Apr 132018
 

For the use of my book club, plus whoever else would like a linked list. These are the short stories and novelettes that are up for a Hugo, and also available free online. This year, that’s all of them.

Best Short Story

Best Novelette

Apr 122018
 

I recently won a Writers of the Future award for my story “Flee, My Pretty One.” The award comes with publication in their anthology, a cash prize, a nice trophy at an award ceremony, and (most importantly by far) a week-long workshop with big names in the industry.

But y’all want to hear about the Scientology thing, so let’s talk about that first. :)

1. The Contest

Everyone in the SF community knows that Writers of the Future (WotF) is funded by the Scientologists, and used by them for PR. And everyone smiles and accepts that and agrees not to talk about it in public, because the Scientologists do a good job of staying the hell out of the contest itself. All the judging and every major decision is made by respected professionals in the field, none of whom are affiliated with the church. And behind the scenes, yeah, we talk about it. When the WotF staff wasn’t around and we were all drinking, there was quite a bit of chat about it. Because it is kinda weird, and we all feel a bit weird about it. But ultimately, they just provided a huge paycheck to the SF community without asking very much in return.

One of my fellow winners even pointed out that it’s almost a scam in the other direction. The Scientologists take a lot of money from rich Hollywood celebrities, and they take that and funnel it back into funding new up-and-coming SF writers and illustrators, all of whom are mildly-to-strongly anti-Scientology. It’s a weird arts-funding program that uses Scientology money for an actual good cause (assuming one considers SF arts a good cause).

They certainly get something out of it too. The big awards ceremony, while it was certainly a lot of fun and made us all free great and important, was very obviously for them. It talked up L. Ron Hubbard quite a bit. I heard more about him in the two hours of the event than in the entire four days of workshop before then. All the content was geared at making the audience of Scientologists feel good about themselves and assure them they’re being good Hubbard disciples. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s their party. They’ve been super nice and very supportive, and they’re allowed to have a big party and feel good! So what if they’re using us as an excuse to celebrate? They’ve spent a ton of money on all of us, they’re allowed. We’re getting a lot out of it in exchange. Let’s not shit on someone else being happy.

This hangs on the side of their publishing building. I imagine most of the employees inside are pretty embarrassed by it.

2. The People

The Scientologists, at least the ones on the ground, are all super nice and polite. They never treated us with anything but respect and friendliness. And, aside from being the biggest Hubbard fanboys/fangirls I’ve ever seen, never even mentioned Scientology. There were no attempts at recruitment. We’re valuable to them as PR, not as new members.

You could always tell who was a Scientologist and who was an outside professional, though. There’s something about the Scientologists. They’re very tightly wound. They hide behind niceness and smiles, never comfortable. I didn’t like being around them, and I ended up feeling very bad for them. In my opinion, they act like people who aren’t sure how to interface with the outside world, and have been hurt by it so much that they expect only more abuse and more pain, and the only way they’ve found to deal with this is to withdraw. When forced to interact with the muggles, they smile past the fear and hope it’s over soon.

I know a lot of people like this. I used to be a person like this. This is a common experience for young nerds. Yes, it was uncomfortable being around the, because they are bad at social skills, and they’re hurt. But by god, who beats up on these sort of people? Spreading tales of how awful and creepy they are is no different from nerd-bashing. Do you talk about how gross aspies are? Then don’t do it to Scientologists.

The church of Scientology may be ridiculous and/or evil, but most of the people in it are just as innocent as most Catholics. Be kind to people. Don’t trust anyone who gives you weird vibes, of course, your instincts are a good first-defense. But man, it’s possible to treat people with decency without going into secluded places with them, ya know?

They keep display copies of everything Hubbard has ever published. Even the Lisa Frank versions.

3. The Cult

When I first saw the crazy devotion the people here have to Hubbard’s work I was downright envious. They adore him, and as long as they’re around, his memory and his works will be kept alive. In that moment I wanted a cult of my own.

