Ordinarily I am not very much invested in celebrity culture. But from the tears that came unexpectedly to eye when a local DJ played "Blackstar" recently, it has become clear to me that I never properly, fully mourned David Bowie. He directly and indirectly (through his influences on Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Joy Division, and so many more artists) formed much of my aesthetic sensibility, not only in terms of his primary genre--the music I listen to--but in the sense of performative transformation that pervades what I seek in other areas, especially prose writing. An exception to the general run of promoted mediocrity, I predict he is one of the few cultural figures from the latter half of the 20th century who will be remembered at all in the 22nd. If nothing of note other than his death had happened in 2016, it might have been possible to come to grips with what it means to be in a world without him, with one fewer piece of unanticipated genius to look forward to. But so much more happened.
2016 was also the year in which the analytic techniques I learned from Marxism began to fail me in predicting world events. Not only the election of Trump and Brexit came as some surprise, but most signally the relentless betrayal and destruction of the revolution in Syria. Malevolence seems to have taken shape as an active force in human affairs to a degree unparalleled since the 1930s. In the 1930s, at least, there were still a few political geniuses on the scene who discern, in the chaos of events, the coming line of development--most importantly Leon Trotsky; until his premature death, Antonio Gramsci in his notebooks (from which few at the time could benefit); some forgotten or nameless Bolshevik veterans who perished in Stalin's camps; C. L. R. James, Chen Duxiu, and Ta Thu Thau; and in their more astute moments, the likes of Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht. I do not doubt that there are individual geniuses of my generation or younger. But one effect of the last forty years of relentless, slow-moving defeat is to isolate individual genius from the motion of masses, to blunt and stupefy political judgment, rather than sharpen and make it incisive.
There was so much mourning, then, to be done this year: for individual examples of the best the species has to offer (not just Bowie, but then Prince, and Leonard Cohen, and Sharon Jones...); the relentless, crashing dissonance of each person, especially black, callously murdered by police this year (more than 1,000 in 2016 alone); for the very prospect of the collective, long-term survival, let alone flourishing, of the species as a whole; and also, in my case, for the remains of a world-view that had served me pretty well in understanding and anticipating events over the years. Mourning is work, and with my attention to the world divided in so many directions, I did not do the work very well.
Despite, or perhaps in some measure because, of that work of mourning, I did get some writing done, and did manage to get some of my writing published.
To be precise, two new short stories of mine were published this year: "The Libidinal Economy of the Suburbs" appeared in FLAPPERHOUSE, and the May/June issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction included "Caribou: Documentary Fragments". I liked and am proud of both; for those of you keeping track for purposes of annual awards, only the latter counts as "science fiction". Though FLAPPERHOUSE's tastes are pan-genre, that piece is solidly in the realm of domestic realism, albeit in an experimental mode. (Both, it could be said, are formally experimental, though their experiments are more in the nature of replication efforts than attempts to break new ground.)
Publication of a third story is in the works, but it is now clear that it will not be in time for this calendar year. I usually reserve announcements of forthcoming new pieces until I have either received payment or signed a contract, but in this instance the labors and reassurances of the fiction editor seem to be promise enough: My story "Ruins of a Future Empire" will appear in the upcoming fourth issue of Salvage, a communist periodical out of Britain whose fiction editor is none other than China Miéville. Working with him has been a delight. Not all great writers are good editors, either of their own or others' work, nor are all great editors any good at all as writers. China's talents are evident on both sides of the transaction; he helped me to identify the warts that distracted from the underlying structure of the story and surgically remove them. I am looking forward to the issue.
My first published story, "Moose Season," has now been republished by the new short fiction app for mobile devices, Great Jones Street. To be frank, I don't own a suitable device, and even if I did, I doubt I would download the app, as I dislike reading fiction on screens. However, their selection seems to be great, so if you do like reading fiction on such devices, please give it a shot! I have been recommending pieces to the editors. If you are a writer and have written a short story that I like, or that you think I would like, feel free to remind me in the comments. And if you are a GJS writer or user, and there's a story of mine you think should be in it, please let the editors know.
Unlike last year, I do not have detailed thoughts on either of the major science fiction awards. My writing income was so meager this year that I had to let my SFWA membership lapse, so I am not able to nominate things for the Nebulas. And for similar reasons, I will not be joining WorldCon or nominating for the Hugos. When the official nominees are announced, then I will read or comment.
I have been working on my annual "Meta-Anthology" post; at this point, I am waiting on a copy of the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. Once I have read that, I will finalize it and post it.
I do want to put up reviews of some of the best books I have read this year, but for length's sake I will omit that from this entry, bring it to a close, and save those for another day.
May 2017 find you strong enough for whatever struggles it brings.