

So congratulations to those who managed to win a Hugo this year. Condolences to the worthy creatives who were disenfranchised by the Puppies' nominations slate. They gamed the system in an attempt to force SF backwards in time. They threw their bodies at the windows as hard as they could, but they weren't numerous enough to block the light. I love alternate history as much as anyone else, but we're already familiar with the tired old genre-narrative they want to tell. It's been done. Their lost this game, but they'll be back. Infestations are notoriously difficult to eradicate.

The results of the 2015 Hugo Awards proves that the SF community is far larger and more vital than those who operate out of hate and fear can imagine. Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change. We explore possibilities and push boundaries. We ask the next question, and then the one after that.

Congratulations, Science Fiction! You were the big winner at this year's Hugo Awards.

This weekend is Kansas City's annual SF convention, ConQuesT 46! I'm doing several panels, a writing workshop, and a reading, and I'll be at many of the night-time room parties and the Sunday-afternoon Charity Auction. My schedule is now on Sched, like all the other presenters', but here's the short version:

Friday 3:00pm: World Building - Creating Alien Languages.
Friday 4:00pm: ConQuesT Writers' Workshop.
Friday 7:00pm: Opening Ceremonies.
Friday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Saturday 1:00pm: Writing For Younger Audiences.
Saturday 4:00pm: Reading - Ad Astra Road Trip (Book 1 of the Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella).
Sunday 10:00am: True Heroines and Diversity in Speculative Fiction, hosted by Hadley Rille Books.
Saturday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Sunday 1:00pm: AboutSF.
Sunday 2:00pm: Charity Auction.

Hope to see you there!
mckitterick: (Galaxy Magazine cover)
( Jul. 9th, 2014 12:54 pm)
Forgive me, religious-patriarchal figure, it's been more than a month since my last update. What have I been up to since my last confession?
  • Spent the first two weeks of June teaching the Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop at KU's Center for the Study of SF, a residential program that consumes pretty much every waking hour.

  • Did my thing at the Campbell Conference, which this year honored Frederik Pohl and discussed "Science fiction in the real world." We also presented the Campbell (best SF novel) and Sturgeon (best SF story) Memorial Awards.

  • Taught the Intensive SF Institute during the second two weeks of June, also residential (except for a few locals). Final projects should be piling in today. To all of you wonderful scholars and workshoppers who spent your June with us and are home now: I miss everyone so much!

  • Wrote another few thousand words on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella:

    It's ALMOST DONE - and Book 2 has reached 4000 words.

  • My essay on "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" just came out in the current issue of Foundation - The International Review of Science Fiction.

  • I'm hard at work on a new Jupiter story (the follow-up to "Jupiter Whispers") for an upcoming anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Including this one, I plan to finish (or revise) at least three stories this month and send them out for consideration.

  • I'll be quoted in the next issue of Popular Mechanics magazine (!) about the top SF novels.

  • Oh, and I gave a bunch of talks and interviews for NPR's Up to Date show, the Lawrence Free State Festival, KU Endowment, the Lawrence Journal-World, SciFi4Me (part of their livestream of the Campbell Conference), and one (plus the usual stuff) at the Campbell Conference.

So I've been way out of touch with the world. Took most of last week as a sort of stay-cation. MUCH NEEDED.

How's your summer going?

Chris
The finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of 2013 have been announced. Congratulations to everyone on the list! A great set of books, any one of which could be your favorite of the year.



News item here.

Award details and former winners here.

Finalist list for this year and many prior years here.

Photos of the trophies here.
LAWRENCE, KS - May 5, 2014 for immediate release
Also available in .doc
or .pdf version


This year's finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction have been selected, announced Christopher McKitterick, Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. The awards will be presented during the Campbell Conference on Friday, June 13, as part of the Campbell Conference held annually at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The Gunn Center is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2014 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF of the year:

"Bloom," Gregory Norman Bossert. Asimov's, Dec 2013.
"The Weight of the Sunrise," Vylar Kaftan. Asimov's, Feb 2013.
"They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass," Alaya Dawn Johnson. Asimov's, Jan 2013.
"Over There," Will McIntosh. Asimov's, Jan 2013.
"The Wildfires of Antarctica," Alan De Niro. Tyrannia and Other Renditions, Small Beer Press.
"The Irish Astronaut," Val Nolan. Electric Velocipede, May 2013.
"In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," Sarah Pinsker. Strange Horizons, July 2013.
"Mystic Falls," Robert Reed. Clarkesworld, Nov 2013.
"Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer," Kenneth Scheyer. Clockwork Phoenix 4, Mythic Delirium Books.
"The Urishima Effect," E. Lily Yu. Clarkesworld, June 2013.