It didn’t last very long though. There isn’t any real memory of Hubbard being preserved here. It’s a weird, idolized version of him, drastically disconnected from whatever real person he might have been. There’s only a story that strangers have built a community around, and recognizing him as he was doesn’t advance that purpose. This is a poor imitation of immortality-through-remembrance. It felt lonely.

Of course, when the publicity crew was following us around all week, and constantly snapping pictures of everything we do, that felt right. It was fitting that everything I do be documented, because I’m totes a big deal in my own mind. :) I finally had that “constant watching presence” that I’d been missing since I realized there ain’t no god. Most of my co-winners didn’t like it as much, though.

I will say I was surprised by how conservative they are! With their reputation as a crazy cult in the middle of Hollywood, I expected them to basically be a bunch of liberals. They don’t drink, frown on bad language, and basically reminded me of strict Christians. They wanted everyone to dress conservatively, including strongly requesting the women wear gowns to the award ceremony. That’s a heckuva an ask for 24 artsy types, you’ll almost always get someone for whom that is not OK. I’ve heard about this being a problem in past years, and they seem to have eased up a bit, because our resident “I don’t do dresses” artist ended up going in a red suit instead, which suited her very well! And it sounded like there wasn’t too much kerfuffle about it.

So yeah, I dislike their religion, they can be off-putting, and I hear their leadership has done shitty things. But the people on the ground are nice, they mostly kept to themselves, and they won me over. Given how much I distrust the media when it comes to their portrayal of weird fringe groups, I’m gonna default to not being a dick on this one.

Seriously though, what writer doesn’t want people to love his work so much they enshrine it like this?

Over the next few days I’ll talk about the workshop itself, as well as the award ceremony. Plus more pictures!

You can buy the anthology, containing my latest short story, at Amazon and most book stores.

 

Apr 072018
 

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz

Synopsis: An indentured military robot and his handler track a pharma-IP pirate across the globe when a reverse-engineered work-productivity drug starts killing people.

Book Review: Yikes, what a shiny mess this is! The novel is so variable in quality and tone, spiking up and diving down in heady rushes, that it feels downright schizophrenic. I need to dive into that, so this review will be a bit long.

On the one hand, there’s some good stuff in here. The robot characters in particular were really interesting. They are convincingly done as minds without human values, where murder and torture don’t elicit even the feeling that they should be difficult or questionable, as long as they’re ordered by an authorized admin. The violence is raw and brutal in its matter-of-factness. There’s a particularly fantastic scene where the military bot is engaged in combat with IP-pirates, guns blazing and blood splattering, while also researching English language usage because he wants to know what his admin meant when he said “I’m not a faggot.” The alternating physical brutality, and curiosity about human relationships and sexuality, makes for amazing juxtaposition.

The novel also highlighted a few things in myself that I now have to ponder. There’s a gender-flip (sorta) midbook. No big deal, gender doesn’t matter, particularly the fake gender of robots. But when I went back to my notes in the first half of the book and found the female character being referred to as “he,” it bothered me. Which I guess means that gender actually does matter, even the fake gender of robots, because why the hell would it bother me if it didn’t really matter? If I hadn’t embraced the gender-classification of this non-human thing and started to associate it with that gender, and then disliked it being misgendered?

It also drew my attention to latent carbon-chauvinism I thought I was free of. When a human who’s been shown to brutally abuse robots is murdered, it took me aback. Like “No, you don’t just go killing humans!” But if that human had been shown to brutally abuse other humans, I woulda been all “Fuck yeah, kill that piece of shit!” So… what’s going on with me, there? I obviously place more moral weight on fictional humans than fictional robots, and that’s worrisome.

But all this is tempered by some serious issues. For starters, in quite a few places the writing is just downright bad. Like, “I’m 14 And This Is Deep” high school fanfic bad. We’re told who’s the good guys and who’s the bad guys with basic applause lights like “the keys to this good life are held in the greedy hands of a few corporatons.” And “Was [she] trying to kill herself to make up for what she’d done? Maybe. Probably.” And “maybe […] he would stop asking her to trust him more than she wanted to trust anyone—including herself.” Oh dear lord.

