Sep 232016
 

gaslight_1944_trailer3I.

Recently a friend complained that we’ve exited the brief window in history where “gaslighting” was a word that meant something distinct. To gaslight someone (as a verb) used to mean to drive them to insanity by sabotaging their reality-testing. The eponymous example is a husband who alters the gas flow to the lights in his house without his wife’s knowledge, and when she complains about the house being dimmer, says that everything is exactly the same brightness it always was, and there must be something wrong with her. It is literally a destruction of the tools we use to comprehend the world around us, and our interpretation of it.

Nowadays it’s overused to the point that it’s come to mean no more than “being lied to by the person you’re in a romantic relationship with.” Basically just a slight narrowing of “being lied to”, which makes it a vacuous term. Maybe we can reclaim it in time, like we did with “literally.”

II.
Humans, through a combination of instinct and training, develop a moral sense. I don’t mean that we can sense any actual “morality” that exists as an objective thing, like we can sense photons or air vibrations. But we can certainly sense to a fair degree when something is commendable or reprehensible in the moral system we’ve been taught. Edge cases can be fun to think about to explore borders, but we know theft is wrong.

This poses a major problem to most religions. I was raised in a religion that believes in the omnipotent & omniscient christain god, who is Good. I was also raised to be a good person by modern standards. And the mindfuck that creates is hard to describe. You know what constitutes a good person. You know what a good person with limitless resources would do. And then you look at the world around you.

It is impossible that a Good, Sane god would do NOTHING about the state of the world. It is morally abhorrent to even consider that. And yet every day you are bombarded with evidence that He (in my case it was a “he”) is doing nothing. Either can’t or won’t do anything. And every day I’m reminded of how good god is, and how much he loves everyone, and that we should always strive to be like him, the perfect example of true goodness.

I know what goodness is! YOU taught me! All my moral-sense information says God is not good. He’s probably evil! Negligent at the least. Yet I keep being told that He is, in fact, good. Ultimately good. My senses must be lying to me. Or my brain is screwed up in some way that I’m misinterpreting things. My senses cannot be trusted, the world must not be real in the way I perceive it. It’s unfortunate I’m crippled/crazy in this way.

III.
Gaslighting can be difficult, because to gaslight someone you can’t let them interact with anyone who would honestly corroborate their sense information. Asch’s Conformity Experiment is a model case for gaslighting. Eight different people (one of them an authority figure) are all earnestly saying your sense information is deeply flawed in a consistent way, and you can’t ask the opinions of people outside the room. To successfully gaslight someone long-term, you have to either keep them isolated, or recruit everyone they may run into, so they participate in the sabotage.

And wouldn’t you know it – those motherfuckers got away with it, for centuries. They convinced EVERYONE to buy into their authority and repeat their distortions. No matter who you asked, you would always get the same answer – your senses are broken, or you’re crazy. God really is good, despite what your moral sense and your own lying eyes are telling you.

Maybe this didn’t used to be the case. Maybe when morality was a primitive affair, and only extended to your tribe, this was less of a problem. Maybe when you didn’t have 24/7 news from around the globe, and history books full of atrocities, it was harder to notice how fucked up the world is. But holding to that line in the face of modern morality is insanity-inducing.

I think that’s one of the reasons that newly-deconverted atheists are often angry. It’s infuriating when you realize how much your entire social world has been trying to cripple you. Has been *successfully* crippling you. And you need to shout it, because you know that gaslighting falls apart when people are willing to stand up and report their true sense-data. It’s why religions used to murder anyone who didn’t play along. If a few people are willing to say “Look, I don’t know what you’re seeing, but to me Line B is clearly NOT the right match” it breaks the spell. If your friend comes into the house and confirms “Yes, you’re right, the lights really are dimmer, I see it too!” you have evidence that you aren’t defective. It’s someone else trying to make you think you’re crazy. Now that you’re free, you want others like you to know they are not alone, and they aren’t crazy.

Thank god for the internet. It’s the main reason atheists can be fairly chill now. Finally everyone has easy access to the knowledge that lots of other people see the lights dimming too. It no longer has to be yelled just to be noticed among all the confederates pointing to the wrong line.

I still have some reality-testing issues to this day. Mostly they’re under control, and I doubt they’re all do entirely to this reason. But shit, the religion thing certainly didn’t help.

 

Sep 192016
 

ghostbrideThe Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo

Synopsis: At the turn of the century, a young girl must marry the dead son of a rich family to save her father from ruin, but he’s a total jerk.

Book Review: An interesting animal! First, this book feels like an Urban Fantasy that’s set in an early 1900s Chinese colonial holding rather than in modern-day Chicago. It’s a neat blending of modern style and old setting.

