I Don’t Worry About My Opinion And You Shouldn’t Have To Either

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I don’t have to worry about my opinions.

I am a middle-aged (is 35 middle-aged? I still feel young…) white man. I have every privilege in the United States afforded to me. I have benefitted from hundreds of years of institutionalized white patriarchy. I wouldn’t change who I am – I like me – but instead I wish the world were a much different place than it is.

I was stupid once. (Who knows, maybe I still am.) When I was in high school and we had to observe Black History Month in February, I was one of the ones in the classroom who argued for a White History Month. It took a while for it to get through my thick skull that we do have a White History Month. It’s called January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December. As a history instructor, it’s easy to see. What do I teach? How the white man conquered barbarians and emerged as the leader in the world today. Because the names are difficult to pronounce, let alone remember, we tend to skip over Eastern Civilizations or African History.

It’s only now that I have the so-called “minorities” in my family, living in my house that I see the injustice each deals with.

If the history books would have you believe anything, it would be that men procreated with men until the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920. We barely get mention of any woman throughout history, and oftentimes it is because of their relationships with men. Cleopatra was surely admired for being a queen in Egypt, right? In my World History textbook, she is noted more for her affairs with both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

And for blacks (African-Americans, Africans, or other ethnicities that share the same skin tone), the crimes against them have been too numerous to even count, yet we expect the generational hatred to just dissipate with each passing year. I’m not even talking about slavery in the United States (which is a whole other burden for the entire nation). Instead, look at the European “colonization” of Africa. They called their lands in Africa “colonies” yet there were already people there. In my view, a colony is where we land on the Moon or Mars and create a colony from scratch. Colonies shouldn’t exist where there is a native population already. And not only did they colonize (the British, the French, the Belgian, etc…), but they actively stripped the lands there of natural resources. Even today as those European powers have retreated to their own continent, the control over the money and wealth in those countries is still in the hands of old white dudes. When a country like Uganda or Nigeria has never been able to govern their own land and resources, how do we expect them to do it right and without warlords sweeping in?

But…I digress.

Suffice it to say that white men have ruled the “civilized” world for centuries upon centuries. We are often entitled and expect life to hand us pre-made lemonade. The lemons get picked by other ethnicities and the women can squeeze them. We’ll kick back and enjoy a nice cold glass, thank you very much.

Except…that’s all changing. And my fellow white dudes are having a hard time with this. Me? I say bring it on.

I read on The Passive Voice earlier today about a reader who quit using the site Goodreads (the full story can be found here). She had seen some disturbing trends and had recently gotten some threats regarding some three-star reviews she’d left for a book. She couches her departure from the site in an attempt to pare down on her social media usage, but the cause is birthed from a place of fear.

And this isn’t by any means the first instance of women feeling unsafe on the Internet. Gamergate is a huge recent example where women are disrupting a typical male industry and get public (and private) harassment for just existing there.

I also have a number of female writer friends. More than a few of them have pen names and have refused to share their real name with me. I haven’t pressed – I don’t need to know – but the fact they have had to resort to using a fake name to sell their own words is troubling. They didn’t create their alternate identity to fool anyone or to sell more books (although I’m sure they would welcome additional sales), but they did it in response to issues they have had in the past. Harassment, threats, stalking, private messages meant to disgust and intimidate – all tools used to keep women in their place and out of the male-dominated industries.

I feel…gutted by this. I contemplated using a pen name when I began publishing, but there was NEVER a thought of doing it because I didn’t want stalkers. I never once had to worry about rape threats because of my gender or identity. My only thought was that my last name was different enough to relegate me to the bottom of a reader’s list. Unlike some of my female writer friends, my mind was on economics, instead of my own welfare and safety.

