181 posts categorized "science fiction/fantasy"

June 21, 2008

I'm Gaius!

How did I miss this quiz?            
What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Dr Gaius Baltar

You have betrayed humanity, for a blonde.  However you'd rather people learnt to just get past that.  After all, you never meant wipe out the human race.  Luckily you are cleverer than everyone else, so no one will ever know.  Even though they look at you with suspicion behind their eyes.

         

Dr Gaius Baltar

         
81%

CPO Galen Tyrol

         
75%

Tom Zarek

         
69%

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)

         
63%

Col. Saul Tigh

         
63%

Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)

         
50%

Commander William Adama

         
38%

President Laura Roslin

         
31%

Number 6

         
19%

Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)

         
6%
   

June 07, 2008

Reading Update

I'm currently reading The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Láinez. Why had I never heard of this writer before I stumbled on this paperback translation in a used bookstore? He was apparently one of Borges' cronies (Borges wrote a brief foreword in this book), and a real devotee of both medieval romance and the Borgesian meta-encyclopedic view of the world.

He's also a kickass writer. Observe this passage, which describes the viewpoint character, an immortal fairy, watching over an unusual medieval family at rest. The fairy is the knight Ozil's ancestor. The family are a stonemason (Pons), his minstrel brother (Ithier), his wife, a former camp follower (Berthe), her son with Ozil (Aiol), her daughter (Azelais), etc.:

By moonlight and candlelight I saw the soft contours of the sleepers, pale as ghosts. Only the toil-worn Pons had a night-cap on. Beside him Berthe was a curving mound of generous hips and full breasts, voluptuous from her years of erotic exercise. Every immature line of Azelais, even in sleep, was wary and defensive. Her skin was marble-white, translucent, and her beauty almost too perfect, with something frightening, feline, and ambiguous about it. The servants were stocky peasant-girls with fetching dimples and dusky armpits, veins knotted in their legs by drudgery. Then the three tall forms of the boy, the knight, and the minstrel. The skin, taut across the bones, revealed the muscles beneath the matted grey hair on Ozil's chest; showed Ithier skeleton-thin from his courtly employments; showed Aiol, fifteen years old, like a statue in bronze. The soft glow on the brown skin, the relaxed sprawl, the absolute grace and proportion, belonged to the art of a later age than the twelfth century with its stern, compact creations of craftsmen such as Pon.

I loitered above them until it was late, partly from love of Aiol and partly to savour the knowledge that I was not alone. Instead of vegetating in the tower at Lusignan I was here, sharing their joys, doubts, and despairs; here with their breathing, their murmurings, snores and snuffles and broken words, the grinding of teeth and the smell of humanity in an overheated room. As I had felt that Aiol, sitting by the window, saw into the future, I felt that here, with these sleeping, vulnerable mortals, I was close to the deep, strange roots of the world; that the entire essential world was here, growing like a splendid plant with separate leaves and flowers in the fertile shelter of an inn at Poitiers.

Now that's what fantasy should be. The usual youth-and-beauty-worship is there, the romantic virgin/whore suspicion of women, the artisan/knight dichotomy alive and well here too, and the strange feminization of male beauty in the eyes of the emasculate witch/fairy. But Láinez writes all of this in supreme consciousness of what he's doing. He makes the archetypes complex, comments upon them, and connects the whole with the sublime purpose of fairytale and, by extension, literature. Well, the above is more fairy tale, and the below more literature:

These unpredictable human beings! Observing them in public, you would never suspect, unless you were unusually astute or cynical, the things they do in private. Much of the famous tension of today arises from anxiety as to whether some door which should be shut may have been left open. Admittedly, inadvertent revelations, shattering though they may be, add their spice to life---they provide new vistas, energize it enormously ... But enough of that. The reader will have gathered, I am certain, what was happening in the cowshed.

Indeed.

May 29, 2008

More On Rachel Moss and Her Legion of Losers

I was admiring badgerbag and moondancerdrake for their ability to laugh at/brush off the idiocy at SASS (the place where people reposted Rachel Moss' disgusting fatphobic WisCon report and then outdid her in racism, fat-hating, ablism and all around misogyny.)

But, as I knew would happen, those mama's boys picked up on my post from yesterday and went looking for pictures of me on the internet. When they called me "halfchink" and said that "tall women should die" and posted an actually pretty attractive picture of me on their forum, I have to say, all I could do was laugh. Is that the best they got? Seriously? Like Cyrano, I could insult myself ten times better than they can, and ten times over, without repeating. Plus, how much of my blog did they have to read to figure out I'm a "halfchink?" Hint: a lot more than I would ever read of theirs.

Some dumbshit actually reposted MOST of my post but, not at all surprisingly, left out the stuff about why so many physically ill and abused women are fat. Wonder why that is. Also, that loser had to rearrange my post to try to make it look bad, and failing. What said loser doesn't realize is that the kind of idiots who inhabit SASS really can't edit anything I write because I exist in a completely different idiom ... most of the world does. Oh, also they raised my hit count by posting my "catblogging" archive, all three posts of it. Wow. I don't have to do anything to disarm these guys; they're arm-free already.

I'm still inclined to be angry on behalf of my friends, who don't need to hear this shit anymore, but seriously? What these losers don't seem to get is that we've ALL HEARD IT BEFORE AND WE'VE ALL STOPPED LISTENING TO IT. Which is why my wonderful friends are able to shake it off with a laugh or a shrug and move on. I wouldn't have posted in public about my own "issues" if anyone still had the power to make me feel badly about them. This has actually been instructive to me: hearing that bullshit about me specifically didn't hurt at all, although two days ago I would have suspected that it would have still hurt a little bit.

No one's all that furious about what these cowards are saying about THEM. We're all furious about what they're saying about our FRIENDS. So, my friends and allies, no need to be furious on my behalf. And I'm even going to stop being furious on badgerbag, moondancerdrake, and tempest's behalf. It's not worth my fury because these losers aren't really hurting them.

This is the last time I'm going to post about this idiocy. It's fangless, ultimately, and I have better things to think about.

May 28, 2008

Rachel Moss and the Legions of Hiding Assholes

Those of you who haven't yet heard ...

there's an internet brouhaha going on over a girl -- word used advisedly -- named Rachel Moss, who went to WisCon and posted a con report on Something Awful with pictures of mostly fat and transgendered participants, taken without permission, making fun of these people for their non-normativity. She apologized, then took her apology back. She took her post down, but someone else put it back up without her permission and a dogpile of cretins jumped in to finish the work. By the time they were done, they pulled WisCon photos off of Flickr to add to the mess, making fatphobic, transphobic, ablist, racist, and generally misogynist comments about a wide variety of individuals, many of whom are my friends, and all of whom are at least nominally my allies, by virtue of being WisCon attendees who treat others with the modicum of respect required for this Con. There's a link to a mirror of the original post at Angry Black Woman, who is also calling for people to post about this and make sure Rachel Moss' name is well connected to this on the internet.

I don't care about Rachel Moss -- the culprit here -- and I'm happy to see her banned from WisCon, but I'd be just as happy to see her show up again and get snubbed and hissed as she deserves. I doubt very much she'll even try to come back. Apparently she's on the public (blogging) record as having an eating disorder of her own--bulimia--which makes this attack both more understandable and more disgusting. I'd ask that no one who comes through this post attack Rachel Moss for her eating disorder--that's her problem--but rather for her unacceptable behavior regarding WisCon.

I have the advantage of having been an extremely close friend for 18 years of a woman who suffers from Cushing's Disease, a disease that affects women disproportionately, and that actually makes women fat. I got to see her develop from a physically healthy and average-sized petite 20-year-old into an obese woman in her late twenties, without any "normal" reasons for the change. I got to watch her fight misogynist doctors and careless HMOs for over a decade before she could get someone to diagnose her with the often fatal disease she already knew she had. I got to see total strangers casually call her "lardass" and suchlike on the street, dropping bombs on her when they weren't even in a bad mood (I get the bombs usually when the bombers are in a bad mood), simply because that's what you do with a fat woman.

 

And we're talking about a woman whose obesity was very definitely not "her fault."

But then I've also gotten to see in close friends the effects of early abuse and early eating disorders pushed upon them by family members (I tend to think pushing eating disorders on a child is abuse, but the abuse I'm talking about was often from someone else, and far more serious and devastating than even eating disorders). If these people "made themselves" obese by overeating, what person who knew the kind of childhood they had, the kind of families they have, could possibly blame them or say that their eating was their own fault?

And who the fuck are these people to take it upon themselves to decide that someone deserves to be openly hated -- and to hate themselves -- for a body that they did not choose? Thinking about it makes me want to cry in a way that thinking about all the bullshit that actually touches my own life --- the racism, the stupidity about multiraciality, the neverending aggression I get from men for being tall, and all the put-downs I've had from misogynists --- does not make me want to cry.

My feminism, my antiracism, my refusal to allow total strangers to get me to agree that my tall woman's body is abnormal, all of these empower me. But watching fat people get smacked down makes me want to cry because while most of me is an ally, a small part of me still tugs me towards the smack-down crew, and how can we fight this when I'm also the enemy?

There's still a little voice in my head that agrees with such awful people as Rachel Moss when they say awful things about fat people. I've come close many times to stomping that little voice out, but it's a tough one. It's the same voice that tells me I'm fat, but it's okay as long as other people are fatter. I know a lot of you out there know that voice, even if you won't admit it.

Rachel Moss knows that voice, only she has completely failed--if she ever tried--to stomp it out. She's let that voice take over, and it's a monster's voice. That's what she's turned into for the time being: a monster, who's projected her hatred of her own body onto the bodies of others, to get some relief. Who can really doubt that that's what's happening with women who hate on fat women?

And who can doubt that that's what's happening with women who hate on disabled people? I read the blog of a friend every day who posts about how much pain she's experienced that day and whether or not--and for how long--she was able to stand before having to resort to her wheelchair. Her blog strikes me dumb because nothing I experience puts me in such physical pain and I can't even properly imagine it. And some ... god I don't have bad words enough to express it, let me resort to other languages ... some turtle's egg, some drecksau posted a picture of her in her wheelchair and called her a "cripple" and someone else hoped she'd get cancer and undergo chemo so she could cosplay Charles Xavier.

I'm actually crying with rage as I write this. I don't think I can dig deeper into the comments on that post to find the extraneous shit. So far they've turned a picture of a (black) friend of mine into an icon with the tag "100% N*gger" on it, hoped that a Muslim woman's head gets chopped off, and ... I'm not continuing with this filth. Who are these people? And will someone who knows how to do this please let the rest of us know how to get them kicked off the social networking services they're using so we don't have to hear about their shit anymore?

But all you need to know about shame and cowardice is that every one of those losers posting in comments is hiding behind a username and icon, and every single one of the women they are making fun of is out in the open on the internet.

I'm closing comments on this post because I'm just passing the word on.

Reading Update

Back from WisCon with much to say and little time to say it in.

Finished reads:

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jane Jacobs, which I will review over at atlas(t).

Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce.

This was as satisfying as all the other Pierce books I've read (I've ignored the two Circle of Magic series so far, but will probably give in soon), but more so because it's a mystery! This is the first of a series, which I hope will be more than a four-book series, and has the potential to be, since it's a mystery! The character reminds me of Kel from "Protector of the Small," which is my favorite Pierce series so far, in that she is quiet and stubborn. She's a little too perfect so far, like all of Pierce's heroines, but there's hope for her yet. Plus, it's a mystery!

Cons: the only second world poc in this one was a baddie: the mage who poisons people. All the white hats are white except for a black police sergeant who has a reputation for punishing her charges for the way her people have been treated by working them hard in training. Unfortunately, she bears out her reputation and there's no more discussion of it. She's Louis Gosset Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Also, I kept channeling Terry Pratchett's Night Watch series. Although Pratchett's work is piss-take and Pierce's serious, her city of Corus criminal underworld and cop's world is SOOOO much like Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork that I swear I kept expecting Captain Carrot or Nobby to come running around the corner. She's gonna have to work on that. The FEEL of this world is just too much like the feel of Ankh-Morpork.

But humongous kudos to Pierce for finally addressing the working class and working poor. She's sort of done so before in the characters of the Circle of Magic series, which I have mostly avoided thus far (I can't deal with four protagonists in a single series) but they are people taken from all walks of life and thrust into a privileged position, whereas the Dogs (police) in this new series occupy the exact position that a Renaissance city guard force would have occupied back then. They are very clearly from the servant class and are not going to rise above that.

This is partly what makes the book so reminiscent of Pratchett: his Night Watch books fairly reek of class conflict; it's one of the engines that drive his stories. Pierce's (thus far) focus on the privileged classes and the ascension of lower-class people to privilege, vs. Pratchett's ongoing focus on class conflict, is a direct result of their nationalities; Pierce is American and Pratchett is English. Part of the genius of Pratchett is that he takes the weird medieval obsessions of fantasy and mines them for the real human conflicts that would have existed in such worlds if their  authors had been more thoughtful. Pierce's popularity comes from a less sharp, but similar tactic: turning the gender relations of European feudalism on their ears. It seems she's learning from Pratchett, and her world of Tortall is already the richer for it.

Now, if we could just work on that race thing ...

May 23, 2008

At Wiscon

Hey all!

Those of you at Wiscon who want to meet up should:

  1. Come to Opening Ceremonies at 7:30 tonight (Friday) for a Carl Brandon Society-led hootenanny.
  2. Come to the Carl Brandon Party tonight (Friday) after 9 PM in room 623, which we're sharing with the Speculative Literature Foundation. New and renewing members will get a special cocktail!
  3. Come to the Carl Brandon Society update panel tomorrow (Saturday) at 10 AM in Conference Room 5 to find out what's going on with the awards, the scholarship, our wiki, and other cool things we're doing.
  4. Come to my reading with Doselle Young and Alaya Dawn Johnson tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 pm at Fair Trade Coffee at 418 State Street.
  5. Come to the Carl Brandon Society panel "Some of Us Are Brave: Identity Intersections in an Election Year" on Sunday at 4 PM in Conference Room 5.

