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September, 2015:

Downsizing in the Age of Stuff

I’m culling the collection. It’s making me a little nuts. Carol and I are moving from a house with 4600 livable square feet (plus an oversized garage) to 3100 square feet plus a garage that will fit two biggish cars if you smear Vaseline all over them. (There will be another 350 square feet of livable space once our contractor installs an air conditioner in the small garage.) We’re in our sixties now. We’re trying to simplify and streamline, which sounds easier than it is, simply because a good deal of it is learning how to let go of Stuff.

The 21st Century may well be remembered as the beginning of the Age of Stuff. We’ve always had a certain amount of Stuff, and one of the legacies of the Industrial Revolution is, of course, allowing poorer and poorer people to have more and more Stuff. When I was a young teen, I thought I was as rich as Croesus (quick, without googling him: Who was Croesus?) simply because I had a typewriter, a telescope, a pair of walkie talkies, and a VOM. Now I look around the house, and I ask myself how many standard Croesuses the collection represents.


China has a lot to do with the Age of Stuff, as does eBay. Stuff that used to go out on the curb can now be bought by people who really really want just that precise model of waffle iron. (What used to be considered trash I often think of as “parts units.”) I found a NOS hair curler on eBay precisely like one that Carol had owned and loved in the 80s. Better engineering means that the Stuff we have is often better Stuff, and careful people like Carol and myself have an instinct for being careful with things, making them last longer and longer. We still have the blender we got as a wedding present in 1976, and we still use it several times a week. 70s cars may have been crappy. 70s blenders rock.

So we’re keeping the blender. But what about all the rest of it? That is pretty much the current challenge. The Big Truck will be loading up some time late November or early December. We’ve already taken several carloads of Stuff to Goodwill, and given the best of it to our friend Diedre for her indoor flea market table. And damn if the house doesn’t look the least bit emptier.

The worst of it is about books. The last time I cataloged our library, we had about 2500 books. We did an initial purge last year and got it down to about 2200. I let go of Charles Platt’s Garbage World, and had the fleeting insight that it was symbolic. I gave away Lupoff’s Sacred Locomotive Flies even though it’s my favorite SF book to make fun of. I got rid of stuff that was badly written or simply a bummer, like Malzberg’s wretched Beyond Apollo. If I ever discover an aching desire for bad SF, well, there’s always eBay.

But really, it’s getting tough. The “why the hell do I still have this?”purge is over. Now I find myself on my rolling library ladder, staring at the spines of books that, if not excellent, actually have some value, or at least served me well at one time.

One time, sure. Often a very long time ago. I realize that I’ve kept a lot of them for sentimental reasons, like my father’s 1940 drafting textbook. My college career was a very mixed bag, haunted by a lot of third-shelf thinkers who didn’t know how to teach and didn’t like being challenged. Still, there were some gems in all that dirt: I’ve kept some books because they were given to my by Dr. Rachel Romano, who took a special interest in my talents as a writer at a time when most of my knucklehead profs were telling me deadpan that I should apply to law school. I look at some and ask myself, “Did I ever actually read this?” Dr. Romano died in 1985. I don’t think I will do her any disrespect by putting her books in someone else’s hands. She was a wonderful influence in my life, and the influence is what matters. The books are simply mementos. I don’t know who originally said this, but I’ve been saying it a lot to myself recently:

Not all of your past belongs in your future.

It’s true. Very true.

I’ve got about 75 books in the purge pile right now. A few were easy pitches, being slim and having somehow escaped my notice for 40+ years, like Philip Slater’s silly-ass tantrum The Pursuit of Loneliness. Many were good books on science and tech that are now simply obsolete, irrespective of their excellence, like Pickering’s 1001 Questions Answered about Astronomy, and the 1990 first edition of Microsoft Computer Dictionary. I had several books on film photography that clearly won’t be helpful anymore. Some are now sad, like Enterprise by Jerry Gray, which is all about how the Space Shuttle was going to make space travel easy and cheap and open up the road to the rest of the Solar System. A mere handful are books that I literally don’t remember either buying or reading, nor, in truth, how they came to me at all.

Some purges reflect my changing interests. I used to read a lot about ghosts and the paranormal, but I suspect I’ve long since read everything useful on the subject, and many of those books are now on the pile. (I made good use of some of that weirdness while writing Ten Gentle Opportunities.) I’m culling my theology shelves, which is harder. I got rid of my books on theodicy, and all but one of Peter Kreeft’s books, he being a crypto-Calvinist pretending to be Catholic and saying stupid and damaging things like “There are no good (that is, innocent) people.” Sorry, Peter. “Good” does not mean “innocent,” and you disqualify yourself as a thinker for saying so. I’ve finally come to a good place in my (often agonized) quest for sane religion, so many of the inspirational books I used as steppingstones are now unnecessary or redundant.

The toughest calls of all are those books that contain some but not always a lot of useful material. How much usefulness is enough? I have a lot of books about the brain and personality, many of them now pushing a quarter century old. Some of those books are timeless. Many aren’t. But in quite a few cases, the clarity of the writing in the intro portions makes me want to keep them as quick brushups, should I need one. Hard call. Intros matter. I’ve made my career writing them.

