Nov 14, 2016

False Equivalences, and The Deals You've Made

Let's talk a bit about something which will become very important for the next few years.

Imagine two men, we'll call them Ted and Bob.

Ted punches Bob. Then Bob punches Ted back. Ted insists that Bob had no right to hit him, and that Bob is just as bad as him.

This is a false equivalence. The argument that similar actions, undertaken in different circumstances and with different context, have the same impact and justification.

Our example is highly simplified, but it should get the point across. Bob was reacting to having been assaulted. He was defending himself, and letting Ted know that he wouldn't allow a further assault to continue.

So when we see protests against the Trump presidency, in the light of the rise in racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic attacks taking place, and those protests are decried as being "just as bad as the other side," that is also a false equivalence.

These protests show us rage. Yes, they're marching through the streets. Yes, they're disrupting traffic. Yes, they're burning flags and effigies. But this rage is not based on hate.

It is based on fear.

Fear that basic human rights might be taken away. Fear that alt-right extremists have been emboldened by a president-elect whose rhetoric supports their beliefs. Fear of people being targeted by those same extremists, or by people who would never consider themselves racist or sexist or homophobic, but who have had their own fears stoked by lies, misinformation, and a cultural bias against those who are different.

And this fear is not unfounded. It has happened. It keeps happening. Internment camps during World War II. The fact that more Native Americans are killed by police than any other demographic. Slavery. Segregation. There are people alive who would have seen "Whites" and "Blacks" drinking fountains, swimming pools, seating areas. Who would have witnessed, or experienced, the consequences when those rules were broken.

Now I'm not going to deny that the protests and other outbursts against Trump will leave some damage. And I'm not going to condone kicking and stomping on someone while they lie on the ground, no matter if they voted for Trump or not.

But what I will say, is that there is a difference between violence committed out of hate, and violence committed out of fear or the instinct to protect someone.

So before you judge people based on a 30-second video clip, stop and ask yourself what you're not seeing. What happened before the recording? Was there anything the camera missed? Think about history, and the times we've been here before, and what so many people are afraid will happen.

If you're white, straight, and cisgender, then whether you like it or not, you've benefited all your life from a system built for you. Even more so if you're a man. And that system is now poised, on both sides of the Atlantic, to be turned against anyone who's not like you. And not for the first time.

You have no idea what it's like to live in that kind of fear. By voting for Trump, or any figure who builds their campaign on promises to harm minorities, regardless of the justification, then you've cut a deal. You've traded their safety for the promises made to you. That means it's on you to hold your elected leaders responsible. And it's on you to prove, by your actions and not your words, that you are not a danger to those minorities.

I guess what I'm saying is that, as always, I don't condone people resorting so easily to violence. But this time, I can damn sure understand why they do.

Nov 9, 2016

I Have a Voice, and I Swear to Use It

It's the last straw, isn't it? 2016. A year so twisted and cruel that will go down in history as The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And now Donald J. Trump has been elected president of the United States. It's like a bad joke, or the set-up for some evil alternate timeline.

This year, personally, has been pretty good for me. I've felt reinvigorated and supported in my career by friends and family. I feel strong again. And I'm going to put that to use.

Let's break it down. A president has maybe 6 months in office to carry out their goals before the mid-term elections and the focus turns to holding on to the House, Congress, and the Senate. After that it's all about either re-election or making sure the party has enough support to get the new guy in.

Remember that many Republicans want nothing to do with Trump. They hate what he's done to the party. They can be pressed to oppose his most damaging actions. Deals can be made to shut Trump and his cronies down. Republicans can be convinced they will lose votes for continuing to support him. Democrats can appropriate Republican tactics and support by pushing against federal involvement in state matters where that involvement will take away peoples' rights. The fight isn't over. It's just started.

6 months. 180 days where Trump will be at his most dangerous.

