181 posts categorized "science fiction/fantasy"

February 13, 2010

Check In And Reading Update

Hey all, so I've been neglecting this here blog recently and it's for a reason. That reason is the usual reason: I am bizzy. Just thought it needed to be said.

What I am working on: I'm doing some book publicity for a couple of indy publishers, and I'm teaching two classes. And I just got started working on da nobble again, sort of. And I just got over being sick for seven weeks. Argh.

Anyway.

Continuing my YA binge, I just read:

Tamora Pierce's Melting Stones

Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven

Melting Stones was weird. The book is a standalone from the "Circle of Magic" world and character set, featuring Evvy, Briar's student, and Rosethorn. And it's in first person from Evvy's pov. In the story Evvy and Rosethorn keep referring to a war that the three of them experienced between Street Magic and Will of the Empress (actually, Will of the Empress happens at the same time that Melting Stones does,) and the references are made in the text very much the way a sequel refers to the events in a previous book. But I don't see the book listed anywhere in Pierce's bibliography. Did she write it and decide not to publish it? Was it written in a non-book form? Or was the book maybe outlined but never written? Or maybe Pierce has started getting all sophisticated and is telling stories indirectly now, in this manner?

Otherwise, the book continues Pierce's trajectory into making the mages' magic absolutely unstoppable and disobedient to any laws. Which isn't very interesting. Young mage goes with her teacher to a volcanic island that's about to go volcanic again and diverts the volcano spirits. Yeah.

Dragonhaven is the first McKinley book I've read and it was wonderful. Kid growing up in a national park which is one of the last preserves of dragons in the world discovers a dying dragon who was killed by -- and has killed in turn -- a poacher. The dragon just gave birth and the kid has to raise the baby dragon himself, thereby discovering how to communicate with dragons. The book was awesome and unexpected, with few scenes of typical dragon adventure and derring do. It's more a first-contact type of story, with a bit of hardcore William's Doll thrown in. (Although the boy, who's the first person narrator, calls his parental feelings "maternal" rather than "paternal," which made me tear my hair out.)

One downside, but a pretty big one: the first person narrator is a teenaged boy, although an older teenager, and McKinley has him tell the story in a pretty authentic voice, not knowing where to start a story, and breaking in with interminable parenthetical statements, and doubling back, and taking twice as long to get to the point as he needs to, and not being linear. This is great ... until it isn't. Thing is, a little of this goes a long way, and instead we get a LOT of it, which doesn't go nearly as far. Occasionally, McKinley knows to pack it in and just move forward with the narrative, but then she seems to forget, and starts getting wordy and parenthetical again at high-tension moments and ... by halfway through the book I had figured out which parts to skip and was just plain skipping them. And the experience wasn't any different in the second half than in the first except that it was less frustrating. That can't be good.

Otherwise, a great read, though.

January 29, 2010

Reading Update

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

This one was a bit of a slog. Definitely not one of his best. I kept getting the feeling that I was missing the joke (including the one in the title.) Wasn't sure if that was because my brain is mush from being sick for so long or because Pratchett wasn't getting the jokes across with his usual efficiency.

Anyway.

January 27, 2010

Reading and Interview

Hey all, quick self-promo here:

This Saturday afternoon I'll be doing a reading at the Oakland Library as part of the kickoff for the Oakland Word project, a series of free writing classes at the library. (I'll be one of the instructors.)

Here's the website with info on the program. And here's the event info:

Saturday, January 30, 2010; 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Oakland Public Library (Main) Auditorium
125 14th St
With words and music by:

  • Award-winning novelist DANIEL ALARCÓN, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
  • Poet and writer TENNESSEE REED, author of Spell Albuquerque: Memoir of a "Difficult" Student and multiple poetry collections
  • Our exceptional Oakland Word instructors, LINDA GONZÁLEZ, CLAIRE LIGHT, CARRIE LEILAM LOVE and BISOLA MARIGNAY
  • Beats provided by DJ MAX CHAMP
Also, Bryan Thao Worra just posted an interview he did with me on Asian American Press, which you can read here.

January 10, 2010

Peeved Reading Update with SPOILERS

Things That Drive Me Mad In Fiction, Episode 56,902:

I can't stand it when the stakes are really high, and a character makes a totally obvious rookie mistake, just because the author doesn't want to have to write an extra few pages to get them through it. Like when their enemy serves them food or drink and they hesitate, thinking it might be drugged, and the enemy says, "It's not drugged," and they just take their word for it.

Right now the one that made me put the book down for a while in sheer frustration is in Cinda Williams Chima's The Dragon Heir. The heroine has her younger brother and sister taken hostage by an evil wizard, who wants her to do something for him. He says he's stashed them someplace she'll never find if she kills him. She asks him how she's supposed to know that they're still alive and he says he's keeping them alive for leverage. And she just takes his word for it.

Of course, later they'll turn out to be still alive, because this is that kind of book, but it'll be too late for me because I've already lost my respect for her and for the author. Argh!

I also hate when there's a simple explanation that can prevent all kinds of trouble and misunderstandings and the character doesn't make it. SOOOO unrealistic. Real people spend all their time explaining; they'll shout you down to give you their explanation. We're all excuse-givers. But there's a part in the book where one of the many bad guys is trying to seduce this heroine's family by enticing the brother and sister with horseback riding. The heroine says no, they can't go horseback riding, but for some inexplicable reason, utterly fails to tell her younger siblings that the guy offering them the rides is the same one who has been causing their family serious trouble for over a year now. Instead, she just weakly gives in to their pleading. Why? There's no reason not to just tell them! There's no reason to give in on this one! It makes no sense!

In other bad news, the bad wizard puts a slave collar that only he can take off around the neck of a girl wizard, forcing her to do stuff for him. She goes into a sanctuary area, where he can't use the collar to hurt or kill her, but still does stuff for him! And she, again, utterly fails to tell anybody inside the sanctuary that the reason she's working for the bad wizard is that she has a slave collar on, even though they all know she's working for the bad guys. What the hell? Everyone knows that as long as she stays inside the sanctuary she's safe. So why wouldn't she tell them she has it on? If they help her while she's in the sanctuary, then there's nothing the bad wizard can do. Totally stupid and pointless! Argh!

Also! Everybody in this one family is magical except the mom ... SO THEY DON'T TELL HER ABOUT THE MAGIC! FOR NO REASON! UNTIL THE VERY END!

But the worst thing is that Chima invented a really interesting character in book two, who's interesting because he has strength of character, but not any strength of magic. So in book three he's useless, having no strong magic, and runs around the entire book being annoying because he feels useless. Then! Then! Chima proves to us that he's useless by killing him off! Damn! If your own creator thinks you're useless ...

Okay, wrap up to the trilogy: first book (The Warrior Heir) good, second book (The Wizard Heir) less good but more interesting, third book (The Dragon Heir) too many characters, too little common sense, a hot mess. Overall: a decent fantasy, but a little too cartoony. The bad guys are just bad. They have no real reason for being so. The magical world doesn't intersect at all with the real world in any way, even though they keep saying it does. And pretty much everybody's white. Yak.

January 01, 2010

What I Read in 2009

  1. Knockout Mouse by James Calder
  2. Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta
  3. Nisi Shawl Filter House
  4. Ernest J. Eitel What is Feng Shui?: The Classic Nineteenth-Century Interpretation
  5. Midnight Brunch Marta Acosta (2nd Casa Dracula novel)
  6. Bride of Casa Dracula Marta Acosta (3rd Casa Dracula novel)
  7. About Face James Calder (2nd Bill Damen mystery)
  8. In A Family Way James Calder (3rd Bill Damen mystery)
  9. The Plain Janes Cecil Castelucci and Jim Rugg
  10. Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist
  11. The Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch
  12. Type O Negative by Joel Tan
  13. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  14. Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper series, Bloodhound
  15. The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti
  16. Gifts by Ursula Le Guin
  17. Voices by Ursula Le Guin
  18. Powers by Ursula Le Guin
  19. The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
  20. Distances: A Novella by Vandana Singh
  21. The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
  22. Dilek Güngör Unter Uns
  23. L. Timmel Duchamp's De Secretis Mulierum: A Novella
  24. L. Timmel Duchamp's Alanya to Alanya
  25. Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth
  26. Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens
  27. Epileptic by David B
  28. Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible
  29. China Miéville's The City and the City
  30. the first Buffy comics omnibus
  31. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  32. We3 by Grant Morrison
  33. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
  34. Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede  
  35. the fourth Buffy Season 8 Omnibus.
  36. Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin
  37. Friend's MS
  38. (re)Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin
  39. Girl in the Arena Lise Haines
  40. Liar Justine Larbalestier
  41. Exclusively Chloe J.A. Yang
  42. The Child Garden Geoff Ryman
  43. Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602
  44. Cory Doctorow's Little Brother
  45. His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
  46. Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
  47. Black Powder War Naomi Novik
  48. Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
  49. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  50. Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book Tamora Pierce
  51. Circle of Magic: Tris' Book Tamora Pierce
  52. Circle of Magic: Daja's Book Tamora Pierce
  53. Circle of Magic: Briar's Book Tamora Pierce
  54. Magic Steps Tamora Pierce
  55. Street Magic  Tamora Pierce
  56. Cold Fire  Tamora Pierce
  57. Shatterglass Tamora Pierce
  58. The Will of the Empress Tamora Pierce 
  59. Slumberland Paul Beatty
  60. Flygirl Sherri L. Smith

So this year I've conveniently color-coded these books so I can see myself what I've read:

  • YA books
  • Genre books (any genre)
  • Lit fic or mainstream fic, can have speculative elements, but more likely to be taken seriously by snobs

So. The stats:

  • 60 books total. That's 1.15 books per week or 0.16 books per day.
  • 27 YA (nearly half)
  • 20 authors were women and 20 were men (!)
  • 10 authors of color (out of 40)
  • 45 had speculative elements or were outright speculative fiction
  • 4 were outright mysteries (among other things)
  • 6 graphic novels
  • Only 6 were re-reads (for a change)
  • 24 had been published in the past two years.
  • 1 book in a foreign language

In addition, as usual, there were a number of books I didn't complete. I don't count fiction/narrative that I don't complete, since you haven't really read a narrative until you've read the whole thing. But I do have a strong tendency, since I left college, to never read a book a poetry all the way through unless I'm reviewing it. So I have a couple of poetry books that I've been walzing around and digging through without, probably, having read the whole things. I'll consider whether or not to include those in 2010.

As usual, the books from the beginning of the year feel like I read them decades ago. And even though slightly less than half of my reading was YA, a good three quarters of it was SF, and most of the YA was SF, so I feel a continuum there, and I feel like 3/4 of what I read was YA. Funny that I still feel guilty about that, as if I should be reading "more serious" books. Fuck that. One thing to go on my resolutions list: stop taking YA not seriously.

I went and underlined the books I felt were really good or from which I learned a positive writing lesson (as opposed to books that were so bad that I learned what not to do from them.) Nothing this year really blew me away, but as you can see, I didn't hit pretty much ANY "lit fic" this year AT ALL, not that lit fic would necessarily blow my mind. I don't know. I guess I wasn't going for my mind to be blown. I think I should do that in 2010 as well: look for books that will blow my mind.

December 13, 2009

My Chapbook Is Out! Yay!

Conv-series-26-cover  (Although someone pointed out that, because it's perfect bound, it's not technically a chapbook.)

Yay! My little book, called Slightly Behind and to the Left: Four Stories and Three Drabbles, and is available NOW at Aqueduct Press' website! (Click on the "orders" button and scroll down.)

Right now, for the holidays, the book, usually $12, is $9, so get it now! Also, the book is part of a series called "Conversation Pieces," which you can subscribe to at $80 for 10 consecutive subscriptions (and you can choose which title to start with.) I've read a handful of these titles and they're all worth it, so you might consider a subscription, or make it a gift for the feminist or progressive geek in your life.

OMG, I'm so excited!

November 19, 2009

Reading Update & Resolution

I just read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Yes, I'm far behind. It was published seven years ago. Yes, that's how long it took me to get past my now-entrenched contrarianism. Yes, I'm that bad: if a book is being hyped, then I simply won't read it. It takes something as deeply in-tune with all of my priorities and isshooz as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, to get me around the contrarian thing and actually reading the hyped boox.

And no, I didn't have an epiphany reading The Lovely Bones that caused me to realize that by being contrarian I was missing wonderful boox like this one. The Lovely Bones just wasn't that great. In fact, it's a perfect example of one of those boldfaced lie family melodramas in which everyone is a good guy, and everyone, even though they make mistakes, does it for the most noble and loving of reasons. The book proposes a universe in which there is an organized Heaven (which is problematic for me right there), in which Everything Eventually Is Okay, in which families always love each other, even when they fuck each other up (the serial killer's mother loved him, she was just crazy), in which dead people get a chance to fulfill their whatevers before they move on, in which the people dead people leave behind wait around and don't move on until the dead people are ready for them to, blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, and much was made of how this book, that came out soon after 9/11, touched a nerve in American society. You bet it touched a nerve: it told us exactly the kinds of soothing lies we needed to hear about death: that death is always meaningful, that lives are always meaningful, that trauma can be overcome (even after you're dead) and it's your fault if you don't overcome it, that you will live on after death, and that all of your fantasies about being loved and missed after death will come true, and then some.

Also, the whole literary writing style thing? After about the midpoint of the book, it seems the book wasn't edited that well, because there are whole paragraphs where you can't tell who the subject of the sentences is, or what's going on at all. But, of course, it's all Beautifully Written.

What I DID realize was that contrarianism isn't protecting me from this kind of drivel. Sturgeon's Law applies across the board, unless you're reading only canon classics and prize-winners (and even then.) What I AM missing is a big part of the public discourse on literature. I realize that much of the public discourse on literature is about drivel, and taking drivel seriously. But I do need to know what drivel is being taken seriously and why. So my new resolution is to read the biggest hyped books every year. I'll wait to the end of the year to find out which ones were the biggest hyped, but I'll read them. This includes the "literary" stuff (was The Lovely Bones considered literary?) and the Dan Brown/Stephenie Meyer stuff.

Sigh.

October 31, 2009

NaNoFiMo

I almost missed the beginning of NaNoWriMo, as I do every year, but I caught it in time, thanks to Justine's blog.

I've never succeeded at a NaNoWriMo-type project, but a few years ago, when I tried to write a No in a Mo (not exactly the Mo of November) I did get more than half of it written.

So I'm going to try (again) to use NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to Get Stuff Done. As in, Get My Novel Done. So this year's November is my National Novel Finishing Month, or NaNoFiMo.

Actually, I'm not going to finish finish Da Nobble; that's not even in my plan. I just want to finish the third draft. Once that's done revision should get easier. Here's how it's going to work:

  • Da Nobble is epistolary (written in letters) and is organized by mailbags. Each correspondant contributes one letter to each mailbag, of which there are 15. There are five correspondants, which gives us a grand total of 75 letters. I'm currently in the middle of the fifth mailbag.
  • Of course, some of the letters are short and some are long; some of the letters require hefty rewriting and some do not.
  • I intend to complete planned revisions on 3 letters per day--that is, three letters that require revisions--until I hit the difficult ones. The difficult ones are the ones that don't just need revision, but the actual incident described in the letters needs to be thrown out and rethought. For each one of these, I will simply work three hours per day on them until they're done.
  • I'll check in daily here.
That is all. Wish me luck!