The world and most of the characters in it never come to life either. Everything feels rather flat, and drawn in muted colors, especially at first. In the latter half of the book we start to get some insight into our human character’s personality and backgrounds, and they start to become interesting, but at first they’re just blah. And the world itself doesn’t feel anything like you’d expect. Apparently most of the world lives in slavery most of their lives, but for the most part life seems alright. No one’s that unhappy, society is basically functioning, etc. This has two related effects on our protagonists. Our hero, the pirate, doesn’t feel very heroic. A freedom fighter needs an evil empire to fight against. Lacking that context, she’s just a drug-running criminal. And our villain, the IP-law enforcer, isn’t all that bad. In fact, the novel paints him in a pretty decent light.

Now, I’m all for morally complex characters. I like dark heroes, and I like works that really make you feel the villain’s perspective, and cheer for them. But Autonomous doesn’t do that.

It introduces us to a hero by having her murder someone without much remorse in their introductory scene. It drops a number of hints about her dark, irredeemable past. And then we’re never shown anything bad she did in her past, and she’s painted as a hero for the rest of the novel. She never gets a redemption because it turns out there wasn’t anything she needs redemption from. The novel is OK with that.

It gives us a villain working for the oppressors. He pressures his underling into a deeply disturbing and highly-abusive relationship. The novel doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.

The world is broken and full of slavery, but things are pretty cheerful overall. It feels like a brightly-painted Disney-fied environment. This isn’t done in a southern gothic sort of disturbing way, it just seems we’re not supposed to notice.

I have a theory. Originally, this book was supposed to be much, much darker. It was supposed to be something awesome, like Library at Mount Char, or Best Served Cold. But Newitz was told this would never sell, and if she wanted a contract she’d have to lighten it up, and make it more YA-friendly. So what could have been dark and brooding and great is turned into… this.

I have a second theory. This novel has been rewritten many, many times. Newitz learned a lot during the writing, which is why the latter half is significantly better than the first. It explains why there can be really good writing side by side with really awful drek. But in the churn of all the rewrites and edits, the focus of the story was lost. In the end it feels processed and soulless.

I look forward to Newitz’s next novel, because I think these are problems that can be overcome, particularly with experience. But I don’t think that this novel, as it stands, should have been published. Some gatekeeper was not doing their job, or (per first theory) doing their job very poorly and making the final work worse. And since I can’t recommend something that I don’t think should’ve been published, despite it’s other merits, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Boy, it’s hard to say. This was a pretty quick read, and it did have some great parts. And it certainly gave us a LOT to talk about, which is where theories 1 & 2 from above came from. But most of the discussion didn’t center around the themes the novel attempted to raise, because we were distracted by the disjointed prose/world. Some people liked it more than others, and it’s certainly far from the worst thing out there. But when I think of all the really good novels out there, and extremely limited number of novels one can read in a year, I can’t justify telling a book club this is worth the opportunity cost. While it skates the line, I’m going to tip into the Not Recommended on this one. Mildly, though.

 

Apr 022018
 

Augh, I’ve neglected this for too long.

This is delightful! EXCERPTS FROM MY UPCOMING NOVEL, READY PLAYER TWO: GIRL STUFF. “I ran a proud hand over the side of my spaceship that was shaped like a Lisa Frank dolphin. I had won it in a bet with my friend Snapewife over how many Pirates of the Caribbeanmovies there were. Back then, she had called it the Sparkleship, but I wanted a more intellectual, literary name. So I re-named it Astolat, after my favorite fan-fiction author.”

 

The Daily Mail is not a legitimate news source
“This is, in the bluntest possible terms, how they’ve managed to keep their hate-spewing empire running for so long. They adjust the facts just enough to get you angry, angry enough to click and read and pass the article along. How dare those writers disrespect my favourite actor, fuck the Russo brothers, and so on! They thrive on your outrage and weaponise it.”

