Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Plague of Babies

I just finished reading Collapse by Jared Diamond and The World Without Us by some bloke whose name escapes me. I put down three other books that I was reading at once and plowed through these two. I haven't been so affected by a pair of books in a while.

The initial idea of World Without Us didn't sound interesting to me: it was a cool thought experiment to talk about what would happen to the world if humans totally disappeared. But the book is about a lot more than that; it's a thorough environmental treatise of how we've ****ed the planet and how it might recover.

The most affecting part of World Without Us was about the trash collecting in the North Pacific Gyre, a dead low zone between all the currents circling the coasts of Alaska, Russia, Japan, Hawaii and the western coast of North America. Trash. Trash like crazy. Lots of little plastic bottles and plastic wrap and plastic bags and worst of all, little bits of plastic that have been ground up that little sea creatures are eating that stick in their gut and kill them.

Funny enough, the ending is kind of hopeful—a thought that if people vanished, plastic would end up as just another layer in the Earth’s crust and probably get squished into something else.

Collapse is about various societies, both ancient and modern, that have collapsed and totally stopped working. In almost every circumstance it is because they overestimated how much damage their environment could take. On Easter Island, for example, the island was deforested faster than other Polynesian islands and basically made into desert because the inhabitants didn’t realize how the thin, dry soil wouldn’t regrow trees quickly and how badly it would be affected by erosion. Crops were then affected.

(And they ate people out of lack of food. Common insult during the lean years: “your mother’s flesh sticks between my teeth.” Not kidding.)

Most of these societies were done in by their own prosperity. The Maya collapsed because they started farming the hillsides above the valleys where they were originally farming. The hillsides eroded; the soil washed down into the valley below. The Maya were just too populous; hence the need for higher farms.

Repulsively to us, a lot of societies maintained a better population balance through infanticide and late-term forced abortion, and by that I mean putting hot rocks on a third-trimester pregnant woman's belly. Of course in our world, with birth control a-plenty, there is no reason why people couldn't restrict their baby-making.

Diamond actually lauds a lot of businesses and business conglomerates for practicing an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure. He talks about visiting the Chevron plant in New Guinea in which the environment was more pristine than most of Papua New Guinea's national parks because of the many, many cautions taken around drilling. Diamond has no easy solution but one of his theses is that people can use natural resources without raping the land. Mining companies, for example, have a bad environmental record because there is so little responsibility. I don’t know where the metal in this computer came from, but ChevronBP mines the oil and then sells me the gas. The chain of responsibility for Chevron goes all the way back.

I could go on about these books forever, but I think I will hold off except to say that there really are no easy answers.

Overpopulation is still the big factor. All of which lead to some worrisome reading. What kind of world am I giving Adia? It's clear that my grandparents and parents had no idea what they were doing to the environment. As far as my grandparents were concerned, there was tons of room to dump trash in the south end of Provo, and why would there one day be so many people that they would build shopping centers and houses on what used to be landfills there? It works on such a personal level. We want about three kids. My grandparents had eight kids because there was lots of room. Given the way First Worlders consume resources, our three will be equal to six or eight in the Third World, and probably use more resources than the eight kids my grandparents had.

Thing is, one reason I want kids is because "I've been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding." We live in an urban environment, walk almost everywhere, work mostly from home, compost and recycle. These are options that are available to a lot of people.

One possible solution would be adoption. There are lots of kids in orphanages. Why not legislate against big families (I know that will never work; it's a topic for another day) and encourage people who want big families to adopt instead. Our earth is getting overtaxed because of the American ideal of a house in the suburbs with 3.5 kids and an SUV. We could make a very simple change if we all thought about adoption as an equal or better option to home-baking.

In other news, Adia is sleeping in a big-kid bed and wearing underpants now. On paper, this is good. On not-paper (plastic?) this means that when she has a nightmare we no longer go to her. She crawls into bed with us. And kicks me. All night. Also a point against having kids.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Rejection Dejection Injection Correction

A couple of days ago I called up the PhDs that rejected me to get some feedback on my submissions.


That was a hard conversation to have.

The graduate director for U-Hawaii was very nice and friendly. She read, as gently as she could, what the admissions committee said about my submission: "it lacks complexity."

I politely refrained from pointing out that the admissions committee's mom lacked complexity last night. I smiled and said, "I've written enough and submitted enough that I'm used to rejection. I'll live."

And it's true. I will live, and I'm used to rejection. But I still loathe it.

I've written and sent out more stories in the past year than I have ever in years before. Thus I get more rejections than ever before; about one a week. I'm on track for April with one last week from Realms of Fantasy and one the week before from Writers of the Future.

I hate it. Every rejection guts me for the day. Some markets, like F&SF, only seems to publish from their house rotation of authors, so I don't feel quite as rotten. Others, like the aforementioned Writers of the Future, are all the worse because I have gotten personal encouragement in the past and now find myself staring at a form letter.

The problem is not the rejections themselves. By the ratio of personal rejects to form, I'm getting closer to salesville.

The problem is not that my life sucks and this makes it suck more. I have a job I enjoy, a beautiful and fun wife, and one cool kid, soon to be two. I live in a paradise.

The problem is that I know I'm brilliant.

And I know I'm crap.

I love my own stories. Despite all the evidence as I rewrite, deep within my brain I am convinced that my first drafts put Mark Twain and Toni Morrison to shame.

Yet in another murky part of my brain, I am convinced that my stuff is pretentious, annoying and overblown, and nobody wants to come to my birthday party.

I know this will never go away. When I am outselling Stephen King (that's "when," not "if"), I will still punch the wall in frustration because some random blogger has posted about how my books are crap. My current gregariousness notwithstanding, I was once a shy self-conscious kid who got sick a lot from food allergies. I didn't have a lot of friends, and I wasn't good at basketball, and (fill in the nerdy childhood stereotype here; I had it).

I love telling stories. Unfortunately, I can't detach my storytelling brain from my social brain. Nothing would make me happier at conventions than to go around beaming and saying, "Look! My book comes out from New And Brilliant Press in two weeks!" Every rejection is a nasty poke right in the squishy gray matter of my positive brain, and a part of me says, "If I were published, I know people would finally like me!"

It's stupid.

I doubt that my satisfaction over publication would be any more than it was when my sister Rebecca told me, referring to a currently trunked book, "I stayed up till three finishing it."

But nonetheless, rejection from a magazine feels just like getting turned down from a date.

How about all of you? What does rejection do to your squishy brain matter?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Welcome To The Dawn of a New Era!

This is my new blog. My old blog at was phased out by Blogger in a witch-hunt against FTP blogs. EDIT: Actually, it wasn't, but I want to use this one still as it is more user-friendly. If you want old Spencer posts, you can go there.

If you prefer livejournal, I post the same things over at

It's okay. I wanted to be like everyone else anyway.

So what does "Smurgle, all ye Wattabups" mean? It's actually an ancient call to prayer that has been translated, alternately, as "God is in the washing machine. Let's get him out" and "Give me some cookies."

My kid Adia features prominently in this blog. Last night she had a dream that "Prince wanted to dance with me.'

"But I said 'wait a minute.'"