October 26, 2009

Reading Update and Delish Dessert Hack

Girl in the Arena Lise Haines

Liar Justine Larbalestier

Exclusively Chloe J.A. Yang

The Child Garden Geoff Ryman

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is what they were about, and what their lousy characters were like, and how their authors chose to write them and all, and all that book reviewer kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, the authors would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty critical about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially [name redacted]. They're nice and all -- I'm not saying that -- they're just touchy as hell.

(Xtra points if you get the reference.)

And now to the delicious low-cal dessert hack (have I shared this one before?):

Whip together with an electric mixer two parts nonfat plain yogurt with one part Cool Whip or the organic version, Tru Whip. Cut up strawberries into it, or pretty much any fruit (except citrus.) Outstandingly like whipped cream, but a little tangy, and super low-cal/low-carb.

October 25, 2009

Lost in Battlestargate: Voyager

So, I've gotten addicted to the new Stargate: Universe series, and, just as quickly, started losing interest in it.

It steals storytelling and camera styles from the BSG playbook. Don't mind that. But there's no actual characterization involved. The much-touted lesbian Ming Na character didn't actually turn up a single characteristic until episode five. Her personality point? Craven manipulativeness. Ah so, Madame Ming Na!

Also, the black character is an out of control, violent brute who first shows up imprisoned, emphasis on "prison". But With A Heart Of Gold Of Course! And the high-status white girl? A slut. A slut who sleeps with one man while using another (the requisite Seth-Rogan-a-like Mary Sue geek.) The other two white women? A hot blonde whose hair never gets out of place, and tough cookie with huge bazoombas, who is first seen fucking the same guy the high-status slut later fucks. Oh and that guy? He's the honorable, young, white lieutenant we all love. Plus, this universe is full of wives who stay at home and reject their honorable, white husbands, or are too dependent on their honorable white husbands so that they fall apart when they die, or who die themselves, driving their formerly honorable, genius, white husbands mad (potentially.) But what else would a woman do? Unless she's a dyke, of course, or a slut?

Also: the good colonel is a white guy and teh bad colonel is Lou Diamond Phillips.

The good news: an early conversation between the hot blonde and Ming Na puts the Bechdel Save on this series. Unless it's just a setup for them to have hot lezbo secks. The bad news: see above.

Plus, did I mention? No characterization. We have a volatile genius scientist guy who may be manipulating everyone and everything and may have put them all out in space in the first place (Dr. Longhair, I know Gaius Baltar, and you, sir, are no Gaius Baltar.) We have an honorable, white captain leader type. (Sir, I know Captain Picard and you are no Captain Picard.) We have the honorable lieutenant (see above), we have the supposed hottie all the guys are starting to want (the not-so-hot and very annoying Senator's daughter, but high-status!), we have the dykey, cowardly, Asian bureaucrat, we have the scary, violent black soldier, we have the potentially dykey hot blonde medic (Ma'am, I know Izzy Stevens and you are no Izzy Stevens), we have a bunch of ineffectual, white, male geeks (Sirs, I know Joss Whedon, and you are no Joss Whedon. Whedons), and ... uh ... yeah.

Characters? We don't need no stinkin' characters!

Is it sad that this is my best SF of the season?

October 23, 2009

Octavia Butler Panel Podcast

Okay, so I did a piss-poor job of advertising my LitQuake Octavia Butler panel appearance here, so I'm trying to make up for it now.

The Agony Column podcast came to the panel, which was part of the SF in SF series hosted by Terry Bisson, and recorded both the panel discussion, and separate interviews with each of the panelists: awesome black-lesbian-vampire-novelist Jewelle Gomez, awesome Latina-chicklit-vampire-novelist Marta Acosta, and non-vampire-novelisting me (but wouldn't it be cool if I had written Asian vampires and was able to complete a trifecta?)

The reading and panel was a tribute to Octavia Butler and a fundraiser for the Butler Scholarship, which is administered by the Carl Brandon Society (which I'm on the Steering Committee of.)

The podcasts have been posted now and here they is:

Yee haw!

August 27, 2009

Reading Update: Mammothfail Is A World-building Issue

I just read: Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede and the fourth Buffy Season 8 Omnibus.

Naturally, I ordered this Thirteenth Child from BookSwim (netflix for books, not sure I recommend it yet) as soon as Mammothfail broke. I'm not sure I recommend BookSwim yet because it took that long for those books to reach me. So I'm reading this very late, with regard to the brouhaha, and in fact had forgotten that the book was coming at all.

First of all: yes, Wrede is a good writer. The book was a fun and fluent read, with a decent plot, interesting magical rules, and very alive characters. This last is very rare. I've noticed that readers will often credit a flat-charactered book with good characterization if the book itself is good. But a book doesn't have to be character-driven to be good. There are other drivers.

The book is also distinctly feminist in outlook, but also in a very rare way: feminist historical fiction tends to invest its characters with anachronistic attitudes and skills. Thirteenth Child didn't make this mistake. Its female characters, although strongwilled and powerful people, never complained about having to stay home and do the mending while the boys got to go out and play. They expressed frustration over it, but didn't combat it on a theoretical level that would have been inappropriate for the nineteenth century. I really appreciated that. It made the expression of female power so much more interesting.

The one part that is problematic is, of course, in the world-building. Yes, race in SF is a world-building issue. It has to do with how you see your world, not with how your world really is. There are very few places in the US that are actually all white. But there are also very few places in the US where middle class whites can't get away with failing to perceive the actual diversity all around them. We think there are huge all-white pockets of the US because writers portray fictional USes as all white so often, that they must be drawing on some sort of reality. But they're not. They're drawing on their perception of reality, as are all us chickens.

Let me break this down a bit for myself as well. There are three types of white-protag books by white authors in SF: the type that has important characters of color, the type that doesn't have important characters of color, and the type that has no characters of color at all.

The white-protag, white-authored book that has no characters of color in it: we don't need to talk about those, I hope. They are what they are, and I don't read them anymore. Some of them are extremely well written, most not so much. All take place in an alternative world in which white privilege has won, irrevocably. I think they have become immoral to write, as do a lot of other people, but as long as there is a market for them, they will sell. But let me just underline, before we leave this subject: these books have fictional worlds that are utterly unrealistic, in both the sense of fictional mimesis, and in the sense of human truth. US-written SF comes from a country where all-white simply doesn't obtain outside of certain clubs and gated communities. Period.

PoC, especially activists, will tolerate the type that doesn't have important characters of color -- like Harry Potter -- as long as there is a clearly genuine good faith effort to reflect some sort of real-life diversity in the book. There's a lot of discussion, and there can be a lot of disgust over the second-class-citizenship of characters of color in these worlds, but it's clear that the author hasn't completely ignored the actual racial diversity of the situation they are depicting. In fact, there's an honesty to this sort of writing: if you're white in America and middle class or higher, the chances that the main characters in your life are white are enormous. So reflecting diversity in your fictional world -- while your main characters are all white -- is at least honest about not just perception but your own personal reality. (Of course, it's fiction, so you're supposed to not reflect your own personal reality exactly, but I'm making a point here.)

The first type of book, in which some of the more important characters are of color, makes the situation more complex, because -- while these are the books that really start to deconstruct the white-only paradigm of American fiction -- there's the danger of the Magical Negro, and the dark-skinned sidekick, both stereotypes. There's also the danger, when a CoC is focused on so intently, that the CoC will be either whitewashed, or overethnicized. And finally, there's the danger of tokenizing. Because so much authorly energy is spent on a main CoC, there seems to be no color left for the rest of the humanity, and so you have an M&M adrift in a sea of marshmallows.

To reiterate:  while the diverse-world, white-main-characters book has a world-building honesty to it, it still keeps CoCs in second-class citizen mode. Whereas the oC-main-characters book may utterly fail in world-building. That's what's so puzzling.

What's weird about Thirteenth Child is that this book is two of these types: there are two important characters of color, both black; there are no other characters of color in the book at all; and the whole takes place on a continent that has no indigenous characters of color. If you look hard enough, it looks like a Harold and the Purple Crayon-scape: deft and lively figures and scenes, but drawn on a completely blank background. What has been making everyone so crazy about this book is that it is an attempt to write a "morally correct" fiction with important characters of color, but it is placed over a fictional world that has been deliberately and completely whitewashed.

Let's deal with the first one first: the book has major characters of color. These are a female magic teacher and a male itinerant magician and mentor. Both are black, both practice some fusion of "Avropean" (European) and "Aphrikan" magic, and both mentor the white, female, teenaged protagonist in developing her own magic, which maps better to Aphrikan than Avropean styles. Neither encounters any racism in this world ... one in which slavery was abolished three decades earlier, certainly, but one in which there was black slavery.

While both characters presumably have their own goals in life, we don't know what these might be; they are never hinted at. One character has a background, a family, and a place to go when she leaves the school she's teaching our protag at ... but the fact that she'll be leaving that school shortly after our protag graduates sort of underlines the idea that this teacher is there specfically to help her. The characters serve three purposes in this particular story: to teach the white protag a form of magic that whites couldn't teach her, to diversify the population of the story both by being black and by embodying the cultural diversity of magic, and to give the main characters moral stature by being their friends. (Yes, in a world where trolls cite their one black friend to justify racism, social proximity to one black person does serve to heighten your moral standing.)

So yes, these two characters are the very definition of Magical Negroes. Thus ends the analyze-the-two-characters-of-color portion of this review.

When you look away from these two characters, the rest of this world is entirely white. I've mentioned above that that's a danger of white-authored narratives with important CoCs. But it's much deeper than that in Thirteenth Child. Even white-washed frontier narratives like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books had Indians in the background, or at the very least, the threat of Indians. Their presence in the land was minimized, but it was one of the essential givens of this world, one of the essential elements that shaped frontier life and limited migration. Yes, their presence. Because, unlike with African Americans, whose presence in the US wasn't the issue -- it was rather where they got to go, what they got to do, and who got to decide what these were -- the whole issue with Native Americans was their presence. Remember that little word "genocide"? Yeah, that's a presence issue. It's not about where you get to be, it's about if you get to be.

So, there's a little something extra going on here than merely a white middle class author reflecting her privilege of being able to ignore the PoC all around her since her particular neighborhood is mostly white, as are all her friends. No, this is extra-blanking. Even old SF took us to other worlds to give us our white-only. This is an alternate, white-washed US, a re-do, a retcon. Aside from all the moral issues, it's impossible to get with on an imagination basis. Throughout the reading, especially once they left the safe settlement and went out into the wild, my mind couldn't stick the idea that there were simply no Indians out there. It's the Old West! There are Indians! Bad Indians or good Indians depends on whether it's Terence Malick or John Ford making that film. But there are Indians. My mind kept sliding away from the empty-of-humans landscape and putting Indians over the next ridge. Seriously, it's impossible. The only way I could make it work was by blanking out the landscape and blotting out human AND animal threat, both. This was easy since there weren't many descriptions in the book. And it resulted in the Harold-and-the-Purple-Crayoning of the story.

One more thing I want to mention about this and then I'm done: I have to wonder what Wrede was imagining the landscape as when she wrote this. Did she have trouble seeing the Indian-free landscape? Presumably not, but she doesn't fill in what she sees very much or very well. (Usually I appreciate low-density-of-description narratives but there are times when these don't serve their purpose.) This makes me wonder further ... in whitewashed mainstream narratives there usually isn't a lot of description of landscapes and cityscapes in which PoC don't take place either. I imagine this is because white writers, writing for predominantly white readers, only have to sketch in the consensus perception of an all-white reality with a few gestures. So the barely gestured, non-Indianed US frontier of Thirteenth Child: did Wrede subconsciously assume that the rest of her predominantly white audience could see an unpopulated American West just as easily as she could?

And my last question about that is: could they?

August 21, 2009

Geek Post: Why Voyager Rocked

Over at Tempest's blog, she asks why people really disliked Captains Sisko and Janeway. (If you don't know why this is a loaded question, don't bother reading this post, because it means you don't know shiz about Star Trek.)

I started to respond in a comment, but then it got really long, so I thought I'd just take it over here.

Voyager was a groundbreaking show. The first half of the show's run was shaky, but once 7 of 9 stepped in, the show became truly groundbreaking. In the 7 of 9 era, the characters and roles were slightly reshuffled, until the ship was led by a triumvirate of strong women. In fact, the ship, and the show, were led by the three archetypes of crone, mother, and virgin (that's Janeway, Torres, and 7 of 9 to you.) It took a little while for these roles to shake out, but watching them develop was thrilling. And watching how Voyager took these three archetypes and thoroughly subverted them, was even more thrilling.

Janeway started out as a shaky and boring character for one simple reason: we have archetypes of male leaders of all ages, but we don't have valid archetypes of early-middle-aged female good leaders. Think about it: there are the bad mommies (Medea) and evil witches galore (Circe, wic witch of west), there are the insane women-of-a-certain-age (neither good nor bad), and there are the various monsters (harpies, sirens, Medusa, oh my!), and there are the magical wimmins, like sphinxes and such, who help heroes to something, but exact a price. There are no heroines, no protagonist archetypes, who are early-middle-aged women.

And let's face it: Star Trek's bread and butter has always been Western archetypes.

So Janeway got off to a shaky start, since she had no archetype to embody. After a great deal of silly romantic trouble, and a genuinely touching reckoning with her relationship with Chakotay, she finally settled into her role as, not the captain of the ship, but the mother of all mankind. Yes, it took them about three seasons to realize that, out in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager was a microcosm of all humankind and Janeway was the crone queen. They picked up on this when they opposed her to the Borg queen and discovered that they were equals. The good mommy of diversity, and the bad mommy of assimilation.

What was brilliant about the way they wrote her character was that they then used her position of power to question the way leaders in hierarchies make decisions. She didn't always make the right one, but, while always acknowledging that, the show didn't look down on her for it. Her wisdom was always greater than everyone else's, but her wisdom wasn't always right. They used the Borg queen and 7 of 9 to underline this lesson, comparing the hierarchy that may be necessary among diverse individuals, with the consensus that is possible among the thoroughly assimilated. Hierarchy and diversity were not always shown to be the best choice.

Torres started out as the fiery hottie, the amazon, which is why her character didn't work so well: it's hard to have a fiery hottie who's also a brilliant leader. Amazons are forces of nature, tamed by the love of a hero stronger than themselves. By "taming" her fieriness a bit with marriage and a child, they slotted her into the archetype of mother. However, the man she married wasn't the hero stronger than herself, but the reformed weasel. So she got to remain a leader. This ended up being the perfect platform to talk about a young woman growing into a position of leadership. It subverted, whether intentionally or un-, both the archetypes of mother and of amazon.

And Seven subverted the virgin archetype thoroughly. Raped (in the sense of being abducted) and thoroughly physically violated at the age of 6, Seven as an adult retains a childlike innocence, coupled with some seriously dangerous hardware. And by hardware, I don't mean the kind of asskicking karate-hardware that is the substance of millenial male fantasies from Buffy to whatever happened in the action film genre yesterday. By hardware I mean smarts: brain enhancements, databases, skills, abilities. She also has a fading sense of certainty about herself and her place in the universe that is the legacy of her Borg upbringing. This Borg confidence is depicted as one of the good leftovers of her background; the show doesn't assume that everything she learned as a Borg is bad or wrong except her military capabilities, as a more salacious show would do. And there's some very sophisticated discussion of her Borg spirituality (yes, they have some) and her Borg worldview.