 

The Unit of Caring on TERFs (applies to a LOT of things though)

“Even if you know that a group of millions of people will have some bad ones, hearing in detail about the bad ones all the time will slowly rewire your intuitions. You’ll start to expect, when you see a member of the group, bad things, because your brain has thousands of examples of bad things. You can try to consciously correct for this, but in my experience it’s actually nearly impossible to consciously correct enough; when you’re getting tons of “data” your intuitions will be shaped by it, even when it’s a lie and you know it.

I categorically reject any group of people which does this. If a group does this, I block them all and leave and never come back. It is a fundamentally wrong thing to do. It can be done against any target; it does not teach truth; all it does is rewire your brain towards suspicion and hatred, and it works just as well whether the targeted group has a higher rate of violence of various types or not. I strongly encourage anyone who recognizes this pattern in groups they’re part of to leave those groups, because this is a horrid tactic.”

 

 

That NYT article that got so much crap because the author didn’t “really” take two months away from the internet still makes very good points.

“Get news. Not too quickly. Avoid social.

Now I am not just less anxious and less addicted to the news, I am more widely informed (though there are some blind spots). And I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have”

also:
“People don’t just post stories — they post their takes on stories, often quoting key parts of a story to underscore how it proves them right”

I feel called out ^^;

 

The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman. Good essay, and I agree that Black Panther is more mature story-telling.

 

No one realizes at the time they vote for the last time that it will be their last vote.
“In the closed-door remarks, a recording of which was obtained by CNN, Trump also praised China’s President Xi Jinping for recently consolidating power and extending his potential tenure, musing he wouldn’t mind making such a maneuver himself.
“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

 

Black Panther’s Right Thing. A great article, which reminded me I haven’t seen Do The Right Thing in over 20 years, and I really need to fix that. And probably buy it.

 

Oh shit! I thought Dogma was fucking awesome as it is, but now it’s *even better*!

 

How white nationalists fooled the media about Florida shooter. OMG, they used 4chan as a source. /headdesk. Interesting though.
(also note that even this article makes the hilarious error of calling Discord popular with white nationalists. I mean, I guess it is, but in the same way that cars are popular with white nationalists)

‘Donovan called this an instance of “source hacking,” a tactic by which fringe groups coordinate to feed false information to authoritative sources such as ADL researchers. These experts, in turn, disseminate the information to reporters, and it reaches thousands of readers before it can be debunked…

‘“We have to start thinking of these white nationalist groups as what some of them describe themselves — ‘media militias,’” said Donovan. “They think of media as adversarial territory.”’’

 

Orc Slavery Made Me Quit ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ – now that’s high praise for a game.

 

“I just want to spare you all the trouble of going through a revolution only to find out that wealth is specifically designed to exist as things which can’t transfer to the person who kills you. ”

 

An interesting bluesy cover of Faith No More’s “Epic”

 

SATANIC TEMPLE BEATS MISSOURI IN SHOWDOWN OVER ABORTION RIGHTS Still doing god’s work. I love these people, and dollar-for-dollar I get more visceral satisfaction out of the donations I give to them than to any other charity.

 

“Writing is about more than just words” – What Writers Should Learn From Mad Max: Fury Road

 

I know this is old news, but – President Trump Slaps Tariffs on Solar Panels in Major Blow to Renewable Energy. Because not fighting global warming isn’t enough, it’s important to actively make it worse. /seethingRage

 

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials. How many people must die due to delays?

> Dr. Wu’s team at Hangzhou Cancer Hospital has been drawing blood from esophageal-cancer patients, shipping it by high-speed rail to a lab that modifies disease-fighting cells using Crispr-Cas9 by deleting a gene that interferes with the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. His team then infuses the cells back into the patients, hoping the reprogrammed DNA will destroy the disease.

> In contrast, what’s expected to be the first human Crispr trial outside China has yet to begin. The University of Pennsylvania has spent nearly two years addressing federal and other requirements, including numerous safety checks designed to minimize risks to patients. While Penn hasn’t received final federal clearance to proceed, “we hope to get clearance soon,” a Penn spokeswoman said.

 

 

Why *in fuck* is a website only available during business hours???

 

Offspring is the Nickleback of punk. That is all.

