Sometimes people I know refer to me as being one of the smartest people in the room. The part of my ego that can’t help but to like being stroked purrs when this happens because it allows me to ignore all of the many other times when I’m clearly Not The Sharpest Tool In The Shed. The part of my ego that is more attuned with Truth eye-rolls, delivers a backhand up the side of my head, and then makes me scan the room to see who isn’t around when that sort of thing is proclaimed.
If you have been reading this space for a length of time, the name should ring a bell. Goonan is a Nebula nominee and Campbell winner who, when not being disobedient about the beets, has consistently produced a body of short and long fiction demonstrating what it means to be The Smartest Person In the Room. That’s probably why she also teaches at Georgia Tech, and occasionally throws down essays like thisone, and has been invited to speak at the Library of Congress. And that's not even getting into her wicked sense of humor.
The woman works at a quantum level. She writes diamond-hard science fiction that never, ever fails to keep humanity, empathy and heart at the core. You know those stories from the golden age about how engineers would look at what the science fiction writers were coming up with in order to figure out the potential of what could be made manifest in real life? In this present day, nanotech experts do the same thing with Goonan’s work. They also ask her to deliver keynote speeches at their industry events.
Goonan is not playing games. She throws down hard, and has done for a long time. She writes with the assumption that you are not lazy or stupid. She writes with the expectation that you will keep up, and she drops knowledge along to way to help you do so. (Which is one of the reasons I’m now reading up about Montessori, another topic Goonan is expert in, because the way she explores educational concepts and theories about brain development in her work interested me enough to learn more.)
To me, equally important is Goonan’s command of America’s cultural history - listen to her talk about jazz here, read my passing reference to her ability to deal with tricky racial issues here - and her unflinching willingness to embrace the flaws of the nation without sacrificing optimism. Women are not disposable constructs in her work, they are at the core. Feminism is not approached with apologia in her work (something I need to hear at times). Science is not a convenient decorative element in her work, it is the engine driving the whole.
Her latest novel is This Shared Dream, the sequel to In War Times (more here) that also works perfectly fine as a stand-alone novel. Like her previous books it has secured massively awesome blurbage from peers operating at her advanced level such as Le Guin, Willis and Gunn. This Shared Dream is a beautiful example of how “science fiction” and “literary” don’t need to be separate concepts when in the hands of someone who knows what she’s doing, and Will Do It With No Fear.
This Shared Dream is the story of the aftermath of an attempt to manipulate time and set up a utopia, centered around the experiences of the family at ground zero of these events. Some members of the Dance family remember the past that has now been replaced, while others of them, such as Zoe and Whens, experience the transition in ways fascinating and heartbreaking. All of them suffer under the disappearance of the lineage founders, Bette and Sam, who as time walkers (my term), vanished into the stream rooted in World War II (and have a gorgeous love story subplot). There are also people out to kill the more aware family members, such as Jill. And everyone - and by “everyone” I mean “the entire world” is manipulated by the terrifyingly awesome power of Eliani Handtz, the woman whose brain came up with the Device, and who is both Shiva and Mary throughout the work. Handtz is devastation and compassion at once. She and Bette share a single minded focus that scares me a bit because of how very much I can relate to that vibe.
Goonan deploys John le Carre-level spy craft in a thrilling, complex plot that takes the tech we have now and extrapolates its potential into the future. She flings a bunch of balls into the air at the start and doesn’t drop a single one as she takes the story home. She is talking about education. She is talking about global development. She is talking about war. She is talking about one-to-one functional and not family dynamics. She is talking about love. She is talking about race. She is talking about the monied and the not-so-much. She is talking about why we war. She is talking about hope. All at once, in this book called This Shared Dream, which is astonishing.
If you’ve been reading this space for a bit, you know that I like mech. The machines NASA sends up to the stars? Rock! I like the engineering of weaponry. I very much appreciate the the cold beauty of machines as brought to function by human minds that imagined how to make real a P-51 Mustang, or a Ruger Mini-14, or Fat Man & Little Boy, or the fantasy that is Optimus Prime.
That doesn't mean I like war. It just means that for some reason I find the tools of war fascinating and appealing. I like mech. I like pulpy blow shit up. I no longer apologize for that.
When Goonan stands in her work to speak against war in an old school way, as she does in This Shared Dream, I come to the end of this book blinded in tears of joy and hope and wonder, and I start thinking about mech differently. NOTE: I’m not saying she sets out to create a Mjolnir sort of thing with her messaging, because she doesn’t roll that way. Goonan doesn’t do polemics. What I am trying to say is that when I read things like this in the book:
“I was a billion horrors, one after the other, and they all ran through me like a fire, and I couldn’t stop seeing them ... I have been changed. This Device, which I thought was about power, is actually quite the opposite.” He sat down and put his elbows on the table, clasped his hands. “It’s about empowerment, but for everyone. It’s about equality, freedom, education; it’s about the evolution of the human mind; it is about leaving behind our legacy, our habit, of war.”