Plus, I'll just be around, dude!

May 07, 2008

My Wiscon Sked

Is as follows:

Carl Brandon Society Update
Join the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee for some brainstorming, some celebration of people of color in SF, and an update including information on the Awards and the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The gang will mostly be there: Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond, Candra Gill, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 10:00-11:15 A.M.
Conference 5

Red Beans and Rice
A reading, starring Alaya Dawn Johnson, Doselle Young, Bryan Thao Worra, 'n' moi!
Saturday, 4:00-5:15 P.M.
Fair Trade

May 06, 2008

Starship & Haiku

51nq3cjherl_sl500_aa240_ What do you get when a burned-out, English-educated, Thai composer, who sometimes resides in the United States, and has read too much Mishima, starts to write science fiction?

Well, damn. You get something bizarre and almost beautiful. I say "almost" because S.P. Somtow tried to structure his 1981 novel Starship and Haiku like haiku--or at least, to make the experience of reading it recall the experience of reading haiku in macro. But it's a novel, which is sort of the anti-haiku form. So neither form--haiku, novel--quite succeeds, and neither quite fails, either. And there's a large admixture of pulpy prose in here, making the proceedings occasionally awkward.

The story: In the third decade of the 21st century, after a devastating nuclear war has left the Earth utterly moribund, politically-neutral Japan is the only country on Earth not left as a post-apocalyptic landscape. Two aging rivals--Ishida and Takahashi--form the powerful arms of a triumvirate that has taken over Japan. The faithless Ishida is the Minister of Survival and the superficial Takahashi is the Minister of Ending, charged with assisting the people to achieve perfect suicides to expiate humanity's crime of destroying the Earth.

Ishida has a secret project. Before the millenial war, the Russians (the book was written around 1980, remember) had completed a starship and left it orbiting the Earth. Ishida has a team of mostly western scientists building a rocket that will take a group of colonists to the Russian generational ship, which they will then aim at Tau Ceti, a four-thousand-year journey. The broader point is to ensure the survival of the human race in the face of its extinction through a devastating virus and debilitating mutations. The more specific point is to ensure the survival of Ishida's own daughter, Ryoko.

Knowing that Ryoko is particularly Japanese (I know, just go with it for a minute) and likely to wish for a beautiful death, Ishida sends her on a trip to Hawai'i to view the devastation firsthand. While there, she meets Josh Nakamura, a Japanese American man, and his younger brother Didi, a "strange" or mutant. Didi's mutation keeps him physically childlike and enables him to read minds and perform a certain amount of telekinesis. He keeps this secret from Josh, for some reason, and Josh thinks Didi is a cretin. Didi is all about joy and beauty and Josh doesn't get the whole Japanese thing.

There's a bit of back and forth and stuff happens. Upshot is that Ryoko develops a relationship with a whale, who (here comes the really bizarre part) reveals to the ministers that (mild spoiler) whales are the parents of the Japanese, a human sub-species that is human-shaped and whale-minded. That's where the Japanese obsession with beauty and death comes from (I know, bear with me a moment.) The whale also outs Ishida's anti-suicide starship plan. This revelation causes the rivals Ishida and Takahashi to kick into high gear. Takahashi becomes a deathgod, hounding people into suicide to expiate their patricidal sin (killing whales) and Ishida sends Ryoko off to make the starship thing happen. And so on.

Like I said, bizarre. On the one hand, there's this insanely reductive view of the Japanese as monolithically suicide-crazy and beauty-obsessed. On the other, there's a fairly nuanced (for 1981) understanding of a Japanese American identity in the person of Josh Nakamura, who may look like he's sprung from whales, but holds no truck with killing yourself after seeing the perfect teabowl or some such shit.

(There's a bit of business about how Josh and Didi get to Japan through trading their dead grandmother's antique teabowl for passage to a Japanese ship's captain who seriously considers immediate suicide since he is unlikely to see anything that beautiful again. The captain tempers his disgust for Josh's inability to see the bowl's beauty with the reflection that Josh was not raised Japanese, so it's not his fault. I have no idea if this was intentionally or unintentionally comic.)

But you can also read this as a secondary world novel, in which the "Japanese" are not our Japanese, but rather what Japanese would be if they were descended from whales. Yeah. Because of all the interesting things about this book, the most interesting is that it's the first SF novel--or maybe even the first novel, period--that I've read that instinctively understands two things about Asian America: its pan-Asian ethic, and its cultural Japan-centeredness.

The pan-Asian ethic is implied rather than stated. The only character whose identity isn't reduced to utter silliness is the proto-JA Josh. While reading Josh's character, you can't help but be aware that the author is Thai, but of a privileged enough background to have been educated abroad and to consider himself among the international creative community. Maybe it's just me, but his presentation of Josh's JAness feels proprietary: the presentation of a hybrid identity that's shared by the author by virtue of being Asian--any Asian--and transnational.

The 80's Asian American Japan-centerness was partly external and partly internal. Japan in the early 80's was on the ascendant, economically speaking. SF was fascinated with it as the supposed culture of the future (see Blade Runner and Neuromancer), and mainstream America was both fascinated by its exotic cultural--and business--virtues (see Gung Ho and Die Hard), and angered by its smooth victory over Detroit (see Vincent Chin). So Asian Americans in the 80's were forced to deal with mainstream America's perceptions of Japan, both "positive" and negative.

On the other hand, the 80's was when the redress movement for WWII Japanese American internment really heated up. (Reparations were finally awarded in 1988.) The Asian American Movement of the 1970's, which created the notion of a pan-ethnic Asian American identity, put a lot of its energy towards redress, and as a result, many Asian Americans who are not of Japanese ancestry feel a strong identification with Japanese Americans.

So it's fascinating that this book was written during all this ferment--and written at a time when American-raised Asian Americans were struggling to find an idiom to tell their stories in. Somtow doesn't explicate this particular Japanocentric, pan-ethnic Asian American sensibility so much as embody it in the book. He might not even have been entirely aware of it.

On another track, the book is a lovely experiment that recalls for me--of all things--Ernest Hogan's High Aztech. They were written about ten years apart and share almost nothing, except--and this is important--length, and hybridity. Both are not so successful as novels, both better read as impressionistic essays on 21st Century cities, technology, and human understanding.

I loved this book, which is unusual for me. I don't often love books this close to failure. But this one has done things I never thought to do with writing: taken the Mishima-style core of beauty and suicide that I've also felt and tried to write about, and made a piece out of it that I would never have thought to make. (My solution to Mishima was to write an ugly autobiographical story about a girl who reads too much Mishima ... but the less said about that the better.)

May 02, 2008

What I'm Reading for API Heritage Month

Okay, having posted the CBS API Heritage Month list, what am I gonna read for it?

Well, I've already read:

  • Ted Chiang STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS
  • Haruki Murakami HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD

Yes, it's sad. That's all I've read.

I'm going to read:

  • Sesshu Foster ATOMIK AZTEX: I've actually read about half of this book but got distracted and didn't finish. So I'm going to start over and finish it.
  • Cathy Park Hong DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION: I've got it, I've started it, and I'm going to finish it.
  • Bryan Thao Worra ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE: I've got it, I've started it, and I'm going to finish it. By the way, go order this book! Bryan is a member of the CBS Steering committee and decorated the envelope he sent this to me in with a personal poem. Cool.

May 01, 2008

Carl Brandon Society API Heritage Month Book List

Hi Everybody!

It's not only MayDay, the day when everybody in the world except capitalist ol' USA celebrates labor, but it's also the start of the American ASIAN PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH.

Yes, it's time once again to celebrate the Asian and Pacific Islander AMERICANS in your life. Don't hesitate also to celebrate the Asian and Pacific Islander whatever else's in your life as well, though.

The Carl Brandon Society
, per our new Heritage Month book program, has come up with a list of recommended speculative fiction books by writers of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. (These writers are not all American.)

The idea is for you to copy this list and put it on your blog, email it to your friends, take it to your local bookstore and ask them to post it or make a display of these books, etc. We also want you to READ SOME OF THESE BOOKS THIS MONTH! They're terrific!

If you do end up reading one or more of these books, or have another API-heritage SF writer to discuss, please consider participating in the Carl Brandon Society's API Heritage Month blog carnival. A carnival is basically a "magazine" of blog posts on a particular topic. You just post something on the topic on your own blog, and then submit your post to the carnival by clicking the link and then clicking on the orange "submit your blog article" button.

Okay, without further ado,

The CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends the following books of speculative fiction for
ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER HERITAGE MONTH:

  • Ted Chiang STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS

A collection of stories from one of American speculative fiction's most precise and beautiful writers.

  • Sesshu Foster ATOMIK AZTEX

An Aztec prince or a Los Angeles meatpacker? The protagonist travels back and forth between two alternative realities, never sure which is real.

  • Hiromi Goto HOPEFUL MONSTERS

Wonderful stories by the author of The Kappa Child.

  • Cathy Park Hong DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION

The story of a Korean uprising told in pidgin poetry.

  • Kazuo Ishiguro NEVER LET ME GO

In a dystopian England, three children discover that they are clones produced to provide organs to the sick.

  • Amirthi Mohanraj (illustrated by Kat Beyer) THE POET'S JOURNEY

A young poet sets out into the wide world on a journey to find poetry; with the help of a few magical creatures, she finds more than she ever expected.

  • Haruki Murakami HARDBOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD

Mad experiments with the unleashed potential of the dreaming brain.

  • Vandana Singh OF LOVE AND OTHER MONSTERS

The main character wakes up from a fire and doesn't know who he is, but can sense and manipulate the minds of others. He is not alone in this ability. Singh takes us on a metamind ride.

  • Shaun Tan THE ARRIVAL

A wordless graphic novel about immigration and displacement.

  • Bryan Thao Worra ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EYE

Speculative poems that take us from the secret wars of the CIA in Laos to the secret edges of the human soul and the universe.

April 10, 2008

Martian Territory Law Updated

Of course it would be in the National Review, in Bush's early years, that some idiot would write an article calling on the US to opt out of the 1967 international treaty agreeing to no national sovereignity claims in space.

The post argues that article II of the treaty does American interests "harm," although it never specifies what that harm is. Apparently, because article II was intended to restrict funding to NASA (and succeeded), that means we should repudiate it now.

Now we find ourselves in an entirely different world. The Soviet Union is no more. Mars, it         turns out, has far more water than we previously suspected: enough to support colonies, and even programs aimed at giving it a climate more hospitable to humans. The reward for going to Mars has increased dramatically.

Um, okay ... and what was that reward again? I mean, aside from learning how to keep people who leave Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field for extended periods from dying of radiation sickness? Or maybe giving science fiction writers more jazz? Or maybe sheer excitement?

People, people, we're not looking at a viable alternative living space here. To terraform Mars would require more Earth resources than it would produce or maintain ... probably ever. The potential mineral resources might be attractive ... assuming the iron and nickel are even there in a useful form ... if we needed iron and nickel that badly ... which we don't. But we don't know how to power spaceships without fossil fuels--something that we may well run out of in the next century--and transportation of any resources from Mars would far outcost the resources themselves.

How can conservatives NOT understand the liberal tendency to see them as crazy, greedy, and pathologically nationalistic, when a typical conservative response to a renewal of funding in space exploration is a call to claim sovereignity over unviable and as-yet unreachable territories in contravention of law, common sense, and even imagination?

I want to hit my head against a wall repeatedly, but this attitude is exactly what I need to understand for da nobble, which of course takes place on a Mars already claimed as a territory by the US.

***** UPDATE

oo. Missed this is in the first sweep. Here's an actual PIRG guy (albeit from Texas) advocating the creation of an International Agency for the Development of Mars to enable the selling of Martian territory to private individuals to spur the development and settling of human colonies on Mars.

Again, why? I dunno, but this guy gives more of an answer than the previous dudes:

The IADM should be structured so as to allow ordinary citizens to purchase land shares and prevent all of the shares from being gobbled up by governments and corporations. If this is successfully done, I think it’s possible that we will see a rebirth of a social drive which has been largely extinct for the last century: the push for the frontier. In an increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized world, the desire to strike out on one’s own, to build a new home even in a harsh and unforgiving environment, will again come to the fore. By mid-century, I wouldn’t be surprised to see restless and adventurous people, the spiritual descendents of the American pioneers, buying Martian land with the full intention of settling it themselves.

Why now? Well, because our world is  "increasingly bland, stratified, and commercialized," and the best solution to this is to create a new frontier and get our manifest destiny flowing again, not, you know, to use our imaginations or to fix our problems or anything.

I say "Mars!" You say "Dumbass!"

Mars!

Dumbass!

Mars!

Dumbass!

April 01, 2008

I Knew That!

Space radiation endangers manned Mars expeditions.

Duh.

Hint: this is an issue in da nobble, WHICH I WILL START IN ON AGAIN THIS WEEK! YAY!

March 16, 2008

Super slammed

And having power problems with my 'puter. Will be taking the little sucker in to get it fixed (finally) this week, so I'll be partly incommunicado. So don't freak if I seem to have been suddenly struck with a case of nonverbalness. The sky is not falling in, nor have I had a stroke. And you can still (sort of) reach me by phone.

The only book I've finished since my last reading update is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, which I thought was fun and archetypally Children's Lit, but was also disturbingly classist.

Read substantial portions of two other books which were intolerable for different reasons. I will say no more.

Am currently reading The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust, which is fab. Will probably write about it when I'm done.

February 18, 2008

Reading Update

I'm getting off to a slow start this year.

I tried re-reading A Tale of Two Cities, which I found in a discount bin at the library, but threw it across the room about five times and five's my limit. I have no idea how I managed to obsess about, much less tolerate Victorian novels when I was in my early twenties. There's so much boring crap in them it's hard to sit still long enough to get to the good stuff!