 

The 1969 Easter Mass Incident.
“Dad remembers hearing the bishop through the windows roaring “THE HOLY BODY OF CHRIST DOES! NOT! CONTAIN! RAINBOW! SPRINKLES!””

And that’s waaaaaay before it gets to the really good part…

 

Y’all know I love me some Movie Bob. Here he breaks down why Zack Snyder, while being a highly skilled director, was a particularly bad choice for directing Batman v Superman, by expounding on the importance of cultural context for art via the Watchmen movie…

And in the process, FINALLY is able to articulate exactly why the Watchmen movie felt so Bleh, despite being gorgeous and ridiculously faithful to the literal presentation of the source material! Bob.

This is the only one of the three parts of Really That Bad that it’s worth watching. The others aren’t good. However this one is really REALLY good, basically start to finish! And when he theorizes on how this movie could have been done well, he basically describes the entirety of The Metropolitan Man!

 

Peeing standing up is VASTLY overrated. It’s basically a way of ensuring piss gets everywhere. Which I guess is good for marking territory. But in the modern world, it is an inferior method of urination.

 

The best person on the internet (really, IMO) talks about how to be kind. A neat note:
“when being wrong wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world because you know yourself to be valuable in many ways, then you’re equipped to be nice, and it’ll come much easier.”

 

> “If anyone were to take a highway engineer to a wide open space and ask them to design a junction which would readily enable two road users to collide with neither of them ever seeing each other, I doubt any would be able to manage it.

 

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff on Trump’s tweeting:

> Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories.

 

Apr 012018
 

I’ve noticed a few of my FB friends still participate in Liars Day. >:(

I hate April Fool’s Day. I’m fairly trusting and I take people at their face. I consider it a better way to live and structure society. Plus, I can’t really help it, I feel like a damn puppy sometimes. Today is a day that celebrates mocking that way of life/neural architecture.  It says “Haha, high-trust culture is for suckers, look at those cooperating idiots over there. What rubes. Defecting FTW!”

I guess everyone needs a day off, where they revel in turning the social order on it’s head. Mardi Gras, or Halloween, or whatever. It’s a good release valve. Or maybe today can be used to caution everyone, once a year, how horrible a world it would be if everything was low-trust. Or to remind us that almost all news on the internet is just a year-round Liar’s Day.

Whatever. I still hate the day. I’m going to go be grumpy in a corner.

Mar 282018
 

This is in regards to “The Stone Sky”, which I just reviewed.

MAJOR spoilers below.

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.

!

Let’s say that the fate of the world depends on you being in a specific city, at a specific time, about one week from now. Transportation isn’t an issue, you can get there in about an hour. But you have to physically be there, or literally the human race goes extinct. Do you:

A. Make sure you get there at least a day early, so you have plenty of time to check out the city, get situated, and leave a margin of error for any sort of SNAFU that crop up?
or
B. Spend a few days loafing, saying goodbye to all your friends, and the morning of the fateful hour eat a leisurely breakfast where you all screw around and bond for a bit, before leaving at a time that’ll ensure you’ll get to where you need to be with no more than fifteen minutes to spare?

Unless you are a fucking idiot, you go with A. In fact, I can’t think of anyone, even the world’s most fucking idiot, that would go with B, because fate of all of humanity. GET THERE EARLY. And yet, Essun chooses B. And it’s painfully obvious why.

The main source of conflict in the climax is the same source of conflict of every bad RomCom ever — the two protagonists don’t spend five damn minutes to just talk to each other! All the heartache and misunderstanding (and in bad RomComs, the entire plot) evaporates if the two protagonists would just sit down and have a short freakin’ conversation. This is why Essun waits until the last minute to go to the Appointed Location. If she got there any earlier there wouldn’t be time pressure preventing her from talking with her daughter, Nassun would discover she has options other than “kill everyone”, Essun would discover she could gift everyone with infinite life, and there wouldn’t be the Mother vs Daughter conflict that Jemisin wants.

