On Hugo

So, the Hugo ceremony hit yesterday.

A colleague was (deservingly) nominated, but due to their (excellent) work being caught up in the Puppy block-voting, did not win, with No Award instead being awarded in that category.

I have many thoughts on this whole thing, and they are complicated and not really that important; but here is a better place to talk about it than in random comment threads on the Interwebs. So here you go.

1: My colleague deserved that nomination. No-one is pretending otherwise. Yes, unfortunately, their work was on one of the Puppy slates, but so was Guardians of the Galaxy. Good works did wind up on there, though not at all universally.

2: The Puppies are a poison on fandom, and what they did is exceptionally heinous. Not the block-voting specifically — that’s poor sportsmanship, but poor sportsmanship that was as of the last Hugo nomination vote codified as acceptable in the rules for the Hugo Awards. The nature of their block-voting was the heinous part; the deliberate attempt to hijack the awards as a way of broadcasting their intensely politicized, racist, and sexist opinions — of, in essence, stuffing the ballot so that white men won, and then trying to claim that was because their stories were superior.

3: Any appeal to legitimacy the Puppies tried to make vaporized when they got in bed with VD. VD believes black people aren’t actually human and that thinks there are empirical facts about women that women cannot possibly contradict because they are science or some crap. It is the opinion of this author that he is a bully, a coward, a racist, a sexist, and utterly undeserving of even a single moment of validation or happiness in his miserable existence. VD being involved removes any claim to any other political agenda that the Puppies might have; they are the literary equivalent of GG and are as laughable and as terrifying to behold as that movement. And neither of them is winning.

4: Voting for No Award as a counter to the Puppies is one of the few recourses left to people who did not want to allow VD and his ilk to claim a victory. Poor sportsmanship turned the Hugo Awards this year into a war, a referendum on the Hugos themselves and on fandom’s feelings about block-voting and the atavistic toxicity of the Puppies.

5: Choosing not to vote for No Award — to decide that you really do like a work and to vote for it regardless of the slate it came from — is also legitimate. Choosing to not worry about the power play of the Puppies and fight them in the court of public opinion later is legitimate. Choosing to either thing does not make you a bad Hugo voter, just like choosing not to vote in a specific race does not make you a bad voter generally.

6: People who are claiming the No Award voters are throwing a temper-tantrum or similar are being the next step between problematic and heinous. The Puppies are an example of a very real struggle being dragged into an arena that was never meant to be an arena in the first place. Representation matters. Stories matter. What we tell ourselves in our stories matters. The Puppies’ claim that they are for “good stories” when what they are saying is that they want stories where no-one feels feelings, where no problematic elements are presented and examined, where woman and LGBT people and people of color are not the main characters — when they are in essence saying that only stories about men that are never challenging can be good — is a huge middle finger to people who need help processing feelings, who need to see problematic elements confronted, who are or care about women or people of color. The danger they present is a metaphysical one, but a real one; and to dismiss that is to dismiss the experiences of people different than you.

I feel for my colleague, and for all the creators who had their work ground up under the tank-treads of this year’s fight. My hope is that work is done in the future to dismantle the system that allows the Puppies to do what they did, or at least to try to control it, and that in the future the Hugos cannot be as easily hijacked by a very loud minority. We knew this year was going to be terrible from the very beginning of the Puppies mess, and I only wish something could have been done sooner. I hope — I believe — that my colleague will be nominated again, and that they get to take the place they rightfully deserve on that stage.

My comments are full of spam lately, so if I do not respond to you, please do not be offended. That said, I am not afraid to moderate. You have a right to speak freely, but trolling or bellicose posts are liable to be deleted after some good-faith exchange on the matter.

On Time

I finally, officially, do not find myself homesick for a memory anymore.

Let me sum up. No, that’s too short, let me explain. For many, many years, I thought of my years at UC Santa Cruz as the best years of my life. My responsibilities were primarily to myself and my academics; I had not enough money to thrive, but enough to get by and indulge a little here and there; I had the friends I could already tell were going to last me the rest of my life. I felt in touch with myself and at peace. I mean, most of the time, there were meltdowns and freakouts and sundry bummers. That had to be my peak, right?

Fast-forward. This past week. We’ve been having a rough go of it in my household lately; my wife was diagnosed with type II diabetes, which necessitated she make diet and exercise changes that I have been expending a lot of energy helping her with, and that have required both of us do a lot more work on food prep than we are used to (no more “meh, we can both just grab McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow”). That, coupled with me waiting for the results for my physical, has led to a lot of stress and sleep issues and exhaustion and, yes, some depression. (We have since learned her doctor really likes the changes she’s made, she’s got it pretty under control with fairly low dosage of meds, and we even think we can send her into remission if we keep at it. Is good.)

But, this past week, we finally got to a break in the stress. I had Monday off for my physical, and after that was done, I came down to Sonya’s work for a few hours and hung out as a guest in the lobby, playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on my iPad and trawling the Interwebs before we headed off for our plans for the evening: the live San Jose broadcast of WWE Monday Night RAW.

