Author: Ian

Imagine a mall. Now, whichever you were imagining, unless it’s Mall of America, make it bigger. Conjure a sprawling megalopolis including every imaginable form of commerce. Home improvement stores, book stores, an inordinate number of pet shops. Now scan over to the second floor, off in a little side wing. Hard to see, unless you look for it. One store out of hundreds, that’s just for Nazis.

By Nazis, I don’t mean people you disagree with, or people who are bad at their jobs. I don’t mean George Bush. I mean people with swastika tattoos, who have at the core of their ideology that members of certain races are something less than human. Real, honest to goodness Nazis.

The store sells flags, and videos, and whatever else Nazis buy. I don’t know – those idiotic Pinochet was Right shirts probably. But it’s just one store. If you don’t go looking for it, you might walk through the mall without ever noticing it at all. Still, if this scenario was real, no one would call this place “the mall with one Nazi store” or “the mall of open exchange of ideas”, nor should they. They’d call it The Nazi Mall. I’d call it the Nazi Mall. Because in any functional sense, that’s what it would be.

It’s ultimately a branding choice. That hypothetical mall has decided that the rent paid by NaziTown each month, and the collateral business it brings in, is worth more than any potential backlash, which (one hopes) would be severe.

Extremism thrives on tolerance. The idea that all ideas have equal right to time, and should be judged equally against each other, is a pretty one in concept, and in practice tends toward genocide. There are some ideologies so far from the range of acceptable human behavior that to tolerate them is to invite them in. To accept its existence on your property is to become complicit.

Twitter is a Nazi mall.

I like Twitter, in concept. Being on the platform has exposed me to so many brilliant, funny, amazing human beings. It’s also shown me some of the worst things and people of my life. Some of that is the nature of online communication – the two sides of the massively multiplayer social media experience. But no network has so explicitly supported extremist right-wing hate like Twitter has. Alex Jones has been dropped by all sorts of networks, but not Twitter. Twitter verifies the Proud Boys and the leaders of anti-immigrant hate groups. And of course, no one with any literacy on 21st century media can look you in the eye and tell you that without Twitter, Donald Trump would still be president. He just wouldn’t.

The far right has weaponized Twitter, incredibly effectively, and with the full knowledge and implied consent of Twitter itself. And on the far right of that far right are those guys with SS tattoos, the ones who murdered Heather Heyer and who shoot up Sikh temples. Real, literal Nazis.

I truly don’t believe that people are defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done, but platforms are not people. Platforms are marked by the worst thing they allow, because allowing hate and embracing it on a private platform is exactly the same thing. You don’t get to platform Nazis, then claim you are anything but a Nazi platform, and for now, Twitter has made itself exactly that.

I have cancer.

Now, it’s not the kind that kills you, or at least, it’s not the kind that will kill me. It’s a skin cancer that’s not uncommon for 70 year old white people. I happen to be 40, so that’s not great. But I also have health insurance and access to healthcare, caught it early, and have all expectations that it will be treated successfully.

What if I didn’t?

I spent my twenties working outside, often without anything like sunscreen. So did thousands or millions of others, but what if, instead of a well-off suburban kid counting birds for the government, I had spent those years as a farm worker or some other outdoor job that is less likely to come with health insurance? The carcinoma sitting on top of my head right now would be far more likely to grow and spread. Hell, I barely went to the doctor in this reality, where it is easy and relatively cheap to do so. I have little doubt that in that alternate history, I would have let it go far longer. I would have let it grow.

Would that alternate history me die of this? Probably not. But the possibilities are still unacceptable. Either it would grow and become a more significant threat, or they would be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt, maybe go bankrupt, for the crime of being poorer than me. We can disagree on a lot of things and still be friends, but if you’re okay with that situation, I just plain don’t want to know you. 