The thing I most enjoyed about this book was its exploration of the afterlife mythology of this culture. It’s not exactly Chinese, and not exactly Malaysian, but kinda a blending of the two that happened in that time/place. I am almost entirely ignorant of that mythology, so seeing their afterlife beliefs coming to life in these pages was entirely fascinating. It’s very much the Bureaucratic Hell version of afterlife, except everyone goes there. Then they suffer through a century or so of paperwork and red tape and corrupt government officials until they die for real. Not the worst of tortures, but certainly not a pleasant afterlife. :) Almost every chapter had something new and fascinating that kept my interest. And the prose is basically well done, in some places slipping into cliché, in other places really shining.

The thing about this novel though… well, just a week or so before I read it I came across this essay about the Basic Girl Story (as compared to the Basic Boy Story), and I’m glad I did, because it put everything into perspective. (OK, tumblr post, but basically an informal essay)

The Basic Boy Story is “common boy is found to be Special, with Special Powers or Destiny or some such. He gets training under a mentor, pushes his abilities to new levels, and completes some difficult task. He returns to his home town as a much-lauded hero.”

The Basic Girl Story is “common girl is found to be Special, with Special Powers or Destiny or some such. She meets a Gruff Loner. She is put in danger several times, and in each case rescued because she is Precious and Worth Rescuing. In the end she and Gruff Loner fall in love, the danger passes, and the most significant change in her life is that now she’s happy.”

The essay itself compares The Matrix to Jupiter Ascending as the two Basic story examples, and its interest and short. But the main point is that neither story is bad, they are just… basic. We’ve seen them both a hundred times. There’s no shame in enjoying them, they are so basic because they are widely enjoyable! But unless they incorporate some sort of radical twist or concept (like The Matrix had), they won’t cover new ground.

The Ghost Bride is the essence of a good Basic Girl Story. It hits every beat, and if you’ve read a few of these before, you can see everything coming from a mile away. I knew when the Gruff Loner was removed from the story that he wasn’t really gone for good – he had to come back for the declaration of love at the end. But I was hoping maybe, MAYBE our protagonist would solve at least one problem by herself now. Nope. He’s back before you know it to save her yet again. Ah well, I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. :)

If you like that sort of story, this really is a great execution of it! And the interesting world makes up for a lot. But it doesn’t really grab me, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: The book isn’t bad for book clubs. The exposure to a foreign mythology is really neat, and it’s a fast read, and not an unenjoyable one. There are a couple things to talk about, such as how much society has progressed since the time when it was hard to marry off a nearly-spinsterly 18-year-old girl.

I personally was bothered by how the book strongly pushed the narrative of “parents have an obligation to sacrifice everything for the child’s happiness.” I realize that parents sacrifice a lot, and this is generally good. But Choo seemed to speak very approvingly of a young mother who committed suicide so that her daughter could marry the guy she wanted to. That’s really overdoing it IMHO. You don’t have an obligation to kill yourself so your bratty 14 year old can run off with her True Love. These over-the-top sacrifices, and the entitlement of the children to them, really rubbed me the wrong way. That sparked a fair bit of conversation. However I think this was a peculiarity of my own, and most people wouldn’t think that much of it, and wouldn’t make it a talking point.

All things considered, it isn’t bad. No one disliked it. Most people weren’t significantly excited by it either though, so I can’t give an Enthusiastic Consent recommendation. Ultimately, Not Recommended.

Sep 142016
 

<walking by new kid that started at the office>

Thinks to self: Ya know, I don’t fit in with the kids starting new jobs. Haven’t for a while, I guess. Definitely no longer young. But I don’t really have anything in common with the old folks around here either. Not old either. I’m kinda like, I dunno… the adult version of a ‘tween? Like, right in the middle of the ages…

oh.. oh fuck no. Oh god they have a word for this, and it’s literally “middle” and “aged”. Goddammit, I’m middle aged. Goddamn you all to hell!!!!

damnyoualltohellsurf

Sep 082016
 

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the premier of the first episode of Star Trek. When I was a wee atheist, sometimes people would ask me “Without religion, how will you teach your children morals?” My answer was (and still is) Star Trek. This show (particularly TNG, I didn’t watch much TOS) demonstrates everything that is noble about humanity, and acts as an incredible guide to living as a good person. Far, FAR more than that book of atrocities. And it has much better narratives, characters, and poetry along the way. (I’m sorry Songs of Solomon, but comparing a women’s breasts to fortress towers just doesn’t do it for me).

There is nothing in those 2000+ year old myths that isn’t fantastically outclassed by our modern myths. I don’t blame those people for the time they lived in, we’ve come far. But I would never use it as a guide for morality when we have such better sources nowadays. May the Trek ethos live long and prosper.

 

Sep 062016
 

[epistemic status: wild confabulations only loosely based on reality.]

Norm-MacDonald-Weekend-Update-SNLI have a story I like to believe about Norm MacDonald.

His time on Saturday Night Live is probably most remembered for the Celebrity Jeopardy series he created, but I remember him for his constant bombing while hosting Weekend Update (the SNL faux-news segment). Norm MacDonald had a flat affect, and dead-pan delivery. This works for delivering outrageous lines that would make a normal person sputter. It was great for absurd skits, but really failed when interfacing with banal reality, because Norm found reality outrageous. Shocking, even.