And he's already flipped on his views on Hilary Clinton. Essentially his first act as President Elect was to thank Clinton for her service to the country. This is a far from "lock her up" and "Crooked Hilary." This is not a man of conviction. This is a man who will say and do whatever he wants, so long as it feeds his ego or makes him money, with a track record of breaking promises. He can be pressured. He can be steered away from at least some of the harm he has vowed to inflict.

This is a time for foundation-level work. A time to fight back on a direct level. A time to fight the bigotry and scaremongering that Trump used to win. A time to fight the same lies and prejudice that allowed the Brexit vote to win. A time to fight the greed and white supremacy that leaves unarmed Native Americans standing down a militarised police force, that leaves unarmed black people dead in the street while a cop holds a smoking gun. A time to fight the hatred and ignorance that lets people spread fearmongering lies about trans people trying to get into bathrooms to commit rape, while allowing a rapist to become their leader.

Zero tolerance on sexism. Zero tolerance on racist jokes. Zero tolerance on homophobia and transphobia. I am fortunate enough to not be among the marginlised in this. So I have a responsibility to add my voice to theirs. And this, I swear to do. I will not tolerate any prejudice. I may hurt some feelings from now on, but hurt feelings don't compare to lives being destroyed.

Yesterday I talked about stories. Well the best way I have to frame these events is still to look for the story. I've seen people wonder how to tell their children what's happened. How to explain that someone who is the living antithesis of every moral lesson we have, can become the president of what was supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sometimes the villain wins.

But just for a little while. Because when the villain wins, it just means there are more heroes coming to save the day.

Like I said before: Be a hero, even if it's just for one person. Because every life protected matters.

For my part, I'll be here. If anyone needs someone to talk to, if they're scared or angry. I'll help you in any way I can.

And I will write. I will tell stories where the villain rises, and the hero stands up to fight back. Stories, music, and art are going to become such important weapons now. I will not allow bigotry and hate to go unanswered. I will make my voice heard, and let others' voices be heard, too.

Let's show the world that monsters can be beaten.

Nov 8, 2016

US Presidential Election - A Storyteller's View

Early voting has been going on for a while now, but today's the day the majority of American voters will make their choice. I said on Facebook this morning that I haven't been so attentive to a vote since Ireland voted on equal marriage. And like that vote, I've been vocal about my belief that Donald Trump is the worst possible candidate for the position. My views on Hilary Clinton have shifted over time, from the common "lesser of two evils" opinion, all the way to know believing she is genuinely the most qualified candidate for the last several decades.

Note, I still think she's a typical politician, and I don't generally like politicians. I think she'll do a good job, but she's no Obama. She's no hero.

And that's what I want to talk about here. Not get into a political debate, but to talk about heroes and villains. And why we seek them out, even where they can't be found.

Storytelling is my best trait. It's my calling; the thing I was put on this Earth to do. So I've trained myself to watch how narratives unfold, and I like to think I've become quite good at it.

Human beings crave story. Like music, story is an intrinsic part of human nature. I'm aware of only a single tribe, of only 310-350 members, that tells no stories, and that appears tied to the limits of their language.

So when we have a decision to make, we instinctively look for the story; the hero and the villain.

Conservative voices insist that they want to protect, or resurrect, a certain way of life. But consider that all too often, that goal seems undeniably tied not to providing or protecting something, but denying people something they need. Suffrage. Marriage equality. Civil rights. There are certain issues you can debate and try to figure out the right way to solve, but consider how certain attitudes are depicted in stories.

You see, stories have long served as a way to understand our place in the world, and as tools to guide people towards a better future and a better way to live.

My friend Shevaun Frasier posted about this subject on Facebook.

There is a reason why the alt-right, ultra-conservative viewpoint isn't expressed by today's heroes.

Despite having grown up in the 1920s and 1930s, Captain America doesn't object to black people and white people using the same swimming pool, drinking fountain, or sharing a seat on a bus. Despite being an alien from a highly advanced world, Superman doesn't judge someone for their religion. Nor does Thor, who is literal proof that the notion of a single god is wrong. Batman doesn't judge people because of their gender, or whether they're attracted to people of the same gender. Iron Man doesn't stand idly by while his company's weapons are used to kill innocent people. They give of themselves, sacrificing their wellbeing to protect those who can't protect themselves. They make sure people can live freely.

