One man, one proxy

Often when people, at least some leftish people of my acquaintance, get a political result they don't like, they start talking about flaws in how votes are counted. Proportional representation! Elimination of the Electoral College! Epistocracy! There has to be something to straighten things out.

But, of course, both sides were aiming at a target in a known location. To try to redraw the target around where you arrow hit and saying that location makes more sense ignores the fact that, if you do, your opponents will also be aiming at that target next time, and there is no guarantee at all that you will still get closer to it than they will.

Still, there have been interesting oddball ways of counting votes and assigning representation in history, and while they will not change our politics, our fiction can certainly still use them. Colonial Maryland had, at least for awhile, a particularly interesting system.

You can exercise your vote, or assign it to someone else

 The Founding of Maryland

The Founding of Maryland

According to Edmund Morgan, in his book on the rise of the necessary myth that representative government actually represents us all, Inventing the People, The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, colonial Maryland in the 1630s experimented with an interesting proxy system for voting.

If you were an adult male, you could go to the assembly yourself. Or you could assign your vote to someone else, who would go to the assembly, and vote his vote and yours and those of anyone else who had given him their proxy.

As Morgan describes someone going to the assembly with these proxy votes:

He did not represent anyone who had not specifically and individually empowered him; and a man could even change his mind, revoke the assignment of his vote, and attend in person...One could also transfer one's proxy, as it was called, from one man to another after the session began.

So the assembly did not have a specified number of attendees, but was attended in spirit by everyone who had entrusted his proxy to someone else.

The result was a politically bizarre situation: within the assembly some men had only their own vote, while others had the votes of all their proxies in addition to their own. On one occasion an aspiring politician named Giles Brent had enough proxies (seventy-three) to constitute a majority of the assembly all by himself.

The personal connection

Inventing the People really digs into how weird the idea of representative government really is--and how conceptually fragile. It is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. If we cease to agree, the fiction disappears. The book, while written in 1988, has a lot to say to our current era, where a lot of people are questioning the fictions essential to the survival of our system of government.

Remember how that snotty kid pointing out that the Emperor wore no clothes caused the government's collapse, and his country's conquest by brutal and oppressive neighbors? I bet he's sorry now.

What makes you feel genuinely represented?

Do you expect your elected representative to do exactly what you want, or are you hiring a skilled expert to make decisions that you recognize you are too lazy or ignorant to make yourself?

Sometimes there's a good reason for procrastination

  Actually, I regard it as more of an art

Actually, I regard it as more of an art

Often the hardest thing is getting started. You're faced with a vast, complex, tedious, and frustration-filled project. It needs to be done, but the thought if it is so unpleasant that you'd rather do almost anything else. So you put it off and you put it off until the consequences of further delay are so threatening that you establish what the first doable task is, sit down, and dive in.

And you find out that in fact...it is just as awful and miserable as you thought, except that it takes much longer, because you spend hours making mistakes and then trying to recover from them, trying to figure out why numbers don't match, or changes mysteriously appear in places you could have sworn were immune from accidental change.

Because sometimes you've put something off for good reason. In its little stories of humble success, the procrastination kind of slides over these fairly frequent circumstances.

Today I did not one, but two things I was putting off. One involved money, and involved finding a bunch of long-lost documentation, calculating a very large spreadsheet, and chasing someone else down to contribute something. It was miserable, and lost me hours, but I had to do it, and the only way was to essentially put off necessary work.

Then, all evening, I did some of that necessary work, with an unintuitive web interface I don't use very often. Nothing displayed properly, files vanished into mysterious URLs, what displayed wouldn't change when I changed the text, because what displayed was a duplicate in another location.

Now I'm done with both projects, and don't really feel at all satisfied. Maybe later I will but...really, did it need to be that hard?

I was totally right to evade these projects. The only sad thing is that I couldn't evade them forever.

What projects have you recently gotten to that you kind of wish you hadn't?

Or is there one you want me to tell you not to start?

My Readercon Schedule

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I have three panels at Readercon next weekend, which is kind of my sweet spot. I like doing them, and I like doing enough work that I contribute to the convention, but I don't like doing too many. I'm not particularly extroverted, and so don't like being on stage too much. Plus, it's pretty easy to get tired and be boring, rambling, and dumb on a panel.

