Mesh Update #9 – Stars Can Collapse

This is a tough one. I talked about David Hahn before, but  it wasn’t until today that I knew how the story ended. Hahn died in 2016 of alcohol poisoning. They found David’s body in a Wal-Mart bathroom, 18 years after building a nuclear reactor in his back yard. This tragic conclusion illustrates what I said earlier. We need schools to nurture budding stars like Hahn or Taylor Wilson. Stars will collapse, if they don’t have the right conditions to shine.

There is no question, for example, that David Hahn had a tremendous amount of potential. After all, you can’t be both a sniper and a master helmsman unless you’re both bright, and talented. But what went wrong? Continue reading

Ahead of the Curve: Scifi and the Effortless White Woman

Effortless white women. Where have I been? This has been a thing for over ten years now. I was late to the party, but the resentment against that zeitgeist bubbles forth like a Hawiian volcano, and so it came to my attention. The happy news about this stale trope in our boring dystopia is that scifi has been ahead of the curve when it comes to this self-destructive mindset.

Who or what is an ‘effortless white girl?’ The Medium article explains: “a feminine ideal that has been part of women’s media ever since second-wave feminism made it taboo to publish articles about decorating to please your husband: The Effortless White Woman.”

Ellen Ripley, after someone asked her to make a sammich

As bad as that is, it gets worse: “This seemingly leaves women stuck in the familiar, dreary bind always created by internalized misogyny: hating ourselves, and hating other women because they remind us of how mu ch we hate ourselves, with only a few callous opportunists getting out ahead. But the anger under the Effortless White Woman has, of late, been transforming into something potentially illuminating—not deferred self-loathing, but an actual recognition of injustice.”

All that bad mojo aside, the good news is that scifi was, is, and will always be on the right side of history when it comes to the Effortless White Woman. We’ve never had much use for anyone, regardless of their gender, who does not understand the value of struggle.

Think of our favorite female heroes: Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, River Tam, Trinity. Do we admire them for their effortlessness, or do we admire them because of their strength and their resilience?

I Am Woman: Hear Me Blast a Stormtrooper

Oddly enough, Gwenth Paltrow is at the center of this Effortless White Woman discussion and yet I only know her because I love her as Pepper Potts in Iron Man. Her Pepper Potts is hardly effortless. On the contrary, she’s a strong, determined person, capable of reigning in the mad genius of Tony Stark.

If I were to think of an EWW in the Scifi or Fantasy world, it would be the Childlike Empress in Neverending Story. Sure enough, she was the Ivory Tower girl come to life, waiting to be rescued by Atreyu. Do you even remember her? I had to google her name (Tami Stronach). That’s how little the character mattered to me.

So to wrap up – perhaps the answer to this social issue is not so much extrinsic (“Everyone should stop idolizing the Effortless White Woman”) as much as it is intrinsic (“My value comes from inside, not from a product I buy, and if you can’t understand that then maybe you need a time-out.”).

Just a thought. Just me. Please don’t be angry if I’m missing an important issue. Reach out to me on Twitter or Reddit – I’d like to learn.

Follow-Up to the ‘Toxic Fan’ Piece

Kelly Marie Tran spoke out on the New York Times about her experiences with online harassment. I wanted to mention it as a follow-up because her experience was part of the reason I wrote the ‘toxic fan’ piece the other day.

Toxicity in scifi is more than just ‘you suck, lol,’ It has real-world ramifications for creative people that need to be addressed if we want our genre to survive and thrive.

I’m very proud of Loan for speaking out, and I hope you take a moment to listen to her today.

Less Anger, More Jim Henson


Coming out of a serious writing jag, I’m thinking about Worldcon, that happened over the weekend in San Jose. Like many other purveyors of the art, I’m sometimes confused and puzzled about how people interpet what science fiction is supposed to be. Is it necessary to turn sci-fi into a competition, an argument, or a conflict? I did a bit of thinking, and it occurred to me that we need less anger, and more Jim Henson.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, but don’t ignore the point: It isn’t just about where we’re going, it’s about who we’re going to be when we get there. I read that one time, and it’s always stuck with me. There’s no point in creating new things if the only purpose they serve is to be weaponized against innocent people.

Most geeks understand that. The best example I can think of is our old friend, Jim Henson. He was more than just the Muppets, of course. Jim created an enduring legacy of love, peace, and joy that he expressed through art and relationships.

There’s an article reprinted from Life that explains it like this: ‘Jim Henson can be credited with many accomplishments: he had the most profound influence on children of any entertainer of his time; he adapted the ancient art of puppetry to the most modern of mediums, television, transforming both; he created a TV show that was one of the most popular on earth. But Henson’s greatest achievement was broader than any of these. Through his work, he helped sustain the qualities of fancifulness, warmth and consideration that have been so threatened by our coarse, cynical age.’

Jim Henson had flaws but he was also a tolerant, patient man. That’s not to say that he tolerated everything. Many people conflate the two, and that is yet another byproduct of our toxic age.  “Underneath the zaniness, there was a kind of decency that the characters had about the world and to each other, and I think that was one of the legacy’s that Jim left,” Jerry Juhl, Head Writer for the Muppets said. “At the core there was always this kind of sense of social values and decency.”