It is no secret that I love pro wrestling. I love the primal storytelling itches it manages to scratch; the sort of stock characters like commedia dell’arte, the cathartic fake violence like a Punch and Judy show, the ribald and earthy themes like Greek New Comedy. I also love the athleticism and, yes, a chance to just have some silly fun and watch an Irish demon do a flying foot stomp on a sociopathic Canadian neckbeard. I never thought I’d get to see it live, though, and thanks to our good friends David and Alison, that was what we got to do on Monday. It’s actually even better live; the timing and pacing can feel a little weird due to it being filmed for TV, but live you really appreciate the artistry and psychology of the wrestling match a lot more. I got to see all my favorites, save one, go out there and show off their skills (Seth Rollins! Charlotte! Roman Reigns! Neville!) — and even the great Cesaro got to do a lengthy and fun talking segment with his current nemesis (Kevin Owens, the aforementioned neckbeard). I also got to challenge the Neolithic sexism of some jerks in the back chanting misogynistic garbage at the women’s division, which didn’t penetrate their useless brains but did feel really good. I had a wonderful time and ended the show hoarse, but joyous and celebratory. It was fun I will not fail to repeat when I get the chance.

Then came a short week of work. I got a chance to finish Revision, a character-driven sci-fi book by an author I had never read before; then the Usagi Yojimbo epic, Grasscutter, which easily deserves its place on War Rocket Ajax‘s “Every Story Ever” list; and then to start Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is where this post started germinating. I tried to read Beloved in college (one of the handful of required readings I sorta didn’t finish), and just could not get into it. This week, though, I started appreciating it a lot more; the cadence and the pathos and the layers of emotion all really grabbed me and tore at me, and I find myself reading at far, far below my usual pace purely because I want, need, to savor all the feels and all the wordplay.

The work week ended with a relaxed Saturday of food prep (a routine we are finally falling into), writing, exercise, and at the end of it, the first session of a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. My good friend Matt is running us through the Princes of the Apocalypse module, and last night was character creation, the first combat, and some roleplaying. I got screwed in the combat by some bad dice luck and perfectly logical targeting by the monsters (why not go after the guy who looks tough and is already beaten up?), but also got to start establishing my character’s personality. (I’ll be selfish here and admit, my favorite moment was the GM’s brother telling me that the GM tells me all the time about the Wild Talents game I am running for him, and that it sounds awesome. That’s so good to hear.)

Afterwards, we talked a little about health and a little about life and a little about next session, and the thing that struck me is how…easy it all felt. How easy it was to discuss managing diabetes, to discuss dieting, to discuss rules, to discuss education, to be there drinking scotch and rolling dice and hanging out with some guys who have, in some cases, seen me through serious drama and ugly spats and just being a shitty, shitty human sometimes. How easy and natural it feels to be having to plan around kids and jobs, or give each other advice on managing fleas. What was this feeling?

This morning, it clicked. I went out here to the garage for some writing, after prepping up part of our Monday food rations and making myself some breakfast, and I realized I needed some time for the ibuprofen to kick in on my headache before I could really craft prose. So, I booted up my emulator and started in on some Chrono Trigger; I’m on the final boss, might as well finish that up before I try to tell more stories of Playtime Town.

The final boss was easier than I remember, probably due to be planning tactics with the brain of a 33 year old instead of a teenager; and then I got to the ending. (There are spoilers for a 20+ year old game here, so be warned.) I smiled when King Guardia and his ancestors and descendants announced they knew what had happened and wanted to celebrate Crono’s achievement. I grinned and shook my head at the old 16-bit moonlight parade they put up for you, and wondered at the decision to have a Mystic leading the parade (which implies things I am only just now considering). Then I got to the back of the Millennial Fair, and to the sequence where everyone says goodbye. And I misted up a little at Ayla leaving, and a little more at Frog leaving. I…sort of didn’t care when Magus left, though I found myself hoping he found Schala. And then Robo went to leave…and yeah, I teared up a little. Because somewhere in the background of all that fighting, Robo and Lucca became such good friends, and Robo’s life was hands-down the most disrupted by the events of the series, to the point where his previous life quite possibly does not exist anymore…I mean, is it possible Robo is the most heroic character in the series? The one whose hero’s journey is the most damaging to his everyday world and who learns the most?

Then I got to the credits, and somehow, the comedy bit with King Guardia and Taban set me off grinning and misting again. And then I paid attention, I mean really paid attention, to what was happening in each of the characters’ final moments in the series. I saw the little touch the programmers gave us in Leene looking toward a clearly wistful, thankful Frog. I saw the playfulness and togetherness of Ayla and Kino. I saw Magus, still searching, clearly unflagging in his quest for Schala. And I saw that not only was Robo sitting with a no-longer-villainous Atropos, they were sitting together on a familiar-looking mountainside, next to a familiar-looking bridge…a reminder that we really had saved the future.