As a writer, I figure I am on a panel to entertain, not sell, at least not directly. The more interesting I seem, the better it is. So getting tired and "holding forth" as so many of us have done, is really a bad idea.

I did not get a moderator role, despite the fact that I put myself down for it a number of times, including on at least one of these panels. I sometimes evade knowing a lot about a topic by being the narrator. Then I can be curious and ask questions I actually want the answers to.

I'm done with my work by Friday night, giving me time to hang out with friends. If you're at the con, please do find me, even if I've never met you before.

What Comes After Late Capitalism?
Salon C
Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:00 PM

The current American economic climate is often referred to as "late capitalism," suggesting that capitalism as we know it is on its way out and will soon be transformed beyond recognition or replaced altogether. What can futurists and fabulists imagine for how that might happen, and what might take its place? How would postcapitalism look not only in fiction but in our lives, transforming publishing, reading, and conventions?

  • T.X. Watson moderator
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • Romie Stott
  • Christopher Brown
  • Robyn Bennis

The Bureaucracy of Fantasy
Salon 5
Friday, July 13, 2018 4:00 PM

Authors such as Daniel Abraham, Max Gladstone, and Ken Liu have received attention for incorporating bureaucratic concepts into their fantasy works, but fantasy frequently has bureaucratic underpinnings that escape notice because they're so familiar: the nuances of who inherits a title or a throne, the specific wording of a prophecy, detailed contracts with demons. Why do some bureaucracies feel more incongruous in fantastical contexts than others? What are some tricks for making dry, nitpicky topics exciting and comprehensible?

  • Kenneth Schneyer moderator
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • John Wiswell
  • Victoria Sandbrook
  • Phenderson Djèlí Clark

Dorothy Dunnett, Literary Legend
Salon C
Friday, July 13, 2018 8:00 PM

Alaya Dawn Johnson called Dorothy Dunnett "the literary equivalent of the Velvet Underground": not many people read her, but everyone who did wrote a book. A painter, researcher, and opera lover, she wrote what she wanted to read: epic historical drama. Come learn what our panelists and many other writers learned from Dunnett.

  • Kate Nepveu moderator
  • Victoria Janssen
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • Lila Garrott

Can causality violation save this marriage? Dexter Palmer's Version Control

Version Control

Dexter Palmer

Science fiction is best when it is about the near future, and thus, about now. Too often, we're writing about situations distant in space and time, so characters and dialog have some warrant to be unrealistic. I'm certainly guilty of a lot of that.

Palmer writes better than most people in our genre, and Version Control held my attention from start to finish. Palmer pushes both detailed observation of specific personality types, social and professional milieus, and stages of life, and wider-scale cultural criticism, accomplishing both with real panache.

Is Version Control science fiction?

Aside from the causality violation device (please don't call it a time machine--this bit of fiddly correction is a funny recurrent theme in the book), Version Control has a variety of science-fictional trappings, from self-driving cars to a President who can speak intimately, if a bit salesmanishly, to every one of his fellow citizens.

But these are merely external features, not integrated with the basic story at all. It could have happened here and now, and really, it does happen here and now. A car crash plays a role in the plot, and Palmer has to do all sorts of explaining how it happened despite the safety precautions, but it is just a car crash, something that happens here and now all the time. This is an occasional flaw of various forms of SF, particularly alternate world SF. I remember an alternate world novel where there was a kind of magic, and there was a terrible, concealed disaster at some facility. When you dug into it, it was an industrial accident. Those used to happen all the time. Terrible, dramatic, interesting...but nothing deeply existential. A bad marriage is painful, whether you're wearing a gray flannel suit or a suit of armor.

But adding these kind of nifty (though usually not as original as they think) features is what more literary types do when the decide to "do" SF: what they are really doing is not extrapolation, but satire. There's always a covert jokey element to it, a lack of seriousness. Palmer takes his basic device and the team working on it seriously indeed, but he does not take his world seriously.

