An open letter to the outgoing SFWA board of directors re: Theodore Beale

Dear board members—

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about Mr. Beale so I’ll be brief: I don’t know if we still (or yet) have a code of conduct but I can’t imagine that if we did have one his use of the @SFWAAuthors Twitter feed to spread his attack on Nora Jemisin would be allowable under it. (The attack itself, even without dragging in @SFWAAuthors, seems to me to clearly violate sections 3, 4, and probably 7 of the one we used to have. Of course, section 10 of that code kind of pulls most of its teeth.)

I’m writing to ask you to take the strongest steps you think are allowable under our current bylaws to discipline Mr. Beale, whether that’s censure, expulsion, or some other punishment to be named later. At this point I’m not sure anything could be better for SFWA’s public image than to have someone like Mr. Beale outside it shouting loudly about how unwelcome he is in it.

And I’d also like to ask you to please pass on to the incoming board my hope that issues of harrassment, professional misconduct, and putting SFWA into disrepute will be high on their priority list for next year.

With sincere thanks for all your hard work, and sincere regret that the bad behavior of a few individuals has overshadowed it recently in the public eye—

—David Moles

To commit a war crime, press one. To commit a crime against humanity, press two. To be uncharacteristically gullible, press three.

From the earliest Mass Effect marketing to the latest attempts to pour oil on the waters of fan-anger, Bioware has made a big deal out of the game’s supposed hard choices. And they did a good job of making those choices feel hard, in the moment; or anyway risky. But they weren’t, really. If you played the game conscientiously and made sure your options were open you could make the right choice, every time, be sure that you were doing the right thing — or if not sure you were doing the right thing, at least sure you’d rather be wrong your way than the way of the people arguing against you; that you’d happily roll the dice, take your chances, and if it turned out you’d made the wrong choice, deal with the consequences.

You never did, though. The game always let you have your Krogan birthday cake and eat it, too.

So I can see why fans haven’t been entirely happy with the three choices Bioware gives you at the end of Mass Effect 3.

  • To kill an innocent friend, commit genocide against a loyal ally, save the galaxy, and live happily ever after, turn to page 63.
  • To die heroically achieving the goals you’ve shot your greatest enemies for trying to achieve, on the word of another enemy that it’ll save the galaxy and not play into that enemy’s hands in any way at all, we promise, turn to page 57.
  • To die heroically committing the worst crime imaginable against freedom of choice, bodily autonomy, and a good six or seven out of ten of Martha Nussbaum’s ten central capabilities, again on the word of an enemy that it’ll save the galaxy, and that achieving that enemy’s goals is what you really want — honest — despite having proven by your own actions earlier in the game that the enemy’s central thesis is bullshit — turn to page 60.

I chose page 63, as the least out of character of the three options. And since it turns out the murders you’re committing by making that choice don’t actually appear on the screen, you’re free to believe they never happened, and the enemy who told you the consequences of your choice was lying. But I suspect that, canonically, we’ll find out that they did happen. Or — more likely, since it’s harder to get — that page 60 was supposed to be the happy ending. Either way, I don’t really see playing any more Mass Effect games.

Which is a shame, because there was some good stuff in there, on a small scale. But the large scale never really made a lot of sense, and increasingly less (ME2 final boss fight, anyone?) as the series went on; and by the end it was all about the large scale.

I’m not saying none of these endings could be done, and done well, even the bleakest — see The Centauri Device, or Blood Music, or The Urth of the New Sun. But as talented as the Bioware team is, they’re not M. John Harrison nor Greg Bear nor Gene Wolfe, and what they do well isn’t cosmic consequence, it’s character. So I’m not surprised they wrote themselves into a corner they couldn’t gracefully get out of; it was clear early on (“You cannot grasp the nature of our existence!”) that the ending was never going to be all that intellectually satisfying. But I don’t think it was inevitable that the last ten minutes be a different game — and a different genre — from the previous hundred hours of the series.

Вoйнá и Пространство

&#8220A Soldier of the City” will be reprinted in War and Space: Recent Combat, edited by Rich Horton and Sean Wallace. I’m particularly pleased to share a table of contents with Alan DeNiro, whose story, “Have You Any Wool?” Susan Groppi and I originally published in Twenty Epics. (I was disappointed not to see Yoon Ha Lee’s “Hopscotch” from that same book, but I see W&S:RC includes her “Between Two Dragons” so no harm done.)

On an unrelated note, it’s increasingly clear that, collectively, Rich Horton and John Joseph Adams are the new Martin H. Greenberg.

المترجم

The bad news is I still default to writing about depressive loners. The good news is I can now write about depressive loners in multiple languages.

المترجم

قد أصبح المترجم وحيد ببطء. خدع وحده. قد فضل المترجم دائما الفلسفة على الترجمة، ولكن الآن فضل حقا التلفزة أكثر من كلهما. كان عندهم زورق صغير وأزرق الذي لم يستخدمه. قد تمتعوا المترجم وزوجتهم بالتزلج على الماء. الأن دهب نادرا قريب من البحر. في الصباح تفرج على كرة اليد وبعد الضهر تفرج على تنس الطاولة. نام كثيرا. كان المترجم سعيد رسميا.