As much as I love everything else Jemisin has done, this is just plain bad writing. There are dozens of ways to force Essun and Nassun into conflict that don’t involve “We don’t have five minutes to share knowledge.” Or, though less satisfying, if we really want to stick with time-pressure, there’s hundreds of reasonable ways to prevent Essun from getting to the Appointed Location until the last minute that don’t require her (and everyone in her entourage) to hold The Idiot Ball for days. None of these options were taken. Instead we get a forced climax that relies on a ridiculous contrivance.

Also, as long as I’m complaining, Nassun’s sudden switch to “Instead of killing everyone, let’s make everyone immortal!” was jarring. This would have been a far better book if she’d been given the “I can make everyone immortal” information right up front, so her role would have been the (Misguided?) Savior, which is entirely believable for someone her age, who has a loving and supportive father at her side at all times. Far better than the Destroyer role she was inelegantly forced into.

To be honest, I’m only harsh on this book because the first one was sooooo good. The Stone Sky is still better than 90% of the stuff out there! It’s mostly out of frustration for seeing awesomeness fall apart in the third book that I complain. But hey, this is not my book, I’m just a reader with his own agenda and opinions. Jemisin may very rightly say “Screw off, this is my book, and I wrote it just how I wanted it. You think you could write a better book? You try it!” Fair enough. I know people who love this book just as much as the first one in the trilogy. But this is my post of mourning, so take it as you will.

Mar 282018
 

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

Synopsis: The conclusion of the 5th Season trilogy. Could be summed up as “A very long and in-depth version of Those Who Walk Away From Omelas”

Book Review: Solid, with great thematic heft, but a disappointing plot.

The thematic arc of this trilogy is fantastic. Novels (or series of novels) often have plot arcs, or character arcs, but it’s unusual to see an arc of progression in a story’s themes. Yet Jemisin pulls off exactly this. At the start of the trilogy, the theme is raw, unmitigated rage. Rage at injustice, rage at exploitation and murder. By the end of the trilogy, the focus has shifted to revenge. To the expression of that rage in physical action. Righting the wrongs, and punishing the monsters. And it asks “when is it enough?” When someone has killed your child, enslaved you, and treated you like an object, when have you gotten enough revenge?

And the answer is always “It’s never enough.” There is no amount of vengeance that can make up for those crimes. The Earth will continue to punish the human race for eons upon eons, because the rage never ends. Our protagonist will continue to murder cities full of the opposite race, and society will continue to murder those of her race, forever, because the cycle of revenge is infinite and all-consuming.

There are two ways to end this cycle. Kill everyone, so there is nothing left. Or put down your vengeance, bury your rage, and embrace forgiveness.

These themes are played out in multiple ways through multiple character’s choices, including opposite paths taken two main POV characters, as well as flashbacks to the First Civilization and the Earth’s reaction to their crimes. It’s is awesome in scope and statement.

Of particular delight to myself was when the First Civilization resurrected the race they genoicided, but with every racial feature grossly exaggerated and their powers raised to super-human levels, so that they could tell themselves “We did the right thing. Look how dangerous these people are. We are not monsters, genocide was the only option.” It’s eye-opening and beautiful.

Unfortunately, the execution on the plot-level fell flat. As predicted (in part IV), Nassun (the protagonist’s daughter) is cast in the role of destroyer of worlds, whereas Essun (the protagonist) is given the “finding community, and through it finding redemption” arc. I feel this was a grave mistake, because Nassun is utterly unconvincing as the destroyer of worlds. She’s 10. She has no believable motivation. We spent a novel with her mother, watching her tortures, and agreeing with her that the world must end. We crowed for justice at the end of 5th Season. Kill them all! If Jemisin wants to give her the Redemption Arc rather than the Destroyer Arc, that’s totally legit. But in that case the Destroyer role must be abandoned, because few other characters could do it convincingly after we saw what Essun has been through. Certainly not a 10 year old girl, who’s been sheltered her whole life and who’s trauma pales in comparison to her mother’s. Every time she said “Until the world burns” I wanted to pat her on the head.

