Just a geek who lives in Olympia, WA with my wife, son, and animals, writing fiction that he hopes will make the world a better place someday.
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In defence of Traditional (Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval) Fantasy: #1 I'll read what I like

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My name is M Harold Page and I recently sold a short story with a dragon in it.

As I wrote the story, I could hear the voices of snarky snobbery in the back of my head:

"Oh look, LOL, you could reduce all Fantasy maps to a blotchy version of Europe but swap in Orks for Mongols.... OMG another book about E'lves and D'warves... (chortle) Historical fiction for authors too lazy to do research."

And:

"Sigh. Isn't it time to explore other cultures?"

Yes it's pretty easy to snark at -- call it - Traditional Fantasy, and also to give it a political kicking critique. It is, after all, a genre in which everything is possible, and yet where it usually delivers European-style secondary worlds and archetypes.

I think the snarks and critiques rather miss the point. However that's for a different blog post. Instead let's consider the short defence of Traditional Fantasy, which is the starkly simple...

My name is M Harold Page and I recently sold a short story with a dragon in it.

As I wrote the story, I could hear the voices of snarky snobbery in the back of my head:

"Oh look, LOL, you could reduce all Fantasy maps to a blotchy version of Europe but swap in Orks for Mongols.... OMG another book about E'lves and D'warves... (chortle) Historical fiction for authors too lazy to do research."

And:

"Sigh. Isn't it time to explore other cultures?"

Yes it's pretty easy to snark at -- call it - Traditional Fantasy, and also to give it a political kicking critique. It is, after all, a genre in which everything is possible, and yet where it usually delivers European-style secondary worlds and archetypes.

I think the snarks and critiques rather miss the point. However that's for a different blog post. Instead let's consider the short defence of Traditional Fantasy, which is the starkly simple:

"Go [redacted] a [redacted]! My reading time is my own."

To me that's a pretty unassailable position.

Clever people with loud views on genre often forget that most of us consume books in the ragged gaps in our lives - on a train or bus to work, while watching over a sleepless baby, or just before keeling over exhausted at night. Nobody is entitledto our reading time.

They also forget that it's not a zero sum game with other literature, writers, or sources of information. Having Traditional Fantasy as a go-to precludes neither reading other kinds of books by other kinds of people, nor engaging with the political world through other means; Sometimes I put down my Conan to read the Guardian. Nor does a love of Traditional Fantasy necessarily imply any sense of entitlement that might, just for hypothetical example, manifest in wanting to hijack a popular speculative fiction award. (Blackgate Magazine, for whom I blog, likes its Traditional Fantasy, but spurned its puppy-soiled Hugo nomination just as soon as the editor could find a big enough poop-a-scoop.)

However, as I said, the clever people forget, and in forgetting feed a casual snobbery against Traditional Fantasy.

This matters because snobbery against a genre really means snobbery against actual people; those who create and consume the genre in question.

Sure, who cares if you tease my wife for binge-reading almost the entire Wheel of Time while on maternity leave?

But stop and think about the result when a High School English teacher slaps down a teenager who writes a book report on the latest Joe Abercrombie. And, consider the practical professional implications when those in charge of the various literary pork barrels - festivals, grants, residencies, teaching gigs - exclude Fantasy writers because what we write doesn't really count as literature

The snobbery against Traditional Fantasy also matters because it feeds a more general snobbery against Speculative Fiction, that snobbery really being part of a nasty little power struggle between the old and the new middle class tribes.

The old tribe gets its culture from the private ("independent" as in "posh") school system, from certain sorts of degrees from certain kinds of institutions. Its members often come from established middle class families, passing privilege down the generations via contacts and inside knowledge as much as actual resources.

Members of the old tribe like smart clothes and typically get their spirituality from expensive yoga retreats. They are suspicious of intellectuals, but aspire to refined tastes and defer to a tribal intelligentsia that likes post modernism, "serious" literature, and opera, that dabbles with champagne socialism, and claims to enjoy "crucial" plays about the underprivileged in which nothing much happens.

The new tribe are the Geeks. Us.