This has been brought into focus for me not only by those friends of mine, but also by my daughter. I’ve used her name before, but I’m going to attempt to limit that going forward. I’ll call her Tonks (after her who she said was one of her favorite HP character). Tonks is highly creative. She has a knack for art – mainly drawing ponies, dragons, and Minecraft figures right now, but hey you gotta start somewhere. She also writes. For a fifth grader, Tonks’ writing is well above many of the high school students I see every day. She can put a sentence together like few writers I know and she could easily release some of her stories on Kindle today and make some money. (I know I’m biased, but in some respects, she’s already a better writer than I am.)

But I fear for her. Tonks has no online presence (unless you count Pottermore, or watching Stampy Minecraft videos on YouTube). When she does, will guys constantly be hitting on her, expecting something in return? Will threats be a constant part of her life? Will she view her rights in comparison to the rights of men?

I would never have called myself a feminist, until I realized that by advocating women’s rights, I’m advocating for my wife and my daughter. I’m advocating for a world where she can live without fear of a man telling her she can’t do something just because she was born with ovaries. I am no better than anyone else just because I was born with different body parts. I hate that she will one day experience some of these things for herself.

And yet…

I am hopeful. I see my friends. I see in the narrow genre of science fiction where women are garnering huge praise. I see Ann Christy – recently a retired Navy Commander – churning out hit after hit and finding her voice in a sea of men. I see Jen Wells, whose novel Fluency blew me away and is helping to set the stage for women’s voices in the area of first contact science fiction. I see Patrice Fitzgerald who uses a cozy mystery sense of humor and applies it to science fiction, bringing women over to the dark side. I see Susan Kaye Quinn, breaking barriers in many areas of science fiction. I see Carol Davis, a great writer who pens stories in a multitude of areas. And of course, I couldn’t make this list without mentioning Ellen Campbell, my editor, who informs the voices of a number of writers, men and women alike.

I can go on and on. The writing field is still dominated by men, but each and every day women are breaking through.

These are hopes I have. The women I have chosen to surround myself with online have made that hope a real thing. They are fighting against the establishment and show through their work and actions that women can have a voice in this male-dominated world. I hope they realize how much they mean to me and how much they will mean to the next generation of writers, no matter their gender.

I usually don’t have to worry about my opinions.

I hope there will be a day when my daughter doesn’t have to worry about hers.

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Book Review – Invariable Man

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in manWhen I was in high school, I adored Isaac Asimov. I devoured nearly everything I could get my hands on that he had written or had his name plastered on from short stories, novels, works he edited, and even fact books. One of those was the short story Nightfall.

To say my mind was blown by Nightfall was an understatement. Asimov took a concept completely foreign to an earthling, and made it terrifying and compelling all at the same time. When he teamed up with Robert Silverberg to expand the story into a full-length novel, it became a book I would read over and over.

Fast-forward to 2014 when The Robot Chronicles was released. Once again, it harkens back to my love of Asimov and all of his amazing robot stories. One of the tales in the anthology was A.K. Meek’s Invariable Man. It was one of my favorites from the collection with headfakes left and right, showcasing Meek’s great storytelling along with a great robot theme.

So you can imagine my delight when I found out Meek had taken his story and expanded it for a longer – and richer – robot experience. Just like with Nightfall, the story becomes a new animal, separated from the confines of a pre-set wordcount, and given the ability to breathe on its own While IM was a great addition to The Robot Chronicles, it makes a wonderful read all on its own as a short novel.

Just like in the short story, our protagonist is Micah, an old man living in the wreckage – literally, and psychologically – of a war between robot and human. He fixes things, and uses the scrap metal all around him to improve his own lonely life. I really don’t want to say too much because the twists come less than a quarter of the way into the story and don’t let up until the final page. Suffice it to say Meek has a plan for Micah and that plan may not always turn out like you might expect.

I really enjoyed reading the expanded version of Invariable Man and look forward to more of Meek’s writing into the future.

Book Review – Darknet

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00014]Just like in his massive hit, Cyberstorm, Matthew Mather does what he does best: he takes reality and adds just enough of a sci-fi touch to make it terrifying and relatable.