This bumps into the fact that Voyager dealt with multiraciality and transnationality in a much more sophisticated way than all the previous (and subsequent) Treks. Although Torres is largely treated as a tragic mulatta, and her two species viewed reductively, note that her human half is Latina, itself a multiracial identity. Although the two episodes in the series that deal directly with her multiraciality are stupid (there's an early episode where she splits into her Klingon and human halves, and her Klingon half can't think, while her human half can't fight -- not offensive at all!; and a much later one in which she's pregnant and goes crazy trying to make sure her daughter doesn't end up with Klingon brow ridges), the rest of the show, when not focusing on what they think she should be doing with her multiraciality, deals with it rather delicately: showing how she extracts strength and trouble, questions and confirms herself, both, through her cultural uses and memories of her parents.

Seven, on the other hand, is a transracial adoptee, a third culture kid, and a multiracial (since she carries marks of both races on her face and body.) Like I said above, Voyager, unlike TNG, doesn't assume that a Borg separated from the collective is better off. We see Seven having a lot of trouble adjusting, and learn slowly that part of her successful adjustment is owing to the confidence and centeredness she found as a Borg. In one episode, she says that her memories and experience as a child and as a Borg remain with the collective, and it comforts her to know that she will be immortal in that way. Nobody else on board has that kind of certainty of an afterlife. The show's treatment of Seven is an example of true diversity: Janeway sometimes finds Seven's ideas and decisions abhorrent, but she tolerates them and learns to live with them.

I find it strange that people are so hostile to Seven. She was brought in to replace the ingenue character of Kes, who never quite worked out. Kes was both the virgin/ingenue, and the sexual/romantic partner of an old-looking and seeming character (Neelix.) That never worked out, for obvious reasons. And when they started giving her superpowers, it wasn't believable -- or desirable -- because she'd spent the previous three years being annoyingly perky and powerless. Seven was very carefully thought out to replace her: Seven was a virgin/ingenue, but with built-in strength and power. She was the opposite of perky, and was clearly on a coming-of-age trajectory. When Seven got with Chakotay, it was clearly the next phase in her evolution: she wasn't going to be expected to get it on and remain virginal, like Kes was.

I truly think that people who think Voyager was a bad show either didn't watch the second half of the run (most likely) or haven't yet become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership positions. Even the somewhat groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica, which started out with women in leadership positions in civilian and spiritual life, couldn't quite bring itself to depict a good woman military leader. That's pretty radical.

Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women. Chakotay is a strong character in more than one sense: he takes his own path, he's a military leader and also a leader in personality, and he straddles the military and rebel worlds without breaking apart or going crazy. Chakotay, halfway through the show, in the episode in which he and Janeway confront their romantic feelings for each other, lays it out: he's accepted the role of helpmeet, of the man who enables the woman leader. It's completely awesome. Later, he becomes Seven's lover, and it's clear that he's an older teacher-type lover, a kind of Kris Kristofferson to Seven's Barbara Streisand.

Tom Paris is a stereotype, not an archetype: he's an immature wild-boy, who's the best pilot in the whatever, but is traumatized by the consequences of his own cowardice and immaturity. He eventually grows up enough to atone for his past wrongdoings and Become A Man, but he doesn't have the personality of a leader. Instead he falls in love with Torres, who is a leader, and takes on the implicit role of a woman leader's partner. And then there's Tuvok, who has a wife and kid at home, and is smarter, older, more controlled, and better educated than everyone else on board. And he makes himself Janeway's instrument because he recognizes the power of her leadership, and because he believes that it's the right thing to do.

(And one more thing: the Doctor plays the vain, fussy, diva character. The male Doctor. Think people might have a problem with that?)

The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it. In fact, no one ever mentions the male characters on the show at all, not to love or to vilify them. I think it's the absence, the lack of male leadership that causes people to clock Voyager as "boring," or "silly." I used to watch queer films and think they were boring, until I read somewhere that this is a privileged response: most of the films I watch show heteronormative sexuality, which is more interesting to me in the titillating sense, so I don't have to have any interest in other types of sexuality. But (cue violin music) once I got with the program and stopping making every narrative have to be about ME, I found a whole world of narratives out there about people nothing like me with concerns nothing like mine that were not just interesting, but amazing. Including queer narratives. (Here's one among many, by the way, and you can watch it free on the web.)

Which is all by way of saying that Voyager was definitely uneven. And I don't hold it against people for misjudging the show based on the first few seasons. But ultimately, Voyager was one of the groundbreaking shows of the ages, and definitely the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series.

So there.

August 18, 2009

Long-ass Reading Update

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
We3 by Grant Morrison
Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

It's been a book-devoury kind of 72 hours. I read The Magicians in a day, and Sacred Scars in two. Haven't done that in a while. Maybe I was just hungry for it.

The Magicians is about an older teen -- getting ready for college, who is obsessed with Fillory, a Narnia-like fantasy world explicated in a series of children's books. He discovers that there IS actually magic in the world, and is recruited into a college for magicians. Upon graduating, he finds himself in exactly the same lost state that all college graduates find themselves in (which my college best friend called the Wounded Chicken Phase) and then

HERE BE SPOILERS (FOR THE REST OF THE POST, ACTUALLY.)

discovers that Fillory actually exists.

The book's a good read, a page-turner, but there are two serious problems with it. The first is that Grossman can't seem to decide if the book is a parody, a tribute, or metafiction, and sadly runs with all three. The story doesn't have much to do with the Narnia series: its rather a cross between The Neverending Story and The Secret History with a little Harry Potter thrown in. That's the tribute. In fact, you can see an example of really successful tribute in the sorting into houses segment, where there's no sorting hat, but rather students are divided according to the direction their magical gifts take. The house common rooms aren't the site of butterbeer drinking and flirting so much as serious boozing and sex. The nod to Harry Potter and The Secret History are visible, but the similarities are not one-to-one, and are abandoned entirely in favor of pursuing the good story.

So the Narnia-like elements in the second half of the book are pretty much parody: talking animals that are boring, an evil witch who isn't really all that scary, Aslan replaced by two sheep (rams, but still,) and an Edmund Pevensie-a-like who turns truly evil. And the book is waaaay too knowing about all of this, without ever actually stepping outside of itself to get real with us. So we have to deal with the snarkiness of a metafiction, without ever being invited into the deconstruction along with the author.

There are some shifts between the world of the book and our world which aren't oiled, and are therefore awkward. For example, some of the characters make direct Tolkien/LOTR references. Of course, Tolkien and Narnia author C.S. Lewis were friends and colleagues, and part of the same fantasy geek squad. So having a world with Tolkien in it, but not Lewis (but which DOES have a C.S. Lewis-esque, or perhaps Lewis-Carroll-esque, author in it who is degraded by being depicted as a pedophile) is a shift that needs to be smoothed somehow ... and isn't. Unlike in Galaxy Quest, where the TV show starts out as a parody of Star Trek and then takes on a life of its own, Fillory does the reverse: starts out as a sort of tribute-world with the potential to have its own life, and then turns into an increasingly flat parody.

The second problem is that he gives in to a horrible compulsion to tie up every single little thread. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this ruins the book. The wonderful tension in the first half of the book comes from the play between the mundane world, in which the protag is a geeky loser who doesn't get the girl (who feels sorry for him but is also creeped out by him,) and the world of magic, which is kept free of unpleasant weather, and in which the protag is the good-looking lover and top student he always dreamed he would be. But the mundane always creeps into the fantasy: learning magic is hard work and very boring; possessing magic doesn't save you from purposelessness; you can kill someone with a stupid prank just as easily with as without magic.

The creeping realism is really effective in the first half, but in the second, as the truly excessive number of pistols hung over the mantelpiece get fired -- one by one by one by one ... -- the realism creeps right the fuck back out of the narrative, and we're left with neither a serious fantasy, nor an interesting experiment in juxtaposing realities, but rather a smirking parody. If only a couple of the major threads hadn't tied up quite so neatly, the book would have been great, rather than just good.

To wit: Julia, the girl who won't date him in the mundane world, turns up, desperate and begging to be let into the world of magic. He tells on her and lets her swirl off back into the magicless world, certain that her memory has been wiped. It would have been fantastic if he had just left it like that. Because that's what happens in real life. We don't always find out what happens to the former loves of our lives, who step down off their pedestals and then disappear. (That's what google is for, frankly.) But no, Julia has to turn back up at the very very end, having mastered magic in her own way and now prepared to be part of a new superhero team of magicians. Yak.

Also, the incredibly scary monster from another dimension that turns up in the first half (the analogue to A Wizard of Earthsea's death shadow,) ends up being the Edmund-Pevensie-a-like, stopping back in from Fillory to wreak havoc and seed a revenge-motive. Waaaaaaaay too neat. Yak. It would have been so much better if the scary monster had just remained a random scary monster from another dimension. It would have made the danger and vastness of the practice of magic so much more present. Tying this thread up only flattened what was starting to be a very complex world.

The worst one, however, was the ending, where a new superhero league of magicians seems to be forming. WTF? The ending should not have been neat at all, but should have ended in a ragged tear. He's returning to reality, after all.

Okay enough bitching. I'm giving the impression that it's a terrible book. It's not, it's quite good. But it's not great, and it's not going to rise above the level of the other twenty or so good reads I'll have this year. And it could have done.

We3 is very short and sad. Weaponized doggies and kitties and bunnies. Weepy. I hear they're making a movie. Visuals a little hard to read during the action scenes. Hope the movie is more legible.

Sacred Scars is fantastic, in both senses. It picks up right where Skin Hunger left off, and pulled the same nasty trick that Skin Hunger did, in that it didn't really have an ending, but just sort of stopped. There's a third book in the works, and if it's as good as the first two, I'll be thrilled. I'm not as mad as I was at the end of Skin Hunger, because this time I was expecting the book to just end without resolving anything.

I've never seen a writer with so much patience, building up the game, or war, or whatever it is that's playing out in Sacred Scars. The books, in alternating, short chapters, tell the story of a boy and girl, centuries apart, who both have a role in bringing back and shaping magic in their secondary world. The girl, Sadima, who has a magical gift, runs away from home to be with her magician love Franklin, who is the servant of Somiss, a sociopathic royal family member trying to bring magic back to the world. Sadima soon discovers how evil and crazy Somiss is, and ends up trapped in a cave with him and Franklin, and a group of caged street children Somiss is experimenting on.

The boy, Hahp, is an aristocrat's second son, whom his parents send to -- yes -- a school for wizards run by Somiss and Franklin centuries later (how? We only start getting a clue to this in the second book: a longevity spell.) The school is a rat-maze for sociopaths: the ten boys admitted are told that only graduates survive the schooling, and only one of them will graduate, and are forbidden to speak to or help each other. How they negotiate their schooling is detailed excruciatingly (for them, that is), and is starting to be revealed to be an elaborate game, or wargame, between two factions of their teachers.

SPOILAGE ONCE AGAIN, IN THE FORM OF SPECULATION

Okay, I just want it down for the record what I think is going on: I think the comment Hahp makes that he thinks that Somiss is being punished is part of the truth. Somehow, Sadima gets her memory back and finds her notes and learns to practice magic within the confines of the Eridean group. She discovers, as Erides did, that magic can't be controlled, and founds the school herself to ensure that all graduating (that is, surviving) wizards do so because they have shared magic and resources with others. She punishes the original wizards by forcing them to teach in this school.

Yeah, okay, it could go a bunch of different ways, but that's my current speculation. Wow, a good reading weekend!

August 11, 2009

Editorial Work Is HARD, Asshole!

Argh!

I wasn't gonna mix into this discussion (in fact, I've said pretty much all I thought I wanted to say before) but dude. Come on.

We're back to the stupid argument about whether editors just take what's coming in through the transom vs. what writers whom they've invited to submit have sent them vs. what they've read before. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Are those the only options? WHEN DID EDITORS BECOME SO FUCKING PASSIVE?

Okay, look, I come into fandom via "literary" fiction, not the other way around. And yes, a lot of lit fic editors are lazy fuckers, too. But the basic expectation over there is that you get work by:

  1. calling for submissions
  2. keeping up with your peers so that you know what other editors are publishing. This is so you know what's current in the field, but also so you know what's being overplayed, so that you DON'T publish that.
  3. research into new authors, works, and trends. That's what this post is about, so keep reading.
  4. inviting interesting writers to submit. You know who's interesting by keeping up with the field and doing your research.
  5. maintaining relationships with agents and writers and asking them to find or create specific types of work. This is more proactive than #4, which passively asks specific people to submit what they've already written or to submit what they want to write for your collection. #5 is about actively shaping what people write; and it gives you the opportunity to give writers new opportunities, and to push promising writers in new directions, if you are so inclined. This is a tactic used for books primarily, but can be used for themed anthologies as well (and is so used, frequently.)

What boggles my mind is not that SF readers are ignorant of the editorial process, but that the implication that has been coming out of this argument is that SF editors DON'T GO THROUGH ALL THOSE STEPS. Somebody please tell me I'm wrong about that!

Because "resting on the laurels of what you've already read" is not one of the above steps, and is not part of the editorial process. People who are experts in a field are chosen to, or permitted to, create anthologies because they have a strong background in the field that allows them to understand the new stuff that they're seeing, and NOT because they've already read everything they need to read to create an anthology. Anthologizing is hard work not because you have to read so much slush (get an intern to weed that shit out) but because of all that other work you have to do. And if you're not doing it, you're doing a piss-poor job.

So, to get down to the nitty gritty, as someone in Tempest's comments asked to do, how do you -- not "become a good editor" but -- change the way you do business so that your editing becomes more than an exercise in futility? Here are some steps:

  1. Go out an read diverse stuff. This is not hard. There is google. Go to google and look up "African American fiction anthology," "Asian American fiction anthology," "New Women Writers," "LGBT Fiction" etc. Check these books out of the library. Read them. Then pick the two or three writers whose stories you liked the most AND WHOSE STORIES YOU HATED THE MOST, and read a book each by them. Look them up on wikipedia and find out who their influences and mentors were and read a book each by them. Etc.
  2. Go to Wiscon, Diversicon, Gaylaxicon, whatever, and talk to people who don't look or talk like you. Ask them what they're reading and what they think you should be reading (the answer to these two questions will usually be different.) Take notes. Then GO READ some of what they told you to read.
  3. Send your calls for submissions out to all the people of color you know and ask them to forward it. Follow up with them a week later and ask them where they sent/posted it. Sign up for those lists/groups and follow up on those lists/groups a week later with a personal invitation from the editor to EVERYONE ON THE LIST to submit work. Also go here and send calls for subs to these folks and follow up. ALWAYS FOLLOW UP!
  4. If you are a real editor, then you live in a real city with real readings. Go to them. Ask around for the POC/LGBT/Women's/whatever readings and attend them. They will be mostly boring or painful. That's how it is. You have to dig for gold. Keep going. Every time you go, talk to two people you don't know, especially if they look like they're in charge or if they know a lot of people. Ask them to recommend other readings in the city you should see. Carry cards and call for subs fliers with you. EVERY SINGLE TIME you see writer you think is remotely good, hand them a flier. In fact, hand them to writers you don't think are that good either, and ask them to pass it around. Do this in every city you go to.
  5. Keep doing this. This is not a remedial course that will eventually finish, after which, you will now be diversified. This now how you do your job. Keep doing your job.

