Enemy at the Gatekeepers

Reddit teaches you so much; I discovered the /r/gatekeeping/ forum and instantly fell in love. Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. Science fiction, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of people just like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome healthy boundaries. The Sci-fi genre definitely needs them. However, gatekeeping rarely seems to be about maintaining healthy boundaries as it is about pointless displays of dominance. Open discussion and spirited debate routinely get sabotaged by edgelords who think every exchange is an opportunity to practice their ‘alpha male’ behaviors.

All of this conflict does not make our community more healthy. Our behavior comes across as immature, rather than urgent. Obnoxious, rather than upstanding. Participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.1  

Look, I get it. I know we’re not the most socially-developed tribe on the planet. God knows I’m dealing with my own baggage and telling stories about the future helps me deal with all the things I can’t solve today. But we should be aware of what makes our tribe work. We’ve become what we are because Elder Geeks created a community based on togetherness, inclusion, curiosity, and openness. This gatekeeping? It’s messing with that. We’re literally chipping away at the cornerstones of our community, and that will have grave consequences.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a ‘right’ way of thinking or being for the sci-fi community. Rather, I’m hoping we can be ‘less wrong.‘ Like other communities, we’re in the ‘discovery business.’ As this letter says, “[E]veryone is an active and responsible participant in the overall process, that every individual becoming “progressively less wrong” is an invaluable part of the global doing so.”

So with that in mind, let’s establish that gatekeeping isn’t working for us. Gatekeeping is turning people away from droves. Like sunflowers who can turn in any direction they need to face the sun, new sci-fi participants are turning away from traditional sci-fi. They’re seeking out mainstream movies branding themselves as ‘science fiction.’ It’s easier, it’s less drama, and it’s more fun. This is going to kill us. Science fiction is going to disappear into the maw of the Marvel/Disney Industrial Complex. Yes, sci-fi stories will still be told, but fewer readers will find them. Is that the future we imagined for ourselves?

Ours is not the only tribe who suffers from internal squabbling. I found myself making direct connection between the frustrations experienced in the LGBT community and what I face with my fellow geeks and nerds. Like that person, I just quite frankly don’t entirely feel like I belong in that community. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tried joining the tribe but I never felt totally accepted. I don’t identify with this tribe, but I need this tribe in order to survive. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is.

The longer we wait to take control of our tribe, enforce healthy cultural norms, and eliminate the cliquish bullying, the more likely it is that our tribe will remain lost on the prairie. Our community is only as strong as we require it to be. Like other tribes that cannot survive contact with the outside world, we can and will be lost to time if attackers with advanced knowledge of toxic behaviors slip past our undeveloped social immune system.

It’s hoped that this post will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. Let’s work to be less wrong together. Let’s be active and responsible participants in the overall process. I’m willing to do my part to foster a healthy and self-aware sci-fi community, and I hope you will be, too.

You Learn More from Failure

Every day is another story. Drippy spring morning in Eugene. Wet earth and pine needles. Got a rejection notice from Asimov’s for “Search and Rescue.” No biggie, rejection is part of the game. What I found interesting was the advice that Asimov’s gave me. It’s a form-letter, but they thoughtfully included some insights any writer can use to improve their game. See what you think … maybe you’ll find a gem for yourself:

Dear Jackson,

Thank you very much for letting me see “Search and Rescue.” We regret that we cannot make use of it at this time.

All submissions will be examined as promptly as possible, and if suitable, will be paid for on acceptance.

Many manuscripts are rejected because of fundamental faults.  Check these things:
—Since Analog is a science fiction magazine, we consider only science fiction stories—that is, stories in which some aspect of realistic science or technology plays an integral part.  We do not publish fantasy or stories in which the science is only peripheral.
—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering.
—Good fiction demands strong, believable characters who face powerful, intriguing problems.  Without these, there is no story, no matter how fascinating the ideas or scientific background may be.
—Some plot ideas have been so overworked that it’s virtually impossible to wring a fresh story from them.  These include “scientific” retellings of biblical tales, time travelers who unwittingly change their world when traveling into the past, UFO stories, and stories in which the “alien” world turns out to be Earth.
—Write about what you know.  Analog writers should be able to do sufficient research to get their facts straight, and they should be keen enough observers of people to write realistically about them.
—Please don’t ask for individual criticism.  With hundreds of submissions per month, it is physically impossible to answer them all personally.  Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two.

Sincerely,
Trevor Quachri
Editor

Henry Rollins is famous for saying: “I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” That’s what I’m choosing, too. I’m posting this so that you understand how true it is that the path to success is not linear. Keep moving forward. Keep failing upward. Go break things. Make something new.

Mesh Update #2 – Inspirations

Maybe you’re like me and you read the story of David Hahn, the kid who built a nuclear reactor in his mother’s shed and Taylor Wilson, the boy genius famous for building his own fusion reactor. Their stories inspire me as I write Mesh, because I think of the budding geniuses we currently have languishing in public school, waiting for their shot at changing the world.

Science isn’t just about nuclear energy, though. There are thousands, literally thousands, of directions that a geeky, science-minded kid can go in. Invent a better battery? You’ve just changed the world! Invent a better way to diagnose cancer? You’ve just changed the world! Think of a better way to clean up an oil spill? You’ve just changed the world! Sometimes the best ideas come from kids, because they’re curious enough to wonder and brave enough to try. As this article points out, gifted kids need support, so I want to imagine a world where some brainy kids do get supported, and what happens after that.

