I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In Search of Ancient Idiots

So, every now and then I like to read the sort of trashy 70's paperbacks I was addicted to when I was a teenager. There were dozens of books out about the Bermuda Triangle, ancient astronauts, UFO's, and Bigfoot, and I eagerly devoured them all. I was addicted the implication that there might be some huge secret just waiting to be revealed, some final proof of alien life visiting Earth, or of a second, primitive race of man still hiding in the forests.

I recently found a copy of "In Search of Ancient Mysteries" in a Goodwill Store for a nickel. Who can argue with that price? I read it, wondering if I could still work up that sense of wonder and mystery I'd loved so much as a teen. Alas, no. I'm really left more with the impression that my teen self was a moron. The authors main premise is so self-evidently awful that I can't believe there were enough readers for this book to justify a dozen printings, as the cover boasts. The premise is a familiar one: All the great stone monuments built in ancient times could not have been built by ancient man alone. The blocks must have been carved and moved great distances with the help of advanced alien civilizations. As added proof, any rock carving of a man wearing a funny hat is held up as portraying an astronaut in a space helmet. Any triangular rock is pointed to as a delta winged aircraft, any circle is called a flying saucer.

Many critiques have pointed out that this genre of book is insulting to ancient humans, who were quite capable of these wonderful feats of stone engineering. But, I can't help but think they are also insulting to the ancient alien civilizations as well. They came there across vast reaches of interstellar space and built homes for themselves, and the best material they knew how to use was rock? They built all these giant stone buildings with no running water, no electrical outlets, etc., and they are supposed to be more advanced than we are? Show me a Mayan temple built out of 2000 year old plastic and I might be a little more convinced.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Going Too Far

Yesterday, I found the December Asimov's in a local Borders and peeked inside to confirm that I wasn't dreaming, that this issue did indeed contain my story "To the East, a Bright Star." I also noticed something standing in the bookstore that I was blind to in my subscription copy. There's a warning label on my story! "A word of warning: there are brief scenes in this story that may be disturbing to some readers." I don't recall ever seeing that label in another issue of Asimov's before. (Although I've since been informed they've done it for a few years now.)

I'm slightly more flattered than offended by the label. Part of me does wonder what, precisely, earned the warning. I suppose it was explicit drug use. Worse, it's explicit drug use that doesn't ruin the character's lives.

Yet another part of me views the label as completely extraneous. My story might disturb people. Why did they need the word "might" in there? Has fiction become so bland and timid that writers no longer produce disturbing stories? In the stories I'm most proud of, I almost always come to a moment where I'm disturbed by what I'm writing. There's a moment where I think, "I can't write this--I'm going too far." In Nobody Gets the Girl, I felt this way when Rail Blade has her temper tantrum in Jerusalem. Then, I topped my discomfort a chapter later when Rail Blade's father sticks the needle in her veins and delivers the lethal dose of poison. In "Empire of Dreams and Miracles," I felt this way when the Dobay the Gold admits his lust for his transgendered father, and later when he gets his eye gouged out by a clawhammer. In "Perhaps the Snail," I write about masturbation in the back seat of a cab, and took comfort in the fact that the story was so offensive it would never be published and I would be spared the embarassment of having people read it. (I was wrong on the never being published part.)

Perhaps there are some writers who get a thrill out of shocking their readers, and purposefully set out to be sexually explicit or ultra violent. I am not one of those writers. Each time I get to one of these scenes, it's a struggle. I worry about losing readers. Worse, I worry that one day, against all odds, my parents might pick up a science fiction anthology and find out what kind of sicko crap I'm churning out. Yet when I come to these scenes, I never have the option of simply not writing them. My stories often climax with a single, transformative moment in a character's life, and these moments are often disturbing and uncomfortable for the protagonist. If, in "Perhaps the Snail," Devie had decided to go get some ice cream instead of agreeing to be a nude piece of living furniture for her rock star idol, I might have had produced a story that didn't offend anyone. Instead I decided to tell the story of the worst moment of her life--and show how humans are capable of taking these worst moments and flipping them around until they become the moments of thier greatest strength. I write about trauma so that I can write about transformation.

If you aren't convinced the human mind is programmed to make these flips, I have more evidence. I write stuff that I'm embarrassed to write--and later feel proud of it.

So, yeah, some scenes may be disturbing to some readers. If they aren't, then I'm just wasting my time.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Harlan Ellison

So, just now my phone rings and it turns out to be Harlan Ellison. He read to "To the East, a Bright Star," in Asimov's and wanted to welcome me to the community of professional writers. He also told me that I should have used "as" instead of "like" in the sentence, "It worked quickly, like he remebered."

Harlan Ellison changed my life, a couple of times. First, when I was a teenager, leaving behind a very theistic view of the world and making my first intellectual forays into a science-based world, I read every bit of SF I could lay my hands on. Harlan Ellison's work stood out. I loved everything he wrote. I loved all the long essays and introductions in his anthologies, I loved his world view. I wanted to be a writer, and, not so secretly, I wanted to be Harlan Ellison. He was the ultimate in cool to me when I was 17. I really knew nothing about him but the word he had put on paper, but his words charged me up like lightning.

