All posts by Tobias Buckell

22 Aug

Paneling while light, but not white

I just got back from London, and would love to be uploading pictures and talking about two weeks spent in Europe, but I’m catching up on bills and getting into the swing of work. And my kids start Kindergarten. And the dogs need picked up. So I’ll be a little late.

However, a few people have pinged me about a couple of blog posts that reacted to the panel “Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding.”

London Worldcon had a fascinating vein of programming with an openness to discussion about diversity, challenging status quo, and world viewpoints. Noticeably more so than past Worldcons. It’s a far cry from the first time I attended a worldcon, and there was just a sole obligatory ‘race in SF’ panel and that was the one (maybe only, outside corridor meet ups) place to find this discussion.

This panel was another one of London Worldcon’s varied pieces of interesting programming. It featured Mary Anne Mohanraj, me, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Victoria Donnelly, and Ellen Kushner. The panel description goes thusly:

Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture – buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space – in creating a fantasy world?

Two people in the audience were a bit taken aback. Blogger Not By Its Cover (I’m not sure of their name) was upset when I demurred talking about being ‘light but not white’ for the panel and was pressed by panelists to keep on the subject:

He repeatedly said in his response that he doesn’t usually like to talk about his experiences of race, that people outside the Caribbean find his presence in discussions of race disturbing and confusing, that he doesn’t have the energy to deal with that, and that he does not want to be an educator. What enraged me was that, in response to his saying this, a couple of his fellow panelists exclaimed that he absolutely should participate in discussions of race precisely because people found it so problematic and that even if he didn’t wish to participate…

Kate Nepveu also noticed this and commented on it in her panel notes.

So on this panel, I talked about the fact that looking white but not identifying as such due to my bi-racial background complicated discussions. I’m happy to engage in this in some situations and in certain contexts where I known I don’t have an audience that’s still struggling with race 101 level stuff, but for the panel itself I didn’t come prepared and wasn’t expecting to become a focus of the panel. Partly because I came a bit more prepared to talk about what went into creating a fantasy world and how it’s done more deeply, and because I wanted to interrogate and poke at pseudo-medieval constructs.

So, the panel swerved to a bit more of ‘how we authors’ try to deepen work and use our backgrounds to do it. Panels swerve quite often, but I was unprepared for this and tried to demur. I was tired, as I’d just come out of three weeks of travel (promoting Hurricane Fever, teaching a workshop, then a week in Spain, and finally London Worldcon). My ability to switch tracks wasn’t there, I was very exhausted. I was also trying to monitor the panel’s conversational flow and make sure the sole non-writer on the panel, our archeologist Victoria Donnelly, who was making her first appearance at a science fiction panel, was not overrun by us authors and our opinions (even though I was sure Mary Anne wouldn’t do that, I wanted to make sure, as I thought Victoria had a very interesting background we could gain a lot from).

So I demurred, and the panel thought that I might have interested things to say and they…

…keep in mind Mary Anne and Kate and have known me a while…

…pulled a bit at me.

On the panel itself the fact that the audience felt my reticence and responded was not surprising. I didn’t want to talk about the complications of being light not white as a working writer right there because sometimes I have to carefully consider the impacts of my words. And I was tired. So I was worried about making mistakes.

But we muddle our way through. I wasn’t upset with Mary Anne or any of my panelists at the time, just momentarily trying to change the entire set of ‘stories’ and conversations I had arrived with loaded into my mental ready-state.

So why was I reticent?

It’s that if I get up and talk about my struggles, in some cases I can easily negate the even harder struggles others have. Look, I look and ‘read’ white to most people (including non-whites). I therefore complicate discussions about diversity due to living in a culture that takes race as binary. Look, I see the president of the US and see a bi-racial dude from a mixed family background. Most Americans are all like ‘dude’s black.’ And so are a lot of non-white Americans.

So I roll up and talk about how it’s personally annoying when people of all kinds don’t want to recognize me as bi-racial and that’s sometimes problematic. Here are writers struggling far more than I have who come from a legacy and background of far more vicious racism than can be even sometimes explained. So what if I’m left off most lists of diverse SF writers. Boo hoo, right? (And this has mostly been on my mind because I’ve been told by some that I’ve been taken out of articles or such for not being ‘properly diverse’ and just as someone who wants to be part of the tribe of diverse SF/F authors doing amazing things it pains to be excluded on a personal level, but on a larger societal level, shit, injustices against the people of diversity is vastly larger) People read me different than I read myself, I’ve been dealing with that for 35 years. It’s cool. But trying to talk about the complexities of it mean I can inadvertently suppress other narratives, right? I don’t get the *right* to say who gets on a list of diverse writers or how I’m considered at large, I can only keep conversing and trying to add to diversity and talk up good things. So when someone suddenly asks about the complicated nature of how I’m perceived or received in genre, or what my struggle has been, I freeze.

