Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year (Part 2)


The deliberations over this year's Godless Atheist Christmas Card were prolonged and fierce. As mentioned in Part 1, cards consisting of photos of happy family members (mostly children), were, after much esoteric discussion (is a heart truly a religious symbol? does a snowflake reference Christmas or merely the fact that winter is cold?), it was decided to eliminate the category en masse.

The cards were, yes, atheistic, but it seemed cruel to hold that against them when they were all about love of family.

(I should pause here to comment on how hard it was to rule out any of this year’s cards. My sister Mary, for example, sent a card with a painting of a Roanoke roadhouse. One that in my opinion sent the cheerful holiday message, “I believe I’ll have a hamburger.” I was overruled, however, on the grounds that the joint “bespeaks hospitality” and that hospitality fits right into the season. This is how low we had to stoop to eliminate cards from our consideration!) 

Then we came to this card, from a friend in Moscow:

A stunned silence fell over the distinguished Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family. At last somebody said, "Let's just chalk this one up to the eternal mystery of the Russian soul."  Rather than deal with the religious content of a jolly Russian Santa-bear,  all immediately agreed.

Then came the question of corporate Christmas cards. Two of which are shown below:

Obviously, branding is not in the spirit of the religious holiday season. For which reason, the Asimov's/Analog card immediately went to the top of the heap for including two corporate logos into its design.

But what sent the cards as a category right to the top of the heap was the fact that one included a coupon for 5% off of their product. "That's not even generous" crowed the junior member of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family. "I love it!!!"

Deeper into our Odyssey, we came upon two cards that in very similar way entered into the anti-spirit of the non-holiday. For sheer nihilism, it's hard to beat the top card showing an empty, lifeless wood in deep winter. There is not the least sense of a holy presence of any kind, not any hope that the unending winter will not stretch its way into infinity. This is a celebration of the heat death of the universe, and it simply takes the breath away.

As for the second card... “This sends the message that choosing the right religion isn’t as important as having the love of Man in your heart,” opined one member of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family. To which, another opined, “Even ‘Happy New Year’ was deemed too controversially religious. Now that’s Godless.”

"Wrong season!" somebody cried, and the rest all nodded. This card immediately went to the finals. The sender is a friend and a very talented artist. We're always glad to hear from him and grateful for the sample of his work, Nevertheless, nothing bespeaks an anxiety to avoid the holiday season as evoking an entirely different time of year.

At fist blush, the  card from our friend Elizabeth eems to live at least next-door to the holiday spirit. There's a snowman smiling at a friendly-looking bird and in the background is what might be a snow-covered Mount Fuji.

Almost, this card was disqualified out of hand. But, just to be thorough, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family. opened the card and looked within. Where we found the following hand-written explanation:

The more lies the snowman tells, the shorter his note gets. And snowmen tell a lot of lies. Birds know everything -- they told me statues lie too, and that's why they're covered with poop.

It takes the  breath away. The card immediately went to the top of the stack.

 Finally, our friend Charlotte sent this card from New York City.  Sending the message that one of our number neatly encapsulated as: “New York is small and the night is large. The only warmth is here, in the only city that matters. I wish you were here. But you’re not. You’re in the darkness.

Well played, Charlotte! Your card made the finals.

In a lesser year, any of these cards might have won. But (SPOILER ALERT) none of them did. For among their worthy ranks were two giants of Godless Atheism, two cards that truly exemplified the anti-spirit of the nega-season. 

Nor was it easy to choose between them. For the first time ever, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family was almost stymied. It was truly a battle of Titans.

But, as our television sets have wisely taught us, There Can Only Be One.

Next... that One is chosen.

And I owe apologies . . .

To everyone who checked the blog yesterday, expecting to find this post written and up, mea culpa. I can only plead laziness and irresponsibility.

It was perhaps overly optimistic to expect I'd write two blog posts on consecutive days. So, rather than compound my offense, I'll post the third and final part of this nail-biter of a contest on Friday.


This time for sure.


Monday, January 28, 2019

The Godless Atheist Christmas Card of he Year! (Part 1)


Every January, The Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family (that may or may not be one up above) meets in solemn conclave to determine which seasonal card best exemplifies the nihilistic, religion-shunning spirit of The Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year. This year, because of minor illnesses and foreign travel, the event was delayed a few weeks. But at last the distinguished event has occurred and 2018 has been sorted and judged.