Yeah, sounds impossible doesn't it? Right? Right? I mean, who has time to do all that learning about writers and keeping up with writers when you have so much ... editing to do?

And before you ask, YES I HAVE DONE IT, not as an editor, but as a multidisciplinary arts curator. I did it for four years, spent four years going out almost every night to shows, talking to total strangers and asking them to send me stuff, designing and printing calls for submissions and handing them out everywhere, etc. etc. Yeah, it's a full-time job. That's why they call it "a full-time job".

As far as editing an anthology goes, I haven't done that, but it's akin to (but a lot more serious and long-term than) the work I put into creating a reading binder for a writing class. Class reading binders are about book-length, like a short anthology, and need to demonstrate a variety of writing techniques clearly. They also need to tell a variety of types of stories so the students have models of the types of stories they can tell, so that they aren't limited by the narrow scope of their current imagination (my writing assignments tend to focus on both content and form.) And, as a writer of color who generally teaches writing in the context of community antiracist organizations, I make it a point to make my binders diverse in terms of who is writing the stories, their point of view, and their content.

So, how do I do all of this? Dude. I read. A lot.

I ask my list-servs (I've been on a few writers' and readers' list-servs) and I ask friends that I know are readers and experts. And then I go online and look up reading lists, and go to Amazon and look up anthologies and then get them out of the library.  And read them. And mark them up with those bookmark post-its, so that I have stacks of books around the house that look like they're wounded and bleeding (because if a book was wounded, wouldn't it bleed pink paper?) These are books with subtitles like "An anthology of fiction about 9/11" and "New African fiction," and "Poetry About War."

And, here's the thing: I START OUT with, not a quota system, but a food groups scheme: this meal has to have meat, veg, fruit, grain, dairy. And it has to fit into another of my diversity categories: one of the formal ones, and one of the content ones. So I can't just grab at random one story each by an Arab, African, Asian, Latino, and Native American about their families. One of these stories has to be science fiction, and one has to be about war, and one has to have a sex scene in it, and one has to be a coming-of-age. One of these stories has to be in first, one in second, and one in third person. One has to be minimalist, and one has to contain a lot of lists, and one has to be written in lush, lyrical prose. Etc.

Yes, I start out there, with the categories, but I don't end there. Because the most important thing I talk about with my writing students is LIFE, or that mysterious something in a story that makes the whole piece of writing come alive for the reader. So, just any contemporary fiction by any Arab or Latino won't do. It has to get under my collar, whisper to me, pop, or just make me uncomfortable. It has to be alive. I'm fine if it's going to make the students angry, as long as it makes them feel something.

I made a spec fic reader for high school students once that included Jaime Hernandez' first few pages of his Locas series, and a story by Ursula Le Guin. I chose both of these because they were both from genre-changing writers, and because I thought the pieces were cool. The Locas piece baffled them: comic books weren't about Latina punk rock chicks arguing about their waitressing jobs and then becoming rocketship mechanics! WTF? And the Le Guin story, "Darkrose and Diamond," pissed them off. It was a sort of YA-ish coming-of-age story about a kid who had magic but chose to pursue his gift for music instead. His choice angered them incredibly because they were led to believe this was a story about the acquisition of a superpower, and instead the protag chose to ignore the standard reader wish-fulfillment.

These discussions, about stories that I thought they would love, became incredibly rich discussions about reader expectations, and the rewards and dangers of subverting them. The kids actually learned more than I intended to teach them. And at the end of the class, those two stories were the ones they remembered the best.

If I hadn't made a point of making that SF reader diverse, if I had just gone by the white, male classics, I might not have thought to include Jaime Hernandez, or even Ursula Le Guin. The point here is that when you go for diversity -- by setting up food groups or quotas, by going for work that has challenged you or others in the past, by taking a chance with something slightly outside the mainstream -- you often get more even than you thought you were getting. You often get a challenge you didn't realize was there, a subversion that hadn't occurred to you, a lesson you didn't know needed to be made.

Yeah, it's a shitload of work. And this is just the reader for a class. It's not an anthology for the ages. It's not going into libraries and personal collections. It makes no claim to definitiveness. Imagine how much reading you would have to do for that.

But that's the job, Asshole. And if you're not willing to do that much work, then don't make anthologies. THAT'S why people are so pissed off at Mammoth Mike Ashley, not because he's a white male, but because he didn't do his job, and the rest of us marginalized folks are gonna suffer, as usual, for it.

August 08, 2009

Reading Update

I think I've lost track of my reading.

Um.

I read China Miéville's The City and the City. Cool idea, but it ended up being a bit of an anticlimactic, nearly straight-genre mystery. I think the book's core was his story "Reports of Certain Events in London" stretched out to book length. "Reports" is a terrific short story about a Pickwickian society of people who study feral streets, i.e. streets that don't tamely remain in a particular place but wander around.

Of course, The City has a completely different premise and purpose, but has a similar feel or feel of intention: to mess with the structure of cities using a surprising novum. And to introduce a mystery that can only happen within that particular situation. And I think this ... idea? structure? purpose? ... was better served in the short story than in the novel.

But still a good read.

Also re-read Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible and it really holds up. Well structured and thought out. Insightful. Fun to read. Some minor glitches with the representation of the female protag, but altogether a good job.

And I think I'm missing something. Arg.

July 12, 2009

Personal Mapping

The thing about Leonardo is that he can't draw a map to save his life. So if he asks you, in that hopeful puppy dog way of his with the big eyes looking so cute (he really only looks cute the first couple times and then after that it gets annoying), "Should I draw you a map?" you should say, "No thanks, I got it."

He drew me a map once and all I was trying to do was get to his mother's house to pick up an armoire, but I ended up parking in a viewing pull-off on the edge of a cliff (it was very pretty, I'll give him that) and then walking through a forest and being accosted by large canines which I suspect weren't dogs (okay, there was only one, but it was pretty big), and then trying to find my way through one of those hedge labyrinths (even though the map said that I had to go through the labyrinth, but it was pretty clear when I got there that I could've just gone around it; it was only about fifty feet wide and seventy feet deep) and I got so lost in it that I spent the entire afternoon there and by the time I got out the other side I had to go back because I had run out of time (I went around it on the way back, by the way.) I never did find his mom's house and, even though I had paypalled the money over beforehand, never got the armoire. It wouldn't have done any good if I had anyway, since I wouldn't have been able to pull the car up to the house.

So after that I would have nothing to do with his maps and told him so and even then one day he tried to draw me a map of how to get from the café we were sitting in to the Scottish Rite Temple, which is easy, you just go to the lake and walk around the lake until you're there -- you can see it from almost anywhere on the lake. But he had to go messing with it. I walked away while he was drawing -- to make my point -- so he hurriedly finished and crumpled it up and threw the map after me.

I heard the wad of paper go "patsch" on the concrete behind me. Then, after a pause, I started to hear crackly scrabbling sounds that were so weird that I turned around and the stupid map had gotten up on its four corners and was scrabbling after me. It was creepy. So I just decided to ignore it and go on my way, but every time I made a turn that it didn't want me to make, it would start making this weird screechy sound and if I turned around it would be up on its hind-corners waving its front corners in the direction it wanted me to go and screeching. It was totally wrong, by the way. It was always pointing either directly away from the lake or perpendicular to the direction you needed to go to get to the lake. I never followed its directions but it kept following me and screeching anyway. It was embarrassing.

So finally, when we got to the lake, I turned to the map and patted my leg and it came running up. To tell you the truth, it was kind of cute, in a creepy, fuck-off-and-leave-me-alone kind of way. So when it got to me I hesitated, but only for a second, and then grabbed it and tore it into tiny pieces and fed it to the flock of Canada geese (with the one, big, grey domestic goose with the orange beak and claws) that suddenly materialized. The map didn't struggle or make a sound. The problem was that the geese were really aggressive and, the moment they saw that I was scattering map parts, they ignored the crumbs and came directly at me. So I flung the bits of the map into the air and ran for it.

And, of course, I ended up running away from the lake and it took forever for me to get to the Scottish Rite Temple since every path to the lake seemed to be manned by aggressively hungry geese. By the time I got there, the dance was over.

And those aren't the only things that have happened with me and Leonardo's maps. What I'm saying is, no matter what you have to do -- even if you have to threaten him with a knife or something -- don't let Leonardo draw you a map. Seriously. Art and orientation don't mix.

July 06, 2009

Iz Finish

Phase One of Draft Three Iz Finish.

That was the easy part: editing a printout of the MS, and noting the places where I need to rewrite. Now comes Phase Two, otherwise known as THE HARD PART, i.e. actually rewriting.

Onward!

July 05, 2009

Updatingss

Okay, so I've finished Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, which is an extremely mediocre book. Waaaay overrated. Both Pratchett and Gaiman are much better on their own. Also finished Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is the melancholy, literary, zombie YA nov. It's good, only ... somehow Ryan manages to flub the writing of the key moments and scenes. Like, where a scene turns, somehow the transitions tend to falter, so I don't know the scene has turned and have to go back a couple of paragraphs to figure out what the new situation is again. Argh.

Also, been stuck for a week about a dozen pages from the end of da nobble. Next time I get to it I'll finish it, and then Phase One of Draft Two will be done. I also might have found a novel writing group. Yay! More good news forthcoming in upcoming weeks.

June 30, 2009

ID This Book!

Hey guys,

My sister was given a book as a young teen by a friend, which I read, and I just now remembered. Can anyone tell me the title/author?

It involved a beautiful, dark-haired princess or chieftain's daughter, who was a spoiled brat and had an affair with some dude and got pregnant. He bailed and she shamed her family with her bastard son. The son had red hair, which was a sign of magic, and punishable by death. I can't remember what happened next, but they both ended up as slaves under the protection of some other chieftain and she had to dye the son's hair dark to hide his magic. She ended up becoming the chief's concubine. Meanwhile, there's another slave there (male, of course) who also has magic and he starts teaching the boy.

Don't remember most of the plot, but at some point it comes out that she herself is the one who passed magic on to her son (not the dude who bailed on her) and, if she would only learn it, she could become a powerful magician herself. Or something.

Any clues?

Did a little work on da nobble over the weekend and got through quite a bit today. I only have the last two or three chapters to go now, and these'll go fast. I've noticed, actually, that the beginning third and the end third don't need a lot of work (just minor edits), but the middle third is a mess and I'm going to have to go back in after this pass and rewrite a whole bunch of stuff. Argh. But good. I'm progressing.

June 27, 2009

Reading Update and Check In

Argh! My writing time yesterday was hijacked by a FIVE HOUR MEETING that wasn't supposed to start for another two hours when I arrived at the cafe. ARgh.

I did finish reading Timmi's Alanya to Alanya two nights ago, and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next installment. Awesome (that is a comment, not a review. No-review rule holds.)

June 16, 2009

Breakin' Up Iz Hard 2 Do, Part II

So what I wanted to do -- about a month ago now, in the weeks leading up to WisCon, when I was considering "breaking up" with the antiracist blogosphere as a result of RaceFail and MammothFail -- was write a series of posts about how antiracist action online actually works, and why I have problems with it.

But a number of things intervened.

*****First, right before WisCon, Al Robles, an elder in my Bay Area Asian American activist community, died suddenly. His family organized a memorial event and I was asked to help, so I took over volunteer coordination for the six-hour event. The event took place at the venue where we had staged the Asian American arts festival I ran for its first few years; being there as a coordinator reminded me of that work and of the atmosphere of common purpose and mutual help that can arise out of creating a "real world" racial community. It also reminded me that I had a real world community in the first place, that I had been neglecting, partly in favor of my online stuff.

Also, being at Manong Al's memorial really made me think a lot about Al. The sort of elder whose memorial event draws thousands of people, requires ten tables to hold all the food, and has trouble restricting the stories, poems, and testimonials to six hours, is a very particular person. Al was a leader, not in that he put himself and his agenda first, nor in that he had great managerial skills he used to organize people. Al was a leader by example. He was everywhere he needed to be to get the work done. He was physically there; he put his hand on your arm when he saw you. He knew everyone in the community because he talked to them, partied with them, and remembered them whenever he saw them next. He never lost his interest in individuals, never lost his excitement about the new (and old) things people were doing, never failed to connect the creative life (he was a poet) with the activist life, and the activist life with the good life.

The consideration that makes my eyes well up, both in love for Al and in shame for my own failures, is the memory of Al as someone who always gave respect, gave face, to everyone, from the most snot-nosed, fist-pumping teenager, to the oldest, out-of-commission elder.  He made you want to earn the respect that he gave you unconditionally. He loved whatever it was that you did. Thousands of people turned out to say goodbye to him because people like that are so rare.

It makes me really think about who is going to take over for Al. Less than two years ago we lost another elder, Manong Bill Sorro, who had a similar role in the community as Al Robles, had a similar way with people, although the two were very different. As I said, these people are rare. Manong Al and Manong Bill were my touchstones in the community and now that they're both gone, I'm all out of touchstones. They were it for their generation. Who will be it for my generation?

I'm not that kind of person, but I can try to be more of that kind of person. I don't have to be the Manong Al or Manong Bill of my generation, but I think we can split up those duties a little more evenly, especially if we believe in community and continuation. But to do that, I have to get off the fucking internet and get my butt down to where the community is.

***** Second, I went to WisCon. Given the atmosphere surrounding RaceFail and then MammothFail, I was expecting WisCon to be emotionally fraught, stress-filled, and conflict-ridden. Instead, what I found was that there were more POC there than ever before, and that the POC there were organizing, coming together, and also connecting outside the POC community with a confidence and interest and even joy that I hadn't seen at WisCon before.

I realized that the online fights that had stressed me out so much, make my stomach tie up in knots and feel like all was sick with the world, had energized a lot of other folks. I was forcibly reminded of how I felt eleven years ago, when I first joined battle -- in a very limited and constrained way -- with folks online on the multiracial list-serv and the Asian American writers list-serv I joined. It was energizing; it did make me want to do stuff. And, because I was in San Francisco, I just went right out and did stuff: joined orgs, started programs, etc. It was a wonderful cycle of discussion and action: I discussed ideas online, and then took those ideas out into the real world and acted on them.

Of course, the energizing aspect of the arguments and sometimes fights had a limited efficacy. They were only energizing as long as they were still new to me, and still had something to teach me about that particular way of viewing the issues. Once I had been through the cycle of argument once or twice (and had experienced intelligent, articulate opponents who just plain didn't listen to you) the argument stopped energizing me and started to stress me out. Eventually, I had to quit the two list-servs, and I didn't miss them much when I had. That was mainly because the people I "knew" on the list-servs were just usernames. I was also spending time with folks in meatspace and many of those folks are still my friends; I'm not still friends with a single person I interacted intensely with online at that time, even the people I met in person and tried to work with there. But what I got out of those discussions didn't go away. The results -- the ideas and ability to articulate arguments -- stayed with me.

