As a fan writer, I’m personally eligible for the ‘Best Fan Writer’ award, but this space will not be devoted to me as a fan writer, but A Dribble of Ink as a publishing platform. I think I’ve published some pretty cool stuff, by some very talented fan writers, and I’d like to bring attention to some of those articles. 2012 was a big year for this blog, and I feel that several of the articles published here, and listed below, contributed positively to the ongoing discussion of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction in general.
Below, for your consideration, is a collection of asides, reviews and articles published on A Dribble of Ink:
The idea that the race, gender, or sexual roles of a given work of secondary world, quasi-medieval fantasy were dictated by history doesn’t work on any level. First, history has an almost unimaginably rich set of examples to pull from. Second, there are a wide variety of secondary world faux-medieval fantasies that don’t reach for historical accuracy and which would be served poorly by the attempt. And third, even in the works where the standard is applied, it’s only applied to specific, cherry-picked facets of the fantasy culture and the real world.
Let’s say my unexamined understanding of the European Middle Ages means I view the era as a monolithic block where the oppressed women of the time were in constant danger of having sexualized violence perpetrated on them, where women had no lives outside of their relationship with a man who gave them guardianship or money, and where they could barely be said to have personality because they were too oppressed and socially inferior and ignorant to have personalities. If this is what I think I know, then my attempts to read—much less write!—a fantasy story with women who do not fit those limited and limiting parameters will fail. Understandably so, since to write outside those assumptions means my normative ideas will have been transgressed. How unrealistic a more “diverse” story will seem to a reader or writer whose views of the past are mired in these sorts of errors. How flawed, even though it actually isn’t.
What helped God’s War get noticed? There’s a lot of mysterious stuff that happens among readers with particular books, and I can’t pretend to get that, but what I can do is tell you how I went about trying to get this book noticed, and how a small but passionate bunch of book bloggers, colleagues, and friends helped get this book’s name out in 2011. Is this approach applicable to other books? Sure. If you’re willing to play the game. And accept the fact that what you’re about to launch yourself into is a casino, not a meritocracy.
I realize authors can’t be objective about their work, but God’s War was declared “unmarketable” by every major publisher it went to. Yet when it landed at Night Shade, Jeremy Lassen, my acquiring editor, leapt onto a term I’d posted on my website header: “Bugpunk at its best.” I’d slapped that on my header in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, because hey, yeah, everything is “punk-this” and “punk-that” these days and this world is powered by insects, so isn’t that funny? Ha ha those silly punks!
What I didn’t realize was that I was about to become one of those “silly punks” myself.
I look for many things in blogger book reviews, but the most important is lack of authorial voice. Yes, I said “lack.” Authors are egotists, and that’s no exception in writing book reviews. One of the things I like best about The Economist magazine is that it never includes authorial bylines. The result is that no author in that magazine will ever be praised or lambasted for what they write, and I really feel like I’m getting my news unvarnished by ego. I like the same feeling in a book review. When I go on a job interview (and may heaven forfend my ever having to do that again), I wear a suit and tie, not because I like that clothing or feel it says something about me, but because it is neutral dress and makes my appearance recede into the background. It encourages the interviewer to focus on what I’m saying, instead of what I look like. I think good book reviewers do the same thing.
In the beginning, there were zines. Shortly after fish crawled out of the primordial ooze, and were greeted by First Fandom, zines started to appear. Science Fiction fandom wasn’t even invented when folks started doing the earliest things we’d call fanzines. Mostly, they were related to sports at first, and later to film stars and the like. Science Fiction fandom evolved and became the group most strongly associated with fanzines, largely because we popularized the name ‘fanzine’. Over the years, zines became the primary way that fans communicated when they couldn’t be in the same place physically. Over the years, this was slowly replaced, first by more frequent cons and ever-growing clubs, later by electronic bulletin boards, then USENET, then CompuServe, then AOL, and nowadays we’re up to blogs and such. Zines themselves evolved, first in the technology used to create them, later in the way they were presented. Most fanzines today are either done completely electronic or have a PDF version that echoes a printed version. And there are a few that have no electronic version at all. Not a lot, but there are some. We’ll get into that later.