She could have worked as the Savior, the idealistic young person not yet beaten down by the world. But as the jaded destroyer? Not even close. It doesn’t help that she’s never shown as stable in her goals (getting far worse near the end of the book). It feels like Jemisin lost focus, and couldn’t decide on which direction she wanted Nassun, as well as their Mother-Daughter relationship, to take. Maybe her vision for it changed midway through the book, and the edits to alter this didn’t fit well? I dunno. But it was very disappointing.

Also the climax was infuriating and frustrating, for reasons I can only get into in a spoilery post.

I don’t know how to go on this one. Pretty much anyone who’s read the first two books will read this, so does my recommendation matter? And if you like what I like, you should definitely read at least the first book (The 5th Season), because it’s so good. But the frustrations I had with the characters and plot hampered my enjoyment of it so much, that it hindered the exploration of the themes of revenge. After all, no matter how great ones themes are, the way they are explored is with the tools of character and plot, and if those are flawed, even the best thematic aspirations suffer. I would have read this anyway, and I’m sure most people will as well, but in retrospect… I guess Not Recommended. EDIT: To be honest, I’m only harsh on this book because the first one was sooooo good. The Stone Sky is still better than 90% of the stuff out there!

Book Club Review: As with the first two books, this is a great one for book clubs. The strong treatment of the themes gives good avenues for conversation. Not everyone agrees with me about the flaws in the novel, and having issues like that to grouse about also gives the group things to focus on. I was particularly interested to find one member who disliked Jemisin’s use of the term “magic” to refer to the lifeforce that emanates from all living things and binds the universe together, and can be harnessed to transmute things, do useful work, and create raw energy. I found out that they think of “magic” as things that wizards do in fantasy novels, and that this doesn’t qualify, because this could be real(!). Turns out they’re kinda new-agey. It was interesting to find out where people aren’t comfortable using a term like “magic.”

Anyway, Recommended.

Mar 262018
 

You recently voted for H.R. 1865 “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.”

1. This bill will make it more difficult to find and help victims of sex trafficking.

Freedom Network USA (a national network of frontline organizations working to reduce trafficking) say that eroding Section 230 would compromise the very tools that are most useful for finding and stopping traffickers:

“There are many cases of victims being identified online—and little doubt that without this platform, they would have not been identified. Internet sites provide a digital footprint that law enforcement can use to investigate trafficking into the sex trade, and to locate trafficking victims. When websites are shut down, the sex trade is pushed underground and sex trafficking victims are forced into even more dangerous circumstances.”

Anti-trafficking advocate (and herself a trafficking survivor) Kristen DiAngelo points out that losing those online spaces doesn’t just thwart law enforcement; it also exposes trafficking victims to the threat of more violence:

“SESTA would do nothing to decrease sex trafficking; in fact, it would have the opposite effect. […] When trafficking victims are pushed off of online platforms and onto the streets, we become invisible to the outside world as well as to law enforcement, thus putting us in more danger of violence.”

2. This law conflates sex trafficking with consensual sex work.

The majority of sex work is a victimless “crime” between consensual adults. The Sex Worker Outreach Project warns that “There are many Sex Workers who rely on meeting and screening clientele online as a way to stay safe. Without proper ways to establish identity, set service boundaries, and screen people properly, this bill could turn casual meet ups into life or death situations.”

Sex workers use multiple avenues to communicate, perhaps most importantly, about bad or dangerous clients,” says Mike Stabile, communications director at the Free Speech Coalition, via Motherboard. “Sometimes, these happen in the same sites where they also advertise, sometimes they are separate forums or social networks… If it passes, these websites would simply shutter, or ban all communication related to sex work, since the risk of missing a sign would mean prosecution.”

3. We already have laws against kidnapping, slavery, and forced prostitution. The moral panic this bill panders to is greatly exaggerated. Over the past decades these laws have been ratcheted up to the point that they’re the same level as the laws that leave teens registered as Sex Offenders for the rest of their lives because they took a nude picture of themselves to send to a boy/girlfriend.

