I released my debut novel years ago and, if you followed the journey, you are aware that it was a bumpy process, as the publisher tagged a typo on the cover right before the release and then became quite irresponsive. Although the issue seems to be corrected by now, I feel it happened in the crucial time-frame that defines the popularity of a book. I had moved on, but to my surprise some days ago Book Riot released a really cool list of Latinx SFF novels, and my Terminal 3 made the list! So yes, it was a little heartwarming to see my first (and last) novel, a project I put so much effort on, have this late accolade, hinting that people are still reading my book after all this time.
I have been thinking a lot about why Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up had such a chilly welcome. I have a hypothesis, and I really hope I am wrong.
My hypothesis’s starting point is a fact: comedy is based on an accepted truth, more often conveyed through the setup. The subsequent punchline can be false, as we observe in absurdist comedy, but the best ones are also truth, as they shed light on an overlooked or unexplored aspect of the factual truth of the setup.
Of course, the accepted truth can be false: racist comedy only resonates with those who share racist beliefs, for example, hence the strongest type of comedy is based on a type of undeniable truth, one that can’t be refuted leading to a laugh that can’t be avoided.
Now, we live in times where truth has been more relative than ever. A vast swath of the population spouse fictional conceptions of reality and are, in great part, very aware of what they are doing. They are clinging to lies and they know it. I can’t think of a less fertile ground for comedy, especially when that’s paired with a hostility among the more rational part of our society toward comedy and its potential to hurt. That segment was particularly grumpy at McKay’s film, claiming it was bad. I don’t think it was bad at all, but maybe out of historic place.
I don’t think this impotency of comedy, if a fact (again, it’s just a hypothesis) is a historic novelty. I’m sure that there were moments when comedy and its potential ebbed. And comedy bounced back from those moments.
There is a widespread notion which claims that art can inspire and/or trigger change. Under this perspective, a satire, for example, can be corrosive enough to expose a certain injustice or even a systemic unfairness, as an act of denunciation. I may have believed in that in the past, but that’s not the case anymore. Yet, engaged comedy is not only politically necessary, but mandatory. What is the political point of socially engaged comedy, then? Why not just make a comedy that doesn’t bother the powerful, that is palatable for both the oppressed and the oppressor in the shared dynamics of their domestic lives, for example, since comedy can’t change a thing?
The main reason to not do that is because this type of comedy is not funny (hence, not comedy), even though there is a type of person that will always consume that kind of “comedy”. Not only that, but they will be particularly noisy about how this non-comedy is the right type of comedy. Such assertions always convey a certain relief, akin to the one spawning by the commenters of Babyl*n Bee on twitter (that punches down and kisses asses that area above them). If you want to venture in that dark area of twitter, you’ll notice that the comments session have a deluge of “This is good” (or similar laconic praise), which implies that quality means not challenging what they believe. One of the greatest enthusiasts of Babyl*n Bee’s type of humor is Elon Musk, who often urges his millions of surprisingly unpaid cheerleaders to ditch the reputable The Onion and switch to its Bizarro-dimension, right-wing emulator every time he is targeted by The Onion.
And that takes us to the initial subject: the importance of comedy (the real one, not the meta-one by Babyl*n Bee): it can’t really harm Elon Musk’s current power stance, but a comedy that mocks him and any other person in his station (i.e., a plutocrat in an age where the top crust of plutocrats never so much power as they do now) is a statement, through its existence, that their power has limits and could end, even if the circumstances for such termination of power are remote and the tools to do so almost, but not entirely yet, unaccessible. The fact that Musk wants to silence The Onion means that he is either headed to or wants to reach a stance where satire ridiculing him wouldn’t be allowed to exist: actual censorship.
Hence, the importance of politically engaged art – not only comedy -, doesn’t rely in its utilitarian capacity to enable change. Art doesn’t have this power but, through its existence, shows that change is possible, that the reality art scrutinizes or the socially parasitic person it mocks can fall and be held accountable. However, art, per se, won’t change shit. It never did, it never will, the same way a thermometer can’t cure a fever.
Dear President Biden,
My name is Illimani Ferreira and I am a Green Card holding immigrant currently living in your home state of Delaware.
