Pro-Life?

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “pro-life” for a while, and what that would really look like in the U.S. The phrase is currently used almost exclusively to mean anti-abortion, but if someone truly cares about protecting and preserving life, shouldn’t they also believe the following?

Abolish the death penalty. I mean, this one is pretty self-explanatory, right? How can you be pro-life and pro-execution at the same time? And that’s before you even get into the research suggesting that as many as 1 in 25 people sentenced to death in the U.S. are actually innocent.

Provide universal health care. Lack of health insurance increases your odds of dying. People argue it’s not the lack of insurance, but other factors causing the different outcomes. But a 2009 study found, “After additional adjustment for race/ethnicity, income, education, self- and physician-rated health status, body mass index, leisure exercise, smoking, and regular alcohol use, the uninsured were more likely to die.” You want to reduce those deaths? Make health care available to everyone.

Improve mental health care. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. We’re talking about 45,000 people who take their own lives every year. How much could we reduce those numbers if we did a better job funding mental health services and providing support to those who need it? Not to mention destigmatizing mental illness to eliminate the shame of asking for help.

Gun regulation/control. According to the FBI, there were more than 11,000 gun-related homicides in 2016. The per-capita rate of gun-related deaths in the U.S. is eight times higher than in Canada, and 27 times higher than in Denmark. There are countries with higher gun violence rates too, of course. But looking at gun death rates in Canada and China and the UK and Germany makes it clear we could greatly reduce those deaths in our own country…if we wanted to.

Reduce poverty. A 2011 study found that 4.5% of U.S. deaths were attributable to poverty. How many lives could we save by increasing the minimum wage, or by focusing tax breaks on the poorest segments of our population instead of the wealthiest?

Diplomacy first. If you’re pro-life, shouldn’t it go without saying that military conflict has to be a last resort?

Maintain and improve environmental standards and regulations. A 2013 study from MIT found that air pollution, primarily from vehicle emissions, causes about 200,000 early deaths each year. The reversal of environmental regulations in the U.S. is projected to cause thousands of unnecessary deaths in the coming years.

As for abortion… Personally, I don’t think it’s my place to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. But if you really want to reduce abortion rates? Provide free birth control. A 2012 study found that no-cost birth control for women dropped abortion rates between 62 and 78%. Provide comprehensive (not abstinence-only) sex education, which significantly lowers unwanted teen pregnancies. And hey, universal health care can also lower abortion rates.

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There are a lot more “pro-life” issues and positions I could have listed, but hopefully this is enough to make the point. Shouldn’t pro-life mean actually trying to, you know, preserve and protect people’s lives?

Yet, in my experience, most people who claim to be pro-life aren’t terribly interested in most of these issues. Often, their positions are diametrically opposed. It’s almost like the pro-life label, as it’s commonly used, isn’t about being pro-life at all.

Weird…

Blogging Thoughts

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for about 20 years ago. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, it was LiveJournal and hand-coded a Geocities website, mostly to post my daily wordcount and talk about progress on the novel with a handful of other newbie and wannabe writers. (I even remember my old Geocities website address!)

That’s a lot of blogging. I vented over legal struggles (behind a tight friends-lock) back in the early 2000s. I bemoaned my rejections and celebrated the occasional short fiction sale. I talked about diabetes and depression. As I developed an audience, I also became more aware of fandom and of the larger SF/F scene, and wrote more about that. I argued and vented at folks — often justifiably, but not always. I celebrated stories I enjoyed. I talked about harassment and discrimination and inclusion and the ongoing struggle to make my genre more welcoming to those who have been historically excluded. I posted cat pictures and made memes of book covers.

I haven’t been blogging as frequently this year. Partly, that’s because I’ve had to focus more on the fiction writing — first revising Terminal Uprising, then writing ProjectK in three months before trying to get started on the third Janitors book. I have a few smaller contracts and deadlines coming up as well.

