[Important Note: Please check the next post for details about John's upcoming signing. Thanks!]
Yes, since I tend not to do scorn without defiance, it is that finger, and here's why.
The last week or so, we've hit a clear thread of discontent with the status quo, dislike of awkward euphemisms forced on us by people who don't know what they're talking about (or mostly don't know), and generally a lot of gloom, doom and despair. When you look at the optimism of the Golden Age and at what followed, this really isn't that surprising, but still...
The mess is in our laps and on our floors and seething away in that dark unacknowledged corner in the spare room: you know the one, where all the junk you're not sure you want to throw away but don't have a clue what to do with accumulates. Worse, it breeds.
We've all seen what happens when good intentions meet naivete, especially if combined with enough of the folding stuff to have an impact on the rest of the world. It's called the Law of Unintended Consequences, and with the possible exception of the Law of Gravity, it's the only rule that's never been broken. Ever. The end result is kind of like what's left after that great big oversized dog with the tail that leaves welts has finished slobbering, wagging tail, and tracking mud everywhere. There's shattered traditions, broken cultures and just plain grotty stuff everywhere. So you put the dog out, mend what you can, toss and maybe replace what you can't mend, and hope no-one's going to notice the stains on the carpet no amount of cleaning could get rid of.
Right now, the industry seems to be standing and staring at the mess with a kind of transfixed horror in between bouts of ineffective hand-wringing and hiding the wreckage (and the dog) while hoping it will all magically go away. Think of the elderly aunt you'd swear never did a day's work in her life, expected you to do everything for her and then blamed you for not doing it right. Oh, and pulled a guilt trip on you if you should dare to complain.
I think the time has come for a change of pace. We're not little kids who have to do what the adults say, not anymore. We can give old Auntie and her fits of the vapors the finger and tell her if she's not going to do anything she can sit down and shut up while you work. It's time to clean up the mess.
It's never going to be the same: we all know that. But I do think we can, to mangle my metaphorical allegoricals, do the phoenix thing and rise from the ashes of the industry's previous incarnation. There might be some smudgy feathers, and the early stages are going to be kind of wobbly, but I think it's not only time to try, it's time to say "Bugger it! I'm going to make this work somehow," dig in, and get it bloody well done and done right (For those who are wondering, this is the Australian work ethic - do it right the first time, then go have a beer).
We need to get our optimism back - as individuals, and as societies. Let's face it, most of us don't need to be told how horrible things can be. We've all been there often enough that we don't go seeking it out as a leisure activity. If we want sermons, we go to church. If we want lectures, we go to college.
This of course raises some big questions. We don't need to go into a frenzy of cleanup without really knowing what we want - all that gets us is a rather less dire mess with nothing fixed or properly cleaned up.
So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to answer these questions:
What do we, as readers, want books to do for us? Do we want earnest slice of life, nancing elves, rollicking space opera, gritty dystopia, or some psychotic combination of all of the above? (Hi Dave! You and Pratchett are probably the only authors I know who could make that work!)
How can we, as authors and lovers of science fiction and fantasy, get from here to there?
And perhaps most of all, are you prepared for old Auntie's fits of the vapors when we defy the old bit... er, dear... - and are you ready to give her the finger and tell her to get out of the way?