The representation of women, I can start and finish there. Argh. I know what's past is past, but do I have to read it? I couldn't bear another moment of the pure and delicate little woman--whom it took four men and another, not so pure and delicate, woman to protect--inspiring everyone with her beauty and perfection. And when the good guy/husband decided that his honor couldn't withstand avoiding a suicidal mission back to revolutionary France, I just couldn't take it anymore. Old-fashioned prejudices are forgiveable; stupidity isn't. How did I ever get through this book the first time?

Then I walked into a new bookstore and, just out of idleness, went to YA and looked for Diane Duane, and discovered that all of the Wizard books have been re-released in a series of 8, with apparently more on the way! I had discovered the original editions of these books in a used bookstore and hadn't bothered to look them up on Amazon, so I didn't know they were still in print!

They're very cool, by the way, and I highly recommend them for da kiddies. One note: the first few were written in the eighties and nineties and have a few items here and there that are badly dated. Particularly the third one, High Wizardry, first published in 1990, which is about the first young wizard whose wizardry manual is not a book but software. She gets a magically small and portable computer (yes, a laptop), which can program entire planets, and runs on a rechargeable battery! (!)

I have to say, the third one was my least favorite of all the ones I've read so far (I've read five now). Not so much because it screeched over the lane divider between fantasy and science fiction, but because the protagonist of this one was not our real protagonist, but her annoying little sister.

I'm an annoying little sister, so perhaps people don't understand why I loathe annoying little sisters (like Dairine in Duane's books, or Dawn in the Buffyverse.) Let me break it down for you:

I
am the protagonist of my own story. Therefore, I identify with the protagonist of the story at hand. If that protag is an older sister, then I am going to identify with the older sister, and be able to imagine having an annoying younger sister whom I want to stomp on. I am not going to have--or want--the self-awareness to see myself as an annoying little sister, peripheral to the main action. Geddit?

In fact, I would imagine that actual older sisters might have an easier time identifying or finding sympathy with the annoying little sister characters because they have practice in that in real life. We annoying little sisters have training in dealing with hand-me-downs and condescension; we have NO training in dealing with responsibility for younger siblings, and we don't want any, thanks.

So, being someone who identifies with the protag, I'm not at all interested in seeing the annoying little sister become the protag. All that does is push the character I identify with aside.

Okay, what I've read of Duane so far:

So You Want to Be a Wizard Fab
Deep Wizardry Fab with whales
High Wizardry Meh with little sisters, computers, and aliens
A Wizard Abroad Fabbish return to fantasy with Ireland and a bit of a love interest; too many characters get to Be The Hero, tho'. Like I hinted above, I want just the identity character to be the hero, thanx.
The Wizard's Dilemma Doubleplus Fab dealybob with dying mother and the eeevil temptation of Seitan. Or Satan, whatever.

Plus, I love that the characters are growing up and dealing with decreasing powers as they get older. I thought this might be a problem with the series when the idea was first introduced, but Duane is handling it just fine, and it's making the character development increasingly complex and interesting.

Yay!

February 12, 2008

BSG: Razor

Sigh.

I know I'm being heavily critical of things right now. I'm acting out. But still, BSG: Razor just wasn't that great, and my hope for season 4 is starting to fade.

I just watched it on DVD, and it made a lot of the mistakes I hated so much on season 3--the exact opposite of the things I loved in the first two seasons.

First of all, I loved the storytelling in the first two seasons which was basically a show OR tell tactic. Show the consequences of earlier decisions, or how a character behaves in a situation. This is fairly common in good filmmaking/tv drama. But less common is the tactic used if you need to give backstory without a flashback: have a character tell the story in a way that gives you maximum subtextual impact. A great example of this is how they tell the story of the Pegasus in season 2: the ship's XO gets drunk with Tigh and tells him about how Cain shot the original XO for insubordination ... then plays it off as a joke. The mechanics gossip with Pegasus mechanics, and then report the story of the civilian ships being stripped and civilian families shot to punish/prevent resistance.

This tactic is really effective because the characters aren't just as-you-know-bob-ing, but also reacting to the storytelling. The manner of the storytelling itself tells a story. And no scene showing what happened could possibly be as horrific as the varieties we've imagined in our heads.

What they did to fuck it up in season 3 was to go back and fill in scenes they'd already told us about or hinted at, by giving us unnecessary flashbacks. In season 2, when Kara has been captured by Cylons and is being fooled by them into thinking she's in a human hospital, the "doctor" tells her that he's seen how all the fingers on one of her hands were broken in the same place. That detail is all we need to know that Kara was abused as a child ... and our overactive imaginations can fill in the rest. That's really all we need. But in season 3 we get shown--in flashback--the scene where the finger-breaking happens. Her mother slams her hand in a door. Naturally the scene is high drama, but somehow not as bad as the things I had half-imagined. And we get showed it four or five times so we're desensitized to it anyway.

Razor did this as well, by taking us back to those two horrible scenes where the XO is shot and where civilians are shot, and showing it to us. And guess what? It's not that bad. I grew up on made-for-tv movies about the holocaust and 80s Vietnam flicks. These cheap-ass BSG scenes where we see a bad dramatization of a story we've already heard are nothing. Nothing. You'd have to go pretty damn bad to top the horror of the head-shaving scene in Playing For Time, or the basic training suicide scene or the teenage girl sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

BSG doesn't have the leeway to go truly horrific. It's achieved its darkness by expertly playing on our sick imaginations. The moment it stops giving our imagination enough rope, it stops being a good show.

What's also horrible about this is that Starbuck's entire wonderful, brave, destructive personality is reduced to that of an abuse victim. We could have been left a little breathing room to imagine that she is simply like that. But instead, she's nailed down to a stereotype. She's explained, and excused from any real responsibility for the shit she pulls, and in the process, also divested of much of her power.

They do this to Admiral Cain, too. She's evil and scary, but also really powerful and attractive, because she believes so completely that her brutality is right. And then in Razor her brutality is "explained" through a childhood trauma in which she is forced to choose between saving her own life and trying to save that of her little sister ... from Cylons, natch, during the first Cylon war. Also, her brutality towards Number Six is "explained" by making that Six her lover, and her nastiness come from her feelings of betrayal. Basically, all of Cain's agency is stripped away and we're left with a character that's just a pychological machine: input trauma and output monstrosity.

And finally they did their stupid morality play thing that they started doing in earnest in season 3. Here, we see a new character, Shaw, a young woman bullied and mentored by Cain into her daughter and protege. Like Starbuck. And like Starbuck, she was raised by a military mother who recently died. The terrific suggestion of an attraction between Starbuck and Cain that never got fulfilled in season 2 is drawn off here in the service of Shaw's story. Shaw basically stands by while Cain shoots her XO, laps up Cain's justification, and then commits an atrocity of her own. At the end of the episode SPOILER she sacrifices herself and gets a Cylon god to redeem her. Yak.

They were such insanely good storytellers the first two seasons, and it was exactly because they didn't use cheap narrative devices like all of the above.

god, I hope they remembered this for season 4. And yes, I still do hope there IS a season 4.

February 05, 2008

What I'm Reading in February

Okay, first of all, what I have read from the Carl Brandon List:

  • 47 by Walter Mosley
  • Stormwitch by Susan Vaught
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • and parts of So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan

I can highly recommend all of them, especially the Butler book, which is my favorite of hers, and So Long Been Dreaming, which gives you a great spread of POC spec fic.

What I'm not going to tackle at this time:

  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

'Cause apparently, it's a mouthful, double entendre intended. I'm saving it for much later.

So this month I will try to get through the rest of the list, in this order, if I can get these books in this order, i.e. in order of authors I haven't read yet first:

  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

I seriously do not expect to get through this list in one, short month. I'll be happy if I make it to the Minister Faust.

Who's reading with me?

February 04, 2008

Carl Brandon's Black History Month List

Hey all,

As many of you know, I'm on the steering committee of The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing representation of people of color in the speculative genres. We've polled our members and come up with a recommended reading list of speculative fiction books by black authors for Black History Month.

The idea is for you to read these books this month, forward this list around to your friends, take this list into your local bookstores and ask them to display these books this month, post the list on your blogs and websites, etc. I hope you'll all strongly consider at least picking up one of these books and falling into it. It's a wonderful list, and your February will be improved!

So, without further ado:

THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

  • So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:

• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color:
47 by Walter Mosley

• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group:
Stormwitch
by Susan Vaught

(cross-posted at Other magazine blog.)

January 02, 2008

What Did I Read in 2007? Updated

2007 is the first year that I have kept track of all the books I have read ... or at least, read through to the end. There were a handful or two of books this year that I put down unfinished and didn't pick up again, but no more needs to be said about that. So here they are, the ones I finished, along with stats. The ones in bold are books that gave me to think, for longer than their stories lingered in my imagination. This is more good than not, but does not mean, necessarily, that these are the best books, or even my favorite books, of the year.

1. Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
2. Remains by Mark W. Tiedemann
3. Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
4. Colors Insulting to Nature by Cintra Wilson
5. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
6. Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
7. Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier
8. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
9. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
10. Middle Passage by Charles Johnson
11. Other People's Weddings by Noah Hawley
12. Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein
13. Was by Geoff Ryman
14. Water Logic by Laurie Marks
15. 47 by Walter Mosley
16. The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
18. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn
19. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
20. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
21. The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
22. McSweeney's Anthology of Hipsters Writing Children's Stories (I refuse to call this by its real title)
23. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
24. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
25. Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey
26. So You Want to be a Wizard? by Diane Duane
27. Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane
28. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
29. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
30. Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
31. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
32. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
33. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
34. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
35. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
36. The Grey King by Susan Cooper
37. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
38. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
39. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
40. Trickster's Choice by Tamora Pierce
41. ... And This is Laura by Ellen Conford
42. Siberia by Ann Halam
43. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
44. Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce
45. Good to Great by Jim Collins
46. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
47. The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman
48. Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
49. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
50. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
51. Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce

52. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (forgot to put this on the blog when I read it so it didn't make it into the year-end list. Really didn't like it much.)

So ...

  • 52 books completed in total

  • 1 nonfiction book (only one)

  • 2 graphic novels

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

  • 39 books in speculative fiction genres

  • 21 male and 25 female authors

  • 6 authors of color, as far as I know

  • 10 re-reads

  • 12 series that the books I read were part or all of

  • 27 with strong female protagonists
  • And with that, my YA-reading year is over. This doesn't mean that I won't still read YA, but I'm going to stay programmatic with my reading while reading in a different direction in 2008.

December 21, 2007

Top Ten Novels

Inspired, or expired, or despired, by all the year-end top ten lists, plus something I saw somewhere about writers' top ten novels lists, I've decided to do my own top ten novels list.

But, of course, there has to be a caveat. This is not necessarily the top ten best novels I've ever read. That would be too difficult, given my moodiness. These are, rather, the novels that created my understanding of what novels are, broke that understanding and remade it, added to it substantially, or, in at least one case, helped define a whole area of things that novels shouldn't be. This is a litany of idiosyncratic reading experiences; not everyone--or even most ones--would have the same eye-opening experience upon reading these books, although I can heartily recommend all of them, and, in fact, do. This is really just a reading memoir, really. And I hate memoir. And redundancy.

Also, there are more than ten, as you will have immediately noticed. But Top Ten just rolls off the tonguish.

  1. The Dark is Rising: I wrote about it recently so I don't have to repeat, but this is a peculiar and beautiful little jewel of a book: not logical, nor perfectly structured--as YA and fantasy and YA fantasy must usually be--but intuitive and grand and cold and mysterious and ritually layered and smart and adult and complex all at once. I never found an age-specific book to match it because there is none, and it didn't so much confirm my childhood reading as point away from it, into the possibilities beyond.
  2. Pride & Prejudice: is so popular right now it hardly needs more elegy (or more accurately, rhapsody) added to its account. But beyond the "romance", which I started finding suspect at a fairly young age, P&P remains a favorite because it is so damned perfectly structured. I've read it twenty times (no exaggeration) and the structure never fails to usher me through the same emotional experience. You can become so accustomed to something that you sicken of it; you can build a tolerance to drugs; but a perfect narrative arc somehow never fails to raise your blood pressure at the right moment, even when you know what's coming better than you know the feeling of your own birthday.
  3. Jane Eyre: people pass over the weirdness of JE, I think because it's weird and that makes people uncomfortable. But weird is what happens when you take the sketchiness of a fairy tale and inhabit it with complex characters. I don't mean what Gregory Maguire does. Wicked and ilk is just a more complex formula. I mean, when you play out fairy dust in the real world, to its logical conclusion. When wives go mad and husbands are half-wild and damagingly entitled, and a half-benevolent, half-malicious universe intervenes to allow women of spirit to both escape, and be enslaved, in equal measure. JE is an anomaly among Victorian novels not because every single aspect of it wasn't a rampant trend of its era, but because Bronte committed absolutely to every device, and every line, took all of it absolutely seriously, rather than allowing herself genre and ironic distance like all the mens did. The result is Emily Dickenson weird, like focusing on flies' buzzing, or how to paint a billow, or the expression on a dog's face at twilight, when the universe shrugs to startle the master's horse.
  4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: hardly needs commentary either. Again, this was an issue of structure for me, a lesson in how Pride & Prejudice five-act fiction wasn't the only way to go about it. My first spiral structure, and induction into the pleasures of varying velocity. I didn't see it until the end, but the final sentence of Solitude tells you all you need to know about the book ... but only if you've already read the book. So it was also my first experience with that successful paradox of show vs. tell. And the book, also paradoxically, while falling me in love with lush lyricism (just like everyone else), was actually what put me on the road towards a more stripped down prose ... because once Garcia-Marquez has rained petals from the sky to mourn the death of a patriarch, what more can I or anyone do? Plus, an experience of pure, extended beauty. Truly. I was in a daze for a week. One of my few moments with the ecstasy of writing, felt while reading.
  5. The Dispossessed: Rather a dry experience, compared with all of the preceding, but a book that set me intellectually on fire because it was the first political novel I ever read. I mean, sure, I had to read Upton Sinclair and Orwell and Steinbeck and Uncle Tom in high school, but when the politics of the book is over--and come to think of it, all of those were books about political situations that had been largely resolved, although they left a mean residue--so is the book's impact. The Dispossessed was something of a complicated utopian novel, the first one I ever read after all the dystopias I read in high school (1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I'd never experienced a political world that I so wanted to inhabit, nor felt the representation of a political reality better than the one I already inhabited. I'm no revolutionary, and I wouldn't go so far as to say the book created an activist of me. But what I have been able to do since then is at least partly enabled by the awakening of my political imagination ... something very different from political consciousness and much more essential to the workings of true democracy.
  6. The Joy Luck Club/The Woman Warrior: I'd be the first to scream if someone else glommed these two together, but I have to put them together because in my mind, they are the good and bad sides of the same coin, and the one didn't take effect on me until the other one had been thoroughly assimilated (used advisedly). I read Woman Warrior in high school, after picking it out of a used books bin in--where else?--SF Chinatown as a tween. It kinda fascinated me and kinda turned me off, partly because I was looking for some reading experience I could finally identify with, and, although I recognized the universal Chinese mother, Kingston--like any good writer--took care to make her mom an individual rather than a universal, and a Chinatown girlhood isn't the same as a hapa midwestern suburban girlhood. The other turnoff was her careful and fabulist deconstruction of novel, memoir, and superhero/hero's journey narrative. I was not at an age to appreciate that.

