Better than a vanity license plate…

Last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review had a story (“Who’s Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy?”) about how people have begun using genetic testing to find out whether they are related to any famous historical figures. For a couple hundred bucks and a cheek swab, a lab will do a profile of your DNA, the results of which can be entered into a genealogical search engine. The Times article mentions an accounting professor in Florida who discovered he is a likely descendant of Genghis Khan, and a man from Hawaii who found out he shares a common ancestor with Marie Antoinette. (Not all genetic searches end happily; it seems there are a slew of Lees living in the deep south who have been crushed to learn that, no, they aren’t related to Robert E.)

You can also do a “deep ancestry” search—if you want to know what part of the world your ur-grandmother was living in 20-40,000 years ago, mitochondrial DNA will tell the tale.

The testing companies mentioned in the article are Relative Genetics, located in Salt Lake City, and the U.K.-based Oxford Ancestors. Of the two, Relative Genetics seems to have a wider range of services (and better prices), but Oxford Ancestors has funnier ad copy: right now they’re offering a Father’s Day special on Y-chromosome analysis.

Bad Monkeys

Shortly before I left for WisCon, I submitted the manuscript for my new novel, Bad Monkeys, to my editor Alison Callahan at HarperCollins. Turns out she liked it enough to give a copy to her boss to read over the Memorial Day weekend. Her boss liked it too, and by the time I got home they’d already made an offer to my agent.

The moral of this story, clearly, is that giving prizes to Geoff Ryman brings good fortune.

I don’t have a publication date yet, but I am hoping that Bad Monkeys will be out sometime next summer. Who knows, we may even have advance reader’s copies to give away at next year’s WisCon.

The “Arcana” controversy

My posting of the Tiptree long list has set off a minor stir in blogland. I assumed that some of the picks would be controversial (wouldn’t be much fun, otherwise), but I was surprised to see that the title drawing most of the attention was Emily Brunson’s “Arcana.” Given that “Arcana” is a work of fanfic in which Harry Potter‘s Severus Snape impregnates CSI‘s Nick Stokes, some of you may be wondering, “How could you not expect that to draw attention?” All I can say is, after you’ve read the child rape, female circumcision, and dragon cunnilingus scenes in Janine Cross’s Touched by Venom, mpreg just seems quaint.

Some of the blog discussions of “Arcana” have generated hundreds of comments, so rather than answer specific objections there, where my remarks might get lost in the noise, I’ve decided to do it here:

OBJECTION #1: It’s a terrible story!

While there’s some excellent fiction on the long list, if your principal interest is top-notch storytelling, you’re starting in the wrong place. Go read Geoff Ryman’s Air. When you’re done with that, check out the short list (I highly recommend Wesley Stace’s Misfortune as reading selection #2).

Fictionwise, the long list is much more of a mixed bag. Not everything on it was picked for its prose, and even where one judge thought a particular LL item was a great read, another judge often disagreed.

OBJECTION #2: It’s fanfic!

This is apparently a huge deal to people, so I wish I could say that the judges at least discussed it, but as far as I can recall, the issue never came up. Nothing in the Tiptree by-laws forbids recognizing fanfic, and even if there were such a rule, in the case of the long list we’d have felt free to ignore it.

OBJECTION #3: It’s terrible fanfic! By putting it on the long list, you create the impression that most fanfic is badly written!

[sound of crickets]

OBJECTION #3, continued: …OK, OK, maybe 90% of everything is crap, but still, if you wanted to give a nod to fanfic, couldn’t you have gone out and found a better example?

One of the reasons I agreed to be a Tiptree judge is because I thought it would be neat to get tons of free books. After slogging my way through the first few tons, my attitude changed.

A downside to the Tiptree Award’s open nomination policy is that it encourages publishing houses to spam the judges’ panel: instead of picking just one or two titles to submit, they’ll grab half a dozen—including some that have nothing to do with gender—and submit them all. Why be selective when the price of entry is a handful of review copies? It’s not as if the judges will ever be in a position to waste the publishers’ time.

So the answer to the question is, much as we might have liked to go searching for more nominees, we were far too busy dealing with the flood of stuff already being sent to us. Please keep this in mind when making recommendations to future Tiptree panels.

OBJECTION #4: Fanfic violates copyright, and copyright violators shouldn’t be recognized by award committees.

There are three separate issues here: a legal issue, a moral issue, and an issue of relevance.

I’m not up on the current legal status of fanfic, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that “Arcana” constitutes copyright infringement, and perhaps trademark infringement as well. Although J.K. Rowling has reportedly given her blessing to Harry Potter fanfic, one of her stipulations is that the fanfic in question not be obscene, and even if Snape impregnating Stokes didn’t cross that line, Ms. Rowling isn’t empowered to speak for the CSI copyright holders. A court of law might find that “Arcana” qualifies as parody or fair use, but realistically, it would never get that far—if Rowling or the CBS network wanted to, they could make “Arcana” disappear with a single cease-and-desist letter. (I hope this doesn’t happen.)

Morally, I judge instances of copyright infringement according to the spirit rather than the letter of the law. The Constitution doesn’t say anything about guaranteeing authors absolute control over their creations; the stated purpose of copyright is “to promote the useful arts” in general. Derivative art is still art, and unless it somehow undercuts the productivity of the original artist (not likely in this case, unless Rowling and the CSI screenwriters decide to read “Arcana” for themselves and suffer crippling aneurysms as a result), I have a hard time regarding it as wicked.

Finally, and most importantly, even a work of art that was clearly illegal and clearly immoral might still be worthy of public notice and discussion—and generating discussion is a big part of what the Tiptree is about.

OBJECTION #5: By drawing attention to “Arcana,” you risk triggering a legal crackdown on fanfic in general.

If putting “Arcana” on the Tiptree long list leads to a general crackdown on fanfic, then a crackdown was inevitable. My guess, given the way copyright law is going these days, is that such a crackdown probably is inevitable in the long run. If this bothers you, don’t complain to the Tiptree judges, complain to Congress.

OBJECTION #6: Emily Brunson didn’t ask to be made the poster child for fanfic.

I don’t know who nominated “Arcana” for the Tiptree Award, but if you’re suggesting that the judges should have asked the author’s permission before putting her work on the long list, please click here.

Tiptree long list

As some of you may know, I was on this year’s James Tiptree, Jr. Award jury. The winner (Geoff Ryman’s novel Air) and the short list were made public over two months ago, but for some reason the long list hasn’t been posted on the official Tiptree website yet. I checked with the powers that be and it’s no longer secret information, so for anyone who’s curious I’ve put it up it on my own site, here.

I’m going to try and post reviews as well before I head off to Wiscon next week.