There is no evidence that this will prevent the sort of “sex trafficking” that people want it to. It will make life horrendously more difficult for many of society’s most vulnerable and outcast. It is opposed by women’s rights organizations including the International Women’s Health Coalition.

This bill is anti-woman, and anti-human-decency. However it appears you care more about the votes of self-righteous morality crusaders than the health, safety, and very lives of society’s most vulnerable.

4. When it comes to the safety of sex workers and lives of trafficking victims, I am a single-issue voter. Until this bill is repealed or overturned by the courts, I will be voting for the candidate most likely to defeat you in every election, no matter how odious.

Sincerely,

Eneasz Brodski
[address redacted for the online version]


I’m sending this to both my Senators and my Representative, as they all voted for this bill, which is now on its way to the president.

Sen Michael Bennet – D
Sen Cory Gardner – R
Rep Ed Perlmutter – D

I’ll be printing it, signing it, and sending it in the mail, as physical mail is less ignored than e-mail.

If you’d like to contact your congressperson, the Senatorial Roll Call is here, the House Roll Call is here, and you can find who your congresspeople are at govtrack.us.

You can donate to the EFF, ACLU, or SWOP as well or instead.

Mar 202018
 

Roadside Picnic, by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

Synopsis: A loner tries to make a living scavenging & smuggling alien artifacts from a restricted zone.

Book Review: Well this was a neat read.

First, the protagonist isn’t a typical, relatable protagonist. He’s abrasive and selfish, and I started out not liking him. But that’s OK, not every protagonist has to be you standard Good-aligned Hero, sometimes it’s nice to break away from all the cliché heroes. And by the time I got to know the world he lives in, I developed sympathy and understanding for him, despite a distinct lack of admiration.

Which brings me to the next interesting aspect – this novel is Soviet AF. All the institutions are maximally Inadequate while still keeping themselves from collapse (though you get the feeling they’ll get there in a few decades). Everyone is only looking out for themselves, and using whatever power they have to advance their own interests regardless of how much it screws the rest of their institution/society/anyone-else. Mid-level bureaucrats collude directly with the criminals they’re supposed to be apprehending (when those criminals have enough money and pull). There’s literally nothing you can count on. It was a heck of an experience to be placed in that world and realize there are still vast swaths of humanity that live like this. Very saddening too.

And the whole concept of humanity trying to reverse-engineer the discarded remnants of incredibly advanced and randomly-deadly technology in a large unpoliceable area, while others try to steal it, made for good plot. It felt very much like a precursor to the Annihilation vision of Area X & The Institute. I dunno if Jeff VanderMeer was directly influenced by this novel, but it’s certainly a fine pedigree if so!

I think the biggest downside is the POV-switch near the middle of the book, which was unnecessary and distracting. In addition, the character we shift to feels far too similar our main protagonist, they’re basically the same person in different situations. The novel drags a bit at this point, I was glad when that chapter was done.

But probably the most interesting thing about this book is the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it leaves a major interpretation up to the reader. I know there are people who hate this sort of thing. But I really, really liked it. I was not expecting that at all, and I appreciate the trust the authors put in me to “get it.”

Recommended.

Book Club Review: This is a good book for book clubs for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s really short. It comes from the days of novels that averaged 150 pages, and by today’s standards that feels like a walk in the park. People shouldn’t have trouble reading it, which always helps turnout.

It also presents us with a world we can relate to, but from a different enough perspective to get people talking. The view from Soviet Russia is bleak, and it led to disagreements both about the character of our protagonist (we had several readers who considered him a good person!), and reflections on our own institutions. The fact that it was written 40 years ago also reminded us that the past is a different country and got us talking about that (people smoked indoors? and just ashed on the carpet?? OMG)

And the open-ended ending gave us a hell of a hook to talk about. Everyone put forward their own interpretation/prediction of what would follow, and defended it with evidence from the story (mostly having to do with the protagonists character and desires). Of course, only the ones who agreed with me were right. ;) But it was the joy of the discussion that matters. Recommended.

(also of note, this book was the inspiration for the STALKER video game)