Because they're the good guys.

And there's a reason why the Red Skull is a supremacist. Why Biff Tannen and his gang use racial slurs and try to commit rape. Why William Stryker abducts children who were born different and locks them up in cages.

Because people like that are the bad guys.

We're not supposed to want to be like them. We're supposed to want to be like the good guys.

It's easy to assume you're rooting for the hero, to get swept up in the frenzy. But perhaps its time to stop hinging such important decisions on the search for a hero who'll solve all your problems for you. Because sometimes there is no hero. But you can bet any time people are scared, or suffering, somewhere there'll be a villain eager to profit from that.

Look at your candidates, your elected officials, your leaders, and listen to the language they use. Ignore what the other side says about them for a moment. Look at their goals. The promises they make. The way they treat people and speak about the people who most need help. Now take their words and apply them to the villain of any story you like. Do they fit? Could you see that character saying those things?

If so, you might just be rooting for the villain.

Oct 11, 2016

Where to Find Me at Octocon 2016

Octocon 2016 is almost here! As many of you will know, Octocon is the highlight of my event calendar. It's an awesome con, where you can meet writers, artists, filmmakers, game designers, and fellow SFF fans in a close, friendly environment. If you've never gone before, I heartily recommend dropping by.

I'm a guest again this year, and I'll be selling copies of my books, alongside a group of amazing authors; Celine Kiernan, C.E. Murphy, and Ruth Francis Long. As well as that, I'm launching Blackened Wings and speaking on several panels. Here's my timetable for the con:

Paul Anthony Shortt Launches Blackened Wings (Lady Raven Book 3)

Friday 19:00 - 20:00, C. Gaiety (Camden Court Hotel)

While the rest of Octocon kicks off, I'll be giving a reading from my latest book, signing copies, and answering any questions readers might have.

Naval & Piratical Traditions in SF&F

Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, E. Wexford (Camden Court Hotel)

Ruth F. Long, Paul Anthony Shortt, Edmond Barrett, Allen Stroud, Fionnuala Murphy (M)

In space, no one can hear you shanty. Do you know your capstan from your yard arm? Why are the traditions of the beautiful briny sea so attractive that we are keeping them alive long after they have left common parlance?

A Future Without The Disabled

Saturday 12:00 - 13:00, C. Gaiety (Camden Court Hotel)

Danielle (M), Paul Anthony Shortt, Carol Connolly, Russell A. Smith, Peadar Ó Guilín

Our panellists discuss future and fantasy worlds in which science or magic is believed by some to make the existence of disabled people "illogical". From the eugenicists to the Star Trek movies, what does it say about us that we can't imagine a future with disabled people?

Grand Theft Culture

Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, C. Gaiety (Camden Court Hotel)

Janet O'Sullivan (M), C.E. Murphy, Paul Anthony Shortt, Lora O'Brien, Leeann Hamilton

Many of the world's biggest trends have started out in marginalised or small communities before finding traction with the mainsteam when those with more power catch on. When these bits of culture take off, mocking and misinterpretation often follow closely. Our panelists discuss being respectful when sharing in each other's culture.

Refusing the Call

Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, A. Tivoli/Yeats (Camden Court Hotel)

Diane Duane, Nigel Quinlan (M), Rachael Kelly, Ashley McCook, Paul Anthony Shortt

What happens when you don’t pull the sword from the stone, take the quest or leave the shire? Fate and destiny are tough to refuse but how true can a story be when people just do what they are told?

Storytelling Through Fight Scenes

Sunday 12:00 - 13:00, C. Gaiety (Camden Court Hotel)

Paul Anthony Shortt, Michael Carroll, Gerry McEvoy (M), C.E. Murphy

Too often, action scenes are dismissed as filler or regarded as low-brow. But there are unique elements to fight scenes in movies, tv, video games, and books, that allow a whole range of ways to tell a story. What can fight scenes do for a story that other scenes can't? What is our primal attraction to violence in fiction?