And so on. We’ve done this before, and in fact, we’ve done it every time we’ve moved. This is our seventh house. You’d think it would get to be second nature after awhile. However, this particular purge is especially difficult, since it’s the first time we’ve gone from a larger house to a smaller one. We designed this house to have a lot of storage, because we knew damned well how Stuff multiples over the years. The new house, well, it doesn’t have all the crannies and under-the-stairs places (no stairs!) and this means we’re going to have to be extra careful deciding what survives and what goes to Goodwill. The hardest part of packing the house has nothing to do with boxes, but in fact is all about how much of the past will still have a role in our future. And if you think that’s easy, just try it sometime.

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

SP4 Logo 500 Wid.jpg

After the appalling 2015 Hugo Awards ceremony (google “Hugo Awards asterisks”; I can’t bring myself to write about it) there arose a litany:

The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
The Sad Puppies Lost!
(Repeat until purple.)

Except…they didn’t. The losers were the poor writers who would likely have won the award if the Worldcon Insider Alphas hadn’t decided to burn the award down rather than let people they disapproved of win it. The even bigger losers were the Hugos themselves, which are now proven to be political proxies for a bogglingly stupid culture war that most of us would prefer not to fight.

The biggest losers of all were the hate-filled tribalists themselves, Alphas down to their shitflinging Omega footsoldiers, who got their asses handed to them in a big way and threw the only tantrum that they could. Now, I don’t know precisely what to make of it, beyond my longstanding contention that tribalism will be the end of us all if we’re not careful. What I can say with fair confidence is that it isn’t over. (More on this later.) What I can say with complete confidence is that the Sad Puppies won big on several fronts:

  • They brought the cobwebbed machinery behind the Hugo Awards out into the open where everybody could look at it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  • They made everyone aware of the curiously obscure fact that you don’t have to go to Worldcon to vote for the Hugos. All you need is $40 (soon to be $50, I think) and an Internet connection.
  • They exposed corruption that’s been going on for quite a number of years, and I’m not talking about inclusiveness, or diversity, or clever (if silly) experiments with pronouns here. (That’s a separate issue.) I’m talking about the fact that a derivative and mostly boring novel like Redshirts can only win a Hugo via corruption.
  • They alerted everyone to the fact that Worldcon and traditional SF fandom are rounding errors compared to the number of people who buy and enjoy SF and fantasy. Too few people nominate and vote for the awards to make corruption impossible and the awards themselves meaningful.

That’s a lot, right there. That would be enough, in fact, to persuade me that the Puppies won. But the Sad Puppies did something else: They created the nucleus around which a whole new fandom is crystallizing. People who took that lonely walk away from SFF suddenly realized that lots of other people were taking the same walk, and for the same reasons: Modern print SF is for the most part dull, dudgeon-rich message pie, and fandom is ideologically exclusionary and mostly under the control of a handful of high-volume haters. (I and many others have been called fascists one too many times.) If you have the unmitigated gall to have libertarian or (gasp!) conservative leanings, there is no place for you at that table.

Well, alluvasudden there’s a brand-new table.

In part (like most of everything else these days) it came from Amazon. The NY imprints have a powerful bias against fiction with libertarian or conservative themes. While they were the gatekeepers, there was little to be done. Now, with indie-published ebooks generating close to half of all ebook sales, authors can make fair money (or even a good living!) without bending the knee to Manhattan culture. They don’t even need ISBNs. They do have to rise above a pretty high noise level, but that’s a technical challenge: If you write well and understand the nature of the game, you will be noticed. The more you write, the more you’ll be noticed, and the easier it becomes.

What didn’t come from Amazon came from Google. The commotion generated by the Sad Puppies’ sweep of the Hugo nominations got a lot of attention. Commotion does that; it’s almost a physical law. People who hadn’t followed the SF scene for many years (if ever) discovered Web forums and new authors whose vision of SFF was far closer to their own.

Ironically, most of that commotion came from the Sad Puppies’ opponents, who could have strangled the Puppies in their sleep simply by keeping their mouths shut. But no: They had to vent their tribal butthurt, and in doing so recruited thousands of brand-new Puppies to the cause.

This new fandom centers around a crew of writers who (I suspect) give the New York imprints nightmares: Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, John C. Wright, Peter Grant, Cedar Sanderson, Brian Niemeier, Amanda Green, Kate Paulk, Tom Knighton, R. K. Modena, Dave Freer, and many others whose work I’m only beginning to sample. Some have books from the tradpub imprints (Baen especially) but all are indies as well. I’m linking to their Web forums here so you can discover them too. Additional sites of interest include collaborative webzines like The Mad Genius Club, The Otherwhere Gazette, and Superversive SF. (Several of the above authors contribute to all three sites.)

