Jason's writings

New Voices of Science Fiction

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Excited to announce that my short story “Toppers,” originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, will be reprinted in the upcoming anthology The New Voices of Science Fiction. The anthology, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman, is the follow-up to the award-winning The New Voices of Fantasy.

Per the book blurb: “The avant garde of science fiction has appeared, arriving via time machines and portals that may (or may not) work properly. In this space-age sequel to award-winning anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy, The New Voices of Science Fiction has launched the rising stars of the last five years of science fiction, including Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, Alice Sola Kim, Sam J. Miller, E. Lily Yu, Rich Larson, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker, Darcie Little Badger, S. Qiouyi Lu, Kelly Robson, Suzanne Palmer, Nino Cipri, and more. “

The New Voices of Science Fiction will be released November 11 .

My ConFusion schedule, Jan. 17 to 20, 2019

I'm a participating author at ConFusion in Detroit, January 17 to 20. ConFusion is a wonderful genre convention which mixes a strong literary focus with a laid-back and accessible attitude.

Here are the panels I'm taking part in. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Friday January 18 at 6:00 PM
The Future of Masculinity

Jason Sanford (M), Pablo Defendini, Michael R. Underwood, John Chu, David Anthony Durham
Masculinity and “manliness” are social constructs, and like all social constructs, they evolve and change over time. How will our definitions of masculinity evolve over time? How can we portray positive visions of masculinity in speculative fiction? This is a follow-up to last year's well-received ConFusion panel on "Visions of Positive Masculinity" featuring many of same people.

Sunday January 20 at 11:00 AM
Tense and Point of View in Fantasy Today

Theresa Nielsen Hayden (M), Jordan Kurella, Dyrk Ashton, Jason Sanford, Amy Sundberg
Aesthetic trends in genre writing are constantly evolving--and tense and point of view are no exception. The Princess Bride uses an omniscient viewpoint to excellent comedic effect, framing it inside a conversational first-person narrative. In the time since it was published, present-tense narration has grown in popularity, especially in Young Adult fiction. Where are fashions heading around tense and point of view? Which works are showcasing what the common viewpoints and tenses can contribute to a story?

Eligible for Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer

The golden age of SF/F television

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Note: Originally published in the October 2017 issue of the Czech SF/F magazine XB-1.
 

My grandfather lived through the Golden Age of Science Fiction during 1930s and 1940s, when the modern SF genre made a major cultural impact in many other parts of the world. As a child I often looked in awe at my grandfather’s collection of Golden Age magazines and books.

I once asked him what it was like living through that era. My grandfather merely smiled and said “I just loved reading the stories.”

One day, when my grandchildren ask me what it was like living during our current Golden Age of SF/F Television, I plan to say, “I just loved watching the shows.”

We’re living in an age of television greatness, an era which HBO helped created at the beginning of the millennium with intense crime dramas such as The Sopranos and The Wire. These shows, which took visual episodic storytelling to new heights, influenced other networks and producers such as Netflix to do the same. The result is more great TV these days than anyone could possible watch in a lifetime.

However, what’s often missing in discussions over the great shows on TV is how much of that gold is mined within the science fiction and fantasy genre.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t great SF/F television shows in earlier decades. Star Trek and Doctor Who created the world’s first SF franchises back in the 1960s, a trend continued by 1978’s Battlestar Galactica. The soap opera Dark Shadows showed the potential of TV fantasies during the 1960s, as did the The Twilight Zone.

However, there were limitations on televised genre works in earlier decades. Special effects prior to the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) were extremely expensive and often looked extremely unrealistic. While Hollywood could justify the cost of quality special effects on blockbuster movies, TV shows had more limited budgets, with the cost of special effects playing a significant role in the cancellation of both the original Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

Expensive special effects also limited the genre stories which could be told on TV. For example, Harlan Ellison’s original script for the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” was very different from what was eventually filmed. While creative disagreements between Ellison and Gene Roddenberry caused some of the changes, others resulted from how expensive it would have been to film Ellison’s script.

A side-effect of expense special effects was that many genre shows of this time period, such as Doctor Who, were also overly talkative. After all, it was far cheaper to film characters describing what was going on in a SF/F setting than to actually create the visual world and effects.

But by the 1990s realistic-looking and affordable CGI effects had expanded the storytelling possibilities of televised genre stories. And the arrival of good CGI coincided with increasing demand for in-depth episodic stories. This perfect melding of new visual worlds with deeper character-driven stories resulted in two great SF shows from the 1990s, Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

However, I believe it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the fantasy/horror/comedy series created by Joss Whedon running from 1997 to 2003, which truly set the stage for our current Golden Age of SF/F Television. The series followed the life of Buffy Summers, one in a long line of "Slayers" who battled demons and vampires while often falling into complicated relationships with the same. The series’ power rested fully on Whedon’s unique characters, in particular the strength of Buffy and her painful on-again-off-again relationship with the vampire Angel. The complex chemistry between the characters raised the show above other TV fantasies from that time such as Xena: Warrior Princess, which while fun never reached Buffy’s heights.

