Monday, March 23, 2020

Not a Dystopia

     I didn't set out to write a work of dystopian fiction.  Those That Wake was originally set in the present and the characters in it were trying to prevent circumstances which would lead to dystopia.  Market forces pushed the time-frame of the story ahead a few years, but I worked to ensure that it retained something I felt was crucial: a focus not just on how the world could be worse, but on how certain powers work to make it worse.
     We are not living in a dystopia, though the Coronavirus certainly invites the comparison.  Dystopias are about living in an aftermath, dealing with the world after the disaster has happened.  The world is currently engaged in preventing that (and we will, though exactly how long that will take is hard to say).  This situation is efficacious, though, for observing how certain powers are meeting the challenge, and also how people are contending with challenges on our own level.
     Reading is an excellent way to spend some extra time inside.  I find that reading books which allow me to conceptualize and understand the problem we're facing help the most.  Two books that get right to the heart of things are:
     Time out of Joint by Philip K. Dick - For my money, this is Philip K.'s best (no small claim in a field of forty-four novels and one hundred and twenty-one short stories).  While it doesn't appear so at first, this is very much about how higher powers deal with times of crisis.  If you believe the article linked in the second paragraph of this post is about how powerful people try to alter the narrative, or if you believe it's the people who wrote that article that are trying to alter the narrative, Time out of Joint will still resonate for you.
     The Plague by Albert Camus - A work of literature that reads like a thriller (at times), it has much to say about how people deal -- and fail to deal -- with the particular sort of trouble we're having now.
     Maybe you prefer books that get you far away from the problem.  I get it.  If so, have a look at this, instead.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Prince Valiant's Bartender

    So, when you know a comic artist (Gary Amaro, in this case) and you happen to be in the right place at the right time, maybe you end up behind a bar, serving some mead to Prince Valiant himself.  That's what happened to me in the February 16th, 2020 installment.  Thanks, Gary!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanks 2019

     Maybe things are crazier now than they were last year, or maybe not.  The truth is, things are always crazy somehow or other and no matter what side you're on, or if you believe it shouldn't be quite so much about taking sides, normal people just have to muddle through.  We can be thankful for the things that help us do that.  Sometimes they help us escape, sure, but sometimes instead they comfort us by telling us we don't need to escape.
     Philip K. Dick wrote about normal people: shopkeepers, farmers, salesmen, teachers.  A lot of his stories were about what happens when these people have a false world swept right out from under them, but some weren't about that.  Maybe the best one that wasn't about it is Dr. Bloodmoney.  The apocalypse has come and gone, but society is putting itself back together, as it does after its catastrophes.  This is about the normal men and women who have to get it done in small and sometimes impossibly big ways.  The villain of the piece may ring uncomfortably -- but also comfortably -- familiar in his obsession.  It's Philip K. Dick, so it gets very, very weird.  And what do the normal people have to do?  Of course, they have to let the weirdness happen, navigate between this side and that side, and muddle through.
     It always helps to have a joke on hand, too.  Here's one.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Notes from the Field

     The July Booklist is the graphic novel spotlight issue and features, among many worthwhile things, an interview with me on the subject of comics and graphic novels in school libraries, the evolution of the form and its expansive future.  Have a look right here.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Beyond Where You Stand

     Today is my fiftieth birthday.  I’ve been a school librarian for twenty of those years and a writer for a lot longer than that.  My first multi-volume epic was written at age nine, the story of a boy who created a planet by firing a square stone out of his sling shot so hard it fell into the orbit of a distant star and formed the planet Cuberon, the denizens of which fought an eons-spanning war against the rapacious Lizard Men.  A librarian is a kind of story-teller, too, and also a custodian of stories.  Stories echo through time and offer deep insights into what changes about us.
     As a custodian, especially if you work with children, you hear a lot (from parents) about the messages some older stories inadvertently give us, holdovers of obsolete thought, bad ideas from before we changed.  There’s an urge to make those ideas disappear, at the cost the entire story they're embedded in.  But those stories are an opportunity to educate people in how we’ve grown.  Surely there’s no more important lesson for a child than that we can evolve from what we were.
     It’s not as though we have reached the pinnacle of our enlightenment, not as though there are no ideas we hold true now that people down the line won’t read about and think us monsters.  Maybe every time someone in the future reads about one of us using a phone, they will think about the enslavement of children in the Congo who mine for cobalt, a component crucial to our smart phones.  We text away without much thought of that, just like someone long ago took certain things for granted, until something cast a light on it.  Usually a book. 
     Librarian or not, something else you hear a lot about these days is the bad things people have done in their lives.  Bad behavior they’ve exhibited, bad words they’ve spoken which, some contend, should be grounds for dismissal, for shunning.  But it doesn’t take that much work to see what their record shows: do they continue to act this way, hurt people around them, propagate bad ideas?  Or has their trajectory been upwards, do they appear to be improving, do they regret what they’ve done and are they doing predominantly good things? 
     There’s an urge to sweep away a person’s present along with their past, just as we seek sometimes to banish the bad ideas of our past so our present won’t be infected by them.  As if we could ever have grown to where we are without learning from the mistakes of our past.
     Turning fifty is an opportunity to think about growth.  Making the bad ideas of the past vanish, or suggesting that who we were is a trap we’re stuck in forever, is to deny our greatest strength: our ability to rise, to become better.
     Thanks for coming on this journey with me.  As the name of the website suggests, the journey is what it’s all about.