Whenever Norm covered a news story that involved sending someone to prison, he always made a joke about prison rape. The “punchline” tended to be a sentence along the lines of “so he can spend the next 20 years being anally raped.” It always ended with the flat punch of the two words “anal rape.” It was not funny.

When asked about this in an interview, he said that he hates the coyness of comedians who make jokes about prison rape, who wink and use terms like  “meeting his new boyfriend, Bubba.” The audience all laughs, because it’s wrapped in silly language that lets us indulge our thirst for extralegal vengeance in a lighthearted manner. He firmly believed we should just call it what it is, and not be such damn hypocrites about it. So he went straight for the heart of the matter, and called it rape.

Why shouldn’t people laugh? It was standard shock-jock humor. Take something shocking about our human nature, which we all know is true but dance around, and hold it up to the light. Biological processes. Sex. Prejudice. Laugh at it. Take away its taboo nature by getting us to guffaw at our own crudity. Why not our practice of tacitly using anal rape as a punishment for a wide variety of crimes?

In one way, it failed. People didn’t laugh. But I think Norm himself found that hilarious. What does it say about us, that we’re willing to laugh at a cloaked joke of “taking it up the tailpipe”, but can’t laugh at “anal rape?” They’re the same thing, one of them is just honest. And soon the joke wasn’t FOR us anymore, it was ABOUT us. We were the joke. Everytime Norm told it, he watched to see what hypocrites these humans be, laughing only when it didn’t make us look too bad. He laughed at us, silently, and he laughed that we could stand this world, and all the evils and absurdities within it. He laughed that he himself was still here, and laughing, because it was the only defense left. It was laugh or break, and he chose to laugh.

Aug 262016
 

lightningA very spoiler-heavy discussion of the bits I liked most about Too Like The Lightning follows.

If you have any interest in reading the book, I would suggest doing so first, as having spoilers may significantly reduce your enjoyment of the novel – more so than most novels IMHO. But OTOH it seems like a fair bit of the reading public was not as heavily affected by the mid-book Reveal as I was. Still, please consider. This post will still be here in a week, or month, or year.

 

Ahem.

 

I – Mycroft

So, obviously I have to start with the Big Reveal that made me have to put down the book for X days. Since at least one commenter said he’s not sure which one I mean (there’s lots of twists and reveals), it’s obvious not everyone is as affected. I call it the Mycroft Reveal, wherein we get actual visceral details on the horrific crimes he committed.

I am, by nature, not a very forgiving person. This is tempered by the fact that it takes a lot to actually get me to the point of hating someone. But I have an ingrained sense that while people can change, very almost never actually do. And that no matter how much you change, your crime still hurt your victim, and your changes won’t fix that.

Palmer spends much of the first half of the book making me love Mycroft. He is humble, he’s smart, he does his best to help others. He’s charming, engaging the reader in conversation directly. Once he goes off on a tangent lamenting how visor should be spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s a futuristic-sounding word, and it’s not fair that it isn’t, and then the next time you see the word “visor” in narration its spelled “vizor” and you laugh out loud at his little rebellion (or you do if you’re me). He is shown to be a good person, and I like him.

And then you see that he’s a torturer, a rapist, and a murderer. Killing his foster family, people who loved and trusted him, in the most horrific ways he can, recording parts of it for media titillation. This is a person who deserves to die. A person who deserves to die by the most painful execution method we have available. Yet he’s still alive, and mostly happy, and I do not give a single fuck that he has changed, you made me like him!!

I was so pissed. I am still pissed, actually. Because current-day Mycroft seems to be a good person, and he has unique abilities that the world needs to keep running, and sure sure, he’s not a danger to anyone anymore. I still don’t care. I want him dead, and I’m not apologizing. If current-day Mycroft has to be snuffed out for past-Mycrofts sins, I’m OK with that.

Honestly, I feel like Palmer cheated. Because in real life, no one who does that sort of thing could ever be a good person. But since she can create the entire world, and the people within it, she can create this Literally Impossible situation where the person who could do those acts can somehow also be a good person. Because he was disturbed, and emotionally shattered. Because he was driven to it by a violent sociopath. Because he literally had to do these things in order to prevent world war that would result in basically a planet-wide Rwanda-style genocide/massacre. Isn’t it worth torturing your loved ones, in order to prevent that level of planetary horror? The utilitarian answer is yes. But this would never happen, this is equivalent to the 24-style torture-apologetics. It smacks of Ender’s Game-style genocide-apologetics.  I can read about these people. But I will not sympathize with them. I reject any bid that I consider them equal human beings, and that I should forgive them. I leave that to the priests.