    Then in college I was home for the summer and helped my mom out with a cocktail party she threw without being asked and she was very impressed with my sudden maturity--I had always previously bellyached about having to greet and serve guests. When I finished the dishes I retired to my room and that night she left her new hardcopy of Joy Luck Club outside my door with a note thanking me for my help and telling me I was a good daughter (underscore hers). That's my mom all over: half serious, half self-reflectively ironic. I still have the book, and the note, and, although my bitchy mind started deconstructing the book almost immediately, I recognized in Joy Luck the orthodox version of the unsatisfying meta-memoir in Woman Warrior. At the time, I uneasily thought of Joy Luck as the better book. I now recognize Woman Warrior as the ur-text, the brilliant, unique one, which had to be tamed before it could be codified as the arc of the assimilating immigrant. I've written about this in Hyphen magazine and won't bore anyone with it here, but this was my beginning as an Asian American writer.

  7. Howard's End: Modernism wouldn't have made much sense to anyone without Forster to bridge the gap and I'm no exception. And just as everyone takes what they want from Modernism and leaves the rest, I went forward in my reading only to eventually go a step or two backwards to Forster. He introduced me to the deconstruction of the third and fourth dimensions ... but gently. Howard's End, with its timeless mansions and perpetually updating railways, is the novel of space/time compression fighting it out with imperialist expansion. I didn't experience any of that my last two years of college, but I did feel the way Forster messed with the reader's experience of time, so that important moments pass in a sentence, and untangling their implications is the quotidian work of the rest of the novel. With a little hindsight I can see that Howard's End--all of Forster, really, since I gobbled his entire oeuvre in a year--slammed the door on the following classics: Jane Austen and her manners insulated from the source of their wealth (see Tisa Bryant on Mansfield Park), and Charlotte Bronte and her Indies-plantation-owning-African-mission-going romantic males. Forster's literary heir is really Orwell.
  8. Middlemarch: Speaking of steps backward, my big discovery during my grand tour of Europe after college was Eliot. I went and read more and more and more Victorian-era novels: all of the Brontes that I had missed, all of Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tostoi, maybe a little Georges Sand ... and of course, all all all of Eliot. And--not to diss the intellect of all of the preceding, especially Forster, but Eliot's oeuvre--Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and especially Middlemarch--were my first encounter with fiction written by an intellectual writer and critic with a broad understanding of her time and a clear and expressive (rather than emotional and expressionistic) prose style. It's hard to rhapsodize about effectively, but emotional intelligence, breadth of vision, passion for people, and the ability to inhabit every stage of perspective, is my definition of genius thanks to George Eliot. She influences me more than I ever know when I'm in the midst of writing, and if I had to choose only one writer to emulate, Eliot would be the one.
  9. Cosmicomics: Not a novel, of course, but close enough to make a difference. Beautiful, weird and whimsical, funny, and with a simultaneously light and heavy touch ... everything I have written since I started reading Cosmicomics has been an attempt--in its way--to reproduce the effect of that book. It's that (to me) horrifying construction, a book of linked short stories, that remakes the novel, and indeed the short story for me. Not because of any structural or space/time funkiness--once you get past the sci-fi-y surface, these stories are very traditional--but because the ideas are so lovely Calvino just sort of ... doubled them back on each other, for the fuck of it. My most purely loved book on this list.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius please don't try to tell me this isn't a novel. And no, I'm not interested anymore in that discussion about the memoir/novel or the novelistic memoir, or the true novel or the fictional autobiography. Suffice it to say the lines have been blurred, who cares by whom? It's all the--by now--GenX clichés Eggers wielded with excellence (yes, excellence) that make this book for me. Maybe I'm slow but it blew my little mind in 1999 and made a permanent dent. Eggers remains the only writer of my generation who has successfully blown my mind. (Lethem has also blown my mind, but not with a single book. Not that that's less valuable than the single-book-mind-blow, but that doesn't play as well on top ten lists.) Eggers is a negative influence. All due respect, but I have to fight hard not to write like him. He set up some rhythms and phrasing tricks that are so. damn. easy. to imitate.
  11. Parable of the Sower: My introduction to Octavia Butler. I've written about her here and here and don't feel like getting into it again. She found me a way to write science fiction, something I had always wanted to write but couldn't find a way to do while incorporating all my Asian American issues. 'Nuff said.
  12. Mumbo Jumbo: And finally, the book that answered my lingering questions about how I want to--and can--write what it is I have to write. Or put another way: what do I actually have to write. Reed gave me the structure of a process for using the code-switchy language of my actual life and not the prettified standard language Asian Americans are supposed to learn to get a dialogue with the power butlers. Reed teaches that surface and depth can be completely connected, so your linguistic polyrhythms can show and tell about what mainstream American wants to dismiss as schizophrenia simultaneously. Complex and challenging, but not white noise; a wall of word noise textured with different weights of meaning. A language that cites its sources moment by moment. Aleluja!

November 15, 2007

reading Update

... And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford.

A re-read from childhood. I mixed this book up in my memory with another one, A Gift of Magic, and got a really terrific book out of the two. But Laura isn't really a very good book. A girl from an eccentric family feels left out because she has no particular talent. Then, she discovers that she's psychic. Yawn. All she does is predict silly things like her bff taking the lead in the school play, and her little brother getting lost.

I'm going to read A Gift of Magic next, to see if it holds up.

Siberia by Ann Halam

A girl and her mother are sent to a wintry prison camp with no fences for her father's political crime. Turns out the mother is a scientist who keeps the last set of "seeds" for all the mammal species in a small box. When the mother is arrested, the girl must protect the animal "seeds" and make her way to a politically safe city on the other side of the ocean of ice.

A good book--i.e. it flows and is suspenseful and exciting and the characterization of the protag is good--but it feels a lot like a rip-off of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, especially the first one, The Golden Compass. There's the winter scenes, and the magical and useful animal companions with whom the protag lives in symbiosis. And there's the same bleak view of the world of adulthood as being one full of betrayal for kids.

I highly recommend it, but definitely consider it a more sophisticated act of literary theft.

October 23, 2007

Over Sea, Under Stone

N17680I just read Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book of the Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, and I looked on the copyright pages for the pub dates. Turns out, OSUS was first published in 1965, and the other four books in 1973, '74, '75, and '77.

So it seems that what I suspected might be true: the first book was written, possibly as part of a series or possibly as a standalone, and then Cooper was stuck for a long time until she came up with Will and the concept for the other four books, and was able to write them all together.

This makes sense: the momentum, the urgency, of the books doesn't really appear until the second book. Also, the language that indicates that the books are part of a series and that there are further battles to win doesn't appear until the second book. She doesn't find her feet, or her continuity, until The Dark is Rising.

I read online that Cooper wrote OSUS in response to a contest for a children's adventure story, and that's exactly what it is: slightly more naturalistic Famous Five crapola. In fact, the book is a direct rip-off of the Famous Five formula, three siblings go to a town by the sea on vacation and have mystery adventures with buried treasure and pirates' caves and such. With a dog; Cooper even jacked the dog. The only character she didn't steal was the tomboy George, a cryptofemme genderqueer who might have been cool in Cooper's hands if Cooper had allowed herself to follow the possibilities. But she didn't.

That's why OSUS sucked. Yes, it sucked. You can see some of the later, wonderful Cooper in there, but in a really trying way. Her precise descriptions of ritual pageantry, that made The Dark is Rising so Greenawayesque, shows up here as endless, pointless getting people across the room and out the door, so to speak. The kids actually have to go through a corridor, then through another one, then up some stairs, back to their room, move a wardrobe, go up a ladder, through an attic, and then throw away an apple core and decide to pick it up in a strange little cubby hole in the corner of the attic before they finally find the damn treasure map. I would've just sent them straight to the attic and put the map under a loose plank. ... No, I just wouldn't have written the book at all.

The plot (SPOILAGE AHEAD) hinges on a treasure map the children find on a rainy day in th' Cap'n's house (yawn), which turns out to be less of a map than a step, by step diagram, like that children's party game where you hide progressive clues around the house, each clue leading to the next. Despite dire warnings of a definitive battle between good and evil from their great-uncle Merlin, the process still feels like a party game, and Merlin treats it like one, letting the kids put themselves into real physical danger.

The only The Dark is Risingesque elements are a very brief carnival scene, which isn't given nearly the Cooper treatment that I would have liked, and a distinctly lonely and cold mood about the ancient sites that prefigures the rest of the series. But there's also not nearly enough of this.

Also, ephelba asked a couple of posts ago about my take on a couple of scenes in the book. The first is when the children are exploring the house on the rainy day and find the map. Before they find the map, they're pretending to be explorers in the jungle, and there's some by-play among them about how they're being followed by "rude natives." The second one is when the bad guy kidnaps the youngest brother at the carnival, he's dressed like an Arab.

I think these are two different issues. The first is the origins of the children's adventure story in imperialist expansion, and the second is racial drag.

Without dismissing the children's-adventure-story-as-imperialist-training-camp issue, I'm not going to really address it here. Except to say that the sun has set on the fictional British empire, and the appearance of children pretending to explore a jungle served by rude native porters and fearful of cannibals is--in 1965--pretty much Kipling's death rattle. It's sad, clichéd, and boring, but it's at this point a formulaic jerk of the knee. Meaningless.

I say this because the whole book is so rote and clichéd. She was working out some shit, clearly, and I'll need to see the rest of the series again with an adult eye. But, to give the whole series a political read, she starts out with rote imperialist adventure, and moves, in the succeeding four books, more and more and more into Brit Isles interiority, mirroring the postwar withdrawal of the UK back into itself, and the turning of its political attention towards its domestic ills.

The racial drag of someone dressing as an Arab is not a past problem, though. It's a present one. Not that anyone dresses up as Arabs anymore. I think Abscam put an end to that. But you see people costumed as "geishas" all the time.

Alright, I'll be serious. There's not much commentary in the bad guy dressing up as an Arab except: 1) it's the bad guy and his Arab costume is dwelt upon strangely, making the connection stick. Bad guy = Arab. and 2) it makes racial drag sound okay as a holiday costume choice.

Racial Drag Is Not Okay As A Costume Choice, Kids!

I think both of these are relatively toothless, but, of course, these are not the sort of clichés we want to put into children's heads, and leaving this particular book out of The Dark is Rising sequence you read to your kiddies aloud won't actually hurt anything. I didn't read the first one until long after I'd read the other four, and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything. Honestly, though, I really think it's more of a poor read than a politically bad read.

I'm worried now, though, b/c, as I remember it, the second and fourth books were the best ones, and the first, third, and fifth books include the Famous Three. I'm off to read Greenwitch now and maybe it's gonna suck again, too, although Will is in it.

October 21, 2007

The Dark is Rising

Dark_is_rising_the_pixSo I just finished The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, the second book of The Dark is Rising children's fantasy series, and my favorite book when I was a kid ... the book that was supplanted only by Pride and Prejudice, which tells you something about when and how my adolescence started.

I read right through to the last chapter yesterday (finished the last chapter this morning) and then had a bit of an epiphany regarding my own YA fantasy novel. To wit:

There are two plots in The Dark is Rising. The main plot centers around 11-year-old Will Stanton, an English village boy and the baby of a family of ten kids (seventh son, as it happens, of a seventh son.) Will wakes up on his eleventh birthday to find that he is an Old One, basically one of a line of wizards going back into human prehistory who make up "The Light" a side on the battle between good and evil. The other side is, of course, called "The Dark."

Will is the last of the Old Ones, and the Dark is rising for the last time, for a final, multi-year battle that will decide the fate of humanity forever.

But no pressure, right?

I make that snarky comment because Will's arc in the book is predetermined. Everything he does, he does only half understanding what he does. Every act he performs is part of a much older, and more elaborate ceremony that Will does not initiate, or even understand. In this adult reading I have just done, I'm seeing how Will's role in the book is that of someone stepping into a part in a play--or a role in a ceremony, of course--which is set. He can only complete it or fail to complete it. He can't really deviate.

Will's character only really comes out in the small opportunities he has to add his personal style to the actions he performs. He bows to a magical road, for example, to honor its magic, or he puts out a huge hearth fire, rather than a small candle, to practice his magic. He is fooled by The Dark at one point in breaking the circle of Old Ones, and puts everyone in danger, but it all comes right in the end.

For kids, seeing their proxy, the child-protagonist, stepping into a pre-ordained role is very, very satisfying, particularly for kids around the age of eleven or so, tweens, reaching their greatest maturity as children, but not yet raging with hormones. Kids of that age love order. They love to know the way things are supposed to be and to see things fall into place the way they're supposed to.

More than that, of course, this situation mirrors that of older children, who are not yet adolescents, and still look like children, but are being expected to perform responsible roles in family, school, and community, without entirely understanding what those roles mean. Giving this situation layers of depth, history, tradition, and importance is what is so compelling and satisfying for kids that age.

