A few years back, Rainbow Rowell wrote a post titled “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love.” Sadly, it’s been taken down, but it can still be found in pdf format around the web, because it was important to many people. Myself included.
It compared the love of reading to addiction. It pointed out that reading is an escape from reality. “Sometimes I worry that I’m not really living. That I’m spending as much time in secondhand lives than I am in the real thing.” Give it a read, it’s short.
I feel I’ve pretty much overcome this addiction. But I worry about the lasting effects.
I often feel detached from the world. I find myself unable to fully trust anyone, to get fully attached to any person or group of people. I don’t trust anything to last, and I live my life so that anything can be dropped if needed, and nothing and no one can be used against me as a weapon.
I suspect one of the reasons for this is that fictional worlds are fraught with peril. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be fun. In these worlds, people you care about die. Hundreds of people across dozens of lives. Everything is stripped from you, again and again, to put you through an arch of struggle which you can grow from as a character and leave you with a satisfying resolution. You begin to question the wisdom of growing close to anything, knowing it’ll be taken away.
And in the end, regardless of how pleasant the story and the fact that no one died and it was a wonderful fairy-tale ending… in the end, all your friends leave you anyway. Because you reached the last page, and that world ceased to exist. Every single book you pick up is another chance to grow connected, and then to have those people leave you and never return. Even a 20-novel series eventually has to end. Everyone dies.
It gets to the point where you have a hard time remembering people’s names in real life, or remember many personal details about them. Because in all the lives you’ve lived, the emotional lesson you’ve learned is that people are disposable. They will be with you for a time, and then they will leave, and you will pick up another book and replace them with someone else. If everyone is interchangeable, how do the little details matter?
Of course, this could all just be a way for me to excuse my rude treatment of others. I certainly don’t have trouble remembering the names of authors I like. It could be a way of avoiding going to therapy and dealing with a childhood of isolation. Maybe I should just consider that I might be depressed. Or maybe there are real effects to running many high-fidelity emotional-trauma simulations in your mind every year. Despite the title of this post, I think it’s not possible for human brains to not update on fictional evidence, at least to some degree. The more engaging and gripping stories are–the “better” they are–the harder it is for the emotional core of the brain not to update on them. After all, the whole point is to “be moved” emotionally in a way beyond one’s control.
This is the spoiler post for Circe, which talks about everything, but specifically the ending.
If you don’t want spoilers, don’t continue.
As I said in my review, I viewed the gods within Circe as a metaphor for The Patriarchy. Circe explores just about every method a woman can use to deal with a Patriarchal society.
She starts out fawning and eager to please. Seeking approval from her father, as if this would provide some sort of protection and security. She sees first hand that this does nothing. A powerless person has nothing to offer and nothing to bargain with. Scylla, the beloved, is mocked with delight by her family when she’s turned into a monster. Circe’s mother is cast aside without a thought when her coupling with Helios proves politically troublesome. Being someone’s pet is terribly insecure, and pretty shitty anyhow.
She tries to be the good wife for her fisherman. She makes him happy, supports him, and eventually elevates him to godhood. And the instant he doesn’t need her anymore, she’s tossed aside as well. Without even the recognition that she’s done anything.
She tries to check out of the system entirely. Exile to an isolated island, just leave her alone. Nope, no can do. The system comes for you, and it will use you how it sees fit.
Then we have a wonderful dialog with her cruel half-sister. The sister points out that she makes poisons and monsters because if she didn’t she would be kept in a cage and bred to death. The system wants to use her up and discard her, and the only way she can live a decent life is to take power. To bend the world to her will through force and cruelty. It’s a wonderful revelation, and it shows just how shitty the Patriarchy is for everyone, even those on top.
We have a similar revelation about Odysseus much later. Where we see first his charming, warm side. And later the cold, violent side, which he was shaped into via this shit-ass system. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
For a while she rages against men, and it’s very emotionally satisfying for the reader, but it leaves her bitter and unhappy with life. Then she finds Odysseus, one of the few good ones, and for a year she’s happy. But eventually the gods catch up with her and ruin that, too. (Also, he wasn’t that great after all… just better than most). She goes into full defensive mode, putting up a wall between herself and the rest of society. And that actually works, for quite a while! But it’s constant effort, and it drains her strength year after year, and if she ever slips for even a second it’ll all come crashing down. This is not sustainable.