I immigrated to the United States from Brazil in order to share a life with my husband. In the four and a half year I’ve been living in the US, I had the chance to enjoy a happy private life despite a public sphere that made me feel undesirable and unsure about what kind of engagement or positive input I could offer to American society, fueled by the toxic rhetoric and dismantling of the immigration institutions carried on by your predecessor’s administration. The conditions that ensured my stay in this country felt flimsy. The witnessing of men, women and even children being treated like animals by the American government for the sole reason of seeking existential realization through residence in this country – like I did – depressed me. One of the outlets for such existential pain was through my writing, through which I attempt to use Science-Fiction to investigate, among other pressing social issues, the ordeal of the failing and unfair American immigration system.
I am aware that, in the current social landscape, being allowed to write fiction is the product of a certain privilege that has been denied to other immigrants, particularly those who are being held by ICE and submitted to inhuman conditions of detention that are more akin to a Police State than to a Democratic Republic. I was happy to see your campaign, last year, promising to tackle the most immoral operational aspects of the Department of Homeland Security, such as the detention of migrant families and their subsequent separation. However, it is with great disappointment that I’ve been noticing a suboptimal result on this front since your administration started.
To fulfill the need to be part of this society, I need this society to respect and value the sheer humanity of people like me: as a green card holder I am no less an immigrant or human than an undocumented person.
For these reasons, it’s urgent that your administration and the Democrats in Congress stick to your promise to carry out immigration reform, end family detention by ICE, reunite separated families and hold the Trump administration, including their operators, accountable for their brutal human rights violations.
Mister Illimani Ferreira
Rehoboth Beach, DE
This letter was written as part of Raices Texas’ Keep the Promise campaign to urge the current administration to stick to their campaign promises regarding Immigration. If you’d like to do your part to hold the Biden administration accountable on that matter, feel free to write your own letter here. The letters will be sent at the end of June.
I’m happy to announce that I have a new short story coming up. Pandora 4 is a dark science fiction take on bioengineering that will be featured in The Needle Drops anthology. The publishers are putting lots of work to make this anthology resonate in many levels, with beautiful art and even pairing the stories with music created exclusively for this anthology. You can find more details about my story here, and a link to pre-order the anthology here.
My friend Jordan Chase-Young, a 2027 Hugo Awards Winner and a stud, has one of my favorite minds out there. His twitter account is prone to convey interesting and pertinent questions and prompts on hard issues from the near and distant future. It’s fun to irresponsibly address such questions and prompts with speculations that tend to be as wild as they are brief (it’s twitter after all). However, for his last prompt, I just felt that I couldn’t irresponsibly speculate briefly, so I’m typing my meandering take on this blog.
Okay, two sentences to unpack here, I will start with the second one: I believe doomsday devices will be easier and easier to build, and that process is happening in a geometric progression, i.e., the past progress is cumulative. Think about ballistic weaponry: we came from the arc and bow made by an artisan to the pistol that required mass production to the gun that can actually be 3D printed at home. Why couldn’t someone do that to a nuke at some point? Yes, you will never be able to print the fuel for that nuke, but that takes me to the second point.
We also tend to disregard the progress of social technologies. The conundrum of mass media and online social networks encouraged and allowed a small segment of fringe extreme-right men and women from extremely distant parts of the United States to assemble in Washington DC on 1/6/2021 and take over the Capitol. It was a coup attempt that had all the ingredients to succeed. Social technologies like that revolutionize trade and its variant known as smuggling, thanks to dark web shops and cryptocurrencies, which, just like any other technology, are evolving at a faster pace they can be controlled: buying a chunk of a fissile material without being caught will be easier and easier.
Now, let’s go to Jordan’s first statement: “(there is)… no foolproof way to prevent a doomsday devices.” Yes, although yes, we can also say that, in the Stone Age, there was no foolproof way to prevent someone to club someone else to death. Hell, I think even Vladimir Putin’s compound has a 0.00000000000000000001% chance to fail to protect its prestigious resident if someone attempted to club him to death.