The Dark is Rising is particularly satisfying in this way because the book constantly references ancient English traditions based in magic and the supernatural, as well as legends and myths. These traditions are almost never explained in the book, but rather described in a slightly formal, intensely lyrical language, in a sweet, melancholy, and often cold and distancing tone. It's a tone that's reminiscent of that moment, during class field trips to old buildings, when you looked on someone's grave, or some historical figure's portrait--or the MS of the Declaration of Independence--and realized that a real human hand, or a real human spirit, was behind all of this, and that that human was long dead. That they were just like, but didn't think like, you. And the hairs on the back of your neck went up.

So the order that falls into place in The Dark is Rising is not merely the order usually displayed in children's books: that of contemporary morality and contemporary society, i.e. a very recent, and not deeply-rooted order. The order in The Dark is Rising is a pre-Christian, almost tribal order, created by the understanding of Dark and Light (not even good and evil, because the Light often performs cruel acts.) The book refers often to conflicts between Christianity and pre-Christian supernaturalism, or to class differences: Will is descended from yeoman farmers and artisans, and Will's father deeply resents the squire-like manorial behavior of the lady of their local great-house, and of her butler, who happens to be the first of the Old Ones, and himself a former feudal lord. The book makes the point that the fight between the Dark and the Light transcends these smaller conflicts, but doesn't gloss over the conflicts at all.

Of course, I didn't notice any of this when I was a kid.

When contemplating this book, and the movie that just came out which I'm afraid to go see (the trailer showed a scene of the now American, 13-year-old Will performing a Matrix-like roundhouse kick) the only filmmaker I can think of who could do the book true justice would be, of all people, Peter Greenaway. The Peter Greenaway, of course, not of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover, but of The Draughtsman's Contract, and especially of Prospero's Books. Because this strange and wonderful, and beautifully written, little book (which the movie's Merriman Lyon called "a slog," the bastard) is more of a series of set pieces rich in history, and cultural relevance and reference.

It is a series of beautiful, half-strange/half-familiar tableaux of humans taking on ritual aspects of the natural world to acquire power and perform rites that will arouse and channel the supernatural. It's a series of aesthetic investigations into where human artifice and common culture intersect with the natural world, and where these two interact with and are enhanced by the numinous.

It's really an amazing book.

This would, of course, be enough to make me happy for the rest of my life, but the book has a second, sub-plot, which I never noticed before underpins the entire structure of the book and brings all this lofty, high-fantasy stuff down to a human level. This sub-plot centers around The Walker (SPOILAGE AHEAD!), the 13th century servant of Merriman Lyon, the first of the Old Ones. Merriman raised this guy, named Hawkin, as his own son, and is terribly attached to him, but in Merriman's cold way, more like a pet than a human.

Because of the love and trust between them, and because, although humans are stuck in time, Old Ones are not, and may move themselves and humans back and forth in time at will, Merriman weaves Hawkin into a spell he makes to protect a book that needs to be kept out of the hands of the Dark until Will wakens into his power. The book can only be taken out of its hiding place by Merriman if the he is touching Hawkin with one hand. This protects against Merriman's being turned by the Dark, because, if the other Old Ones suspect anything, they can kill Hawkin and keep the book safe. So for the sake of Will's magical education, Merriman forces Hawkin to risk his life.

Hawkin deals with it until the time comes to remove the book and give it to Will, and then he realizes viscerally exactly the kind of peril Merriman has willingly put him to. That same night he goes over to the Dark and endangers the Light by giving the Dark a doorway--his own mind--into one of the Light's strongholds. Throughout the book, we see him confronting Merriman three times, and each of these confrontations is painful in a way that nothing else in the book truly is. Where ritual and ceremony and magic are being performed elsewhere by our protagonist, always, in a corner, Merriman and Hawkin play out their human tragedy over and over, with magic having no real part of it. And in this tragedy, it is Hawkin who has all the power, because he has free will, and the endlessly powerful, all-seeing Merriman can't affect his decision at all.

Hawkin is hands down the strongest character in the book, and the thing that makes this book still the best fantasy I have ever read.

My personal epiphany yesterday was about exactly that: there needs to be a much more down-to-earth, adult conflict in my book to counterbalance the children's coming-of-age, magical education story that will be the main story. I have no strong adult characters who make it all the way through the book, and I need some. In children's lit, especially middle grade and YA, the child-protagonists' growth is measured against the performance of the adults around them. There need to be strong adult characters, and these characters need to show their quality in acting against their own conflicts, for the book to have true depth.

I'll have more to write about TDIR later but that's all for now.

October 16, 2007

Reading Update

Argh! Teh read books are pilin' up! I have to just list them.

I never mentioned, I don't think, that I read Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell (go read!) or re-read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (yay!)

Also read New Moon, the second book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I was horrified by it, but I'm going to read the third one before I rip on it so that I can tear the whole series (so far) a new asshole properly. A hint: I went looking for Meyer's religious affiliation, that's how horrifying the book is; turns out, she's Mormon.

I'm now re-reading The Dark is Rising series, because it's so wonderful! I'm starting with The Dark is Rising, though and not Over Sea, Under Stone, which was my least favorite of the five. Maybe it's a mistake, but I always read OS,US after TDIR and before Greenwitch, b/c I didn't like it, but Greenwitch is better if you read OS,US first.

I'm babbling.

October 08, 2007

Readin' Update

Just tore through Naomi Novik's fourth Temeraire book Empire of Ivory. I just can't believe how well she maintains the aliveness and unique species character of all the dragons. If it's that easy, why don't everbody do it?

So happy.

October 03, 2007

readin' update

Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane

Wonderful, again, like the first. And, again, like the first, a little bit of a disconnect between the hokey-jokiness of meeting whale wizards, and finding out dolphins' real, and very silly, names ... and the very serious and dark turn the book takes around the middle.

Beautifully written and heartfelt. But this tonal disconnect is starting to worry me. Don't know if it's just a personal limitation or if it's a problem with the book. I'll definitely keep reading, though. This stuff is too good not to.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Still digesting. But a few initial observations:

  1. after this, no one gets to use a "The ______, _______ Life of _______" title anymore. Oscar Wao finished that mini-trend, and anybody else will be overkill. I mean it. Francis MacComber will crawl out of his short, happy grave and eat your brains if you try it.

  2. Diaz also brings the geeked out, pop-cultured, genx hipster, muscle-voice to a point. Everybody's been trying it (including me) and it's taken care of now. Enough.

  3. I've been rebelling against the American Immigrant Story Structure for so long now, that everything stinks of it. I can't tell if this is regressive, or if this actually moves it forward. I don't think it moves the immigrant story out of its mid-century straightjacket, but, like I said, I'm still digesting.

  4. If you imitate the voice and outlook of a terminal macho asshole so well that your readers can't tell the difference between authorial and narrator's voice, then aren't you the terminal macho asshole? Just because you namecheck Los Bros and Luba, to get all meta and distance yourself from the fact that your one strong, alive female character is racked like a bowling alley, haven't you still showcased the breasts before the person?

I haven't decided on all this yet, and I finished the book a week ago. That's a good thing.

September 12, 2007

Road Rape

Well, I didn't have much to say about McCarthy's The Road at first. It packs such an emotional wallop that it's hard to (hard to want to) analyze or even think about. But as time went by, I was more and more bugged by the tremendous (if par for the course) misogyny of the book.

I mean, it's a father and son, for the whole book. and all they encounter--to speak to, to act with or against--are men. As the book progresses, the absence of the boy's mother grows heavier and heavier until her absence is finally explained: she gives up, and wanders off out of camp to die alone.

And what is her argument? Well, that she fears being raped, of course--and her son being raped, naturally.

Naturally. In Cormac McCarthy's world, rape is still a Fate Worse Than Death. The whole world has died, cannibals are roaming the Earth, there's no hope, and she's worried about being raped.

As if her husband wouldn't be just as raped in such a world.

My ogd, can McCarthy simply not conceive of women strong enough to survive a holocaust the way the men here have? Can he somehow not imagine women banding together, or even together with men, to form less predatory groups?

Arg. That's it. I'm not reading any more McCarthy. I was feeling emotionally devastated by the book at first, but as time goes by it just makes me feel dirtier and dirtier, and more and more tired of it, and less and less inclined to think about it. It's apocalypse porn, looking for the most horrific thrills: keeping people alive to eat them slowly, or bringing a pregnant woman with you so you can eat her baby when its born (and what happened to the pregger woman once her baby was born, anyway? She just disappears.)

Argh! I'm done! McCarthy can go hate women off in his little southerly corner and leave me alone!

September 11, 2007

Peeg 'n' Patrick

Dude, me neither.

August 05, 2007

How Do Editors Reach Out to Writers of Color?

Damn.

I wasn't gonna get drawn into this debate, because Tempy and Tobias were already doing such a good job and saying what I wanted to say, but then I went and read the comments in Tobias's post and now I'm annoyed.

People were--well, one person was--calling out ABW for placing the lion's share of blame on the editors' shoulders for needing to go and reach out to writers of color if they really wanted to diversify the stories in their rags. This someone asked when they were supposed to have the time to do all this outreach.

Are you fucking kidding me?

First of all, arguing that editors don't have time to do their jobs doesn't really excuse anything. It's an editor's job not merely to present the best writing that's sent to her, not merely to make a real, good faith effort to find the best writing that's out there, but to actually encourage writers to produce more and differently--to shape the kind of writing that gets made in the first place. Anyone who doesn't know this isn't really a professional in the field.

And the best editors of the most respected magazines do exactly that. They don't sit on their asses and wait for the transom to emit. They run around like madpeople to conferences and workshops and readings, they collect zines and spend time on the internet and ask their trusted writer/editor friends for recommendations. They talk to agents. They do rain dances, naked.

They also turn to writers and agents and proactively ask them if they have a story on X, or a story written like Y. They do this knowing that word will go around that Editor Z wants X and Y! And tons of hungry writers will step up.

So it's funny that X and Y are so rarely "stuff by writers of color" and "stuff about people of color." All an editor has to do is ask.

2) Given that editors have to do this and also that their time is limited, why don't we poc make things easier for them? I mean, let's start a list of places an editor should go to outreach to those ever-elusive good poc writers. I'll start and maybe members of other communities can pick this up. I'd be happy to host a mini-carnival on this topic, or simply to collect the responses and post them all together at some later date. Please feel free to add resources in the comments, especially if you have a blog that you know poc writers read.

These tips should include:


  1. list servs, forums, bulletin boards, etc. where poc writers are likely to be found

  2. blogs poc writers are likely to read

  3. print and online magazines and newspapers poc are likely to read

  4. real world organizations poc writers are likely to hang out in

  5. poc writers conferences, conferences, festivals (esp. literary festivals)

  6. reading series where poc are likely to participate

  7. undergraduate writing classes at poc-heavy campuses and poc student orgs (yes, they really should be thinking ahead. Someone will be much more likely to START writing if they know they'll be welcome there when they've FINISHED writing something.)

What follows here is a list of all the poc real world and online spaces I can think of to use to outreach to writers of color. NOTE: this goes for literary writing AND for SF/F:

General POC


  1. The Carl Brandon Society (poc speculative fiction writers) discussion list-serv and blog

  2. VONA Voices poc writers workshop, and their email.

  3. Mosaic, an African American and Latino literary magazine, whose lit editor is Sheree Renee Thomas


Asian American
  1. Kearny Street Workshop (Bay Area Asian American arts) opportunities list-serv

  2. Kearny Street Workshop's links page to other Asian American arts and literary orgs.

  3. Asian American Writers Workshop

  4. Hyphen Magazine (national Asian American magazine) blog

  5. Angry Asian Man blog

  6. dis*Orient Journalzine

  7. This listing of South Asian American (Indian subcontinent) journals also includes general As Am markets, some of which might be defunct.

  8. DesiPundit blog, Indian diaspora.

  9. Tiffinbox blog, Indian diaspora.

  10. Resources on South Asian lit.


Chicano/Latino
  1. Galeria de la Raza (Bay Area Latino multidisciplinary arts organization.)

  2. PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art

  3. La Bloga, a Chicano/Latino literary blog

  4. Other Latino literary resources


African/Caribbean American
  1. African American bookstores in the USA.

  2. Black magazines and journals with open submissions.

  3. Publishers with a particular interest in Af/Af Am writers.


Arab American
  1. Links list of Arab writers writing in English.

  2. Mizna, Arab American Journal

  3. Al-Rawi, association of Arab American writers.

  4. Resources and links to Arab American writers.

  5. Angry Arab blog


Native American/American Indian
  1. Native American writers directory

  2. Native Blog, native American/American Indian blog.

  3. Native American/American Indian literary resources.


Academic

  1. Here's a links directory of all the accredited Asian American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have As Am-specific creative writing courses.

  2. Here's a links directory of African American studies departments and courses in the USA. Many of them will have Af Am-specific creative writing courses.

  3. Here's an incomplete links directory of Latin American/Caribbean studies departments and institution in the USA. Some weeding will need to be done.

  4. The University of Michigan's Arab American Studies Center. A bulletin board, newspage, and resources page are all under construction, but you can email them your call for submissions here.

  5. List of Native American Studies programs

July 26, 2007

Carl Brandon Society Awards Nominations Close Soon!

I've been sadly remiss in announcing this:

The Carl Brandon Society is accepting nominations for its Kindred and Parallax awards until July 31. You have four days, people! Get on it!

The Carl Brandon Parallax Award is given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color. Nominees must provide a brief statement self-identifying as a person of color; creators unwilling to do so will not be considered for this award. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.

The Carl Brandon Kindred Award is given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group. This Award includes a $1000 cash prize.

Here's a link to the awards page.

July 03, 2007

Reading Update

Laurie Marks Water Logic

The SeeLight Scale

Crap
Legible
Readable
Not Bad
*Recommended*
Highly Recommended
Do Not Go Another Day Without

This is the third Elemental Logic book and the book bucked up a bit from the second one in terms of stakes and danger and tension. But the plot was, if possible, even poorer than that in the second book. No matter, really. I love this world and will read the fourth book as well.

