<![CDATA[Melissa Scott - Blog]]>Tue, 01 Aug 2017 09:31:29 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Law & Justice]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2017 22:48:54 GMThttp://melissa-scott.com/blog/law-justiceI love books that have as a central conflict the disjunction of law and justice. Unsurprisingly, you'll find that as a theme in many of my novels, along with the question "who gets to count as people?" and that's certainly true of my contributions to the Pride Storybundle. Of course, both Point of Hopes and Death By Silver are fantasies structured as mysteries, which automatically foregrounds the question — most mysteries use the tension between law and justice to raise the stakes of their plots.
With Point of Hopes, this was a conscious decision, and was part of the reason we chose to make it an early modern setting: we were interested in the ways that different countries in early modern Europe tried to deal with the question of law enforcement, and in the tension that's inherent in an evolving system. We had both been intrigued by the early modern English concept by which the judicial system - the law - was responsible for arrest and punishment of malefactors, but had no real responsibility or mechanism for investigation of crimes. It was the responsibility of the victim to name the culprit, and until that was done, the constables and courts could not act. In many cases, of course, this was not a problem — easy enough to name the person who’d directly attacked you, or the person who’d threatened you — but when the victim didn’t see the criminal, or had no likely enemies, there was no procedure by which the state, from the Queen herself down to the neighborhood constable, could take action on the victim’s behalf. Instead, victims resorted to stratagems intended to provoke a confession, or consulted cunning men and women who used a combination of magic and rough psychology to point to a malefactor. They might accuse the least reputable of their neighbors, and hope they’d gotten it right, or make a deal with extra-legal “thief-takers” who promised, for a fee, to return stolen goods. The state, in its constant war against the Catholic menace, also relied on extra-legal actors — intelligencers, informers, and agents provocateurs — to name potential traitors; there was no other mechanism by which such plots might be found out blocked. Both Christopher Marlowe and the men who murdered him were part of that world.

But of course we’d already written that world, in The Armor of Light. We wondered instead what a world would look like in which the first steps had been taken to make investigation a state duty. Suppose you had a small group of people — the points — whose job it was to take citizens’ complaints and sort out the likeliest truth. They’d very likely have evolved out of a city militia, and originally combined that function with the task of night-watchmen; their role as investigators, servants of the judiciary, is relatively new to their society. That last, obviously, gave us some immediate tensions to play with, and to weave into the class tensions that fill the city. Is it proper for a commoner to enforce the law on a noble? Underneath all of that, however, is a central question: what is legal, and what is just; do the two questions run parallel, or do they lead to very different answers?

The same question comes into play in Death By Silver, but from a different angle.  Law vs. Justice is also deeply relevant to the queer community — it’s only very recently that we’ve been able to get the laws criminalizing homosexual acts repealed in many parts of the world. Writing about gay characters in a Victorian setting means that the characters must confront, at some level, the ways which they are outside the law, and the ways in which justice cannot serve them. And yet… The law in England before 1885 made sodomy a felony punishable by death or (after 1861) life imprisonment; however, in order to secure a conviction, the prosecution had to prove penetration, and it was notoriously difficult to find a jury that would convict without overwhelming proof. The change in the law in 1885, which criminalized “gross indecency” between men, and which punishment considerably less (2 years’ imprisonment, with or without hard labor) was at least in part a response to the failure of juries to bring convictions under the older law. There is something irresistible, at least to me, in the idea of people outside the law attempting to bring justice, and Ned Mathey and Julian Lynes are both deeply affected by it. Their public school left them somewhat skeptical about the benevolence of the law, but made them both determined to bring justice where they can, regardless of the risks.
]]>
<![CDATA[Queer Victoriana]]>Fri, 09 Jun 2017 20:07:29 GMThttp://melissa-scott.com/blog/queer-victorianaOr, why I like queer Victorian fiction
There is a lot of queer SF/F set in what is at least nominally the Victorian/Edwardian period (three very different novels in the current LGBT Storybundle alone), and of course that raises the question of what makes this period so appealing. For me, at least, the period from the mid-19th century through the start of the First World War is attractive because it’s both familiar and deeply alien, and the ways in which it is different from the modern world offer some excellent opportunities for comment on our contemporary lives.

In terms of perceived familiarity — well, most of us were forced to read something by Charles Dickens once in our lives, or at least have seen some version of “A Christmas Carol.” (My grandfather gave me Oliver Twist when I had an ear infection — I must have been 6 or 7? — and I devoured it, though I foundered on Great Expectations immediately afterward. Possibly the fever had helped.) We think we understand the world pretty well: this is a conservative, colonialist monarchy ruled by a plump widow in black who Is Not Amused, a society that has inviolable rules of behavior — segregated strictly by gender — and that is so opposed to sex that it was considered appropriate cover the legs of pianos so that the mere appearance of a limb would not engender lustful thoughts. For a queer reader/writer, this is also the beginning of what looks like familiar queer culture, of gay clubs and secret networks, Oscar Wilde and Radcliffe Hall and the Ladies of Llangollen.