So she decides this has to end. She has the most powerful magic in the world on her side. She’s smart as fuck, and she’s had more than enough of this shit. She calls her father down and has the most epic verbal show down with him. She dares him to test her power. She states she would rather ignite a war between the gods and see the world burn than be at their mercy any longer. She renounces her heritage, thinks of gods as “them” rather than “us”, declares that “I’m finished here, one way or another.”
The novel’s inciting incident was the chaining & torture of Prometheus. His rebellion against the gods and compassion for the downtrodden have been a recurring element during the narration. Now, in the final chapters, Circe is armed with a weapon even the gods fear, and she goes on a quest to retrieve the most powerful magical components in existence. I am so fucking happy at this time, because we are about to see some amazing shit. The world will be sundered, and the gods cast down. The Patriarchy will be smashed, and it sounds like Circe may very well die in the process, but fuck them all, it’ll be worth it! The heavens themselves will shake!
To step back just a bit, I didn’t actually expect all that to happen. It was pretty clear that the system is just too big for one person to destroy, even with the world’s most powerful magic. Much like the Patriarchy can’t actually be smashed. But there were hints throughout, hints that the world could be split somehow, and Circe could leave this world behind and enter a better one.
It turns out, Circe does leave this world behind. By committing suicide.
After all that, all her rage and learning and growth and fighting, she ultimately decides to just give up and kill herself.
WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. FUCK.
After all the compassion she’s shown for humans (or “everyone else trapped in the Patriarchy” if we’re extending the metaphor), after all her admiration of Prometheus for sacrificing himself so completely to make their lives less awful, she decides everyone else can fend for their fucking selves and she’s just going to nope the fuck out. After all her words about how she won’t put up with the gods’ abuse anymore, she surrenders so utterly that she kills herself for them so they don’t even have to inconvenience themselves with the effort. When she said “I’m finished here, one way or another,” I thought she meant that either this system would end, or she would die fighting it, not that she was abandoning everything. How are we supposed to sympathize with this? How is any of this OK?
To those saying that gods are inhumane because they are inhuman, and becoming humane means one must become human – bullshit. We have proof in the forms of both Prometheus and Circe that one can be a god and be compassionate and humane. To those saying “becoming mortal isn’t suicide” – bullshit. For a god it’s as much suicide as a human deciding to drink themselves to death over the course of years. And in both cases it’s cowardly. And the flash-forward dream-sequence final chapter lingers quite a bit on her eventual death anyway, like that’s the best part of being human. It is a suicide, and it is cowardice. I would have preferred no final chapter at all, an abrupt ending would at least have let me continue believing Circe was a good, courageous person.
Book Review: One of the best things I’ve read this year, right up until the final chapter, which face-plants so hard I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The novel starts out somewhat slow and a little clunky, IMO, so I wasn’t really sold at first. The story starts with a confused young geek with a good heart constantly being rebuffed and rejected by a world obsessed with superficiality and pettiness, which I’ve seen many times before. But Circe continues to try new and varied techniques to deal with her social situation and her world, growing with each one. So what starts out as a flat character blossoms before our eyes into someone ever more complicated and interesting. She gains knowledge, insight, and awesome magic powers, and yet constantly fails in new, increasingly awful ways. Her occasional victories are all the more sweet for it.
The scene with Odysseus himself is particularly delicious. The characters in conflict have meta-knowledge of each others’ knowledge and destructive powers which they can’t acknowledge, which results in a riveting verbal dance of wit and power dynamics that thrilled me. And far later in the book, when one comes to learn more of Odysseus and his motivations, everything is recast in a new light that still leaves one with admiration, but now tinged with a deep distaste that leaves a complex swirl of emotions in your mind.
What I’m saying is, this is a good book.
By the time we get to the end we have a deep world of screwed up incentives and abusive power structures. And somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the gods and their dynamics are basically a reflection on The Patriarchy. How it scars and abuses both men and women, and flattens all sexual relationships into ugly exchanges. Or at least, that was my take. And rising up through it all is Circe, the outcast, refusing to play that fucked-up game. Right up until the last chapter I was sure this was going to be the best and most memorable thing I’ve read in years.
And then the last chapter was such an unspeakable disappointment that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How could something this good throw it all away in the end, and turn into such crap? I haven’t been this upset by squandered potential since the Phantom Menace.
Obviously I can’t get into details without massive spoilers. So later today or tomorrow I’ll post a spoiler post discussing why the ending failed so terribly.
But all that said… the entire journey up until the last chapter was worth it. Recommended!