Joss Whedon’s next series, 2002’s Firefly, continued this mixing of character chemistry and drama but added a far higher standard of CGI effects. Set in a far future where humanity settled a distant star system, Firefly followed the crew of a rundown spaceship trying to survive in a space-western setting. Firefly was unique among many SF shows in that every character was fully realized with a complex dramatic arch — individual stories which, tragically, would not all be realized before the series was cancelled without finishing even a single season.

Fortunately, death by cancelation didn’t befall the next two great genre shows of our new golden age, the reimagined versions of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. Debuting respectively in 2004 and 2005, both series built upon the strong universe creation, settings and characters of their earlier incarnations. They also showcased special effects which finally did justice to the grand scope of their stories, whether showing a ragtag group of ships struggling to reach a new home or the immortal Time Lord playing across space and time.

However, the new versions of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who also took their stories into new territories with extremely complex storytelling and characterizations which crossed back and forth through grimly realistic themes and ideas. Battlestar Galactica’s reworking of the original hotshot fighter pilot Starbuck into the tortured soul of Kara Thrace resulted in one of the best TV characters of all time. Doctor Who episodes such as "Blink," featuring the Weeping Angels, showed viewers new depths of fear while "The Doctor's Wife" gave a painful depth to the Doctor’s character and travels.

And now we’re caught up to our current day, with fantasies like Game of Thrones and SF such as The Expanse and Westworld being major cultural milestones. Even lesser-watched shows like Black Mirror and Orphan Black are creating stories which rank with the best SF/F television of all time. Add in the countless superhero shows and it’s easy to see how we are truly living through a Golden Age of SF/F Television.

One day, when your grandchildren ask what it was like with so much great SF/F on TV, simply tell them you loved watching the shows.

Why the red pill doesn’t wake people to our world’s true reality

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Note: Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the Czech SF/F magazine XB-1.


Few science fiction symbols are as powerful as red and blue pills. In the 1999 film The Matrix, the main character Neo is offered a choice of two pills to take. If he takes the red pill, the truth of an extremely painful reality will be revealed. If Neo takes the blue pill, he’ll return to his happy illusion of life.

As Morpheus tells Neo, “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Since the release of The Matrix various political groups have seized on red and blue bills as a symbol describing people who have “woken” to their different belief systems. Among the many political groups using red and blue pills to describe what happens when someone understands and accepts their beliefs are anarchists, various progressive causes, environmentalists, the men’s rights movement, conservatives, neo-nazis, white supremacists, and many more.

Obviously all of these groups don’t possess the truth of reality, and some such as neo-nazis and white supremacists are so far from the truth that they wouldn’t recognize a red pill if it was shoved down their collective throats.

Despite this, I find it fascinating and disturbing that the red/blue pill symbol is seen as a metaphor for understanding the truth of reality. After all, The Matrix uses these pills in an extremely destructive manner. In the film once someone takes the red pill they are physically removed from the dream-like world the machines craft to keep humanity enslaved.

Despite being freed Neo and the other red pill people frequently return to the machine-crafted illusion most of humanity lives under, wanting to free their fellow humans from endless slavery. But to do this, Neo and his followers do almost as much harm as the machines they’re fighting.

As Morpheus says, “The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

The truth of what the red pills reveal is boiled down to these words from Morpheus: “If you are not one of us, you are one of them.”

In The Matrix, this “us or them” belief means Neo and his band of followers slaughter any enslaved human who stands in their way, secure in the knowledge that theirs is the path of righteousness and that, in the end, they’ll reveal the truth to the world.

“If you are not one of us, you are one of them.” That’s a hell of a political statement. That’s the type of statement embraced by history’s worst political movements, movements which have killed millions in pursuits of their goals.

The Matrix is a great SF film, one of the best of the last few decades. But as political theory the film is extremely simplistic. After all, there’s a word for people who go through life with such an extreme “us or them” attitude: psychopaths.

While simplistic “us or them” arguments resonate with many people, our greatest achievements come when we put this attitude aside. When we stand with those we have disagreements with but with whom we can still find common ground.

And it’s this human determination to reach for common ground which makes me stay optimistic about the future. Because I believe in people. I believe most people try to do good and try build a better world.

This truth holds true in any successful community, be it a large, diverse community like the United States of America or a small community like SF film fans.

Our communities exist even when people disagree on issues. Our communities exist because we are more alike than different. Our communities exist because so many people make a decision to reject a red pill “us or them” view of the world.

And that’s one reality the red pill will never reveal to anyone who believes in a “us or them” world.