When I first started reading Darknet, it took a little while before I became really engrossed in the high-tech world of finance that the protagonist Jake O’Connell lived in. Just like some of the characters themselves, I found myself in over my head in the world of crypto currency, algorithms, assassin markets, and dark networks, but my patience was rewarded when the reader learns alongside those characters.

Mather makes sure the reader knows no one is safe in his world, introducing and killing off multiple characters throughout the book. In fact, I wasn’t totally sure if his protagonist Jake was really truly safe to get comfortable with until about a quarter of the way into the book.

As a stock broker in New York, Jake is familiar with the high-stakes game of Wall Street finances, but is unprepared when his world crumbles around him. His childhood friend dies in a mysterious accident in London, his boss is arrested on charges by the SEC, and he himself is framed for rape, causing his wife and daughter to leave him. All the while, Jake is trying to clear himself and ends up uncovering a massive secret that could threaten the economies of nearly every country on the planet. Along the way, he finds his own life in danger as well as those of his family and friends.

Once I really got into the story, I couldn’t put it down, reading in every spare minute until I was done. Mather is a phenomenal storyteller, weaving a thriller like the best out there. I was impressed with the immense and complex world he had created in Darknet, topped only by the characters and the situations they find themselves in around every corner.

The scary thing about Darknet is that Mather completely creates a plausible scenario for a near-future event. What if some of the technology we use and employ today evolves to the level of where it exists in Darknet? What would happen? Just like the potential of catastrophe in Cyberstorm, Mather presents a worst-case scenario of sorts in the midst of a thriller.

I loved this book and will look forward to reading it again in the future. Well done, Mr. Mather. Keep writing them like this and I’ll keep reading them. I received a free advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – The A.I. Chronicles

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aiThere’s just something about science fiction that causes the reader to look, not just towards the future, but also to our past and our present. I found myself thinking about a lot while I read the latest Future Chronicles installment – The A.I. Chronicles.

Throughout humanity’s existence on earth, we’ve continuously defined what it means to be a person. Men (especially white men in the Western hemisphere in the past 2,000 years) have long since had the power over everyone else, determining a person’s humanity by their gender, their skin color, their age, even the amount of property they owned.

Along with the growth of science and technology, mankind has evolved to the point where nearly all of those disputes are in our past. The next wave of humanity may deal with a similar issue, but it will be of our own making. What is intelligence? Does intelligence equal humanity? Do those with “artificial” intelligence deserve the same rights as those born naturally?

Those are tough questions for sure, and many of the stories in The A.I. Chronicles tackle those issues head-on. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the thirteen stories put together in this collection and know I will go back in the future and re-read them again and again.

There were more than a few that caught my attention, starting first and foremost with “Vendetta” by Chrystalla Thoma. The story tells about a future war between humanity and the A.I., long since fought and nearly forgotten about. Humanity has moved on, keeping technology in their lives, but not at the center. As a reader, I really enjoyed this story which kept me asking questions about who the protagonists were and their place in this futuristic society.

I also loved Patrice Fitzgerald’s “Piece of Cake.” As someone who is overweight, and struggles with those issues, I see stories in the news about the government taxing additional calories, prohibiting super-size drinks and snacks, and imposing restrictions on meals for kids in school. It is troubling to see the government legislate those things, and Fitzgerald takes that and advances the idea to include a 1984-type society complete with the food police around every turn, thanks to an A.I. who monitors food intake and weight. Fascinating and scary, with the trademark Fitzgerald humor attached.

I could talk about each and every story and some reviews may do so, but I’ll leave it at this — you won’t regret buying this collection.

The short story is a wonderful form, especially in science fiction where so much unmined ground can be found. I am constantly amazed by each and every story I find in the Future Chronicles anthologies and eagerly anticipate each to come.


 

(Reviewer Note: I received an Advance Reviewer Copy in exchange for an honest review. In the interest of full disclosure, my story “Uncle Allen” was previously published in The Alien Chronicles and I am slated to appear in the upcoming anthology The Z Chronicles.)