I come to you this week from a tiny, airless room at a small hotel in Enfield, Connecticut.
Normally this is not the case. Normally I write my diaries either in the magnificently appointed Master Suite of the Last Homely Shack East of the Manhan, where the Double Felinoid make very, very sure that every single object, piece of clothing, or stick of furniture is covered with fur of the gray persuasion, or in the Garret that a unionized copy and print shop collective has carved out of what used to be their building's attic. These venues, humble as they are, have light, air, views of the world, and extras like a diner in the next building (the Garret) or an attached bathroom and tap dancing raccoons (the Shack, at least until I hired a pest control expert to get Rocket and her brood out of my insulation). However, this is not a normal week.
As I mentioned in my diary but seven days ago, I'm a panelist at Pi-Con, a small, relaxing, local convention only one exit south of Springfield on Route 91. I gave a reading last night (I did go with "The Silence of the Peeps," and there may be Big News coming about that particular diary, so watch this space for further details), have been on three panels today, and will be on two tomorrow. I'm having a wonderful time, and I've already decided to come back next year.
Alas! This weekend of fun, relaxation, and professional networking has prevented me from completing my diary, which is why I'm banging out this introduction in the aforesaid small, airless room that the Holiday Inn in Enfield, Connecticut has dubbed a "business center." There's no window, minimal air conditioning, sage green paint and digitally enhanced photographs on the walls, and the chair is making my pelvis ache.
At least the wifi is free.
Poor as this room is, it serves its purpose: giving me a quiet place to work on my
craven excuse for not completing my diary explanation for why you're only getting half a diary. I hope that what comes next will at least whet your appetite for next weekend's evisceration examination of a giant of creativity and even bigger giant of political incorrectness, plus a promise that next week I'll bring you the second half pf this diary in honor of our nation's birthday. I may even have news about the peep show diary, and wouldn't that be fun?
So...come with me beneath the Class 0.5 Daily Kos Kaiju for "The Misogynistic Aardvark, Part I".....
I once named a character after a petty European dictator, and didn't even realize it.
This was not intentional, not by any means. I was participating in that great fannish tradition called the "fic exchange," where participants in individual fandoms post wish lists of characters, pairings, and plot elements they'd like to read about, then have their wishlists given to other participants for fulfillment. Sometimes it can get a weird - "Character X becomes a pole dancer in R'lyeh" - and there's no guarantee that one's first choice will ever be fulfilled - I never did get my "Character Y goes to Burning Man" story despite several requests over the years - but overall this system does a reasonably good job of ensuring that everyone goes home happy.
This particular exchange paired me with someone who had a reasonably flexible wish list, so I was able to use an idea that had been floating around in the Stygian depths of my subconscious for a while. The fic made something of a splash, largely because it ended up being much, much longer and more emotionally intense than I thought it would be, and I was surprised but pleased to receive several comments along the lines of "OMG I HATE YOU THAT WAS THE BEST FIC I'VE EVER READ !###$!$!$!$#!"
That this reaction may have been at least partly in reaction to me ending one section with what appeared to be a major character death in a terrorist attack is pure speculation on my part.
Overall, though, the fic was very well received. It made my name in that particular fandom, launched what became a surprisingly coherent series of connected stories, and gave me the confidence I needed to take my writing seriously after a spell of creative aridity that makes the Sahara look like a children's sandbox. It's fondly remembered by fans who were active back in the day, and even now I receive the occasional nice comment or kudos on Archive of Our Own.
The one exception to the general hosannas arrived in my in-box a few weeks after I posted the final installment. It was from a person who was incensed not because of the subject matter (what happens if X and Y are caught up in a terrorist attack?), nor the adult content (very, very vanilla). No, this particular commenter was upset because one of the minor characters shared a surname with a notorious, if long out of power, Eastern European strongman.
I was pretty surprised. I'm not proud that I'd forgotten that this particular bully boy had even existed, let alone been a major player in world politics, not at all, but comparatively speaking he was pretty low on the list of post-war dictators. He'd retired peaceably after the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980's, ceded power to a democratically elected successor, and lived quietly until his death. He hadn't even merited a war crimes trial, which was fairly remarkable given when he lived and where he governed.
None of this seemed to matter to my correspondent; she berated me for cultural insensitivity (quite possible at that time) and historical blindness (also possible), and I apologized for both. Her accusation that I was deliberately honoring a bad man, though - those I refuted, and continue to deny, for a very good reason:
I hadn't named the character after the dictator. I'd named him after a high school classmate.
That's right. I had gone to high school with someone who happened to share a last name with a Communist apparatchik. We'd known each other fairly well (the classmate, not the apparatchik) and I'd remembered him fondly as one of the very few people who didn't activelyto make my high school years a living hell. Naming a minor if sympathetic character after him seemed the least I could do, even if the odds that he even remembers me are slim.
As for his name...Pittsburgh is a typical American industrial melting pot that attracted more than its share of Slavs, Poles, Rusyns, Magyars, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrans, Austrians, Germans, Balts, and other denizens of the old Central and Eastern European monarchies. People with bland British surnames like mine weren't rare, but we certainly weren't dominant. It would have been more noteworthy if I hadn't known someone with the same last name as a famous Iron Curtain politician.
I explained all this to my correspondent and hoped that would suffice. I'm not sure if it did - she never replied - but the incident brought home just how easy it is for an author to offend someone without meaning to. It had never occurred to me to Google this particular surname in case it belonged to someone with unsavory associations, any more than I would have Googled "Jones" or "Schmidt." I'm still not certain that I should have - as I said above, this particularly dictator was comparatively mild and is now all but forgotten - but I've become much warier about hanging an unusual surname on a fictional character, just in case. I'm out to entertain my readers, not offend them.