Now, a lot of SF is, at its root, satirical. Both satire and SF have reductio ad absurdum as a basic technique. Philip K. Dick, for example, was a satirist. But he inhabited the worlds that he created, and took them seriously as emotional spaces separate from our own. I guess that's the basic difference between mainstream and genre writers. Genre writers like a separate world, while mainstream writers find the very notion of such a world pointless and even ridiculous, and so merely distort the one in which we actually find ourselves, while ensuring that the reader remains grounded in the fact that it is, in fact, fundamentally our world.

The SF elements outside the basic conceit are not a big deal either way. Don't let them bother you, but don't expect them to startle you either.

What I learned from this book

Palmer knows how to pace things. Mostly that means not going too fast. Now that I think about my own work I realize that I worry that slowing down will bore the reader. That is a sign of not trusting the reader. Palmer does trust the reader. The main POV character, Rebecca, gets a post-college slow period where she hangs out with her girlfriends, and then an extended description of how she tries online dating. Each of these sequences is a delight to read, because Palmer observes closely, and builds suspense into the choice of whether to take another drink--even if you pretty sure the answer is going to be "yes". Every little emotional transaction has a bit of suspense, and a bit of a payoff. The pace actually feels fairly quick, because there are interesting little things going on on every page.

Now, I'm not sure how much understanding that is really going to help me. "Put interesting things on every page" is an aspiration, but a hard one to achieve.

What do you think is a diagnostic difference between mainstream and genre fiction?

There are probably as many answers to this as there are readers, so I'm interested in being argued with.

My Boskone panels

I’m at Boskone In a couple of weeks. I’m moderating the Noir and Marketing panels, something I like to do—I like to think I’m a solid, mildly authoritarian moderator who keeps things moving. And the Marketing one will reveal to me all the things I still don’t know about how to promote myself as a writer.

If you go, be sure to look me up.

Angels in Speculative Fiction

16 Feb 2018, Friday 15:00 - 16:00, Marina 4 (Westin)

Angels in fantasy, science fiction, and horror aren't always what you might expect. There are the ones that behave, well, angelically, and the fallen angels — but also bad-tempered angels, angels from advanced civilizations, and more. What attracts writers (and readers) to this motif? What common themes, like redemption or the Fall, recur? Are there novel ways to write an angel?

Bob Kuhn, Alexander Jablokov, Victoria Sandbrook , Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Walt Williams

Future of Noir

16 Feb 2018, Friday 19:00 - 20:00, Marina 4 (Westin)

Noir (the French word for “black”) began as a Hollywood subgenre depicting hard-boiled, cynical characters in sleazy settings. It’s certainly found a new home in urban fantasy. But is the murky world of noir inherently incompatible with the sleek, shiny surfaces of science fiction? Or as our visions of the fruits of science and technology grow darker, does noir have a future as a main strain of SF?

Alexander Jablokov (M) , Nik Korpon , Christopher Irvin, Vikki Ciaffone, Laurence Raphael Brothers

Group Reading: Cambridge SF Workshop

Format: Reading

16 Feb 2018, Friday 20:00 - 21:30, Griffin (Westin)

A rapid-fire reading by the members of the long-running Cambridge SF Workshop, featuring writers Heather Albano, James L. Cambias, F. Brett Cox, Gillian Daniels, Alex Jablokov, Steve Popkes, Ken Schneyer (M), Sarah Smith, and Cadwell Turnbull.

Heather Albano, James Cambias , F. Brett Cox , Gillian Daniels , Alexander Jablokov , Steven Popkes , Kenneth Schneyer , Sarah Smith

Non-Genre Fiction That Inspires Us

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 15:00 - 16:00, Marina 3 (Westin)

We’re always talking about icons such as Mary Shelley, Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others who breathed air into our literary lungs — but what about non-genre fiction? Our panelists discuss some of their favorite authors from outside the SF/F/H field, who have inspired them as writers and readers.

Kenneth Schneyer (M), Tamora Pierce, Alexander Jablokov , Theodora Goss, F. Brett Cox

Marketing Uphill

18 Feb 2018, Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, Harbor II (Westin)

Sometimes marketing for writers feels like walking uphill to school barefoot in the snow. Does it ever get easier? At what point is enough enough for you and your social network? What about live events? How much should you invest, and how do you measure the return? Our panelists share their experiences and tips for managing your marketing.

