Last week I wrote about Jason Van Dyke, a lawyer, violence-threatener, bigot, and perhaps-ironically self-styled Proud Boy. This was a post of little consequence, unless you count the attempt to glitterbomb me through the mail:
Anyway, the post attracted a commenter who styled himself "Cory G." who came bearing a fantastical tale about Mr. Van Dyke, a tale that seemed only nominally to criticize him and more likely representing an attempt to make him seem like a dangerous badass, as a badass might be imagined by a lonely 14-year-old.
So I checked Cory G's IP address. That IP address came back to "Texas Title." Texas Title? That sounds familiar. There's a blog "Texas Title," operated by "Jason," associated with a law firm in Texas:
And, funny coincidence, Jason Van Dyke listed himself on the Texas State Bar Website as working at that same firm:
I wrote to Mr. Van Dyke to determine if I could, with his help, unravel this mystery. He offered a series of responses, denying being "Cory G" and claiming he no longer worked at the firm. You can tell it was really Jason because he offered a gratuitous threat of violence against Cory G.
I blocked you on Twitter and blocked most of the faggots commenting on yoyr sorry excuse for an article. Are you talking about Cory Grant?
There is nobody I know by that name working for them. As of Monday, I no longer work there either thanks to you so it couldnt have been me. I see no need to comment further since you wont believe me anyway.
If you are tslking to Cory Grant, you moght consider staying away from him before I have to go teach him ti mind his business.
Fuck off. You're interfering with my beer drinking and I dont have time for you or your bullshit blog. I dont know what youre talking about, so sit and spin
Query as to whether I have a moral or legal obligation to warn Cory G he may be in danger.
Anyway, he's still refusing to apologize for building Western Civilization, so he has that going for him, which is nice.Copyright 2017 by the named Popehat author.
When biographer and historian Nat Segaloff sat down to interview science fiction Grand Master Harlan Ellison for his new book A Lit Fuse, he knew that he was in for a challenge. What surprised him about the process was how much it wasn’t just about Ellison, but also about him.
How do you write something new about someone everybody thinks they already know? A writer who is famous for putting so much of his life into his stories that his fans feel that even his most bizarre work is autobiographical? That was the unspoken challenge in late 2013 when I agreed to write Harlan Ellison’s biography, an adventure that is just now seeing daylight with the publican of A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison.
I wrote the book because Harlan wouldn’t. He came close in 2008 when he announced he would write Working Without a Net for “a major publisher,” but he never did. Maybe he figured he’d said enough in his 1700 short stories, essays, and articles he’s published over the last 60 years. It wasn’t as if he was afraid of the truth; he always said he never lies about himself because that way nobody can hold anything against him. That was my challenge.
When we shook hands and I became his biographer, I also became the only person he ever gave permission to quote from his work and take a tour of his life. What I really wanted to do, though, was to explore his mind. What I didn’t expect was that, as I examined his creative process, I would also bare my own.
When you sit down with someone for a conversation, it’s fun; when you sit down with someone for an interview, it’s serious. Harlan has been interviewed countless times and he has always been in control. This time, I was. I had to get him to say stuff that was new, and I had to go beyond where others had stopped.
A Harlan Ellison interview is a performance. He will be quotable, precise, vague, and outrageous. He takes no prisoners. He will run and fetch a comic book, figurine, photograph, or book to illustrate a point, all of which breaks the mood. My job was to get him to sit still and not be “Harlan Ellison” but simply Harlan.
Harlan is one of the few speculative fiction writers (along with Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and a handful of others) who became public figures. Part of this stemmed from the quality of his work but much of it was created by his being, as I kept finding in the clippings, ““fractious,” “famously litigious,” and “argumentative.” Indeed, most of the stories I found during my research could be divided into two categories: “What a wild man Harlan is” and “I alone escaped to tell thee.”
Balderdash. What I discovered was a man who takes his craft seriously and fiercely defends others who labor in the field of words. An attack on them was an attack on him, and an attack on him was not to be deflected but returned in kind. “I don’t mind if you think I’m stupid,” he told one antagonist, “it’s just that I resent it when you talk to me as if I’m stupid.”