I was super-conflicted about this, because less than one week prior to that, I sat on the “Creating the Anti-Hero” panel at MALcon.  I put forth the proposition that a good anti-hero is someone who pursues  goals that we admire, but is forced to do so using methods we find repellant by their circumstances, and their emotional struggle with this. Firefly is the go-to example, as that show can legitimately be said to be about the villains of that universe. I always go with Watchmen, because I find both Rorschach and Ozymandias fit this perfectly, altho in opposing ways. In the end, Ozy prevents world-wide nuclear war. He saved the human race. And he only had to murder everyone in New York City to do it. I’ll be honest – I admire him. I think he is both a villain and a hero. Preserving the human race is a hell of a goal, and (to paraphrase Too Like The Lightning) you should be happy to sacrifice any subset of the world if you are literally saving the world, because you would have lost that subset anyway if the world ended PLUS everything else.

But that Mycroft seems to delight in it! Maybe I can thank him for saving the world. But I still want him dead. Call me human.

I did keep reading anyway.

Of course there’s three more books to come. Much is still to be revealed. My reactions are to this book alone. I hope they do not change though. I will have to wonder what it says about me if they do. This is what I meant when I said “this book is about your reaction to it,” altho again, it seems not everyone felt it hit home as deeply as I did.

 

II – The author as God

This novel reminded me of The Etched City in that both are about nominally mundane worlds wherein miracles suddenly occur, and people struggle to understand what the hell that means. But The Etched City takes place in a fictional world, in a pre-WW1 era. There are some simple firearms, but it’s enough in the past that it doesn’t feel contemporary. The furniture is Fantasy, not Sci-Fi. So having a miracle(s) produced by (one assumes) a god, didn’t throw me out of the story. In an Sci Fi setting, it kinda did. I finally got over this during one of the novel’s many dialogs, wherein J.E.D.D. says “the protagonist of every work of fiction is Humanity, and the antagonist is God.” (I was primed with an earlier reference to Greek Heroes being “beloved of the gods”)

I’m currently in the process of attempting to write a novel that grapples with a similar theme. So when I read this, what I saw is “the inhabitants of fictional worlds are put in awful situations by the author, for entertainment. The author has created them, and is responsible for everything in existence, and they have no say in the matter and exist in a separate reality that can never affect the author directly. The author is literally their God.” This is a massive Fourth-Wall Break, and it is done within the novel. Beautifully so. The inhabitants of this novel don’t know they are in a fictional world. The reader probably doesn’t realize they are creating that world in their mind, and that its framework was constructed by that world’s God, Ada Palmer.

The book keeps bringing us back to this theme with Jehovah, who I think has created a world of his own as well. At first I thought he was running a Reality Simulation on a supercomputer hidden somewhere. Later I thought maybe that supercomputer is his own mind, and the beings that exist in it are literally “thoughts in the mind of God”. By the end of the book I’m not sure anymore, as it is said that his powers mirror those of Bridger, and that Bridger is the God of the novel’s world.

This brings up interesting questions about Bridger. Is Bridger the author-insert in this story? Every other name in the book has major significance, and this would be the most significant naming of all – Bridger is literally the bridge that brings Ada-Palmer-The-Author from our real world, into the world she’s writing, as a character within it.

That’s why I became OK with Bridger having god-powers. Because if he is Palmer, then of course he can do anything. He is literally the author. There is no magic. There is only a reminder that these are words on a page, put there to stimulate my mind in ways the author thinks I will find enjoyable. If that means writing that plastic turns into flesh at a touch, then so be it. I accept that. It works for me.

 

III – Jehovah

Holy crap, Jehovah is awesome. Not just because he is a stone-cold  badass. Not just because he strongly reminds me of one of my favorite anime characters, L/Lawliet. But because he is the me-insert in this novel. Other characters speaking of him – “Oh yes, [Jehovah really does hate this universe that much], He just doesn’t realize yet that what He feels is named hate.” And “if He met the callous Bastard who designed this universe of suffering, He’d… criticize, protest, scream […] if He did scream, if He wore His sacred throat to blisters screaming, this universe’s Maker wouldn’t care.”  Oh. My. God. So good. All the sympathy, all the admiration. I hope to see so much more of him.

 

IV – Set-Sets

I love how Palmer whip-lashed my opinions of them. I loved them at first! They are what I aspired to be in my younger years. Renounce the flesh, live the mental life, upload if possible. I cheered at “you’ve never seen a six-dimensional homoscedastic crest up from the data sea, and you never will because you’re wasting those nerves on telling you your knee itches.” They have great personality and wit, they are people!

And then late in the book I discovered they never change. Never grow. And I was horrified. I was reminded of Diaspora, which finally truly drove home to me that Life Is Change. A person that is not changing can just as easily be replaced by a hard drive containing an archive of their thoughts. A species that doesn’t change can be replaced by a galaxy-sized statue made of memory crystal containing a saved state of all their simulated interactions. It was one of the most influential books on my personal view of what it means to be human. And these Set-Sets… they are things that were forced into mental stasis by their “parents”. They are not humans, they aren’t even people. They’re p-zombies. I shuddered.

 

OK, I think I got all of that off my chest. Whew! I’m looking forward to the next book!

Aug 252016
 

lightningToo Like The Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Synopsis: This book is about your reaction to it. Heed the trigger warnings. The plot is incidental.