Walter Mosley 47

The SeeLight Scale

Crap
Legible
Readable
Not Bad
*Recommended*
Highly Recommended
Do Not Go Another Day Without

This won the Carl Brandon Society's Parallax Award last year. It's pretty good, but the language is stilted (rather than old-fashioned) and it felt very golden-age-of-sci-fi, with it's cutesy-amazing aliens and silly-scary villain. Maybe this will really appeal to younger folks, but I'm used to naturalistic fabulism and tend to think that Today's Teens would respond better to that.

I also find the contrast between the classic sci fi and the naturalistic slave narrative to be unsuccessful. It could have been amazing, or it could have read like Slaughterhouse Five, where you're never really sure if the protag is crazy or not. But it wasn't either one.

June 28, 2007

Oblique Fannishness About Laurie Marks, Whose Third Elementals Book Continues to Annoy and Astound, in Equal Measure

Why must I feel vaguely masculine for not wanting to center my fiction in the domestic sphere? Why do third wave feminist artists and writers fetishize Home and the Domestic, and not question women's relegation thereto in art and literature?

We can write about warriors and philosophers and travelers and border crossers and farmers and soldiers and witches. We can write about violent impulses, nonpretty lusts, hunger, scars, frostbite, the plague. We can forget to write about menstruation, for once, since in real life it's mostly a minor annoyance for most people, except when you forget to bring a tampon.

We can not always be the ones tied inextricably to the earth and fecundity. We can stop imagining the Venus of Willendorf and Mae West are the only female icons to retreat to when we've shuffled off this Paris Hilton roil. We can write prose in praise of muscles, and be talking about women.

We can write into a genre exactly as far as we need to and stop there and revolutionize the rest. We can take some tropes and leave others. We can weave our rebellion and newness so thoroughly into the narrative that nobody sees it, everybody feels it. We can, really, write whatever the fuck we want to.

So why is nobody doing it except Laurie fuckin' Marks?

Please tell me who else is doing it.

June 14, 2007

I hate to be a spoilsport

... but zombies bore me.

And the genre-wide craze for zombies isn't likely to make me change my mind. In fact, it gets my back up. I have a hard, unrepentant, humongo contrarian on my back. Harder to kick than heroin.

Plus, I still prefer both vampires and unicorns. Bring the flames!

June 06, 2007

Reading Update

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks

The Seelight Scale

Crap
Legible
Readable
Not Bad
Recommended
*Highly Recommended*
Do Not Go Another Day Without

Alright, I had a whole post about this book and my 'puter crashed and I losted it.

Good frakkin book. 'Nuff said.

May 27, 2007

Squeee! to the max

Just found out that my favorite fantasy series when I was a tyke is coming to the big American screen, and Ian McShane plays Merriman Lyon!

Of course, Dr. Who, who plays the Rider, would have been a better Merriman, and McShane would have been the perfect Walker, but whatever. Can't Wait!

May 07, 2007

Book Review Brouhaha

I know I'm cruisin' for a bruisin' when I say this, but I'm not sure losing traditional print book reviews is necessarily---well I won't say "a bad thing" because I don't think it's either a good thing OR a bad thing. I think it's a sign of the times. I mean, of course, that the print book as it is and has been is dying, and the literary establishment is ill, ill, ill-equipped to even recognize that fact, much less prepare itself to move on to the next thing.

"Literary Fiction," i.e. that which is regarded as the high form of the art, and appropriately rewarded with university study and small patches of prestigious prize monies, is the most overworked, trope-ridden, regressive, reificatin', self-diddly on the artistic block. I'm not sayin' that SF is any better--most of it isn't. There aren't many fresh breezes blowin' around the bookshelves is what I'm saying.

I'm not exempting my own work, by the way.

Where the fresh stuff is happening is TV. Yep, you heard me, tv. Film, which is short-form narrative--short stories--is going the way of Salinger product in the decline of the Saturday Evening Post. It's all about the long-form visual narrative now--all about the serial drama. Yes, like the novel in the 19th century, tv drama still carries a whiff of low/bad. But who cares? I defy any random six New York Times' notable novels from last year to compare in excitement, freshness, power, audacity and frank, hardy narrative chops to Heroes, Deadwood, Carnivale, the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Six Feet Under, or, from what I hear, since I don't watch it, The Sopranos.

There's breeziness in anime, too, I'm told, especially the serials, and in manga. There's freshness still in the "graphic novel" revolution, although there I'm also not an expert. And, if Second Life is any indication, RPGs, which themselves are becoming more excitingly narrative, are melding with social networking in a way that bodes extremely well for a new form of interactive narrative art.

Yes, I'm still dreaming of STTNGesque holonovels.

So why are we nerds and geeks left all alone out here in the cold with the naked scion of narrative art? It's the cart/horse thing again: they're cutting the horse loose without investigating what will replace the cart. They're recognizing that people aren't reading book reviews but not looking at why or what the next thing should be. I don't think the answer is to start reviewing games and manga in mainstream print rags. But there COULD be some thought about proselytizing.

Ha, who am I fooling? It took the NYT what, only eighty years to come up with an intermittant column addressing spec fic? Print spec fic.

What I'm saying is, though, without having any answers, that you all intellectuals and readers can stop feeling so good about yourselves. The train is leaving the station and you're still waiting for a blacksmith to come along and reshoe your horse. Go. Ride. Be my guest. Riding is a beautiful sport. It's just not going to get you anywhere anymore, and before you know it, you'll find yourself riding cavalry into WWI against tanks and nerve gas.

The novel is no longer equipped to convey human life at the velocity, within the complexity, to which we've become accustomed. The prose, on-the-page narrative no longer mirrors our existence. God, I love novels. Novels were my first love. But what I loved about novels wasn't the novel itself, but what the novel could do. What it could do to me and with me and what it could do to the world and about the world. Between this moment of my adulthood and my novel-soaked childhood the novel has--between probably last year and this year the novel has--become obsolete.

And the discourse about whither the book, whither the novel just looks brown to me. Brown and crinkly, like a dead leaf.

So either we need to start talking about how to change the novel to help it keep up (html novels, anyone?) or we need to start talking about what we're going to put our narrative energy into instead of the novel.

Of course, I have no intention of stopping my writing. But for the past several years I've been writing with at least a partial understanding of the fact that I need to master the novel at some level so I can help push it forward into its next, less-text incarnation.

Who's with me?

May 05, 2007

Reading Update

Finished two books this week:

The Last Colony by John Scalzi: third of a trilogy and and interesting way to turn the politics of warmaking back on itself. Go read!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman: nice 'n' creepy. Go read! (I don't know him, but I'm hung over and don't feel like reviewing.)

Still working on Landscapes of Fear by Yi-Fu Tuan.

March 18, 2007

"Reading" Update

Finally read The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Not impressed. Okay, so he did it first. But then Alan Moore turned right around and did it ten times better with Watchmen, and please don't tell me that because that appeared a few months later it wasn't being made at the same time.

I don't do well with a lack of characterization. The "characters" in Dark Knight are flat, including Batman. Watchmen, on the other hand, is messy, full of individual characterization, and ambiguous moments. Not impressed.

March 11, 2007

BSG Spinoff

Yeah, I'm way behind the times, but I've been sooo gritting my teeth since I heard about the BSG spinoff that I haven't looked into it at all.

Well, I finally did look into it and found out that it takes place fifty years before, on Caprica, and concerns the development of the Cylons.

Yawn.

What part of "Star Trek: Enterprise sucked and the fans hated it" did they not understand? Skiffy is progressive, folks, not regressive. Even if you're, like, Harlan Ellison, and hate women, skiffy is still chronologically progressive. That means don't fucking go back to stuff that we already pretty much know about.

Geez, how hard is that to figure out? But then, that's why BSG is sucking now: because they're going back over stuff they feel they hadn't fleshed out sufficiently the first time around, like exactly how Starbuck's fingers got broked, or exactly how Apollo felt about his grandfather's profession. Guess what? I don't care. Somebody needs to tell these cryptosquares that the writers who worldbuild best are the writers who worldbuild least. Capeesh?

March 10, 2007

The Land of Justified Racism Because the Dragons Say So

Kristina Wong has some fun at Kenneth Eng's expense.

March 06, 2007

ABUSIVE PARENT BRINGS CATHARSIS; IN OTHER NEWS, BSG SUX

Lemme guess, now that Starbuck's DEAD, she gets to come back and haunt people as an angel, sort of like a more annoying Caprica without the red dress. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONG ...

I'm so glad her childhood physical and emotional abuse was all in the service of preparing her to kill herself and take one of the last remaining vipers with her. Oh, and I'm so glad that all those amazing personality quirks that made every BSG fan in the world fall madly in love with her were all the result of abuse---because women aren't that way NATURALLY, they only get mysterious, strong, and enchanting if somebody BEATS ON THEM.

And I'm so glad BSG feels the need to explain EVERY SINGLE LITTLE DETAIL they seeded in the first two seasons, because knowing that every one of Cara's fingers on one hand was neatly broken in the same place wasn't disturbing enough on its own. We had to get to SEE the door slamming on her hand not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES.

I'm so glad it was her military stage mother and not her piano-playing father (hello! How pussy is THAT?) who BEAT ON HER. It's all about strong women, you see. Oh! I get it! Starbuck is B'Elanna Torres! But without the brow ridges and with that dark, grimy edginess that Battlestar Trek Galactica is so rightly famous for. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG ...

I'm guessing in the next dimension Leoben is going to knock her up with a lil' face-of-the-shape-of-things-to-comebuck, and she's going to stress out about whether or not she'll beat the thing, whether or not it'll have chrome brow ridges, and whether it will be Cylon, Human, or some tragic toastlatto hybrid accepted by neither, reviled by both, and cursed with a bum arm that jerks out with a will of its own at least once a season for the rest of the show's already excessively protracted run, punching its superior officer in the face, and landing its alloyed butt face down in a bucket of water in the brig. It's happened before. It'll happen again.

But BSG has neatly skiied around the shark this time. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRIED TO RAPE STARBUCK YET. So you see, the show still has a ways to go to hit rock bottom. Can't WAIT!

March 03, 2007

Octavia Butler Tribute Fundraiser!!!!

LAST CALL FOR BOOZE 'N' SCI-FI!

Yes, cows and cowboys, tomorrow's the big day. You DO NOT want to miss this one.

Nalo_1Nalo Hopkinson will be there, she of the interesting hybrid accent, straight from Toronto, author of two of my favorite books: Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber (wouldn't it be cool if she did a sequel to Brown Girl in the Ring and called it Tralalalala?)

Jewelle
Jewelle Gomez will be there, in all her former grantor glory! Four words: lesbian escaped slave vampires. I know that's enough.

Gomez_penaGuillermo Gomez-Peña will be there, mixing it up, literally, linguistically, futuristically, and poetically. A MacArthur Genius. Heh, like Octavia. Now how often do you get to see geniuses?

Susiebright_1 Susie Bright will be there, erotica'in like there's no tomorrow. Really, do you want to miss the woman who is the nation's true expert on sex fiction? I think not.

MartaacostaMarta Acosta will be there, and can someone please explain to me what could possibly be wrong with Latina vampire chicklit? Yeah, that's what I thought.

DeguzmanJennifer de Guzman will be there. Comix goddess, yes. That's "Woman of Color Comix Editor" to you, sucka, Ms. de Guzman if yer nasty.

So you see why you can't miss out.

Here's the info again:

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
and
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.
510-841-2082
http://www.starryploughpub.com/

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

February 26, 2007

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

Hey all! I know you're all sick or fighting it off, and it's cold outside and raining, and it's still February.

Me too.

So come shake it off and get inspired this Sunday with a terrific reading event supporting a great cause! I'm co-organizing this with Charlie Anders and it's gonna be a great time. Check it out.

The Carl Brandon Society presents an

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fundraiser

with readings by

Nalo Hopkinson
Jewelle Gomez
Susie Bright
Marta Acosta
Jennifer de Guzman
and
Guillermo Gomez-Peña

A fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.
Fabulous fabulists honor one of our great writers and raise funds for the next generation.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.
510-841-2082
http://www.starryploughpub.com/

$5-20 sliding scale.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

January 28, 2007

Ishoo Wun

So why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?

First, let's quickly define "hybridity". I did this before in a triumphal, let's-change-the-world way. But we need a more working definition. So for now, "hybridity" means the process or product of a melding of two cultures, subcultures, forms, processes, or dynamic structures.

Got that? So you mix, combine or meld two things, and the process is hybridization. The outcome of that hybridization is a hybrid, or hybridity. This could be, for example, American yoga (melding American understanding of religion and exercise with an Indian tradition form), or Eminem (melding white, working class cultural norms and understanding with a "traditionally" black, working class art form), or nanotechnology (biology and robotics), or wholistic (holistic) medicine (western traditional medicine with western science-based medicine with eastern traditional and science-based forms), or the Prius (gas-powered and electric-powered), or me (Chinese and white).

Got that? Okay, let's go.

Hybridity, especially of the racial sort, but of many other sorts as well, is a topic frequently explored in YA (young adult) fiction. That is to say, when authors grapple with multiraciality or hybrid identities, they tend to turn to YA, or Bildungsromane (trans.: Bildung means "upbringing", "education", "personal formation" in German; Roman means "novel"). Most novels of hybrid identity either fall entirely within the scope of YA or a Bildungsroman, or else begin with youth and the identity-forming years.

But that is also to say that when you approach YA novels and Bildungsromane that aren't otherwise about hybrid identities, their form and format very often leads them into an examination of some type of hybridity or hybrid identity. The two---identity search and the exploration of mixing and melding---seem to be closely associated in our cultural thinking ... or perhaps merely in our narrative form.

