Reading List: Some updates

Hi — I have a couple of brief updates on upcoming newsletter stuff, and the state of the genre fan world.


If you’re tied into the genre fan scene at all in the last week, my condolences. It’s been a bit of a bloodbath, as a number of high-profile authors have faced accusations of sexual harassment and general unpleasantness. We’ve seen this before over the years: one complaint provides enough cover for others to come forward with their stories.

Jason Sanford has a good overview of most of the situation over on his Genre Grapevine column, which I’d recommend reading if you’re out of this particular loop. This time around, things feel a little different, because one of the people in the middle is someone I’ve called a friend and supported: Myke Cole.

I’ve reviewed his books (most recently Sixteenth Watch, here on the newsletter.) These accusations against him aren’t new, but I was taken by his apology for his misconduct back in 2018. I gave him a pass because I believed that he was taking the right steps and was modeling good behavior.

This latest round — I think — predates that apology, and I do believe that he’s sincere. But this time around, the accusations are more specific, worse than I thought, and have left me infuriated for the last couple of days. It’s made me look back on past conversations with a new level of doubt, and a sinking feeling that I was too trusting. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say, if there is anything to say, but I can’t come up with anything other than just to ball myself up into a knot of anger.

The repercussions are swift: this sort of behavior costs people their friends, jobs, and reputations — but that’s a small price to pay for the impact they have on their victims. I hope he was sincere, I hope that he’s in therapy and that it’s helping, and that he’ll have a way to move forward a better person. But as a mentor of mine once wrote, hope is not a method.


Secondly, I promised Reading List paid subscribers a long piece about the future of Michael Crichton’s name and brand this week. That’s still coming, but I don’t think I’ll get it done this week: our daycare was out for two days with a medical thing (she’s better now), which left me watching our two kids this week. That was fun, and a good way to spend my birthday, but it didn’t really leave any time to do any work. I’m in the midst of playing catchup this week. Plus, I’m toying with the idea of recording an audio version (!?) So, it’s coming! Soon!

In the meantime, I figured I’d post a short excerpt of the first RL+ piece, as well as an excerpt from this next one for you to read. Here you go:


Reading List+: They Should Know Better

Over the weekend, I spoke with Lee Mandelo, a transmasc writer who’s written extensively about issues of gender and gender identity for places like Tor.com, and edited an anthology calledBeyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction. He outlines that Rowling and Morgan’s arguments had deep, misogynistic roots that come out early scientific views of the world that are extremely flawed: that the concepts of a strict binary identity linked to your physical biological makeup are products of outdated 19th century science and attitudes.

“The presumption of Binary biological sex existing the way that we understand it today, or especially how they understand it, is basically from the 19th century. The idea of biological women came from scientists who were trying to argue that due to that biology, women were inferior, so building on that idea of biological essentialism... actually ends up supporting conservative misogynist positions to begin with!”

The assumption that there’s a strict binary undercuts the nuances that exist in nature. There are inter-sex people, for example. And Rowling’s definition that women are people who get a period is overly broad — people have pointed out plenty of exceptions here. It’s a shaky foundation for this particular body of arguments.

There’s another danger here: given their stature within their respective communities, both authors are essentially acting as superspreaders of mis/dis information. P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brookings’ 2018 book LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media provides a good framework to look at this sort of situation: given the access and wealth of information around us, why does questionable-to-outright-wrong information persist? In short, it’s networks of people who propagate and share information that they tend to agree with. Look at the circles of right-wing media, where you can sometimes watch (in real time!) misinformation pop up in places like 4chan and Reddit, bounce around the right-wing echosphere, and get blasted out of the President’s Twitter feed. People don’t have to necessarily read and internalize the information that they pass along: they just have to pass it along. Moreover, it’s extremely easy for a bad actor to hijack this sort of messaging and steer the conversation to their own ends.


Reading List+: Building the Crichtonverse

In November 2019, a familiar name appeared on bookstore shelves: Michael Crichton, emblazoned in red on a new book called The Andromeda Evolution. The book in question wasn’t written by the late author, however: it was a project created by his estate, and written by Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson. 

The novel is a sequel to Crichton’s 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, a book that catapulted him onto bestseller lists and made his name synonymous with the phrase “techno thriller.” Over course of his career, Crichton introduced readers to a wide range of cutting-edge concepts, from cybernetics to resurrected dinosaurs, to plausible takes on time travel with a lucrative body of work that is now a proverbial gold mine in today’s entertainment world. 

Wilson’s book can be looked at in two ways: a way to capitalize on the IP that the late author created, or to introduce his body of work to a new generation of readers by building on his legacy. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. 

Bringing out unpublished novels by dead authors has always been something of a controversial choice — most notably in 2015 with the release of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird prequel Go Set A Watchmen, which she actually wrote before her famed novel, but which she had let sit in a drawer for decades. Book critics worried that she had been manipulated into releasing the book, and that it might have been a cash grab from her publisher. There have been other examples, too: Robert A. Heinlein had left behind a longer version of The Number of the Beast, which he had edited down to its final version. A publisher, Phoenix Pick, working with his estate, recently released the longer version as The Pursuit of the Pankera. The two share the first third, but after that, it diverted into a completely different work. Which version did Heinlein really want audiences to read? Clearly, The Number of the Beast.

Incidents like this resurfaced a long-simmering question within the arts world: should an author’s unpublished or unfinished go before audiences, if said author didn’t finish them as intended? In Crichton’s case, his estate seems to have fallen onto the side of yes. Sherri Crichton explained that her motivating factor as one of continuing his legacy was that “his name stays relevant and continues to echo to a new generation, and to inspire people to read his back list of books.” 

But there’s also the impulse to reimagine and realize the potential that his existing works bring. Universal Studios has worked to relaunch Jurassic Park as a cinematic franchise with Jurassic World and its string of sequels, while HBO has reimagined Westworld as a much more serious and dark fantasy about the implications of AI. “Let’s go back and look at what the possibility would have been to make a sequel to The Andromeda Strain, which is what really put him on the map.”


That’s a taste of what I’ve been writing under the paywall — both pieces are longer and go into a bit more depth, involve more extensive interviews, and so forth. (I hope this doesn’t sound too promotional…y.) If you like what you read, and want to get these sorts of pieces, please subscribe! There is more to come in the coming weeks / months.

Cheers,

Andrew