So here is the current schedule for the next few months of Lies and Little Deaths, series two:
06: Flight Is For Those Who Have Not Yet Crossed Over (guest fiction by Jeff VanderMeer)
07: Shriek: An Afterword (review)
08: One Less (fiction)
09: River of Gods (guest review by Mark Teppo)
10: Ghost Dancing (fiction)
11: The King's Last Song (review)
12: The Last Shift (guest fiction by Hal Duncan)
13: Nothing is Inflammable (review)
14: Jury Duty (fiction)
15: Bangkok Tattoo (review)
Also, in today's Duncanmania, I wanted to include a couple of quotes from two of his recent interviews. I'd actually printed these out to use for the social criticism panel at TrinocCon, but didn't get a chance to use them.
The first is from an interview at Writer Unboxed:
Q: You tackle the murder of Matthew Shepard [in Vellum] and the homophobia that led to the crime, and offer an unflinching look at the aftermath of his death. You especially raise the point that the homophobia that killed him is still alive and well, perhaps even thriving. Do you think that SF/F genre is one that is particularly malleable in allowing a writer to explore areas and topics that might otherwise not be as easily digested?And the second comes from an interview at Meme Therapy:
HD: Yes, and I think there's two things here that make SF/F particularly powerful in this respect. The exotic is the life-blood of fantastic fiction; and since it's the unusual which is generally marginalised, othered by society at large, fantastic fiction has become a field which naturally appeals to those who don't quite feel they fit in to the social pecking order. It offers fictions where these readers can find identification figures in the outsider, the "Other," because so often it's written by, for and about the weird. I'd certainly say that it was my own "misfit" status as a kid that first drew me to the field, looking for fiction that offered an escape into other worlds, an imaginary sanctuary from grim realities.
One might criticise SF/F for that if that was all it was, but even at its most escapist, where the reader has their head firmly in the sand (or in the clouds, for that matter), what it's still presenting is a hypothetical alternative, a hope of other possibilities. I'm suspicious of the insistent bleakness you see in, say, kitchen-sink realism; if it addresses homophobia, to take your example, there's good odds that the message at the end will be how terribly hard it is to be a homosexual and how cruelly the poor faggot will be treated by society. Is that really a more worthy message than in the consolatory fantasy where, no matter what, you know that everything will be OK? Conventional pessimism is no better than conventional optimism.
I look at a hell of a lot of realist fiction and what I see is idiots who cannot escape their horrible circumstances, not because there is no escape, but simply because they cannot imagine one. If you're a gay kid growing up in a small town, for example, goddamnit you should be reading that escapist SF/F, because those are the stories that'll tell you that, well, actually, there's other places you could be. So they might well be strange and alien, with perils you can't predict? Cool!
There's a quote from Wallace Stevens's "The Man With The Blue Guitar" that sums up my attitude to the role of imagination in this regard, a response to the realist accusation of escapism: "They said you have a blue guitar. / You do not play things as they are. / The man replied, things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar."
This plays into the second aspect of SF/F, what really makes it powerful: when it pushes beyond the wish-fulfilment and goes from offering solace to the marginal, pipe-dreams of imaginary alternatives, and actually goes on the attack. The counter-factuals of SF/F can be, and often are, critiques of reality, challenges to the consensus view. It builds worlds with societies that reflect our own but twisted and altered, utopias or dystopias which comment on our own society's more abstract features. And it can be fucking sneaky about it. It can translate race, gender, sexuality or what-have-you into metaphors and wire them into a ripping yarn, an adventure that will carry progressive ideas to a far wider audience. It can take political stances abhorrent to totalitarian regimes and allegorise them, get them under the radar, as many writers in the Soviet Bloc did. SF/F is not just malleable in this respect; it's downright mercurial, a master of disguise, sedition sold as sensationalism.
Q: Has reading and writing SF changed your world view? And if so how?
HD: Yes. I don't want to inflate SF's importance unrealistically -- to hail SF as some sort of potential saviour of civilisation -- but fuck all the cynical defeatism about books just being books, literature having little actual effect. Sure, your avant-garde anarcho-syndicalist street-theatre group might be a bit naive in thinking that they're going to make people rethink their attitude to global capitalism with a few crazy japes during a demo, but let's flip it round and look at the other side of the argument: if fiction didn't shape people's worldview most of the world's religions would be out of business, because their holy scriptures would be no more than tall tales, toothless fairy-stories that people read for their weird and wacky wonders. All fiction has intellectual content and emotional import. All fiction tells us things and pushes buttons to make us react in certain ways, for good or ill. Read the same message often enough, naively enough, and you can't help but be presuaded; that's why propaganda exists.
But turn that around, though: read widely enough, read enough disparate messages, enough disparate philosophies and ethics coded in wild and wonderful fictions that make you want to believe them all, and you maybe, hopefully, start to think for yourself about how those conflicting messages might be reconciled. You maybe, hopefully, start to read those stories critically, start to enter a dialogue with that writer's philosophy. I think SF, as a fiction which rationalises romance and romantices rationalism, is great at kicking off that sort of dialogue.
In purely personal terms, when I first got into SF I spent a lot of my adolesecence reading both Heinlein and Dick. Despite the fact that the two are almost direct opposites in terms of politics and ethics -- or maybe because of it -- the conflict of messages didn't bother me as a "contradiction". Rather I think both writers were deeply committed to exploring alternative ideas about society, human nature, reality. For all Heinlein's didacticism and militarism I think he's a writer who opens up thought rather than closing it down; as a gay kid I'd say he was the first to present me with pictures of societies in which diverse sexualities were not a problem. And Dick… man, if his metaphysical mindfucks and stories of little heroes with big problems don't get you thinking about what it really means to be a human being in the Big Scheme of Things, then nothing will. Those two together, Heinlein and Dick, radically reshaped -- or unshaped, perhaps -- the way I saw the world from the perspective of a 14-year-old, stuck in this nowhere town in Central Scotland, in the 80s. Thinking outside the box? Man, they took the box, smashed it into pieces, stomped on the ruins, and then said, OK, now where are you?