Even though I had final cut, I ran whole sections past him to get his reaction. He never flinched. In fact, he challenged me to go deeper. It was almost as if – and don’t take this the wrong way – I was Clarice Starling and he was Hannibal Lecter — the more I asked of Harlan, the more I had to give of myself. Both of us put our blood in the book even though I am the author.
The bill for Athena’s fall semester at Miami University arrived a couple of days ago, and we paid it, and I have some various thoughts about that I want to share.
When I went to college, 30 years ago now, I couldn’t pay for it. I did what the majority of people did then and do now — I cobbled together various sorts of funding from multiple sources. A scholarship here, a Pell grant there, a work study job and loans — and still it wasn’t quite enough when one of my funding sources fumbled the ball pretty badly and I had to ask my grandfather for help (which to be clear, he was happy to provide, with the only provision being that I would write him a letter a month, a request very much in my wheelhouse). I graduated with a fair amount of student debt, rather more than the average amount back in 1991, which was around $8,200. I think I was around 30 when we paid it off.
I don’t regret my college debt — I’m of the opinion that my education was worth what I paid for it and then some — but at the time I didn’t really like having the anxiety of wondering how it was all going to be paid for, and my education being contingent on outside financial forces, over which I had no control. I was lucky I was able to find ways to cover it all. I was also lucky that I got a good job right out of college (in 1991, during a recession), and was always financially solvent afterward. That college debt never became a drag or a worry, as it easily could have been, and which it did become for a number of my friends.
I don’t think scrambling for money or paying down college debt added anything beneficial to my life, however. As much as certain people might make a fetish of having to struggle in one way or another for one’s education, and that struggle having a value in itself, I’m not especially convinced that the current American manner of “struggle” — pricing college education at excessive rates and then requiring students and family to take on significant amounts of debt, effectively transferring decades of capital from the poor, working and middle classes to banks and their (generally wealthy) shareholders — is really such a great way to do that, especially since wages in general have stagnated over the last 40 years, the same period of time in which college tuition costs have skyrocketed, consistently above the rate of inflation. Worrying about college funding and paying off college debt isn’t character-building in any real sense. It’s opportunity cost, time wasted that might be productively spent doing something else educationally or financially beneficial.
So: I don’t regret my college debt, but I don’t think it was something that added value, either, to my education or my life. All things being equal, I suspect I would have been better off not having to worry whether I had enough funding for college any particular quarter, or being able to take the monthly post-collegiate debt payment and use it for something else, including investment. Not just me, of course; I don’t think anyone, students or parents (or colleges, for that matter), benefits from the current patchwork method of college funding, or the decade-long (or longer) hangover of college debt service.
We always assumed Athena would go to college; very early on we began saving and investing with the specific goal of funding her education. Along the way we caught the break of my writing career taking off, which meant the account intended for her education plumped out substantially. By the time it was the moment for Athena to decide where to go to college, we were in the fortunate position of being able to pay for it — all of it — wherever it was she decided to go. So, to go back to the initial paragraph, when that first Miami University bill came up, we were able to cut that check and send it off. No muss, no fuss. We’ll be able to do the same for the other college bills over the next four years.
Which is great for us! And not bad for Athena, who will end her college experience debt-free in a world where the average US student with college debt in 2016 was in the hole for $37,000, with that number only likely to go up from here. But let’s also look at everything that had to happen in order for us to get to that point: We saved early, which was smart of us, but we also had the wherewithal to save, which meant we got lucky that Krissy and I both had work, that in her case her gig included health insurance for all of us and that in my case I was in constant demand as a freelance writer, which, I assure you, is not always the case. We got lucky that the books took off as they did; the odds on that were not great. We were lucky that no one of us got seriously or chronically ill, or that other family crises depleted savings. Athena is an only child; that’s not necessarily lucky, but it definitely was a factor when it came to paying for college. We only have to do this once.
All of which is to say that Athena will be getting out of college debt-free partly because we planned early but mostly because of factors that we had only some control over, and over which she had almost none. She didn’t choose her parents or her circumstances; she got what she got. And in this case, she got lucky.
