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NEW YORK, NY, July 20, 2017 — The Authors Guild and Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced today that they collaboratively reached an agreement with a Hungarian science fiction magazine, Galaktika, which for years had been reprinting stories of American and British science fiction writers without their permission. Under the terms of the agreement, Metropolis Media, Galaktika’s publisher, promised to seek permission for any works they use in the future and to compensate the authors whose works were published without permission. Galaktika has agreed to pay each author whose work it infringed fair compensation, with the fee to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. (Please refer to the end of this post for more information about how to contact Galaktika.)
The agreement comes as a result of efforts by the Guild, SFWA, literary agents, and authors to hold Galaktika’s publisher accountable for reproducing copyrighted works in print and online issues of the magazine in violation of the authors’ rights. The organizations became involved last fall after literary agent/lawyer Jonathan Lyons (a member of the Authors Guild) brought it to the Guild’s attention. “After we realized the extent of the problem,” said Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger, “it quickly became clear that a collective response from the author community was needed to fully address the problem. The Authors Guild exists to take action in situations like this.” SFWA had already been working to resolve members’ claims through its Grievance Committee, but realized that a joint effort by both organizations was more likely to yield results for all affected authors.
Pursuant to the agreement, Metropolis provided the Guild and SFWA with a list of all unauthorized stories that appeared in Galaktika’s past issues. It also confirmed its commitment to seek permission before publishing copyrighted works in the future and to remove all infringing works from their online media. Most importantly, the agreement legally obligates Metropolis to offer a reasonable fee for each infringed work, to be agreed in good faith individually with those authors whose works were infringed in Galaktika. The agreement does not settle any author’s particular claims, but sets a benchmark for transparency and gives individual authors leverage in pursuing their claims. Moreover, Metropolis Media will not be released from the claims of infringement that the Authors Guild and SFWA might bring until all of the authors’ individual claims have been settled to the Guild’s and SFWA’s reasonable satisfaction. To that end, SFWA will be publicizing the list of authors and estates that are owed money and contacting them individually when possible.
“Metropolis Media was an open and attentive negotiating partner,” said Rasenberger. “We’re confident that it will address individual claims honestly and in good faith. While ignorance of the law is not an excuse, Metropolis’s willingness to compensate the authors whose rights were violated and to respect authors’ rights going forward is a step in the right direction. The Authors Guild will keep an eye on Metropolis Media to ensure that it abides by the terms of the agreement and fairly treats authors whose works they have used and will use in the future.” SFWA, whose connections in the science fiction and fantasy community run very deep, will also be monitoring Metropolis’s commitment to negotiate in good faith.
Cat Rambo, President of SFWA, added, “In today’s complex publishing world, the writers often get overlooked. SFWA is pleased to be working with the Authors Guild in order to represent the interests of writers and defending their rights.”
Authors (or agents representing authors) whose works have been infringed in Galaktika may contact Dr. Katalin Mund with their claims. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Authors Guild members can also contact the Authors Guild at email@example.com for help negotiating their settlements. SFWA members who believe that Galaktika is not living up to this agreement should contact John E. Johnston III at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS GUILD
The Authors Guild has served as the collective voice of American authors since its beginnings in 1912. Its over 9,000 members include novelists, historians, journalists, and poets—traditionally and independently published—as well as literary agents and representatives of writers’ estates. The Guild is dedicated to creating a community for authors while advocating for them on issues of copyright, fair contracts, free speech, and tax fairness. Please visit www.authorsguild.org.
Chief Operating Officer
The Authors Guild
Phone: (212) 563-5904
ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITERS OF AMERICA
Founded in 1965, SFWA Inc. is a 501(c)3 organization for published authors and industry professionals in the fields of science fiction, fantasy, and related genres. SFWA informs, supports, promotes, defends, and advocates for all writers of the SFF community. Visit www.sfwa.org for more information.
“Everyone,” he says, relighting his cigar, “talks about . . . lessons of history when what they really mean are”—he seems to ponder the cigar a moment—“auditions of history. History always auditioning for one last performance that’s never delivered because it’s always rewritten. To, uh, talk of the “lessons” of history suggests . . . models that can be applied to other instances, when no moment really is enough like another that any model applies, without turning the model into something that’s so much something else as to make it, well, not obsolete, but not all that relevant either.”
The scene is 1968, in a party at Andy Warhol’s Factory. The speaker, moments before he is shot and killed by Valerie Solanas, is a one-time senator and failed presidential candidate called Jack Kennedy. The person he’s speaking to, who doesn’t understand a word he is saying, is Jesse Garon Presley, a would-be jazz critic whose younger twin brother, Elvis Aron, died at birth.
