Anthologists and Their Headaches

Over at SFWA.org, Jeff VanderMeer stresses the importance of writers establishing clear instructions for their literary estates and the obstacles, as an anthology editor, he sees too often:

To a least some extent, the ease with which an anthologist can contact a writer’s representative and obtain rights to a story speaks to how often that writer will be reprinted. A nonresponsive agent, publisher, or literary estate is just one of an anthologist’s worries. Another is, believe it or not, active hostility toward the request. A third is a misunderstanding of the marketplace wherein a writer’s representative asks for such an exorbitant fee that the anthologist cannot reprint the story, or a desire to treat the rights as if they were shares in a company, and to not allow any reprinting, hoping the value goes up.

Hmm. Numbers two and three sound familiar…

Meantime, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc. has announced their 17-year-old Averoigne collection has “an expected release in the Spring of 2012”:

We are not taking orders at this time, do not have prices and have not set a release date. Please do not call or email us asking for more information than is posted here.

Oh boy! Sounds like it will be available any day now! Considering such excellent customer relations and Grant’s clearly rock-solid business model, I’m sure this news is trustworthy and sincere.

The Borribles

The Borribles
Michael de Larrabeiti
Tor (214 pp, $6.99, July 2005)

While on patrol one night in London’s Battersea Park, Knocker and his buddy Lightfinger discover a Rumble trespassing on their home turf. The two Borribles quickly capture the Rumble and then —

Wait. What’s a Borrible? What’s a Rumble?

Borribles, in Michael de Larrabeiti’s razor-sharp novel, are “feral Peter Pans,” to cadge a phrase from the New York Times, pointy-eared children who never grow up:

Normal kids are turned into Borribles very slowly, almost without being aware of it; but one day they wake up and there it is. It doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they’ve had what is called a bad start. A child disappears and the word goes round that he was ‘unmanageable’; the chances are he’s off managing by himself. Sometimes it’s given out that a kid down the street has been put into care: the truth is that he’s been Borribled and is caring for himself someplace.

They are urchins gone elf, living in loose neighborhood tribes, squatting in abandoned buildings and shoplifting their food; they have no leaders or laws beyond a collection of proverbs (“Don’t get caught”), which they frequently cite in their arguments. Borribles are anarchist lawyers, “outcasts, but unlike most outcasts they enjoy themselves and wouldn’t be anything else.”

Their sworn enemies are the Rumbles, intelligent rodents resembling “a giant rat, a huge mole or a deformed rabbit” that walk on hind legs and even drive cars. The Rumbles dwell in a massive (and very posh) underground bunker in Rumbledom; a native Londoner might better recognize the area as Wimbledon Common. They’re also parodies of The Wombles, a series of children’s books, TV shows, and films which I’ve never read or seen.

The discovery of a Rumble rooting around in their territory incites suspicion of a Rumble invasion of Battersea and beyond. A Borrible council is quickly called, whereupon it’s decided each of the Borrible tribes of London will furnish a warrior to participate in the Great Rumble Hunt. The goal of this expedition: to infiltrate Rumbledom and assassinate the eight members of the Rumble High Command, thereby decapitating Rumble society. And, so that the Rumbles may have a sporting chance, the Borribles release the Rumble prisoner with a message for the High Command, explaining the entire plan.

Thus ends Chapter One.

Continue reading The Borribles

Hands Off Your Neighbor’s Ass

My friend Max Borders is running a Kickstarter fundraiser to launch his book Superwealth: Why We Should Stop Worrying About the Gap Between Rich and Poor:

If The New York Times can trot out billionaires with guilt complexes, maybe someone out there will listen to a middle-class guy with a well-considered, well-researched case for why we should:

1. Stop worrying about The Gap,
2. Understand the true nature of wealth and poverty,
3. Stop demonizing the wealthy,
4. Focus on how best to help the poor, and
5. Learn to celebrate wealth creation.

Max’s thesis is something I’ve echoed in my own arguments with folks worried the rich are growing richer and the poor allegedly poorer (I’m looking at you, Dad). If you understand wealth is not zero-sum and is therefore infinite, then there will always be persons who grow richer daily just as every moment Voyager 2 travels farther from our sun.