Space Opera!

Sunday 16:00 - 17:00, E. Wexford (Camden Court Hotel)

Jo Zebedee, Edmond Barrett, Lynn Moran (M), Paul Anthony Shortt

From an insult aimed at "hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarns" to a widely-beloved science fiction subgenre, space operas have been on a heck of a ride. We discuss what makes this genre the staple of SF that it is.

For the full Octocon schedule, check out this awesome web app.

Hope to see you there!

Sep 23, 2016

Blackened Wings Pre-Order

Where have I been?? Who the hell knows. I don't have an excuse for falling out of the habit of blogging, but I've got a new book to publicise, and goodness knows there's plenty of subjects for me to talk about, from social issues to politics to entertainment and some good old critical analysis, so I damn well better get back to work.

Blackened Wings, the third Lady Raven book, comes out on October 18th. And you can pre-order your Kindle copy right now!

Victory comes at a price. Cora Ravenell helps lead the growing rebellion in its efforts to spread dissent and rally more opposition to the Empire. For the first time since her father's death, Cora's life has a purpose. 

But retaliation is inevitable. 

The Empire reveals its latest weapon, shattering the heart of the rebellion's leadership. On the run once more, Cora and her crew set off on a mission to find their only hope; the last surviving master channellers. 

Laden Fell, now engaged to Princess Idella, pursues the White Raven. Surrounded by the horrors of war, he struggles to reconcile his sense of duty with his ever-weakening moral center. 

And all the while, the Emperor waits, eager to steer Cora and Laden closer to their final confrontation. A confrontation which may bring him within reach of the greatest power left in the world.

Aug 8, 2016

Octocon 2016

I am thrilled to announce that I'm returning to Octocon as a guest this year!

Octocon is Ireland's national science fiction and fantasy convention, and my favourite event of the year. It's a packed weekend of panels, with a big party on the Saturday night. The theme of this year's theme is "Rebellion," and the panels are sure to cover a range of awesome topics related to it.

As you can see, this year's guests of honour are Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, and Rhianna Pratchett. That's a heck of a lineup!

On top of this, I'm launching Blackened Wings on the Friday night. If you're coming to the con, do stop by and join in the fun. You can RSVP here.

Jul 25, 2016

Who you gonna call?

I'm gonna talk about Ghostbusters. I've blogged about the franchise before, dedicating a Watch & Learn post to the original, and I made my feelings very clear on the negative reaction to the all-female cast for the new version. I've blogged frequently about the need for women to be the heroes of the story. I've spoken in interviews about how important this movie was going to be.

And then I saw *that* trailer. I won't share it here. It was awful. It made me want to not see the movie at all.

But then I listened to what women were saying after they'd seen the movie. And I got excited.

So this past weekend, my wife and I went to see it. And I felt like a kid again.

Let's get some things out of the way first. The movie had some flaws.

I cringed at the "sassy black woman" cliché, even though Patty, as a whole, is a wonderful character and had my wife's favourite line ("Room full of nightmares..."). This is not a great movie for racial diversity or representation. It's very, very white.

Then there was Bill Murray. Now, most of the original cast got a cameo (including the lovely bust of Harold Ramis at Columbia University, and the surprise appearance of Annie Potts). But Murray got a whole extra scene at the Ghostbusters' HQ. This scene killed the pace and added nothing to the story. It could have (should have) been cut, and literally nothing would have changed for the rest of the movie. Really, it smacked of Murray wanting more screen time, and being granted it because Bill Murray. I've never been a fan of him outside of Ghostbusters, and maybe Scrooged, and this extra scene felt like pure ego-stroking.

So with those issues firmly established, let's look at what's so important about this movie, and why it's so good.

As I watched, I was wary of a trap I've frequently fallen into, whereby I fake enjoying a movie that's actually really bad. I did it with Phantom Menace and Ghostrider. But it turned out that this time, my enjoyment was genuine. So why was I continually checking myself?