That’s fine for her. But it’s not a very useful strategy for paying for college. “Get lucky picking your parents” should not be the determining factor for whether you leave college debt-free, leave with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or can’t afford to go to college at all. Every single one of those circumstances can have a substantial effect on how the rest of one’s economic life will go — and how the economic life of how one’s children will go. There’s a reason why in the United States, home of the “American Dream,” it’s actually pretty difficult to move up the social ladder. Yes, I did it, but I also don’t pretend I didn’t get lucky — a lot — or that my path is easily repeatable. Take it from someone who is living the American Dream: It stays only a dream for most of those dreaming of it.
I’m proud that we can pay for our daughter’s college education. I’m also well aware how many things had to break our way to be at this point, which just as easily could have gone another way. It would be better to live in a world where luck, one way or another, is not a salient, determinative factor for whether one can afford college, or whether one can graduate from college without debt. In fact, that world does exist; just not here in the US. College tuition in most developed countries is substantially less than it is here, including being basically free in places like Germany and France. We could do that here, for state schools at least, if we decided we wanted to.
But we don’t. I know we have our reasons. I just don’t think those reasons are very good.
The first time I came out as bisexual to a partner, it was a mess. What was a passably tolerable relationship became a wasteland of conspiratorial winks, elbow nudges, and endless attempts to convince me to have a threesome with someone, anyone, just pick an attractive person of the same gender.
Thing is, I don’t blame him.
Bisexual representation in media is a fraught topic. More often than not, bisexual people are characterized as wild, promiscuous individuals with thrilling sex lives, perpetually ready to jump into bed with whomever they find attractive. (Not necessarily untrue or even wrong, but that’s a conversation for another space.) Consequently, we end up with people like my ex, who begin quivering with lascivious curiosity the moment they so much as hear the hum of that first syllable.
But we are getting better at it. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has one of my favorite bisexual characters of all times: Darryl Whitefeather, a middle-aged divorcee who comes out mid-season and proceeds to have a stunningly healthy relationship with his new boyfriend. (That show has its problems, but I will forever love the writers for making sure the queer couple is the happy one.) And genre writing is even further ahead in that department. Take Kai Ashante Wilson’s work, for example, which remarks on polyamorous queer relationships without even the barest breath of hesitation. After all, in a world of dragons and technical-minded gods, what is there to fear about a man who loves a man and also a woman?
With Bearly a Lady, I’m hoping to build on that canon. Zelda McCartney is a complicated character, for all that she might sometimes appear like an airhead. She’s been out for a long time; this isn’t a self-discovery story. Instead, the book, which goes into some dark places between the lines, interrogates the idea of expectations, labels, and toxic relationships.
And that is because she is a werebear in a human world, a woman endlessly bombarded by external forces, all looking to chip at her self-esteem for the sake of a quick buck or someone else’s emotional fulfillment. It’s no surprise that Zelda has only half an idea as to which box she belongs. Honestly, a lot of people don’t figure that out. Especially those raised outside of liberal communities.
I’d know. For the longest time, that was me.
(Except for the werebear part.)
So, that’s one of the Big Ideas behind Bearly a Lady. I wanted my main character to be full of internal conflict, certain in her identity but uncertain of the words that one might use to define oneself. A mess of paradoxes and imperfections glued together by bad sitcoms and ice-cream. I’m hoping that, one day, Bearly a Lady might be part of some bisexual teenager’s library, another piece in the puzzle as they figure out who they are. Maybe, Zelda will be an example of who they hope not to be. Maybe, they’ll see a bit of themselves in her. Who knows? That’s not up to me.
Bearly a Lady might be a queer paranormal rom-com with werebears, vampires, and billionaire fairies galore, but it’s also a look into the life of a queer woman who doesn’t always get it straight.
Over the last couple of weeks I've gotten communications from five different strangers alerting me of something outrageous: the Los Angeles Times has brought a SLAPP suit against Ted Rall! OMG!
Except they haven't, of course. But the people who wrote me aren't to blame — at least not entirely. They're only accepting Ted Rall's silly and utterly dishonest narrative about events in a lawsuit he filed.
In short, Ted is incensed that the law protects everyone, even big mean companies.
Ted Rall is an author and cartoonist, and the first person I'd go to if I wanted someone to put a 9/11 widow in her place. Back in May 2015 he wrote a column about a 2001 encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department, portraying an officer as abusing and mistreating him over a jaywalking ticket. The Los Angeles Times — which ran the column, and occasionally runs Rall's content — conducted an investigation, decided that Rall had lied about the incident, and fired him and explained how they concluded that he lied about the encounter.