This, as you might gather, is not the history we are familiar with. But then, it is a novel by Steve Erickson, so it was never going to be.
For Erickson, history is forever failing the audition. Or perhaps more specifically, America is failing the audition. Because America was born on a promise it has never fulfilled; it is a myth that can never become reality until it has put right all of the wrongs caused by that failure. The great southern novelist and Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, once quoted a southern senator on the eve of the Civil War who predicted that the effusion of blood occasioned by secession would be mopped up with a single pocket handkerchief. It would be an interesting PhD thesis, Foote mused, to calculate how many pocket handkerchiefs would be needed to mop up all of the blood actually spilled. Steve Erickson, I sometimes think, is engaged in stitching together all of those bloody handkerchiefs to create a map of his country’s history, and its failings.
Shadowbahn is Erickson’s twelfth book; he has previously published ten novels and two supposed non-fictions, journalistic accounts of presidential elections that each engage with such flights of fancy that they merge seamlessly with his fictions. Though all of these are individual works, they echo and intersect with each other in curious and interesting ways. The two realities in Rubicon Beach (1986), America 1 and America 2, for example, become in Amnesiascope (1996) the fires that surround Los Angeles, dividing the city into different time zones. Or there is the way that the blueprint of the twentieth century in Tours of the Black Clock (1989), and a hidden date on the calendar at the heart of The Sea Came in at Midnight (1999), both reveal the soul of those hundred damaged years.
I mention these two particular examples from the myriad intersections that crisscross Erickson’s work only because faint echoes of both recur in this new novel. If it is impossible to speak about any Steve Erickson novel without reference to all of the others, there are still distinctive features in this book. The shift in time is signalled, for instance, on the very first page when a truck driver crossing the Badlands of Dakota on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 happens upon the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Later we learn that the towers will manifest in a similar way in unlikely settings every twenty years, complete and undamaged, a physical representation of the most recent myth of America. But, as ever, it is a myth that damages more than it heals; the twin towers, in their unlikely reappearance as much as in their absence, are a moral and emotional hole torn in the American psyche. The World Trade Center, which also features significantly in Our Ecstatic Days (2005), is a symbol of the fact that America can be no more healed in the 21st century than it could be in the 20th.
Always in Erickson’s novels America is presented as a place of myths, a land of flawed heroes (Robert Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson, for example, feature regularly in his work) whose very flaws prevent the healing that is supposed to resolve all mythic tales. But then, healing is impossible because the mythic landscape of America can never be whole; there is a hole in its very soul that Erickson continually identifies and probes and explores. Sometimes the hole is literal, as in Our Ecstatic Days, in which it threads as a typographical distortion from the beginning of the novel to its very end. More often it manifests as a break in reality, a fracture in the structure of the world, an ulcer in the soft tissue of our perceptions. This break can take many forms, sometimes within the same work: Erickson is nothing if not generous with the profusion of mind games that twist their way through his novels. There is an impossibility, there is an uncanny doubling, there is coincidence piled upon coincidence, there is an irruption of the supernatural (the vivid blue eyes that recur throughout Days Between Stations (1985), the music that emanates from Sheba in These Dreams of You (2012)), or more often a shift into an alternate reality or a future time, something that has featured in such varied novels as Tours of the Black Clock, Arc d’X (1993), The Sea Came in at Midnight, Our Ecstatic Days and now again in Shadowbahn.
We watch in this latest novel as crowds flock in from across America to witness the surprising manifestation of the twin towers; we follow the local sheriff as she is reluctantly sent to investigate the buildings and takes the opportunity to slip away unseen into a new life, leaving everyone to assume that the towers ate her; we listen to the ethereal music that seems to flood out of the towers; yet the World Trade Center is not the subject of this novel, merely its instigation. Through all of this, it is actually the music that the towers emit that gets us closest to the heart of the novel. In recent novels, Erickson has started writing about American culture as though it were also the American soul: movies in Zeroville (2007), but more significantly music in both These Dreams of You and Shadowbahn.
The towers that reappear in the Dakotas are not as empty as they appear. High on the ninety-third floor of one of the towers, Jesse Presley comes to awareness. There, stretched out on an office desk, constantly imagining that he sees out of the corner of his eye a plane coming towards him, Jesse begins to recall the life that, before that moment, he had never actually lived. In this new world that is suddenly imagining itself into existence, there was no Elvis Presley, and Jesse himself cannot sing—and so cannot fill the hole that has now opened in the American cultural soul. In this novel Elvis assumes the mantle of mythic hero previously worn by Thomas Jefferson and Robert Kennedy (who does appear in the book); and yet Elvis, the mythic hero, is forever absent from the text.