***** Third, I went back to Berlin, where I spent much of my twenties, and saw a lot of my friends, ten and fifteen years later. I saw that my friends had taken one of three tracks: folks who hadn't quite gotten started on a career and were still struggling to figure out where to go and what to do; folks who had started a career, then started a family and were now negotiating the limitation on their career that a young family imposes; and folks who were well into a creative career, some simply moving forward and others wondering if they wanted to stay on this track or make an adjustment.

I'm with the last group. I've spent the last decade plowing ahead full steam in ethnic-specific arts and culture, and I've accomplished much that I'm proud of. But I've definitely reached a point where I'm trying to make an adjustment in my direction, and that's a difficult thing to do. While in Berlin, I got a rare perspective on where I am in life, by seeing my peers dealing with being in that same place. And I think I can take this adjustment more quietly -- be less manic and bewildered about it -- and focus in. I think that's the key: letting some options go, and focusing in on what's most important to me.

*

I came back to online antiracism a few years ago with my interest in speculative fiction, and with working with POC SF communities that I had connected with through Clarion West and WisCon. And the community here is wonderful, and vibrant, and full of energy and purpose. I've learned a lot from reading blogs, and getting into discussions ... and even from some of the less pleasant fights I've gotten into. Some things I've learned couldn't have been gotten at another way.

But there are also problems with it ... and it was my intention to tease out those problems in a series of posts, as I said above. But after Al's memorial, and after WisCon, and after my visit back to the site of my young adulthood, I think I'm realizing that I don't need to do that right now. What I'm feeling is particular to me and my situation. Maybe down the road I'll have some perspectives that will be useful to someone else, but I don't think I do right now.

I've been upset and angry at an argument that I've heard too many times before that doesn't have the power to inspire me anymore, but that doesn't mean that this discussion isn't inspiring anyone else to new and great things. I think I'm probably best off shutting up and getting out of the way.

*

One thing I do want to clarify: when I said in an earlier post that the best thing that came out of RaceFail was the smart posts published early in the incident, a few outraged people pointed to Verb Noire (which has just announced its first publication, which makes me want to pee with excitement) as a direct result of RaceFail. I was surprised by that perception. Having been involved in so many start-ups (APAture, Hyphen, the San Francisco Hapa Issues Forum chapter, the now-defunct Digital Horizon afterschool program) and seen so many from a peripheral viewpoint, it's second nature to me to assume that any start-up or initiative has its roots in longstanding dreams and long planning processes ... that then come together around a particular opportunity.

Yes, I believe that RaceFail brought on a convergence of a number of things that led to Verb Noire being launched right then, but I don't believe that without RaceFail there would have been no Verb Noire. (Please tell me if I'm completely wrong here; I have no telepathic connection to the publishers, and no idea what specifically got them going.) Furthermore, I'd be worried if I really thought that RaceFail was the only or main impulse to starting Verb Noire. Last straw, yes; main thrust, no. It's a terrific project, coming at the right time, but it's larger than just RaceFail. The language and direction of the project already seems larger -- seems to fill up a space that has to do with more than just a failure of the general SF community to understand cultural difference and appropriation.

Basically, until it was pointed out to me, I didn't connect Verb Noire directly with RaceFail. RaceFail to me is just an incident: an incident that got drawn out way too long and produced some good writing, some bad writing, and a lot of bad feeling ... but still just an incident. Verb Noire is ... an organization, a long-term program, an institution of new perspective in the making. The two are bound up together, certainly: all good organizations, programs, institutions have their roots in unacceptable circumstances, or ongoing failures, and series of incidents that demonstrate these circumstances and failures.

But the two are distinct. One is discussion; the other, activism. For me, there does come a time when the discussion that inspires activism starts to get in the way of activism, and I have to opt out of direct discussion for a while.

*

I don't know what this means for me on a practical level. I have an online presence that takes some work to maintain and that brings me a lot of pleasure, aside from other things. But it also, I have to admit, sucks too much time away from my writing and my working in my community. I might have to cut back on being present online for a while, but I'm not sure how or how much. I'm not making any quick decisions.

I have no conclusions yet, no declarations to make. I think I'm going to be reading less from blogs, and participating less in any sort of online discussions in this area for a while. But at this point, I'm just thinking out loud.

June 06, 2009

Reading Update

Two days ago read Timmi's De Secretis Mulierum: A Novella. Now reading a German book, which I'm too lazy to get out of my purse right now to remind myself of the title. Yeah.

June 02, 2009

Reading Update

Still in Berlin. Still on vacation. Still not ready to grapple with topics undertaken.

Just finished Distances: A Novella by Vandana Singh, which I picked up at Wiscon. Almost finished The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor, but had to give it to my niece. Will have to buy another one to finish it when I get back. ;)

Distances interesting and rather lovely here and there. Feels like rather standard SF, but there's nothing wrong with that. I like the experiment with describing the art of mathematics. Not always successful, but fun to watch.

Now reading other Aqueduct Press offerings. We now return to our regularly scheduled vacation.

May 16, 2009

Outrage, Pullback, Punishment: The Structure of One Common Antiracist Post

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

So, to kick off my out-loud consideration of if and how to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere ...

I'm going to start with organizing some observations about how racism is talked about on the POC antiracist blogs I've been reading for the past six years and laying out the basic structure of one type of typical antiracist post.

First, most POC A/R blogs rarely take the bull by the horns, that is to say, they rarely take the initiative in introducing topics of discussion and setting the terms for the discussion. Instead, most POC A/R blogs are reactive, that is, they keep watch on what is happening in the world and especially in the media, and respond to incidents or discussions initiated by people out in the world, or by the media.

The way this works is what I call "Outrage, Pullback, Punishment" (and yes, it is a plus that it compresses to "OPP"). How it works is as follows:

Outrage: something racist happens in the world. A blogger or group of bloggers pick up on it. They note it in their blogs and express outrage at it. The item gets passed on from blog to blog.

Pullback: of the bloggers who post on this topic, less than half will express anything other than outrage. But a subset of these bloggers will spend a little time pulling back from the outrage to contextualize this incident of racism and explain why it's a problem. They will go into the history of these types of incidents, they'll go into academic theories of X, they'll give talking points on why this sort of thing is bad for people of color, bad for justice, and bad for the world in general.

Punishment: of the bloggers who pull back and contextualize, an even smaller subset will propose or initiate action. This action is dual: it proposes advocacy of a particular view, action (usually apology and some sort of remediation), and threatens punishment if this action isn't taken up immediately. I call this step "punishment" because punishment is advocated at two places: often the remedial action is punishment of the original offender (as in asking a radio station to fire a racist DJ), and the action threatened if this remedy isn't taken up is usually a punishment as well (official complaint up the chain of command, formal boycott, or bad publicity, and the hanging of the "racist" label on the totality of the offenders.) The action is then picked up by the other bloggers and passed around.

Lest anyone think I'm trying to hurl accusations from a glass house, I'll give an example from my own oeuvre. (I'm actually critiquing all of POC antiracist blogging, including my own, which is part of the whole and speaks the same language.) The recent example is the Avatar casting controversy:

You'll notice here that the structure not only makes the information easy to understand and assimilate, but it also makes the basic conveyance of the information easy to adapt to each blog. Each new blogger who picks the story up simply gives a spin to the same blog post and passes it on.

This structure of communication has been effective in the past for specific purposes. The best example would be the Jena 6 controversy in 2007 where a group of black teenagers were unfairly prosecuted for an assault on a white teenager that was provoked by a series of racist incidents. Originally ignored by the mainstream media, outrage in the POC blogosphere contributed heavily to the story being picked up nationally. Additionally, the "punishment" phase of this story advocated action that was less punitive and more justice-oriented, and resulted in large demonstrations in Jena and all over the country, that have succeeded in bringing about a more just resolution for many of the defendants than would have happened otherwise. Here's a post from the Angry Black Woman which demonstrates OPP and links to other posts you can check out as well.

An earlier example was the Abercrombie and Fitch controversy (2002/2004), which involved first a series of t-shirts with racist images of Asians on them, then a lawsuit (later settled) that alleged that A&F gave visible jobs to white employees and restricted POC to the stock rooms. The online campaign against the t-shirts -- organized with a speed that surprised even participants -- led to real-world protest outside the stores, which in turn caused the company to withdraw the shirt and issue an apology. The t-shirt protest was actually organized via email, list-servs, and discussion boards, more than via blogs. But if you look at the discussion boards link, you'll see one of the origins of OPP structure. The continuing online scrutiny of A&F's racial attitude helped keep pressure on them that contributed to the favorable settlement of the lawsuit.

As has been rightly said since the Jena 6 protests, online social networking has created a world in which effective protest can be organized quickly and nationally to address even local injustices. OPP is a great launching point for these kinds of effective protests: OPP informs and arouses a sense of outrage very quickly, and creates a sort of information tree or hierarchy which people can follow back to a source of organization if they wish to get involved. People are no longer dependent on being reached by recruiters, they can recruit themselves to act. And POC communities, if they know how to leverage the hinges of the Tipping Point, can control to a great extent the spread of their mobilization effort.

This structure of communication also makes it easy for the mainstream media to pick up on POC responses to national incidents. Reporters don't have to dig through a lot of discussion and process its implications to know what POC bloggers are thinking. They just aggregate the most popular bloggers and do a keyword search for the controversy du jour, and bingo, insta-quote. So in this way, POC can come closer to the mainstream media.

All this is great. But.

The negative result of this is that POC A/R blogs tend to accept, without thought or discussion, that the white-dominated media and mainstream culture gets to initiate action and discussion, and the POC A/R online media's role is merely to respond to this discourse, and not to control it or be a partner in shaping it.

This is fine when an injustice happens -- as in Jena -- and must be addressed quickly. These sorts of things happen all the time, so having a structure in place to deal with these things -- to remedy actual injustices as they happen -- is important. But it does not move the discourse on race forward. It unconsciously takes for granted that POC have no initiative in the world. In the call and response of the mainstream media discourse, POC have only a response, not a call. And as we all know, whoever calls, rules.

I say _________, you say "racist"

Mr. Patel!
Racist!
Airbender!
Racist!

If you look back on any effective movement of the 20th century (suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam) their communication structure all had these things in common:

  1. A clear, articulated overall goal towards which all participants were willing to work for years.
  2. A set, but evolving discourse and vocabulary, which the movement controlled.
  3. Media: alternative media organs (papers and magazines) dedicated to promoting this message and discourse; and, over time, allies in the mainstream media dedicated to promoting this message and discourse.
  4. The necessity of responding deliberately and thoughtfully, owing to the lack of instantaneous communications technology. Because everything written was printed and had to be edited and proofread, everything broadcast had to be accepted by media corporations and could be heavily controlled, the message and discourse were very polished, thoughtful, respectful, and carefully tailored to appeal to listeners who may have held a differing opinion.

If you think about it, OPP simply cannot exist in a movement in which the above conditions obtain. Chaos and Freedom are the twin faces of the same internet beast. The viral responsiveness and speed of protests like Jena 6 and A&F owes to the Freedom face. The lack of a goal, a message, a discourse, and deliberate or thoughtful response owes to the Chaos face. Although there's more than one argument to be made here, I would contend that the POC Antiracist blogosphere is not a movement, it is merely a community.

As such, it can facilitate the creation of temporary movements (like the Jena 6 protest movement), but it cannot change, or even affect, the national discourse on race. All it can do is respond to it.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about initiatives that do shape, or attempt to shape, national discourse on race, and how these work together with online OPP.

May 15, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How To Handle Antiracist POC Communities

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

WisCon starts in a week, and, as a result of RaceFail and the more recent resurgence of controversy around race, I've been thinking a lot about the issue of how antiracist action is handled on the internet. I'm going to spend the next week on a series of posts about my thoughts on this topic. I need to clear my head and -- not knowing what to expect from WisCon this year -- prepare my thoughts for whatever comes.

(One quick caveat here: I despaired years ago of getting through to ignorant, privileged whites on the internet through argument, and haven't engaged in that sort of argument for a long time: because it kills me, and because it doesn't seem to do much good. The only thing that works, in my experience, is providing copious resources that someone, who wants to seek and understand, can find and use in his/her own way, so that they can choose to prepare themselves to join a discourse, rather than argue their way into knowledge.

So if I seem to be only criticizing the antiracist POC side here, it's because I am. No amount of tantrums, unprofessionalism, and bad behavior from the privileged side surprises me anymore, and I find it pointless to even criticize it. At the latest, after last year's Rachel-Moss-WisConFail, and the conscious delight privileged white males (and females) took in baiting feminists, people of color, differently abled, and transgendered people, I have refused to engage with such perspectives, which I consider a continuum. I only now engage with "our" responses to such perspectives, or more accurately, with a broader-based strategy to combat ignorance and prejudice in our media and in our society. Doubtless RaceFail blame falls much more heavily on the side of baiters and privileged idiots. But they can't bait those who won't be baited. They can't enrage those who won't be enraged.)

Back in February, around the time I thought that RaceFail was going to die down, I started writing a series of posts on this topic. But RaceFail didn't die down then, nor for another couple of months. The residue of a contentious and conflict-soaked election campaign, and of a devastating economic collapse, the impact of which we'll be unraveling for years, was like jetfuel to the usual flame. Whereas internet blowups usually only last a couple of weeks -- a flash flood -- the almost palpable panic and fear and weariness cracked open the levees we'd been ignoring for so long, and our little corner of the blogosphere was overwhelmed. What started as an initially salutary repeat of a discussion that had never quite been put to rest, soon turned into a community eating itself.

Not coincidentally, February was the time the Carl Brandon Society's Heritage Month book advocacy campaign kicked off. We'd chosen one recommended reading list in January -- immediately before RaceFail had started -- and were trying to put together a second list in February as the tone of the discussion got ugly. The difference was dramatic. In January our members were joyfully and actively participating, just like last year. By mid-February, our list-serv had fallen silent: everyone was too busy at work or in their lives to participate. For the first time since I joined the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee, our members actually ignored direct requests for participation. And I have to say: I don't blame them one little bit.

Heartsick and anxiety-ridden over the tone the public discourse began to take on, I bowed out of the discussion and abandoned the posts I had started. I did save them, though, and, although I'm even more heart-sick and anxiety-ridden now, I have to talk this out, if only with myself. Essentially, I have to decide, in the next couple of weeks, if I'm going to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere.

This is not the first time I've had to make such a decision. In the year 2000, I had to "break up" with the discussion list-servs I was on in 1998/99, that helped me learn and understand so much about my own identity and community, and that helped me formulate my own thinking about race and organizing and why these are important. Without those list-servs and those discussions, I could not have become an effective community organizer, teacher, and advocate. I would not have been able to articulate to myself or anyone else why building a community voice is essential to racial justice.

But the discussions on those list-servs stayed in one place and cycled around that place over and over again, like a ferris wheel. Staying in that discourse after I had completed a few cycles was not merely annoying, it actually militated against progressive action. It made me anxious and sick to my stomach, it made me angry, and -- whereas initially it had brought me closer to my fellow community members -- it began to drive a wedge between us, emphasizing small differences in opinion, and sucking energy and air away from broader-based action.