And what a year it's been! For the first time ever, only three cards were overtly religious. One was from a woman who founded her own charity to provide housing for homeless men. The second was from a woman who's going through a hard patch of life and needs all the spiritual consolation she can get. And the third card with what at first blush appeared to be a photo of a medieval gold-and-silver soup tureen revealed itself on the inside to be a reliquary in Santa Maria Maggiore holding the sycamore boards that were said to be from the crib of the Nativity of Jesus.  All three were mmediately taken out of the running.

The rest of us? Astonishingly void of spiritual values.

While a certain proud member of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family stood up for rigorous standards, it must be said that certain others on the panel pushed the definition of religious sentiment. The many cards consisting of a montage of family members, children most predominantly and usually at the beach, were summarily dismissed from consideration with the observation that, "They're atheist but not proudly atheist. I want a card that wholeheartedly denies the beauty, the grace, and the love of God."

Above: Is this the face of the Illuminati? We're not telling.

Other comments included:

"This is tepid. Definitely athe-ish."

And the exchange:

"It's definitely godless."

"No, it's abstract."

"Which is godless."

An Edward Gorey card showing enervated Edwardians decorating a hearth was dealt with curtly: "Hearth rhymes with warmth. Dismissed!"

As you can see, the panel's standards were high. As ran the emotions as well. I don't know what card it was that caused one of the NAANBRPOF  (I am not saying whom) to exclaim in exasperation, "Poisoned with the blood of Christ?!" But it too was deemed religious by my fellow panelists.

But I can see that this post is running long and we still have yet to get to the specific cards. So... tomorrow, the runners-up. With images and comments!

Above: Look at that trustworthy expression! Whoever this is, he's obviously a meliorating influence on the others.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Few Words For New Writers

You're absolutely right. The story you're working on sucks. It's terrible. It's unreadable. Worse than that, it's unpublishable.

And you know why?

Because you haven't finished it yet. And, unless it's by Franz Kafka or Jane Austen or J. D. Salinger, nobody is going to pay good money to publish an unfinished story.

Moreover, until it's finished, you don't know what changes you're going to have to make in order for it to be the best possible story it can be. So the odds are that your story is a bit of a mess and will remain so until you undo the inconsistencies, rewrite the problem sections, cut the superfluous ones, and do the final polish draft.

Meanwhile, instead of simply putting your head down and plowing ahead, you're staring at what you've written and comparing it to the finished work of writers you admire. Theirs is so marvelous! Yours is so... unfinished. Maybe, you think, the best thing would be to just erase the file and spend the rest of the day playing solitaire online.

But the work of those writers you like so much was nowhere near so admirable while it was being made. Trust me on this one. Sausage ain't even in it!

You may be a very dear friend, someone to whom I owe a lot and for whom I would walk a mile barefoot through the snow if need be, but I am not going to let you read my rough drafts.

The best writing advice I ever got was from Jack Dann. He asked me once what I was working on and I said something like, "Well, I have this story set in space but I'm not crazy about the characterization..."

Jack grabbed my lapels then and shook me. He literally did. Then he said, "Michael! Never criticize yourself! That's what other people are for."

So, when you're writing, your first responsibility to your craft is to learn to turn off that internal critic, that little Stalin of the soul for the duration. You can turn it back on when you're going over the finished story to see what changes need to be made, if you like. But keep its grubby little hands off the actual writing.

End of sermon. Go thou and sin no more.

And those "other people" Jack talked about . . . ?

They've never let me down. 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ginungagap in China


I'm in print again! "Ginungagap," my second published story (and also, I am vain enough to point out, my second story to be on the Nebula ballot) is in the current issue of  Science Fiction World Translation.

It's always a particular pleasure to appear in China. Partly it's because I have friends in there. Partly it's because I admire Science Fiction World both as a magazine and as a publishing house. But mostly it's because this is a very exciting time for science fiction in China.

The first time I visited China, over a decade ago, I was told that science fiction there was still a Young Adult literature. Its readership peaked in the senior year of high school, dwindled throughout university, and went to zero upon graduation. Last year, I attended a bookstore event in Beijing that was thronged with adults. So the field is growing and evolving just as fast as everything else in China is.

It is in such times that new ideas arise and remarkable works get written. Which is why you should be reading all the Chinese science fiction you can find.

As well as all the other science fiction you can find, of course.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again! Or will be soon. I'm headed for the north coast of Scotland, where I'll be teaching at a workshop and retreat in Findhorn. Whenever I teach, I give the students all the attention I have. So I may or may not be able to blog then.

I promise I'll try.