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 forâ€”Hugo Awards Ceremony, World Fantasy or Nebula Awards Banquet, the Tiptree Auctionâ€”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!)