I thought I would miss it too much. I said I'd "take a break" for three months and then see if I could go back and take part in a more rational manner. What happened instead was that, within a few weeks, I had nearly forgotten about the list-servs, and had discovered a pocket of free hours that I could now dedicate to more real-world action.

But those were purely discussion list-servs; not only were they not intended for action, but calls for action and event announcements weren't allowed on those lists. Breaking up with the antracist POC blogosphere is a much more complex proposition, because it exists not just for discussion, but also for discourse, not just for expression of outrage, but also for action and organizing. And there are people in this community who are so geographically far away, I can't access them any other way.

So this consideration is not just a "in or out" proposition. Being on the CBS Steering Committee requires me to use online organizing and keep up with what's going on in the communities. Writing for Hyphen blog requires me to participate in POC bloggery. I'm not quitting these organizations, so the question is: how to tailor my participation in online POC antiracist action so as to curtail the negative influence of discussion loops, while keeping me in the loop?

This is what I'll be considering over the next few posts. I probably won't respond to comments until I'm through, since this is a longer thought process than usual, and I don't want to break it off or argue until I've gotten through it. Be advised that anything that smacks to me of attack (in comments) may well be deleted. (That's another tactic I'm going to be considering.)

May 12, 2009

White House Geekery

Obama_computer

I am so in love with deadbrowalking's Wild Unicorn Herd Check-in. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, read this first. As a response to one of Lois McMaster Bujold's more clueless statements -- that PoC didn't exist before the internet, essentially -- deadbrowalking called for PoC nerds, especially outside the US who were second or third generation nerds, to check in. The response has been astounding.

My eyes tear up every time I go there and see that the list has added another page. If you're a nerd of color, please go and check in!

In other news, I picked this up from the unicorn herd: Barack Obama is a nerd of color. (Okay, well, we knew the last part already.) But what does his using a Mac have to do with it? I thought real nerds used pimped out PCs.


May 11, 2009

Can We NOT Do Racefail Again, Please?

I'm sticking my head out of its hole here (please note: my head is NOT wearing its CBS hat) to make a plea ... and realizing that I'll probably either get ignored, or get my head bitten off. This plea goes out to my fellow active and activist PoC and white antiracist SF/F fans. Anyone who doesn't fit this description, please refrain from commenting below (I will probably delete you.)

Apparently, Patricia Wrede has written an alternate history YA in which American Indians/Native Americans simply never existed, replaced by magical mammoths. If you don't immediately see what's wrong with this, read this list of links. (I also surfed through from this post and found a buncha stuff that wasn't on the links post above.) The posts linked often link to further reading, so go knock yourself out surfing.

Okay. I, for one, think this list of posts offers a perfect summation of what the problem with Wrede's premise is. What I'm asking for now is for PoC and white antiracists to take a REALLY DEEP BREATH ... and to fail to have a massive, collective, monthslong comment thread freakout like the one that happened this January/February/March/April (a.k.a. RaceFail '09.)

I know you guys are tired of it. We all are. I know the ignorant and vicious attempts to block and derail discussion are making you crazy. But responding to them in comments didn't do much good a few months ago ... and I think it'll do even less good now that the clueless are still smarting from the pileups at various whitepeople blogs which caused everyone to freak out and f-lock and delete their blogs and out each other's real identities and and and ...

What good did any of that do? What good will it do to go there again? The best thing that came out of RaceFail was a list of good, thoughtful posts about cultural appropriation that we can point out to people who want to be educated. Unfortunately, as much as people during RaceFail were linking to these great posts, they were ALSO engaging in increasingly angry comment threads with flamers and trolls who weren't interested in learning anything, and wouldn't have learned anything even if they were BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE DEFENSIVE, AS EVERYONE IS IN A COMMENTS THREAD BATTLE.

So my suggestion -- my plea -- is to avoid engaging in comment threads as much as possible. You can't argue someone out of their ignorance. You can only lead them to water and WALK AWAY, hoping they'll drink after you've gone. There are some links pileups starting already. Let's contribute to them, and then make some private pledges to simply link to the links posts in comments and NOT COMMENT FURTHER.

WisCon is a week and a half away. I DO NOT want to walk into WisCon wondering who has put themselves in the wrong now. I DO NOT want to have to navigate sudden, new schisms having to do with random ignorant comments-thread comments. We DO NOT have to use this opportunity to excavate every ignorant corner of our fellow SF/F fans' racial consciousness. Let's put the info out there and let them do what they want to with it.

(A suggestion: those of you planning your own blogpost about this, please consider closing comments, so that anyone who wants to respond cannot do so anonymously, but MUST respond by posting something on their own blog. This will cut down on a lot of opportunities for people to enrage you from the safety of anonymity. I'm leaving comments on this post open because I'm hoping we can discuss ways and means of NOT engaging in a RaceFail 1.5.)

*****

In other news, (putting my CBS hat on): the Carl Brandon Society is sponsoring a "Cultural Appropriation 101" class at Wiscon (Friday afternoon during The Gathering -- it will only take up part of the Gathering time, so you can still attend.) The class will be taught by Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond (both CBS Steering Committee members) and Cabell Gathman.

This will be a SAFE SPACE for anyone who suspects they may be missing some of the basics to come to and learn and discuss, and ask the questions you're afraid to ask for fear of being jumped on. We strongly recommend that anyone who feels a little shaky in the basics, or who doesn't agree with what a lot of PoC are saying about cultural appropriation, come and attend this class BEFORE going into any panels on race or cultural appropriation. Forearmed is forewarned.

April 07, 2009

The Gross-out Dolls

Okay, I've been pretty ambivalent about the TV show Dollhouse, which, if you're unaware of it, is a Joss Whedon show about people whose memories are wiped so they can be reprogrammed as any type of character to help rich clients play out their fantasies. Gross, right?

I'm ambivalent because, although the show gives plenty of French-maid-lace-thigh-highs-my-perfect-girl moments, it DOES seem to be tending towards some sort of complexity about personality, memory, and ownership of self. Tending, I said, not actually building.

But then I was watching last week's episode on Hulu and this commercial for Target came on (see vid above and pay attention to the lyrics) and I'm so completely grossed out by it that I'm not sure I can watch the show anymore. The commercial was clearly designed specifically for the show, and has no faux-redeeming irony or humor in it at all.

Gross!

Also, the show isn't getting any better. Sierra, the fine-boned Asian chick, keeps getting more and more victimized. First she's raped by her handler -- who is then executed by hand for his crime, because delicate-boned Asian chicks are so precious and helpless that we need to commit extreme violence on the men who rape them -- then it turns out she was brought into the dollhouse by a guy she wouldn't sleep with, who has since had her every which way to Sunday.

Gorsh, this show is awful empowering! Ugh! I'm just grossed out right now.

There's been this real "true crime" style undercurrent of salaciousness to all of the evils the show is committing on the women characters. There's lots of frowning and moralizing around the women, even as the show depicts at least one over-the-top sexy outfit per episode. They just can't stop raping Sierra, and then wagging their fingers about it, or playing sad music every time Echo is wiped and wanders around looking blank ... and with her mouth slightly open in the primate signal for sexual availability ... remarkably like a supermodel in a Prada shoot.

And in the meantime, no one's bothering their godless heads over the men's loss of power and self ... in fact, the men are even made fun of: one episode revolves around Victor's crush on Sierra and how they have to track its progress by watching for his boners in the shower.

To summarize: women powerless and sexually available = delicious and sad ... and wrong! Men powerless and, er, available fer whatever = ridiculous and funny. Oh, and the one active that has escaped? A dude. Named "Alpha." Who's extremely violent.

Ugh. This show is just gross. I think I'm done watching.

March 22, 2009

BSG Finale. Yawn.

Talk about no bang and not much whimpering.

Apparently BSG is finale-ing, (today? tomorrow? I don't know) and I don't even care. I'm behind two episodes as it is, and I'm certainly not going to watch it at the time of broadcast. No spoilers, please, even though I don't care. I'm going out on a limb though: it's gonna suck.

In other news, I'm writing again. I had a good writing day today. If this keeps up, I won't be blogging much. But then, I've been so busy the past month, I haven't been blogging much, anyway. So let it be for a good reason I'm not blogging.

That is all.

February 14, 2009

BSG Natter (with spoilers)

Good episode tonight. I love Ellen and always have. Not cool to turn Anders into a vegetable, but there was some good material in there.

But, so help me oG, if they reveal that Starbuck used to be Daniel and "John" just messed with her DNA to turn him into a her, I'm gonna kill somebody.

February 02, 2009

The Thing About BSG This Season

is that it's hopelessly dark, as always, but without the greatness. It's not the darkness itself that made it a good show. It was a combination of things: great writing, acting, directing, art direction, music, and just a general commitment to the world and the piece as a whole by everyone involved.

Now, pieces have been falling off for two seasons and it's pretty much JUST dark, no longer good. It's like the people who created the characters and situations were body-snatched by aliens who have access to their memories but no inherent understanding of human nature or of nuance. Take Roslyn and Adama. Their bond was romantic, certainly, but not literally romantic, as in I-want-to-date-you romantic. In turning their relationship into an ordinary sexual one, the writers have pretty much destroyed what we loved about each of them separately and together. They were two sides of the same lonely-at-the-top archetype, and now ... they're just a couple.

(They could salvage it by turning them into a real archetype -- like maybe Isis and Osiris, where Adama would get symbolically chopped up and distributed around the galaxy and Roslyn would have to collect his pieces. Or something. --- Oo! Adama should try to jump in a shuttle and the shuttle blows up and Roslyn goes around obsessively collecting the shuttle pieces from where they've been strewn all around by the screwed up jump. The last piece is a sealed part of the cabin with air in it and she finds him still alive. Or something. See? I can do this better than they can now. --- I know they're supposed to be Adam and Eve, barred from Eden, but that's worn thin, and the whole point of Adam and Eve is original sin and fertility, and Adama and Roslyn aren't really fitting into either of those plays.)

The same thing happened in season three with Starbuck and Apollo. They were the classic, archetypal, hopeless unrequited love scenario, and oh ... so well done. They pulled in all kinds of mythical issues. Like the classic Judaic one: do I marry my dead brother's widow? or the Greco/Roman unrequited incest issue with twins Apollo and Diana. But now, they're just characters that had a tawdry affair.

(And hey, what's with the men getting the mythical names and the women not so much? Thrace is a place of little significance and Roslyn?)

Who's making this show now, anyway? And what did they do with the geniuses who did the first two seasons?

February 01, 2009

Readin' Update

I've been waiting until I had time/wanted to review these books, but that may never happen and they're piling up, so here goes:

Midnight Brunch Marta Acosta (2nd Casa Dracula novel)
Bride of Casa Dracula Marta Acosta (3rd Casa Dracula novel)
About Face James Calder (2nd Bill Damen mystery)
In A Family Way James Calder (3rd Bill Damen mystery)
The Plain Janes Cecil Castelucci and Jim Rugg

I'm loving the Marta Acosta Casa Dracula nobbles. Most chick lit can't keep my interest, just as most vampire genre stuff starts to lose me eventually too, and I'm much on the record being extremely bored with how racial issues are dealt with in "serious" literature. But this is shopping and fucking and drinking blood and being mysterious and investigating and being captured/chased and nailing ethnicity issues and class differences and then shopping and fucking and drinking cocktails again. She moves fast and doesn't dwell on any of these but just grabs them and integrates them into the story so you don't have time to get bored. Plus, the whole thing is pretty funny. She's working on a fourth one now. Yay!

I'm liking the Bill Damen San Francisco/Silicon Valley mysteries, which border on science fiction (in fact, the last one -- hands down the best one so far -- has scientists doing stuff that real scientists haven't QUITE done yet, although they probably could. So it IS sci fi). But the technical descriptions lose me, and they're not always necessary to the story or interesting in themselves. And Bill Damen is SUCH a Mary Sue. But I guess all detectives are.

The Plain Janes was cute, but stopped really abruptly, like they ran out of time. The artwork is fine, but uninspired. I like the unusual premise and the main character, who WANTS to be an outcast. I wish that was explored more.

January 29, 2009

Ann Coulter Sci Fi

This is pretty sci-fi, don't you think?

January 23, 2009

Readin' Update

Nisi Shawl FILTER HOUSE

A book of short stories from a fabulous writer who is my friend so the no-review rule holds. Awrsome.

Ernest J. Eitel WHAT IS FENG SHUI?: THE CLASSIC NINETEETH-CENTURY INTERPRETATION

Just what the title says: an 1873 publication from an English-language press in Hong Kong. Eitel was a German Protestant missionary -- apparently with a gift for languages -- who spent his career in China and ended up becoming something of an expert in Feng Shui, Buddhism, and Cantonese, writing texts on the first two and a dictionary of the last. He has his own form of Romanization for Cantonese, apparently.

Anywho, the book is extremely valuable not just for helping me to cut through all the latter day, Westernized, interior decorating crap that fills most feng shui books I can find, but it also teaches 19th Century feng shui and conveys the attitude of an educated and enlightened Western man towards feng shui.

Eitel is alternately contemptuous of and fascinated by feng shui, condemning it as "rank superstition" at the same time that he claims it as legitimate Chinese natural science. He makes the point that I've had to make before, that although the art/science of feng shui is infused with hoo doo and superstition, and doesn't follow the strict rules of western empiricism, there has been a science to the manner of study of feng shui; there is a form of empiricism and experimentation involved -- only it isn't "pure."

Perfect research item for da nobble.

January 18, 2009

Requisite BSG Post

I really want to want to blog about Battlestar Galactica, but I just can't be bothered. I just don't care. Is that wrong?

January 06, 2009

BSG 'n' Readin' Update

I'm trying to get myself psyched about the final season of Battlestar Galactica, but it's slow going. There's been such deadeningly bad TV in between, that I can't seem to care very much.

Plus, the clips from Caprica suck.

In other news, I finally read Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, a Latina vampire chicklit. Yes, it is. Of course, it's genre-y and there are some plot detail problems, but IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!  HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH! Truly, I say to you, I loved it.

I just ordered the next two books on Amazon.

January 05, 2009

What I Read in 2008

Take two, i.e. I wrote this entire post a couple of days ago, and then lost it because Typepad is stooopid. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a couple from the list below because I didn't post about them or didn't tag them "whatcha readin'?" Sigh. Whatever.

I've bolded the books that really did something for me: made me think, changed or created an idea. You'll notice that I didn't include A Passage to India or Huckleberry Finn among these. Those were rereads, so they actually stank up my universe this year. Maybe if I read 'em again in a few years, they'll be good again.

  1. Christopher Barzak's One For Sorrow
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  3. Passing by Nella Larsen
  4. High Wizardry Diane Duane
  5.  A Wizard Abroad Diane Duane
  6. The Wizard's Dilemma Diane Duane
  7. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  8. The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  9. At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson
  10. Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
  11. The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
  12. Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce
  13. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  14. First Test Tamora Pierce
  15. Page Tamora Pierce
  16. Squire Tamora Pierce
  17. Lady Knight Tamora Pierce
  18. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  19. His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
  20. Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
  21. Black Powder War Naomi Novik
  22. Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
  23. A Wizard Alone Diane Duane
  24. Wizard's Holiday Diane Duane
  25. Flora's Dare Ysabeau Wilce
  26. Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  27. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  28. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  29. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  30. The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  31. Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  32. In Cold Blood Truman Capote
  33. Nora Pierce The Insufficiency of Maps
  34. Four Letter Words by Truong Tran
  35. Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler
  36. E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  37. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil
  38. Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam
  39. E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
  40. Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy.
  41. Barack Obama Dreams from My Father
  42. Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
  43. Terry Pratchett Monstrous Regiment
  44. Terry Pratchett Making Money
  45. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
  46. Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
  47. Buffy Season 8 comic book (three omnibus volumes)
  48. The Last Man first omnibus
  49. Nation Terry Pratchett
  50. Outliers Malcolm Gladwell
  51. Octavian Nothing Vol. II MT Anderson
  • 51 books completed in total, just about a book a week, like last year.

