I’m happy to announce that my Nebula Award-nominated short story “The Sounds of Old Earth” will be translated into Polish by Piotr Zawada [ETA: or another translator] for a future issue of Smokopolitan magazine.
C and I watched the movie Whiplash last night. I know some people thought this was a great film, but I found the central conceit extremely problematic. Essentially, the movie says that, to achieve success in art, you must sacrifice friends, family, even life. The protagonist, Andrew, literally almost dies (and almost kills another person) because of his drive to succeed. And while I get it — yeah, we must Strive, capital S, for our art, the film’s message is toxic. It says that art is in competition with life, that they are antagonists. It says that to devote fully to one’s art means one must give up all other distractions. Andrew’s teacher, Fletcher, is the ultimate narcissist, so convinced of his own utility he is unable to see how his behavior literally destroys lives. (One kid kills himself because of the abuse he receives in Fletcher’s class, but Fletcher himself is indifferent, because he’s trying to “push” the students to reach their potential.) The film’s climax comes when Andrew walks off stage (apparently a failure) and then returns to play a drum solo of drum solos (wait, no he’s not a failure!), while a bemused and angry Fletcher at first frowns and then begins to smile as Andrew keeps playing (the student has surpassed the teacher; wow, didn’t see that one coming). We are supposed to cheer Andrew on, but it’s fucking embarrassing. Are any of the other band members important, these musicians who have devoted most of their lives to their music? The film says no. It’s only the Artiste, capital A, Andrew, that matters. Everyone else plays a supporting role in his one-man show. Andrew is the one who bleeds for his art (literally). Andrew is the one who abandons a traffic accident he caused to get to a gig (we are supposed to cheer his determination). He is the one who dumps a potentially great partner because she would be a “distraction.” He is the one who feels superior to his family because they won’t be famous when they’re dead and buried (and he thinks he will.) His father, played by an ever supportive Paul Riser, just watches from a distance while eating popcorn (as we are supposed to do), ever accepting of his sociopathic, narcissistic child.
AND ALL OF THIS IS FUCKING TOXIC.
Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that there have been times, when I’m writing, and I just want to hole up in a cabin in the woods for a week or a month or a decade and shut off all outside distractions and just do the work forever. But you have to come out of that cabin. You have to remember that you are never the sole creator of anything, that everything you are is the product of thousands of people’s labor (yes, even your art). That you are not the star of your own biopic, but one actor in a very large play that has been going on for a long, long time. I firmly believe that if you are Striving, capital S, to the exclusion of friends, family, and life itself, well, my friend, you are doing it wrong. Art is enhanced by friends, family, and life, always, always, always.
A few years ago at Lunacon I was on a panel called “Privacy in the Digital Age.” This was pre-Snowden, and one of my co-panelists, at the very start of the panel blurts out, “This whole notion of privacy today is bunk! No one should have any reasonable expectation of privacy. In the Middle Ages, nothing you did was private. If you went to the market to buy a leg of lamb, every one knew this. If you got your wife pregnant, everyone knew this. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide!”
Fuck, I hate this argument. It’s so malformed it’s not even wrong.
Never mind that this person did not see the irony of applying Middle-Aged standards to 21st century problems, I found his whole proposition suspect. Of course, there was privacy in the Middle Ages. (Unless you feel that every secret whispered in the dark was later announced via herald to the town square.) And even if there wasn’t any privacy at all, so what? It is a mistake to think that just because at some time in human history we behaved a certain way it’s okay if we behave the same way now.
There is an unprecedented amount of information about us being stored in the cloud, and you probably only know about some of it. You may have heard that your internet provider can now legally track what websites you visit. Your cell phone is tracking your position via GPS. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others track what pages you visit on the web. Admit it, you were probably a little creeped out that very first time you browsed a website looking for Adidas shoes and suddenly saw Adidas ads popping up in your web pages. It’s unsettling when we realize people (or algorithms) are watching our behaviors.
But now we are handing over much more information than we ever have. Smartwatches record your heart rate, your respiration, and your sleep patterns. Department stores have hidden sensors in mannequins which track you as you move throughout the store. There are smartglasses that can record your brainwave patterns. With Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and others, our conversations are being uploaded into the cloud for analysis. Facebook (and likely others) are building extremely detailed psycho-emotional profiles about you, which they will then presumably use to sell to advertisers. There’s a lot of evidence these type of profiles were used in the most recent U.S. presidential election to manipulate the public to vote a certain way.
The point is, as more and more of our personal, intimate data is being uploaded into the cloud, it becomes that much easier for a bad actor to abuse it. The manipulation of the voting public, I fear, is only just the beginning. Worse, a lot of us are wholly unaware this is even happening. We are putting a lot of trust in these systems, and these systems have not yet proven to us we can trust them.
I benefit a lot from these systems. I like that Google Maps knows what places I’ve been to, and highlights them on the map for reference. I like that, as I’m driving, I can text my friend solely by talking to my phone. I think it’s a good thing that people are being more conscious about their health by recording their exercise and sleeping habits. All these technologies can be extremely beneficial. But we have to balance those benefits with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Otherwise, we are leaving ourselves open to a level of manipulation and exploitation never before seen in human history.
Tangent Online reviews my story “The Last Novelist” and says,
Matthew Kressel writes a hauntingly sweet and tragic story in “The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard).” Reuth, the last novelist in the universe, is dying and comes to the distant planet of Ardabaab to finish his novel. He befriends a local girl who is intrigued by the foreign art skill he demonstrates, and she becomes his apprentice. The story revolves around the relationship of these two characters, exploring the passion and the often unappreciated talent of an artist. The speculative elements remain in the background, allowing this to be a quiet and subtle character study. I found it to be one of those great tales that knows just when to be verbose, and knows just when to step back and let the characters shine.
They also review stories by Theodora Goss, A.C. Wise, Julianna Baggot and Max Gladstone. You can read all the reviews here.
This is a story of longing and of looking back. Of decline—in health, in life. And of finding something at the end of life that is unexpected but wonderful….It’s an inspiring and elegant story and a great read!
They also review plenty of others, including Theodora Goss, Alyssa Wong, Bo Bolander, Catherynne Valente, Maria Dahvana Headley, and more.
I’ll be attending Lunacon in Tarrytown, NY on April 8-9th. I’ll be on the following panels/readings:
“Writing the empathic character”, Hudson Writing Sat 1:00 PM
If you’re enclosed in the bubble of your own life, can you imagine the lives of others?” How do you write an empathetic human or alien? Is it ethical to force empathy? What is the opposite of an empathic character?
“Writing Social Change in SF” Hudson Writing Sat 2:00 PM
This panel explores how speculative fiction can present the social, environmental and political challenges of our society. What is the best way to discuss these challenges without alienating readers? Is it our responsibility as artists to incorporate these issues in our work, whether overtly or covertly? How can we avoid prejudices and stereotypes in our work?
Are You Lost In the World Like Me? Grand Ballroom A Media Sat 5:00 PM
After a showing of “Are You Lost in the World Like Me” of Animation by Steve Cutts (music by Moby and the Pacific Void Choir), we discuss today’s cyberpunk-like dystopia and where we are headed in the future. Moby says “These systems are failing.”
Reading: Matthew Kressel Dutchess Reading Sun 11:00 AM
Reading: Matthew Kressel (of Altered Fluid writer’s group)
The ink is dry so I can announce some good news: the French-language magazine Bifrost will be publishing a translation of my story “The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard)” in a forthcoming issue. This will be my first translation into French, and my fifth language overall (not including English). I’ll post more when I know which issue.