Thursday, September 06, 2007

Vox Day and Me (Part 12)

When I first contacted this "Vox" character and arranged to send him a copy of Headcrash, I was only hoping for a good quote we could use in the advertising, or maybe a nice little plug in the Pioneer Press. Well, he gave me a quote all right — and it was hilarious, and we could probably use it today, but in 1995, hilarious or not, it was way too profane to use on a book jacket.

Then he settled down a bit, and gave me a quote my publisher could use.
"I read the 346 pages of HEADCRASH from start to finish, without pause except for the two times I fell off the couch because I was laughing so hard. But this isn't one of those idiotic books that reviewers describe as "a madcap romp," because its underlying subtext is too intelligent. HEADCRASH is a must-read for gamers, cyberpunks, and anyone else with a sense of humor and an interest in technology."
Me, I would have been happy at that, but not Vox. He followed this up by going to his editor and selling him (her?) on the idea of scheduling an unheard-of full page for the book review. The next thing I knew, I had this Pioneer Press photographer on the phone, wanting to set up the photo shoot to go with the article! And then this Vox Day himself was on the phone, wanting to get together in person to talk about writing!

As I was later to learn, this was typical Vox. He never does anything halfway. Once he decides to take action, he does so quickly and with overwhelming energy.

And thus it was that nearly twenty years after my Big Adventure first began, and more than fifteen years after I wrote my first professional short story, in the Dunn Brothers coffee shop on the corner of Snelling and Grand, I finally met Vox Day. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So after all of this build up, then, we're back to the original question: what is Vox Day really like?


Sorry, it's a reflex. After Maverick, I got tired of people asking me what Isaac Asimov was really like, so I took to answering, "Short." If they pushed it, I added. "Lecherous. And when he talks, he sounds just like Jackie Mason." Then, if they still kept pushing it, I'd add, "He's a stereotypical New York City intellectual straight out of Central Casting. Intelligent, articulate, erudite; a socialist, an atheist, and a true believer in the virtues of a planned political economy." Then, if they kept pushing it after that, I'd start talking about how science fiction as we know it today is really the product of a small group of 1930s New York City eugenics advocates and Fabian Socialists who called themselves The Futurians, and who wanted to use SF as a vehicle to "actively work for the realization of the scientific world-state"

But usually by this point people have plugged their ears in order to avoid hearing more heresy, so I rarely get this far.

For a while, I considered Vox to be the Isaac Asimov from the anti-matter universe. He's intelligent; erudite; in person perhaps more articulate, but then I met Asimov when he was pushing 70 and slowing down, not in his 20s and just starting up. Vox is a fast study; once he decides he needs to know something, he dives in and comes up to speed with remarkable rapidity. He has a sharp wit and a quick intellect, which often expresses itself in his tendancy to talk too fast, and his voice is higher pitched and more nasal than you at first expect. Like many people with this collection of character traits, though, the corollary of being brighter than average and a quick learner is that once Vox decides he's researched something enough and takes a position, nothing short of high explosives will budge him again.

Politically, economically, and religiously, he is so far opposite from Asimov as to make it amazing that both men could exist on the same planet.

Actually, Vox isn't really as short as Asimov was, either; he's just shorter than I am. I played a lot of basketball in high school and lettered in cross-country, before my athletic career ended in a dramatic downhill skiing accident that made hamburger out of the cartilage in my right knee. I was a distance runner, from the thin and gangly mold. Vox has a sprinter or hurdler's physique. Tight-knit. Muscular. Powerful. A lot of fast-twitch fibers. Probably like a bullet off the blocks.

Probably keels over and starts barfing at the 1-kilometer mark.

He has the sprinter's personality, too. Impatient. Capable of awsome focus and enormous bursts of energy, for short periods. But if in that period something doesn't really seize hold of his interests, or show promise of producing a worthwhile return fairly soon, his interest tapers off on an exponential curve and he turns to other things, because there are so many other things he could be doing.