  • 5 nonfiction books

  • 1 graphic novel and 2 comic book series

  • 21 YA or middle grade novels, or novels packaged as such

  • 31 books in speculative fiction genres

  • 21 male and 17 female authors (however, I read several books each from certain female authors)

  • 12 authors of color, as far as I know

  • 11 re-reads

  •  9 series that the books I read were part or all of, not including the comics

  •  19 books with strong female protagonists (down from 27 last year! That must be because I read less YA!)

One thing that's noticeable here is that I did a lot of escapist reading. I didn't intend to reread so much, nor read so much YA. Not that YA is automatically escapist, but I read deliberately escapist YA. This had to do with my being depressed for large chunks of the year (Jan - Feb and June - Nov). Escapist reading has always been a primary coping mechanism, but this year I also watched a lot of TV. Not as much as last year, mind you, because TV sucked so bad this year, but a lot.

Another thing was the lower count of strong female protagonists in this year's narrative. That was a little shocking. First of all, a number of my favorite women writers had male protags, such as Naomi Novik, Susanna Clarke, and Vandana Singh. Nothing wrong with that. But there were also a couple of books with female protags who were weak: Kate T. Williamson's memoir and Nora Pierce's novel. Of course, the memoir was about two years when Williamson was stuck living with her parents (and yes, the book was just. that. boring.), and Pierce's protag was the small, dependent child of a mentally ill single mother. But that raises the question of why literary narrative is so interested in women and girls at their weak moments and why we have to turn to genre fiction to get stories of powerful women and girls.

I'm certain that part of it has to do with the fact that the gatekeepers of lit fic are primarily male, and get to decide what is and isn't appropriate or "good." And I'm sure that part of it has to do with the fact that genre is engaged in a lot of escapism and therefore wish-fulfillment--of whatever sort--is on the menu. Wow, that's depressing. Any arguments there?

So, I'm thinking I'll probably be reading less from series in 2009 ;) and branching out a little more into other genres. There will be even more nonfiction since soon I'll be going into final research mode for da nobble, and because I want to do more reading for atlas(t). Other than that, I am, as always, open to suggestions (although I'm so distractable that I'll probably forget your suggestion as soon as I read it.) What did you read last year that blew your mind?

December 15, 2008

Reading Update

Boy, have I been bad about posting lately. If anyone is still reading this blog: my apologies.

I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn last week. I've never read it myself. My dad read it to me when I was a kid, and it really wasn't the best book to read to a kid. It's not really a kid's book. Tom Sawyer might have been, but Huck Finn isn't.

It's very similar to Uncle Tom's Cabin in a lot of ways, except more racist. Jim is actually less of a well-rounded character than Uncle Tom, which isn't surprising. Uncle Tom's was written from a northern pov, from someone who hadn't actually met very many slaves, so Uncle Tom was a vehicle for her ideas about blacks. Jim is less of a vehicle for ideas as he is a placeholder, a representative for slaves. He's superstitious, loving, and loyal, probably traits that Twain saw -- or thought he saw -- from his encounter with slaves as a child ... and probably the traits he picked out as being the best that blacks are capable of.

But the book's not about how slaves are people too. It's all about Huck's process of realizing that slaves are people too. Ugh. I understand that this was a big deal at the time, but the time was nearly 150 years ago. Can we stop being so impressed now?

I've also read:

Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh: a few glitches but mostly enjoyed very much.

The first three omnibuses of the Buffy Season 8 comic book: fun, but not essential.

The first omnibus of The Last Man comic book: kinda hated it.

November 14, 2008

888 and Readin' Update

I have 888 comments on this blog! That's very lucky!

I finished Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King last week, one of my American Indian Heritage Month reads. It was published in 1993, I have to note, and reads--quite frankly--as original text for Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Anansi Boys novels. Which is to say that Gaiman's tactic of incorporating gods and myths into contemporary settings, and then sending human and mythical characters on a road trip across the American landscape, seems to have originated here.

Only this is much better. King gets a bit meta on it, incorporating the narrator's voice into an ongoing dialogue with one of the mythical characters (Coyote, to be precise). And the novel is structured in a meta manner as well: as a story telling that keeps going wrong. The four main mythical characters--pop culture archetypes--each get a turn telling the story from the beginning, and each time Coyote messes up the telling. Each time the telling starts anew, the tension resets, although the story continues to move forward for the human characters.

It's pretty cool.

On the downside, there are too many characters and no protagonists. None of the characters is very likeable, either, so it's hard to care about them. Why is this problem so prevalent in fiction?

All-in-all, though, a good, fun, interesting read.

November 02, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Well, NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) isn't going too smoothly so far. Yesterday I was busy and didn't do anything. Today I tried for two hours to manage a tiny detail: I needed to put in what Christian sect one of my main characters grew up in (he's no longer religious, so it's important, but minor.) I needed a non-communitarian, abolitionist but not pacifist sect. I spent two hours looking online for such a sect before I realized that this was a detail that I could let go. Do we really need to know exactly what sect he belonged to? It won't be referred to again. Seriously.

Then I looked for other small things to handle and decided that we didn't need to know how they mark trails to clear after dust storms (who cares?) or need 100% to hear that mention of a transport line to Alba Patera (I don't even remember what that refers to, but I'm sure it's unimportant.)

Then I figured out that a small detail I need to seed in there so it will bear fruit later is actually already part of a larger fix. Then I moved two small fixes to the medium fix column because I don't know what I was thinking, they're going to take longer than that. And that's about three hours of work right there.

Welk, I guess this is the job. I guess a lot of revision is planning and then planning again, and then getting disgusted with your obsession with unwanted detail and revising your PLAN, all without actually touching your text. Arg. I have only eleven items in the short fix column now.

Tomorrow, a few short fixes in the airport, yes?

November 01, 2008

American Indian Heritage Month Book List

I know, I know, you were told to say "Native American," or "First Nations." But the official name for the month is American Indian, so just deal with it, okay?

As you all should know by now (after three of these lists) the Carl Brandon Society just started a heritage month book advocacy program this year in which our members have selected ten speculative books in English, in print, by writers of that particular heritage, for each month.

We've been sending and posting these book lists far and wide, trying to get them into libraries and bookstores to promote the writing of writers of color during the months that they are featured. PLEASE distribute this list even farther! We're relying on word of mouth, folks! Post it on your blog! Email the list to your reading friends and family! These are good books!

*****

The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends

the following speculative fiction books by writers of First Nations/Native American heritage

for American Indian Heritage Month:

THE WAY OF THORN AND THUNDER trilogy, Daniel Heath Justice
This trilogy speculatively re-imagines the Cherokee history of removal and relocation and redefines European fantastical tropes using Cherokee-centered imagery and worldviews.

GREEN GRASS, RUNNING WATER Thomas King
One of the best books I've ever read: a funny, sad, gorgeous story that ties together a contemporary narrative about 
Indians living on Canada's prairies with slightly skewed creation myths and accounts of the historical horrors endured by First Nations people during the continent's European colonization

THE BALLAD OF BILLY BADASS AND THE ROSE OF TURKESTAN, William San! ders &nb sp;
A wry love story that also incorporates critiques of nuclear testing and dumping on Native lands.

EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF FORT SMITH, William Sanders
A collection of short stories from Sanders' entire career. You can see some of his best here, including the alternate history "The Undiscovered," in which a shanghaied, shipwrecked Shakespeare is trapped in 16th Century Appalachia and must stage his plays among the Cherokee, and the near-future "When the World is All on Fire" when climate change and toxic waste have caused Indian reservations to become prime property again.

ALMANAC OF THE DEAD, Leslie Marmon Silko
Silko uses magical realism to chronicle numerous characters' journeys ! toward t he prophetic, violent end of white dominance in the Americas.

TANTALIZE, Cynthia Leitich Smith
A departure from Smith's previous, realistic Indian YA stories, this YA novel jumps onto the vampire bandwagon, this time in a vampire-themed restaurant in Texas.

THE BONE WHISTLE, Eva Swan (Erzebet Yellowboy)
The Bone Whistle is about a woman who discovers her true heritage. She is the child of a wanaghi, one of the creatures of Native-American folklore.    

THE NIGHT WANDERER, Drew Hayden Taylor
A gothic young adult vampire story.

THE LESSER BLESSED, Richard Van Camp
A coming-of-age story of a native Canadian boy obsessed with Iron Maiden. Has elements of magical realism.    

BEARHEART: THE HEIRSHIP CHRONICLES, Gerald Vizenor
Perhaps the first Native American science fiction, this is a journey through a dystopian future United States destroyed by the collapse of the fuel supply. 

October 15, 2008

Reading Update

Just finished Ysabeau Wilce's Flora's Dare, the sequel to Flora Segunda.

Wasn't as good as the first. She didn't take full advantage of the world, or her imagination, and the book took waay too long to get up and running. It did end up having a good plot in the second half and some good, satisfying reveals. But the opening scenes were boring: the all-too-usual thing in fantasy where situations from our "real world" are simply translated into the fantasy world, rather than transformed. The most egregious example of this was the rock concert, which was basically a tinny fantasy of a rock concert ... yeah, that's what it was. Bo-ring.

The beginning needed to be reimagined after the increasingly wonderful second half was written. I think the problem might have been that Wilce just wasn't given enough time to write the book. She did such a great job with the first one that I can't believe she couldn't have done the same with the second ... given enough time.

Damn the publishing industry! They didn't need to bring the second book out a scant year after the first one! In fact, I was surprised it came out so soon.

October 06, 2008

Reading Update

Finished Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy. I know her, so the no review rule applies. But fun! Go read!

September 15, 2008

Carl Brandon Society Hispanic Heritage Month Book List

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month y'all!

If this looks familiar to you, it's because you've seen this sort of thing before.

Every national heritage month, members of the Carl Brandon Society (an organization of writers of color working in the speculative fiction genres) create a list of ten speculative fiction books in print written by writers of that particular heritage. The 2008 Carl Brandon Society Hispanic Heritage Month Recommended Reading List (I know, it's long) is below.

Please forward and post everywhere, take to your bookstores and libraries, tell all your friends! These are books worth reading, and it would be great if you could read one of them between Sept 15 and Oct 15 and blog about it! Yes?

*****

The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends

the following speculative fiction books by writers of Latin American heritage

for Hispanic Heritage Month:

  • COSMOS LATINOS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION FROM LATIN AMERICA AND SPAIN: a terrific, five-year-old anthology of early-to-contemporary SF stories from Spain and Latin America, showing the breadth of Latino social concerns and imagination.
  • Jorge Luis Borges LABYRINTHS: A short story collection very like FICCIONES, his other book. Am not sure which one has my two favorite Borges stories: A) the story about the man who is on a bus trip and who is fated to die 2) the story about Judas being the real savior because he was the one who was despised and rejected of men. Just turning the entire Jesus story around and saying Judas was the lamb who sacrificed himself.
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares THE INVENTION OF MOREL: Casares was an Argentine writer in the circle of Jorge Luis Borges. MOREL steps directly into the realm of science fiction, in the tradition of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, dealing with unnamed technology and its very specific effects on human psychology.
  • Julio Cortazar HOPSCOTCH: Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books where you get to choose your own endings, make your own timeline, and generally skip around and rearrange the chapters? This is the best of the best. It's a novel about philosophy and order and meaning and quite fun.
  • Carlos Fuentes DEATH OF ARTEMIO CRUZ: This is the first book (the only book?) I ever read where each chapter is written in a different person. First person, Second Person, Third Person. There is also the great f*ck chapter. An old revolutionary is dying and thinking about his life. We see a lot about the Mexican revolution and get tons of stuff about political corruption.
  • Angelica Gorodischer KALPA IMPERIAL: a quirky collection of stories about a fictional great empire that rises and falls and rises and falls. Translated by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Mario Vargas Llosa AUNT JULIA AND THE SCRIPTWRITER: hilarious, mischievous, and masterful...a wonderfully comic novel almost unbelievably rich in character, place and event.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE: Totally wonderful love story with folk-legend. It's like listening to one's hoo-doo believing grandmother telling you about events in her life. A lot of brothers, a lot of love, a lot of passion, a lot of spiritual cause and effect.
  • Guillermo Gomez-Peña THE NEW WORLD BORDER: the strangest book about performance art you've ever read, Gomez-Peña casts forward into, and writes news reports from a borderless future where whites are a minority and the language is Spanglish.
  • Juan Rulfo PEDRO PARAMO: A man goes back to his parents' village to try to find the father who abandoned him. Trapped there by ghosts, he learns the horrifying story of his father's evil deeds. One of the first "magical realist" novels from Latin America.
       

For more information, please visit www.carlbrandon.org.

September 08, 2008

Reading Update with SPOILERS!

Wow, I really get behind.

So I read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud and loves it. It's the only successful commentary on the Iraq war that I've seen so far in fiction (not that I've read that many attempts.) It should feel heavy handed, but doesn't, because the secondary world created here is so weighty and balanced and alive. It shares one thing with Harry Potter and that is the depth of the world-building. But it also shares this with the Temeraire series and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

My one real quibble (SPOILER!) is with the very end when John Mandrake sacrifices himself for the others. It sort of needs to happen, but it feels way too much like the proper punishment for the radically flawed character ... his only way to redeem himself. I don't like that and it brought the book down for me. I can't quite see how else it could have ended, but this was just a good ending--just a neat wrap-up ending--not a great ending. The quality of the book was such that a great ending could have raised the book (or, I should say, the series) to greatness. But just a good ending make the book/s just good. Not really a problem, though.

Then I read Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler and loves it. Dewd. I'm not allowed to review friends on this blog but I'm so relieved. What if your friend wrote a book and it sucked? What if your friend wrote a book and it didn't suck but all you had for it was faint praise? Dodged that bullet. Why are you still here? Go read the sucker already. I might even review it on my udder blog but you didn't hear that from me. Oh, and here's Liz Henry's review.

September 02, 2008

Naomi Novik Is The Best Writer Working Today

Hyperbole? Absolutely. And I really mean: one of the best writers. And I know very few of you will agree with me. And I don't care.

I grabbed Victory of Eagles when it first came out and finished it in one day. I am humbled, truly. And  I don't say that easily.

I am not overtaxed with humility, despite the purity of my lack of literary accomplishment ... as anyone who reads this blog with regularity knows. I don't claim--or feel--humility when I read most of the "literary" works most heralded as "genius" by the snob-squawkers. I applaud artistic ambition, the more so when it is at least somewhat achieved. But too many of the most praised novels aren't truly ambitious: achieving their ambitions is little more than a matter of maintaining a less-than-natural style without seams, producing a consistent melancholic mood, completing an emotional arc that produces catharsis without sullying itself with an apparent plotline, and proving the ultimate spiritual beauty and likability of their autobiographic protagonists.