Recently, I read one of the most wonderful anecdotes I’d ever heard. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, gave the keynote speech at Goddard’s 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr., and African-American History Month commemorative presentation. After Star Trek’s first season, she was set to leave. The stage was her first love and she wanted to pursue that instead of the television show. After confessing her feelings to Gene Roddenberry, he asked her to take the weekend to reconsider. That weekend she attended a NAACP fundraiser. During the event, she was asked if she would talk to a fan.
“I stood up and turned around, and looked into the beautiful face of Dr. Martin Luther King—my leader!” Nichols said. They discussed the cultural significance of Nichols’s role and her intent to depart television for the stage. She reflected on King’s response: “You cannot leave; you cannot abdicate,” he told her. “You don’t know what you mean to us. Every night that you’re on, we can look on and see what we’re fighting for.”
Her choice to remain created long-lasting ripples.
Joe decides he’s going to be a flamboyant thief, Darque Shadeaux. We outfit him not with a dagger, but a dirque. He promises to speak constantly in an outrageous French accent. (In traveling to the Con, Joe has been up for about 22 hours at this point.)
After we finally finish getting setup, I decide I do want to be that assassin instead, despite the nerfing of a level 2 assassin. I’ll role play! I’ll be an artist! (An idea at the last minute that causes more work for everyone? I can see my editors just shaking their heads.)
Myke Cole says he’ll take care of it.
We get started the next day. Somehow, I’m no longer half-orc; I’m now a half-elf. My meticulous backstory planning is destroyed. I’m also evil, which I understand, but I’m Chaotic Evil (i.e. friggin’ crazy evil). Every party in D&D has that guy that everyone hates. That guy who destroys party unity and makes it harder to finish the quest. Myke Cole has just made me That Guy. I realize that a half-elf isn’t going to be named Grrrthog, so I go with something like my big brother Glendrin–I dunno, maybe Glenfiddich or something?
And a couple of bonus articles, published early in 2013:
In the MMORPG I play, I have both female and male characters (which reflects my unclearly-gendered public author identity, though not purposely). I have had people assume I am a male playing a woman, but when playing a male character I have been asked whether I’m female. One elvish hunter said, while watching my avatar dance, “I hope ur a girl, man, because otherwise u r gay.” Which would be … bad? Women are expected to behave in one way – feminine, agreeable, dance-y – and men in another – laconic, assertive, definitely not dance-y. To vary from that ‘default’ is to raise questions.
My gay friend who plays MMORPGs says that in his experience, only the younger players care whether he’s homosexual, and there’s more concern expressed about whether he’s male or female. Why is it so important to establish the gender of a player in an MMORPG? Some people actually feel uncomfortable when they don’t know my gender, when I am just some random person who joined their PUG for ten minutes.
Fiction, it often seems to me is becoming more preoccupied with deaths, both death itself and the manner of it in nasty, gruesome ways. Why? Many reasons I’m sure – a more cynical age for one. Another is the western obsession with Youth and Beauty as though they alone can stave off Death and Decay. As a society we are more personally removed from death than at any time in history, yet via media at the same time we are exposed – at an emotional distance – to deaths we would once never have known about. Where once bodies were laid out by their family, washed, dressed, respects given, now they are hidden away in their coffins, dressed by strangers, almost as though we’re ashamed that one of us let death overtake him. It is no longer a part and parcel of our lives in the same way – ably demonstrated by my co worker, who moonlights as an embalmer. When she tells people, almost every reaction is a variation on ‘Ewww, you touch dead people!’. So, with death removed from our real lives, less matter-of-factly “there”, perhaps we delve into it more in fiction, because it’s one of the few places we have left.
In addition to these great articles, I was also proud to publish the following articles and reviews, which all generated appreciable discussion in the community:
- A Dance with Dragons, A Year Later (originally published in The Drink Tank)
- Review of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
- Women Fighters in Reasonable Armour
- Review of the Batman trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan
- Review of The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks
- Review of Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott
- Review of The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
- Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Let’s Celebrate: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Consider this a round-up of A Dribble of Ink‘s best, most prolific and most talked about content in 2012. I hope you’ll think of A Dribble of Ink, and its many contributors, when filling out your Hugo Ballot. There are many fine fan writers and fanzines, traditional and not, there for the read, and I appreciate that you’ve stopped by here at A Dribble of Ink, whether it ends up on your ballot or not. 2012 was a fine year, so let’s tip our hat to an even better year in 2013!