Chrono Trigger was what put this week into perspective for me. I have a depth of being and of perception now that I was only just learning about in college. I indulge in things that please me without shame, and I take care of myself with pleasure. I have friends who accept me for me, and who I do the same for right back. I make a difference in the world, even if it’s only on a local scale for the moment. I am more authentically myself, more in touch with my emotions and with the emotions of the world, than I have ever been in my life. And I am only going to get better at it as time goes on.

I don’t need UC Santa Cruz, except as one step in my journey. That doesn’t mean I’ll never focus my life on that county again, but it does mean that there is not quite so large a part of me unable to stop living in it. I am the best me I have ever been right now in this moment, and tomorrow I will be an even better me.

Now excuse me. I need to go start my New Game Plus.

On Not Being Political

I saw some wonderful advice on a friend’s Facebook page the other day. I have since allowed the link to slip through my fingers, so please accept my apology for not having the exact wording to hand. But, basically, it boiled down to this: that to be against things and to make enemies is to put your artistic career at risk; to instead be for things, be for people, be a positive force in the world. That gets you more friends and more allies and it helps your career.

And I agree, though I think the progenitor of this idea was a bit categorical about it. I’m sure that’s a casualty of them saying it in an eloquent way, or possibly of them being of a life experience that is disconnected from a lot of the tragedies and injustices going on today (in an empathetic way where they see it’s terrible). I’m sure they didn’t intend that. But I only agree to a point, and that point is this:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angry about some things.

There is nothing wrong with being angry about inequality. There is nothing wrong with being angry about injustice. I won’t sit here and itemize, but being upset at people and at institutions that believe in the idea that some people deserve a better life than others because of some accident of geography or birth or ability is a perfect legitimate, human reaction to things, and I think that the fear of it limiting our success if we say something is partially born of a desire to not offend, to be friendly, to get along, but also of a system that will do anything it can to keep us from talking about those things. It’s the system that gets prominent web personalities to dismiss the Puppies as just another voting block and ignore the very real problems underlying their stated goals; it’s the system that gets mad at us whenever our reaction to mass shootings is to maybe talk about gun control. Because our outrage, and our desire to fix things, is seen as some kind of verbal flatulence, something unsightly that people do not want to deal with.

And yes, there are times when that is inappropriate to bring up — spaces where people are there to relax and blow off steam. You shouldn’t interrupt little Jane’s birthday party to talk about what you think the latest shooter’s motivation was, and you shouldn’t go into the con suite and apropos of nothing make the discussion about Teddy Beale’s loathsome beliefs. (Though I’ll be fair, if I for some reason saw VD in a con suite I probably would not be very civil with him.) And certainly there are topics outside of, like, civil rights that are perhaps best left behind when in public spaces — I’m not going to push my socialist agenda while on a panel at a sci-fi con. And yes, you should try to be positive when you can. But being angry because people are being treated poorly, are dying — especially when you know that is happening because of a trait you or a loved one share, especially when there is a centuries-old legacy of people being treated this way, especially when you live with the threat of it every day — is not indecent, and it should not make you enemies, except among those who were enemies to humanity already.

So, I will try to be positive, to be an advocate, to be a fan, especially because I do not believe in co-opting the rage of marginalized people for myself; but I will not be pleasant for the sake of being pleasant, if it means that we are silent when someone speaks out in favor of oppression. The choice there is, and should be, obvious.

End of line.

On Dice

As of about a week ago, there is a large glass cookie jar on one of the shelves of our gaming bookshelf (slash bar), into which we have poured all the dice we are not using for an active RPG campaign.

Initially, the idea was one of convenience and aesthetics. The jar looks much cleaner on the shelves than a bunch of loose bags of dice, it gives us a place to put dice not currently being used, and it makes it very, very easy for people who come over and forgot their dice (or don’t have any) to know where to grab a few for the session. But as I looked at it and thought about it, and considered the fact that eventually the yellow d6s I’m using for Mouse Guard will go into the jar, I realized it’s something more. It’s an excuse to tell stories.

That cookie jar contains a lot of dice, random d6s and d10s especially, that I cannot track back to this game or the other. But it also contains the special “d’oh!” polyhedrals I got as a gift during the beta-test of Pathfinder, and that saw me through Joe’s 4th edition campaign. The teal dice Sonya used for her first-ever D&D character. The dwarven-rune dice I used for the first, now-shelved run at Sonya’s “Hammerhome” D&D campaign. The green dice Sonya used when we first playtested 5th Edition D&D; the pair of percentile dice that steered Ellis into disaster in Roo’s Eclipse Phase game; the speckled polyhedrals I picked up as an emergency, when my dice went missing (temporarily) right before I was slated to run “Lost Mine of Phandelver” from the D&D starter set. It even has the crystal-shaped d10s I used for my famous college Changeling: the Dreaming campaign. And some time soon, it will have the Lion Clan d10s that back up Ikoma Hanzo in our Legend of the Five Rings game, and the aforementioned yellow d6s, and whatever stormy color of polyhedrals I glom onto for Karai al-Amun in Matt’s run of “Princes of the Apocalypse”; and eventually, sad to say, the pile of d10s that I use for “Great Responsibility,” my Wild Talents campaign.