Book Review: Wow, man, where do I begin? Ambitious is an understatement.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Yes, this book has trigger warnings. It needs them, which I’ll get into in tomorrow’s in-depth, spoileriffic post. It is impressive that Palmer got trigger warnings into her book, because that’s frowned upon in “serious literature.” The way she did this is by having the trigger warnings be integral to the story itself. This book takes place several hundred years in the future, and humanity has (re)embraced censorship for societal good. The conceit of this book is that it is a history written by a person in that era, so the book itself must first be approved by the censorship bodies. This provides your first dive into this world – where the approval and comments of various censorship boards preface the history itself. You learn right off the bat that not only does this world have censorship, it has strong anti-religious censorship, and it is controlled by a number of vying factions who have very unique ways of expressing themselves. One censorship body is an arm of the Mitsubishi corporation. Another writes only in Latin. It is incredibly effective world-building, and the tigger warnings themselves almost sneak by you! Which is why I felt the need to say “No, seriously, heed them.”

The novel is an INTENSE exercise in world building and character crafting. Almost every page reveals something new about the world, or how our protagonist exists within it. It builds itself up slowly, but with astounding richness. One member of our bookclub said “It’s like one of those Magic Eye pictures, and comes into focus as you read.”

I will say that I almost didn’t read past the first chapter, because I found it infuriating. The setting is a high-tech hard-SF future. The first chapter focuses almost entirely on a wishy-washy mealy-mouthed priest of the kind I get so damn frustrated with, because every single thing he says is “Well, SOME people say this, OTHERS say that.” Or “What do you think? Yes, that could be.” He’s saying all this to a pre-pubescent boy, who really could use some real fucking answers that we actually HAVE and could provide to him! The priest’s job is literally to encourage any hare-brained religious thought, even including something like “Well, do you think Thor creates lightning with his magic hammer? It could be! Some people say that.” The rage, it was like flames, at the side of my face. You learn later on in the book that there’s a very good reason that society is shaped this way, but I almost didn’t make it through it.

In addition to that, we are in a high-tech hard-SF future, and in chapter one we are introduce to a literal god-child. A kid who can create miracles. Any toy he touches comes to life. Not via holograms, or nano-fog, or any sort of “looks like magic” tech. Literal magic. Plastic soldiers turn into 2-inch tall flesh-and-blood humans who talk, think, have internal organs and blood, and can be killed in the ways you’d imagine. It drove me nuts, and I wanted to hurl the book across the room. (Again, I later came to appreciate this, which I’ll cover tomorrow)

The one thing that kept me going was the absolutely enthralling writing style. This novel is written in what I’m now thinking of as an “Enlightenment Style”, wherein the author directly addresses the reader. (Well, that and seeing lots of praise from authors I respect) It is the most unique and fascinating style I’ve ever read, and the lush (and bizarre!) world made me decide to give it another chapter. And the more I read, the more I was intrigued. The narrator not only addresses you directly, he later begins to speak FOR you, and you engage him in a dialog in the pages of the book! It’s fantastic! And he’s such a genuinely good person that you really start to care for him. I decided I would keep going until I got bored.

And then I hit That Scene. The Promised Reveal. I will not say what it is, because it would not be fair to spoil this book for you in that way. But every person who has read this book will know immediately what Scene I mean, and they will give me a knowing look and say “Yeah. Man. That fuckin’ Scene.” I still feel charges of emotion over a week later, typing about it. I literally had to put the book down, and walk away from it for several days. It made me think about myself. It made me think about what I want in fiction, and how I relate to an author. I was almost positive I’d come back to finish the book, but I needed some time. And maybe I wouldn’t come back after all.

Of course, I did. But the amount of introspection and emotional reaction I got from That Scene alone was amazing. I will remember this book for decades. And while it is the most powerful scene in the novel, it is not the only good one, there are several other brilliant moments throughout it. This novel just came out a few months ago, and I will be surprised if it doesn’t end up on a number of award lists.

That being said – this novel is slow. My summary was a little facetious – there is actually a plot. But you don’t really find out what it is until you’re about 80% of the way through the book. The rest of the time it is world-building, character-building, and laying groundwork. There are many times when I thought “Why do I care about these people? Who cares about that a popularity contest result was leaked a couple days early? What is my investment in any of this?” The majority of the action is dialog or conversation, much of it often deeply philosophical. You know the anime we grew up on, things like Akira or Ghost In the Shell, where characters will break into discussion about the purpose of consciousness and the underpinnings of the human psyche? And it’s a total trip, and you think “damn this is marvelous” and then it goes back to blowing shit up? Imagine that, without the blowing shit up part. Personally, I LOVE that sort of thing. It’s why I hated the first chapter so much (the priest is sooooo wrong and stupid!), but everyone else in the novel has much better and more interesting things to say than that priest. The entire society is based upon Enlightenment thinkers and philosophers, and they act the part.

What I’m saying is, this is a glorious work! It has what I would consider some flaws, but everyone will find different flaws in it, and that’s one of the signs of something that’s more than the sum of its parts. I don’t know if it’s a masterpiece. Maybe it is. But it is certainly unique and exciting.