Now, if an individual uses his wealth to prevent others from rising to the same plane; if he and others conspire to raise costs of goods or services through monopolization or price-fixing or corporatism; if he invests unwisely only to be rescued from loss by public money — then that’s wrong and must be combated.

But wealth in and of itself is not evil. Camels-through-the-eyes-of-needles jealousy is Nietzsche’s slave morality, simple knee-jerk emotionalism that tars something bad merely because you don’t have it.

And, in fact, because wealth has no inherent moral value — what is steel compared to the hand that wields it? — it does just as much good as evil, if not more. For every Wall Street profiteer deriding his own clients as muppets there’s a Santa Claus handing out hundreds at a homeless shelter. As Max says, instead of fretting over the zeroes in the country club president’s savings, we should concentrate on how those on the other side of the tracks can add digits to their own accounts.

So please — give Max’s Kickstarter page a gander and consider supporting him.

Suffocating History

Bruce Cole sketches an elegant portrait of historian Barbara Tuchman that’s well worth reading in its entirety, particularly for her tips on “practicing history,” as she called it. But Cole focuses on the fact that Tuchman was not an academic — to her credit.

Is a Ph.D.—the union card for the professorate—a hindrance to approaching history as Tuchman did?

Alas, the answer is likely “yes.” The years-long slog of course work, exams and the laborious, footnote-laden dissertation—written strictly to be read by other scholars—have a way of hard-wiring habits of the mind that are difficult to overcome. A few academically trained scholars do survive the tyranny of their doctorates and reach a wide reading audience. But inside the Ivory Tower, where most historians dwell, professors write books, articles, and conference papers for other professors, and mainly for those colleagues toiling in the same small subset of the past.

A grad-school professor once chided me that I wrote in a “casual” popular style. His goal was to gently push me toward a more formal tone in my papers but I stubbornly dug in my heels. Academic English is a baroque dialect, a game of tin-can telephone meant for a minority of receivers, as Cole says, and not intended for a general audience.

Yet what then is the point of writing something no one will ever read? What rationalization can be presented for the public grants, endowments, tax exemptions, and tolerance if no outsider ever benefits? How can you ever argue that professors aren’t just a priest class removed from yet supported by society? It’s an obligation to write in a comprehensible style. I earned very good marks in graduate school — I even enjoyed it! — but the writing was the most difficult for me. I hated the writing.

I shouldn’t complain, though; general-audience historians are the main beneficiaries of this system. Leave the professorial witch doctors shut up in their temples, burning their incense and scrutinizing their chicken bones. I’m more than happy to author the books they never will.

Everybody’s a Critic

io9 posted a list of the 10 Worst Mistakes That Authors of Alternate History Make and as you can imagine, I have some notes.

Like everything at io9, the article is confused and garbled: we’re informed of mistake No. 8 — Ignoring historical factors that were important at the time, even if they aren’t important to your story — in which Cherie Priest is marched to the woodshed because she forbears detailing the minutiae of 19th-century railroad rights in Utah — but then we’re told about mistake No. 2 — Explaining too much. Interviewing a wide swath of alt-hist writers is a great concept and certainly boosts exposure of the genre, but I wish Anders had allowed each author a hundred words or so to summarize his or her approach rather than jam the interviews into the cheesy square hole of a Late Nite Top 10 cliché. Still, the article’s own Worst Mistake is including the advice of war pornographer SM Stirling, who by all means should be completely ignored, if not pushed off a bridge.

A few bread crumbs of wisdom are sprinkled in the actual author quotes by underscoring what not to not do. I most seriously take exception to No. 10: Failing to bring it up to the present:

This is an “uncommon but grievous rookie mistake,” says Terry Bisson, whose alternate history of 1968, Any Day Now, comes out March 1. If you don’t bring your alternate history up to the reader’s present, then you leave out half the fun.

So any alternate history that isn’t set in the 21st century is a “grievous rookie mistake?” Thanks Mr. Bears-Discover-Fire, but you go ahead and stick to your naked book promotion while the rest of us do that voodoo we do.

Alas, when Alt Hist editor Mark Lord tweeted the article, he wrote, “I have to agree with #10.” Guess that’s one market I’ll never crack.