So any time I want, I can pick up that cookie jar, and I can tell you all about what stories I’ve gotten to take for a spin with the dice you might be reaching for to get through a difficult session.

“Oh yeah, those dice rolled the damage that killed Corwin the troll in the sewers underneath Los Angeles.”

“Those dice? Those were how I placed third in the Topaz Championship. Sonya got first.”

“Those dice were how Red Death nearly killed the New Firm during the Night of the Red Death.”

“I don’t remember any of the numbers that die rolled, but it was with Tome all the way from level 1 to 10…”

This is what gaming is all about, for me: a chance to talk about the successes and the failures, to remember a story we shared in a more direct, if also more mechanical, way than a movie or a book. A reminder of the great times I’ve had with great people. A chance to remind myself that for all it may not feel like much, I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. It’s just that some of it is fictional.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, that jar is a chance to hand off some dice to a new friend, or an old one returned to my life, or one I am glad to have around every day…or a pair of tiny hands, ready to carry a torch and fifty feet of rope into their first crypt.

It started out as something convenient, but it made itself into more. And really, I think that’s the best we can hope for with any part of our lives.

On KublaCon 2015

So, I am back from KublaCon, and I have gotten the apparently requisite ten hours of post-con sleep, so it’s time for my con recap post.

tl;dr: This Kubla did some things better than last year and some things worse, but averaged out to the usual superb gaming con that I would recommend to anyone who wanted to get their game on.

I view KublaCon as a chance to relax in the middle of a very hectic part of my year. May is often a brutal period in our publishing cycle at work, and it’s often just starting to warm up in my area, with the concomitant discomfort and fussiness from me and my high natural core temperature. So finding something good to do on Memorial Day weekend is important for my sanity, and Kubla offers exactly what I need — gaming, friends, and some enforced relaxation away from the travails of the word processor and the writing desk. It’s one of my few moments of total unplugging, and this year it couldn’t have been timed any better.

I went to Kubla with the goal of getting a little bit out of my comfort zone and trying some new stuff – nothing that would ruin a vacation, but some things that would keep said vacation from being staid. So on Friday, I made a point of answering a request for an RPG that needed players, and throughout the weekend I tried to sign up for things I hadn’t played before or that wouldn’t normally sound all that interesting to me. I even took a stab at trying Ultimate Werewolf, but honestly the conference rooms they were holding those games in were too small for me to deal with and remain sans anxiety.

I played in a few more games this year than I did last year, partially due to our very smart decision to only try to Shuffle for RPGs that actually sounded like fun to us. As a result, there was more tabletop gaming, though the sign-up sheets were often very congested and I didn’t get into as many as I might have otherwise. I played in a game of 7th Sea on Friday afternoon (the aforementioned game that needed players) that was a real blast from the past, though not as much fun as the games I used to play in college, partially due to a problematic player (more on that in a minute), and Saturday was a D&D 5th Edition game that reaffirmed my love of 5th Edition and left me with a new GM whose games I will make a point of shuffling for in future years. Sunday I played about four or five straight hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse, a game of Lords of Waterdeep, and a game of Pitchcar, which was completely new to me and which I highly recommend. And then Monday I wrapped it all up with a nice game of Paranoia that left me with yet another new GM to watch. I’m hoping I don’t pull the stories about my Team Leader being telefragged and then killed by teleporting into a closed suitcase at too many parties, but there will be at least a few.

I also ran a couple games this year. The Sentinels of the Multiverse demo was again a success, with me getting to play the game with a mother-and-son pair who were attending their first convention together in a couple years, and who not only bought the game after I showed it to them, but also bought the Silver Gulch environment deck specifically because I had a card in it, which was a sweet gesture on their part. (They were disappointed when, during the big bout of SOTM the next day, they didn’t actually get a chance to fight my card.) The “Ghostbusters Bay Area” session I ran was a success, with an unexpected twist ending engineered by my players; the highlight of that for me was hearing two of my players talking about how fun it was in the hall afterwards, without them realizing I could hear them. I think Fate Accelerated may not be the right generic system for me, and I’m going to be taking a look at Fate Core in the intervening year before I try to run anything again. Though it may not matter; I recognized a gap in the programming in the form of very few supers games (other than ones where players were playing characters from existing IPs), so I think there is more Wild Talents in my future. I ran a game set in an…er…alternate reality of my main Wild Talents campaign last year, and it was well-received, so I think I may go back to that well.

(I feel weird saying that I’m running an AR game in a universe of my own design. It sounds too much like too many nightmarish gaming stories I have heard. Which is why I’m making myself say it, because it’s nothing to be inherently ashamed of. Comfort zone.)