Of course, the absence of Elvis has profound cultural implications far beyond America alone. In previous novels, such as Days Between Stations, Tours of the Black Clock and Arc d’X, Erickson has shown the rest of the world being distorted and damaged by America’s moral failure, and we get the same here. In the mid-1960s, Jesse tries to make a career writing for a jazz magazine, for jazz has never been ousted from its cultural dominance by the upstart rock ‘n’ roll. Idiosyncratically, he chooses to write about a little-known and short-lived British quintet, the Silver Beatles, who went against the musical norm (“playing this colored American music”) and failed because Elvis had not paved the way. Following the break-up of the group, James Paul had been assassinated, while Winston O’Boogie (John) had become ever more bitter and disillusioned. Jesse’s article is wild, impassioned, highly personal, and is considered quite mad by the magazine. In Jesse’s writing we see repeated attempts to reach across to the world that was lost by his own birth; but although Winston and Jack Kennedy tell him as much, he is unable to see that he himself is the locus of this disorder in the universe, and so his attempts are inevitably doomed to failure.
Meanwhile, in another strand of the novel, we follow Parker and Zema, who was once known as Sheba, as they drive across country towards the twin towers. Parker and Sheba, the children at the heart of These Dreams of You, are now older, but as close as ever; the country they pass through, on the other hand, is more divided than ever. The novel was presumably written before the election of Donald Trump, but it is written with a startling awareness of the divisions he embodies—although these are, at the same time, divisions that have haunted Erickson’s work throughout his career. Here, for instance, Parker and Zema cross from America 1 to America 2, recalling the sundered nation of that second novel, Rubicon Beach. The divisions are personally dangerous for the siblings, of course, since Parker is white while Zema, adopted from Ethiopia, is black. But racism, while it is the surface symptom of the fatal flaw in the American soul that Erickson has repeatedly described, is only a part of the divisions they encounter.
As they travel, of course, they listen to music, a playlist compiled by their now-dead father, a failed novelist and one-time DJ. The novel includes the playlist, a variety of pop and rock that keeps returning to the blues, and also includes the father’s notes on a number of the tracks, invariably concentrating on relatively little-known blues and soul records. But as Parker and Zema drive, music disappears from the rest of the country, as if the sounds emanating from the revenant twin towers are simultaneously leeching music away from everywhere else.
And remember: for Erickson music is the embodiment of the American soul. Like the World Trade Center, however, Zema also has the strange supernatural ability to exude music, a talent we are already familiar with from These Dreams of You, and so, isolated within their car, Parker and Zema remain largely ignorant of the silence spreading outside. When they stop, nervously, in isolated communities in America 2, the sorts of places that stereotypically exude hostility towards blacks and outsiders, the menace is still very definitely there, but it has transmuted into a desperate hunger for the music that Zema represents.
Like most of Erickson’s work, Shadowbahn plays with structure and format. Most of the novel consists of one-page chapters composed of just two paragraphs each, but there are also chapters set in two columns, there are lists, there are passages set on a narrow measure in the middle of the page, all of which keeps you conscious of the act of reading. But what you are reading is easy and engaging and hypnotic, a wild and inventive ride set to the raucous beat of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a novel of despair, of course, because in everything he writes Erickson’s eye is caught by images that reveal those moral flaws and emotional failures of his country. But the music is still there—this is a novel of shadows, but the title also contains an echo of “Shenandoah,” the old song that recurs like a talisman throughout the book—and where there is music there is soul and hope. America will not, cannot, heal; but there is still hope.
2. Is there a song/group/singer you once adored, but don't now?
3. Is there a song/group/singer you once despised, but is okay now?
4. Have you ever heard a favorite song and suddenly had a reinterpretation its meaning?
5. What song would you just as soon never hear again?
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John Constantine: Oh, yeah? Well, whatever works, eh?
This bit of dialogue, from the ill-fated 2014 TV series Constantine (CW), was the most blunt articulation yet of something that the source material (the original Hellblazer comics) only hinted at: that John Constantine, the comics world's reigning magus, a man who had cheated Satan himself, was, at some level, just another sneaky white dude who had hustled his way to master hyper-local, culture-specific magicks. No matter how many National Front fascists or Neo-Nazi skinheads he brought down, this question of cultural appropriation always hung over the Constantine story. Papa Midnite was a powerful black man in his world, as was Map, the magus of the London Underground. But neither of these characters ever really breaks out of the Diversity 101 template.
This is where John Jennings comes in, with his graphic novel Blue Hand Mojo: Hard Times Road. Jennings’s protagonist and narrator, a black man called Frank “Half-Dead” Johnson, is an Illinois mage or “conjure man” who made a deal with the devil (referred to as “Scratch” here): hoodoo powers in exchange for half of his soul, plus more souls for Scratch to claim. After being marked by Scratch, his blue hand (or “mojo hand”) becomes the source of his magicks—and threatens to consume him entirely, with every new hex it casts.