But even as that happens, I also get annoyed with narratives that try to require me to fit into a certain ‘type’ of diversity. It seems the white power structures like immigrant narratives and magical realism from brown-identifying folk. Man, is that ever true, and even allies can fit into this. There’s been a heavy pressure on me to drop doing the action and to write about magical immigrants. I’ve been offered book deals and better money, and it’s funny, I’ve had three editors in the last ten years point blank sketch out the outline of the same novel: immigrant from the Caribbean arrives in the US and does something magically realist.

So, you know, it’s complicated. I’m writing Caribbean Space Opera and have had historically black media *and* white editors tell me they’ll pay attention when I do a magical realist book and I want to keep doing what I’m doing and I’m slowly building this wide audience of people who are digging diverse characters in high octane adventures. Do I want to appear not grateful to make a living doing what I’m doing in public? No. I’m building something, and I’m trying to make sure I spend less time annoyed with people who don’t get what I’m up to and more time sharing excitement with those who totally get it!

So let’s end this positively. I’m all good. The panel was fascinating and was a sign of a fantastic convention (for me at least, I didn’t get to a ton of panels). I was delighted to be up there with amazing minds. And I’m impressed that the audience felt defensive on my part and thank them, but I bear no ill-will or negative feelings towards any of the panelists.

05 Aug

1,200 miles by train

I’m in Europe, and just finished a 1,200 mile journey by train.

That’s like going from Omaha, Nebraska to New York.

Or, as we went North to South, like me going from Bluffton, OH to Miami Florida.

Anyway. The original plan was to fly into London and then take the high speed train to Paris. It is just a couple of hours. Transfer in Paris to take the high speed to Barcelona. That’s a long haul in a single day, but it would let us spend a couple days in Barcelona. Then high speed rail from Barcelona to Madrid and Toledo, where we would spend our time in Toledo before heading up for London Worldcon.

Here are the complainy bits, which all have to do with Delta Airlines. Skip if you don’t want to hear the whining of someone lucky enough to be able to fly to another country!

======Delta related complainy bits======

The buffer time I put into the plan to make the train to Paris was eaten up by Delta Airlines, who had us sitting on the runway for a few hours (the plane that loaded and taxied after us got there two hours earlier).

Delta in general was a shit experience. The commuter hop from DC to JFK was bumped back, and we had to run to make our connection (I wish I hadn’t). We got yelled at about our (very small) bags because the plane was so small. Then told we could take them aboard by another Delta worker. Then they didn’t fit (yeller was right, to be fair, but not very friendly).

The actual plane to London was also shit. I was promised we’d have power connection, and paid to have Economy plus for extra room as well as the power. I’ve been in coach flights on Air Canada that had power for gadgets, and British Air also had power for gadgets. I lost a ton of freelance work time that I’d planned on being able to use.

Also, the food was crap as well. Also, narrowest Economy Plus seats ever. I really, really wish I’d sucked it up and spent the extra to go British Airways for us both in Traveler Plus.

So, way behind on work, tired, cramped despite paying extra money to not be so cramped, and ill-fed, and landing right about when our train was leaving London for Paris, we arrived in London. Plans up in the air, we decided to wing it anyway. Emily spent time studying in Toledo, Spain, so dammit, we were going to figure out how to get there.

I considered snagging a plane from Heathrow on the spot, but I really wanted to use rail while here because I write about it a lot. And it is cool. I figured the worst thing that could happen is that we spend a night in Paris and pay out the nose for getting new train tickets.

Let’s do it.

======48 hours of train travel begins======

We began by catching the tube into London to get to St. Pancras. There a Eurostar agent helped us catch the next train to London, swapping our tickets for new ones. We had a nice meal while watching the countryside whiz past us at almost 180 miles per hour.

And then under sea as we passed under the Channel!

It didn’t take long before we arrived in Paris at the Gare Lyon. From there we went to the Gare Nord to grab a bite to eat and then talk about our tickets to Barcelona. We found the SNCF ticket office that pertained to our tickets and waited in line. Someone shouted in French that the line would be closed. We weren’t sure if we would get to see a human about the tickets. I started looking for hotels to stay in for the night, assuming I’d buy us brand new set of tickets for Barcelona in the morning, and we’d have just a day there, not two.