What's lacking among these writers is:

  1. energy: it seems as if lit fic writers are mostly children of older mothers, born from aging ova that lack vitality ... which would also make sense given the fact that they have so much free time on their hands to write worthless stuff: their mothers postponed conception until they had lots of income (yes, I'm joking, bitterly).
  2. the possession of a real pushy story that insists on being told: you'd be shocked--SHOCKED--at the number of idiots in creative writing programs who complain in public among other writers that they "don't know how to finish a story"or "have trouble knowing what happens next" or "can't see very far into the story" when they begin and trust to their ... whatever (muse? talent? god forbid: imagination?) to supply material as they go along. I can think of no more direct way to say "I have no real story to tell." This also explains why their "stories" are all about people exactly like them in situations exactly like theirs: it's not their imaginations supplying them with material, it's their lives.
  3. balance: the ability to make every element of the story serve the story, each in its proper measure, rather than placing undue emphasis on one element (say, "poetic" language) to the detriment of other elements (say, imagination, plot, velocity).

Naomi Novik has all of these in spades. On top of that, she's a great writer because she does the following:

  • Fits her writing tactics and style to the purpose of her writing project
  • Balances the different modes of writing--action, description, exposition, dialogue, internal monologue, image and metaphor--relying on none to the exclusion of any others, and making all vivid, fresh, and fully integrated. This is to say that nothing she does draws attention to itself as writing; it's all there in the service of the story, and you can only see what good writing it is if you pull yourself out of suspension. (Yes, I already mentioned this above, I'm restating it slightly differently here. Get over it.)

  • Employs conciseness, which is neither economy, density, nor understatement, but rather precision (if precision was about providing meat as well as being exact.) Look at this one-paragraph battle scene:

"Signal the attack," Laurence said, and Temeraire roaring plummeted with the rest; the Chevaliers panicked and flung themselves aloft, instinctively. One leapt only to meet Maximus's full weight upon her back, and bellowing dreadfully was driven down, straight down, into the ground again, and with a snapping crack went silent. Maximus staggered off and shook himself, dazed by the impact; she did not move, and her captain crying her name flung himself heedless across the field toward her.

Novik's a bit profligate with the semicolons and stingy with the commas (and somesnob versed in "should-be's" would call her out for excessive adverbiage), but this is a perfect scene otherwise. In one sentence (that should have been punctuated as two) we see the movement of the attackers down, and the defenders up. We see a vivid kill, and you don't need to know that Maximus is a heavyweight to get how the deed is done. You hear the bellowing of the dragon and know that it was her spine that was snapped. You see the whole story of her relationship with her captain in the clause that has him crying her name, and flinging himself after her, heedless (ly?).

I can scarcely think of another writer that wouldn't be betrayed by grandstanding impulse--or sheer, unacknowledged awkwardness--into stopping the action and giving us a brief glimpse inside the head of the bereft enemy captain, or at least having Laurence internally monologuing about what the captain must be feeling. Novik only gives us two more images of him in later pages, one of him being led away from the dragon, weeping, and the other of his hands bound to a stake in the ground. That's all we need for a minor character whose main purpose is to give texture to the corps' exploits in this part of the novel, and create emotional complexity around their very ethically compromised mission.

  • Permits the necessities of plot to drive the action, and the necessities of action to drive the plot. In other words, she doesn't force nifty scenes onto the book, or measure out her structure carefully. What happens is organic, and yet the shape of the whole is harmonious, part flowing into part.
  • Over the course of the series she allows the situation of her characters to become increasingly ethically compromised ... and allows them, increasingly, to see it. This is true to life and false to most fiction: our conscience troubles increase the older we get, though so does our ability to ignore or manage our guilt. Temeraire and Laurence are heroes because they don't merely manage their guilt; they act upon their consciences. In fact, we get a long sequence in Victory of Eagles in which Laurence does simply manage his guilt, and it becomes clear that it is Temeraire's presence in his life that forces him to deal with his conscience and behave heroically. Sure, this is satisfying--heroism is always satisfying--but the way Novik deals with it is above all interesting, and she's willing to risk some of Laurence's stature to make him a more interesting hero.
  • Continues to be a master of characterization. All of the above weave in together, of course, and all contribute strongly to the characterization, which is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this series. The characters are consistent, but consistent in the way that people are consistent: moods take them, the vagaries of life begin to weigh on them. They behave in ways recognizable to their characters, but over time, the accumulated burden of their experience begins to warp their characters into new shapes, and much of their struggle--as is our own--is to find their way back to the best parts of themselves. Victory of Eagles is, more than anything, about this struggle in the adult Laurence. It is also about the struggle in the adolescent Temeraire to achieve adulthood and take on the mantle of leadership. He is both helped and hindered by Laurence's terrible, and often selfish, conflict in this book.

I believe I've written and talked before about the power that speculative fiction can bring to representations of reality. It's the power of diagonality: not a mirror reflection but a distorted reflection; an image created moving diagonally out of mimetic reality into a world that reflects ours by changing important things. The paradox is that this diagonal reality is only effective if its creator commits to it completely, commits to making the illusion of its separate reality complete.

There is no real relationship in our reality like the captain/dragon relationship in the Temeraire series. It is a marriage, a best-friendship, a lover configuration, a parent/child relationship, a dog/master, ship/captain, actor/manager, warrior/quartermaster relationship. It is this relationship, and not the existence of dragons, that is the biggest difference between Temeraire's world and ours. And yet, the existence of this complex and unique relationship illuminates all of our relationships. It's the sort of friendship we all desperately hope for ... and have no chance of acquiring; there are no people as loyal and strong as dragons, no beings whose friendship can make us more loyal and strong than we humans naturally are.

This potential for the perfect relationship is thrown into a world only slightly better, and more honorable, than our own. (The secondary characters tend to have too much consistency, too little complexity, but that's as it must be.) The perfect relationship is thrown into war and left to make its way through the impossible ethical binds that war, and the world in general, creates. And it is only a perfect relationship that can show us so clearly the way these slings and arrows strain and distort love, loyalty, and responsibility.

Okay, enough writing. Loves it. That's all.

August 31, 2008

Reading Update

Just finished Jonathan Stroud's first Bartimaeus book The Amulet of Samarkand and immediately ran out to buy the other two.

A perfect book of its kind: perfectly structured, with the desired surprising yet well set up and foreshadowed ending. A couple of things that challenged me here: it took a long time--perhaps too long--for the protagonist to become sympathetic. An initial scene in which the protag as a very young child is deliberately terrified by his tutor goes a long way towards making him sympathetic, but his slightly older self is so unlikeable that I start to lose heat for him almost immediately. I was nearly cold by the time he started behaving ... uh ... well? again. I'm not sure this was a bad thing.

The second thing was that Stroud really doesn't seem to like the literary convention that shows the reader certain minor dangers--risks--the protag is running, and then lets the protag off the hook. For example: the protag is sneaking into a building and there are sentries. The narrator points out how observant the sentries are yet, by the skin of his teeth, the protag gets past them without being noticed. Seen it a million times, right?

Stroud doesn't do that. Every risk his characters run pays off in trouble. If there are observant sentries, they will observe the protag and he'll reap consequences sooner or later. Not a single pistol on the mantelpiece doesn't get discharged. This was cool at first: ratcheted up the tension and dealt with that niggling feeling I've always had that authors ran out of inspiration or just couldn't keep the pace up and that's the only reason why their protags got away with so much.

But the fact is, not EVERY risk is going to end badly for the risk taker. If you read stories of real-life crime and spying, the second thing you'll notice (the first is that no real-life stories are well-structured or easy to get your head around) is that people get away with stuff not because they're super smart and competent, but because other people are easy to fool and most mistakes don't get caught. So ultimately, this tactic of Strouds starts to wear.

But overall, the best post-Harry Potter jones-assuager I've read so far. Can't wait to get to the others.

August 27, 2008

Reading Update and Writing Lessons

So I've just completed two really good books. Not great books. Really good books. Both I should have read in 2004.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I bought this when it was all the rage and expected a solid fantasy and didn't get it. At the time, it felt really really slow to me and I got bored about 100 pages in and put it down. Then recently I was reading a blog post that mentioned something interesting about it (have forgotten what) and decided to go back and see if I could get a little further into it.

What a difference! Since I knew what to expect this time the book motored along briskly. It wasn't fast, but it certainly wasn't slow. In fact, the pacing was perfect. I detected notes of Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoi, and of course, Spenser. Not in the language or in the "themes" (whatever those are), but rather in the structure of portions of the story. That's the kind of literary allusion I can deal with.

Clarke uses a tactic that I'm using in da nobble, which is putting some essential information into the footnotes. And also, letting the spillover from her fertile imagination reside there. It's a fake-out: you think you don't have to read the footnotes but you actually do. But it's also a really effective way of including infodumps, and an even more effective way of including important world-building perspectives that don't fit within the flow of the narrative. If these were intruded, even as is, into the main text the reader would process it differently, but as footnotes, these pieces get reserved--and highlighted--as off-flow text.

The one problem with this is that she didn't set up a conceit that allowed for footnotes. There were a few places in the book where she compared Strange and Norrell's time with "today." But she never clarified what day "today" was or who was writing those thoughts from what perspective. And most of the book read as a novel, not as a history; there was no explanation for how a person could know what these "historical" figures thought or experienced when they were alone. I think this was a weakness, but a minor one.

The book's main weakness SPOILER was that, at the end, the Raven King appeared to be nearly omnipotent, like a neglectful god. This took all of the interest out of the character of the Raven King and also out of what role he was playing in the drama. He was much more interesting as a man with special powers, not as a daddy figure who realized his kids had gotten themselves into a mess and reached out a hand at the end to fix the mess. First of all: deus ex machina = boring. Secondly, the kids got themselves into the mess and it would only be interesting if they got themselves out of it.

The book was powerful because the Raven King remained vague, but popped out clearly in moments making it obvious that he was a man, albeit a very powerful one. The book's power also came from the choices the main characters made. To have the climax drive by one part accident and one part deus ex machina was a shift away from what the book had been saying about humans all along.

Writing lessons:

  • Leave what's vague, vague. Not everything has to be clarified, particularly not the mysteries the characters live by.
  • The mechanics of a character's movement through the events of the plot (i.e. if by choices, deliberate action, or accident) must stay consistent. If the mechanics change simply for the climax/resolution, that's cheating.
  • The climax/resolution must be compressed, sped up, slightly, or else intensified in some way. You can't be in the middle of the climax and not know that this is the climax or, well, you know. Bummer.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

It's almost pointless to compare this to Catherine Valente's Orphan's Tales. They have only one thing in common and that's the nested stories tactic. But done so completely differently. My complaint about Valente is that she didn't give us enough of each nested story to make us (me) care enough about it to come back to it. She gave us almost no characterization so I didn't care about the characters either. Can't make either of those complaints about Mitchell.

Mitchell is brilliant in his ability to shift voice, genre, pacing, structure from story to story. A virtuoso performance. Something to learn from because, while I'm not doing exactly the same thing in da nobble, I am playing with different voices, and different ways of structuring narrative in different contexts.

The big fault here is that the stories don't connect very strongly, so the book doesn't really feel like an integral whole. The "themes" or more likely, inquiries Mitchell is pursuing are so tenuously linked across the different sections that the books can't be said to be about anything in particular. SPOILER Mitchell recognizes this and even hedges his bets by having his composer character--whose masterpiece is the "Cloud Atlas Sextet," a piece with six completely different, but nested themes--explain that the piece (a blueprint for the book's six nested stories) isn't supposed to make direct sense.

Mitchell doesn't signal the reader properly on this one. Part of the purpose of post-structuralist, fragmented prose is that the fragmentation of the text itself signals the reader's mind to depart from the order of ordinary narrative flow. The reader's mind is therefore scrambling for order and making connections between fragments that may or may not exist. The mind is open to diagonal, multilateral, and backwards-flowing links.

Mitchell, on the other hand, gives us too much story here for our minds not to fall in--settle in--with the order of the narrative. So our minds are not primed to make connections, but rather lulled into allowing the author to make the connections for us. If the stories, each broken off at a crucial moment, were left broken off, then, in spite of the clear narrative direction of each, we'd be left casting about for connections. But instead, Mitchell goes back and re-nests the stories on the other side so that each narrative arc is completed. The satisfaction of completing a narrative arc makes it almost impossible to connect the text with another text outside of it, especially when that text is of a different narrative stamp. Every time I try to think about it, my brain slams the door.

If this was his intention then, great, but it's a one-liner: "See? Narrative is coercive. Nyah nyah." If this was not his intention, somebody's gonna have to tell me what was. He gave a virtuoso writing performance, at the expense of the greatness of the novel as a whole. I'll tell you what: for the first half of the read, I was indignant that the jacket said that this was shortlisted for the Man Booker, rather than the winner. For the second half, I increasingly agreed with the jury.

Writing Lesson: If you're telling a story, or pursing an inquiry (and I am, both, in da nobble) then make the connections strong. Be clear with yourself what you're trying to do, and give the reader enough to understand this, too. You can do all this and still give structural food for thought.

Altogether an exciting reading week. Yeah.

July 06, 2008

Book Throwin' Update

Thank Og somebody said it so that I don't have to.

After the seemingly universal lovefest for Valente's Orphan's Tales, and owing to the fact that I got In the Night Garden as a very sweet present from badgerbag, plus the fact that I never finished it because the tenth time I threw the book across the room it got badly injured and I had to take it to the book hospital and leave it there forever and never come back ... well, I didn't have the heart, and by that I mean the balls, to say how much I didn't like (i.e. hated) that book. (sorry, badge! Let's still have dinner and talk about it!)

It wasn't just the overheated, nonsensical "lyricism," which vito_excalibur mentions here. It's the fact that she keeps starting stories and never seems to finish them. Everyone's got a limit for nested stories and she surpassed mine with a vengeance. Because of the cheap language, I didn't care about the first characters in the first place. And layering character after situation, after story, after character on top of them just made me forget them only to be reminded of how much I didn't care about them when they came back.

I get what she was trying to do, but if your reader leaves the room before you do it, can it really be said to be done? (That was the sound of one hand clapped to a forehead.)

Plus, I love that vito_excalibur is quoting "A Reader's Manifesto". Everybody needs to read that whole fucking thing right now. When I read it a few years back, I couldn't believe that Myers had managed to attack every lit writer that I had serious isshooz with: McCarthy, Proulx, Delillo, Auster. Gotta love that.

Plus, this lolcats is hysterical:

Oscarwao

In other news, I devoured J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and take back everything I thought about how boring Coetzee must be if everyone is always on about how great he is. The deal with him is sheer density of storytelling. Barbarians is a short novel, but he covers a lot of ground simply because he doesn't waste words thinking or meditating out loud. When a character thinks something, Coetzee states that thought in a sentence or two and moves on. Yet, the whole novel gives a very slow, meditative mood. I haven't quite figured out how he does it, but it's a huge writing lesson for me for when I go back in and revise da nobble.

Speaking of which, I have three letters to catch up on today. Off to the races ...

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