The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award recognizes the best science fiction short story each year. It was established in 1987 by James Gunn, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU; and the heirs of Theodore Sturgeon, including his partner Jayne Engelhart Tannehill and Sturgeon's children; as an appropriate memorial to one of the great short-story writers in a field distinguished by its short fiction. The current jury consists of Elizabeth Bear, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Kij Johnson, and Noël Sturgeon, Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Estate.

Sturgeon, born in 1918, was closely identified with the Golden Age of science fiction, 1939-1950, and is often mentioned as one of the four writers who helped establish that age. The others were Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and A. E. van Vogt; all four had their first SF stories published in 1939. In addition to fiction (his best-known novel is the classic, More Than Human), Sturgeon also wrote book reviews, poetry, screenplays, radio plays, and television plays, including two classic teleplays for the original Star Trek. He was a popular lecturer and teacher, and was a regular visiting writer at the Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction. Sturgeon died in 1985. His books, manuscripts, and papers are deposited at the University of Kansas.

The Award will be presented Friday, June 14, at the Campbell Conference, held at the University of Kansas Student Union in Lawrence, Kansas, June 14-16. The Campbell Conference has been held each year since 1978 at the University of Kansas. It includes a Friday-evening banquet where the annual Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award are given; a Saturday-morning roundtable discussion with scholars, scientists, and writers of science fiction; an afternoon discussion about interdisciplinary science-fiction studies, and other events. This year's topic is "Science Fiction in the Real World," with a special focus on the work and life of Frederik Pohl, a long-time friend of the Center.
Bad books on writing tell you to "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW," a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.
     - Joe Haldeman)


Bravo, Mr. Haldeman. I've actually heard writing professors telling their students this, sometimes going so far as to suggest "What's wrong with science fiction is that it's not writing about what you know." How boring would literature be if all we did was literally only write about our personal experiences and expertise? We literally could not have a fiction of the imagination or the future or the Other if we constrained ourselves to only what we know. This is why not every single person writes a memoir: The only way to make an average life interesting is through brilliant insights and mastering the tools of humor or conveying emotion or so forth. When that happens, great! But there's a lot more to literature than memoir.

Good science fiction not only poses questions, explores ideas, speculation and extrapolates about possible futures, and offers other mind-expanding goodness, but the best SF also provides deep insight into what it means to be human living in an age of ever-accelerating change.

Science fiction writers have a special obligation to research broadly so that when they write about such technological game-changers as the Singularity or transhumanism or astrophysics, or alternate histories where small but important changes affect our present, or political shifts that change everything about human society, or so forth, the reader can willingly suspend their disbelief.

So in that respect, sure, SF writers inject what we know about the universe around us and people and tech and change and so forth, but if all we do is "write what we know," we wouldn't write much anything at all that has the impact of good SF.

So if you're a new writer, ignore the hell out of that ancient adage... while doing your damnedest to learn everything you can about the alien things you want to speculate about.


Speaking of writing, here's where I'm at with The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella:


While doing a physics experiment at the University of Kansas, Stella found someone to crush on. Of course, the wonderfulness of her day is about to be crushed....

Chris
HUGE space news:

On Saturday, December 14, 2013 - at 7:11 AM (Central - that's 1311 GMT or 9:12 PM Beijing time), China's Chang'e 3 lander and its Yutu Moon rover (aka "Jade Rabbit") touched down on our cratered companion world. We haven't seen another soft-landing on that cratered surface since 1976, with the last Russian Luna spacecraft (Luna 24):


Click the image to see the Wikipedia article on the history of lunar landings.