[This post is not about offering an analysis or interpretation of the divergent reports of that incident, or about the oddity of the LAPD sending the Times decade-old recordings to contradict a columnist.]
After demanding retractions, Ted Rall sued Tribune Company, Tribune Media Company, Tribune Publishing Company, Tribune Interactive, Tribune Media Net Inc., Los Angeles Times Communications, the Los Angeles Times, and four individuals. In his complaint he brought claims for defamation, defamation per se1, blacklisting under the California Labor Code2, retaliation under the California Labor Code, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, wrongful termination, breach of express oral contract not to terminate, and breach of implied contract not to terminate.
Anyone who practices defamation defense could have predicted where things went from here. Since Ted Rall lives out of state, the Times defendants filed a motion asking the court to force him to post a bond covering costs under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1030. That's a standard move; I did the same thing when I represented Patrick Frey pro bono. Any defendant sued in California by any out-of-state plaintiff can take advantage of the statute. The law reflects a realization that if a defendant wins and gets an award of costs, it's more difficult to pursue an out-of-state plaintiff to collect. It's a particularly valuable tool when — as here — the defendant has a potential anti-SLAPP motion, because then "costs" can include the attorney fees the defendant might recover. Here, though the Times defendants asked for a bond of $300,0003, the Court ordered Rall to post a bond of $75,000, which he did with donations from fans.
The Times defendants also filed three anti-SLAPP motions. (Rall complains that the defendants broke their arguments into three motions to make it harder for them to oppose them or to make more money. In fact, Rall sues so many people, and offers so many causes of action and theories, that any attorney would have broken the motions up — it wasn't practical to file an omnibus motion within the page limit.) I've been writing about anti-SLAPP statutes and why they are so important to protect speech for a long time. In short, an anti-SLAPP motion is a tool — a creature of state statute — that gives a defendant an opportunity to dismiss a case, and recover attorney fees, if (1) the lawsuit is aimed at speech protected under the statute, and (2) the plaintiff can't produce evidence sufficient to show they could win. It's most useful when a defendant has an absolute statutory or First Amendment defense to a censorious lawsuit. You can read the Times defendants' motions here, here, and here.4
The court has already granted one of the anti-SLAPP motions — the one filed on behalf of the individuals. You can read the ruling here. The court applied the two-step anti-SLAPP analysis, finding (1) that the defendants had carried their burden of showing that the complaint was directed at speech covered by the statute, and (2) Rall could not prevail on his claims because he was suing over speech that was either non-actionable opinion or protected under "fair comment" privilege. As of this writing, the judge has taken the second anti-SLAPP motion under submission after argument and will rule on it soon.
The purpose of this post isn't to analyze whether the judge was right to grant the anti-SLAPP motion, or whether Rall has a case. I may look at that in a future post. The point of this post is that Ted Rall is being dishonest and misleading about what's happening in his case, and contemptibly decrying the concept that the law protects everyone.
Consider Rall's fundraising page, where he attacks the anti-SLAPP statute and Section 1030:
All Ted wants is for a jury of his peers to hear his story. He is confident that they will agree that what the Times did was illegal. Before that can happen, however, Ted has to get past California's notorious "anti-SLAPP" law. According to the LA Times' own editorial board, anti-SLAPP was passed to protect small individuals from big corporations, as when "a deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute."
In this case, however, the Times — part of a huge $420 million corporation called Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) — is Goliath pretending to be David, turning the statute on its head in order to try to bankrupt Ted into a "pay to play" legal maneuver. Under anti-SLAPP, Rall has to prove that he is likely to prevail in his lawsuit before he begins depositions, discovery, and the actual lawsuit process…which are likely to reveal more skullduggery among corrupt Times officials.
The Times has backed away from their assertions that Ted lied, as they realize that they have made a huge mistake. Now, they’re trying to prevail through technicalities. The Times' lawyer Kelli Sager of the pro-corporation law firm Davis Wright Tremaine filed a motion demanding that Rall post a whopping $300,000 bond . This is in case the Times wins their disgusting anti-SLAPP motion, which would allow the Times to be awarded their attorneys' fees…to be paid for by Ted.