At our best we're as meritocratic as we are inclusive. We come from all backgrounds. Our sense of style veers wildly between practical and playful, and is always more semiotic than fashionable. We get our spirituality from fire festivals and Yoda memes. We aspire to being an intelligentsia. Many of us are hands on activists. We prefer screen to stage, and insist on stories where things happen (like that bit in Fireflywhere Mal...). We like all sorts of books, but, historically at least, have a soft spot for those with rockets and elves on the covers.

And we are the new technocrats. Not a lot goes on in business or academia without a card-carrying geek making the computer side of things work, or handling the bewildering maths or abstract concepts. We may not have taken over the world yet, and we're certainly not overrepresented in the 1%, but our rise is as inevitable as that of the 19th century factory owners and industrialists.

Normally, the old tribe would just absorb or overawe us - hand out knighthoods and teach us to eat with a knife and fork. However, we see mainstream culture as just another set of options, and we play very different games of social dominance:

"You do improv theatre? That's cool! Did you know I'm a GM?"

It's like watching Sparta and Athens come to grips... infantry versus navy.

A good way to win a war is to move it onto a battleground of your choosing and then define the interaction so yours is the most powerful side - our King Robert did that to the English back in 1314. And that's how I see what's happening: By a sort of collective unconscious reflex, the old tribe pushes back, dismissing geek culture, ignoring it in their arts columns and literary festivals, writing grant rules to exclude it, putting down the things that give us pleasure: "You may be clever, but your tastes are childish. Get back to work, techno-peasant!"

And we often buy into it enough to say;

"Oh no, not MY tastes. I read [Your Genres Here]. But those tastes over there? Those arechildish."

Oh that was the other good way to win a war; Divide and Rule.

This is why Traditional Fantasy deserves a more systematic defence than just that of mere personal preference, which is what I'll get to in my next blog entry.

Oh, and that dragon story?

I told those voices to go to hell, and for good measure put in skeletons, elves and dwarves. When I settled to my next gig - a franchise short story about battling wizards in a ruined city- the snarking snobbish voices in my head had stilled forever.

Or.. (shameless plug)... perhaps I just can't hear them over the remembered sound of Jutes and Ostrogoths clashing in the breach at Orleans while Attila's archers storm the parapet and bring down an arrowstorm on the mercenary shieldwall...

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A recent commission I did for a couple! …except I changed...

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A recent commission I did for a couple! …except I changed the words here because their words were for them, and these words are for a whole lotter other people.

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Even More Obligatory Author Shilling

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Harry Connolly posting again, while Charlie hammers away at his work.

I'll confess that I was startled when I saw Elizabeth Bear's earlier Obligatory Author Shilling post. Sadly, my first thought was "Is that even allowed?"

As in: Are we allowed to confidently tell readers about our books? Are we allowed to talk about our books as though they're good things that readers would enjoy, without a whole shitload of fancy footwork first?

What can I say? The Imposter Syndrome is strong with me. But I'm going to follow Bear's excellent example and write a straight up post about my new book, which drops today.

It's an urban fantasy called A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark and it's the last fiction stretch goal for my Kickstarter.

Here's the cover:

Key/Egg cover
Art and design by Duncan Eagleson

Readers familiar with my Twenty Palaces novels be warned: this isn't that. Key/Egg is a pacifist urban fantasy. In a genre where protagonists routinely behave as though they live in a lawless frontier where every problem must be solved with a bullet from an enchanted Glock, this is a book where problems are solved through diplomacy and trickery.

Also, in a genre filled with 20-something ass-kickers, the protagonist is a woman in her mid-sixties who's a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf. Why should older characters be constantly relegated to expository roles?

The story is set in modern-day Seattle, and involves one of those murders that Leads to a Larger Scheme. If you're a long time reader of James Nicoll's LiveJournal and you read to the end, you'll know why I thanked him in the acknowledgements.

Anyway, after the bleakness of the Twenty Palaces novels, I wanted something light and fun. This is it; a thriller without violence.

Check out some sample chapters here. Thanks.