Book Club Review: This book has a lot going for it. It’s relatively short, and quick to read. It’s a dang good book in its own right. And it is likely to spark quite a bit of discussion among a group. Conversation on the nature of gods and archetypes, and the interplay between the inhumane and becoming human. A member of my book club had a very different interpretation of what the gods represent, and what the overall arch of the story was, which led him to find the ending entirely acceptable. We got a lot out of this one, and there wasn’t a single person who didn’t find the novel immersive and enjoyable. Highly Recommended.
Synopsis: When an enormous force field envelopes a nearby star, humanity send an exploration ship to investigate.
Book Review: This was an interesting exercise for me, as I first read this book near its original publishing date, so 2004/2005. Rereading it now put into focus many of the ways my tastes have changed, as well ways that the world has changed.
For example, in the first chapter we follow an astronaut participating humanity’s first manned flight to Mars. In my first reading, all I could see was the glory and grandeur of this feat! The event itself is what held my attention. In my re-read, I noticed for the first time that the astronaut is written to be a bit of a prick. He’s arrogant and self-centered. I was reading him for the first time as a person of his own, rather than as an insert for me as I was experiencing the awesomeness of landing on Mars.
In the second chapter, a professor basically puts his entire life on hold in a long-con-style escapade to be the first to publish on the force field event. I was amazed at how long he delayed, how many years of his life were diverted into this effort. I would have just gone public with my observation looooong before reaching that goal. Except when I reread it, it turns out that super-long delay was only eight months. Eight months! Nowadays I fart and eight months blow by, how could it have seemed like such a long time when I was younger?
Anyway, young-me loved this book. I’ve kept my physical copy all these years, through a dozen-ish moves. It takes the idea of human-created wormholes and develops it to a fantastic extent. Hamilton has thought through what it would mean for transportation (everything travels everywhere by rail now!), exploration, government, colonization, etc. It finds all the ways that humans would use, abuse, and break this technology, and touches on all of them.
Hamilton is also very good with his physics. The science is hard, the speed of light is never forgotten, and so forth. This makes for some extremely satisfying competence-porn in several occasions, as characters in crisis situations use tech and science we’re familiar with in new and innovative ways to solve problems. It feels fair every time, and ingenious, and gives one the thrill of seeing that sort of smart problem-solving.
Also, the aliens are really, truly alien. The book is probably worth it for their chapters alone.
On the other hand, present-me had several problems with the book.
For starters, it’s really over-written. There are entire subplots and characters which simply don’t do anything, and could probably be taken out entirely. There are scenes that feel like they could’ve been wrapped up in a few paragraphs rather than taking many pages. The physical descriptions of locations and actions is at times exhaustive, without great reason, and I found myself skipping a lot of it. Yes, it’s worldbuilding. But often was worldbuilding for it’s own sake, rather than in service of another goal, and while many people love worldbuilding by itself, I am not one of those people.
Secondly, basically none of the characters are sympathetic. Ozzie starts out that way, and is the most relatable, but even he loses his luster after a time. Myo starts out cold, but slowly grows on you, to an extent. Most everyone else is unpleasant, and I found myself disliking them.
Thirdly, while the implications of a technology are extrapolated greatly, this does not happen with society, or with people in general. This is a tech & plot story, rather than a character story. It made everything feel somewhat… distant. Impersonal?
Finally, the sexual stuff in this novel is just weird. It feels like it came out of golden-age SF. The men use their power/information to get sex. The women use sex to get power/information. Most jarringly, at one point Ozzie and his young tagalong kid are mistaken for lovers. The intense awkwardness that this sparks is due to the fact that someone thought they were gay. Ozzie coulda just dropped “No homo!” for how quickly he skittered away from that. But neither Ozzie nor the lady who mistook him for gay seem to have the slightest problem with the fact that Ozzie’s supposed-lover is a 15 year old boy. Like, no one seemed to notice or care that he’d just been called a pedophile. WTF?
All in all, I was far more into this novel as a younger man. I think I read books differently now, more like I’m reading about other people rather than as self-insert stories. And I’m far less interested in world-building. It was mentioned in the book club that this felt similar to “Rendezvous at Rama” or “Ringworld,” neither of which I have read. This is probably a great book for people who love those sorts of books. Yet I still have fond memories of how much I loved this, and it does have quite a few cool parts, and an interesting world! I guess, ultimately, this would have been significantly more interesting if I was reading it for the first time, rather than rereading and already knowing what was coming. I can’t say with certainty that I’d recommend it to a present-day-me who hasn’t read it… but I might. So… Mildly Recommended?
