I Love the Tribe

We just got back from Worldcon 2005 at Glasgow, and I’ve been reading through the blogs of various friends checking for mentions of me, like a senior counting pictures in a school yearbook. Having come home to three lovely houseguests, I don’t have time for my own detailed con report, so sorry if you’re combing this blog for a mention of yourself. But I will proclaim these words:

I love the tribe. I went to parties where almost every conversation was fascinating. I can meet at least ten cool new people in a matter of four days. The future is in good hands.

The Hugo Awards happened here, yo.

What I’ve realized is that a science fiction convention has the same emotional arc as a really excellent five-day wedding. The pre-travel wondering if you can get out of it. The reunions with con-friends, whom you see as infrequently and love as much (and can tease as hard) as family. The cool new people you bond with over the parties, ritual gatherings, not enough sleep and too much drinking. The central event you get dressed up for—Hugo Awards Ceremony, World Fantasy or Nebula Awards Banquet, the Tiptree Auction—that you’ve all supposedly come long distances for. And those parties after the Big Event, your last chance to drink a lot and proclaim that the marriage is doomed, or that the Hugo went to the wrong short dramatic presentation.

And like a really fabulous extended wedding, I am always a bit mushy at the end. Leaving all those new and old friends is painful, and coming back into the real world can be a bit harsh. Especially dealing with all those outsiders who are so indifferent to the special rules of the place where you’ve just been.

Take, for example, coming home to the New York Times’ review of Kelly Link’s new book, which was generally positive but contains this astonishingly mundane line about her story “Zombie Contingency Plans”: “The premise is fresh and the characters are likable . . . but . . . those zombies–are they supposed to be a metaphor?”

Argh. Are those not of the Tribe really so dim-witted? Are our skiffy reading protocols really so hard to understand?

Allow me too explain, Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man. Sure, zombies can “be a metaphor.” They can represent the oppressed, as in Land of the Dead, or humanity’s feral nature, as in 28 Days Later. Or racial politics or fear of contagion or even the consumer unconscious (Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead). We could play this game all night.

But really, zombies are not “supposed to be metaphors.” They’re supposed to be friggin’ zombies. They follow the Zombie Rules: they rise from death to eat the flesh of the living, they shuffle in slow pursuit (or should, anyway), and most important, they multiply exponentially. They bring civilization down, taking all but the most resourceful, lucky and well-armed among us, whom they save for last. They make us the hunted; all of us.

That’s the stuff zombies are supposed to do. Yes, they make excellent symbols, and metaphors, and have kick-ass mythopoeic resonance to boot. But their main job is to follow genre conventions, to play with and expand the Zombie Rules, to make us begin to see the world as a place colored by our own zombie contingency plans.

That’s why I spent last weekend drinking Scottish ale and discussing in great detail the seven different kinds of elasticity in time travel, the four major flavors of alternate technological history, the author’s duty of care in making military far-future hierarchies believable, and which nationalities of vampires can go out in the sun (Japanese, Swedish, discuss). And yes, I did spend some time talking about how I’d get out of the Glasgow Hilton hotel bar in case of zombie attack.

Don’t you see why this is more vitally important than your poxy metaphors, Mr. Times-Reviewer-Man?

Stories are the original virtual reality device; their internal rules spread out into reality around us like a bite-transmitted virus, slowly but inexorably consuming its flesh. They don’t just stand around “being metaphors” whose sole purpose is to represent things in the real world; they eat the real world.

Which made it rather painful to finally lift up our heavy luggage and come home, to live again among all these people who see the operations of language and storytelling in, quite frankly, a sophomoric English-class sort of way. All these people with their appalling lack of zombie contigencies. (Or maybe their dim-wittedness is, like, supposed to be a metaphor. What the hell do I know? I’m just a science fiction writer.)

Anyway, I really had a good time. Thanks to Glasgow, and all the organizers and volunteers, for lifting me out of the real world for a while. You rule.

Plus . . . Orbit, the UK publisher of Risen Empire, bought Midnighters for their young adult line.

W00t! Midnighters with slightly different spelling and punctuation! And with many more readers!

Glasgow was my first time meeting the Orbit crew, and they were all extremely cool. I look forward to publishing many more books with them in the future. (And the sale makes that whole pound-sterling-eating mother of a trip totally tax-deductible. Righteous!)