My only gripes with the con were things that I think will be gripes with all cons, in one way or another. The results from the randomizing RPG sign-up system posted too close to the sessions themselves, and in one case after the session started, leading to a bit of decapitated-chicken action here and there as I found out I was in a game with too little time to reasonably get to said game. There were a couple games that didn’t get going particularly on time, and a couple cases of standard-but-still-unacceptable nerd rudeness that stick out in my mind even through the haze of pleasant memories. The sushi restaurant next to the hotel is inexplicably closed on weekends. That kind of thing. But it’s nothing that would keep me from going next year or recommending the experience to others; not in the slightest. I am confident that next year those problems will be fixed and replaced with new ones. It’s the nature of humanity.

Speaking of convenient segues, one thing that Kubla did for me was make me extra-grateful for the great gaming groups I’ve had over the years; and it did that for me by reminding me that not everyone is that great. Over the weekend I met many wonderful people, some a bit awkward, some trying a bit too hard, but all good at their core. I also met a GM for a tabletop game who got derisive and stuttery when faced with a woman holding a baby who wanted to play in his game (it seemed to be more tone-deaf than outright judgmental, but it was still lame behavior); and a player in a game who wanted to make sure at every moment that we knew she knew the system better than us, and who literally broke into song when we stopped responding to her and then started shouting at us about acting poorly near the end of the game; a guy who felt the need to tell me at length about what sounded like maybe a minor kidney infection or food poisoning while he debated whether to go to the E.R.; and my least proud moment of the weekend, an encounter with a teenage player who checked off all the stereotypes of the teenage player at a gaming con. I won’t enumerate them, because he does not deserve to be shamed for being at an age when we’re all frankly both poor and insane unless we are leading a particularly lucky life, and that’s all it was; but he does deserve my apologies for getting curt with him in the middle of one of his many, many rants about the pragmatic (read: full-on bag-of-rats dungeon munchkinry) way we should be approaching the dungeon-crawling experience. I could have handled myself much better, and I am grateful the others players and he did not seem to get too upset about it in the long run. I’m also grateful, in a weird way, that my outburst was not as explosive as some of my temper issues have been in the past. Progress! (I feel weird sharing this, too. Comfort zone.)

The one thing I really want to fix on my end, besides watching myself around teenagers, is the sleep issue. I have had trouble sleeping enough at every con I’ve been to at that hotel. I suspect it’s the dry recirculated air, or possibly the kid-on-Christmas emotions of being at a convention, or possibly both or some other thing, but it has to stop, because by Sunday I was just constantly tired, and even ten hours of sleep last night didn’t fully purge the feeling of fatigue from my body. I’ll be at the same hotel this autumn for another convention, and I’m going to use it as a chance to experiment with natural sleep aids and maybe bringing my own pillows and some other stuff to help me get to bed. It’ll be doubly important then, since I’ll be a panelist, and I’m hopeful that I can get this problem licked.

I believe in ending on positives, so I’m going to end on two. The first is that I got a chance to game with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while, including one who was one of my original gaming buddies back in Fort Bragg, and that was just so nice. The other is that I made a couple new friends – probably just friends I’ll see at con, but people I really enjoyed gaming with and who it was a pleasure to be around. I plugged into the community at KublaCon a little more this year, and that was exactly the kind of experience I need. I love games on the face of them; but the way games can be the pillars on which rest a community is what attracts them to me even more. I can’t wait until next year.

On Confidential Battles

The following may contain spoilers for the recent arcs of the Avengers comic and for Secret Wars Issue #1 and Issue #2, but I needed to share this somewhere. I take no responsibility for you reading past the next two lines of asterisks.

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Alright. So here’s this idea I have in my head.

Right now, it looks like Battleworld/Latverion is the product of Doctor Doom’s imagination — he’s salvaged parts of the worlds the Beyonders were just going to destroy, but he’s done it in a way which makes him the centerpiece. This implies that it is possible to bargain with the Beyonders (possibly with the Molecule Man as leverage) or, as was the case back in the original Secret Wars, that it’s possible for a mortal to hijack a Beyonder’s power, and thus do we have Latverion and Doomgard and all that other self-indulgent pomp and circumstance that makes us love Doom.

It also looks like at least some characters are coming out of Secret Wars with more or less the same personality and the same ongoing narrative arc. Thor, Goddess of Thunder has been guaranteed to return post-Wars, and her arc is definitely coming to a middle, not an end. Ms. Marvel appears to be the same person, along with the newest Captain America, provided the Free Comic Book Day issue of All-New All-Different Avengers is accurate in its portrayal of the team makeup. So this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a hard reboot of the entire Marvel Universe; some things are going to retain their inertia. But, for now, not everyone appears to understand that Battleworld is something new — at least some characters, including canon main characters like Apocalypse and Sue Storm, seem to see Battleworld as what has always existed.

So here’s what I want to see. Here’s where I feel the plot going in my head.