At least one SF convention leans libertarian: Libertycon, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There may be more than that, especially among the smaller gatherings. I don’t know, but I’m always looking. I think there’s a lot of upside in smaller, in-person meetups held in local pubs and other gathering places, and if I can’t find one in Phoenix I may well start one. I’m intrigued by reports from the major Puppy authors who have attended various media cons around the country. Sarah Hoyt’s is instructive. The boggling crowds at events like ComiCon are more diverse by far than attendees at traditional literary cons, and much, much younger. There is way more interest in textual SFF at the media cons than I expected. It’s not all movies and comic books. Now, I’m not sure how much I’ll be attending media cons; Worldcon-level crowds make me a little crawly, and the media cons draw eight to ten times more people. What stood out in those reports for me was the fact that people at the media cons were actually having lots of pure freeform fun, not searching desperately for something to be offended about.

The bottom line is that a vast and mostly invisible network of new friendships happened as a result of the Sad Puppies phenomenon. I’m reading more SFF now than I have in a decade. The Paperwhite helps, of course, as does the “toss-it-in-the-cart” pricing that predominates in the Kindle store. I’m corresponding with other writers whom I’d not met before. I’ve learned that indie publishing can work, and work well. (Thanks, Sarah!) I’m hearing others saying more or less the same thing about the Sad Puppies universe: “It was like coming home.”

And it’s not over.

No sirree. Sad Puppies 4: The Embiggenning is well underway, run by Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green. These are formidable women; I pity the poor tribal troll who tries to call them “female impersonators.” The logo once again is from Lee “ArtRaccoon” Madison. Sad puppies Frank, Isaac, and Ray from last year’s logo have returned, this time bringing their new robot friend Robert with them. Robert isn’t the least bit sad. He has no reason to be.

His side is winning.

(More thoughts on this issue of a new SFF fandom as time/energy allow.)

Odd Lots


Carol and I drove down to Phoenix as homeowners. We drove back as multiple home owners. As I’ve said far too often, the real work starts now.

Not that there wasn’t any work involved in the events of the last three weeks. I took along my Paperwhite and the print edition of Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance, expecting to finish Wade plus an SFF novel or two. Well, I got three chapters further on Wade, and no Paperwhite progress at all. Buying a house is a process with a lot of moving parts, as most of my readers will know from personal experience. Some goodly number of these moving parts had contingencies, so the order in which we did things was significant. We felt, at times, bent over the kitchen table of the small house we’d rented on VRBO, making lists and drawing diagrams, like we were waging a brushfire war or planning Thanksgiving dinner for the entire city of Dubuque.

The house needs work. Not a huge amount of work, but enough to involve interviewing and cutting deals with:

  • Painters. The house is off-white (in the direction of gray) throughout. I like color.
  • A color consultant to help us choose colors. This sounds extravagant but worked out very well, especially as the consultant was a very savvy artist lady who had paint color chips considerably larger than my thumbnails.
  • Landscapers. The house is on something greater than half an acre, with fifteen or twenty trees and lots of miscellaneous shrubbery, all of which required some attention. The catsclaw was taking over, and had already devoured our gargoyles.
  • Tree surgeons. Not all of the trees are healthy, as Carol suspected and the landscapers confirmed.
  • Pool services. We now have a 42′ X 20′ diving pool plus a seats-six Jacuzzi spa, both of which will need weekly tending to avoid turning green.
  • Local governments and utilities. We had to establish accounts with the City of Phoenix for water and trash pickup, with Southwest Gas, and APS for electricity. The paperwork, at times, was boggling: The state of Arizona requires a separate title transfer for our septic system, sheesh.
  • Pest control. Where there are palm trees there will be palmetto bugs, and we do not intend to share the house with palmetto bugs.
  • Alarm services. The house has an entry alarm but not a smoke/fire alarm, and we had to add that capability to the system.
  • A general contractor. We hired the guy who remodeled Keith’s house in Scottsdale, to do some drywall repair, put pulls on all the cabinet doors, and install an A/C unit in the small garage so I can use it as a workshop.

We also had to do some shopping, for:

  • Pool furniture. Lounging by the pool by lying on the cooldeck is a nonstarter.
  • Patio furniture. I like to have breakfast alfresco when possible. It’s possible lots more often in Phoenix than in Colorado.
  • A new dining room set. The one we have up here is too big for the space we have down there.
  • Cabinet and drawer pulls. Cabinets without pulls were stylish when the house was remodeled. I realized I was scratching the wood finish with my fingernails trying to grip the doors at their edges. No thanks.
  • A refrigerator. The one that came with the house doesn’t fit the space where the refrigerator is supposed to go. Nor does it have a water/ice dispenser.
  • A waterbed. We had a waterbed when we lived in Phoenix. For us, it’s part of the Phoenix experience. After all, your waterbed won’t freeze in Phoenix.

Etc. Etc. Etc. Ok, it wasn’t all drudgery. Carol and I had two swimming pools to play in: one at the small house we rented as a base of operations, and the much larger pool at our new place. We actually tried the spa one night, when the temps got down to a chilly 78 degrees. The big problem with the house’s water features is that it’s extremely hard to get out of them once you get in, which has nothing to do with the ladders.

Now you may have some sense for why I haven’t posted here in three weeks. We’re still writing lists and the work is far from over, but with some luck (and a far better system than the crappy 2009-era laptop I’m using) you’ll see me a little more often here in the near future.