Book Club Review: This thing is huge. It’s nearly 1000 pages, which is why we split it in two to ready over two sessions. And it’s still only half the story, because the story continues on to be concluded in Judas Unchained. I know there are people that like super-long fiction for its own sake, but having something this long does suppress turnout somewhat.
Aside from that, it was fairly interesting to talk about. It’s a real mixed bag of things that kinda rub one the wrong way, and things that are really fun and interesting. There’s something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to dislike, and the discussion of where those coincide and where they differ was cool. And because the book is so damn big, you probably won’t run out of material. On the other hand (again), none of the things brought up were deeply thought-provoking or personality-exploring. Which, of course, not every book can be, or even wants to be. So it was fun, but not exceptionally so. I’m not sure how my past memories are coloring my judgement, but I guess, Mildly Recommended as well.
tl;dr – I’m publishing a novel at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. It’s Lovecraftian fantasy in 2nd century Rome, updating weekly on Sundays. Chapter 1 drops on 11/11/18. There are 44 chapters in total. I based it on a story I wrote a few years ago, but I would NOT recommend reading that story now, as it contains huge spoilers.
I wrote the short story “Of All Possible Worlds” in early 2015. I wrote it hoping to win a spot in an anthology looking for Lovecraftian fiction in pre-gunpowder settings, called “Swords v Cthulhu.” Inspired by Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, specifically his “Fall of the Roman Republic” arc, and Sister Y’s hypothesized Transdimensional Justice Monster, I wrote a story set in Imperial Rome.
“Swords v Cthulhu” capped all stories at 5,000 words. When I was about 3,000 words in, I realized that I was barely 1/3rd of the way into my story. I cut entire scenes, including a sub-plot and an entire character, because I really wanted into this anthology. My final draft was still nearly 1000 words over, so I cut worldbuilding and condensed detail, and finally squeaked in at just a couple words under 5000.
This was well worth the effort. Not only did I get into the anthology, but one of the editors gushed about how fantastic this story was. The book came out in August of 2016, and I was contacted a few months after that by the editor of Wilde Stories–the annual anthology of the Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. The story was reprinted in Wilde Stories 2017.
I was elated, and not only due to the great reception. I had so much more I wanted to say in that story, and so much more I could do with it. The most terrifying thing for me, as a new writer, was the idea of writing a novel that no one wanted. A novel is a huge project for a part-time writer, over a year of concentrated effort, and no way to know ahead of time if it was worth all that pain. This validation was like a giant green light. “People like this story! Write the rest of it now!”
And so I did. I labored over this manuscript for a year and a half. I submitted all of to my writing group and spent several more months revising and rewriting. Our group’s head, Nebula-award winning author Ed Bryant, at one point called it “Bravara writing!”, which helped more than words can say.
It’s been well over a year since I finished this novel. I have a lot of faith in it. I wrestled for quite a while with the publishing options available. In the end, I’m going to go with the time-honored Rationalist tradition of serially publishing fiction online, a chapter at a time. My reading experience of HPMoR and Unsong was drastically improved by reading along with everyone else as chapters came out, and I really enjoy that format. I’d like to do it with something of mine a well. :)
The novel is titled “What Lies Dreaming.” Chapter 1 will drop on November 11th, at www.WhatLiesDreaming.com. Every Sunday another chapter comes out, until all forty-four are up. The novel is broken up into eight sections, each corresponding to one day in-story. Around the time we reach the last “day”, I’ll release the full book for purchase, both in ebook and paper options, should one wish to purchase it.
I’ll also have a Patreon up. There’s no need to support via Patreon, but anyone who does gets chapters one week early at the $1/month tier, and access to the Discord server. At higher tiers people can get access to Author’s Notes, some non-canon deleted content (including one full chapter that was cut), getting to read an entire “day” when the first chapter of that day releases, signed physical copies of the book when it becomes available, etc. None of these are needed to enjoy the story, but I want to offer them as extra thanks to anyone willing to support the arts.
A note about the story that served as the jumping off point for What Lies Dreaming: I would recommend NOT going back to re-read or re-listen to it. While the main storyline has been somewhat altered, and expanded upon greatly, the short story does include massive spoilers for the novel. If you have read the short story, please don’t drop spoilers for those who haven’t.
I was just at MileHiCon over the weekend (Denver’s major local SF/F Lit con. 50 years this year!). Nowadays the majority of what I do there is meet up with friends/acquaintances that I basically only see once a year at these things and catch up on stuff. We sit or stand, have some drinks (often late into the night), talk shop, talk life, joke around, etc. It’s a lot of fun! It feels like a reunion.