Alexander Jablokov (M), Melanie Meadors, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Joshua Bilmes , Craig Miller

Trying to take advantage of insomnia

For many people, insomnia involves not being able to get to sleep. Mine, when it manifests is in the form of early morning awakening. Its incidence comes in waves. Sometimes I have no problem for weeks at a time. Then there will be a period when I do wake up at 3 am or so, but fall back asleep almost immediately. Then comes a period, such as the one I'm going through now, when I wake up at 4 or 4:30 am or so. My usual wake time is 5:30.

So, this week, I've been hitting the writing chair way early. That can be great--I can get my fiction stint in, then turn to client work, and not have a time crunch later in the day when exercise bumps up against other required tasks.

But sometimes it also gives me an excuse not to work. "I have an extra couple of hours!" I, for some reason, say. "That means I deserve to goof off." It doesn't help that self-control is lessened when I haven't had enough sleep--and willpower is not something I have an oversupply of to begin with.

I do have a project I want to get done before I go on vacation (a revision of a novel about my detective, Sere Glagolit), so today, Saturday, I've been working since about 5. And I'm ready to take a break!

So, using the time makes it valuable, giving in to temptation and goofing off makes it a curse. You might think that decision would be easy.... But if you are realistic, you know how hard it is.

Death threats from vegans

Being a jerk seems to be some kind of survival mechanism--and everyone seems to be struggling for survival. I'm confused as to why.

A few weeks ago, the guys on one of my favorite podcasts, Slate Money made some kind of mild joke about vegans. The result was rage, denunciation, and resolutions to stop listening to the podcast. Jordan Weissman had to take some time in the podcast a bit later make a point of apologizing for angering everyone.

Then I read an article on Clean Eating.

Before we go any further, some calibration: I find almost all dietary schemes weird and annoying. I have good friends who are paleo, or vegetarian, or what have you. They are invariably really careful not to impose their notions on others, to work with the food available, and to be good friends and colleagues rather than whiny pains in the butt. I recognize that food has implications far beyond nutrition, and speaks to our social selves, our bodies, and our relations to the living world. I do get that. But like everything else in modern society, it seems to have been weaponized.

Anyway, now that you know not to listen to me, that clean eating article had some delightfully typical interactions in it.

The article, Why we fell for clean eating, provides a nice summary of the issues, so read it. Clean eating, like many self-improvement-through-activities-that-don't-actually-demand-you-improve-yourself schemes, is promulgated by clean-scrubbed beautiful young women.

One such woman, Jordan Younger, found herself having health problems on a pure vegan diet, so backed off of it a bit by eating fish. She came, um, clean about that choice. A subset of her Instagram followers (many people seem to have a lot of time to scroll through pictures of other people's food) became enraged.

She lost followers “by the thousands” and received a daily raft of angry messages, including death threats. Some responded to her confession that she was suffering from an eating disorder by accusing her of being a “fat piece of lard” who didn’t have the discipline to be truly “clean”.

Bee Wilson, the article's author, had a debate with a clean eating author at a literary festival, enraging the audience, who had come for spiritual succor and got a discussion about how nutrition actually works, something they in no way wanted.

On Twitter that night, some Shaw fans made derogatory comments about how McGregor and I looked, under the hashtag #youarewhatyoueat. The implication was that, if we were less photogenic than Shaw, we clearly had nothing of any value to say about food (never mind the fact that McGregor has degrees in biochemistry and nutrition).

It's startling how pretty much everyone who wants to disagree with a woman has to find a way to insult her personal appearance. This is as true on the left as the right, and as true among women as among men. Orthorexics are the worst in this regard, because they feel that in some way the right food consumed in the right way enables them to transcend the body altogether.

Anyway, as I said, this has not hit me in my personal life. Despite what you might here, pretty much everyone around here (Cambridge, Mass) enjoys food, but does not obsess about it, and those who have specific dietary requirements do their best not to make it seem that their strength is your weakness. So I go online to get outraged by things. And to come up with clickbait headlines.

The miracle of dentistry

I've mentioned it before, but I'll say it again: vaccines and not pooping in our drinking water may account for most of the gains of modern medicine, but dentistry is an interventionist treatment that actually works, and is constantly undervalued.