Jade Rabbit touched down in Sinus Iridum ("Bay of Rainbows"), the northern part of Mare Imbrium ("Sea of Showers") in the Moon's Northern Hemisphere. CHINA IS ON THE FRAKKIN' MOON, FOLKS.



Here's the Chang'e 3 lander saying goodbye to its Yutu rover:




Check out this great ITN (British news) video with footage of the whole historic mission:



Readers of this blog are probably wondering why I haven't written about this until now. Well, beyond the usual excuses (final papers are arriving fast and furious, plus other obligations), I was just plain astounded by the news: China - the last communist-dictatorship mega-nation - is the one that has returned to the Moon, and it's a part of their military (whereas NASA, though tied to the US military, is independent). This is huge in so many ways, folks: No one has explored the Moon (except by orbiting or crashing into it; the latest hard-landing was NASA's LCROSS in 2009) since the 1970s. No one has ever set foot on the Moon except for Americans, and that ended in 1972 with Apollo 17, the program that ignited passion and excitement for space like nothing before with photos like this one of John W. Young on the frakkin' Moon:


Click the image to see the excellent Wikipedia article on the Apollo program.

The US Apollo program (and the Soviets counterpart) was motivated less by passion for space exploration than a desire to prove our technological superiority to the world. When the Soviet program faltered - after soft-landing the first rover - the steam went out of US exploration, thus beginning the era of the space-truck Shuttle. Besides the early excitement and a couple of catastrophes, most people didn't even know when a Shuttle was launching. On the other hand, the Chinese have long-term goals at play. Are they as interested in exploration as they are in displaying their techno-feathers? Do they primarily aim to prove their capability to do things no one else has done for 40 years? Or are their intentions darker?

Jade Rabbit is only the latest step in China's methodical space program. They have enjoyed a series of triumphs in crewed space flight during the past decade, including launching humans into orbit and docking two ships in space. China lost its first (and only) Mars probe soon after launch in 2011 - it's important to note that this was due to a Russian booster failure, not a failure of Chinese equipment - but both of its Moon probes (the previous Chang'e 1 and 2, named for the luminescent goddess who lives on the Moon), like its manned space missions, were successful. They plan to send another rover just like this one soon, then a robotic mission to return lunar samples by 2018. Assuming these missions are successful, they plan to send taikonauts - Chinese astronauts - to walk on the Moon a few years later. After that, who knows? Moon bases? Taikonauts leaving footprints on Mars? Chinese flags flying over a multitude of Solar System objects?


Fan-art Photoshop of an Apollo photo.

It all began with a race, then Apollo's tone hit it just right, involving everyone in what NASA cleverly forged into a human - rather than American - endeavor, thus igniting a passion for space that spread across the whole world:



With images like the first Earthrise seen from lunar orbit, taken by astronaut Bill Anders through the porthole of a frakkin' spaceship:



Until that moment, humans traveling to other worlds was "science fiction." When that image made its way back to Earth, the world had forever changed. Putting humans into space made it real for us; rockets and satellites (starting with the Soviets' 1957 Sputnik) and rovers were damned impressive, and blew us away. But putting people into space transformed the endeavor into something real, something we might do or have done, if only our lives had gone a little differently. Rovers after that have improved so much, and NASA was so brilliant with its Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, that we can identify a little with them. But if the Chinese put a person on the Moon, they'll once more re-ignite the human imagination. If they set foot on Mars? I can't even imagine how powerful that would be to the human psyche... and how terrifying to some: the Red Menace on the Red Planet.

Ultimately, if you're like me, you hope that the Chinese determination spurs a more enduring human emigration beyond this tiny world's fragile surface. I'll leave you with this quote from James Gunn, perhaps the foremost Asimov scholar:

"In 1973 [Asimov] pointed out that we were living in a science fiction world, a world of spaceships, atomic energy, and computers, a world very much like the world that he and other science fiction writers had been describing a quarter-century before. It was a world typified by the first Moon landing, four years before. 'Science fiction writers and readers didn't put a man on the moon all by themselves,' he told me, 'but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the Moon became acceptable.'"