Of course, all teens are definable as being in the midst of the basic and essential identity search: "finding themselves", who am I? and all that. Given. Teenagerhood is also a process of transitioning from childhood intellectual and emotional dependence to adult independence of same. Dependence on the conceptual constructions of another means necessarily a lack of flexibility. When Mommy says playing with yourself is bad, she doesn't mean (or perhaps she simply didn't say) that doing it in front of other people is bad and doing it when you're alone is acceptable, and doing it when you're lonely is good, and doing it instead of being promiscuous with strangers is virtuous, and experimenting with it is dangerous but exciting. Playing with yourself is just bad. Period.

Which is why we say that teens "experiment" with drugs and sex: not to see what happens when you mix this drug or that action with your body chemistry, but to see what happens when you challenge something Mommy or Daddy told you. The experimentation fractures your understanding of "do" and "don't" into "do sometimes" and "don't do under these circumstances" and "think first because you don't know what to do here." The confusing but comfortingly black and white instruction set of childhood is replaced by an ethical code which requires interpretation. Teens are introduced to the necessity for flexibility, to an ambiguous world in which ambiguity is often what allows you to survive or to be yourself.

For a few short years, teen minds are so soft and flexible that they can literally be turned around overnight. A concept they always held to be sacred can be flipped in an instant. Faith can be killed, or created, in an afternoon. Three different adults can tell them three different things and they can act on all three beliefs simultaneously, while consumed with rage at the contradictions.

Ah, teens.

Adolescence is the moment we come closest to touching ambiguity as a substance, and not just a state of understanding.

I have a tendency to use "ambiguity" and "hybridity" interchangeably because, obviously, this is my experience of being what other people consider a hybrid. But they are not exactly interchangeable. Ambiguity is defined by its use in words and communications. It is "doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention," or "Doubtfulness or uncertainty as regards interpretation," or "unclearness by virtue of having more than one meaning."

What I mean by interchanging them is to underline the fact that certain things about me are verbal or conceptual constructs, and not actualities. Race, for example, is a conceptual--and verbal--construct. I am only multiracial if you consider my race/s to be:

  1. distinct
  2. mutually exclusive
  3. important
In defining me as a hybrid, you are giving me two or more distinct, mutually exclusive, and important values and meanings. Which means that my singular meaning to you, my meaning, being and purpose as a person contains within it more than one distinct, mutually exclusive, and important meaning. Which makes my meaning, and which makes me as a person, ambiguous.

The synonyms of "ambiguity," which is to say, the word's connotations, are "vagueness, equivocation, deceptiveness." Its antonyms are "explicitness" and, oh irony!, "clarity." Ambiguity, the lack of a clear meaning, is, in itself, neither bad nor good. It simply is. However, our culture (and perhaps to a certain extent all human cultures) values clarity, hard definition, and shuns ambiguity. Probably why it is only since the European Enlightenment we have even had adolescence, much less a culturally-understood search for oneself.

Most people in our society go through an extended moment of recognizing that their categories are not, technically, all perfectly dovetailed. The things they thought were hard, neighboring truths about themselves are, when taken to logical extremes, terribly contradictory. And becoming adult means--in essence--acclimating to what seems like contradictions when looked at in this way. Becoming adult means learning to ignore what seem to be personal contradictions--or learning not to mind that one can't explain oneself to oneself. Learning to accept one's own mystery and the mystery of others. Learning to live meaningfully in the absence of a single, clear meaning of life.

Lovely enough, but it's a process that isn't seen at all, being internal. It's a process that's impossible to tell stories about directly because it's manifested mostly in tantrums and acting out.

So, often and often, some sort of obvious hybridity becomes the metaphor for the process of disambiguation (or more accurately, enambiguation) that happens beneath the surface of every zitty teenage skin.

This is often some sort of racial hybridity or hybridity of biological genesis. After all, in our society we permit people to leave behind with rage of adolescence the hybridity of being both parents and children, being both friends and enemies, lovers and fighters, teachers and students, athletes and drunkards, artists and accountants. We move forward no longer seeing that these are any contradiction. We actively avoid the hybridity of male/female, desire and friendship.

What we can't let pass is the hybridity of race. Not in this society, with our racial hierarchy. Such things can't be ambiguous. Whether you're a father or son right this second isn't important. It doesn't impact your status or how a stranger will treat you. But whether you're black or white right this second really, really does. So racial hybridity or hybridity of genesis become the stand-ins for all such adolescent processes.

All Graeco-roman heroes' tales are Bildungsromane, coming-of-age stories. Because the very definition of the hero is a semi-divinity: someone born of a mortal and an immortal parent, who is himself mortal, but possesses superpowers. A hybrid. There is always a near-climatic moment of reckoning with one's hidden parentage. There's always a moment in which the desires and limitations of the human are forced, through action, to meld with the powers of the god; a moment in which the hybrid potential is fulfilled by ignoring the contradictions inherent.

I'm exposing myself to severe flame-action, but that's Jesus' story as well. Son of a human and a god, he finds himself three times: at the temple when he is (no coincidence here) twelve years old lecturing to his elders; in discovering his ministry, which exposes his superpowers of reasoning, persuasion, love, and leadership; and on the cross, where he discovers his superior powers of self-sacrifice. He is in himself a hybrid, but he is also one aspect of the ultimate contemporary western hybrid: the trinity, simultaneously father, son, and holy spirit. (Yeah, and no coincidence, either, that protestant sects violently debate the nature of that hybridity; it is also protestant sects that raised the racial slave trade in North America to an industry, and that went to war over ending that same institution.)

And then of course, in these atheistic times, the hybridity between the natural and supernatural---which makes into story our ability to fulfill our own potential by ignoring categories---becomes more and more abstract and less and less religious. We no longer believe in gods or fairies, so the hybrid coming-of-age story becomes related to what we recognize as fantasy only.

I'm not gonna say that the slide from the more obvious forms of hybridity in our society to fabulist literary forms is seamless. China Miéville points out that the magical races (dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.) in Tolkienesque fantasy are rigidly held to biologically determined character virtues and flaws and that that is profoundly reactionary and bigoted. Obviously, not all swords and sorcery writers think such things about human races. And the hybridity in the YA magical protagonist is not always racial (being half-elf, for example) but otherwise genetic (being of a line of witches, for example). But the connection between the two is an obvious one, and one that is made usually without a great deal of reflection or philosophy.

Which is why you see so many protagonists of Young Adult fiction who have magic in them. Usually, they got it from one parent. Usually, that parent is missing or dead or presumed dead. Usually, that parent turns out to be either alive him/herself, or alive in the form of a close relative with similar aspects/powers. Usually there is a reckoning with that parent, with that parentage. Usually--always? almost always?--there is a moment where the implications are thrown to the winds and the potentialities of both parentages are melded. Always this is the climax. Always it leads to a new hybridity of two old, seemingly mutually exclusive states of being or doing. Always this new hybridity is understood as the becoming of the protagonist, the protagonist's total being.

I can only half-remember examples of the many, many books like this I read when I was young. The albino kid from Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, which was my favorite series, sticks out. Here, the kid (SPOILER ALERT) is raised as an orphan by relatives, and later discovers himself to be the secret son of King Arthur and Guinivere, displaced in time. King Arthur, of course, is a magical being simply by virtue of his position in the imagination.

Or, more recently, there's the Harry Potter series, in which the human racial diversity is a matter of extreme blandness, but a deep discomfort with racial ambiguity is only semi-intentionally displayed through the conflict between Muggle and Wizard families. The main hybridity there is in Harry, whose mother was a Muggle. Harry is raised as an orphan by relatives who obfuscate his magical heritage, and the magic in his Muggle heritage. This hybridity is mirrored, naturally, in Harry's arch-enemy, Lord Voldemort, who was the son of a witch and a Muggle, raised contemptuously by his Muggle family, and "rescued" by Dumbledore and Hogwarts School. Both hero and villain face a reckoning with their mixed heritage, but only Harry, and by implication only, makes peace with both, although he allies himself with the magical world. Voldemort is portrayed as succumbing to evil because of his hatred of his Muggle half--like a half-Jewish Nazi.

There's also a more complex and nuanced discomfort with the whole issue of authenticity and cultural genesis evidenced in Hermione, who is herself a Muggle with magical abilities, an analogy to, say, Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray, who is a white girl with mysteriously black powers of dancing. And then there's Neville Longbottom, who is feared to be a Squib, a pureblood wizard with no magical abilities, the analogy to the Oreo, the black person who is white on the inside---or perhaps to the aristocrat with common tendencies.

An early exchange between Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley, both pureblood wizards, about the value of mixed-bloods intentionally promotes Rowling's diversity agenda, and unintentionally displays Rowling's discomfort with the idea that there can be a difference in being born to a magical family and being adopted into one, or to being "naturally" magical, yet having to learn magic in school---all racial/ethnic issues rampant in current American and British demographics.

But my favorite example is not considered a YA at all, although I think it has all the markers of one. That is China Miéville's King Rat, definitely not his most popular book, and also his only full-length novel that doesn't take place in Bas Lag. It's not a coincidence that I quoted his notions of raciality in fantastical races above. He's the only fantasy writer I've seen who's created a plausible and effective fantastical scenario, that consciously promotes an actively ambiguous hybrid identity in its protagonist, rather than implying it, or fumbling the ball by calling something hybrid that actually looks only like one of its parts. (I'm sure there are more of these, but I haven't read them.)

The whole structure is there (BIG OL' SPOILER ALERT--and take this one seriously, because this book is worth reading for its own sake): a young man, Saul, raised by his father (his mother is dead) comes home to find his father killed by defenestration. Arrested for patricide, he is rescued from jail by King Rat, the anthropomorphic supernatural spirit of ratdom, who claims to be his uncle. King Rat tells our hero that his mother, King Rat's sister, was a rat as well, making Saul half-rat. Saul is then instructed in the art of being a supernatural rat.

There is the necessary revelation and confrontation of parentage when Saul discovers that King Rat is actually his father, his mother having been a human that King Rat raped. Then there's the moment of melding of identities at the climax, when Saul faces the Pied Piper, who can't compel him by flute because he's half-human, but has melded (hybridized) his flute music with a drum 'n' bass DJ's beats to catch both rat and human in Saul. This is the part that is unusual, because Saul's revelation here is that he is not two halves, but one whole, and cannot be made into a sum of his parts, like the music that the Pied Piper has created. You can't mix human and rat music and expect to catch a human and rat mix. He is something else; himself.

A very multiracial conclusion. The irony is of course that Miéville has essentialized human and rat for the purpose of making the point that races can't be essentialized. But I'll (mostly) let that pass.

A lot of this is implied in more sophisticated fantasy, like Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea, where magic isn't really a result of parentage. It just happens. And the hybridity is actually an entirely internal process of melding virtuous with dark impulses, that LeGuin manifests in a shadow self.

And then, of course, there's Octavia Butler. But I'm not ready to write about her yet. She didn't follow this particular pattern at all. She created her own. That's a topic for another post.

December 17, 2006

BSG Sux

I just watched it, and I'm not durnk, yet as I write this I'm struggling to remember what the episode was about. I'm talking about "The Eye of Jupiter," Battlestar Galactica's mid-season cliff-hanger.

I was actually so appalled at this latest episode that I went to a fansite and scanned the writing credits for each show of the entire series just to make sure they hadn't suddenly started plugging in new writers for season three.

WTF? Starbuck and Apollo having an affair might be in character, but the whole stupid stupid stupid conversation they have about it is sooooooooooooo not. Why does Starbuck suddenly consider marriage a sacrament for no random-ass reason? She married Anders on the fly. Why does Apollo, typically her bullshit detector, just accept this cheap-ass excuse? And then why would Starbuck, who doesn't say things like this, say "Where does that leave us?" And then why would Apollo, who has only just started making stupid stupid stupid melodramatic pronouncements, say "Trapped"?

And can we be more silly and cliched than a "who's in charge?" pissing contest between Apollo and Anders which ends with a "I'm gonna shoot you if you disobey orders" stupid stupid stupid cliched scene?

And what's with the dumb stupid stupid dumb "We still love you but we have to exclude you" scene between Deanna, Caprica, and Gaius? It's like the writer jerked awake at 3 a.m. at the computer the night before they were to shoot that episode and realized that s/he needed to set Caprica up with a reason to betray Deanna and Gaius. And Deanna's whole trip is even more vague and random than Cylon motivations usually are down BSG way. If we're gonna go there, can we get some more specificity?

And don't make Hera suddenly sick after half a season of ignoring her. You can drop in a scene or two of something every episode until you're ready to address it directly, can't you? That's what you used to do. Oh, BSG, we hardly knew ye! Don't die! Please don't die! We love you! Please, fight! Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

November 25, 2006

SF Story Call for Submissions

I'm calling for submissions for my blog! Okay, it's a new idea, and it may die out very, very soon if I get a great job and can't keep this up, or if nobody submits anything, which is far more likely, ... but here's the idea:

The Idea: Once a month I would like to post an SF story (for our purposes, "SF" means "Speculative Fiction", i.e. science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, magical realism, combos thereof, or etc.) based upon a particular idea, topic, or new technology.

How It Will Work: I will post an idea, topic, or ... thing here, will sit back and wait for submissions, and a month later, will close submissions and post the best story. That is to say, post the story I think is best according to constantly shifting criteria which I will not explicate. The stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. That is to say, don't pull some random SF story out of your drawer, add a scene in which somebody talks about or uses the thing, and think that's going to cut it. It won't.

The Purpose: is to get people to write new stories --- and they can be bad, I don't expect them to be great --- to get them thinking about current topics. Also, to get people to write things quickly and not be afraid. You know already that this story won't end up in Interzone (since if I "publish" it, they probably won't take it.) I also want people to get an opportunity to try something new in terms of technique, writing strategy, world, characters, etc. So just let yourself go and devil take the hindmost.

