What remains remarkable to me is the genre’s continuing ability to remain stagnant and gleefully rooted in its past. We’ve had over half a century of revolutionary SF with a clear line of fiction and artwork going back to the 60s and earlier. Whether it’s Chip Delany, Ursula LeGuin, or Joanna Russ, the heritage is there for a genre informed by more than the utopian technocratic dreams it sold itself. But Feminism, the New Wave, cross-pollination from other genres, radical world politics or literary techniques… they all bounce off – or get uprooted and thrown away because those who’ve settled in and claimed “the core audience” status don’t want them there. The genre has a tendency to chew up those it deems to be intruders or unworthy of its “affection”* and spit them out.
I dearly hope to see this cycle end. Diversity, in all its meanings, should be a no-frills default feature and not some extra. Instead it’s gotten to the point where I’ll read a great genre book by a woman/minority/genre-outsider and wonder how long it will be before they get driven out.
A remarkable thing to see in the genre of “ideas”.
I think my mom has emailed me more this week than she has in all the years the Internet, she, and I have existed on this planet together.
The US Embassy sent out an email yesterday that opened with:
“The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time.”
I forwarded that on to my family.
And while my morbid nature is curious what the “Get the fuck out now!” email will read like (I imagine its tone will resemble the Tony-voice from The Shining: REDRUM! REDRUM!), I’ve been in South Korea long enough to have witnessed other instances of saber rattling, and this one appears to be more of the same. None of my coworkers are behaving like this is anything out of the ordinary. There are no tanks in the streets and the USMC hasn’t evacuated service-member families from the base here in town.
I told my mom that we bought a couch and the thing Jin and I are most worried about right now is where to put it: against the wall nearest the window or the one with the 60s space-age wallpaper. My aunt, being an interior decorator, after hearing the couch was beige, said to put it against the 60s space-age wallpaper and then get some throw pillows that’ll match the colors in the wallpaper. Being open to the advice of sages, this is what we will do.
And that’s one way to react to all this saber rattling, and how we are choosing to.
Of course there’s a “but”, because I can’t discount all my fears. I know what a “black swan” is and lived in Jersey City and worked in NYC on 9/11. Horrible shit happens when you least expect it. A stable system built atop dynamic forces can collapse into complete chaos. And that’s where this gets tricky. How long do I want to spend thinking about worst-case scenarios? Give me an hour and I could spin you several dozen. Do I prepare for each one, only one, or none? How paranoid do I want to let myself be about this?
Most of the expats in town aren’t worried and are quick to dismiss fears that this is anything different. To suggest taking steps to prepare is met with hostility of a veiled sort, and it’ll be funny if my last thoughts in the .00000005 seconds before a North Korean nuke’s detonation and my vaporization is “I told you so” – at least it’ll be funny to my forcibly disassociated atoms in a cosmically ironic way. But I’m a big fan of brief focused bouts of productive paranoia.
If you’re constantly worried about something, it’s often best to set aside a proscribed time to obsess about it. Think of what steps you can take to prepare, do them, and then once they’re done and the time limit’s over, stop thinking about it.
So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done all the minor things we can like register with the embassy, put together an emergency bag, and talked about meeting places. Both Jin and I are children of the 1980s and the late Cold War. The prospect of Nuclear Annihilation is something we remember from being kids. The city where we live now is an early target in any sort of open conflict. The city where Jin’s parents live is similar. In that situation all the bottled water in our emergency bag means doodley-squat. In any one of the baker’s dozen of alternative clusterfucks that might result, who knows, maybe those extra water bottles will come in handy.
But what we both really expect is that the bottled water, the folded-up map to the Marine base, the emergency bag, will all gather dust in the gap between the wall and our washing machine, and whether we can find blue, green, and orangish throw pillows here in town is what we’re really worried about.
Here’s a story.
I used to pass this guy every morning on my way to work at this certain streetlight. He’d be on a bike and I’d be walking.
He was an older Korean guy wearing a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, always casually dressed but super neat like if it were raining he’d be riding the bike one handed holding an umbrella with the other, and the open umbrella would be perfectly parallel to the road, not held sloped or slanted like you or I or any other slob would.
Anyway, he always said “Good Morning” to me, so that’s the name I gave him. He was like my alarm clock. If I didn’t see him on my way to work, I knew I’d be late.
But in the past few months there’s been all this construction near work and I’ve had to detour past the place where we usually met, so I hardly see him. I still do but it’s rare and no matter when I do, he always breezes by me on his bike saying “Good Morning.” This even happened once on a Saturday afternoon.
So I told Jin about the guy and she thought it was amusing. But then earlier this week we were coming out of the supermarket and there the guy was in his track suit and wearing a cravat (and baseball cap). It was nighttime, he said “Good Morning”, and we stopped and chatted with him. Turns out the guy’s a retired master ship’s surgeon from the Korean Navy who works as a school crossing guard, which is where he’s always going in the morning. He also thought I was from Uzbekistan. Jin was more than a little amused by that, and after we left she said, “You know that guy’s now going to take you out drinking.”
That might be interesting.
Today’s question: “What did you do last weekend?”
Today’s answer: “I killed a chicken with Minsu.”
Minsu: “No. No. I did nothing, teacher. Nothing!”
I’m putting these here so I remember them.
John Coulthart has a great post on past attempts to produce covers for M. John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence. Am I fan of Harrison? Of course I’m a fan. Coulthart then has a follow-up post on what he’d like to see in new covers. Speaking of Viriconium, over at M. John Harrison’s blog there’s a new piece of fiction set in that city.
This essay by Ursula K. LeGuin over at Book View Cafe. I can’t agree with it enough. How about these quotes:
Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it.
The value judgment concealed in distinguishing one novel as literature and another as genre vanishes with the distinction.
Every readable novel can give true pleasure. Every novel read by choice is read because it gives true pleasure.
And finally, a poem by Meng Jiao (a Tang Dynasty poet):
The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer’s back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?