How to make these odds small though? It’s doable for a small group with lots of economic resources: a loyal regiment of heavily trained security guards and a couple of strategically placed shark tanks hidden under trap doors might do the job to protect Vladimir Putin if the QAnon Viking decides to invade his compound with a club, but what can it do if hundreds of 3D printed nuclear bombs explode around the globe, triggering a nuclear winter, or a homemade virus ravages the world? Let’s assume that Putin and his servants have enough stocked food, and maybe a nuclear powered underground farm, to feed them for centuries, power struggles are a likely hazard, death by old age a certain one. And the biggest point is: society would have collapsed. If you are, like me, not in position to build a compound, you might be more interested in preventive measures that protect the whole society. That’s where I would like to offer a general hypothesis:
“It’s easier to destroy than it’s harder to build.” is a premise we can all agree upon. It’s easier to harvest/burn a wheat field than it is to grow it. It’s easier to plunder a stash of good than it is to assemble such stash. It’s easier to terminate life than to create life. It’s easier to nuke a city than to build one. Systems that prevent destruction need to be build whereas destruction… just needs to be performed. In the Stone Age, you needed 2 persons to build up the intent to effectively halt the destructive action of 1. That ratio became wider with technological progress. And today one might need thousands of intelligence agents to track an individual attempting to perform a terrible and extensive act of destruction. It is reasonable to believe that, based on the geometric progression principle I mentioned before, at some point we will not have enough human population to for such tracking. Are we doomed then? Not if you fight fire with fire. Besides building structures of prevention, one can incur in acts of counter-destruction. The premise works both ways: it’s easier to destroy a terrorist cell than it is to build it. The problem is, such acts of destruction are not akin to democracy. That’s where things get particularly grim for me, personally, as I see China excelling at counter-destruction, but with a huge civilization cost. The best things of social life are things that are built with refinement, which is inherently fragile, and fragile thing are the easiest to destroy.
I have the idea for a novel based on the 3 sociological laws for sustainable civilization in a context of advanced technology. I shared the first one here and I’m saving the 2 others if I decide to write this novel, what will probably not happen considering that it’s not worth it to put out your work when the main distributor can’t even bother to correct a typo on the cover that is killing your sales. That’s the lesson I learned from the release of Terminal 3, when you put an effort to build an intricate narrative that is easy to destroy (in my case, by just sabotaging the cover), you can just choose to simply not build anymore. The beauty will remain preserved, inside your mind, away from the clubs of a society that is descending into barbarism.
Today is the 2 months aniversary of the release of Terminal 3 and… it feels like I have both of my arms tied to my back and my feet buried in cement shoes while I’m sinking in a tank full of sharks. The sharks are the nay-sayers out there, but I won’t spend time talking about them.
Let’s start with the cement shoes instead. The cement shoes are COVID 19. And… that’s it. You got it, right? No need to draw a picture on that matter.
Now… for the arms. The rope tying my right arm is Amazon. You see the beautiful cover up there? That’s not what Amazon has. My publisher lost the cover just when he was assembling the mobi version and rushed to rebuild it. That resulted in typos in that blurb in the cover, what is effectively driving away potential readers (why bother to spend so much money in a book that can’t spell Pratchett and Iain M. Banks properly on the freaking cover?). And it’s pretty much impossible to make Amazon update the metadata from Ingram in order to correct that issue. Publisher can’t do anything. I tried to use my membership at the SFWA to activate the association’s Amazon liaison, what was per se a quite difficult process since the guy is busy and the whole process he asks Amazon to do something is rather secretive… and irresponsive on Amazon’s side, since nothing is happening. Amazon makes it impossible to request directly if you submitted your book through Ingram (they will keep pushing you around different departments instead of pushing the button that would solve the issue).
Now, the rope tying my left arm is my publisher. After 2 months I haven’t received my author copies yet and there is at least one person who pre-ordered the book on the website (Jason Sanford, of Genre Grapewine fame) who never got the copy he BOUGHT. It seems that things are normalizing, I talked to another person who bought through the website and got their copy and my publisher ensured me that copies are going out (and the issue with Jason was that the copy was returned by his workplace), but I would still encourage people to buy on… Amazon. Yes, the same Amazon that is not updating the cover. Leviathan at least will deliver his book for sure and in time. Just don’t judge a book by the cover, I guess?
I really believe in this book and in its capacity to give solace to readers through cathartic humor. But with so many hindrances trying to promote it is both impossible and unwise. I was invited to a podcast to talk about Terminal 3 and decided to cancel until I can be sure why the publisher keeps saying that he’s sending me the author copies, but never actually performing the act of sending it. It could be that he is using pony express to send it, or it might be that he’s waiting to get copies without the typos on the cover (if that’s the case he could just say it to me as we are both adults), or he might be just gaslighting me about that, for whatever reason. The guy went through hell this year, and I hate to complain, but it’s my book. I offered him to revert the contract and in exchange he wouldn’t need to pay the second half of the advancement. Minutes after that he paid what was left of the advancement. So yes, it might not be gaslighting but it sure feels like it and I’m not gonna suck it up anymore.