And, to a certain extent, all of this is true. But when you dig deeper into the period, you find that each of these apparently inviolable rules and regulations responds to a profound instability in what seems to be a monolithic society. The politics are far more complicated, and far from uniformly conservative or even colonialist; class and ethnicity affect how each social rule is perceived and obeyed — or, quite often, ignored. Many of the books on household management, for example, are written for women one rung lower on the social ladder than the purported subjects; they are instruction manuals for would-be social climbers and helpful hints for women thrust by marriage or money into a higher class than their own — and, perhaps most of all, they are a description of what women should want. Because, of course, this is also a period in which women are entering the workforce, not just in factories, but in shops and even in offices. This is the period when the “typewriter” first appears — the word refers not just to the machine, but the woman who uses it, and she becomes the subject of much worried discussion, as well as of an entire subgenre of erotica. The rules say that men should be unemotional, logical, always in charge of themselves and others — but also acknowledges and validates the idea of passionate friendships among schoolboys, and of profound and lasting emotional connections between adult men. And between women, whose lifelong and deeply felt friendships are seen as perfectly acceptable as long as they don’t interfere with their proper duties, wifely or professional.

The same thing is true as you look at the period’s queer culture: some things seem terribly familiar, like the uses of camp and drag and the brittle wit of Oscar Wilde (though the last may be because we’ve all been imitating him ever since). As you dig deeper, however, some things that were familiar begin to take on new meanings. Once again, class and ethnicity are as strongly defining characteristics as sexual behavior — the differences between the Ladies of Llangollen, who were literally ladies of good family, and the working class girls who cheered male impersonator Vesta Tilley are so profound that they might have come from different planets. And, on the most basic level, most of the sex objects in 1881’s gay porn classic Sins of the Cities of the Plains are pretty familiar — except for the section with the handsome, burly dairymen.

For me, the contrast between the extremely prescriptive social rules and the ease with which certain groups, at certain times, under certain circumstances could ignore or escape those rules is a perfect spur for fiction. And the many ways that people could and did manipulate a repressive system is a perfect way to explore the dances of persona, of mask and mirror, that is such an important part of my queer experience. The Victorians and Edwardians lived by discoverable rules; they’re not our rules, and some of them seem, even with the most generous hindsight, to be extremely odd. That certainly makes for an excellent story, and one that whispers another question — what, then, will the next century’s readers think of ours?
]]>
<![CDATA[LGBT+ Storybundle]]>Wed, 07 Jun 2017 00:24:01 GMThttp://melissa-scott.com/blog/lgbt-storybundleYep, it's an LGBT+ Storybundle - 5 books in the basic bundle, yours for $5, or if you throw in another $10, you'll get 7 more titles, for an eclectic grouping of some of the best queer writing out there today.


When Steve Berman of Lethe Press asked me to co-edit Lethe’s year’s best lesbian SF/F anthology, Heiresses of Russ, for 2014, I was (of course) honored to be asked. I read a lot of stories, discovered some new writers, was reminded of some old favorites, but, most of all, I was blown away by the number and quality of the stories that were submitted. It reminded me yet again how much the SF/F world has changed — when my first novel was published, back in 1984, I was told that queer characters and themes were highly unlikely to sell, and if they did, at best they would get you branded as just and only a queer writer, trapped forever in a ghetto within a ghetto. Over the last thirty years, that has all changed dramatically. LGBT+ characters are definitely part of the field, and if they’re aren’t as many of them out there as there were in the late 1980s/early 1990s, we’ve never returned to the assumption that writing queer is the death of one’s career. In fact, the number of writers for whom intelligent, nuanced, sensitive — and queer — writing about queer things is simply a normal part of their range has grown so large so quickly that it’s all but impossible to keep up. And that, of course, meant that winnowing the field to a dozen books for an LGBT Storybundle was going to be equally difficult.

I’ve made a couple of arbitrary choices to start with. First, no novels in which being queer means you’re evil (that should go without saying), nor are there any in which it’s a doomed and tragic fate. There are places for the latter, but in this group I want to celebrate queerness. I also decided to focus on small press offerings, on the theory that it’s easier to overlook them than books from the mainstream houses — and none of this really narrowed the field very much. In the end, I went with books that showed me new facets of the LGBT+ experience, books that expanded my vision of both queer and of SF/F. It’s a highly eclectic group, a mix of new and established writers, novels and short story collections; it includes historical fantasy, contemporary werewolves, superhero adventures, Victorian magic, a YA ghost story, secondary world fantasies, and a noir-inflected war between Heaven and Hell, but all of them are by authors who are at the top of their game. There are six Spectrum and Lambda Literary Award finalists and winners in the group, and Riley Parra has been turned into a web series by Tello Films, to debut in August. You’ll also find a diverse group of characters, worlds where the rules of sex and gender are profoundly different form our own, and stories that will hold you entranced to the very end.

I don’t claim that this is the (or even “a”) definitive LGBT+ collection. The field is far too large for anyone to claim that. What I can promise is that these books celebrate queerness — gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and just plain queer — and show off some of the best writers working today.

On a more serious note… Storybundle has always allowed its patrons to donate part of their payment to a related charity, and the appalling situation in Chechnya seemed to be one where donations could make a real and immediate difference. If you choose, you can donate part of the bundle’s price to the Rainbow Railroad, a group helping LGBT people escape persecution and violence worldwide. At the moment, they are concentrating on helping the victims of the attacks on gay men in Chechnya; your donation will be a potentially life-saving gift.
]]>
<![CDATA[Intro]]>Sat, 27 May 2017 14:13:42 GMThttp://melissa-scott.com/blog/introWith the latest takeovers at LiveJournal, and the mass exodus that followed, I think it's time for me to finally set up an independent blog at the domain I've been hoarding for some years, particularly since I'm just about to begin promoting some LGBT+ material. It's not entirely clear how having the LJ servers in Russia is going to affect LJ's ability to host queer content. This is by way of a soft launch, and I'll be posting at both sites for a little longer, but by the end of the summer I hope to be moved to the new blog. And maybe I will have learned to use all of its fancy features by then!
]]>