The Translator

The translator had become alone slowly. He deceived himself. The translator had always preferred philosophy to translation but now, in truth, he preferred television over either. He had a small blue boat that he never used. The translator and his wife had enjoyed water-skiing. Now he rarely went near the ocean. In the morning he watched handball and in the evening he watched table-tennis. He slept a lot. Officially, the translator was happy.

(Fifty extra points if you can guess what part of speech we’re learning this chapter. Two hundred and fifty if you can guess the subject of this chapter’s text.)

ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL

Attention conservation notice: extended bitching about certain video games, which will mean nothing if you haven’t played them.

Six or seven hours in to Mass Effect 3 and pretty disappointed so far. The biggest innovation in the original Mass Effect was the dialogue, but in ME3 they’ve apparently decided that so long as a conversation doesn’t alter the course of the plot (or at least give you Paragon/Renegade points) they might as well just railroad you through it with no dialogue tree. The result is that the Commander Shepard I’m watching on the screen feels like Bioware’s Shepard, not the one I’ve been playing for two games.

And it does feel like I’m watching, not playing. I hope it’ll improve — maybe they blew the budget on acts two and three? (The cut scene where the Asari councillor tells you the Asari won’t be showing up for the summit, for instance, wedged into the end of the Turian chapter for no good reason, just screams budget cuts.) But right now it’s awfully railroad, and compressed in a way that makes it feel disjointed too. The beginning of ME2 was railroad, but it opened up quickly, and in the railroad segments, when you met your old ME1 party members it was a revelation and it meant something. Here it just feels like filler.

If I was in the mood just to shoot things and watch cut scenes, I’d be playing Halo or Gears of War, not Mass Effect. As it is, if I wasn’t a completist and hadn’t paid full price I’d probably put it down and go back to Old Republic.

地帯兵器コロンビーン

As seen on Twitter: Guess it’s safe to announce my story “Chitai Heiki Koronbīn” will be in The Future is Japanese, edited by Nick Mamatas, due out this May from Haikasoru.

For those of you keeping score at home, “CHK” is a sort of follow-on to a flash piece called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Giant Robots,” which I wrote for the 40th anniversary issue of Daruma, the student-run literary magazine of the American School in Japan. It’s flash, it’s short; you can read it here. I’m not sure just where Maddy Flores is going, but I don’t think the journey’s over yet.

And so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Last month the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America gave a Nebula award to a piece that contained no science worth speaking of. There was very little fiction in it either, if fiction is the narrative of imagination; whatever images might have been in its author’s mind, what made it onto the page was determinedly unimaginative, and less narrated than vaguely gestured at. It put forward no fantasy, unless the fantasy that the world is an uncomplicated place populated chiefly by straw men and contrived examples is a fantasy. What writing was in it was mostly bad.

I suppose that as much as there was any of anywhere in it, there was some America. Maybe that’s something.

Let me make a point up front because if I let it go till later someone is bound to get confused. Yes, I am a Californian who deeply resents Temple Square’s interference in the affairs of my native state. Yes, I am a postmodern materialist who hasn’t been to church in twenty years, could probably count the number of times he has been on his fingers, has never believed in salvation through Christ Jesus except for a period of about twelve hours once back when the Berlin wall was still standing.

But I read Gene Wolfe, and find The Urth of the New Sun deeply moving. I read Connie Willis and rejoice with her characters at the hope of eternity offered in Passage and the hope of a compassionate divine plan offered in To Say Nothing of the Dog, even though in the bright light of day neither is a hope I share. I am in the middle of revising a novel in which an aquatic hive mind and a million-year-old alien warship are willing converts to Islam. Agnostic though I may be, I have no stones to throw here. I would welcome a thoughtful and inventive and well-crafted story of a devout Mormon standing up for his faith and in solidarity with his alien fellow believers against ancient and perhaps implacable powers far from home.

But this is not that story.

I actually find myself hoping that the reason “Leviathan” won the Nebula is that there is a constituency out there of Mormon writer-readers who are desperate for any science fiction that speaks to their experience, even when it has nothing to say beyond validating that their experience exists. That would give me some hope in turn that we might eventually see a good Mormon science fiction, a science fiction worthy of the Mormons I’ve known, who whatever our political and religious differences have been, most of them anyway, good-hearted, level-headed people whose unassuming natures often concealed a wry humor and a wealth of well-observed stories. The young men and not a few young women who carry the Mormon faith out into the world, learn difficult languages, go nearly alone into often-hostile places and make connections with people about as unlike the people they grew up with as it is possible to be — or who just go to small hostile Midwestern towns where the Methodists and Lutherans and Episcopalians and Catholics and Presbyterians can all agree to have a monthly prayer breakfast open to “any Christian denomination,” so long as that definition doesn’t include Mormons, where they happily do yard work for little old ladies about as likely to convert as the Pope — are brave souls doing what they think is right, and my hat is off to them. They deserve a science fiction that reflects the complexity of their lives and the world they’ve seen, and I hope some day they get it.