Unfortunately for literature, readers, and life in general, not all authors agree. The history of ideas is strewn with horrid, deliberately offensive books - The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and its bigoted ilk spring immediately to mind - and equally appalling authors. Even when we're not talking something quite on that level of "EW THAT IS DISGUSTING," very good art can originate in the minds of men and women that I wouldn't willingly allow anywhere near me or my loved ones.
Alfred Hitchcock...Richard Wagner...Norman Mailer...Elizabeth Moon...Edith Wharton...even Dr. Seuss...every single one of these creators was responsible for something that was deeply offensive, whether it was Dr. Seuss's appalling wartime caricatures of Asians for PM, Edith Wharton's avowed hatred of Jews, Hitchcock's awful portrayal and treatment of women, or Elizabeth Moon's demand that Muslims assimilate and keep their nasty religion to themselves. I won't even touch the bone-deep prejudice against non-whites that permeates so much 19th and early 20th century literature. It's far too upsetting, even though a lot of it stemmed as much from then-contemporary cultural norms as from deliberate malice.
That's why it's important to remember that the work is not necessarily reflective of the author, nor is the author necessarily speaking directly through his/her characters. Sometimes it's impossible - Wagner's operas became so associated with Nazism that they still aren't performed in Israel - but rejecting, say, all of Shakespeare because of The Taming of the Shrew is a terrible idea. Cultural context needs to be taken into account, always, and problematic passages explained if not excused.
And then there are authors who are offensive, know they're offensive, and plain don't care.
Such a person is the author/artist I will discuss next week. Talented, influential, accomplished, a champion of creator's rights, this individual is truly one of the giants of his field. His work blazed the trail that led to works such as Babylon-5 and other genre films, TV series, and novels that rely on story arcs and multiple intertwined plot threads. He's a true creative genius.
He's also...well, unique in his political and social views.
Consider this statement on women, politics, and economics:
Emotion, whatever the Female Void would have you believe, is not a more Exalted State than is Thought. In point of fact, I think Emotion is animalistic, serpent-brain stuff. Animals do not Think, but I am reasonably certain that they have Emotions. "Eating this makes me Happy." "When my fur is all wet and I am cold, it makes me Sad." "Ooo! Puppies!" "It makes me Excited to Chase the Ball!" Reason, as any husband can tell you, doesn't stand a chance in an argument with Emotion. There are no rules to Emotional Argument. You simply wander around in rhetorical circles until you feel Happy again, and then the argument is over. This was the fundamental reason, I believe, that women were (rightly) denied the vote for so long. In order to move a civilisation forward, an overview is required. You have to be able to step back and examine the structure of a problem. This is what Thinking, Reasoning, is. Every political campaign waged in the G-7 countries has as its centerpiece Job Creation. Polls give the politicians a list of voter concerns. Job Creation is at the top of the list. Ergo, the politicians promise Jobs. Because the Female Void dominates proceedings (simply because the Female Void dominates everything), a candidate is elected based on how he or she makes the electorate Feel. We Feel we can Trust this candidate. No effort is made to step back and ask, "Isn't the whole point of technology to eliminate work?" Reason would tell you that you can either eliminate (or limit) technology or you can eliminate (or limit) jobs. It is not possible to have it both ways. The Female Void Emotional response is that we have to have it both ways. And so we do. And so the problem gets worse instead of better.Or this fascinating take on the son of a beloved political leader:
Light does not Breed. Only Jackie Onassis (and like-minded Voids) could perceive her Arrow Shirt Ad Son as having anything in common with his late father, apart from a weakness for blonde actresses.Or this unique conflation of ancient ritual, anthropology, and extreme dislike of the female of his species:
Viktor Davis turned back to his typewriter and his pile of notes, which he began thumbing through absent-mindedly. One of the scrawled observations on a torn piece of yellow-lined notepaper caught his eye. The Male Light and the Female Void: Seminal Energy and Omnivorous Parasite. As ancient as the sacrifice of a Corn King. As ubiquitous as a hundred generations of Roman Catholics eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a Great Prophet.Or this general advice on life:
Remember that you're just a custodian for It. You can be a good custodian, a so-so custodian or a bad custodian. You can make It a pile of smouldering twigs or you can make It a bonfire. The Male Light or the Female Void. I'm telling you that you have to choose. I'm telling you that if you think you can have both, you are mistaken, that you have already made your choice in that case.It's safe to say that the mind that created the above is like no other, either in genre work or mainstream letters. Such an author deserves more than a hack 'n slash quicky diary churned out in the business center of a Holiday Inn in a small commuting suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts. Surely he is worthy of the Full Ellid Treatment rather than a hasty and unfunny rehash of his life and work.
Indeed he does. This is why next week's diary, "The Misogynistic Aardvark, Part II," will go into extensive detail about the life, work, politics, and religious views of this unique man.
His name is Dave Sim. His greatest work is a 6,000 page graphic series/novel called Cerebus the Aardvark. And you will not believe some of the things he's done, said, and written.
Just you wait.
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|2:00 PM||What's on Your E-Reader?||Caedy|
|2:00 PM||Bibliophile's Wish List||Caedy|
|Sun (occasional)||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||michelewln, Susan from 29|
|Mon||11:00 PM||My Favorite Books/Authors||edrie, MichiganChet|
|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||Kit RMP, bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||All Things Bookstore||Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
|Wed||2:00 PM||e-books||Susan from 29|
|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
|THU||8:00 PM||Write On!||SensibleShoes|
|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
|alternate Thursdays (on hiatus)||11:00 PM||Audiobooks Club||SoCaliana|
|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
|alternate Fridays||8:00 PM||Books Go Boom!||Brecht|
|Fri||10:00 PM||Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable||shortfinals|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||12:00 PM||You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews||pwoodford|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|