Writing Mesh is about being inspired. I hope you find some inspiration in your work, too.

Fast Scifi Notes – 05/07/2017

This ripped tendon is still affecting my typing – saving my writing energy for Mesh. Still seeing/reading/experiencing sci-fi, so let me jot down a few notes.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

I’m going to get some flack for this, but I don’t care. Having seen the first GotG, and now the second, I am remarkably ambivalent about this Marvel franchise. Yes, the acting is great. In fact, the actors consistently rescue what would otherwise be a plodding, hum-drum action story piling layer after layer of perilous escapes until you’re dizzied and numbed, going “Did Michael Bay direct this thing?”

I mean, if Michael Bay is your thing, great. I’m not going to judge. I just didn’t find anything compelling or interesting in the main plots. I thought the underlying themes of loss, redemption and family were interesting, but I didn’t go into the theater looking for Good Peter Quill Hunting.

And what’s with the music? Are we now living in an era where people are prepared to believe that the Seventies soft-rock classics are the pinnacle of the audio art form? When did that happen. It’s like you’ve never seen a Time Life commercial in your life. Continue reading

Notes from the Forty-Year-Old Author

Ow.

Life told me I was forty-years old by giving me a mallet finger deformity. Doesn’t look like much does it? I wish it felt that way – I jammed my middle finger and it stayed bent. The doctor says I tore the tendon in my last joint and that I was lucky. “If you waited a week to come in, it would have healed that way and you’d be stuck with it for life.”

So here’s me, feeling lucky.

It’s going to be tough to type without my EDC finger, but Mesh won’t write itself. I’m polishing and iterating as we speak – forty is the new thirty!

At least, I hope so.

Happy 4/20!

I don’t smoke pot, but I know 4/20 is a big day for stoners. Here’s a fun way to celebrate with them:

Any time someone says ‘Happy 4/20’ to you, you can say “What? Celebrating Hitler’s birthday?? You monster!”

See? You’ve given them the gift of knowledge and no harm done!

Happy 4/20 everyone!

– With love to Jack Handey

Horizon: Zero Dawn is NeoClassic SciFi

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been taking a chunk out of my productivity as a writer. After four weeks and several dozen hours, I’m finished and I have a few things to say. To begin with, don’t consider this a video game review. Other people have reviewed the game, and my only comment is that ‘yes, it deserves the rating.’ To call HZD a ‘good game’ is like calling Stranger Things a ‘good Netflix show.’ This is a disrupter, a game-changer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it achieve neoclassic status as a science fiction story.

What I want to discuss, is why HZD is great science fiction unto itself. Grab one of the wallpaper-sized pictures I’m including in this post, settle in, and hear me out:

  

Continue reading

Free Author Tool: Time Management

If you’re going to write, tell jokes, play music, you’ve got to be productive. Your muse doesn’t pay rent in your head, but you pay rent on your apartment, so get busy. I’m adding a new section to the blog in which I pass along things that help me be more productive in writing, successful in reaching book agents, whatever.

Today’s Free Author Tool is about time management, since that’s a personal challenge for me. Sitting at the keyboard for hours at a time, I don’t find myself becoming *more* productive but rather, less. To fix that, I invented a little system that is working out well so far:

  1. Get out your phone
  2. Set a timer for 20 minutes
  3. Turn your ‘Do Not Disturb’ on – close all non-essential Internet tabs (especially Facebook and Reddit)
  4. Write as much as you can for twenty minutes
  5. Stop when the timer goes off

There’s no personal goal of word count to hit, just write as much as you can. You’ll write more as time goes on.

I’ve found that focusing my attention helps my muse to focus, too. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page going “c’mon … work.” It’s also frustrating to get going on a writing jag, stop for a break and then forget to start again because you’re checking email or Twitter. Stop doing that to yourself. Get up, take a shower, make the bed. Do something else that’s productive and then come back and set your timer again. To make it fun, I also listen to a variety of music. My personal taste is somewhere between chillstep and cool jazz but whatever floats your boat.

Mesh Update #1

So now, let’s talk about Mesh …

I haven’t released many details yet but I can give you a brief synopsis while I polish the novel:

Mesh is ‘Fight Club’ meets ‘Stranger Things’: a YA sci-fi story about Zeke, a charismatic and slightly anarchic teen who changes the world when he invents an entirely new Internet, completely outside of adult control. With the help of his best friend Roman and their science teacher, Mr. Howard, the boys begin a project for their high school service hours, and discover that they can create an uncontrolled information network using old hardware that nobody wants anymore. Mr. Howard’s technical guidance and historical knowledge of counter-culture give them the help they need to bring the Mesh to life. With new mesh networks coming to life all over America, the government seeks the ‘mysterious hackers’ who give kids unshackled access to information and community. It’s a race against time for Zeke and Roman to complete the Mesh, get an ‘A’ for their project and then disappear before it all comes crashing down.

I’ll be talking more about Mesh and its evolution, because there are a number of exciting components that will appear to sci-fi readers across the entire community spectrum. I’m also drawing from a number of writing, sci-fi and technology influences. One of those influences is Simon Stalenhag:

            

        

Like most of you, I’m a huge fan of his work. His sweeping, evocative vistas are epic in their scope and contain enough texture to fill entire universes. So as he describes this gritty, split-knuckle future from his vantage point in Sweden, I can’t help but draw upon his imagination as I write Mesh. I want to make sure that the universe I’m creating is as much fun as the universes he makes.

More details shortly …