But this is not that science fiction.

And I don’t think the desire for that science fiction is enough to explain it.

Here is an interesting fact about the Nebula awards: contra what you might find implied on Wikipedia, and regardless of what you might read on the SFWA web site about the history of the award, there is nothing in the Nebula rules that says or even implies that any Nebula award is for the “best” anything. Unlike the Hugo award categories, which are established in section 3.3 of the constitution of the World Science Fiction Society as Best Novel, Best Short Story, and so on, the Nebula categories are merely Novel. Novella. Novelette. Short Story. The nominees in each category are only the otherwise eligible works that receive the most nominations from the membership, the winners the works that receive the most votes. No guidance is given to the members on what to nominate or vote for, or why.

I would like to say this explains a lot. That it explains how a story with no characters, no setting, no invention, no real speculation, very little plot and a bare sliver of theme — a story that nonetheless managed to drag itself out over 8000 words — was given one of the top awards in the field.

But I can’t. This is not the first very bad story to win a major science fiction award* in recent years (though it is, perhaps thanks to recent procedural changes, the worst to win the Nebula for novelette in many a year). It is not even a new type of bad story. It is representative of a type of story that seems to be gaining in popularity as the traditional science fiction community ages at something like a year per year.   Setting barely sketched-in, parasitic on reader memories of better-written worlds. Characters that are really just placeholders, the few who speak either author mouthpieces or caricatures of implausible opposing positions, all of them lacking substance, interiority, consistency, basic humanity.  Gestures toward “daring” that are no more than comfortable recapitulations of contrarian reader prejudices. ‘Ideas’ that were old and tired when John W. Campbell was young. Stories stripped of any complexity that would make them interesting or worthwhile, tables tilted always in the author’s favor.

If this is what we want, then we deserve every drop of the contempt we imagine the world beyond science fiction holds for us. If this is what we want, then there is something wrong with science fiction, as a community. I don’t know just what it is, if there’s more to it than fear of the future and fear of the unknown and fear of old age and fear of death; I don’t know what to do about it, or even if anything should be done about it.

I only know that if this is what science fiction is, then I won’t mourn when it passes.


* I am reminded that “Article of Faith” did not in fact win the Hugo for which it was nominated. On the other hand, “Travels With My Cats” did win in 2005. Though as depressingly derivative, inward-looking and cloyingly sentimental as “Cats” is, it is at least better-written than “Leviathan.”

Draft

This is the first draft of a novel. Parts of it are pretty good. A lot of it is a godawful mess, and there’s something essentially arbitrary about calling it done. But it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end, in 90,000-odd words, even if reading them straight through is a bit like a long drive in the dark over washed-out roads.

This is a box with the first draft of a novel in it. It’s a European box meant for A4 paper, but you can cram 8½″×11″ into it if you’re brisk.

This is the drawer the box goes in. I used to keep printer paper in there, but I’ve got a whole lot less of that than I did a couple of hours ago.

It’s going to stay the drawer for a bit, while I work on some other things. We’ll see what it looks like when I take it out again.

Seven Cities of Gold and other news

Not all new, but all new enough. Seven Cities of Gold

  • will be reprinted in Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eighth Annual Edition, due out in July.
  • will also be “reprinted” in Allan Kaster’s The Year’s Top Short SF Novels, due out again most likely in July, in e-book and audio editions from AudioText. The audio version will be read by Nicola Barber.
  • got a very nice write-up from Hannah Strom-Martin over at Strange Horizons, in which she says, among other things: “That Moles manages to present this alternate world so convincingly in a mere seventy pages is bound to result in accusations of genius.” As yet I’m not aware of any such accusations, but I’ll start preparing a defense just in case.

I’ll also be reading from Seven Cities at FogCon here in San Francisco, at 3:00 p.m. Saturday March 11th in the Washington Room at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway Hotel on Van Ness. Might throw in a bit of “A Soldier of the City” as well.

I’m also scheduled for two panels:


How to Build Your Own City (Without an Urban Planning Degree): Part II,
the Present

Families farming in the urban center of Detroit. Poorly funded
infrastructure causing the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis. What’s
happening today in our modern cities? How can we handle these issues in
fiction?

Saturday, 10:30-11:45 A.M.

David Moles, Courtney Eckhardt, Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Starr

Let’s Build a City

Right before your very eyes (and with your vigorous suggestions from the
audience!) our panelists will create a city out of nothing but the room’s
imagination. Will it sit in the crater of an active volcano? Will it have
different districts for people to live in based on their culinary
preferences? Come and find out…

Saturday 8:00-9:15 P.M.

David Moles, Nabil Hijazi, Steven Schwartz, Ann Wilkes


I signed up for a poster session, too, but I don’t know if those are happening or, if they are, what I’m going to do with mine. Possibly something involving Lego.

Hopefully I will be able to attend all of these; the day job promises to be heating up that weekend, so we’ll have to see.