I hear what I am being told. I see - no, I feel - the education in my entertainment. And I am forced to think. About my love for mech that often santitizes what some of that mech was created to do. About my largely thinking about war as a general abstract that can't be avoided, save when I'm thinking about war through the specific historical blackitude social lens that is my Pavlovian default, and has nothing to do with the abstract assumption that war can't be avoided. About neuroplasticity, a word I assumed Goonan invented until the thought hit to look it up, was floored over the implications, and then re-read everything I have that she's written with a new eye - as well as gathering dictionaries needed as I slowly suffer through reading the scientist papers about neuroplasticity so I could try to better understand the big picture. About one of the documentaries I saw decades ago about the man primarily responsible for the crafting of The Bomb, and what that did to him - and if you're watching carefully, the rest of the team (trailer here. The full doc here. I'd love to link to two excellent plays centered on The Bomb that were done by my favorite local theater company as part of their Relativity series, but about two years ago they stopped evergreen play posting, which is too bad, so I'll alert you to this PBS play about what our nation did to this man after we were done using him instead. Trailer. I'm not drifting off-point bringing these things up; it all relates in an All Things Flow Into One sort of vibe). About Oppenheimer in tears.
That is what the best hard science fiction does. The best science fiction is the smartest person in the room, without being a dick about it. The best hard science fiction is gorgeous literature that leaves you enormously entertained and your head full of difficult thoughts Beyond. The best science fiction uses its diamond-hard head to drill into your marrow, insert wicked little nanos into your bloodstream, and then back off chuckling as the payload migrates to your brain, where it will set off bombs.
That is what Goonan does. That is what she has been quietly doing for years.
I can't remember if I've tried to explain the concept of Sounding here before. Let's assume I have, and you then understand this. But as I know only maybe five people reading get Sounding? I apologize for confusing the rest of you.
Regular missives will commence after our return from Geek Vegas. And by "regular missives" I mean, you know, when I get around to it upon return.
Of course I have no idea what anybody is saying in this clip, due to being a Basic American with command of only one language. I'm working on Spanish*** because where I live that's the most useful second language to pick up, but anything beyond that I'm too dumb/busy/exhausted to learn.
So my hope is that when this AWESOME LOOKING live action Star Blazers comes out on dvd (Hollywood is currently whitewashing the Akira adaptation, so I don't have much faith that this live action Starblazers/Space Battleship Yamato sans white people will show up in a theater near Me, and I have been hunting in the Usual Outlets in town for a dvd over the past year or so but with no luck) it will have English subtitles.
While waiting, I'll just sing the theme song at random!
*** I'm getting better with Spanish. Recently I held my own during six-minute conversation at a bus stop with someone(s) I don't know about the weather and the flowers and the schedules and, apparently, elephants. It was great until they couldn't take it anymore, fell out laughing, switched to English and explained to me the bits I got so very wrong. It was awesome! Embarassing, but also awesome, just like every other time this happens when I try to unleash my Spanish. I'll get there. It'll take a while, but I'll get there. My experiences so far have shown me that I have an entire city to help me get there.
In my life, this stands side-by-side with the Litany.
Version linked below found moments ago by accident due to a FanGrrl attempt to speak directly to an celebrity-type on another site. ... but as these things go, he didn't answer. (Yeah, I know. Mock me. I deserve it.)
Source material. (Yeah, I know. Amazon link. Not good, but doing a quick-hit post I couldn't find this book's entry on the publisher's site ... or, frankly, the publisher's site in general.)
I’ve kept in touch with her not just because of the wicked cool jacket she made from leftover cloth used for a major character in the Thor movie, nor because of the fantabulous costumes for the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's movie about Cthulhu that she created, nor even because of the TOTALLY kick ass earrings I bought off of her. And the whole making costumes for the Black Eyed Peas thing? I didn't even know about that until recently, because she's the sort of humble that doesn't drop names.
I kept in touch with Brody because she's a phenomenally great person who, when clearly explaining her artistic ethos, made me think about how I directly contribute to a culture of consumption and waste - and what I can do to change that. Her eco-friendly creations are comprised of 90% re-purposed, re-used materials, cast-offs she turns into sensual, lovely clothing to be worn with flair. (You should have seen what she created out of some mudcloth I gave her! I can't find the picture at the moment in the morass that is my hard drive, but she mixed it with something else to create a fantastic samurai-style jacket for dreadlocked male client. It was gorgeous.) Whether she's doing a bit of steampunk-inspired outfits, or creating beautiful mobility devices for her friends, or designing awesome jewelry, Brody is an all around viciously talented nifty person.
Now Laura is branching out even further, and she's using Kickstarter to do it!
Take a look at the delightful video pitch for the project and read a personal message from her (in bold) below, then please kick in a couple of bucks. Every little bit helps! Please feel free to share word of her super-fun, worthy project with others by passing along the Kickstarter link!
It's my very first Kickstarter project and I'm stupid excited about it!
If you can, please take a look, share the link and be inspired to come up with a project of your own!
It's for a repurposed circus in Baraboo, WI. I was asked to put together a package of live draping workshops and events along with a fellow textile artisan for a new arts festival out there, and we came up a major proposal: right before the Wisconsin state budget cut issues went haywire. We're going to see about self-funding.
Baraboo is the home of the modern American circus, so it seems like a natural, and they have some great resources locally. There's also this great roadside artist, Dr. Evermor, who makes insane magical creatures out of scrap machinery and has a whole world created at the back of a local salvage yard. And of course he's never had a real gallery show there, so we figured we might be able help with that. I love his Forevertron.
Me again. Isn't that great? I'm throwing in next payday. Whatever you can give, please do so. You will not regret it. Now, go go go!