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 – The Robot Chronicles

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We are creators.

Regardless of our professions, each of us is inherently a creator. We start early, creating unconquerable cities with building blocks and spinning entire lives centered around dolls and teddy bears. Creation is at the heart of humanity. Even when we think of our meals, we are mentally creating appetizing combinations of cuisines.

The art of creating has advanced by leaps and bounds as technology has advanced us as a species. Part of the problem with humanity creating is the fear that we might be too good at it. That we might create something we can’t control. That our creation takes on a life of its own.

We’ve seen this in literature for hundreds of years with Frankenstein as the long-lasting example. More recently we can point to 2001, Terminator, Blade Runner, The Matrix and dozens of other books and movies that have shown us what humanity has dared to create has ultimately come back to bite us in the end.

robot anthoAnd so, we get the latest David Gatewood anthology of short stories, The Robot Chronicles. Gatewood has again assembled a ridiculous amount of literary talent for 13 outstanding stories all involving robots in one form or another. Headlining the collection is Hugh Howey (WOOL) and Matthew Mather (Cyber Storm) and neither one disappoint. Howey’s story, Glitch, was published not long ago on its own and reminded me a lot of the movie Real Steel with fighting robots. What one person perceives as a glitch may be more than that, especially to the robot.

I’m not going to go through each of the stories, but each was fantastic and memorable in their own unique ways. I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov as an adolescent and found each of his Robot stories to be their own moral tales in many ways. These stories are no different, offering viewpoints on what life actually means and how we treat it. Just because we are the creators, does that mean it lessens the life we hold in our hands?

A perfect story to go along with this idea is W.J. Davies’ Empathy for Andrew, where we see a situation similar to what Asimov’s Dr. Susan Calvin might have been involved in. Testing new and breakthrough robotics techniques, scientists push the limits of where the line between robots and humans lie. Andrew is the titular robot who is put through a battery of tests to test his empathy chip and Davies does a remarkable job in telling this story.

Another story I remember from Asimov’s Robot collection was that of Satisfaction Guaranteed, another Susan Calvin story where she was noticeably absent until the end of the tale. In this story, a woman has a human-like robot live with her and eventually she comes to think of him as more than a robot. You see this theme played out in two separate stories – Ann Christy’s PePr, Inc. and Patrice Fitzgerald’s I Dream of PIA. Both handle this theme in remarkable different (and in Fitzgerald’s case, bawdy and funny) ways.

There are also hints at Asimov’s child/buddy stories like A Boy’s Best Friend or Robbie where a child has a robot for a companion and friend. Edward W. Robertson takes the story further. His protagonist, Alex, received Bill as a companion when he is young, but over the years they become more than that – business partners and musicians. Just like a number of famous musicians, things happen and the band doesn’t always survive, but in Baby Your Body’s My Bass, Robertson ends the story on a positive note, in a very Golden-age way.

But the stories that really resonate and stick with me tend to be those that have a larger scope in mind – like A.K. Meek’s The Invariable Man where the fate of the world may be at stake or Deirdre Gould’s post-apocalyptic story System Failure.

One of the best things about this collection of stories is that it got me to get out my collection of Asimov robot stories and re-read and re-discover them in the light of this remarkable modern anthology. Each of the stories in TRC is fantastic, even if I didn’t specifically name the story and author. I’ll carry these stories with me for a long time.

I really enjoyed The Robot Chronicles, just like I did with Synchronic and The Indie Side. David Gatewood is becoming someone to know in the science fiction short story game and his anthologies are now “can’t miss” books for me.

The Robot Chronicles will be available for sale on Friday, July 25.