Photo

However the SNCF agent managed to get us a sleeper car, first class, leaving Austerlitz. “You’re a wonderful human being!” I said. And we caught a taxi to Austerlitz, where we waited in crowds of people (some playing a piano just sitting out there by the platform). I got to use my first pay-bathroom. I considered using the pay shower, but I didn’t have a towel.

Note to self…

At this point, I made one small mistake. I didn’t hunt down a French/Spanish power adaptor for my devices while at any of the big stations there. Once aboard the sleeper, I realized I had a power problem. We needed to use my phone to change bookings and figure things out, too. So in addition to the lack of laptop usage aboard the plane, I’d get little laptop usage on the trip through France and Spain as well.

Yikes. My plans to keep up with work while in transit had just plain evaporated.

But no worries. I was so tired after flying for 7 hours + sitting on tarmac for 3 (Delta, boo) that climbing into a bed on a slower sleeper train leaving Austerlitz was bliss. I canceled our hotel room in Barcelona for two nights, and we hunted down a room in Toledo and just planned to extend our stay there. Sorry Barcelona, another time perhaps?

Taking off shoes, and locking the door, we watched night-time France slide by as the train rocked us to sleep.

Image

We woke up crazy early the next morning. I got up a bit earlier and just lay there, watching the dawn light up and old southern French countryside roll by and then eventually start misting over.

As we headed west and approached the coast, the buildings became gleaming white and capped with red tile roofs. Saint-Jean in particular I made a note of. Sea-side, cute buildings. I’d like to explore there someday.

The train eventually deposited us in Irun, Spain somewhere around 10 in the morning-ish. Close to Bilbao. We got tickets for Madrid, and had to run to catch the train leaving in just minutes.

I’m not supposed to run, but what the fuck, right? We’re having an adventure.

Image

We made that train, and were off. It was supposed to be a seven or more hour ride, but I realized if we got off at Valladolid we could use the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, and catch high speed rail from there into Madrid and pass the train we were on, and shave nearly 2 hours off the ride.

We got into Madrid at 4-ish.

By now, we’d been in a plane or on a train for a long, long time. By Madrid, I was starting to get tired of traveling. Toledo started to seem a magical, magical end point that wasn’t moving.

But. More travel. We hopped down into the Metra (Madrid’s subway) and caught a beautiful modern subway train to Atocha station. From there, tickets to Toledo proved problematic because every damn machine I tried had trouble printing. I finally got tickets, and then my credit card’s fraud protection team locked the card out due to my six or so attempts to buy a ticket.

Sad trumpet sound.

Madrid to Toledo featured a short pause due to a train delay, but it was still at least as fast as a bus, and then we caught a taxi up the tight, winding cobblestone streets and between the walls of Toledo to our hotel.

And now I am on stable land. Swaying a little, still.

Oh, I showered like three times. I kinda want to take one again. It’s amazing how quickly you miss one after 48 hours walking, running, sitting in hot places…

I said on twitter that doing a train trip like this was on my bucket list. I just didn’t expect two days of it. I’d planned one intense day of high speed travel. But oh well! I’ve always wanted to try a sleeper car! And I got to snack outside in a plaza in Paris. And go through the chunnel. And get to come.

It’s our first vacation in a long time. And even though I’m having to do freelance work through it due to not having power on the Delta flight or for most of the train travel, I’m grateful to be here.

We just had amazing tapas for dinner at this place:

Photo

Afterwards we stood and looked out over some of Toledo’s city walls.

It’s a good life.

31 Jul

I will be a guest instructor at Clarion West in 2015

So here is the announcement:

“Clarion West is delighted to announce the names of the instructors for the 2015 Six-Week Workshop. Applications will open in December 2014. More information about the instructors and application instructions will be posted in the coming weeks.

Andy Duncan  2015 Clarion West Leslie Howle Fellow
Eileen Gunn
Tobias Buckell
Connie Willis
Nalo Hopkinson
Cory Doctorow  2015 Clarion West Susan C. Petrey Fellow”

(Via News |.)

So first off, what an amazing line up of instructors for 2015. I’ll be keeping some heady company.

One of the things I got to do was meet Clarion West organizers Neile Graham, Tod, and Huw at the Seattle book signing while I was on tour last week. And I have to say, it’s been so hard to keep this secret up until now, even thought I was talking to them the day before the news went out!