That opening sentence – I have cancer – is embarrassing for me to write, because it conjures up images of people in far worse shape than me. My mom. My wife’s mom. When you think of cancer, you think of the nightmare diagnoses – breast, liver, pancreas, lung. Non-melanoma skin cancer is by far the best cancer diagnosis anyone can get in 2018, but as the son of a mother who lost her life to one of the deadlier varieties, who held her hand as she went quiet and cold in front of me, I’m allowing myself to be scared by the word anyway.

So, the bad news is, a clump of cells on top of my head is trying to very slowly murder me. The good news is, it’s not a very good killer, and it will fail. But that stroke of luck is down far more to the privilege I was born into than anything I have done to earn it. I’ve been given a gift of access and care that everyone deserves, and millions lack. Right now, there’s someone exactly my age – probably hundreds of them at least – who aren’t getting a simple, outpatient treatment because of our ghoulish for-profit healthcare system, and because men are conditioned to not worry about themselves until they’re legitimately old, if then.

Go to the doctor if you can. Think about how to make that a possibility for more people. The next time you have a chance to vote, use it, and vote for the best candidate and party for healthcare access. The next time you go out in the sun, especially if you’re anywhere near my shade of pale, think about wearing a hat and some sunblock. And the next time someone tells you that no one dies or lives a shorter, sadder life because they don’t have healthcare coverage, punch them in the fucking mouth, and tell them I sent you.

So … hi. It’s been a while. I have never been exactly a metronome when it comes to blog regularity. If I was pressed for a metaphor, it would be more along the lines of that experiment where people watch a piece of pitch slowly form a droplet and then, even more slowly, drip to the floor. 

Not the ideal imagery for this sort of thing.

So where have I been for the last two years, since my freelancing post? Well, for one, I stopped freelancing. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I found that I couldn’t sleep unless I did something to address what I saw as the growing shittiness of American politics, and I went to work for a great Democratic political startup called Flippable. It was the longest, but also one of the most rewarding 18 months of my working life, and among the many things it taught me is this: I’m not cut out for full-time politics. It damn near broke me. I will always treasure the time I spent there, but I’m also glad it’s over.

When I left the team at Flippable, I tried to take time off. I’m awful at taking time off, but I did manage a few weeks, and used that time to do some things I had been putting off – setting up my garden for the year, finally seeing Hamilton live, writing more than ten words of fiction in a sitting. All worthwhile, and all things I need to learn to do in concert with work, not instead of it.

So, as King George would say, what comes next? Another thing I learned at Flippable is that I love working with a team of passionate, talented, hard-working people. I missed that in my freelance days. But I also missed the feeling of building something myself, having ownership over something. So I decided to split the difference, and I started a company.

Seaworthy Digital is a new digital marketing agency, combining my web development background and marketing skills with an incredible content and strategy partner, and hopefully soon, a designer. It’s been fun, building from scratch again, and doing so in a more formal way than I ever did when I was a one-man shop.

So that’s my story. I can’t promise that I’ll post here as often as I would like, but since the bar is currently set at “once every two years”, I’m confident I can improve on that. Wish me luck – it’s going to be fun and scary, as all good things are.

Facebook Memories is by far my favorite feature of a social network that is more often annoying or distracting to me than particularly valuable. I like seeing what was happening in my life at this time one or two years ago. Unlike the rest of the site, which mainly tells me which candidate my friends support and what they have been eating for dinner, this feature actually adds some interesting perspective on everything that has changed over the years, and all that has not.

Today, that lovely little app reminded me that it has been five years since I left my last full-time job and went it alone as a freelance web developer. On September 30, 2011, I finished the month of purgatory I agreed to spend working for a boss I resented at a company I had grown to despise.

It’s an interesting time for the anniversary to pop up. Two weeks ago, I set out a fairly ambitious 6-month plan for where I’d like to take my business, basically with the goal of either getting it the way I want it or give up on it completely. There are certainly times I question the logic of being a one-man company. HR departments, steady paychecks, PAID VACATION. These things are nice. Taxes, that’s another thing that’s better at a bigger shop.