Over the 8 issues of Secret Wars, and possibly some in the related miniseries, we’ll start seeing characters figuring out that Battleworld is not the only world that has ever existed. Some will learn it from the Cabal, others will piece it together from evidence buried in Battleworld’s firmament, others may have it shoved into their brains via magic or other means. Some characters will start feeling that this state of affairs is not acceptable and/or tenable; either because they rankle under Doom’s yoke, or because they feel like they could make a better world, or because they think they are who should be in charge. The actual “Wars” of the title will then be the fight to figure out how Doom pulled off what he pulled off and/or take control of that power through various means.

And at the end, there’s a group of heroes and villains, all with their fingers on the proverbial button. They have figured out how to reboot the universe and end the reign of Doom and bring back Earth and Knowhere and Asgard and all the bits that used to be around before the Beyonders decided they were bored, with some changes — some history altered, some memories erased.

And the villains — I’m picturing Doctor Doom, Thanos,  will think “I could make a world where I rule.”

And the heroes will think, and say “You know…we should not mess with people too much…but maybe a fresh start is a good idea.”

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, looking at each other, and imagining what the Avengers could be if they had never gone through Civil War or the battle to save the world from the incursion.

Scott and Alex Summers, imagining a world where they and the Brotherhood never took some of the steps they took, and the dream of mutant harmony could be a little more within reach.

Reed Richards and Sue Storm, looking into each others’ eyes, and saying “You know, we were great once. We could be great again.”

Ms. Marvel, head ducked, thinking she just wants to see her parents again.

Of course, the villains will not go gently into that good night; and so some compromise will have to be made with them in order to prevent them insisting on just hoarding all the power for themselves, they have to allow Thanos and Galactus and Dr. Doom and, yes, Magneto to come and exist in their world, too. And of course, there will be changes that no-one is comfortable wreaking — a certain Uncle Ben, perhaps, or maybe a well-known exposure to cosmic rays…and so, good and evil and self-involved will all work together, and tear down Battleworld, and out of it will come a world that seems similar, but is a little bit shinier, a little bit newer, a little bit more capable of working toward that better tomorrow the Avengers and the X-Men lost sight of near the end of 616…a world where the Goddess of Thunder is still doing her best with a terminal diagnosis, and where Kamala Khan gets that call-up to the big leagues…a world where Iron Man and Steve Rogers are friends again, where Professor Xavier and the X-Men can trust each other again…but a world that also has to be ready to deal with the darkness waiting in the wings.

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That’s how I hope Secret Wars ends. And the fact I can see just the barest threads of this and give them a good, cosmogonic tug; the fact that there is room for conjecture and interpretation, and that I am this excited about the possibilities; are why I am currently not at all worried this will be like Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I can’t wait to see what Marvel does next.

On Being Prepared (Convolution Post the First)

So, I had a few arguments today. Some of you may have seen them.

I am proud of myself for standing up for diversity; I am not necessarily proud of the all-caps rant I went on on a friend’s thread. I feel kind of bad about that. Not because I don’t think the people there didn’t need to be stood up to; but because I really don’t like losing my cool. I am not one of the voices that needs to be raised right now.

But this is a post about my first appearance as a guest at a con. I’m appearing at Convolution 2015, and I’m so excited and also so scared. Scared because the con chair has specifically said this year is going to be about talking about issues of inclusion and equality in fandom, and this is the very issue that I tend to get angry about, because…Jesus Christ, is it important to me people all get a fair shake in this world, and in fictional worlds.

So, I am nervous about my ability to stand up to this conversation, especially if I start seeing some of the arguments I dealt with today that made me pop off. But I want to represent my cause better — not just for the cause, but because I think a reasoned argument might help turn some people who are on the fence about diversity, and that should be a goal of mine. (I won’t claim it should be a goal of everybody’s; but since I am one of the most privileged people I know, I think trying to help bring other privileged people around is a good use of my time.) In the interest of calming my nerves, I’m collating some good stock responses and useful data to help support my efforts toward sane, logical arguments about diversity, equality, inclusivity, feminism, intersectionality, etc. If anyone wants to help me out with some of their favorites, I would really, really appreciate it. I’ll keep them here, in this post, ready for anyone who needs it to access.

Note: the intent is not to develop “snappy rejoinders”; the intent is to help people using the list to remain logical and to have useful data and time-tested arguments to use as anchors in difficult conversations about social justice.

Note the Second: Poking holes in arguments is not an appreciated input here. If you disagree with the cause of social justice, um…I’m not sure how you get here…but I’m also not interested in having that argument here, right now. I am happy to engage with you later in some other context.

Ones where I don’t have a really solid argument yet are blank and presented as things I could use help with. Let the grand experiment begin.

(When referring to a fantasy/sci-fi piece) “Diversity in this instance is not historically accurate”: Neither are the fantastic elements of the story. It is OK to give underrepresented people representation in a story that is already diverging from reality.; Bonus: It’s not historically accurate to not have ANY people of color; there were black people in Elizabethan England, there were Chinese and Japanese people in 1940s New York, etc. etc. Homosexuality has been a thing for millennia. There is no reason not to have some of that stuff in some scenes.