Before I recommend it – this book is certainly not for everyone. I mean yes, some people will find it boring and dreary. But more importantly – if you are the type of person that is traumatized by the things described in the book’s trigger warnings, you really should stay away. For anyone who falls in that category – strongly not recommended! But since the conceit of my reviews is “What would I say to myself if I could tell the me of 15 days ago if this novel is a good use of their spare reading time over the next 2 weeks?” – Strongly Recommended.

Book Club Review: This is much harder to say. When I was driving in to my book club meeting, I was on edge in a way I haven’t been in years. I suspected some people would hate this. I was worried some people would be angry at me for recommending it.

In the Afterwards, Palmer says that one of her goals in writing this book was to join the Great Conversation. She has succeeded IN SPADES. There is so much to talk about within the pages of this book that I can’t even begin to summarize it all. Normally when I go to a book club meeting, I open my eReader and scroll through my highlighted passages to talk about what I liked. This time I had to take notes on my highlights before I went, because I had highlighted so damn much! You could run three different book club meetings off this one book if you wanted to, tackling different issues each time. It is that rich.

But on the other hand, a couple members felt it was too complex. A couple others stopped reading early-ish, because they grew bored with the slow pace and the low emotional stakes. And, again, if you have any members of your book club who will be triggered by the things presented in the warning, you shouldn’t ask them to read it (and/or make them feel excluded by basing a meeting around a book they can’t read). This is a book that I feel uncomfortable recommending en masse, please use your discretion. That being said, none of us knew what we were getting into when we started it, no one was traumatized or triggered, and we had one of the most exciting and interesting meetings that I’ve been a part of. That can be considered a tacit “Recommended With Cautions.”

Oh, also, the book is Part 1 of 2, and ends with (almost literally) “to be continued.”

Aug 242016
 

IM12An addendum to yesterday’s WorldCon summary: I did not win the Sidewise Award for Alternate History (not-won plaque is pictured). This is a little sad, of course. I would have preferred to win. But it was still a fantastic experience, with much excitement and joy. I got to meet some cool people, and I got a small taste of what being up for an award is like. :)

As promised, now some more talk about constantly living a lie.

I spent all of Wens-Sat being “on”, ie: acting social and out-going. I do enjoy this, but it’s draining. Every now and then it’s kinda lonely too. This is an unavoidable aspect of meeting new people for the first time, you can’t open right up immediately. It’s why I prefer to stick with at least one person for a whole con, it expands your pool of people you can chat with without having to perform as much. But a LOT of WorldCon was putting my best presentation forward at almost all times, and good lord was that tiring! By the time I checked out of the hotel Sunday, I couldn’t really talk to anyone anymore. All Monday I felt like I was sick with a cold, it was awful. I finally got 10 hours of sleep that night, and Tuesday I finally felt like a normal person again. I think I need to do a bit more self-care next time I go to a 5-day con.

Unrelated, but just occurring to me – I didn’t mention this in the previous post about Performing, but probably the part I like least about modern performance culture is the taboo regarding attraction. You’re allowed to act like you’re attracted to people, and flirt. Flirting is hella fun! But saying you find someone attractive out loud is forbidden unless you’re actually asking them out. Which is a little frustrating. Like, I find 80% of women within a decade of my age attractive, and having to suppress that is a bit of a psyche-drain. But I absolutely understand why that rule is there, so I follow it, and stick with flirting, and maybe now and then ask someone out. It’s not my ideal world, but it’s the best compromise between differing agents, so you play the part that makes the social group work best.

On a more personal note, sometimes the playing of roles can really lead one astray. I feel bad reaching out to my SO when I’m feeling certain types of emotional distress, because I don’t want to do the whole “emotional leach” thing. Is that a thing? I don’t want anyone to think “You only call me when you’re lonely, is that all I am to you? A loneliness sponge?” and so I don’t call. So I default to Performing Masculinity, ie: nothing hurts me. Now, I’m certainly not as good at this sort of thing as, say, The Man With No Name, but I do OK. I know how I’m supposed to act, and so I step into that role and go about the rest of my day. I did eventually text to test the waters and got a negative reaction, because at that point she was annoyed that I hadn’t called yet. Which meant after that I was performing even harder the rest of the con to pretend that didn’t bother me, and boy howdy, that’s not very fun. I did overall have a great time, because the majority of the time I was too busy doing other stuff to think about that, and because WorldCon is awesome, but man, it could have been better if I’d just picked up the damn phone. When I got home we hashed all that out and felt like complete idiots (me more than her), and now I shake my head when I think how easily all that could have been avoided. But nope! I was too cool and manly to let that sort of thing bother me. /sigh Sometimes I swear I haven’t learned a damn thing…

Aug 242016
 

shortfictionpanelDavid Truesdale posted the audio of the “State of Short Fiction” panel. I recommend everyone go listen to it, it’s fascinating.