Most days, today included, the freedom and self-determination of freelance work outweigh those other things by a mile. I’ve realized, more clearly since I started this most recent work push, and especially clearly today with the sudden realization of the anniversary, that even though I’m often of two minds when it comes to how I run my business, I am really never unhappy with my choice. I love working for myself, and the variety of contract work. I need to do some things better. I’m a much better technician than I am a business owner. But still, I’m not looking back, except in overall satisfaction.

Five years down. How many to go? Will I ever work for one company again? Will I ever want to? I don’t know. What I do know is this: I’ve always said it would take a hell of a deal to bring me back to a 9-to-5 office life. On the good days, it’s hard to imagine any offer that would be worth the tradeoffs. And today, thanks in part oddly enough to Facebook, is a very good day.

It’s been a long gap between Favorites posts here on my blog, and in fact between any posts at all. Some of that silence was spent writing, some of it working, and some dealing with life’s distractions that couldn’t be avoided, but for a lot of it, I was just a little lost. Not unpleasantly–overall, it’s been a good year–but it’s lacked structure. My first attempt to get that structure back is to start logging my short fiction reading (and listening) again, and more consistently produce these posts each month with the stories that affected me most.

So here goes. I read most of the top pro SFF markets in August, and here are the four stories that made the most impact, the ones I wanted to read again and tear apart to understand why they felt so good the first time.

There Is No Road Through the Woods
by Dagny Paul, in Pseudopod
A good story is a good story anytime, but they can definitely be helped or hurt by the circumstances surrounding the first time you read them. I was primed for this gorgeous coming-of-age horror story by the Netflix show Stranger Things. I expect Dagny Paul is getting tired of the comparison, which is also brought up in the show notes on Pseudopod, and I won’t elaborate on it too much, because her story deserves to be appreciated on its own. Sufficed to say, if you like the one and haven’t tried the other, go do that. This is a classic “there’s something strange in the woods” story, but in this case, the horror isn’t necessarily either old or natural. It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but if this post only talked about one story, it would be this one. I can’t recommend it enough.

First Light at Mistaken Point
by Kali Wallace, in Clarkesworld
Some of my favorite stories all pull off variations on the same trick, beautifully melding together a speculative mystery and a personal character story. Similar to one of my Nebula nominations from last year, “The Cork Won’t Stay” by Nate Southard, Wallace’s tale mixes the fantastic with the all too common tragedy of mundane human life. The really special thing that few authors can pull off so well is that both threads on their own would be beautiful, readable stories. Together, expertly woven, they become something wonderfully new.

Fall To Her
by Alexis A. Hunter, in Apex
This is the shortest story on the list this month, almost flash, but it is in no way the smallest. In 1300-odd words, Hunter managed to immerse me in a situation both recognizable and distantly speculative. She takes a story idea as old as Homer and spins it not only in a new way, but in a fresh and vibrant one. You can sell me nearly any SFF concept if I believe that the character believes it, and the first-person narrator of “Fall to Her” is completely believable in the expression of their tragic addictive need. The best flash is an effective uppercut, knocking you out before you know what hit you, and this accomplishes that better than most.

The Starsmith
by Jonathan Edelstein, in Escape Pod
Half of my picks this month are audio stories, both by the amazing crew over at Escape Artists. Maybe it’s not completely fair to lump audio stories in with all the others, being that they are produced as well as written, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I care less and less these days what medium a story comes in, as long as it’s compelling and smart. Edelstein’s “Starsmith” is those things in spades. At its core, this is a fairy tale, and once you’re through it, you’ll probably recognize which. But the layers built over that core are what makes this really special. The world is primarily a science fictional one, but there are fantasy elements so deeply embedded in it that I would hesitate to put it into either genre. To put it in pop culture terms, it feels more Star Wars than Star Trek: it feels like the world has existed a while. Things are broken down, things have moved and changed. There is history and culture and tradition. Edelstein does more to create a fully realized world in forty minutes or so than many novelists ever manage. It’s a great achievement.