Over last weekend, one of my rear molars started to hurt. By Sunday night it hurt so much I could barely sleep. Fortunately, my dentist could take me Monday morning. He examined me, found that the molar had cracked, and sent me off to an endodontist that had a slot for me in the next hour.

There the endodontist examined the tooth, determined that it was worth saving, shot lidocaine into my gums and went to work.

This was my first endodontic procedure (root canal). It's extremely anxiety provoking. You're leaned all the way back, your face is covered with the rubbery blue sheet of a dental dam, you can't talk, you can barely breathe, and you see the mist of abrading tooth enamel, as well as hearing and feeling the work of the drill.

But it didn't take long. It's now packed with a temporary filling. She will take a look Monday to determine whether, in fact, it is salveagable. I couldn't tell if she was naturally optimistic, or giving me a real read on the probabilities.

Two things about this.

One: the cost. I'm a freelancer, and don't have dental insurance. The cost was almost a week's earnings, payable in advance. I put it on my credit card. And that's not the end of the expense, because if it is indeed saved, I need to get a crown on it. I have no idea how much that's going to cost.

Bad teeth are one of the real horrors of being poor. Consider this NYT story about a three-day open-air free clinic. It starts with a man grateful to have 18 teeth pulled. He's been in pain from untreated cavities for years. I have some savings, but this one hit me pretty hard. Many people have a lot less flexibility. If I hadn't been able to afford it, would I just have gone home, suffered, had the tooth eventually crack all the way through, and then, finally, gotten it pulled?

In discussions of healthcare, dentistry is very much in the background, as if it was some kind of cosmetic thing, or a "nice to have". Because a bad tooth won't immediately kill you? Most of healthcare is not about preventing imminent death, it's about helping you live without pain, without impairment, without increasing weakness. I'm not even really sure why dental work is not regarded as "healthcare".

Second. I asked my endodontist about something I'd heard: that endodontists get specific calluses from their work. I thought it might be in along the forefinger or something, but she said they did, on the thumb and forefinger, from using their delicate instruments. Then she became very self conscious and remarked that she also overdue for a manicure. This transformation from competent but warm healthcare professional to individual with some personal vanity was quite startling, and more than a bit charming as well.

Then I had to bicycle home a fair distance in the pouring rain (the endodontist was a fair way from my dentist in a direction away from my apartment), take some pain killers, and have a nap. I've been tired all week, whether from this tooth adventure or just general malaise.

Note, apropos of the cost: I don't expend healthcare to be free, and don't think it should be, save for the poor. I went from a person in agony from a cracked tooth to someone without pain, and with the potential of a repaired tooth, in short order, after some work from a skilled professional. Sure, I feel like I spent a lot of money to just not get quite back to the state I was in previously. But guess what: that's pretty great! Pretending it shouldn't cost any money seems to be a mistake, to me.

Emotionally out of step

The other night I saw the movie A Monster Calls at a friend's house. It's about a boy, maybe 12 years old, whose father has left and whose mother is seriously ill. He's bullied at school, drifts through is days in his imagination, and eventually ends up living with his emotionally distant grandmother in a house where he is not allowed to touch anything. Oh, and he's visited by a talking tree man from the nearby churchyard who says he will tell him three stories, and then wants to hear one in return.

Everyone else was deeply moved by the movie, and several people were weeping near the end. Afterward, others talked about the good the animation of the tree man was.

I felt like an inadequate human being, because I really hated this movie.

This is not me. Really.Every story the tree man tells the boy, Connor, comes complete with explanatory apparatus that makes clear what wholesome and psychologically empowering lesson the story imparts. Two are vaguely fairy-tale-like (one about a royal family with major communication problems, the second about a rationalist and therefore inevitably tragedy-bound parson, and a sullen apothecary with a failing business), the third just a nub to incent action in the story. And they aren't even stories, really. Without the excess commentary, they are just situations. And they rely a great deal on some nice watercolor illustrations--which Connor, the boy, can't actually see, because he's being told the stories, not watching them on the screen, making his experience even less adequate.