(@http://www.tangentonline.com//images/audio/radio/dt_panel.mp3)

Listening to it after the fact, I feel like this was blown way out of proportion when it was relayed to me. Yes, he did start off with “special snowflakes are too easily offended” and “you should just clutch your pearls.” So, right off the bat, he alienated his audience by insulting them. Very bad move dude, you suck at dialog. But overall, he was not bad. Not threatening, not shouting or even ranting. He was putting forward a crappy argument laced with some insults. Seriously, that is not a big deal. I suspect that when the convention decided to expel him it was entirely based on the reports of others, rather than on direct knowledge. If they had been there (or heard this audio) they probably would have let him stay.

He did start off by throwing the panel a fair bit off course, which is the opposite of what a moderator is supposed to do. But that’s a venial sin. More importantly, he ambushed his panelists with a charged political topic that they were not prepared for (in both the “research for it” and “psychologically prepare for a charged topic” sense). That is a HUGE dick move. When I held my DCC panel on Cultural Appropriation, everyone knew exactly what they were getting into, and agreed to it beforehand. I am not at all surprised that his panelists were angry.

On the plus side, he did have a few points. Gordon affirmed that yes, he did in fact frequently receive complaints that his covers didn’t show a 50/50 male/female split. Sheila stated that only 25-30% of her submissions are from women authors. A couple panelists did say that they felt authors nowadays are less willing to take risks. Sheila relayed her recent trepidation about publishing an alt-history story where JFK lives, because she had gotten angry letters about people saying that publishing any story containing people still living was disrespectful and/or traumatizing to those people or their families (in response to an alt-history piece she’d published re Apollo 13 not long ago).

And for the most part David was calm, willing to listen and dialog, and aside from his idiotic opening insults, pretty respectful.

The only really awful part of the panel was the audience member who stood up and started shouting at the other panelists. That guy was aggressive and pissed. He sounded very much like the asshole who got enraged at the Sunday WSFS meeting. That was probably where all the fear and tension in the room came from, and since it was right at the very beginning, it’s probably stayed overlaying the room like a blanket the whole panel. I totally blame that guy from David’s expulsion.

I’m glad David recorded this, so we can all hear it. For the most part he reveals himself to be an out-of-touch curmudgeon, who may have a good point or two, but has no idea how to articulate it, and who has overreacted by retreating into bitterness. Simply letting him speak reveals his weaknesses, and putting him in a dialog with someone as smart as Sheila Williams is all that’s needed. He did not need to be expelled. He hangs himself with his own words, and Sheila gets to shine. She provided strong rebuttal and counter-argument, especially for someone put on the spot like that! She’s going to have a lot more fans after this, and deserves it. If Asimov’s wants to boost her brand, they have no better tool to do so than this recording, they should do their best to see it distributed far and wide. :)

Good panel, wish I had gone.

Aug 232016
 

IMG_20160817I started by saying that this backpack contains the entirety of my luggage! Flying only cost me $140 round-trip for that (literally cheaper than driving), and I was pretty proud. Then I remembered I cheated, and sent my Award Ceremonies Suit with a friend who was driving. So less proud now. :/ But from what I learned this year, I can say that I’ll be able to travel next time with just a single backpack for luggage without cheating!
IMG_20IMG_20160820I met Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky in the flesh. And I got to have dinner with both of them!! It was fantastic! I would have liked to spend more time with both, but there was soooo much to do. Hopefully more next time. Eliezer was disappointed with the expertise level of some of the panels, which I feel is partly my fault, I should have warned him. This is a conference for SF writers and readers. Sometimes the con will get lucky and get a field-expert who is also a fan, and they are put on a panel. But in general the best you can ask for in technical subjects is a panel that’s up to date with the laity. A panel on AI will NOT address any actual leading research. It will maybe address how audiences consume and understand AI stories, and/or how authors can write compelling AI stories that don’t break suspension of disbelief.

It was fun trying to explain the appeal of Lovecraftian fiction to Robin. “It’s the horror of realizing you are a helpless inconsequential speck in a vast uncaring universe and your existence is meaningless? But that’s just regular life, all the time, for everyone.” Yes, but that’s what compartmentalization is for. :) As Eliezer said “Robin Hanson is far too psychologically healthy to ever be scared by existential horror.” Having met him, I totally agree. He is the friendliest person to serve as an inspiration for Quirinus Quirrell that I could imagine.

Eliezer also corrected my pronunciation of his name (after which the world’s biggest D’OH!!!! was uttered), and observed that this cons focus is primarily about reverence and admiration, rather than pursuing a goal or disseminating information. This is a good point, but I didn’t realize that anything else was expected. It’s literally a convention of huge SF fans, that cap off their con with a giant ceremony to give the people they most admire a fancy statue for being so damn cool. :) I had a great time playing my part in the prestige/admiration economy.