So that’s it. Those are the ones that made me smile, laugh, and then curse their authors for doing things I want to be doing, and I have no higher compliment to give. I hope to stick to my short fiction reading schedule and publish one of these every month for the foreseeable future, because reading with this wrap-up in mind helps me to establish not only which stories work for me, but why, and that has been one of the most useful writing exercises I’ve come across yet.

January has been sort of awful. In addition to all those famous people dying, some people I cared a whole lot more about also left us. Januaries are often like that – sick people get through the holidays, but once the new year starts, the energy to face another long stretch just isn’t there. My wife and step-daughter and I did the worst kind of traveling earlier this month, and I hope not to see a plane or wear a tie for a good long while.

On a brighter note, January has actually been pretty good for me in publication terms. First, Plasma Frequency published “Fylgia in the City”, a silly little apocalyptic faerie story, in their first issue back from forced hiatus. Now, a local podcast called The Overcast has produced a fantastic audio version of The Ghost Lottery, a story of mine that has been seeking a good home for quite a while.

Listen to “The Ghost Lottery” at The Overcast

I’m very pleased with how this one came out. J.S. Arquin did a magnificent job with the narration and production, making my words sound much better than I could. At the end of the recording, I prove that point by chiming in with a little story-behind-the-story afterword. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction podcast to keep up with (and to support on Patreon), give this show a listen. Not only do they do a great job, but they pay their authors pretty well, especially for a podcast.

Overall, I would still like to punch January in its stupid, stupid face, but seeing these two stories find their way into markets that I genuinely like does help put a pinch of silver in the lining. And since I only published one story last year (in what was otherwise probably my favorite year ever), this is one department in which 2016 will certainly end up ahead.

After a pretty tepid 2015, in publishing terms, the new year starts pretty well for me, with two stories coming out in January. The first, which launched on New Years Day itself, is called “Fylgia in the City”, a fairy tale (ish) that I wrote quite a long time ago. This is the rare story of mine that has a path to publication story I actually think is worth telling.

I’m a spreadsheet geek. With a few exceptions, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth collating into rows and columns. I’ve kept a record of my story submissions since day 1, now four years back, and it’s grown into a list of hundreds. One of the benefits of this is that I can look back and see how many submissions it generally takes for me to find a good home for one of my stories.

In Fylgia’s case, it was 7. Six markets passed on it before Plasma Frequency, a magazine I’ve worked with before, said yes. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, things were about to get quite bumpy for PM. Running a fiction market is never exactly a fountain of profit, and it’s the kind of business where even a small problem can derail things pretty seriously. What happened to PM was not a small problem. A case of bank fraud sent the magazine into an impossible financial situation, and they were forced to shut down. I was sad, not only because I lost a good home for Fylgia, but mostly because good fiction markets are hard to come by, and it’s a genuine tragedy when one disappears. I think in the back of my head, I always knew PM would be back at some point, or at least I’d like to think that, to excuse my laziness in not sending the story back out anywhere else.

Anyway, long story slightly shorter, Plasma Frequency ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to get back on it feet, and relaunched on January 1st as a quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine. The first issue of the renewed Plasma Frequency is out, and to my great relief and pleasure, Fylgia in the City is still a part of it. Each story is free to read online for one week, while the whole issue is available either in Kindle or print form at Amazon.

This story wouldn’t exist without a fantastic book that inspired and informed it – Nancy Arrowsmith’s Field Guide to the Little People, which introduced me to the Fylgia, a fae species I hadn’t heard of before and one that I immediately knew I wanted to write about.

2015 was fantastic. Yes, I know: terrible and terrifying things happened. The world got worse for some people, and we lost others, and it is not my intent to dance on either the sadness of the former or the graves of the latter. But this was one of my favorite years, and I’m sad to see it go.

Only a small part of this had to do with writing or reading. In fact, I wrote less in 2015 than in either of the preceding two years. But I had decent reasons to be unproductive, which for me is itself an accomplishment. I got married, which will always top my 2015 best-of list. The first seven months of marriage have been amazing. Not always easy or uncomplicated, but always better than before. My beloved soccer team won its first national championship. That may seem, especially to the sports haters among you, to be a minor thing, but it was a big deal to me. Screaming my lungs out at Paddy’s Pub in downtown Portland as the Timbers raised the MLS Cup is far below my wedding day, but it’s still a memory that I will hold tight to for many years.