It’s just fiction, it doesn’t matter”: What we tell each other in our stories absolutely matters. Everyone deserves to be able to see themselves in stories, and also see other people in stories; it helps humanize them through the characters. Martin Luther King wanted Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek for a reason. Christians worked pagan symbolism (Pan) into the “evil” characters of their religion (the Devil) for a reason.

“What I say about a fictional character doesn’t matter”: 

“We’re/you’re being too sensitive”:

“This is too much diversity”: How can something be too diverse? Why is it a bad thing if we want to see a wider variety of people in our media? How is that preventing people from enjoying it or taking away from anyone?

“Adding diverse characters would be tokenism”:

“Adding diverse characters prevents the story from being fun”/”Why can’t we just let this be fun?”: How is it not fun to read about characters who are not white men? Yes, you have to stretch to identify with them if you are white and/or a man, but that’s what POCs/LGBT characters/women have been doing this whole time, and they seem to be doing alright.

“Replacing a character with someone of a different race/gender is wrong”: Why is it wrong for a story to be about someone different? Why can’t a woman be Thor, or a black guy be Captain America, or Starbuck be a woman, or whatever? There’s nothing inherent to any of those characters (given the fact Asgardians are not actually directly the myths they inspired in the Marvel canon) that prevents them from being something else. Women can pilot ships, black dudes can lead, and women can kick ass. Requirements fulfilled.

I’m sure there are more, and I’d love your help with it all. Thanks in advance!

On Mementos Mori

Hi, I’m Tyler, and I’m terrified of death.

I’m not terrified of it in the sense that it’s imminent; I’m not wounded, I have no terminal diagnosis or indeed diagnosis at all, and with the exception of probably needing to lay off the red meat and Cheez-Its a little I have a pretty healthy diet with an attempt at regular exercise. I’m terrified of it in the sense that I want it to never, ever come anywhere near me or the people I love.

It’s to the point that I lose sleep over it. There will be nights that Sonya will hear in my breathing and my movements that I’m tense, and being the person she is, she’ll check in on me, and all I say anymore is that I’m having my existential crisis, because I have so thoroughly exhausted the topic beyond any sane person’s capacity to tolerate that there’s no need to elaborate further. But it doesn’t change that I worry. I worry about cancer, and car crashes, and heart attacks, and the thousand ridiculous no-shit story ways a person could just suddenly die. I check myself for tumors so often I’ve actually caused skin irritations. It’s pathetic, a lot of days.

Death terrifies me because I don’t want this to end. I feel like I’m just really becoming a real person, like I’m just getting a handle on big concepts like good and evil and the balance between “adulthood” and mental well-being and how to tell a good story and the idea that everyone is gross sometimes. I want to keep growing, and learning, and improving. I want to refine myself into a sparkling diamond, and raise kids who get to refine themselves into sparkling diamonds. I want to have the time to save up the money to buy a house, to raise a kid in an environment we know is ready for it, to write every novel that pops into my head, to read all of Terry Pratchett and every Superman story and build a house and try out pro wrestling and…

As Roy Baty once said: I want more life.

I don’t know what happens when we die, and I wish I did. When I’m awake at night, eyes screwed shut, listening to the highway growling and the occasional detonation of late-night parties, I find myself hoping for an afterlife, but also terrified of what the afterlife could be. What if the afterlife is eternity in a cramped box, alone? What if it’s always like I’m having trouble breathing? What if it’s just blackness and contemplation with no filter to keep that from being exactly like my current consciousness would experience it? Will Sonya be there with me? What about my friends? What about any of my cats?

I know, I’m supposed to take this as a sign that I need to seize the day and really drink deeply of life. I try. But at the end of the day, it’s a thought that always haunts me, waiting in the wings for when the joy and the laughter and the sweat and the tears all subside, asking me questions about what comes next. It’s the one question I can’t know the answer to, and the one question I have to hope I just get more comfortable with as my life goes on.

I don’t have a concluding point on this one. I don’t have any kind of revelation. I’m also not looking for an outpouring of sympathy. But I’m hoping, maybe, someone who reads this finds some comfort in it, or something interesting. Because if nothing else, that’s one more life I know I touched on my journey across this weird suspended ball of mud.

End of line.

On “Stories Matter.”

So, I say this a lot: stories matter. I said it in my post about superheroes (you know, the only one I did, ever), but I also say it all the time on Twitter. What I mean by that is that what I said back in that post: the stories a culture tells itself affect that culture, sometimes in broad ways and sometimes in subtle ones. That includes the way different parts of that culture are represented in the stories of that culture, but it also includes which character traits we decide to lionize and which we decide to vilify, what we consider to be a “happy ending” and what we consider to be “just desserts.”

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, but it’s also one I often have trouble conveying to people, particularly people who are resistant to shifts in representation and tone in the media they prefer to digest, whether that’s about black mothers who are also pirates or about transexual superheroes or about whatever. An argument I hear a lot is that stories don’t actually matter that much, that we shouldn’t take this stuff so seriously, that this or that medium is “just for fun” and should not be construed as having social impact.