Fortunately, the judge ordered the amount reduced to $75,000. Still, that's a lot of money. Most states ask for a few hundred bucks, maybe a thousand. It's a lot more money than Ted, who earned $300/week at the Times, has access to.
Which is where you came in. More than 750 supporters came through with $75,000!
But that was just the beginning. The Times' lawyers are aggressive, highly-paid and well-connected — and ruthless. They will do anything they can to stop the Times from being held accountable, including destroying Ted.
In short, Ted Rall — who sued a newspaper, a handful of parent companies, and a bunch of journalists for their speech and for dropping his column — is trying to portray himself as the hero of speech and the defendants as the villains and aggressors. This is utter bunk. Contrary to Rall's suggestion, the anti-SLAPP statute protects everyone equally, whether they're a pauper or a billion-dollar corporation. It protects speech, not just people who are ideologically acceptable to Rall. Rall's suggestion that the anti-SLAPP statute is only supposed to protect little people against big developers is flat wrong. California courts have repeatedly said that it's supposed to be "broadly construed to encourage continued participation in free speech and petition activities." Moreover, courts have very specifically rejected Rall's argument: "Respondents also contend the Legislature intended the SLAPP statute to apply to tort actions brought by large corporations that lead to prolonged litigation. No such limitation appears on the face of the statute, and it has not been so construed by the courts."
Rall is even more off the rails elsewhere, penning what amount to screeds about class enemies receiving due process. He tries to portray himself as something like a criminal defendant forced to defend himself — for having to answer a motion to dismiss a defamation claim he brought. Despite the fact that he is suing a basket of corporations and individuals for their speech, he treats with contempt and scorn the suggestion that he is trying to impede their speech. He attacks the individual lawyers who argued the anti-SLAPP motions on behalf of their clients. He screams that anti-SLAPP statutes harm free speech (Really) and complains that it's expensive to litigate — as a plaintiff responding to an anti-SLAPP motion.
Let's review, in the wake of all this strife, what an anti-SLAPP motion does. It's not like a trial. The judge doesn't weigh evidence. The judge does only two things: (1) determine if the complaint attacks speech that falls into the categories protected by the statute, and if so, (2) evaluate if the plaintiff has provided any evidence which, if believed, would be enough to support a claim.5 Practically speaking, a defendant can only win an anti-SLAPP complaint in two situations: (1) where the plaintiff has no evidence supporting their attack on speech, or (2) where the speech the plaintiff is attacking is protected as a matter of law — like an opinion. He's trying to portray the anti-SLAPP law — which broadly supports the rights of all sorts of people, whether or not Ted Rall agrees with them — into a tool of oppression. His petulance is nauseating:
I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.
But this is America.
Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.
In effect, Ted Rall is complaining that he can't inflict the burden, expense, and chilling effect of frivolous claims on speakers all the way through trial. He's couching it in misleading language. His gullible fans — and some people who should know better — are eating it up. And his campaign of disinformation is succeeding in part. I'm getting emails like this:
Cartoonist Ted Rall ($300/week) is the target of an anti-SLAPP suit by the LA Times, which seems to me (a non-lawyer) to be a reversal of the intent of the law.
. . .
Ted is facing this suit because of his writing about an interaction with LA police during a stop for jaywalking.
Well propagandized, Ted. Have you considered a job at the White House?Copyright 2017 by the named Popehat author.
It’s not just an old proverb. It’s literally happening across the street from where I live.
And yes, I like it that I write about high-tech futures from a place where it’s not at all unusual to see a Mennonite woman bundling hay using a tractor that’s probably as old as I am, and that the hay will probably go to feed the horses that pull the Amish buggies around here. Welcome to rural Ohio, y’all. We have juxtapositions.
“There is a common poor attempt at a joke … that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it … as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.”
Alliah is one of the contributors to Invisible 3, which came out on June 27 and includes 18 essays and poems about representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can order the collection at:
Any profits from the sale of the collection go to Con or Bust, helping fans of color to attend SF/F conventions.
As with Invisible and Invisible 2, the contributors to this third volume have shared work that’s heartfelt, eye-opening, honest, thoughtful, and important…not to mention relevant to so much of what we see happening in the genre today.