But I also find myself hesitating sometimes because I feel like I’ve already talked about a given topic. Sure, I could write about the underlying racism and hypocrisy of Robert Silverberg’s criticism of N. K. Jemisin’s Hugo win and speech, but do I have anything new to say that I haven’t said a dozen times before? Or I could talk about the frustration that even after 13 published novels, I still get stuck trying to plot out the next one, but I’ve written about my writing and process so many times, aren’t we all tired of it?

And I’m realizing I’m wrong about that. Just because I’ve written about something before doesn’t mean everyone’s read it. (How arrogant would it be to assume everyone’s read the entire archives of my blog?) Hell, some of you people weren’t even alive when I wrote my first LiveJournal post!

I wrote something on Twitter last night about how I wrote and published a lot of books before I even considered quitting my day job. This got a number of responses, which surprised me at first — it’s hardly the first time I’ve talked about that.

Our audience, our community, is constantly changing. And it’s not about always having something new and unique to say. Sometimes it’s about participating in the conversation. Sometimes it’s about trying to offer counterpoints and balance to the nastiness.

I’m still struggling with the planning for book three, so I can’t guarantee a flood of new blog posts. But I’m going to try to stop chucking possible posts and topics just because I might have talked about them before.

Kelly Marie Tran on Marginalization and Online Harassment

“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them…”

Actress Kelly Marie Tran — the first woman of color to have a leading role in a “Star Wars” movie — wrote a personal essay for the New York Times: “Kelly Marie Tran: I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment.”

“Because the same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviors, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me.”

After The Last Jedi came out, Tran was harassed off of social media by toxic “fans.”

“And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from.”

It’s a powerful essay. I strongly recommend it.

Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig

Aftermath: CoverAftermath [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound] is the first book of Chuck Wendig‘s Star Wars trilogy that connects the period between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The book has generated some strong and at times vicious reactions.

Here’s the official publisher’s description:

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

Now, no book is going to appeal to everyone. I enjoyed this one, but I can see two valid reasons why it might not work for some readers:

1. Wendig’s writing style doesn’t match that of most Star Wars books I’ve read. Wendig wrote this one in present tense, and he tends to use shorter, choppier sentences:

A voice. Her voice. The Zabrak’s.
“The nose,” she says.
Then thrusts the heel of her hand forward.
Smashing it right into the Herglic’s nose.

The style took me a few pages to get used to, but I thought it worked. It creates a faster-paced flow to the prose, which worked for all of the Star Warsy action.

That said, if you prefer an invisible writing style, this book might not work for you.

2. Aftermath is almost entirely about original characters. Han and Chewie get a very brief cameo. Admiral Ackbar pops up a few times. Wedge Antilles has a more significant part in the story. But the book mostly focuses on new characters, like a pilot from the attack on the second Death Star who’s suffering from PTSD and trying to reconnect with her son after being gone for so long; an ex-Imperial loyalty officer; a bounty hunter; and a small group of Imperial officers trying to figure out what the heck to do now.

I liked the characters. But if you’re hoping for Luke Skywalker lightsabering stormtroopers or Han and Leia flirting and arguing and blasting bad guys or maybe a glimpse of baby Rey or baby Ben/Kylo or baby Finn, you’re going to be disappointed.

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But then you have the anti-SJW brigade and their one-star campaign, posting reviews like, “It seems that Star Wars has become a feminist movement. All main characters in this book are females. Oh wait, except for one of the main bad guys – of course a white male. Which is right in line with the new movie…”

All main characters are females. Except Wedge Antilles. And Sinjir. And Temmin. And Mr. Bones. And…yeah.

There were complaints about the inclusion of gay and lesbian characters. I guess magic space wizards and giant asteroid snakes are fine, but loving someone of the same gender is just too much to believe.

A lot of the reviews attacked the writing style as well. Like I said, the style might not work for everyone, and that’s fine. But complaining that the author uses sentence fragments and therefore doesn’t know how to write? Um…y’all know authors sometimes break elementary school writing rules for various reasons, right? Or folks saying they could have written a better book when they were 13? Go ahead and try it. We’ll wait.