21 thoughts on “I Love the Tribe

  1. Sounds like you had an -awesome- trip.

    “(And the sale makes that whole pound-sterling-eating mother of a trip totally tax-deductible. Righteous!)”

    When I grow up, I want your job.

    So what kind of zombie contingency plans does your house have?

  2. Incidentally, you’re mentioned in The Slush God’s latest blog–well, not you specifically, but Peeps is, and your blog is, too.

  3. ……I thought that was the Sydney Opera House for a second, and wondered exactly how the con committee had gone about organising the commute for that.

  4. Like you, I am frequently appalled by the shoe-horning of allegorical intent upon spec fic as if that would make it more “important.” Spec fic is important precisely because of its unique take on reality and people like Kelly Link are a bridge between our wonderful tribe and the rather more mundane world that houses the New York Times. So, while I share your frustration at the condescending approach the NYT takes toward such a wonderful writer, I’m happy to know that the Kelly Link memeplex is replicating beyond the tribe’s borders.

  5. I think that Mr. Non-Sci Fi Man was shocked to see that Link has Literary Values: strong prose, potent –and so he thought he had to find ‘deeper meaning’ in the text. It probably goes against everything he’s heard about spec lit.
    Kelly Link is Punk Rock.

  6. Seven types of elasticity in time travel? Four types of alternate technological history? Can you elaborate?

  7. scott, do you mind if i use this blog entry for my spec fic class? well, even if you mind, i’m gonna do it anyway, but i thought i’d ask out of politeness. plus, i wanna hear about the four types of alternate technological history so that i can change my novel to not be one of them.

  8. Sunny: New York apartments are notoriously zombie-proof. Metal doors, grates over the windows, many locks. Show you what we think of our fellow citizens. My contingency plan is basically: fill the bathtub and wait for the army.

    Tess: That actually was the Sydney Opera House, which joined us via architectural teleportation. (The crumpled look of the wings is due to vertical hold problems. You should have seen the Great Pyramid. Nyuck.)

    Lauren and Craig: Yeah, it’s great that Kelly gets reviewed outside Gerald Jonas’ column. Good for their world of letters, and ours too. But there always seems to be one line that makes me cringe, and seeing it on the heels of all that Worldconny goodness made me decided to slap the Times around a bit. (They’re quaking in their boots now, I bet.)

  9. One fo the best most energetic con reports Iv;e read ina while, and a fabulous rant.

    Favorite line: They don’t just stand around “being metaphors” whose sole purpose is to represent things in the real world; they eat the real world.

    And about tax-deductability — it should be fully tax-deductible even without a sale (congrats on it, btw). I;f you we had business-related meetings, appointments, and conversations, the whole thing counts. As a writer, you simply need to keep records. 🙂

  10. Ted said: Seven types of elasticity in time travel? Four types of alternate technological history? Can you elaborate?

    Why, of course I would love to elaborate, Ted. It’s not as though I would throw numbers around like they were nothing, after all. Yes, I will be answering your questions at post length. Very soon.

    Crap. Did I say seven?

    Claire: If anyone uses my blog entries for any purpose whatsoever without express written consent, Cory Doctorow goes to their house and personally erases all their illegal MP3s. You have been warned.

    And let me know how it goes.

  11. To be fair to Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man, I think a lot of genre readers might be confused by that story, too — though in their case, it’ll be the absence of zombies that does it.

  12. For many, many more comments on this post, check out Making Light.

    David: Indeed, I wasn’t being fair at all to Mr. Non-sf-Reading Reviewer Man. I was merely ranting against the torturous transition from the con-space to the real world, which I feverishly imagined to be embodied by one tiny line in the NYTBR. I got no beef with Mr. Knight, and am sure he doesn’t really see the operations of language and storytelling sophomorically.

    And your point about genre readers possibly being confused by the story is well taken. Although they might be asking the opposite question, “Are those zombies supposed to be real?”

    For lots of people pointing out my lack of generosity and defending the reviewer, read the comments in Coalescent. Because we wouldn’t want unbalanced rants left uncorrected . . . not on the internet!

  13. Or you could just do like we did, and do the two movies as a double feature. (Bonus points if someone in your group comments, at the end of 28 Days Later, that it was a great movie but didn’t really satisfactorily tie up Sandra Bullock’s plot line.)

  14. Yo, Rachel, thanks for the review! And thanks for the headsup on BoingBoing, Shana!

    I seriously need to see the 28 Days/Later mash-up. Maybe the sound track of one under the image track of the other? But which way?

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