Gabriel Novo ponders being an artistic dreamer stuck in a mundane situation. I think every writer runs into this kind of frustration at some point or other — unless you’re born with truly independent wealth, the necessities of life force you to dedicate much or even most of your time to all kinds of crap that is specifically not creative or artistic. For me, it’s been 20 years ago this summer that I first went into the workplace. My first job was at McDonalds — fast food being a time-honored ‘entry’ job for people of my generation, though I have since heard that this is no longer the case for today’s teens. Anyway, for the two decades since, I’ve had to constantly not get extremely PO’d that reality — the bills, the rent, or now, the mortgage — must take precedent. Maybe if I was single and had no attachments and no standard of living, I could dump it all and be a true aesthete. But as a hubby and a daddy and a guy who takes a bit of pride in being a productive member of U.S. society, I keep my shoulder to the wheel, and if ever I catch myself wanting to just chuck it all and live in a garret, I remind myself of what Steve Barnes once said at NorwesCon: impoverishing one’s family for one’s art is not noble — it’s just being an asshole.
Speaking of Steve Barnes, I agree with what he wrote, regarding science and religion. So often in science fiction it’s assumed that if the human race attains high technology, high education, and a generally high standard of living, religion will become irrelevant. In my own life, I was born and raised churchy, fell away for a couple of years as a teen, then reluctantly planted one foot back in my faith — because as Mr. Spock once said, logic and knowledge are not enough. I suspect this is true of a great many people, regardless of the faith path they choose — or is it that the path chooses us? Which begs an SFnal question: how come with our high tech and our higher learning, most of us deep-down still want and need to have religion? Even if it’s “newfangled” or “New Age” in nature? I suspect that, far from becoming irrelevant, religion in the coming centuries is going to become ever-more important for human civilization, as the immense depths of the techno-info “ocean” — where power and knowledge are endless but wisdom is at a premium — threaten to drown us.
The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has revived environmental and legislative cries for “ending” the United States’ dependence on fossil fuel. Nominally, that’s a good goal. Fossil fuels are a finite resource, difficult to extract from the Earth’s crust, and as the Gulf situation proves, can cause a lot of problems in the event of industrial accidents. Besides, they’re not evenly distributed across the globe, make a mess of the air in major metropolitan areas, and I think every American is sick and tired of being gouged at the pump. Problem is, ending fossil fuel dependence isn’t simply a matter of legislative declaration. It’s a matter of pragmatics and practicality. Even if all commercial sale of diesel and gas were halted, and all the oil companies nationalized, the root problem would remain: how and where to get the energy that powers civilization? Hydroelectric dams are somewhat clean, and already produce a great deal of power, but have their own adverse environmental and territorial impacts. Nuclear fission is also generating some of our power, but is viewed with great (and often unwarranted) suspicion, due to the toxicity of its waste product. Wind is clean, but not able to generate enough power to justify populating the landscape with turbines. Solar is clean, but panels are expensive and not yet efficient enough to justify mass installation. Wind, hydroelectric, nuclear fission and solar together provide only a fraction of what’s required, and transportation and logistics need something better to “run on” besides electric batteries or fuel cells that have limited longevity and limited muscle. So the SFnal questions are: if not oil, what? And more importantly, if not now, when? If ever?? Maybe Jethro Tull was right. Anyone still remember their song Heavy Horses? A disquieting prospect.
John Brown ponders whether or not a writer can still make a living on short fiction alone? The short answer is: probably not. You’d have to sell too many stories too often, and for too little money, to make anything more than a token income. This wasn’t necessarily true during the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, when many of the Name authors routinely sold to magazines, and lived off the revenue. But these days, the economics are different, as is the publishing landscape. And no, e-publishing is not likely to change that. In fact, if I may be so bold, I almost suspect e-publishing might make it worse, because as more and more no-name authors rush to get their manuscripts on-line, there will be more short fiction competing for reader attention than ever before. As if the FanFic deluge didn’t consume enough reader hours? Already-established authors might do quite well — they have a platform and an audience. Unknown authors — such as yours truly — are left to ponder how and where to raise market visibility. With few sure answers. Suffice to say, if you want to “live” on fiction, novels are still the best bet, and then, definitely go the New York route first, before you dive into e-pub. The editor filter isn’t perfect, but it’s there for a reason. And New York still pays fairly well too, especially for writers not afraid to get outside the SF&F “ghetto.”
Speaking of the “ghetto,” SF writer Mike Brotherton has this older essay on Crichton, as both a good and very bad example of a “ghetto” writer who never wrote in, for, or about the “ghetto,” preferring instead to pursue top dollar as a ‘popular’ writer whose work just happens to fit some of the “ghetto” requirements. Brotherton is rather hard on Crichton, in terms of Crichton getting science ‘wrong’ in his many and successful books. And I agree with Brotherton that Crichton’s books did tend to have too much of a what-we-know-will-hurt-us stench about them. But I admire Crichton simply for the fact that he’s one of those very-successful authors — yeah, he’s dead, I know, so what? — who managed to tap a huge and very lucrative ‘vein’ in the public consciousness. Luck can’t explain it because a crappy writer doesn’t get ‘lucky’ over and over and over. Crichton had something more going on with his work. He knew how to create imaginative stories that were every bit “ghetto” and yet never condescended or patronized, as so much “ghetto” fiction (and attitude) does. Given my druthers, I’d be happy as a clam to be Crichton, even if it meant being de-ghettoed in the process. I love my SF and I am happy to write it, but sometimes, the “ghettoization” of things — happily embarked upon by fans and authors both — just makes me want to walk far away and stay far away.