So I’m totally honored and amazed that I am now going to be an instructor at Clarion. Having been a new Clarion student myself in 1999, this is one of those ‘coming around full circle’ moments that sometimes happen in life.

It’ll be very, very odd being on the other side of the circle, though. I hope to do well by the students.

31 Jul

West Coast book tour: after action report

The hugely awesome people at Tor (my publicist Leah Withers and Patty Garcia) arranged an author tour for Hurricane Fever.

So a week ago I flew out and arrived in San Diego for San Diego Comic Con. I got lucky and was booked into the Omni Hotel, just across the street. Which was fantastic:

Photo

I signed books, talked on my panel, and then met various people. I hung out at a few parties off site and did dinners. I hung out with Tor publicity folk at the booth. I snuck off with Theresa Delucci and Pritpaul Bains to play a demo of Evolve.

As I was there, The Guardian released its review of Hurricane Fever!

After my Sunday signing at SDCC I headed off to San Francisco to sign at Borderlands. I got to grab lunch with Tim Pratt, Heather Shaw, David Findlay, and Nalo Hopkinson. I had a great reading, and then afterwards met with readers for a coffee and more chatting (Joey Shoji gifted me scotch, how cool is that?).

When I got back to my room in San Francisco’s Phoenix Hotel there was a massive dance party going. But the staff there gave me a bottle of wine and a nice card congratulating me for the book launch, so I listening to an audio book on my Bose headphones and drank scotch and wine.

Next morning I dropped in and met folks from the Humble Bundle team, which was totally cool. They recently put up my novella The Executioness, so I was excited to meet and talk to them about what they were up to:

Next stop: Seattle! The view from the hotel room was striking, mountain and needle all in one shot:

Clarion West’s Curtis Chen snapped this photo of my talking excitedly about the Very Big Cannon in Hurricane Fever:

And Devin L. Ganger took this snapshot:

Next morning I was up early and flying back down from Seattle to San Diego to sign at Mysterious Galaxy! Greg van Eekhout picked me up and we had tacos and caught up on publishing gossip and chat.

Here we are catching up:

Greg also snapped this pic of me while talking about the Very Big Cannon in Hurricane Fever:

I got a quick night’s sleep in, and then I flew out from San Diego to Pittsburgh, which took most of yesterday. My old friend David Kirtley picked me up, drove me to a hotel near where Alpha, the writing workshop for teens, is being held.

I am now in between lecturing the students and getting ready for a signing here in Greensburg.

I’ve been, you might say, busy.

I’ll be teaching here at Alpha another day, then driving out to my parents to see Emily and the kids, and on Sunday, flying to Europe.

The traveling has actually only really just begun.

18 Jul

My London Worldcon panel schedule

I’m on some amazing panels with amazing human beings at the next Worldcon, in London:

Signing

Friday 11:00 AM

Settling the Alien World

Friday 12:00 – 13:30, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)

Here are three star systems, each with a planet potentially habitable by humans. One is Mars-like — probably lifeless, and needs warming and water before we can live there (or we need to adapt ourselves). One is Earth-like, with similar biochemistry even (score one for panspermia theory), but so far as we can tell, no sentient organisms. And one is Earth-like but with early industrial cities. What narratives do we imagine for humans arriving in each system? How might humans be shaped by the life and landscapes they encounter? And how might questions of contact, colonisation or cohabitation be tackled in each scenario?

Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding

Friday 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 11 (ExCeL)

Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture – buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space – in creating a fantasy world?

SF: What It Is, What It Could Be

Friday 19:00 – 20:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)

SF as a genre is both loaded and contested, bringing with it decades of controversies, assumptions, prejudices, and possibilities. What do the genre’s various practitioners and consumers think SF is? Are we speaking the same language, or talking past each other? How do perceptions of SF – in terms of who can write it, who can consume it, and what kinds of stories can find a market – create or reinforce realities? Is ‘core’ SF still about space exploration and colonisation, or is there room for other types of stories? If SF is ‘dying’, as we’re frequently told, what does that mean and in whose interests are the preparations for its funeral?