Our Hyperdimensional Mesh of Identities
Growing up in the 90s and early 00s in the south-east of Brazil, all I saw in mainstream media were the same repetitive, harmful and offensive stereotypes about travestis in telenovelas and badly written comedy TV shows, and the effeminate gay men and macho lesbian women token characters whose non-conforming gender expression was grossly caricatured for cheap laughs.
As an openly queer young girl in school, I learned that I could be queer, but not too much, not too visibly. I’ve heard those laughs, and I internalized through bullying and ridicule that I should change how I presented myself to the world—which I did really fast by becoming the stock image of a non-threatening feminine girl, although I never hid my sexuality. My first awkward attempts at a masculine gender expression didn’t have time to blossom. I shoved it down some unreachable recess of my mind and avoided it for 10 years, which (along with compulsive heterosexuality and a binary cisnormative culture) is why it took me so long to understand my bisexuality and figure out my transmasculine non-binary gender identity.
Once I did, I uncovered a gender euphoria I’ve been cultivating ever since.
It took me years to understand the ways in which I inhabit my queer transmasculine genderfluid neuroatypical body, and my most powerful illumination came unexpectedly through the stories of a queer non-binary neuroatypical green witch: Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch of the West.
I first met her in the book series The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire, where most aspects about her gender and sexuality were ambiguous or obscured between the lines, and later in fan fiction, where the depths of Elphaba’s intersectional identities (canon or not) could be explored to the fullest by writers that shared those same identities.
Despite being an avid reader of speculative fiction since childhood, it was only after these encounters with trans and non-binary characters in fan fiction during the first half of my twenties that I started researching these topics, that I found out where I belonged. I discovered a thriving community of authors from marginalized groups creating astonishing rebellious versions of every world I’ve ever dreamed of and countless others I couldn’t imagine would be paramount to my process of liberation.
I owe it mostly to the fictional characters and their creators that illuminated me—from early readings like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to the most recent fan fiction stories about a non-binary autistic Elphaba, a genderfluid bisexual Korra (from The Legend of Korra), and an agender transhumanist Root (from Person of Interest). I wish I could’ve met them sooner. Along the way to self-discovery, I had to collect all sorts of missing pieces with jagged edges and weird fractal shapes, and figure out a way to put them together myself. I was lucky to stumble upon the stories that I did and then to be able to find the communities that I needed. That’s why representation is vital. You cannot search for something you don’t even know exists.
There is a common poor attempt at a joke (that I’ve seen in both Anglophone and Brazilian online spaces), often directed at dehumanizing non-binary people and mocking activists working at the multidimensional core of intersections, that consists purely in stringing together a series of marginalized identities and calling attention to it, using the accumulation of these identities as a joke in and of itself, as if the mere existence of someone like that would be so absurd it could only be laughable.
One of the things fantasy author Jim Anotsu and I wanted to acknowledge when we wrote the Manifesto Irradiativo—our call to diversity and representation in Brazilian speculative fiction—is that our lives cannot be reduced to an isolated shelf in a bookstore or a niche market, thus we cannot be constrained to discussing the realities of our identities in those compartmentalized terms. We’re so much more than single-issue stories, than the same old one-dimensional narratives constructed to serve the gaze of the oppressor without making them examine their privileges and dismantle their systems of violence.
Those single-issue stories exist and persist for several reasons concerning the maintenance of racial, economic, and social power, amongst them because there is a fear of “too much” diversity. As if a book about a bipolar asexual bigender Afro-Brazilian person, for example, would scare away or alienate the common reader—who is always presumed to be the neurotypical cis straight white default that can handle only one unit of diversity at a time, served lukewarm, unseasoned. But as Audre Lorde said in a 1982 speech at Harvard University: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Stories matter. And we shouldn’t have the full extent of our existences cut, segregated, and dimmed in them. We deserve to live as a hyperdimensional mesh of identities when they want to flatten us, to be loud when they want to silence us, to occupy the spaces that have been negated to us, and to be wonderfully written and represented as such.
Alliah/Vic is a bisexual non-binary Brazilian writer and visual artist working in the realms of the weird and pop culture. They’re the author of Metanfetaedro and have various short stories published in themed collections and on the web. They’re currently building too many independent projects, working on their first novel, and haunting your internet cables. Find them tweeting at alliahverso and newslettering in Glitch Lung. Or buy them a coffee at ko-fi!
