March 3rd, 2006


dinosaurs and Dracula

My head is everywhere this morning, all at once. I spent too much of yesterday being angry about Bush's $3 billion cut to the NASA budget, but the anger's still here with me today. Numerous space science programmes have been delayed, so that he can a) continue to fund his hostile take-over of Iraq and b) ape Kennedy by funneling money into...questionable...efforts to land men on the moon and Mars. To date, the war has cost U.S. taxpayers in excess of $244 billion (click here for a more precise number based on congressional appropriations), and now many of NASA's most vital projects will be indefinitely delayed. To quote the New York Times:

Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.

But, hey, it's only science.

These are only some of the most important questions humans will ever ask, after all. Nothing we can't do without.

So, yeah, that, and I've begun to reconsider moving more towards science fiction, away from dark fantasy, because, near as I can tell, much of sf today has its head buried head between its buttocks, more concerned with attempts at predicting the future, being socially relevant, and looking academically respectable than simply producing good sf. I don't give a rat's fanny about the frelling Singularity, the one that, likely as not, is about as much a part of our future as flying cars and world peace. I want to write what Poppy calls "ripping good space yarns" and the technofetishists be damned if they think what I'm doing isn't "serious" sf. On top of this, I've got some screed hammering about inside my crowded skull about readers who want writers to hold their hands through a story, readers who cannot tolerate mystery and wonder, but prefer exposition and "satisfaction." What the hell is all this satisfaction crap, anyway? "I did not find this story satisfying." So the hell what? It's not my job as an author to satisfy anyone but myself. That's why art and masturbation have so much in common. I know this is a sore spot with a lot of readers these days (thank you again, reader-response theory), and a lot of writers trip all over themselves trying to keep readers happy. I just can't do it. Even if I believed it was advisable or Right, I wouldn't know where to begin. Here's a good example:

Consider "Bradbury Weather," which I personally take to be my best sf story thus far. In it, Mars is populated by women and only a very small number of sterile men. The story is told in first person (a voice I've only recently become acquainted with). Now, I see someone complaining that they weren't "satisfied" by the story, and one reason is that the reader never learns precisely why there are no men on Mars. Now, thing is, odd though it may strike you that Mars doesn't need women after all, it's fairly irrelevant to the story. It's history, and not history that directly pertains to the story. Since I've chosen a first-person narrative for "Bradbury Weather," I've also chosen to create an epistolary narrative, sensu lato. I do understand that there are readers and writers who don't quite grasp this is what all fpn's amount to, and therein, I think, lies part of our problem. A woman named Dorry has chosen, for reasons which we do not know, to write down an account of her search for her lover, who has become part of an alien cult. That there are no men on Mars (except the sterile few in the cult) is not something that pertains to the story she's telling. Therefore, it would be unnatural, intrusive, and entirely artificial for me to force her to cough up this bit of data for the satisfaction of my readers. I believe (and this seems obvious to me) that when one chooses to write a fpn one has chosen to give the whole story over to characterization. "Bradbury Weather" is the monologue of the central character, and to her, the absence of men is a day-to-day reality, as is parthenogenic human reproduction and a thousand other things which no doubt seem damn peculiar to the reader. But she's telling her story, the story about her search for Sailor Li, her story about the Fenrir cult, and the absence of men is not a part of the story. So, I can't tell it, and I can't make her tell, because she wouldn't frelling do that. I don't do infodumps.

Isn't the general provenance of science fiction to elicit wonder and cause the readers to think and question? Aren't these things more important and desirable than tying up all the loose ends for imagination-challenged readers who have no apparent interest in coming away from a story with a sense of mystery and problems their minds can freely work at for some time to come?

I wish I could discuss these things without getting angry. No, that's a lie. I wish I didn't have to discuss these things at all.

Yesterday...what about yesterday. I tried to begin the vignette. I kept my date with the fairy, and, as always, she was fickle. She let my mind wander in terrible and wondrous places, but she didn't lead me to The Beginning. Hopefully, she'll take me there today. But, in truth, she has as little regard for my desires and needs as I seem to have for the "satisfaction" of people who think my fiction is written for them. I reread a considerable portion of McNally and Florescu's In Search of Dracula and studied maps of the Carpathians. Finally, about 5 p.m., I set it all aside, meaning to write a Wikipedia entry on the basal tyrannosauroid Guanlong wucaii, only to discover someone had beat me to it. So, I resolved that I would write an entry on the first new dinosaur taxon I came across in whichever issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology I happened to first select. That turned out to be Hungarosaurus tormai, an ankylosaur from the Transdanubian Range in Hungary, and there I was back in "the land beyond the forest." I shall call it synchronicity, or perhaps the merest sort of meaningful coincidence, for lack of some other word. Later, after dinner, Spooky read me the first two chapters of Dracula, and I fell asleep fairly early, by two o'clock, I think, and, surprisingly, there wasn't a single dream of vampires or boyars or imperiled English solicitors. Go figure.