In the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, the top 2 contenders for the Ladies’ Singles Category were Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. Both had the same coach, as they were part of the Russian delegation. The coach discovered that the stupid routine checklist that the athletes had to go through and exists to punish creative individuals that tried to push for new moves like Surya Bonaly, could potentially be rigged to reward more mediocre athletes. Medvedeva was the best, Zagitova was the second best among others. The coach decided to train Zagitova to perform all the checklist movements in a big explosion, as it turns out that performing the in such way is easier. The athlete just needs to robotically train for those few seconds of complex movements, and the rest of the routine can be just soft skating. Medvedeva went for the traditional, harder, actually beautiful routine. She got a loser’s silver. Zagitova got the winner’s gold.
Traditional publishing used to reward Medvedevas and punish Bonalys. Now they reward Zagitovas and punish Medvedevas. The Indy lane was always the refuge for the Bonalys, and it’s becoming the place-to-go for the Medvedevas. Except that the rink is made of fire and your skates are filled with nails and your coach is Jeff Gilloly.
I’m quite bummed by the whole ordeal that Terminal 3 has been so far. From people who pre-ordered the book only getting their copies now to very embarrassing typos in the blurb featured on cover (which I didn’t notice until later since the first version of the cover didn’t have these typos, and since then the blurb became a visual element for me), to a Kafkian process to get the SFWA to use their channel with Amazon to update the cover on their website so the typos won’t shoo away prospective buyers (it will be too late if anything happens anyway, not sure if my novel could bounce back).
So I’m giving up on prose writing for the time being and will be only working on screenplays. I may go back to prose. Dunno. What I like about writing screenplays is that at the end I have this awesome blueprint to move forward with a work of prose (Terminal 3 was originally a teleplay).
Dear Chinese Reader,
I am aware of your existence. From time to time you just show up in this blog that nobody reads, always through a Baidu search. You don’t linger long or click on anything. You are probably a bot cruising through the magical world of Western Internet to assess the availability of the domain. But still, I decided to think you are human. You are the Chinese person who is interested in what I have to say. That’s it, there’s nothing you can say to change that. Not that you are going to say anything. You are probably just a bot.
I wish you could say something in the comment session. I wish we could talk. I adore the culture of your country. I want to learn Mandarin someday (started taking classes a while ago but had to quit due to clash with my work schedule). I lived in Vancouver for a while, a city with a huge, thriving Chinese population. I used to eat at a small eatery of homemade Chinese food near the train station. I would eat there every time I was in the area because it was so damn good and cheap. My eyes would water when the food was too spicy – I’m a wimp when it’s up to spicy food -, but I would just chug down some water and get going, because the cuisine of your country (in this case, in the regional Cantonese homemade tradition) is so damn good. I wonder what you would think of Brazilian cuisine, especially from Central Brazil (where I’m from). You’d probably find it bland. That’s fine. It is kind of bland and you need to grow up eating it to appreciate how the rice-and-beans repetitive combo in all its glorious monotony.
I finished yesterday the vomit draft of a short story inspired by your country. Not the beautiful things, I’m afraid. It was inspired by the current situation faced by the Uighurs in the area your government calls Xinjian. But also the one endured by other Latin-Americans like me in the country where I live right now (the US), where the government recently forced sterilization procedures on women locked in a concentration camp near the city of Atlanta. A little like your government is doing with Uighurs.
I wonder if the mention to these ongoing acts of genocide will make my blog blacklisted by the Great Firewall, what may prevent you from coming over from time to time. I’m a Science-Fiction writer and China is becoming a huge market for literature, movies and TV shows in this genre, although you guys have great homemade fare and don’t need Western content. Some would consider the mere mention to Xinjiang unwise. Apparently if one mentions Tibet they can get in a lot of trouble as well. But see, I’m not known for my wisdom, that’s the first thing you’d learn if we ever met.
I wish we could meet someday. I wish we could be friends. But you are probably just a bot, and I happen to be a human prone to reckless behavior.
The other update is that I will be a panelist during the very first Fiyahcon, a convention celebrating BIPOC+ persons in speculative fiction. My panel is called “Yes, representation is actually fun” and it will happen on October 18 at 6pm.