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Getting older often gives you a perspective that younger people don’t have. But what happens when you’re immortal? What is your perspective then? It’s a question Michael F. Haspil has considered for his debut novel, Graveyard Shift.
MICHAEL F. HASPIL:
As human beings, we tell ourselves fictions to make it easier to cooperate one with one another.
Sometimes, the fiction is noble. We are all equal and entitled to certain inalienable rights. This story only extends to imaginary lines drawn on a representative map, a different sort of fiction. After all, “We” doesn’t apply to “Them”.
Many times, the fiction is merely useful. This color of light means “go” and another color means “stop”. All drivers must drive on this side of the street. Pieces of paper have value and you can use them to barter for goods. When people stop trusting in those fictions, life becomes hazardous and disagreeable.
All too often, the fiction becomes a source of human polarization. The entertainment we criticize, others adore. The sports tribes we deride are idols to others even though we select them more often due to geography than anything else. Their ties are red, ours our blue, so they are immoral. We don’t understand the methods they use to heal; therefore, they are wicked. They have a different melanin content than we do; their lives aren’t worth as much as ours are. Our god is greater than theirs; therefore, they are evil.
It’s all about tribalism and defining the Other. We tell ourselves stories and then believe them to such an extent we can justify any action.
Viewed from the point of view of hypothetical immortals, or beings so long-lived that for all purposes they may as well be, the numbers of those who belong to their tribe shrink over time, until almost everyone they meet is the Other. Of what concern is any subject when humans change their minds or stop caring about them in a week, a month, a century?
Combine that idea with how many atrocities immortals might witness, as they become more and more detached from those fictions we humans tell ourselves. How many died because they followed the wrong leader? How many burned at the stake because of paranoia? How many mass graves? How many genocides? The immortals would tell themselves a new fiction. Humans don’t matter. They all die, some sooner than others.
The trolley problem is an ethical thought exercise. An observer stands near a switch as a runaway trolley bears down the tracks. On the tracks ahead of the trolley, several people are trapped, unable to move and will die when the trolley reaches them. The observer can pull the switch and divert the trolley to another set of tracks. However, an individual standing nearby will die when the trolley diverts. The problem lies in the observer’s choice of whether to kill one person to save many or do nothing and allow many to die.
As the immortals pass down through the centuries, the trolley problem breaks. Viewed on their timescale, what does it matter if everyone on the tracks dies? Their lives are so short, they are as good as dead anyway. Why should immortals trouble themselves with the lives of beings that end in a relative eye blink? Why should human morals matter? Or human laws? It’s not that immortals are more or less ethical than humans. It’s that over their eternal lives they tell themselves different stories. New fictions, humans aren’t equipped to understand.
Taken from the human point of view, these immortals inevitably become the Other. By comparison, our short lives would not afford us a window of understanding. Their decisions and justifications would be alien to us. What do fruit flies comprehend of human machinations?
If we knew of them at all, we would fear them. We would hate them. We would hunt them.
In my novel, Graveyard Shift, some of my heroes are so long-lived they may as well be immortal and so they share part of the problems I’ve described. Added to their condition, they often make the difficult choices of committing a lesser evil to prevent a greater one. It is a slippery slope. How many times can one justify collateral damage in the name of the greater good before one becomes a new source of evil?
In many other stories, my heroes — a vigilante, a vampire, a shapeshifter, a mummy — would be the villains. As Nietzsche warns, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” But when beings survive for millennia, becoming a monster, may be inevitable.
My characters aren’t nice people. On a good day, they are indifferent to the plight of the everyman. Often throughout the story, they do unpleasant things and they rationalize what they’ve done by convincing themselves it was a necessary evil to prevent something much worse. Most of the time, that’s true.
This was a bit of a struggle for me. How could I convey the apathy of immortals and still portray them as sympathetic heroes?
It ultimately came down to their motivations. The need for atonement drives many of my characters. They view their immortality and their continued service to humankind as a sort of penance for sins committed past and present.
It wouldn’t take much to flip the script and turn them into the true monsters other perceive them to be. This is what Matheson’s Richard Neville discovers at the conclusion of I Am Legend. Often, determining who is and who isn’t a monster, is solely based on the point of view and the fictions we tell ourselves.