Now, for the reading part. There were some absolutely amazing stories, in every medium, this past year.

I’ve limited myself to four in each category. As with my earlier monthly post, I have skipped novellas, because I am awful and have read so few. I need to do better on that. This pretty much doubles as my Nebula awards ballot, and I’m excited to see how many of these gems actually grab nominations.

Favorite Novels of 2015

I loved Library at Mount Char so much that when I put it down, I knew it was probably going to be my pick for favorite novel of the year. As much as I love Neil Gaiman, this took a Gaiman-style set of archetypal characters and plopped them into a world like ours more completely than Gaiman has ever done, a world where sometimes people are unreasonable and shoot each other. This book gave me a wonderful set of new gods and monsters, while staying very much fixed to that messy, scary real world.

1. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
2. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
3. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Craynor
4. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Favorite Novelettes of 2015

Fantasy and Science Fiction’s July issue was amazing. The rest of the year was very good, but that issue’s two novelettes managed to stand up all year as two of my four favorites. Tamsin Muir’s The Deepwater Bride still sticks out in my mind as my favorite, but Kowal’s Like Native Things is very close. Ridiculous variety and quality at this length out there this year.

1. The Deepwater Bride by Tamsin Muir (Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine)
2. Like Native Things by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
3. The Curse of the Myrmelon by Matthew Hughes (Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine)
4. The Hunger Tower by Pan Haitian (Clarkesworld)

Favorite Short Stories of 2015

This was always going to be the hardest, just because I read so many short stories in a year. Southard’s superpower story did a better job than I’ve ever read of showing me what a regular flawed person would do with special abilities. It’s never cartoonish, but manages not to slip into the grimdark grit that screen superheroes have been drowning in. Other than that one from Nightmare, Clarkesworld owned this category for me. Robert Reed is becoming one of those writers I will follow anywhere, and Sara Saab’s story jumped onto this list in the last few months, when I thought it was cemented shut.

1. The Cork Won’t Stay by Nate Southard (Nightmare)
2. Cremulator by Robert Reed (Clarkesworld)
3. Somewhere I Have Never Traveled (3rd Sound Remix) by E. Catherine Tobler (Clarkesworld)
4. In the Queue for the Worldship Munawwer by Sara Saab (Clarkesworld)

Favorite Screen Things of 2015

What a year for TV. There were some decent SFF movies, but the small screen completely dominated in my mind. Fury Road was the only big-screen movie that truly blew my mind, something that three or four TV shows were able to do. Sense8 stands out most as changing the game, but Mr. Robot was fantastic and The Flash, though sillier than the others, mostly managed to work with one of the least approachable rogues’ galleries in superhero fiction. I loved all four of these, and this is the first year I can remember that carving out reading time was harder because there was so much good on TV.

1. Sense8 Season 1
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Mr. Robot Season 1
4. The Flash Season 1

I’ve been trying to write fiction for a good many years now. Every once in a while I succeed. But long before I was any sort of writer, I was a reader, and reading genre fiction continues to be one of my greatest joys. Since joining SFWA, I’ve been even more concerned with keeping up with new releases of science fiction and fantasy, because I can now nominate for the Nebula Awards and want to do so in as educated and informed a manner as possible.

And, as a confirmed and unrepentant spreadsheet geek, naturally I track what I read, both to stay aware of the authors that are putting out work I consistently like and to keep a list of my favorites come award season.

In July 2015, just now wrapping up, I read 61 pieces of 2015 award eligible fiction. Most of those were flash and short stories, but it included a few novels and longer-form pieces. The one category I completely neglected in July were novellas. I’d like to concentrate on reading some of those in August.

Here are some of my favorites in the various length categories. Even though the Nebulas and Hugos don’t separate out flash and short stories, I have chosen to do so to further break up what would otherwise be a pretty blocky list. I’m not going to describe the stories. This isn’t a review, and I have no interest in being a reviewer. I just want to publicly appreciate some of the stories that I loved this month.