So I hate it when people refer to going to these sorts of events as “networking.” I dislike the whole concept of networking. It makes people feel like tools. Networking implies business. It’s about profit and career. I never approach a friend with “Hey, you wanna network on Saturday?” I never ask a partner “Hey, I miss you, haven’t networked with you in a bit, got plans this weekend?” So why the hell am I “networking” at a convention about one of my passions in life?
I blame capitalism. Apparently one can’t even have fun without feeling guilty, unless it’s about advancing oneself in life. >:( I just like meeting people and talking and making acquaintances. I don’t expect anything from any of these evenings except a fun evening. I find that makes this actually fun, instead of some weird ratrace. Even when I’m talking to super-successful people that I admire and mostly only know from a distance… I’m doing it because I admire them and I want to bask in the glow of exchanging words with someone I admire. Not because I’m hoping they’ll be useful, or do me some sort of professional solid later on. I doubt Cat Valente remembers me at all, but I had the most thrilling evening getting pho with her and Charlie Jane Anders, and I won’t forget it for decades. :)
My most uncomfortable convention was World Fantasy, because everyone knows that’s the big “networking” convention were all the industry professionals go. And whenever I tried to do that I felt cheap and dirty, and I did a pretty crappy job of it. The times I remember fondly were when I was hanging out with fellow newbie writers and we were just shooting the shit. I regret having tried to network at all. People are not tools. I wish I had just chatted friendly-like with everyone and not bothered to try to find the agents and publishers. :/ I made a few good friends that weekend, and that was by far the best part of it.
So screw networking. Screw capitalism. I’m *am* here to make friends.
Synopsis: Seven pilgrims journey to a distant world, to visit a mysterious murder-alien who is rumored to grant wishes… or kill you.
Another book I’d been hearing about for forever. Turns out that yeah, this is a damn masterpiece of science fiction.
The novel has a primary storyline, concerning the pilgrimage. However the bulk of the text is the pilgrims tell their life-stories to each other in self-contained novelettes. Each of these novelettes is written in a different style, with a different theme. This allows Simmons to show off his range and versatility, and gives us a rich sampler platter of story-types to read. There’s xeno-exploration, military fic, Poe-style poetic tragedy, family drama, etc. All of them strongly SF-flavored. Each of these novelettes (with one exception) is a deeply engrossing story in its own right, with great character and world building, and engrossing plots. But the really masterful part is the way that all these individual novelettes build up the wider universe that the primary story takes place in. You quickly begin to see hidden actions and associations between the novelettes that isn’t very significant within a single novelette, but that are obviously connected and draw a much larger picture of what’s happening in the world when taken together. It’s telling a meta-story behind/within all the smaller human-scale stories the pilgrims are relating.
Taken together like this, we readers see an epic storyline unfolding from the various pieces we’re given. The feeling that comes with slowly realizing what’s happening is fantastic, and very rare. The only book I can easily recall pulling off something similar was Vellum, though the revelation in Use of Weapons was similar, if smaller scale. This is a hell of a feat for an author, and an absolute delight for a reader. I don’t want to over-hype the book, but it is really good, and you should read it if you haven’t yet.
A couple notes: The book is named for an abandoned epic-poem by Keats, and both Keats and the poem are referenced several times within the novel. I looked up the poem, and while I didn’t read it (cuz I suck at poetry), I did read about it, and seeing the deliberate parallels between the two works made the reading process even more enjoyable. Simmons is mirroring the themes in Keats’ poem in an SF setting, and it works.
Also, the reason I read this when I did was because I’ve started listening to the Doofcast, and this was their September Book Club book. They do a long dive into it in their episode, with many cool insights, and I think it makes a great companion. However it is full of spoilers, so wait until after you’ve finished the book. Shout-out and thanks to them for pushing me to do this, or it might have been several more years before I got around to it.
I’m going to ignore the question of whether Brett Kavanaugh actually did what he’s accused of. I’m more interested in the environment that shaped him.
Brett, to all appearances, was a Frat Bro. He drank too much, and he thought doing so was awesome. He partied, and bragged about how much he partied, and exaggerated his sexual exploits. Brett cared about his own enjoyment, and wasn’t too concerned about others.