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pawnstorm
123 days ago
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This looks awesome.
Olympia, WA

The Illusion of Ability

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Talent, or ability, by itself, is overrated. So is pure intelligence. Over the years, I have seen so many people with great talents, and others with incredible intellectual brilliance, fail, sometimes catastrophically, in a range of fields and occupations. I’ve seen executives who not only knew their market, their customers, and their products, but who could explain and sell, stall in dead-end positions. I’ve seen brilliant attorneys crash and burn, and literally destroy their lives and themselves. I’ve known talented writers who flamed out, never to be heard of again. I’ve met singers with incredible voices, good looks, and great stage presence who never even made the lowest rungs of an operatic career.

A failing I’ve seen far too often over the years is the tendency of people with great natural ability or intelligence to reach for “short-cuts” of various sorts. From what I’ve seen, the tendency to want to shortcut the path to success is, for some reason, highly linked to people with great natural abilities, almost as if they have the feeling that, because of their talents, they really don’t have to learn what other people do. That’s exactly why most of those who try the short-cut route fail… because the shortcutters don’t learn enough to handle the situations in which they find themselves as a result of their initial – and often short-lived – success in obtaining what they sought.

Yes, every once in a great while a short-cut succeeds, or someone reaches great heights in their field on pure ability, and little else – and manages to hold on, but the odds are a hundred to one against either.

Talent, ability, intellectual capability… these are absolutely necessary components of success, but in today’s highly competitive society, where almost half the work force in the United States possesses a college degree, and close to fifteen percent has a graduate degree, and in a world economy, those are far from enough to assure success in any field, let alone outstanding achievement.

As I’ve mentioned before, dependability is a vital necessity, as is a modicum of congeniality, or at least moderate sociability… and, of course, the understanding that, no matter what the field, there is always a certain amount of just plain hard work involved, often nit-picking drudgery. I started out as a low-level economist, long before computers provided neat and nifty analyses of numbers and statistical patterns. I had to calculate the statistics from raw data, and I learned a great deal about statistics and numbers. From what I’ve seen over the years, as computers can do more and more, most “analysts” seem to know less and less what the numbers and computer-generated statistics actually mean… and what they represent.

I’ve watched with amusement as politicians, executives, writers, and business people delegate more and more of that “drudgery” to computers, subordinates, or consultants, and then discover that somehow their position, success, power, are slowly slipping away.

While some delegation is necessary, especially the higher one gets in an organization, every delegation results in a greater removal from the world, and that reduces one’s understanding of that world.

There are no good short-cuts, only short-run expedient short-cuts with longer-term and higher costs.

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Lockstep makes Locus's Recommended Reading List

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Once again, Locus Magazine has put me in their annual Recommended Reading List. This time it's for Lockstep (which will be out in paperback in March) but, in a twist, they've included me in the Young Adult category rather than Science Fiction.

I don't know how to feel about that.  I'm flattered to be told that I'm a success in the YA category, and I sort of understand why I'm there, in that Lockstep's protagonist is not an adult, there's no sex or graphic violence, and all ends well.  But since when were those things required to make something an "adult" book?  I wasn't writing a book to exclude a young audience, but then, I wasn't writing it to exclude an adult audience either.  When I was growing up, these categories weren't so distinct and the result was I was reading books like The Worm Ouroborous and Dune when I was twelve.  And why not?  My nephew read Ventus when he was the same age and had no difficulty with it; so what's with this YA stuff? 

I wrote Lockstep to consciously hie back to the classic space operas of the 1950s and 60s, but updated and--unlike every book that's used faster than light travel to generate its galactic empire--scientifically possible with what we know today.  That was all.  Whether kids read it or adults wasn't the point.

All of which means I'm overjoyed to be selected again for the list, and not at all upset to be in the YA category.  I just don't really understand why the category exists.  It's worrisome in that many potential adult readers who might really enjoy it may not even consider the book because of that categorization. That would be a shame for everybody involved.

Ah well.  Thanks, Locus, and everybody who's enjoyed the novel--whether you consider yourself an adult, a "youth" or (and this is what I hope) another kind of person who falls into no marketing category:  namely, a reader.

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kickingcones: Boop. Bringing this back. Let’s make the...

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kickingcones:

Boop.

Bringing this back. Let’s make the New Year an unexpected boop from all the poop. 

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