adam-troy castro, analog magazine, bruce sterling, charlie jane anders, dorothy yarros, helena bell, humanism, joe haldeman, ken liu, kij johnson, peter m. ferenczi, reading lists, robert reed, rudy rucker, science fiction, speculative fiction, writing challenges
I received an early birthday present on Thursday, in the form of the galley version of “Hydroponics 101″, slated for June 2013 publication in Analog. “My first short story in one of the Big Three!” I thought on sight–and the moment I heard those words echo in my head, I knew much of my gloom from this past holiday season was at last dispersing. By birthday morning, the grief in my chest had been all but given the boot, as evidenced by my renewed interest in stories about our steadily advancing (and at times, delightfully transforming) collective knowledge–but also, by the capacity to think clearly and optimistically about my writing again.
Writing and reading have always been beacons in the dark for me: the two things I know I do not do out of a sense of obligation to others, but rather, out of a personal desire to engage with our species’ long-standing dialogue about the nature of our strange and fleeting lives. Almost two weeks ago, when I went from a strict routine of daily, early morning writing to a leaden-hearted indifference to doing most anything, I knew my writing goals were likely shot for the season. And indeed, they were, to some considerable disappointment today. But! Where there is life, there is opportunity enough to come back (stronger?), so with the New Year and my latest birthday behind me, I firmly look forward to a year of calm and steady (if hopefully no less vigorous and challenging) personal progress.
Let me pause, then, and before continuing, present the following for your consideration, and also as apology for the grouchiness of my last two posts:
It’s from a website parodying fundamentalist Evangelical materials (Chick tracts, for example), and it never fails to bring a smile to my face when I let personal suffering lead me to brood angrily about the universal chord of human hardship. Even my father, who can be rather candid (now that I’m old enough to form my own opinions on the subject) in his own dismissal of Evangelical rhetoric, recently reminded me that the capacity to rationalize away the existence of other people’s suffering while considering oneself “chosen” or “divinely beloved” would have been an excellent adaptation during much of our species’ arduous progress toward the relative comfort and reduced violence of contemporary civilization.
(That said, evolutionary biologist Robert Sapolsky makes far more educated comments about religiosity as an adaptive trait in general than I can on this specific accord. Make some popcorn first, if you’re intrigued.)
Faced with this observation, I had to concede that so long as I too have coping mechanisms, my time and energy are not best applied to being grumpy with other people for harbouring their own.
Rather, with the world such a hard and unfeeling place, I know my better function, as a purportedly feeling being within it, is in fostering wonder. Wonder, that is, for the fact that, despite all life’s fragility, and despite all the suffering that marks the act of conscious existence just on this one, pale blue dot, we can (and sometimes do) nonetheless strike a blow against greed, fear, and hatred, and upraise in their stead moments of genuine compassion, curiosity, and joy–not just in our own happiness, either, but also in the happiness, strength, and general well-being of other living beings.
On Christmas morning, my five-year-old nephew had to be reminded to open gifts for himself, so busy was he ensuring his mother, little brother, step-guardian, and visiting father had presents of their own. It is a dangerous thing to draw all one’s lessons about sharing and caring from children who are still immensely ignorant of the world and even the cause of their own, occasional tantrums within it–but in this case, having now shaken the veil of grief from subsequent events that day away, I find I can look to my nephew’s conduct that morning as a truly good example of How To Be.
This year, I begin my doctoral reading list–a task that will consume much of my time and make personal writing and reading scarce (and treasured) activities. I will not stop writing and I will not stop reading, but I know I will have to be ever so careful with my time to ensure that neither of my professional spheres suffers on account of the other. More importantly, though, I know I have to be careful not to get so caught up in personal pursuits (and whatever inevitable impediments arise therein) that I forget to take pleasure in, and otherwise celebrate, the lives and work of others.
To that end, in lieu of sharing a litany of personal goals for 2013, I want to get back in the habit of being a champion, first and foremost, for existing and ongoing excellence in the world.
2012 was a pretty strong year, for instance, for the field of science- and speculative fiction in which I’ve now been published four times (with a fifth piece on its way in June). While I sadly read very few of the science fiction novels and collections released this past year (focussing instead on an aggressive review of science fiction classics, amid dozens of course texts and works of scientific non-fiction–though I will reiterate that I thoroughly loved Kij Johnson’s At The Mouth of the River of Bees), and while I saw only a few of 2012′s major scifi films (again, focussing instead on an aggressive review of the classics, notorious and otherwise!), I did keep close tabs on short fiction and, as such, had the great pleasure of reading quite a few smart, wry, and otherwise entertaining scifi stories.
Here, then, picking from four open-access online publications, are just a few. Some struck a chord with me for their sly minimalism; others for their troubling or otherwise thought-provoking content; others still for their powerfully lyrical qualities. (Already I feel guilty leaving off the print publications, and will probably make a list of those, too, soon; Lois Tilton’s 2012 overview is a good start, though!)
And if none of the above worked for you (or heck, even if they did), I’d love to know what stories others most enjoyed this year. (Subterranean, for instance, is conspicuously absent from this list, but only because I found myself enjoying their fantasy pieces more than the scifi.)
Failing that, let me just wish any readers with creative habits or hankerings of their own a most excellent run in the coming months. May your work routines be consistent (and consistently rewarding). May your dark periods (if any) be brief and innocuous. And above all else, may you allow yourself the time, space, personal accountability, and compassion needed to improve–as artists, yes, but more importantly, as human beings.
Much love and best wishes to you all.