I grew up a nerd. I was alone a lot. I didn’t drink until several years after college (to be fair, I dropped out after one year). I didn’t date or kiss anyone in high school. I was terrified of hurting others. I was neurotic as fuck about sex. Because one of the lessons I internalized about sex, in my Christian upbringing, was that sex ruins women. Before sex, they are pure beings with overwhelming inherent value. After sex, they lose all that value and are common, like the rest of us. I never got on board with “someone who’s had sex is like chewed gum,” but I was aware that stigma was out there as well.
This meant my primary role within the human experience is as a despoiler. I take what was beautiful and precious, and degrade it. I cannot help but do so, it is part of the very nature of existence, and I cannot be divorced from it. This is on top of the fact that men are the bringers of violence, the spreaders of war, and statistically dangerous to be around.
I’m not saying this is a good mindset. It’s certainly not a healthy one.
I despise Frat Bros. Because Frat Bros don’t give a fuck about others. They embrace all aspects of the despoiler archetype that I loathe. They’re obnoxiously loud, they trash the environment around them, they make people afraid and uncomfortable, they impose their careless violence on anyone around, and they’re fucking proud of it at the end. It makes them “cool.”
I despise them not just because of how they hurt others, but for how they burn the commons. They make women afraid of men. They spread the impression that men are despoilers. They destroy the ability for people to be comfortable displaying sexuality in any but the most protected settings, which just infuriates me, because I love the expression of sexuality in all its forms. These fuckers are the reason women can’t trust men. These fuckers are the reason patriarchy exists.
Brett loves beer. Brett loved to party until he vomited, then party some more. Yes, his brain hadn’t matured yet, and he was living in a toxic culture that encouraged this behavior. He no longer has that excuse. He’s in his 50s. Not only has he not made amends for his thoughtless violence, he defends it. He sees nothing wrong with today’s young men perpetuating the same Frat Bro culture. A grown man doing that should have his professional life fall to tatters in his hands. He should not be allowed within a hundred miles of a position of authority. Not until he’s shown some understanding of why what he did was wrong.
If he fails in that, I have no sympathy for him. Let him burn. Other parents should point him out to their sons and say “Don’t let that happen to you. Don’t drink too much. If you see your friend drinking way too much, watch out for him. Make sure he doesn’t assault anyone. Take him home, and if he made anyone fearful that night, tell him the next morning so he can make amends. Friends don’t let friends ruin their lives.”
I don’t know what happened at any particular party. I do know rape culture when I see it, and I cannot stomach a defense of it.
This review kinda contains some spoilers, in a general sense, but nothing that isn’t already strongly telegraphed in the first book.
The more I read about today’s Culture Wars, the more I see Terra Ignota in everything around me. When I started Too Like The Lightning, I thought this was a wonderfully built future world. Fabulously imagined, meticulously built up in many layers across wide domains, and incredibly imaginative. Now I read it and I think “Holy fucking shit, this is the world we are living in right now, with the skin changed so that observations on the current day can be made through metaphor.” And yes, I know that all fiction is contemporary. I know that SF/F has been used since its very first works to actually be conversations about pressing current-day issues that pretends to be fanciful so it can say things one couldn’t say otherwise. But it still startled me just how insightful these works are when I woke up to what was happening around me.
The hives are our cultural tribes taken to their fullest extreme. One of our great problems today is that our geographic nations rule greatly disparate cultural tribes under a single government, binding them all with laws that are morally unacceptable to every one of them (although which laws it is are that are morally unacceptable differs from group to group, so everyone despises some thing, but never the same thing, and often what one group considers morally abominable is a moral requirement of others!). This leads to constant struggle to seize power and rewrite the laws (and norms) binding everyone, and thus The Culture Wars. This is exactly the situation in the Terra Ignota series, except they’ve found a way to prevent anyone from having to live under laws they find morally abhorrent. Problem solved!
Except not really, because all this did was paper over the problem and tell everyone it’s fixed, so we should all ignore it. The root cause, the incompatibility of the cultures, is still present. It continues to cause social strife and conflict, so that it can only be averted by a global regime of full surveillance and preventative assassination.
Let’s also take a moment to admire how Palmer included the parallel social construct of suppressing all gender expression. She says on more than one occasion, both within the books themselves, and in interviews, that she is portraying a society that went post-gender badly. Instead of resolving the sex divide, everyone simply agreed to remove any acknowledgement of gender and pretend this fixed the problem. It leads to deep pathologies within society, as well as individual defenselessness to sexual desires and sexual predators. This is the exact same tactic that was used to “resolve” the culture wars. I didn’t realize it while reading the novels, but in retrospect it’s so obvious it’s blinding. Palmer is yelling “Hey, society! Stop burying problems and pretending they don’t exist! Actually solve this shit!!”