Limitations:

  • Because this is a blog format, we don't want a post that will go on forever and ever. So let's say you keep it under 2000 words, exceptions only for really fantastic stuff (that is to say, if it's 5000 words and the first paragraph makes my teeth grind at night, you will get no benefits, doubt or otherwise, and the delete button will get an early workout.) I don't feel bad about imposing this limit because you're all writing these stories from scratch, right?
  • Once again, the stories must address the topic or technology or thing as an integrated part of their central conceits or plots. Seriously. Don't try to fake it. I will nail you.
  • Please paste the story into an email and send it to seelight44 down yahoo way. This means no funky fonts or formats. Just paragraphs full of sentences full of words. Please put "SF Story Sub" and your name in the subject line.

A Note On "Quality": If I don't get any good submissions, then I just won't post anything. "Good" in this case, does not mean perfect or polished. You only have a month at most and I don't believe that most writers can turn out a perfect story based on somebody else's theme in a month or less. What I want to see is a story that's full of life and energy, full of that juice that makes the world and characters and situations come alive for you, that makes you forget that there's a real world outside your head for 20 minutes or so.

A Strong Desire: Anyone who reads this blog will be aware that I am very conscious of race, class, and gender issues, and have strong words for published writers who use literature to reify existing hierarchies, or simply fail to note the mechanics of said hierarchies and reify them by default. If you have never thought about such things, your new little 2000-word story is a great place to start. Try writing a protag who is much older than you, or a different gender or race than you (with gender, I particularly encourage people to try characters who are transgender or whose gender identities aren't simply female/male but more complex), or comes from a signifcantly less, or significantly more, advantaged background than yours. Try to get deep and avoid stereotypes (you know stereotypes: those easy "ideas" that jump into your head, seemingly as a gift from your muse).

So Here's The First Topic:
"Robotics used to create custom-themed interactive game park rides."
Submissions Due Date: December 25, 2006, Christmas Day.
Will Post (or try to post): Jan 1, 2007.

November 20, 2006

Takei Joins "Heroes" Cast!

Squeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hyphen mag tells us that George Takei, a.k.a. Mr. Sulu from the original "Star Trek" series, is joining the cast of "Heroes" as Hiro's father.

Yay!

Takei is a bit of a hero of mine, one of the best-known Asian American faces, an actor who has never sold out, or (that I know of) taken any roles that denigrate Asian Americans, and who has remained true to the Asian American community throughout his career, acting in community independent films, sitting on nonprofit boards, and turning out appearances at community fundraisers over and over.

He raised this to another level last year when he came out as gay, uninspired by any Perez Hilton-style outing shenanigans, and then connected that experience with his childhood experience in the Japanese American internment camps. He's also long been active in LGBT organizations. He followed this up with a Human Rights Campaign-sponsored "Equality Trek," a speaking engagements tour around the country.

The campaign to get Captain Sulu his own "Star Trek" series failed, but honoring not just the stature of the Sulu character, but also the stature of the actor who plays him, should be a priority down "Star Trek" way. If they ever do another series ...

Meanwhile, we get to see him on "Heroes." How appropriate!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 5037
Total wordcount: 7861

November 19, 2006

InNoWriMo Begun

So yes, I started today. I spent the late morning, early afternoon collecting together all my notes on this YA novel, which is working-titled "The Sixth Element." I added a bunch to the notes, then I wrote half of the first chapter. Then I went to dinner and the theater with some friends, lost track of the play halfway through, started daydreaming about the new nobble. Then came home, poured a glass of wine, and finished chapter one.

Off to an excellent start. I'll give you a hint: an oil refinery shaped like a dragon.

InNoWriMo Tally:

Today's wordcount: 2824
Total wordcount: 2824

October 23, 2006

Reading Update

When animals get stressed out, they stop grooming. When I get stressed out, yes, I stop grooming too (TMI, y'all) but I also stop reading. I guess that makes me human.

It's taking me, like, two weeks to get through Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings, which is weird, because that means not that I'm reading slowly (I can't read slowly, only jerkily) but that I'm reading only small amounts at a time.

Normally what this means is that I'm kinda bored with a book and I'll eventually grind to a halt. Normally, really good books are like pringles: once I pop, I can't stop. But with Kushner, I find that I can't take too much, but I keep coming back, day after day, for small but necessary doses. I wonder what this means? Am I ... maturing? Am I learning how to eke out the pringles two ducks' bills at a time?

Or is it Kushner herself? Is she such a unique entity, the writer who can make you want more but also make you stop when enough is enough? The fudge of writers?

Let me just say this now (and I will come back to it when I've finished The Fall of the Kings): Kushner is either the best middling writer, or the most flawed brilliant writer that I've ever read. I'm absolutely enthralled by what is going on in her books and by my responses to them. Yes, I will come back to this.

In other news:

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; long-anticipated. Gene is one of the Bay Area Asian American comix posse (most of whom seem to have won a Xeric Grant) who showed up year after year to sell their wares at APAture and make the tables a lively place. Pretty much every year I made a sweep of the tables and picked up what my favorites had done the preceding year: Jason Shiga, Lark Pien, Thien Pham, Derek Kirk Kim, et al. And I managed to get three photocopied issues (bound in colored cardstock!) of Gene's terrific comic about a Chinese American boy from SF Chinatown who moves to a white suburb and suffers from racism, culture shock, magic realism, and bad sitcoms. Plus, Monkey King!

I never got the final issue/s, though, probably because I stopped attending APAture regularly after I stopped being responsible for it. Gene's moved up in the world since then. He did, indeed, get a Xeric Grant, and used it to publish Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Then he published American Born Chinese, just this year, as a proper graphic novel, hardcover, softcover, and all! I went to APAture three weeks ago, sick as a dog, and paid 8 bucks to get in, just to pick this sucker up, although I could've gotten it on amazon. Like you could.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: I don't wanna hear it. I loooove this movie. I don't wanna hear it.

So I figured the book would be even better, right? But no. It wasn't. It was sex in the suburbs fiction masquerading as magic, so the magical bits not only sounded tinny and untruthful, but I could actually see the seams. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't ... magical. And yes, the movie was magical and I. don't. want. to. hear. it.

Gifts by Ursula! Damn. I love her, I really do. But she's not holding up. She's still good---damned good at times. But I haven't really fallen for a novel of hers since ... I dunno. Since I read all the good ones after college. Her short stories sometimes really kick ass, but her novels just don't have that urgency and energy anymore.

Gifts feels one draft short of a novel. It's actually just an extended revisioning of the short story "Darkrose and Diamond" from Tales of Earthsea, a latter day collection of unconnected stories from the Earthsea world. Only, "Darkrose and Diamond" is better. Let me put it this way: I made my high school students read "Darkrose and Diamond", thinking it would be a treat for them---you know, bildungsgeschichte-cum-love-story with wizards and magic and Dads Who Just Don't Understand.

They hated it. It was the one story I made them read that they were united in hating. After much discussion I finally figured out why. It was because Diamond, the hero, who is gifted in both magic and music, ends up deciding (SPOILER ALERT!) to pass on the magic and become a lowly itinerant musician instead. They were furious. This was a fantasy story about the education of a fucken wizard! How dare he refuse to become a wizard! What had really jazzed me about the story---aside from the crystalline writing---i.e., LeGuin's twisting of expectations, was exactly what had turned them off. Too clever by half.

So the novel, Gifts, is not as perfectly written, and it doesn't lead your hopes and dreams in one direction while secretly nurturing a whole different fate for its protag. The sudden decision (SPOILER ALERT!) at the end to leave home and wander the earth isn't set up, so it doesn't provide any satisfaction. I'd recommend the short story over the book.

Anyhoo, enough with the judgments. Onward!

September 04, 2006

On Harlangate

For those of you who don't know, legendary science fiction writer Harlan Ellison was given a special Hugo award at Worldcon last week-ish. During the ceremony, which was announced by eminent science fiction writer and guest of honor Connie Willis, Ellison and Willis, longtime friends, became engaged in an unscripted comedic dispute---for the benefit of the audience---over Ellison's infamous bad behavior. Willis told him to behave; Ellison responded by putting the microphone in his mouth, making a number of other comments and gestures, and ending by squeezing Willis' breast.

No action was taken at the time against Ellison (Willis was professional about it and simply continued the ceremony.) But now the entire SF community is howling away about it on their blogs. The substance of that discussion is not merely that Ellison's actions were unacceptable. A lot of long-held anger against the apparently sexist old-boy network in SF/F is being vented. (I write "apparent" because I'm still new to fandom and don't have any personal experience with the old-boy network.)

I'm not going to comment on any of this because you can guess how I feel about it and any of the millions of other blogs commenting on it right now are saying pretty much what I would say.

But I do want to talk about Harlan Ellison, whom I've never met, and whose work I've never read (and probably never will, now.) The one thing I've known about him since I entered the SF world three years ago is that he's famous for being an asshole. Everybody loves his assholery. When I was at the Clarion West writers workshop, one of the running themes was getting visiting writers and editors to tell us their Harlan Ellison stories. We ooohed and aaaahed over what an asshole he was and all felt in on the joke. Even I loved hearing about the time Harlan walked out of his room naked at a workshop (he writes naked) and shocked some unsuspecting visitors, or the time called up a young writer he'd never met in the middle of the night to critique her first novel, which had just been published. That became a catchphrase for our class: "You don't want to write anything that Harlan Ellison would call you about."

When we were designing the class t-shirt (a clarion tradition: the t-shirt bears the names of the participants and their favorite quotes from the workshop) the Harlan quote was to go on it, but several members of the class became afraid of the consequences should Harlan hear about it and not like it. (I thought we should ask him simply because I wouldnt' want my name used without my permission, either. I didn't know at the time how much power he had.) So they arranged to have someone who knew him call him up and ask him for permission. He gave it, graciously, like the grand old man of science fiction that he is.

What I was left with in all of this, more than anything, more than my sense of his assholeness, more than my understanding that "everybody loves Harlan's assholeness", was that everybody was afraid of Harlan Ellison. For he wasn't just a randomized asshole. He was especially known in the gossip for turning his assholeness on people who displeased him.

When Octavia Butler died this year Ellison was asked for a comment by the media and was quoted as saying that Butler was King Kong to his Fay Wray, an attempt at a comedic comment on Ellison's shortness and Butler's tallness. I reacted, however, to the unconscious implication of the comment: Ellison is white, Butler was black. King Kong had just been remade, to much discussion in the blogosphere about the racial subtext of the original (raging black atavistic male kidnaps tiny, pure white civilized female) and how the remake hadn't adequately addressed or subverted this subtext. Butler is much on the record having addressed the intersection of her height and her blackness, talking about how men have always taken her height as a personal insult. At best, his comment seemed outrageously insensitive.

I took my objections to the Carl Brandon Society list, a list-serv for SF/F writers of color, and wondered if Carl Brandon should make some sort of public statement. One of the board members talked me down, explaining that Ellison and Butler had been good friends, and that, although his comment seemed insensitive, he was probably grief-stricken, and shouldn't be taken to task for what he said in that condition. She also explained that Ellison has been both a feminist and a civil rights activist in his past and should be respected for this. I let it go and I'm glad I did. Ellison shouldn't have been taken to task then, not because he didn't deserve it---he did---but because Octavia Butler didn't deserve to have her death be about what an asshole Harlan Ellison is.

I also discussed this issue on the Clarion West class of 2003 list. I was told by many of my classmates (again) that he was a friend of Butler's and in mourning, that the comment was just a stupid joke, and (again) that he was really and truly an old time activist for civil rights. So it was unfortunately not at all surprising when Harlangate happened and Harlan apologists (in the words of one of my classmates who agreed with me) started "flying out of his ass left and right." Their arguments? That he was a friend of Willis'? Check. That it was just a joke? Check. That he was an old-time feminist who supports women's rights with his money and his mouth? Check.

Only, this time, he's not going to get away with it. The board member who talked me down this spring over the King Kong comment, brought it up again on the list and said that she'd still have advised calm, but would change some of her comments if she could. Prominent SF writers and publishing types and bloggers are stating publicly and distinctly that his actions were disgusting and unacceptable. People are talking about general measures that should be taken at cons to prevent any more groping of anyone by anyone. All to the good.

I just want to remind everyone at this point (and yes this is an "I told you so" moment) that Ellison's been pulling this shit for decades. He was groping women in public back when that was still considered okay. He was viciously attacking people publicly and privately, calling them (especially women) without their permission, and exposing his naked self to strangers, again, without their permission. For decades everyone has been giggling, making excuses, and saying "Oh, that Harlan Ellison". It took a public groping of a well-respected writer, who was the event's guest of honor, onstage at the ceremony for SF's highest award ... and in 2006 ... to get people to finally, publicly censure him. And still no official action has been taken against him.

No one should have this much power, no matter how nasty they are. Despite the (justified) tack that many people are taking on this issue, which is that it is not just about Ellison, but rather about sexism in SF ... this is about Ellison, about an individual who, just by being an asshole over the years, and then going after and intimidating anyone who objected to his assholery, has pretty much put himself above the rules.

Is he still going to get a free pass? Will we be giving out any more free passes?

August 31, 2006

Bad News and Good News

Well, admissions are in order. Somehow, someway, the nobble has gone stale on me. I don't know exactly why, but since April, since I've been here at my parents' house, I have been unable to work on the damn thing.

This doesn't mean "writer's block", whatever that is (and I hate it when people ask me if I have writer's block. I'm sure they don't know what that's even supposed to mean!) I know what needs to be done on the book and I still have plenty of ideas. I just have no joy in the project right now. I didn't want to put it away and take the risk that it will simply never come back out again, but I think that's what I have to do now.

In Good News, the YA fantasy trilogy idea that's been floating around my head all year without landing because it was all abstractions and no images, finally threw out an image (and boy, was it a doozy!) yesterday, and I wrote the first two or three pages (longhand!)

I'm excited about it and I can't wait to get going on it. I even have a title for the first one: "The Sixth Element", which is boring, I know, but very fitting. I was thinking of de-boring-ing it by making it "The Sixth Source" but that's hard to pronounce and hardly less boring. But I like the second book title (so far) a lot better: "The Tendency of Magic is Toward Balance" or maybe just "The Tendency of Magic".

So, poor Chinaman Treetops needs to go away for awhile. Let's all hope it comes back. Sigh.

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