Flash Fiction

I read a lot of flash (up to 1000 words or so) in July. Three were special enough to really call out in this post.

Favorite: This is the Humming Hour by Kate Heartfield, Daily Science Fiction

Also Loved:
The Pixie Game by Anna Zumbro, Daily Science Fiction
The Wanderer by Karen Lord, Popular Science

Short Stories

All the short genre heavy-hitters (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Asimov’s, etc.) had really solid July issues, but these three stories were the ones that really floored me. Though Nightmare had my favorite, F&SF this month was cover to cover one of the best issues I’ve read in a while and gave me a lot of stories to love.

Favorite: The Cork Won’t Stay by Nate Southard, Nightmare Magazine

Also Loved:
Dixon’s Road by Richard Chwedyk, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine
Paradise and Trout by Betsy James, also from Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine

Novelettes

As we get into the longer categories, I had fewer to choose from, both in terms of what the big SFF markets offer and what I had time to read. But two novelettes really stuck out from the admittedly smaller pack.

Favorite: The Deepwater Bride by Tamsyn Muir, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine

Also Loved:
Like Native Things by Mary Robinette Kowal, Asimov’s

Novellas

Again, bad Ian. I did not read a single SFF novella in July. I leave this section here as a scolding reminder to do better in August.

Novels

The big one, at least in terms of length and certainly in terms of mass-market appeal. I finished three 2015 novels in July, but there’s only one I want to talk about, nay, scream my head off about at every opportunity, and that’s The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. If you have any affection for Gaiman, but sometimes want a story with a little more of our messy world mixed in with the gods and demons, I can’t recommend Mount Char enough. Right now, this is my favorite book of 2015, and it will take some effort to dislodge. Hell, I hope I read a better book this year, but the bar is now high.

I follow a fair number of people on Twitter. Writers, readers, artists, and a whole lot of just plain old folks that at one point or another have said something that made me think they might be worth listening to in the future. Many, though certainly not all of them, have similar politics to my own, which is to say that they lean to the left, at least socially and often economically as well. We agree with many of the same people, and consequently tend to disagree strongly with some of the same people too. Far right wing politics, social conservatism and the like get fairly little time on my stream, and that is by design.

But there’s a recent trend among people I like and agree with that I find increasingly nauseating, and that is the celebration of, and gloating over, tragic acts of those we dislike and disagree with.

The two most notable examples of stories that have led to this phenomenon are allegations of domestic abuse against Bill O’Reilly and the admission of child molestation by Josh Duggar.

Now, before I move on, let me be clear. I find both of these men morally and ethically reprehensible. I disliked them before these news stories, and I am disgusted to a different level by them afterward. I want no confusion – I am not defending either one. They are repulsive. But I have always believed that we should hold ourselves and our allies to a higher standard than our enemies, and I’d like us to be better in how we respond to their crimes.

In short: if a crime has victims, don’t gloat about that crime. Don’t score political points by saying that this is typical Republican behavior, or smile at the cancellation of a show you’ve always hated in the aftermath. These crimes aren’t about you. They aren’t about reinforcing your politics or worldview. They are about the victims and the hell they have been put through by their attackers. I see so little comment on the victims, and so much barely restrained glee at an enemy being taken down a notch, that it frankly turns my stomach.

So, that’s it. Don’t gloat about tragedy. Domestic abuse, child molestation – these are not things to ever cause even a modicum of satisfaction in decent people. If you must comment on them at all, make your first comment an expression of sympathy and support for the victims, and then decide whether, after that, your next comment meets the Buddha’s three standards:

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

I’m as guilty as anyone of speaking outside of these, and in general, I think they’re far too restrictive. Sometimes we can make jokes, we can blabber on about TV shows we like and the meal we just ate, and these things are never necessary. But when there’s a victim involved, those seem like a good set of rules. I for one will try to adhere to them.