Reading: Tobias Buckell

Saturday 20:00 – 20:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)

Kaffeeklatsch

Monday 12:00 – 13:00, London Suite 4 (ExCeL)

13 Jul

Miami is slowly flooding, and will eventually be our newest Venice

I basically assume Miami is the newest Venice at the start of Hurricane Fever due to this:

“What makes Miami exceptionally vulnerable to climate change is its unique geology. The city – and its satellite towns and resorts – is built on a dome of porous limestone which is soaking up the rising seawater, slowly filling up the city’s foundations and then bubbling up through drains and pipes. Sewage is being forced upwards and fresh water polluted. Miami’s low topography only adds to these problems. There is little land out here that rises more than six feet above sea level. Many condos and apartment blocks open straight on the edge of the sea. Of the total of 4.2 million US citizens who live at an elevation of four feet or less, 2.4 million of them live in south Florida.”

(Via Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away | World news | The Observer.)

07 Jul

The Del Rey UK edition of Hurricane Fever is also out

The Del Rey UK edition of Hurricane Fever launched over the weekend as well. If you’re a reader somewhere in the UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand, it should be available!

The Del Rey UK site has buy links and more.

A storm is coming…

When former spy Roo Jones receives an unexpected package from a dead friend, he’s yanked out of a comfortable retirement and is suddenly embroiled in a global conspiracy involving a weapon that could change the face of the world forever.

But as one of the largest hurricanes to hit the Caribbean begins to sweep through the area, Roo just may find that time is running out – not just for himself, but the whole world…

Perfect for fans of action-packed espionage, Hurricane Fever is a kinetic techno-thriller for a new generation.

I’ll be in the UK and will appear in two places to sign. I’ll be at Fantasy in the Court, at Cecil Court in London on August 12th. I’ll also be at London Worldcon (LonCon). I’m hoping to be able to sign some Del Rey UK copies at both locations!

06 Jul

Putting a price on carbon does not, actually, bring an economy to a screeching halt

The oft-repeated tenet that a carbon tax will cripple the economy is bullshit:

“The B.C. carbon tax is built on a simple tenet of human behavior: When the price of something goes up, people will consume less of it. It actually applies to not just gasoline, but to all sources of atmospheric carbon, including natural gas and propane, and is based on how much carbon they emit. For example, since natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline, it is taxed at a lower rate. This ensures emissions are priced in proportion to their impact on the climate.

As a result, British Columbia’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are now nearly 20 percent below the rest of Canada’s. This put the province ‘within spitting distance’ of its goal to reduce emissions 6 percent below 2007 levels by 2012 a year ahead of schedule, says Mary Polak, B.C.’s minister of the environment.”

(Via B.C. put a price on carbon. What happened next will surprise you | Grist.)

02 Jul

How I screwed up

So Tor very generously asked if I would agreed to do a panel at San Diego Comic Con.

Over the last year I’ve been doing my best to reach out to places that invite me to come to them and indicate I can’t unless there is an anti-harassment policy in place, as per Scalzi’s convention anti-harassment policy. I’m not a star headliner or rock star, but I know it’s helped at least once create a formal policy where there was none before, so I’m now aware that doing this does have power.

As the details quickly came together for this West Coast tour, I didn’t read San Diego Comic Con’s harassment policy too closely. I found one, and was excited there was one. Yay, I could go! I said yes! I went back to writing my novel that was due RIGHT AWAY.

After I posted my schedule, a couple of people pointed out this, that the rules aren’t really clear cut (and I may have even retweeted/pointed out that link as well, doubly damning on my part):

This isn’t exactly a clear or easy to find set of rules. Beyond this small paragraph on the website, comic-con’s director of marketing and public relations David Glanzer told The Mary Sue last year that their policy is also printed in the Events Guide made available to attendees and that “each incident is handled on a case by case basis, as are the decisions on how best to prevent the issue from occurring again.” Considering the length of the Events Guide and the possibility of not every guest receiving it, the convention should create a formal policy displayed more prominently on their website and convention materials. As for dealing with issues case-by-case, each incident will certainly be different but that should in no way prevent them from listing common, specific anti-harassment rules that would still be good to make clear for attendees instead of assuming everyone has the common sense to already know how to behave.

So I didn’t read as closely as I should have. Which meant I messed up.

Since I agreed to go I’m going to go. And not go again now that I understand it’s a weak ass policy that’s not really a policy.

I’m sorry for not catching why it wasn’t much of a policy.

I also donated a sum of money to the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

NMWA addresses the issue of the lack of recognition and representation that women receive in museum collections and major exhibitions. NMWA maintains the reference library, and classifies, catalogues, and transfers artwork to exhibitions

So this was a learning experience for me about rushing through and not reading closely enough.