It was because I was seeing something I had never seen before.

The dialogue sounded strange. The characters use a lot of techno-jargon. It was all based in actual terminology used for the study of the paranormal, or on jargon from the original. And it was all well-delivered. The reason it sounded strange was because I'd never seen a sci fi action movie where multiple women were playing scientists. I'd never seen women have scientific discussions. How messed up is that?

There was never one mention of body issues or any of the team wanting to look sexy. The team didn't snipe at each other or try to one-up each other. They dressed appropriately for their work. They ate because they were hungry and didn't complain about being on a diet or start comparing their figures. They were there to do scientific research and to help people.

And then, it all went up to 11...

I love fight scenes. I could write for volumes on the meaning and purpose of fight scenes and their role in narrative. This was one of the most stunning and significant fight scenes I have ever witnessed.

No skin-tight or revealing clothing. No moves posed to make the character look sexier. No male character jumping in to save the day.

There is a standard by which most characters are portayed. I like to frame it as "I want to be that" vs "I want to fuck that," with men falling largely into the "I want to be that" category, and women being presented as "I want to fuck that."

In the cinema, I wanted to be Holtzman.

I'm not the only one to feel that this scene was so important, either,

This movie has broken new ground. It was exactly what I'd originally hoped an all-woman Ghostbusters movie would be like. Women, coming together by their own choice, using knowledge and skills only they have, to do good. To save the day, because only they can.

And that's why this movie is so important. That's why it needed to have an all-woman team. I've repeatedly said that diversity, in and of itself, will improve any story. And here is my proof. Imagine this movie with an all-male team, or even mixed gender. Would it have been fun? Sure. But it would not have been so incredibly significant.

The imagery of women saying "this happened to me!" and being disbelieved, torn down on the internet, and expected to happily endure their treatment.

Women faced with men who oppose them, undermine them, insult them, who treat them worse the more they insist on being treated with respect. Men who only allow them to operate untormented for as long as they can go without drawing attention to themselves.

A villain who is the epitome of the reactionary rejected male. Who thinks others have to suffer because he has had a hard time.

And women, standing together to save the world, and each other (power of friendship, yeah!!). Not fretting over boyfriends. Not jealous of one another. Women who got to be heroes wholly, and deservedly, in their own right.

Not only that, but the original Ghostbusters were running a business. They formed the team because they thought catching ghosts would make them rich.

2016's Ghostbusters set out to catch ghosts in order to study them, Their primary goal is research, the pursuit of knowledge. Sorry, boys, but these Ghostbusters are better scientists than the originals!

Can you remember the last major mainstream movie that featured an all-female lead cast?

It was Sex and the City 2, in 2010.

Do you know what challenges those characters faced? A failing libido. Fear that a husband would cheat with someone more attractive. Not getting jewellery as a present. And making it to the airport so they wouldn't have to fly home economy-class.

It's time for that to change.

I used to say that, when it comes to representation in stories, women get to fight each other, and men get to save the world.

This year, women got to save the world. Let's keep that going!

I used to think I wanted my daughters to watch the original Ghostbusters first. But now I'm not so sure. The movie I first saw as a kid was made for me. It taught me things that seven year-old me needed to learn.

My daughters have different things to learn. And this movie is for them. And every other little kid out there.

Light 'em up, ladies

Jul 21, 2016


Today's the day. A little under a month away from my 36th birthday, the IndieGoGo campaign for Blackened Wings has ended, 103% funded. This is enough to pay for my edits and formatting, as well as order the books and tshirts I need for the perks my backers will receive.

I'll be totally honest, when I started this, I wasn't sure I'd reach my goal. That's why I chose the flexible funding option, so I'd at least get something towards the book, in case it didn't reach the minimum goal.

It's interesting looking back at how my books have all been landmarks of certain life milestones.