AdaPhoto1000Speaking of admiration!! I got to meet Ada Palmer!! The day before flying out to WorldCon I had just gotten to the mid-book reveal in her “Too Like The Lightning”, so I had to come up to her after a panel and rave about that. We talked for a bit, and she had to go, but she invited me to her Kaffeklatch on Saturday. I went and got to spend an hour in conversation with her, a lot of it about her book, and it was glorious! She is whip-smart and incredibly nice, and it was in the Top 3 Moments of WorldCon for me. I’m so glad I went, I really hope to talk with her more over time. The sheer depth and flavor of her ideas is intoxicating. And she has a sultry voice. :) Like an idiot I forgot to take a pic, so here’s a stock photo instead. More on her book in a few days!

In Don’t Do What Donnie Don’t Does news… I made an ass of myself briefly. For the past four years I’ve regretted not saying anything to GRRM when I shared an elevator with him at the Chicago WorldCon. It was just him and me in an otherwise empty elevator, and I froze up and didn’t say or do anything. It would’ve been a perfect time to get a pic or something. So this time when I saw him I rushed over and asked if I could get a selfie with him. He said he was in a hurry to get to his panel, and was pretty grumbly about it, but he did let me snap a pic. But I realized immediately that he was not happy, and I should have backed off, and I didn’t, and I’m an asshole. I am not posting that pic, because I don’t deserve to have a pic with him that was taken via ambush. I avoided him the rest of the con, and I desperately hope that he’ll forget me over the next two years. I’m sure he will. Right? :(

IMG_20818I’m worried because (prepare for mood whiplash) I went to a panel with Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s. Afterwards I approached her to thank her for publishing an unknown first-timer like me, especially given what she said about disappointing endings in the panel. AND SHE REMEMBERED ME BY SIGHT!! Like, WTF?? I’ve exchanged maybe three emails with her, two years ago! The best she could have done is seen that tiny little profile pic that comes with gmail. She was all “Well I only publish maybe 60 or 70 people per year, of course I remember my authors!” but man… holy crap! I was blown away. Better yet, she invited me to the Asimov’s/Analog party happening the next day! I got to meet all sorts of fascinating people there, including the author of Today I Am Paul (which would’ve been a nominee if not for the Puppies). It was a fantastic experience!

0160819A plush Frodo & Sam waiting for rescue in the dealer’s room, just cuz.

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

I’ve posted before about my habit of con-spousing. Pretty much any con I go to, I tend to form a quick bond with someone and spend a lot of my free time/meals with them. It was interesting, this year I didn’t have a dedicated con spouse. The closest was Vivian (on my left, red dress), who I spent quite a bit of time with, both at parties and meals, especially in the last two days. She’s a friend from Colorado. :) I spent quite a bit of time with Laynie as well (on my right), who is sweet; and driven as hell, as every millennial I’ve met has been. I also spent a fair bit of time with Beth (not pictured, because again, I’m an idiot), who sadly kept having to do volunteer work so we didn’t get to hang out as much, but who has extremely similar taste as me in books (Grimdark 4evah!!) and gave me some fantastic recommendations, which I will attempt to inflict upon my book club! All in all, this was perhaps less emotionally satisfying as really bonding with a single person for 2-4 days, but I did get a wider variety of people met, so I don’t regret it either.

I also caught up with people I’ve met at previous cons (such as S.B. Divya and Seth Dickinson). Give me a few years, and soon I’ll be spending much of my con doing only that. :) It’s kinda nice, especially when you get to chatting late into the night and many of the barriers come down. (Tomorrow, notes on how exhausting it is to be Play Acting several days straight. Letting the mask slip late Saturday night with Seth and Vivian is another of my Top 3 Moments. So refreshing.) And when I needed a soul-recharge I could always count on Nikki, a very dear friend from Colorado, to sit with me for fifteen or twenty minutes and just friend out (which is like Bro-ing out, except without the Bro aspect). Many <3s Nikki!

IMG_20160
I got to meet Ferret, and he’s absolutely as cool in real life as he is on his blog! I should have bought this man a drink!

IMG2082

IMG0821And, finally I got hang around with Pat Cadigan (closest to camera) for maybe a half hour, after the Hugo Award Ceremonies (she was the MC). CyberPunk is my Home Genre. It is what I read as I was coming of age, and it’s a core fixture of my psyche. To get to meet one of its god-parents was gratifying. :)

I already mentioned the Award Ceremony and the next day’s Business Meeting in yesterday’s post, so I won’t repeat those.

One major difference between this year’s post and last year’s post – no pics of the venue itself. Sasquan was absolutely gorgeous, even with the fires of Mordor at our doorstep. I fell in love, and I could move there. MidAmericaCon was nice enough… it was functional, and served its purpose. But there was no structural or natural beauty here. I won’t remember any visuals. This actually makes me feel really inadequate about the Denver Convention Center (in which we hold Denver Comic Con every year), because I think it’s the same thing. A large, uninteresting building, built for efficiency of convention-going. It looks like a giant office. There is nothing beautiful about it, or the immediately surrounding area. I hope San Jose is gorgeous! And I’m kinda sorta maybe considering going to Helsinki… maybe.

I had a great time!