Hear, hear. As much as I feel conflicted saying this, Thank you, China. Let's hope the rest of the world feels the spurs to reach up and explore beyond our little neighborhood once again.
and now a couple of big images )
Chris
SFWA announces the honor here: 2013 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award: Samuel R. Delany. I didn't realize he wasn't already a Grand Master, what with being so important and influential to the genre (and one of our only well-known writers of color for so long): Think of books like Dhalgren, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, and Starboard Wine.

THE PRESS RELEASE

SFWA has named Samuel R. Delany, Jr. (1942– ) as the 2013 DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER for his contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Samuel R. Delany is the author of numerous books of science fiction, including Nova, Dhalgren, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, and most recently Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. Two of his classic works of science fiction criticism, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and Starboard Wine, have just been brought back into print by Wesleyan University Press, who will reissue a third, The American Shore, in the summer of 2014.

After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002. Since 2001 he has been a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where for three years he was Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program. In 2010 he won the third J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award in Science Fiction from the academic Eaton Science Fiction Conference at UCR Libraries. He is also a recipient of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime’s contribution to lesbian and gay literature.

SFWA PRESIDENT, STEVEN GOULD

One of the perks of being SFWA president is the option of selecting the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's next Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master. One of the tragedies is we only get to select one a year. That said, from the grains of sand in my pocket, I am delighted to pull this star.

Samuel R. Delany is one of science fiction’s most influential authors, critics, and teachers and it is my great honor to announce his selection. When discussing him as this year's choice with the board, past-presidents, and members, the most frequent response I received was, "He’s not already?"

Well he is now.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

This award astonishes me, humbles me, and I am honored by it. It recalls to me – with the awareness of mortality age ushers up – the extraordinary writers who did not live to receive it: Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Octavia E. Butler–as well, from the generation before me, Katherine MacLean, very much alive. I accept the award for them, too: They are the stellar practitioners without whom my own work, dim enough, would have been still dimmer.
- Samuel R. Delany

The DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER is given by SFWA for "lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy." Delany joins the Grand Master ranks alongside such legends as Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, and Gene Wolfe. The award will be presented at the 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose, CA, May 16-18, 2014.

More information on the award’s history and the Nebula Award Weekend can be found here.


It's about time! Congratulations to Mr. Delaney!

Chris
I went to see the movie a few days ago, and loved it. Like many people, I, too, harbored qualms about supporting a project that might profit a hate-mongering, sexist homophobe, but I loved the story (and book), and the previews looked good. So I went, and was really pleased I did. Though I admit to having used a free pass to the theater that I'd been saving, on ethical grounds, I'd not feel bad if I had paid actual cash money.

Ender's Game (book or movie) is not Orson Scott Card; in many ways, it feels strange thinking that such a foul person could have written such a beautiful and painful story (which was brilliantly acted by young people in the movie). But he wrote it some two decades ago, when he was (presumably) not such an ass-hat as he comes across lately.

Do you have a problem with the movie? Consider Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crud." I know a lot of people who would say the same thing about other human beings, that 90% of them aren't people you'd want to befriend. But if you deny yourself enjoying the 10% of stuff that's worthy of your attention because 90% of that was written by someone you find despicable (what's that leave, 1% or something?), you're in for a desolate life.

For more fantastic discussion about this, check out Tessa Gratton's powerfully personal post about this here. Also Bart Calendar's commentary on the issue of artist vs. art here.

James Gunn will read from and sign his new novel Transcendental this afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 9), in the Jayhawk Ink Bookstore from 4:00pm-5:30pm. Transcendental is an alien Canterbury Tales-Origin of Species-New Space Opera mashup, full of ideas and wonder.


Come get a copy of his wonderful new novel that Frederik Pohl called, "his best yet, and in it he demonstrates his possession of one of the most finely developed skills at world-building (and at aliens-creating to populate those worlds) in science fiction today. Read it!"

James Gunn's newest novel, out now
from Tor Books. Click for full-size slipcover art (.pdf).


James Gunn, photographed in 2013 by Jason Dailey.

Man, now I want to see this movie again:



Loved it. Must own the blu-ray... which, it appears, comes on on October 15. I know what I'm ordering that morning.

Chris
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