Basically, Wendig and his book got flooded by a lot of negativity. Some of the reviews were valid — like I said, no book works for everyone. But an awful lot of the nastiness was just assholes being assholes…

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Me? Like I said above, I liked it. I appreciated seeing some of the costs of the war, and the ethical issues Wendig delves into. The interludes were a nice addition, showing the aftermath of the Battle of Endor throughout the galaxy. The story itself was self-contained, but at the same time lays the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy. There’s plenty of action. And of course, Mr. Bones is fun (and disturbing) to watch.

I’ll be picking up the sequel, Aftermath: Life Debt.

Read an excerpt.

Discrimination and the Ice Cream Backlash

I was making decent progress on the book tonight, when I made the mistake of checking social media. I quickly got caught up reading a complaint by a self-identified older white male author, talking about how his demographic is discriminated against in the genre.

Some of his comments were anecdotal, and not statistically meaningful. I pointed out the 2017 #BlackSpecFic Report from Fireside Magazine, which showed that black authors are still underrepresented in SF/F — though there’s been some improvement over the past several years.

One claim was that white men can’t even get on the Hugo ballot anymore, let alone win. So I pointed out that 2/6 authors on the Best Novel ballot this year are, in fact, white men.

But while it’s demonstrably false to say white men can’t get on the ballot, it’s true that last year’s winners were almost entirely women. I mean, with the exception of Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and several winners who identify as genderqueer. But if you limit it to just the prose categories, then yes — not one man among the winners.

This is pointed to as proof of discrimination. Voters are deciding not based on the quality of the story, but the identity of the author. Because Statistics!

Now, nobody I’ve spoken to has talked about voting for someone because of their race or gender or sexuality. They’re voting for books and stories they love. Maybe you don’t love the stories that won, but I’ve seen people squeeing about the books when they come out. I see how excitedly they’re talking about these stories and sharing them and telling everyone to go read them. That love is real — even if you don’t personally share it.

“But if people aren’t discriminating, why aren’t we seeing the same love for stories written by white men?”

I mean, the current NYT #1 bestsellers are all by men, most-or-all of them white. But let’s stick with just the Hugo awards. Doesn’t the lack of men prove discrimination against us?

Stand back, everyone — I’m going to try metaphor!

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Imagine you like ice cream. But for your whole life, all you’ve been able to get is vanilla.

Don’t get me wrong — I like vanilla ice cream. There’s nothing wrong with it. I love it in root beer floats or ice cream sundaes or with apple pie or whatever. It’s good stuff.

Then one day, the shops finally start putting out other flavors. Strawberry! Mint chocolate chip! Mackinaw fudge ripple!

After a lifetime of vanilla, what are you going to get?

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SF/F has been dominated by white male authors for so long. In many ways, it still is. Is it any wonder people have gotten a little tired of the vanilla? That they’re excited about stories written from other perspectives, other cultural backgrounds, with other characters and settings and worldbuilding and default assumptions?

“But authors aren’t ice cream, and white men can write other perspectives and backgrounds and characters too!”

First of all, you’re wrong. I know for a fact that Pat Rothfuss is actually twelve pints of Rocky Road held together with hard-shell chocolate.

And you’re right, white men can write other perspectives, backgrounds, characters, etc. But a lot of the time, they choose not to. And a lot of the time when they do, it’s done…poorly. You get men writing women thinking about how their breasts boob boobily, bosoming in zero gravity.

Even when authors take the time to listen and do the research, there’s a difference between writing based on research and writing based on real, lived experience.

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It’s not that people hate vanilla ice cream. It’s that we’re finally seeing some push for other flavors, and people are excited about it. Their homes are stuffed with vanilla, and they’re trying to get some variety in their freezers.

Can you blame them?

Don’t worry, the grocery stores still stock plenty of vanilla. Lots of people still enjoy it. But it’s not the only option on the shelf anymore. We have 32 flavors and then some.

As for older white men no longer being wanted or welcomed in the genre? Well, it’s only a single anecdata point, but this 44-year-old white dude has felt nothing but welcome here. I’m all for working to make the genre more broadly welcoming to all.

Jim C. Hines