He is not an easy guy to be friends with. I believe he knows the meaning of the word "relax," but I don't believe I've ever actually seen him do it. He is one of the most intense people I've ever met; one of the most competitive people I've ever met. If I had some control over his life, I would issue one edict: "Switch to decaf."

He has a sense of humor that is even more cynical and sarcastic than mine, which I didn't think was possible, and yet there is a certain sly playfulness lurking underneath. For example: true story. At Vox and Spacebunny's wedding, music was provided by a string quartet. When Spacebunny came down the aisle, they played something very sweet and traditional; Mendelssohn, I think.

When Vox came down the aisle, the quartet broke into Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars, fortissimo. "DUN DUN DUN, DUN DU-DUN, DUN DU-DUN."

I'm not really as close to Vox as some people seem to think. He's not one of my first-tier friends, and I doubt I'm one of his. Age-wise, I'm closer to his father — and yes, in a totally unrelated coincidence, I actually did wind up working for one of his father's companies for a few years in the late 1990s, but that is definitely a different story. (And no, I have no idea where Vox's father is now. Sorry.)

When I look at Vox, then, I have this curiously bifurcated vision. Through the close-up lens, I see him as a kind of almost nearly friend /slash/ business associate, and sometimes business partner. As a writer, I've been known to refer to him as "my young apprentice," which he seems to tolerate.

Through the distance lens, I see him as this fascinating kid with enormous potential, even though he's now 30-something, married, and the father of a bunch of beautiful children. (He'll be the first to admit that they get their looks from their mother.) Ergo I continue to watch him with a mixture of curiosity and surprise, wondering what he'll do next. He has this almost supernatural self-confidence about him, which people frequently mistake for arrogance, but it's either the real deal or else a facade he's been maintaining flawlessly for twelve years. At times I'm right on the brink of accusing him of being excessively cocky; then I realize that I might well have turned out just like him, if just a few breaks in the past 50 years had fallen differently. And lately, I've come to realize that my earlier thoughts of comparisons to the Young Isaac Asimov were so wrong as to be laughable.

I now believe that Vox is the latest reincarnation of George S. Patton.

In the final analysis then, why do I continue to associate with Vox Day, despite repeated warnings that being associated with "that knuckle-dragging right-wing Neanderthal" will destroy my career? (And as if the tales told in the previous installments in this series have not furnished ample proof that I am fully capable of destroying my own career?)

I guess it's because in this business, you meet a lot of posers — which is hardly surprising, once you accept that the working definition of fiction writer is "paid professional liar." The loud-mouth libertarians who turn out to be dependent on the charity of strangers for their basic needs; the socialist utopians who want to micromanage the world but can't budget their own checkbook a week in advance; the war-porn junkies who wouldn't know which end of a gun to hold; the overweight martial arts masters who can't handle a butter knife without hurting themselves. You meet arch-feminists who want to overthrow all of human biology because they weren't in the popular clique in high school; atheists still angry because mom and dad made them go to church; eugenics advocates who are shocked to be called by their true names and yet remain true believers in the scientific perfectability of mankind. You meet a lot of whining puddles of self-pity who are the victims of their own lives, not actively engaged in living them, and most of all you meet a lot of people whose ability to reason is badly impaired because emotionally, they're still stuck in the 1930s, or at best, in that '30s echo that hit in the 1960s.

And then there's Vox Day.

Do I think he's brilliant? No, but then I reserve the word "brilliant" for people like my old high school buddy and college roomate John Bresina, whose A.I. software is currently crawling around Mars inside Spirit and Opportunity.

Do I think he's always right? Hardly. Sometimes I think he's so wrong I want to pound my head against the wall in frustration — but to his credit, he always has a compelling and well-reasoned rationale for why he believes what he does. We just disagree on initial assumptions.

Do I think he's interesting, thought-provoking, and unlike most people in this field, really engaged in envisioning what the future might really be like, and then shaping his life accordingly?

Except when he talks about fantasy football, yes, always. And someday, I might just write a book about him and his family.

I'll publish it under a pseudonym, of course...