The Last Moose

20 April 2001

Yesterday we went to Ikea again, and I got my stuffed moose. It was pretty close to the last one, so I'm glad we went. Also got another frame so that we can hang another of the Chris Van Allensburg prints at the end of the hall. Also a cutting board for back-up. Nasty store. There are just too many decently priced cool things in it.

I reread Suzy McKee Charnas' The Bronze King for the first time in at least ten years, yesterday. I had to have the children's librarian fetch it from the bookmobile for me. I'm going to read its sequels, too. Most authors who write both YAs and grown-up speculative fiction got connected in my brain much earlier than this, but it wasn't until after I watched Charnas pretending to be a cockroach with Brian Aldiss, Joe Haldeman, Kathy Goonan, and lots of other cool writer types, that I realized that the lady who wrote the YAs also did Walk to the End of the World and the others. So I wanted to see if she was subversive and I just hadn't noticed. She was, but not in the ways I'd expected, until the very end, when it got kind of preachy. All of a sudden it was a big deal that the girl had saved the guy rather than vice versa. Maybe at the time she wrote it (mid-80s), Charnas still felt like it was a big deal. I really don't think it is, today.

And I think we have to be careful not to confuse social norms of our generation and culture with general traits of the species. One of my points of disagreement with Trent (and I can't tell you whether there are more or fewer than I expected) has been that Trent claimed it was unbelievable in a book to have a guy character cry -- that most men would handle emotions in other ways. Trent writes speculative stuff, but I mean, geez, how long ago was it that Rosey Grier got to sing his little song on "Free To Be You and Me?" How speculative is it, really? Not so much so. I don't think I ever dated a guy who wouldn't cry when the timing was appropriate. Most guys I know still don't cry as easily as most women, but that's not the same thing. And, wow, there are cultures where men sob quite freely, cultures right here on this planet, some of them right around here.

It didn't ruin The Bronze King for me, although I did like the ending much less because of the heavy-handedness. There are books that I think were badly enough done to be jarring, though. Charles Sheffield's Aftermath is the prime example of this, I think. Sheffield's male main character is in his mid-50s, but if you look at the year of the book, he was born when Mark was. And yet he acts like a typical late-middle-aged gent from maybe 1975. He says things that my father would not say, because they're outdated assumptions (although maybe when he gets to his mid-50s, his cultural assumptions will change and women doctors will be weird to him again; I doubt it). Of course, I was also disgusted with the fifth grade biology error in the denouement. Repeat after me: menstrual blood is not reproductive cells any more than skin samples are reproductive cells. Why, oh why, did Nancy Kress not catch him on this one? And why is it acceptable for a scientist, who is a grown man with children, to have that large a misapprehension of female reproductive biology? And why did none of his editors catch it?

That's a sidetrack. Point being: we have to think pretty carefully about what's human nature and what isn't, when we have books where human nature remains constant. I think we have better SF if the human nature part is realistic and the science is grossly unreasonable than the other way around. But there's a big difference between human nature and current behavior. My history prof in college started his class by saying, "If you don't read science fiction, I think you should start, because that's the attitude we're going to be cultivating in this class." I think the reverse is also productive for a science fiction writer, or even a reader.

I heard from the Hayward community program folks, and they want to schedule an instructor interview as pertaining to my proposed class. I assume this means that they'll verify that I'm fit to deal with people's children. I hope it works out okay. I'm really excited about working with high school students on writing fiction. I think it's a situation where everybody wins, but especially me.

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