The setting is Bronzeville, Chicago, in the year 1931. Known as the “Black Metropolis,” this historically significant neighbourhood had one of the greatest concentrations of African-American businesses; and also one of the biggest ghettos in the country. Indeed, at the beginning of the book, Johnson is rather surprised to find a white man waiting for him (“No one that ain’t a Negro […] ends up in the Black Belt unless they need something”). The book opens with a dream sequence, a nightmare where Johnson sees his family hanging from a tree alongside him, staring at him “through accusingly loving eyes.” This is a striking image, made immensely powerful by the context of the painful history of such lynchings in America. Reading the comic in May, and keeping in mind the differences in the contexts in which the two texts are created, I couldn't help but think also of a similar, and similarly powerful, image in the Starz show American Gods, where the black protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is hanged from a tree by the cronies of a white brat (who, incidentally, are dressed up like Alex and his droogs from A Clockwork Orange), the Technical Boy (Bruce Langley). The violence on the page or screen acquires an extra hateful edge because of the real-world racist horrors that it draws upon.
The question of race hovers over the book like a wraith, demanding that the reader face uncomfortable questions throughout. Take the case of Sophie, Johnson's “main squeeze.” The two of them have an arrangement: Sophie makes Johnson's tonic, required drinking for someone who has been marked by Scratch. In return, Johnson allows her to draw his blood (“some powerful mojo shit”) for her “passing potion,” which makes her a blue-eyed blonde by day. The reason? Her employers refuse to hire black people. It's an undeniably tragic solution to the problem—Johnson, notably, refuses to sleep with her while she's white.
Although there are tasty glimpses of Johnson's past everywhere that leave you wanting more, the major storyline here concerns Mac “the Shark,” lieutenant to Al Capone (as Johnson himself was, once upon a time). Mac begs his old comrade for help after his men are being murdered by a monster seemingly made of mud. The monster has the avenging spirit of a young black boy, Red, who was, in turn, murdered by Mac's crew. With time running out for Mac and his men, Johnson has to figure out a way to counter the hex.
The writing style is like a greatest hits compilation of noir fiction: in Johnson's world-weariness, there are shades of Raymond Chandler's hardboiled detectives. In his recurring streaks of downright nastiness—at one point, he is called the devil, prompting the wisecrack “he's much sweeter than I am”—there are echoes of Mickey Spillane. And let’s not forget the accessories: the hat and the trench coat, as well as the undulating cigarette smoke.
It's the artwork and paneling, though, that tie it all together so beautifully. On pages where there is no dialogue (like the first six pages or so), Johnson's narration is kept strictly to the right side of the page, allowing the artwork to take centre stage. With graphic novels, it is vital that the artist's visual style immerses the reader nice and early, and that's exactly what Jennings achieves here.
Jennings's artwork is realistic for the most part, with scratches, scrawls, and shadows drawn, in white and black ink, over the flawless lines underneath. These ink marks give the panels a noticeable dynamism, not unlike Picasso’s experiments with “light art,” wherein the artist drew centaurs and other creatures in the air using white light, leaving the shutters of his camera open in a darkened room. In a book where blackness is such a key theme, it’s natural that the interplay of light and shadow dominates the artwork. Some key panels, like the one where we see Johnson’s deity Noir for the first time, stories-in-flasks sprouting off her like limbs, resemble the silent comics of the 1930s woodcut era (present day for the book’s internal chronology); white lines emerging from a jet black background, as if etched out with a chisel, à la Lynd Ward.
There is a larger point to be made about this style—the ink marks disrupt the “clean” flow of the lines underneath. It's almost as if the artist wants to shake up the sanitized version of these images. Oppressed people all over the world know this battle intimately: the fight to keep their histories free from the sanitizing hands of those in power.
Which is why we need more creators like Jennings, who is a professor of visual studies at UB (University at Buffalo). On his faculty page, he explains what drives him to make the comics that he does:
I began to see that there were a lot of stereotypes in popular serial comics. Even though it’s a hyper-masculine form or genre to begin with, the black male superhero was usually more physical, as far as just showing the body or being depicted as an athlete. You also didn’t see a lot of black male superheroes with telekinesis, or as leaders, or as villainous masterminds for that matter.
It's notable that an iconic character like Black Panther has suffered the ignominy of series cancellation recently, at the hands of Marvel; this despite having a marquee name like Ta-Nehisi Coates as the writer. Some Marvel executives have even whispered that their recent push towards a more diverse comics world has resulted in dipping sales.
To them, I say, hogwash. Read Blue Hand Mojo and weep for what you have allowed popular comics to become.