I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. It’s sort of my job, but it’s also something that we can’t avoid at this time of year. 2013 is calling time and putting the chairs on the tables whilst 2014 is trying not to look too nervous as it takes its tracksuit off and warms up. This is a time of year where reflection isn’t just expected it’s almost compulsory.
That leads to some really kick ass writing by the way. Paul Cornell’s 12 Blogs of Christmas are always really good value but this year he’s been on exceptional form. 2013 has been what my amazing girlfriend would call ‘burly’, an intense, bruiser of a year that’s worked hard for all 365 days and is only reluctantly showing signs of slowing down. There have been times, and anyone who was reading my blog in the top six months of the year would know exactly what times they were, when it’s been deeply, profoundly unpleasant.
Thanks for having my back this year, Phil.
That lack of pleasant hasn’t just stemmed from the profound professional frustration I’ve felt for a good chunk of this year. A lot of it has stemmed from the realization that a lot of the time, geek culture enables and encourages misery. The whole concept of geek/nerd/counter culture is so wrapped up in being the underdog that even when we aren’t, we’re conditioned to act like we are.
It’s not just that there’s always something wrong with a movie or a book or a comic or someone’s blog post either, although God knows that sort of stuff has been endemic this year. When we’re not complaining that something’s been done wrong, we’re complaining it’s been done at all and we absolutely will not stop until the same nine people agree with us, argue with us or passive aggressively block us on Twitter.
I’ve seen things, to misquote Roy Batty, that would make you go ‘…Wait, you’re supposed to be a grown up? You’re the industry leaders whose standards we all have to aspire to? SERIOUSLY?’
I’ve seen authors ignore some of the first people to beta read their first book as they pass in convention hallways. I’ve seen authors pick fights they had no business being anywhere near or comport themselves on Twitter in a manner that suggests their ASSHAT UNION membership card has arrived and they’re just so pleased they can’t wait to show it to everyone.
It’s not just authors either. Bloggers who’ve picked fights for no reason other than they can, journalists who’ve started fights they can’t finish then played the victim card and run. I’ve seen celebrity authors pampered and sucked up to by the same editors who let out streams of invective as high pitched as they were ineffectual at people who they thought beneath them. I’ve seen ‘fans’ race to pour scorn on anyone who dared to like something they didn’t, or sneak pictures of an old, tired, ill man because it might be the last time they were in the same room as him and God forbid they should treat him like a human.
I have so much more. I have an amount you wouldn’t believe of stories of people being dicks. Objectification by both genders, high school cliquery, bullying, the sort of cult of personality bullshit that makes you want to not just leave these people’s company but shower and not stop until you feel clean again. Fandom, and I actually cringed writing that word, has shown the world it’s ass over and over in 2013.
It’s been pretty depressing at times. You may be able to tell.
Here’s the thing. I have an outsider complex the size of a small moon at the best of times and there’ve been months this year that I’ve felt like a man without a country. Times where I’ve looked around at the conversation and the people leading it and frankly wondered if it wasn’t too late to learn enough about football and soap operas that I could fit effortlessly back into the general population, sort of like Bruce Campbell at the end of Darkman.
I didn’t for three reasons. Firstly because simply making that comparison tells me this is where I should be, secondly because Bruce Campbell already had that exit sewn up and thirdly because when it comes down to it, I’ve seen what comes next. And it’s BRILLIANT.
Seriously, the dusty cults of personality, the grudges held for years, the ludditery and celebration of the past at the endless, endless expense of the present and the future? It’s being replaced, person by person, con by con. What’s replacing it, Commander Bowman?
See, Dave knows.
But surely publishing is dying? I pretend to hear you cry. Publishing isn’t dying. Or rather it is in the same way that comics publishing was dying a decade ago when I ran a comic store. Numbers are down, prices are up, electronic retail is squeezing it dry and the sky is falling.
But the sky is always falling.
Comics endure. Books endure. We endure and survive and, ultimately, evolve. Look at the indie press scene in this country and don’t use small press as a term, please. It belittles the hard work of everyone involved in companies like Anachron, Jurassic and Fox Spirit. These are groups of people whose invention is matched only by their lunacy at working so hard for so little financial gain. Colin Barnes, Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, Aunty Fox, all the others have stepped up and MADE something whilst everyone else has been busy doomsaying and remembering how drunk they got at We Like A-Line Flares and The Bay City Fucking Rollerscon back in 197aeons ago.
Authors, editors and agents are the same. Lou Morgan, Andrew Reid, Joan De La Haye, Jennifer Williams, Liz De Jager, Alec McQuay, Dan Sawyer, Vincent Holland Keen, Adam Christopher, Colin Barnes again, Steven Saus, Scott Roche, Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry again, Tim Maughan, Kate Laity, Mhairi Simpson, David Barnett, Nayad Monroe, Sarah Hans, Mur Lafferty, Lee Harris, Amanda Rutter, Den Patrick, Will Hill, Kim Curran, Guy Adams, Tom Pollock, Djibril al-Ayad, Matt Wallace, Jacqueline Koyanagi, Juliet Mushens and all the others have built their careers from the ground up. Brick by brick by author by book these people have hand sold, promoted, represented appeared on podcasts, written blogs, submitted work, read slush and slowly and surely they’ve made ground. Slowly and surely they’ve changed the game. Slowly and surely they’ve won .
You know the coolest thing about that list? I added to it twice and I know it’s not complete, even now. These people, and the legions I missed, are building the future with a combination of grim determination and total empathy. The con organizers are the same, and anyone who thinks different hasn’t looked at Nine Worlds, the plans LonCon 3 have or what Lee Harris and Sophia McDougall are building at FantasyCon ’14.
It won’t be overnight, because it never is, but the change that’s coming isn’t just one of talent, it’s one of atmosphere. At every level of every element of genre fiction publishing, the culture is changing from one of tradition and exclusion to one of individuality and inclusion. Yes the support structures are smaller, yes the work is harder to do but the rewards are all the sweeter if you can do it. Like the man says, it’s a good life if you don’t weaken and everyone I mention here can attest to that. These people love what they do so much they teach other people to love it too. No whining, no backbiting, no psychological games. Just the agent, the editor, the publisher, the writer, the reader and the text and, yes, they’re all walking into a bar.
This is a wonderful time to be anywhere near fiction. The step change that’s coming will echo up and down for decades to come and it’ll be so much more positive and interesting than so much of what we’ve had to put up with in recent years.
What do you think, Josh?
What’s next? That’s easy. It’s the future. And this time everyone’s invited.
Happy New Year