She seems to be less than hopeful as to what will happen to us if we don’t. The society of Terra Ignota is descending into full civil war. A vicious, terrible war, because there are no borders, and thus there is no place that is safe. Every combatant lives interspersed with the enemy at all times. There’s a lot of people in the US worried that we’re heading for a Civil War II. We would find ourselves in the same situation. Sharing our grocery stores, our subways, and our neighborhoods with filthy Alt-Righters, Social Justice Activists, Rationalists, etc.
I also want to take a moment to highlight how damned prophetic Palmer is. She started writing this series in 2008. 2008!!! When I heard that I asked “Waitaminit… you were already writing the post-gender They/Them world in 2008? I know I haven’t been on college campuses in quite a while, but that seems really freakin’ early! I’m not totally out of touch, and this has only been a thing for a few years now. Was this already a thing where you were in 2008?” She replied, with some exasperation, “No! It came out in 2016 and people were all ‘oh, she’s jumping on this gender bandwagon’ but I totally want credit for coming up with it way before that!” And first of all – mad props to her for just that. But think about what she’s done. Combining historical insights and the subtle interactions she saw building in the world around her in 2008, she created a world that reflected the most pressing cultural issues of ten years in the future before any of us were even near that stage. Back when we were still freaking out about the worldwide financial collapse and catching Bin Laden. I know it’s partly luck, but even so, it’s damned prescient. I am honestly shocked.
And as frustrating as it must be to have your book in limbo for years before it finally makes it to print, I think it may have been a boon in this case. Five years ago, we didn’t know this was the world we were living in. It may not have made this same impact, and drawn this much attention.
Or who knows, maybe it would have. Maybe we could have more clearly seen what was coming, and been better able deal with its unpleasant surprises. I don’t think most people are quite that insightful. I certainly wouldn’t have been. Hell, I didn’t even fully realize what was happening when I read these two books a few months ago.
If you are at all interested in the world around you, or how truly exceptional SF can be more historically relevant than anything in the New York Times: Highly Recommended.
I saw this driving in to work. I will say that it’s really disheartening that the term “geoengineering” is already starting to get baggage!
Petrov Day Shenanigans. To quote a friend: “Seattle, in the midst of confusion stemming from a technical malfunction, launched an unprovoked (pretend) nuclear strike against Oxford. This attack resulted in the senseless, fiery death of Oxford’s cake, but perhaps we can find wisdom among charred, frosting-strewn rubble”
From post: “I think this is highly illustrative of the real point of Petrov Day, which is that we treat nukes way too lightly and make it far too easy to kill other humans even when no harm was intended on anyone’s part.”
Software disenchantment. “Look around: our portable computers are thousands of times more powerful than the ones that brought man to the moon. Yet every other webpage struggles to maintain a smooth 60fps scroll on the latest top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. I can comfortably play games, watch 4K videos but not scroll web pages? How is it ok? …Google Inbox, a web app written by Google, running in Chrome browser also by Google, takes 13 seconds to open moderately-sized emails
…Modern text editors have higher latency than 42-year-old Emacs. Text editors! What can be simpler?
…Windows 95 was 30Mb. Today we have web pages heavier than that! Windows 10 is 4Gb, which is 133 times as big. But is it 133 times as superior? I mean, functionally they are basically the same.”
I know this isn’t the fault of my software developer friends, and is instead a problem with Inadequate Equilibria. But goddamn this just frustrates me soooo much. The world doesn’t have to be this way!
Memetic Tribes and Culture War 2.0 is long, but so worth it. A thesis that brings together everything about today’s cultural crisis and explains both its origins and effects. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Here’s just one small part:
“The internet pornifies our private lives, including our political views, leaving nothing to the imagination. When everything is laid bare, respect vanishes, for our proximity exposes all of our ugliness. This manifests in what psychologists call dissimilarity cascades (the more we know about someone, the less we like them) and environmental spoiling (proximity with those we don’t like spoils the environment as a whole).
Mutually exclusive memeplexes, or “mutex” memeplexes, have no distance from one another thanks to the global village. This is the proximity crisis. Good fences make good neighbors, and the power of media has flattened all social fences.”
Modern text “communication” is insane. “How the hell is anyone supposed to communicate and connect through this stupid world of words? Apparently we do it by saying very, very little, and by restricting what we think and share so that it fits this insanely sparse format”
Why for? Stoicism continues to be a popular philosophy, but the last English translation of this text is over 100 years old. This new translation will be written in modern, conversational English. This will not only be easier to understand, it will also be more accurate to the original Koine Greek.