Beware of stories with explicit morals. Stories can bring us through conflict to resolution, but they allow us to do at least some of the work ourselves. At the end Connor is forced to bark out his realization of how he is coming to terms with his own frailty in the face of tragedy.

The tree man...oh, and the animation is so hyper-realistic there is nothing at all magical, ambiguous, or even disturbing about this big piece of shrubbery at all. Anyway, the tree man is voiced by Liam Neeson, who does a good job with some pretty wretched lines. I kept imagining him barking at someone who indicated some doubt about one of his stories, "I will find you, and I will explain it to you!"

 You really don't want him to do that

And he's a yew tree, which finally explains a mysterious verse from my childhood.

So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, adieu, adieu, adieu, to yew and yew and yewAs if the over-explained stories weren't enough, there comes a point where two characters who have been in conflict hug each other in the face of tragedy as "This is a big emotional moment, folks!" music rises.

Well, now I'm just being kind of mean. But this kind of thing takes all the fun out of...well, pretty much everything.

But I do have to emphasize that mine is a clearly minority opinion, among critics as among audiences. I am allergic to overt authorial manipulation, but many people welcome it. But that's an essay for another day.

 

 

 

"So, how's the novel going?"

Writers aren't exceptionally mean, even to other writers, but it does somehow seem that way, because of the way we leave our egos exposed. No wonder others are tempted to at least give them a good swift kick now and again.

"How's the novel going?" (unless you know the writer is a demon of productivity, in which case there are other ways of getting their goat) is one of the great questions. It seems to come out of genuine interest, maybe really does come out of genuine interest, but a certain passive aggressiveness that leads, when deployed appropriately, to dismay, depression, and defensiveness. Well played!

Yeah, I asked a couple of people that at Readercon. You may ask why, if we treat each other so badly do we hang out with each other? First, it's because many of us are genuinely entertaining, at least to each other. Second, by the same token, no one else finds us as entertaining as we do.

And I did have a great time last weekend, and had to take a long nap the day after to recover.

My time at Odyssey

Last week I did a guest author stint at the great Odyssey Writing Workshop, held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. Odyssey is kind of a bootcamp for people honing their skills in all areas of fantastic fiction. For six weeks, 16 writers write, read, think about, discuss, eat, and sleep fantastic fiction, under the stern yet kind direction of Jeanne Cavelos, who created the enterprise.

I envy them. I never did anything like this earlier in my career, which might really have helped.

Jeanne likes to have a writer or editor come in every week, to talk about the writer's life, and help critique varius students' work. Since writing is very much a part-time enterprise for me, which I anticipate for most of the students, I focused on how to manage that, and what to expect.

I'm not a writing teacher. It's just not a topic where I think I have an enormous amount to add. And it takes me forever to come up with something useful or interesting to say. This year my topic was literary SF, which is just crazy as a topic. Usually I do plot, which I can kind of fake. But it was kind of fun researching, thinking about how literary fiction differs from commercial fiction, what writers should pay attention to, and how to have fun with it.

After a couple of weeks drafting my lecture, writing critiques of a bunch of manuscripts, giving my lecture, having individual conferences with students, and in general talking about writing for a day and a half, I was exhausted. I came home and slept much of the weekend.

Jeanne does this all day every day for the entire session. It's really her baby, she knows everyone is depending on her, and she is enormously present for everyone at all times. I just can't fathom it.

This is about as much instructing as I can manage with my limited energy and even more limited neurons, but I do enjoy it, and end up meeting a lot of interesting people. I worked with some fine writers, and hope to see them in print soon.

My Readercon schedule

I will be at Readercon again this year, July 13-16.  If you want to catch me, go ahead, I'm not that fast.  Otherwise, these are the panels I will be on:

Thursday July 13

8:00 PM    5    How to Moderate a Panel. Alex Jablokow, Victoria Janssen (leader), Kathleen Jennings, Tom Purdom, Kenneth Schneyer. The moderator plays a crucial role in making panels run smoothly and enjoyably for participants and attendees. This panel will cover how to get questions rather than comments from audience members, how to deal with a panelist who goes off the rails, and how to make sure everyone gets equal time, among many other topics.

Friday July 14

3:00 PM    AT    Autographs. Alex Jablokow, Yoon Lee.