This IndieGoGo campaign was the first major step in a new positive outlook for me. After life beating me down for a few years, it finally feels like I'm back on my feet. I'm happier, healthier, and excited to bring this new story to the world.

Now, those of you who missed the IndieGoGo, don't worry too much. Lady Raven and Red Skies are available through Amazon, and Blackened Wings will be joining them in October, following its launch at this year's Octocon.

Thank you to all of my backers, this book may not have happened with you!

Time to raise the colours and get ready for Cora Ravenell's next big adventure. Yo ho!

Jul 15, 2016

Health and Fitness

Those of you following me on Twitter and Facebook may have noticed my posts from a mobile app called Zombies, Run! This is part of a set of changes I've been making over the last several weeks to improve my health.

I figure, I'm almost 36. I eat okay - food that's not horribly unhealthy or particularly good for me - and I've mostly walked for about 40 minutes a day, five days a week, as part of my work commute.

But I'm not happy with my body image, and I can't run for more than a few seconds without wheezing at the end. I have a back injury that, as anyone who's hurt their back will know, could flare up at any time. And my tendons are so tight I've managed to strain the ones in my left leg while doing the exercises I needed to ease my back pain.

It's high time I did something more than just reduce my sugar intake and cut out coffee.

I've started exercising. It's a slow build, since I'm very unfit and have to make sure I don't over-work the tendons in my leg or put my back out again. I've majorly changed my diet, replacing my dependence on carbs and sugars with a load more protein.

This isn't about weight loss, so I won't be tracking how many pounds I lose or gain. It's about how I feel in my own skin and how much energy I have. If I'm going to talk and write about what it means to be a warrior and a hero, I have to feel the part.

Wish me luck!

Also, there's less than a week left on the IndieGoGo campaign for Lady Raven Part 3: Blackened Wings. It's fully-funded so I can guarantee that everyone who backs it will receive their perks. Drop over and check out the perk levels. Raise the colours!

Jul 12, 2016

Holding on, and Letting Go

Yesterday was my son’s fifth birthday.

Losing Conor was the single most painful experience my wife and I have been through, and it definitely tested the strength of our relationship.

Every year since Conor was born, we would take his birthday off work and spend the day together, not committing to anything that would put a toll on us. We would pick up a helium-filled balloon from the card shop in Dundrum, and go to the beach in Bray, where we’d talk to Conor and, when we were ready, let the balloon go.

It was a cathartic, but exhausting, process. We’d dread it, a week or two beforehand. Get snappy at each other and at friends. Lose energy. Sleep badly. There is a special kind of discomfort from standing in a shop while the balloon gets filled, the staff naturally assuming you’re off to a kid’s birthday party, smiling as they serve you. The first time I was asked if the balloon was for a boy or a girl, I almost collapsed.

And the beach isn’t exactly a private place for two grieving parents. Your self-consciousness gives way to tears, but it’s yet another weight to bear.

Letting go was the worst; watching the balloon fly away over the sea. It was like saying goodbye to Conor all over again. We’d go home, in silence, spent from crying and holding each other. We’d order takeaway or cook something simple, then watch a movie and try to put ourselves back together for the next day.

Looking back, I think we needed this ritual. Whether due to guilt, or fear, or just wanting something to fill the empty hole where Conor should be. But somewhere along the way, it went from being a way to release the pain and sadness to a way to keep hurting. As If we’d forget Conor if we didn’t do it. It became time to change. To let go of letting Conor go.

This year, we didn’t get a balloon. We will always miss Conor, and want to know what he could have been, but he’s got three little sisters we have to look after, and we’ve got so much ahead of us. So much to be happy for. Conor wouldn’t want us putting ourselves through a painful ritual that had served its purpose. The change in each of us when we made the decision was instant. Weight lifted and we spent the rest of the day feeling more at peace than we have for a long time.

July is always going to be a hard month for us. And Conor’s birthday will always hurt. Only now, we’re letting it hurt a little less.

From now on, we’re holding on. Holding on to all the love and happiness that we have, and all that’s yet to come.