Example given: “consider this line from lesson 40: αἱ γυναῖκες εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τεσσαρεσκαίδεκα ἐτῶν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνδρῶν κυρίαι καλοῦνται.
Previously, this has been translated this as “Women from fourteen years old are flattered by men with the title of mistress.” But this is a very inaccurate and misleading translation! “καλοῦνται” does not mean “flatter”, it means “call”, as in “calling your sheep back to their pen”. Flattering a person has a clearly different connotation than calling an animal. It almost comes across as a positive thing, which is very much not what Epictetus is trying to convey!
Thus a more accurate translation is “Women as young as fourteen are catcalled by men.” This makes much more sense to a modern reader, and is actually applicable to your life – catcalling is still an issue, even eighteen centuries later.”
Also, their final stretch goal will fund an audio book version that will be narrated by me, so there’s that
Country pride: what I learned growing up in rural America. All sorts of interesting in here. This is only a small piece of a very varied read:
“Owning a small bit of the countryside brought my father deep satisfaction. The state had seized some of his dad’s farmland through eminent domain in the 1960s to dig the reservoir and move water east in underground tunnels for the people of Wichita. Sometimes Dad would park his truck on the shoulder of the two-lane blacktop that ran along the lake dam and take my brother and me up the long, steep concrete steps to look at what would have been his and then our small inheritance, now literally underwater. We couldn’t use the water ourselves; it was for Wichitans to access by turning on a faucet. We thus had dug a private well right next to a giant reservoir on what once was our land. It’s an old story: pushing poor rural communities out of the way to tap natural resources for cities.”
People often say “Sugar is poison” or “Coconut Oil is poison” or etc, for memetic/dramatic effect. But alcohol is perhaps the only thing most people regularly consume that is *ACTUALLY* poison. So every study I’ve ever seen saying that it increases health I have dismissed as wishful thinking/pack of lies. Today I am vindicated.
That being said, I ain’t gonna stop drinking. That can be some really fun poison!
“Numerous peer-reviewed studies found evidence that people who have a drink or two a day are less likely to have heart disease than people who abstain or drink excessively.
But the new study, while noting the lower risks of heart disease from moderate drinking, as well as a dip in the diabetes rate in women, found that many other health risks offset and overwhelm the health benefits. That includes the risk of breast cancer, larynx cancer, stroke, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, interpersonal violence, self-harm and transportation accidents.
“People who report drinking in moderation tend to be very different from people who don’t drink at all. They tend to be a healthier population, they tend to exercise more, they tend to be more affluent, they tend to have more access to health care,” Brewer said.”
In case you’re wondering what the difference is between teetotalers and moderate drinkers, I’ve heard that part of it is that teetotalers include a lot of former alcoholics.
“Reducing China’s ocean plastic pollution by 3% would be as valuable as getting the USA all the way down to zero. Also much easier as it just involves scaling up well-understood rubbish collection methods used elsewhere.
If we cared about saving the oceans we’d focus on bringing the countries that pollute the most up to scratch rather than eeeking out the irrelevant incremental gains possible in the USA/EU.
Data source Table 1 and Data Supplement 1: science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768/tab-figures-data
“There is no technical reason why the files can’t be transferred: the decision to prevent prisoners from keeping the music they bought at a steep markup is a purely commercial one
The Florida Department of Corrections is already earning record sums from Jpay, taking a cut every time a prisoner’s family pays to transfer money into the prisoner’s Jpay account. The music-repurchasing bonanza that will follow the Jpay switchover represents an especially lucrative windfall for the department”
GOOGLE scrambled to contain leaks and internal anger on Wednesday after the company’s confidential plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China was revealed. TY friends that work at Google, keep fighting the good fight :)
Yuppie Fishtanks: YIMBYism explained without “supply and demand”. “Most of the yuppies would probably rather live in the fishtanks. The fishtanks tend to be located downtown, near to where the yuppies work (SoMa, Embarcadero, etc.), rather than in the older residential neighborhoods. Additionally, the fishtanks are pretty and modern and new, with gyms and common space and other stuff yuppies like. Probably more attractive for the average yuppie than an aging Victorian far out in the Mission or Haight with no built-in community or on-site services.
Now if the new fishtank units catch the incoming yuppies and prevent them from invading long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s good!
And if the new fishtank units lure yuppies away from long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s also good!”