6:00 PM    C    The Catastrophe of Success. Alex Jablokow, Jim Kelly (leader), Matt Kressel, Paul Levinson, Eric Schaller. In a 1947 essay called "The Catastrophe of Success," Tennessee Williams wrote, "We are like a man who has bought up a great amount of equipment for a camping trip... but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey.... Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt." This is a very 1940s SFnal way of looking at technology and the world. We are in Williams's future, with 70 years of perspective to add to his still-relevant observation. What has changed in the human relationship to technology since 1947, and what has stayed the same? How can present-day SF explore this tension between what technology allows us to do and the fear that holds us back?

Saturday July 15

2:00 PM    5    The Life Cycle of Political SF. Dennis Danvers, Alex Jablokow, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Sabrina Vourvoulias, T. X. Watson. SF writers have often written deeply political books and stories; some stand the test of time, while others become dated very quickly. John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, and Ursula K. Le Guin's "The New Atlantis," to name just a few, directly addressed major issues of their day and are still relevant now—but differently. What affects how political SF ages and is read decades after its publication? What are today’s explicitly political books, and how do we expect them to resonate decades in the future?
I hope to see you there.

The passions of Chalcedonians and Monophysites

Every commentator notes how partisan the American public has become. Positions seem continually more extreme, blue is bluer, red is redder, and no one is interested in what the other side has to say.

This may well be true. I live in a genteel blue area, and do know a lot of people with predictable doctrines (and many women I encounter specify adherence to these doctrines as a prerequisite for dating them), but no one seems particularly enraged at their opponents or uncomprehending of their positions.

So that leads to the natural question: what would the period after the Council of Chalcedon have been like if someone in Late Antiquity had invented Twitter?

Chalcedon, in 451, established the Orthodox definition of the nature of Christ, the same definition used by modern Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. But some found this an unwelcome compromise. Their position was known (I gather pejoratively) as Monophysitism. Their descendants are Coptic and Oriental Orthodox churches, including the Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syriac churches.

Christological wrangling seems to have fallen out of fashion (I gather it really requires Greek to be clear enough to fight about), and I won't go into the details they were squabbling about here. But they really did take it seriously, and the more heavily Monophysite areas of Egypt and Syria were always in conflict with Chacedonian Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Balkans. They would denounce each other, riot against each other, depose each other's bishops, and write endless screeds against each other.

Periodically, an Emperor would try to do something about it. Zeno came up with the Henoticon, which tried, unsuccessfully to paper over the differences by being unclear about what they were. Anastasius, a pious Monophysite, had no patience with extremists and exiled both overzealous Monophysites and Chalcedonians, finding them both tiresome. Justinian, who knew everything, tried to persuade everyone to an elaborate compromise position involving the Three Chapters (something else probably not worth the effort to understand), but even this late antique Woodrow Wilson was unable to achieve his goal. Justinian's Empress, Theodora, was a fervent Monophysite, and never compromised either.

Anastasius, by the way is one of my favorite Emperors. He took office at age 60, ruled for over a quarter of a century (491-518), and left the Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire by this point) prosperous and with a huge cash surplus, which unfortunately enabled his overactive successor Justinian to finance his endless wars. History tends to overvalue the flashy Justinians and undervalue the "how about we focus on reestablishing coinage with consistent value and stay away from overheated rhetoric" Anastasiuses.

When the Arabs invaded in the early 7th century, they conquered the Monophysite areas, which has been atributed to the inhabitants' hatred of Orthodoxy, but I think this is mostly a matter of geographical chance. It's just that they failed to conquer the Orthodox heartland.

The conflict between Chalcedonian and Monophysite wasn't all in good fun, but it wasn't a civilizational fissure either. Both inhabited a unified empire, honored the same Emperor. and got on with things. If they had spent their days tweeting about consubstantiality, they might have ended up hating each other enough to break up the Empire long before it finally fell to overwhelming force.

So, yeah. I'm with Anastasius. Sure, think those people are clueless idiots, and their doctrines are abhorrent. But we have a nation to run, jobs to do, food to cook, and beaches to lie on with our dates or our families.  Dammit, did that seagull just steal my sandwich? That's what I really need to worry about.