"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other." --H.P. Lovecraft, The Silver Key
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Skulls, crusaders, and all things esoteric: Meeting up with Tom Barber
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Literary freedom: My stance, and an explanation
Literary freedom is my credo. With very few exceptions, I think you should be able to write whatever you want.
What does this look like in practice? It means that 99% of the time, people will use this sacred right to create stories or write essays or draw pictures about rocketships and rayguns, spies and intrigue, or knights and swords, and life is good.
But it also means that, 1% of the time, someone will write a story that someone will object to, and all hell will break loose.
For example, let’s say you want to write a spy story with a protagonist who is a sexist, i.e., an old school James Bond-type who has dalliances with women that later are dropped unceremoniously out of the picture after a night of passion. Something that harkens back to an older age.
Or, let’s say, you want to want to write a sword-and-sorcery story with a powerful, gay, female protagonist who kicks ass, and smashes jerky men’s faces in. Then she gets the girl at the end. Something that defies or upends old genre conventions.
Should you not be allowed to write that character? Some readers may be offended.
My position? Fuck no. Have at it.
Let me provide an analogy for someone who thinks I’m just defending S&S. I am of course, but I have no problem defending other genres that I have no interest in, because literary freedom is my credo.
Romance is a billion dollar industry. 84% of its 29+ million readers are women.
But as I understand it, some romance caters to stereotypes, because that’s what some of its readers want. We know what they are. Shirtless buff dudes, handsome, full set of hair. Great lovers. Flush with cash. Hearts of gold.
Now, were I more sensitive, I might say, I’m offended by the depiction of men in some of these stories. These are standards I don’t live up to. I wish I were more buff, and wealthy, and my hard heart was softer.
Are these stereotypes harmful to men? Some might say yes.
Personally, I don’t find it harmful, but mostly, I don’t care, and if someone wants to read it, have at it. Moreover, I think reading a book, (almost) any book, is superior than consuming passive entertainment. So please do read your romance novels, if you love them. Even the trashy ones.
I’ll be over here reading my trash S&S, with the barbarian who throws the gal over his shoulder after hacking through hordes of Picts. And we’re all happy.
I do think psychological harm is a thing, but I also think it’s far too subjective to do anything with. Something that you find hurtful will not be hurtful for me, and vice-versa. Rather than seek to eliminate anything potentially offensive, and sacrifice artistic freedoms, or place neutering guardrails on fiction, my preference is, leave it in, and buyer beware. I’m also of the opinion that you shouldn’t deliberately be a dick, and write fiction designed to needlessly provoke people. But again, your definition of a dick or edgelord will always differ from mine. So again, I’m erring on the side of freedom of expression.
To minimize offense, I’m also perfectly OK with warning labels. “Warning: Old Pulp sensibilities” on a cover of a book works for me. I finally got to watching Stranger Things season one (it’s good BTW), and every episode starts with a list of things in it that you might find harmful. Violence, swearing, smoking. I’m fine with this approach. It’s an elegant way around a thorny problem. We can keep in the stuff of that period—yeah smoking was incredibly prevalent in the 1980s—by letting you know in advance that it’s coming. Feel free to turn it off if you have impressionable young kids. Us adults can make up our own minds.
This is where I fall. YMMV--and I respect that, and you.
If you think this stance makes me a closeted bigot defending racism, sexism, etc., or “betraying sword-and-sorcery sensibilities” by not gatekeeping, that’s your prerogative. You don’t know me, or what I believe in, how I vote, etc. I don’t exist to make you, or the world happy. Not my job. I’d rather spend my time following my bliss, wherever that leads me. I am aware that this attitude may not make me welcome in some communities, may keep me out of some anthologies, etc, whatever.
My advice: Follow your heart, read what you love, support what you believe in. Vote with your dollars.
I’m going to answer a few questions that naturally arise with the stance of literary freedom.
Am I saying you can write blatantly, provocatively racist shit? I really wish you wouldn’t, as you’re hurting yourself, other people, and the communities in which you work. Have at it, but if you want to be an asshole, know that the market will decide, the public will have its say, and you’ll be out your commercial career. I also don’t think this is a wholesale problem, in fiction.
Do I think you can write literally whatever you want? The answer to this is no. I draw the line when writing promotes actual, physical/material, in the world harm. For example, a how-to manual for child abduction, or instructions for breeding Anthrax in your basement and shipping it undetected to your local politician. Please don’t write these things. I'd be OK with someone dropping the ban-hammer.
But as for fiction? My tolerance is way higher.
I’m not interested in adjudicating edge cases or arguing who is the club because of what they write. I’d rather spend my time in a positive manner, for example discussing good stories and why they work. Writing about interesting literary tropes, styles, and historical trends. And yes, even keeping old works of dead authors alive, because the positive things they bring to the table far outweigh the negative. I’m glad to see publishers reprinting old pulp stories. Add a helpful introduction that contextualizes the racism and sexism, or a warning label, and then let the reader decide.
It’s fruitless to codify what every “ism” means and what is acceptable vs. non-acceptable. Any definition that boils down to “whatever I think is racist/sexist/ageist” etc. is untenable, beyond slippery slope. A slope that plunges you off the side of Mount Everest to a fiery doom. Trying to do so kills communities from infighting, ends careers for authors who make inadvertent mistakes. Take a glance at the Hugos and you will see a community eating itself from the inside out.
This is a thorny problem to write about, primarily because it is aligned with political thought, and politics inevitably make their way in. Authorial freedom naturally aligns with the likes of John Locke, and the exaltation of the individual; writing with group unity in mind strikes me as Rousseau-ian, where our rights are indistinguishable from the cohesion of the state. But, because this argument comes up again and again in every community I frequent, I thought it worth clarifying my own thoughts, and produce something I can point to, when the argument inevitably comes up for the 4000th time.
In summary: Write what you want.
Sunday, July 24, 2022
This makes me happy
Saturday, July 23, 2022
The Blade Itself
|Nice and stabby|
Friday, July 22, 2022
Necropolis, Manilla Road
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
S&S updates: Dunsany, New Edge, book deals, and a fine response to a troubling essay
Saturday, July 16, 2022
Master of Puppets
Monday, July 11, 2022
LORDS OF DESTRUCTION! A review of Death Dealer book 2
Friday, July 8, 2022
Wild Child, W.A.S.P.
I'm a wild child, come and love me
I want you
My heart's in exile I need you to touch me
Cause I want what you do
I was never a big W.A.S.P. fan, even back in the day when they had their day as a heavy hair metal/shock rock band, tearing out of the Los Angeles heavy metal scene like a bunch of leather-clad bikers.
But this one? 1985's Wild Child? Yeah, big fan.
Simple, great energy, propulsive, outstanding guitar tone. Badass lyrics. Basically everything I want in this type of song.
As an aside, whomever made this video probably deserves a medal of freedom or something. Outstanding work here, extraordinary visuals to supplement the kick-ass vibe of this tune.
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Post vacation, back in the saddle again
|A couple shots of Bar Harbor|