I want to combat this idea, which is why I want to collate as large a list as possible of links about why stories matter. Of course, I am just one man, and a man with a full-time job and an anxiety disorder, so I only have so many spoons to devote to hunting these links down. But the magic of the twenty-first century is that crowdsourcing is easier than ever.

So, I am asking all of you, my loyal readers, to point me to any resource you find that is evidence for, or a study of, why and how stories matter. Scholarly links, tumblr posts, other movements like this one (the #ComicsEmpower hashtag comes to mind), anything you find that bolsters the argument and provides data for those interested in the subject, please forward it on to me. I’ll be setting up a page on my happy little website for just that data. And hopefully some day, posting those links helps one of us make a point or changes a mind. But for now, I just love reading about why stories matter.

So please, fire away.

On Excuse Me?

I am trying to write fewer bellicose and/or lachrymose posts, but, then I saw this today, and I was reminded that some of it is the world’s fault.

This here is Very Important Comics Creator, Erik Larsen, speaking out against “practical” womens’ outfits, and implying that they somehow diminish how attractive the female characters are, and that most people prefer them the other way.

I don’t even know where to start peeling this onion of stupid. Fortunately, three major players in comics right now were there to tell him just how stupid he was being, and I want to first and foremost focus everyone’s attention on Gail Simone’s really excellent discussion that is far more than Larsen deserved. If you’re going to read that or read my blog post, read that.

For those who are still here, let’s make sure we are clear on exactly why what Larsen said is not at all innocent and particularly heinous. Larsen has:

  • implied a one-dimensional axis of attractiveness that requires (we presume) a more revealing outfit. (Presumably he is suggesting one of the classic Carol Danvers “Ms. Marvel” outfits shown here, as opposed to the most recent one she wears as “Captain Marvel”)
  • implied that sexy is more important than practical in female superheroes’ outfits via his assertion that “practical” is different than “attractive” and that practical is somehow bad or undesirable.
  • downplayed and vilified those fans who like more practical outfits, which includes not only feminist readers interested in outfits that are less objectifying (note I did not say not objectifying; these are still superhero comics), or readers who do not feel being sexy is the main point of female characters (or even something characters in comics need to be doing for us as readers), but readers who find something sexy that is different than what Erik Larsen finds sexy.
  • dismissed any amount of progress away from classic comic portrayals of characters as the work of a vocal minority, which even if we are very nice and assume he didn’t just mean “women” does imply that disagreeing with Erik Larsen means you can’t possibly have any kind of popular opinion.

So, in other words, Erik Larsen is a Gator. He’s not as vitriolic or criminal as GroperGarb members tend to actually be, but he is touting essentially the same idea about comics that they are about games: that women are a vocal minority who are fucking it up for everyone else, that any amount of change is a sin, and that there is only one right way to Comics and anyone who Comicses differently should be called out for the damage they are doing to the hobby. I would be inclined to be as incredibly magnanimous as Simone has been here and say that Larsen probably just put his foot in it, but given his involvement with the somewhat infamously sexist Image Comics titles of the 90s*, I do not have it in me to forgive right now.

I’m not currently calling for a boycott of Larsen, but I am trying to make sure I boost the signal here that he has said stuff like this, and to make sure my readers get an opportunity to understand exactly how much words matter, and how much stories matter. And also to make sure you all know how awesome Gail Simone, Jamie McKelvie, and Stephen Wacker are so you can decide if maybe you want to check out their work. Wicked + the Divine and Captain Marvel (which is not Wacker’s book, but, since he helped with the costume design I wanted to mention it) both come with my personal seal of approval already, and this makes me feel even better about spending our money on those things. I think after this I might also check out The Movement; Simone deserves a little more of my support.

Also, I want to call attention to what Simone said: “When I am done making comics, I hope it is very clear that I wanted to be on the side that was for INCLUDING people, not excluding them.” Those are the words that I want to resonate for her, and for me when I’m done making art, and for every other artist out there. That what we — the feminists, the activists, the allies — are doing is not excluding; what we are doing is including. It only looks like excluding to people like Larsen because they have not yet opened their eyes to just how magically multifarious humanity actually is. They’re Blue Meanies, unable to figure out that turning everything blue and shutting out music because they dislike it has caused them to miss out on…life.

And that’s why I don’t feel the need to boycott Larsen. Frankly, I think living like that is the worst punishment of all.

Edited to Add: Oh, hey, Larsen is doubling down! Never mind, boo this man and do not buy his silly little funnybooks.

*And also given the fact I am not a woman working in the same industry as him and am therefore not as (rightfully) concerned with avoiding damage to my brand (please note it was two men who had to do the actual calling out here). NOTE: I am not saying Simone was at all cowardly; I am saying Simone is in a position where she cannot talk as stridently to Larsen as he perhaps deserved without significant backlash. Wacker and McKelvie are men and so will suffer less professional damage than she is likely to for saying the same things. That’s me, pointing out how unfair the world is.