Beyond that, through the Muppets Jim Henson showed a sense of ‘wonder, delight, [and] optimism.’ That’s sadly missing from the 2018 sci-fi landscape. Social values and deceny are being challenged. The loudest guy and the biggest sign seem to be winning.

We have the opportunity, though, to be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t need to shout louder than the other guy. We just need to be. We can communicate our priorities by what we do, and the choices we make. None of these things are revolutionary in themselves. We’ll find, as Henson did, that we already know what the right thing to do is, we just need to do it.

Jim Henson did that. In so doing, he destroyed his foes, not by defeating them, but by befriending them. That wasn’t really original, it came right out of the Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’

So, although it seems like dark times, there are opportunities for light. Jim Henson showed us the way. Let’s find the next Jim Henson, or be the next Jim Henson, so that we can light the way for the next generation, too.

New Wallpaper – “Gantry 17”

Created a new wallpaper – “Gantry 17” – based on some stories that pop into my head whenever I see random, everyday images. Would working in space get boring, like every other job? What would a normal day look like? Those thoughts inspired me to fire up Photoshop and get to imaginatin’ …

Finished this last night and wanted to share it out immediately. I make free scifi wallpapers to share – helps keep me fresh as I write Mesh. The original is 1920×1080 for your wallpapery goodness! Hope you like it. 🙂

Am I a Toxic Fan? 10 Questions to Ask

More news about James Gunn’s departure from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 this week. No matter where you fall on that subject, there’s no escaping the news stories abouttoxic fans.’

Do toxic fans exist? Of course they do. In fact, I’ve been talking about them for a while now. Two questions are missing from all of these articles though:

  1. Would someone know if they were a toxic fan?
  2. What are you supposed to do about it, if you are?

Just like an alcoholic who may not know they have a drinking problem, some toxic fans may not realize the damage they are doing to themselves or other people. To help fans that may not know which side of the fence they fall on, I compiled several different lists together to come up with some common behaviors of toxic fans. See if you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these behaviors: Continue reading

Gene Roddenberry’s Sci-fi Solution to Racism

Let’s talk for a moment about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi solution to racism. I know I’ve talked about Roddenberry before, but the guy is a personal hero and current events make it necessary to speak out again.

The NYT is talking about the worrisome trend of ‘racist science fiction.’ Being a person who loves sci-fi, it bothers me to think that my beloved genre could be co-opted to divide people. At the same time, one can see how powerful an idea can be when persons perceive that it’s time has come.

But what if that idea is horrible? What if that mindset can lead to hate, murder, and genocide? That’s what frightens me, and I think it disturbed yesteryear sci-fi creators like Gene Roddenberry and Rod Serling as well. ‘Superman,’ ‘Star Trek,’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’ dealt with anti-facist, anti-racial themes in their time. Rather than taking the issue head on, which would have resulted in failure, they spoke directly to people they knew would listen: The kids.

That strategy has power. Star Trek imagined a future where the Cold War was over, and American racism had died out. Rod Serling mercilessly mocked authoritarian logic in ‘The Obsolete Man’: “This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one […] But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”

Superman himself was responsible for a significant victory. In addition to defeating Lex Luthor, Superman defeated the Klan where normal, law-abiding citizens could not. He didn’t just leap tall buildings in a single bound, he jumped over impossible hurdles in human perspective.

The point that science fiction taught us is simple, and powerful: We can live without racism. We can treat each other with respect and dignity. We can eliminate imaginary boundaries to fellowship and kindness. We can use the power of the mind, and spirit, to create a decent world.

I’m not sure what this means for me, personally. What I do know is that my sci-fi is about a future that just *is*. Even if I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again. And as long as it needs to be said, I’ll keep saying it. Maybe one day, we can move onto topics of greater interest.

World Leaders Go Full Dystopia

Just read a creepy article – about a recent conversation with the nervous 1%. How will they survive the coming collapse of society? For people who project a bright vision of the future in public, it’s alarming to see world leaders go full dystopia in private. What do you do when money goes away? How do you maintain your family’s safety, or its quality of life?

These don’t seem to be idle questions. As you read through the discussion, you can see that wealthy people have no illusions about how the rest of us feel about them. They also have no illusions on the stability of society as a whole.

The sad part is, where you’d think this would lead some to introspection, and self-realization, they continue to rationalize sociopathic behavor:

They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

It’s a sad, depressing piece of news to contemplate, but not surprising. Plutocrats have been saying for a while that this massive imbalance of societal power will eventually result in disaster. However, where is the natural “hey, we have to stop the Titanic from sinking!” mentality? If you know society is going to explode, and you wield massive amounts of influence, why aren’t you doing something about it?

I already know the answer to that question, and maybe you do, too. It doesn’t change the fact that the rich and wealthy could do something, even if they chose not to because of the realities of wealth creation and social power dynamics. It’s also why I have no interest in writing dystopian fiction. We’re already living there.

The message is: Start preparing for the future, because they are.