The second time Harlan changed my life, he was writer in residence the year I went to Odyssey. This made my trip to Odyssey something of a religious experience. The way some pilgrims might journey to Italy to see the Pope, I journeyed a thousand miles to spend a week in his presense. At the workshop, Harlan tore me apart. He ripped to shreds every story I submitted at the workshop. He did have a few nice things to say, but I still have the paper where he circled a misspelling in the first line of my story and wrote "You're writing like a goddamn illiterate redneck." He capped it all of my not even reading my final story and dismissing me as too arrogant for him to waste his time on. The final night of Harlan's stay, I cried like I had never cried in my life. I felt like he had completely crushed my dreams of being a writer. He had taken everything I had written and dismissed it as crap. He had made me look incompetent and ignorant.

It was a huge favor, one which I finally got the chance to thank him for. Because in crushing my dream of being Harlan Ellison, he helped me form a new dream of being James Maxey. By tossing in the wastebin ten years of writing, he gave me the freedom to write in a new and better style, and write stories that were less imitatative of what I had read before.

So, having him call me was a shock. Having him call me a colleague is an honor. And having him correct my story after it's published is a thrill. Yowza.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bill Bennett=Racist

So, in my last post I mentioned my recent insomnia. I was so tired I felt drunk. Here it is five hours later, and I'm wide away. Well, "wide" may be the wrong adjective there. I'm narrowly awake, awake by a bare sliver, yet it's a vital sliver. A voice in my head just won't shut up. What kills me is that other people probably get voices in thier heads that worry about important stuff. I'm kept awake by the worst kinds of trivia. I don't know if you've ever seen the comic strip "Syvia." Nicolle Hollander has a running gag about "The Woman Who Worries About Everything." In these strips, the woman is awake in bed thinking about some new political development--Friday, the woman wakes up her husband by worrying out loud about pharmacists refusing to fill prescription drugs, for instance. I identify with this on so many levels. "Sylvia" is one of my all time favorite strips with a political bent. I like Doonesbury and the Boondocks, but seldom do I find myself laughing out loud over their particular brand of humor. They usually devote thier energies to making fun of right wing politics, which is fine by me, but "Sylvia" usually has a more absurdist spin on things. She's making fun of right-wingers, often savagely, but there is also a subtle recognition in her political commentary that recognizes that outrage and fear over a lot of political issues is funny in it's own right. I think she's aware that waking up in the middle of the night to worry about the FDA or Tom Delay or Halliburton is a fairly absurd reaction to most politics. She's making fun of politics, but also making fun of people who take politics seriously.

Which brings me back to my insomnia, and the stupid stuff I worry about. Tonight it's Bill Bennett. By now, most people have probably heard about his suggestion that we abort all black babies to reduce crime. I read about it on Buzzflash, on Democratic Underground, and on Media Matters. Deomocratic Underground has a thread calling for this racist cracker's head on a platter--or, short of that, demanding that he be taken off the air. There's a petition going around, yadda yadda. I heard the clip played on the Alan Colmes show, and thought it was pretty amazing that Bill Bennett had said such a thing. It was also puzzling, because I thought he was opposed to abortion. Sure, maybe he hated black people, but didn't he also hate abortions?

So, driving home yesterday, I heard a longer version of the quote, and more about the context of the quote. Turns out, he doesn't support aborting all black babies. Nor was it even his argument--he plainly states that it's an argument he read in a book called "Freakanomics." And then, in the sentence immediately following his presentation of that arguement, he goes on to call the argument rediculous and morally reprehensible. It's a common defense of politicians to claim that they've been taken out of context--but all the outrage over these remarks plainly requires that his comments be taken way, way out of context. To spin this like this is Bennett's belief requires a level of intellectual dishonesty that makes me ashamed of my fellow human beings.

This isn't just something the left does to demonize the right. The right did it as well with their spin that Gore claimed to have invented the internet. It's a claim he never made, based on spinning a factual and much more modest claim that Gore had been supportive of legislation that funded development of networks while he had been in congress. This is an easily verified, totally non-controversial statement for Gore to make. So, of course, the right wing spin machine yanked his comments out of context and eventually rewrote them to turn Gore into a liar, based on a lie that he never told.

What kills me is how well this works. I don't have any hard polling data, but I would guess that the number of people who believe Gore claims to have invented the internet is up around 70 or 80 percent. The number of people who believe that Dan Quayle went to Latin America and lamented that he didn't speak Latin is probably higher than that--once again based on something that he never said. And now this Bill Bennett thing--a year from now, all people will know about him is that he's the guy who wants to kill black babies.

So, tonight I'm blaming my insomnia on my concerns about the collective ignorance of Americans. Now that that's out of my system, I'm going back to bed.