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Issue #130 - June 2006

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A Life in Politics

By Cheryl Morgan

Ken MacLeod was a Guest of Honor at Boskone this year. As usually happens in such situations, NESFA press has produced a book to commemorate the event. With most writers they tend to publish short fiction, and Giant Lizards from Another Star is no exception. It contains MacLeodís YA novella, "Cydonia", the novella he produced for PS Publishing, "The Human Front", and a selection of short stories.

But in the case of MacLeod the quantity of short fiction available is not quite enough to fill up a decent-sized GoH book. It amounts to under 200 pages. Fortunately for NESFA Press, MacLeod doesnít just write fiction. Indeed, the other half of the book is in many ways the most interesting part of it. So Iím not going to talk about the fiction. You know that MacLeod writes good stories. What I will concentrate on is the fact that MacLeod is a very interesting writer about science fiction and politics.

There are con reports. Iím pleased to see that MacLeod found the Finns as hospitable as I did. Iím looking forward to Helsinki even more now. MacLeod has also been to Sweden, Spain, Poland and Croatia, all of which sound interesting. The less said about Hinckley the better, though MacLeod seems to have survived the hotel experience.

The next section is science fiction criticism, including the article that MacLeod wrote for Emerald City #100. Inevitably this section is about politics as well. MacLeod is one of the few SF writers who really understand politics. Heís also one of the few who can talk about Libertarianism without my wondering whether the author has had a lobotomy, and wanting to flush the book down the garbage disposal system. Here MacLeod explains succinctly why so much SF includes Libertarian themes.

Öif youíre writing a story about the future and you want to make it interesting, your heroes or heroines might be struggling against an oppressive regime or stuffy bureaucracy or reactionary mob to build their spaceship, raise their robot child, twiddle their DNA and become as gods. Or theyíre rich, like Heinleinís Man Who Sold the Moon, and how did they become rich, huh? By screwing taxes out of the peasantry? Taking or giving bribes? WellÖ maybe, but itís so much more sympathetic to present someone who made their pile in some kind of free-market way, and that implies a certain kind of society, for a start one that lets them bloody well keep it.

Nor is Libertarianism the only "ism" with which MacLeod is familiar. He is, of course, a Trot, or at least an ex-Trot. That makes him familiar with both Trotskyism and Marxism. You canít talk about them without talking about Socialism. And it seems that you canít be a Scot without talking about Nationalism. In addition, here he is talking about Feminism.

I worked on one campaign with a rather nice radical lesbian feminist. At a party I had a long and serious conversation with her, in which she explained that all relationships between men and women were oppressive, that there was nothing men could do about it, if men wanted to help they should stop having relationships with women, and that ideally, men and women should live in separate societies. I decided that if that was what feminism meant, then it actively didnít want any support from me and it wasnít going to get any.

Something like this conversation must have gone on up and down the country, because that is exactly what all too many people now take Ďfeminismí to mean. Over the years I have met a lot of women, and heard of a lot more, who are feminist in every aspect of their beliefs and attitudes but who firmly insist that they are not feminists. The reason they give is always the same: they donít consider themselves feminists because they donít hate men.

If only Iíd had that little passage available at WisCon. It would have saved so much time on panels.

It also reminds me that we ought to get MacLeod along to WisCon one of these days so that he can meet some real feminists for a change. Of course we need to wait until the American Left has got over the Dubya thing and is capable of talking intelligently about politics without indulging in absurd flights of hyperbole and hysteria.

One of the things I really like about MacLeod is that he is willing to be experimental in his thinking and then happily admit when he got things wrong.

Iíve also attributed the New Space Opera and the British boom to the application of a ĎBritish New Wave [Ö] sensibility to traditional tropesí. The Americans, Iíve suggested, supplied the big ideas, and the Brits came along with the literary sophistication and political complexity. This is just insultingly wrong, as well as being an unconscious, and thus all the more galling, echo of that British declining-imperialist conceit of being Athens to the new Rome.

Unfortunately that comes in the same article in which he assumes that no one outside the US would know what "the gripping hand" means, but at least he means well. And thankfully heís smart enough and well respected enough that admitting heís wrong just gets him more respect rather than having his mistakes held up as evidence of his villainy for ever after.

The material on Scottish politics is perhaps the least interesting, unless you happen to be Scottish yourself. The few bits that I did follow were not impressive. The essay on Scotland and the EU might have come straight out of a tabloid newspaper, concentrating on the excesses of European bureaucracy and making no mention of the significant advances in civil rights that we have made in the UK because the European Court of Human Rights forced changes of attitude on unwilling British governments.

The final section is called squibs. The appropriate dictionary definition here is, "A brief satirical or witty writing or speech, such as a lampoon." However, I suspect that such things are only called squibs because their effect is rather like that of "a small firecracker" tossed into the middle of the publicationís readership. MacLeodís squibs are very funny, provide that you actually realize that they are squibs and know who or what they are lampooning. My only complaint is that he makes no mention of dill pickle.

Regardless of what you think about MacLeodís political views, you can guarantee that what he writes is going to make you think. It is hard to provide a better recommendation for a book than that.

Giant Lizards from Another Star - Ken MacLeod - NESFA Press - hardcover

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee