Oct 082015

grass-is-greener1I realize some people are just genetically monogamous. But if that’s not you, here’s yet another reason to not be afraid of opening up your relationship – it makes you appreciate your SO even more.

It’s a cliche that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It’s because you can’t try that grass, so you end up idealizing it, and nothing in real life can compare to the ideals humans can imagine. It can drive a person to distraction, this constant feeling that you’re missing out on the best grass evar. And it’s right there, just in reach, but forbidden. Argh!

This sort of thing is toxic, but there turns out to be a really easy way to counter it. Just go and have some of the grass on the other side of the fence. You will realize that while it may be really darn good grass, it is still real-world stuff and not magical fairy food.
This metaphor is starting to outgrow itself, so to bring this back into the realm of the literal – when you develop extra-primary relationships, you reground yourself in reality. I have found that I appreciate my SO even more now. I’m not comparing our relationship to a Hollywood fantasy, I’m comparing it to other real people, and I notice all the things about her that make her ideal for me. No disrespect for my other partners, of course! I like them a *lot*, obviously. But you forget all the little things about your primary that makes life with them exceptional, and being involved with someone who doesn’t fit you as well reminds you in a hurry. I’m sure my paramores feel the same way about me vs their SOs. And the fact that we can all help each other remember what makes our primary so magical to us is a beautiful thing.
So, as I’ve said before, if you’re already with the right person, having an open relationship tends to make your relationship stronger. Don’t be scared of it.
Also, it really is nice to get that variety. :) No matter how much you love pinot grigio, a bit of sangria now and then to shake things up is vital.
Sep 302015

surpriseThis is really ridiculously sweet. Mom surprises her trans teenager with her first dose of hormones.

I was saddened to discover that Beaver Anus is only a miniscule fraction of food flavoring in the US. :( I apologize to anyone who I told otherwise. It made a great story.

Wil Wheaton on why he supports a video game voice-actors strike. I didn’t even know there was a dispute.
“Our employers want to be able to fine the union $50,000-$100,000 if your franchised agent doesn’t send you out on certain auditions […] If my agent doesn’t submit me for something, for whatever reason, that’s between my agent and me. Maybe I don’t want to work for a certain studio, so my agent doesn’t submit me for their projects. Maybe I don’t want to work with a certain director, or another performer or whatever I feel like because I’m a sentient human being who makes his own decisions.”

The best of computer-generated headlines, as voted by users. Uniformly hilarious, like reading the best Onion headlines.

Turns out “Bossa Nova” is an actual word. And that Chevy Nova was an actual type of car. ‪#‎TMNT1990‬

YES!!! Why Winning the Dancing Baby Lawsuit Is a Big Deal For the Internet No more mass takedowns issued by bots.
“The key part of Lenz’s legal case revolved around Universal’s blanket issuance of a DMCA notice, without first even considering if Lenz’s use constituted fair use — something that’s required under the DMCA.
Currently, big rights-holders like Universal and the RIAA use algorithms to generate DMCA takedowns — basically, they have computers trawling YouTube and Google, looking for video clips that violate their intellectual property, and send DMCA notices to whoever’s hosting the video.
But in doing so, they aren’t first considering if use of the material constitutes ‘fair use’, like a parody (or a baby dancing to said work).”

Someone needs to make Cat Valente’s suggestion a reality.
“Oooh, what if the awards were ACTUALLY for story? Like…aspects of story?
Best Ending
Best Twist
Best Worldbuilding
Best Villain
Best Action Scene
Best Romantic Scene
Best Death Scene
Best Dramatic Speech
Best Protagonist
Best Climax
Best Battle Sequence”

Trek v DavisNext Gen was the Best Trek

A fantastic episode of 99P!
[Lawns are] essentially a moral commons. It’s not your lawn, it’s the whole community’s lawn, and you’re responsible for this part.
YES! This is what you sign up for if you have a lawn! Don’t like it? Can’t hack it? Don’t get a lawn! (and I say this as a hater of lawns)

Scott Alexander’s Theses on Trump
“the establishment hates him. […] in signaling terms, what they’re unintentionally saying is “Moderates hate this guy! He’s too politically incorrect to win over Democrats! Only vote for him if you’re a real Republican.” And Republicans are eating it up.”

Streaming Music is Ripping You Off (and what you can do about it)  “One band made an album of completely silent tracks and told their “fans” to play the blank album on repeat while they slept. If a subscriber did as instructed the band earned $195 in royalties from that single subscriber in just one month. But if each subscriber only pays $10 in subscription fees, then where did the other $185 come from?
It came from people like you.”

Why People Want To Die  “The way to convert deathists isn’t to argue with them, but to get them interested in something. Twist them the way you’re twisted.”

If I get a call from a polling place, I know who I’m telling them I’ll be voting for.

The CDC is finally weighing in, stating that early school start times are a health hazard. It’s a start!

Now being a chicken owner, it suddenly seems a much bigger deal that Gaston eats 5 dozen eggs a day. 60 eggs a day likely is the entire output of 120-150 chickens! Which means A) Being Gaston is expensive. And B) Since Gaston can afford to be Gaston, he could probably provide a pretty decent life for Belle.
Although, admittedly, not nearly the same level as the local nobility.

Sep 252015

humanoidsThe Humanoids, by Jack Williamson

Synopsis: Failed Utopia: Benevolent AI is too paternalistic, doesn’t allow humans to do anything, humans rebel.

Book Review: Atompunk isn’t a term I’m terribly comfortable with, because I think the practice of adding the –punk suffix to everything is reaching the point of risibility. But for those unfamiliar, it’s a sub-genre that takes place in the future as it was imagined in the 50s. The best popular example is the Fallout series of games, in which the pre-apocalytic world is basically atompunk – 1950s Leave It To Beaver wholesomeness with chrome and spandex everywhere, and EVERYTHING runs on atomic power, from your car to your teapot. This feels like an atompunk book, for the most interesting reason – it was published in 1949. This is atompunk the same way that Pride and Prejudice is steampunk. Which makes it really interesting to read.

Stylistically, it’s quite a throwback. At times it’s charming, such as this line near the beginning: “For Starmont was not on Earth, nor Jane Carter’s language English; even her name is here translated from less familiar syllables.” I can’t even read that with a straight face, it’s so damn adorable! Other times it’s just tedious, with lots of narrative assertions and truckloads of tacked on adverbs.

But what about the content, you ask? Well. This novel is a one-trick-pony. It’s basically a straight helplessness-horror story, with a twist at the end. When it does that trick, it does it very well. The frustration and rage I felt at the machines taking away everything made me grind my teeth as I was reading. The constant paranoid fear of having to always present as super-happy in every moment of your life or risk being permanently drugged up with stupefying euphorics was terrifying. This was hell, and death would be better, if not for the glimmer of hope that perhaps the monsters can be overthrown. But unfortunately the trick doesn’t take a novel-length work to play out. It would be extremely effective as a short story or novelette (and indeed Williamson did originally write this as a novelette, which I hear is outstanding), but when it’s stretched out into a novel there’s many many pages that add nothing and seem to be just the protagonist spinning his wheels. It was kinda annoying.

The thing that kept me coming back was the ambivalence in the novel. It’s hinted that maybe the machines aren’t so bad. Our protagonist is certainly an asshole, and destructive both to himself and those around him, so you can’t say for certain that the machines are wrong in not giving him full freedom. You suspect he might not be a reliable narrator, and you keep going to see if there is a twist at the ending.

And there kinda is, but kinda not. Is it worth suffering through the middle for the reveal at the end? If this was shorter, I would say definitely. At it’s actually length…. Eh. Ultimately, I’m glad I read it. I would recommend skimming through the whole middle part of the book, but the strength of its horror-front and twist-back push it into Recommended.

Book Club Review: There will be spoilers in this section, so if you don’t want to read them I’ll simply say right now – for Book Clubs, I STRONGLY Recommended this. Discussion why below. It includes spoilers, so turn away now if you don’t want them.





Last chance.



OK, so. The ending to this is basically a mirror of the ending to A Clockwork Orange. It turns out that the machines gladly give humans the freedom to do whatever they want, including self-harming behavior, once they are mentally and emotionally mature enough to evaluate the risks and choose to take those risks from an informed position. It’s a lot like how we don’t allow children to buy alcohol or tobacco or refuse chemotherapy, but we do allow adults to do those things. Not only that, the machines actively repair damaged humans so they are raised to that level of maturity and can make those decisions – they are uplifting the species, in a sense. In this respect they remind me very much of the humans in Three Worlds Collide who repaired the Confessor’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and gave him therapy and whatever.

But the thing is, the author didn’t intend to portray this in a positive way. You can tell he meant for this to be horrific, in part because of the implicit claim that 99+% of humanity needs this upgrading before the machines will give them freedom, including our “normal” protagonist. He just did a shitty job of presenting it as horrific (IMHO). This led to a very interesting split in our reading group, between those who read it as it was intended, and those who read it the same way I did.

Since it’s obvious that the author wanted this to be horrifying, it’s easy to go along with that. It was argued that it’s evil that they forced this uplift on people who didn’t want it. It was argued that making everyone conform to one vision of “normal” destroys all the variation that makes life worth living. It was argued that the life of the super-happys is not worth living, we must be free to feel pain and disappointment and boredom. It was argued that without the ability to hurt and grow as people we are impoverished and we would lose not only our humanity, but also the art that lifts us up and glorifies life. You can’t have 10,000 Days without a suffering artist.

And first of all, this makes for some AMAZING discussion!! Both the arguing of the actual points raised (for there are counter arguments… shouldn’t we help this homeless person (trigger warning: extremely depressing) if we could? Is it right to make others suffer so we can consume amazing art? etc), which was stimulating and passionate! But also because ultimately I do agree with ALL those points! But the problem was that this isn’t the world portrayed in the book! The world portrayed in the book is one where the AI actually does a good job of balancing freedom and responsibility, where the machines fix people to make them more human, more the people we want to become! Williamson wanted to write the ending of 1984, where it is clear that people are being destroyed and mind-raped into loving the system that controls them. But he didn’t even get A Clockwork Orange, where reasonable people can say “The method is flawed, so even though the results are good now, we should be wary that this could be used on normal people instead of murder-rapist psychopaths.” Williamson went all the way into “How is this not actually a utopia?” territory. And I think the interplay between readers who are willing to say “Fuck you, even if they’ll thank you for it afterwards it’s still brainwashing and turns them into different people!” and those who say “Sometimes who we are could use upgrading” makes for really fascinating dynamics.

I’m still not even sure I’m on the right side, to be honest.

So yes, this sparked some of the best conversation we’ve had in months. STRONGLY Recommended.

Sep 152015

I’ve always believed that Humanity improves when cultures are allowed to mix and mesh. As such, “cultural appropriation” never made much sense to me. Where it’s meshing, it’s good, and where it’s racism, it’s bad. Why are some people conflating the two? So I was pretty happy about these two articles:

To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation

Reflections on Cultural Appropriation

I got some push back.


What is Cultural Appropriation anyway? I’m still not sure it’s even a thing. I don’t view the borrowing between cultures and mixing of cultures to be bad. I think it’s actually a positive for all parties. Does it impoverish other cultures if our teens start love the hell out of soccer, and start calling it “futbol”? Or does it give us more in common, make us more able to relate to each other, and enrich all sides?

I even suspect that it acts to weaken racists. If a stodgy old man can deal with his daughter or granddaughter wearing dreadlocks, he may have to come to admit that when he frowns at the black lady at his office wearing dreads he’s doing it because he’s racist and not because there’s anything wrong with dreadlocks themselves. His white granddaughter may very well be doing good by wearing dreadlocks rather than by shunning them.

And if I may bring up Hollywood – it’s been said that American Mass Media (primarily movies, TV, and music) has been the greatest force for exporting modern liberal values. While there are lots of fundamentalist types who think this is horrendous, I for one think that the spreading of liberal ideals is a great thing. Do we want to put a stop to THAT cultural appropriation, and tell people they can’t consume our media and must remain as foreign and segregated from us as possible? Why on earth would we want that?

I was informed that cultural appropriation is when the dominant group(?) adopts something from a minority and says “When people of my group do it, it’s cool. But when people of the culture that first introduced it do it, it’s not OK.” Like doing Yoga, but discriminating against Indians when hiring, or denigrating them for talking funny. I was given this example:

This is a made up and silly example, but maybe it could help: Let’s say Polish people *really* love cabage, and no one else knew about it. It this scenario, they’ve been enjoying cabbage for centuries, it’s a big thing to them. But… They’ve been fired from jobs for bringing cabbage for lunch. They’ve been run out of town for talking about cabbage publically. They’ve been tried in court for even smelling like cabbage. For centuries they have been negatively affected because the dominant culture is anti-cabbage for no real reason (it’s really just a convenient shortcut to be anti-Polish.)

Flash forward to now. All of those negative consequences are still there, just not talked about. Polish are still fired, shunned, etc. for their cabbage activities. But, the dominant culture has figured out how awesome cabbage is. (It is!) They’re having cabbage-meetup and cabbage-fests and cabbage-cleanses. So not only have the Polish suffered for centuries, they *still are* suffering, while watching the people around them eat cabbage, get media attention for it, etc. Do you see why that would be hurtful to experience?

Yes. But I think it’s stupid as hell to reply to this by saying that white people can’t eat cabbage! Please, share my love for cabbage! You see how awesome cabbage is now, right? So stop being a fucking racist. The way you describe it, claiming “cultural appropriation” rights sounds a lot like revenge. Which, in fairness, I totally get. I feel the desire for vengeance too sometimes.

To take a less made-up example, I sometimes wish that pro-lifers were denied abortions, and creationists were denied antibiotics. But in the end, I realize that’s horrible. When a pro-lifer is raped and wants to abort, I full support her right to do so, even though I kinda in the back of my mind am thinking “You should be forced to live by the shit you tried to force on my loved ones.” Because despite my desire for vengeance, I know that’s bad.

And to extend the metaphor further, even if I did think that pro-lifers should be denied abortions, I wouldn’t say that all Christians categorically should be denied abortions, because I know that lots of Christians are very much pro-choice! Denying it to all of them is even worse that just denying it to just the ones who in a poetic justice way “should” be denied.

So no, I don’t want cabbage denied to all white people. At best I only want it to denied to those who denigrate me for loving cabbage. But the solution is to fix racism, not to make up terms like “cultural appropriation” and say anyone who loves cabbage has to be Polish or else they’re appropriating imperialist oppressors. If Cultural Appropriation is “Hey, I like what you’re doing. You’re going to suffer if you keep doing it, but I get to do it all I want,” then I want to stop the “you’re going to suffer if you keep doing it” part.

I was told:

I too would love to see a dismantling of the systems of systemic oppression, but until we’re there you should understand that you get to do something that they don’t because you’re a part of that system. Saying “in a perfect world this wouldn’t be a problem, so get over it” sounds like a bad approach. It’s not revenge to say “maybe hold off on taking our culture until after you stop punishing us for the same behavior that you’re doing.”

To which I again totally agree. How far does this extend? Am I responsible for the behavior of others, or only my own? ie: if I’ve never denigrated anyone for liking cabbage, and treat cabbage-lovers as I would anyone else, can I eat cabbage? What if I’m not Polish myself, but I was adopted by a Polish family at age 6? Can I move out of a state that has anti-Polish laws to a state that has Polish-equality laws, and eat cabbage there? Or is it better to stay in my anti-Polish state but fight for Polish-equality laws?

In reply:
I don’t have great answers, because I’m the epitome of privileged, and will never have my culture appropriated, but I encourage awareness. We can be aware of our privileges, we can listen to those that are affected, and we can try to engage with those around us.

I realize that’s the “wise” answer, but I need a useful answer, not a wise one, because I want to be able to A) eat cabbage, and B) not be viewed as a monster by Polish people. And in this case, please feel free to swap out our euphemisms for real things that may happen in my life. ie: it’s actually important to me to know if I can use the c-word in my writing.


Then we got to the icky, sticky mess at the center of all this:

if I wanted to grow my hair out and get dreadlocks, I should probably talk to a few dozen of my black/African American friends and see what they say. If I don’t have a few dozen friends of a group that I want to pull from? That should be a giant flashing warning sign. How can I believe I could be respectful without feedback from knowledgeable people?

Even if you were adopted by a black family, and grew up in a black neighborhood, and all your friends say “fuck yes, you of all people are legit allowed to do that”, you know what will happen? You’ll be accused of “tokenizing” your black friends/family, and culturally appropriating the dreadlocks. You’ll be accused by people who don’t know you or your history, but they will see you are white, and that’s all they need. They will win, and you will be a monster. That is my problem with cultural appropriation.

think about people in the following Venn diagram:

( oblivious/privileged ) (correctly offended) (incorrectly offended)
While you might never please the ones on the far right (incorrectly offended), it’s the ones in the middle (correctly offended) you’re probably really concerned with.

And the thing is… no, it’s not. I believe that the “correctly offended” people will generally be very small, because I have faith in my education and upbringing to keep me from doing most things that are horribly offensive. I know that I will sometimes be offensive out of ignorance, and I further have faith that those who are correctly offended will help me to see when I’m ignorant and help me to overcome this. I’ll grow, I’ll apologize, and things will be ok.

No, the group I’m actually worried about is the “incorrectly offended” ones, because they can be far, far larger. And they are the ones who don’t care about you, your background, or your apologies. They are the ones who are willing to go to whatever measures they can to try to destroy someone socially. They are the ones who use “cultural appropriation” as a weapon. They are the reason I think it is by-and-large a BS claim, and people should stick to “You are being racist” rather than vague claims about my social background and the circumstances of power structures in my (local?) area.

Sep 112015

vermilion_cov_smVermilion, by Molly Tanzer

Synopsis: A weird western following a half-Chinese exorcist as she tracks down an evil force in the Colorado Rockies that’s killing her countrymen and turning them into undead.

Book Review: Boy am I conflicted about this book. It has all the trappings of something really great, but then it falls short of the mark in really frustrating ways. Let’s start with the good stuff.

The book is fun! It’s imaginative and well written, and the dialog pops! Tanzer has a fantastic way of bringing people to life through their words, letting them reveal their own character. It’s been said that Joss Whedon is an accidental feminist, because his strength is writing amazing dialog, and you can’t write amazing dialog with people who aren’t real to you. Tanzer has a similar strength, and no, this won’t be the last time I compare her to Whedon.

The writing is very modern and casual, in a the-narrator-and-reader-being-real-and-talking-with-each-other way. You feel like you’re a close friend of the narrator, and she’s just laying out her life for you. Lines like “[The couple] looked at Lou as if she’d strutted up and farted right in their mouths,” get you to love the narrator. The novel is full of this frankness and humor that is delightful to read.

It also starts out fairly light and wise-crack/adventure-ish, but keeps displaying flashes of darkness, and near the end takes a hard left turn into Quite Dark territory, with gore and torture and such. Again, very Whedon-esque, where he starts out with a wise-cracking cheerleader type and can take you into something like the Miss Calendar or Dark Willow episodes with stomach-dropping rapidity.

And, of course, the villains are just as real as the protagonists are. The villain and his wife (when not slipping into the abuser/battered-wife dynamic they sometimes have) are ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE! I loved them! The fact that you can relate to them, but still really hate the fucker and want to see him die a horrible death is fantastic.

And the cast of supporting characters is quirky, strong, and interesting. You see all the reasons to love it, right?

I do feel there to be two major flaws though, one which hindered my enjoyment, and one which hindered everyone’s enjoyment.

On the personal level, it never went very deep. It started to, several times! When a vampire-sympathizer brings up the protagonists hypocrisy because she eats the flesh of mammals and doesn’t think twice about it, I thought we were really going somewhere! Especially when she considered for a while, and conceded that maybe it was so bad, as long as they were otherwise good people and stuck to hospices for the dying to “feed on the weak and sick, like any other honest predator” she might have no beef with them. Unfortunately this is never explored again. It’s just left there, and we never have to worry about it because it turns out our villain is quite evil. Likewise, when the vampire-sympathizer points out that the undead are hunted simply for existing, our exorcist protagonist flirts with a crisis of conscience. She thinks maybe the undead are people too, and instead of forcibly expelling them from our existence – basically re-killing them – maybe they have some right to un-life like real people do. Then she never again worries about anything like that, and keeps doing her job of killing ghosts and zombies and vampires. It’s super-disappointing to have something that potent brought up, and then just dropped and staying instead with surface-level action and unrequited-love stuff. :/

A more general complaint is that the stakes are never very high for the protagonist. One might say they’re almost non-existent. She doesn’t seem to care about anything very passionately. We never get the feeling that if she loses it’ll matter. There’s no one she’s fighting for, no fate of the world at stake, etc. Even when her own life is in danger it doesn’t feel like that big a deal, because she’s so cool and jaded about everything. As readers we never have an emotion stake in her winning, aside from the “well, she’s the protagonist” thing. This left me (and the other people in my book club) feeling very unsatisfied by the novel. The trip was fun, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter much and it was hard to figure out why.

Which leaves me at an uncomfortable place – I am honestly not sure if I would recommend this book to past-me or not. I like things with substance to them, and this novel felt like it had great style and flair but lacked heft. I guess I’ll have to put it down as “Recommended if you’re looking for reading material, but don’t bump it to the front of your reading list.”

Book Club Review: Due to a confluence of unrelated factors, our turnout was pretty low this week, so I’m not sure I can judge how well this works for book clubs in general. However even with just three of us there ended up being quite a bit to talk about, as we tried to figure out why it was that we seemed to both like this and not like it at the same time. And, to be fair, some people liked it quite a bit, while others were far less happy with it. Having a wide spread of opinions like that is also quite conducive to good conversation, leading us to compare notes and argue points. That fact that it was enjoyable on a page-to-page level helps too. Though I’m not as confident as normal, I would say that for book club purposes, this is Recommended.

Sep 102015

blatent lyingThis add is getting a lot of buzz because of how clever it is. Benjamin Lee at The Gaurdian gave a movie two stars (a rather low review), and the movie studio used that rating on their poster. It’s circled in the picture. I had to search for it a bit, because I couldn’t figure out where the low rating was.

Everyone seems to be swept away by how clever this was, since technically the poster displays the exact rating that Lee gave. I’d just like to take a minute to point out these guys are liars, and assholes. They intentionally presented the information in a way that any reasonable person would interpret it to mean that opposite of what it actually means. It looks like the rating given is much higher. It’s no different from quoting someone that said “No one in their right mind would consider this piece of trash to be a masterpiece!” as saying “…a masterpiece!”

If you intentionally give people information that you hope will cause them to form beliefs that you know are false, YOU ARE LYING, even if technically every word you said is true. You should be branded as a liar, and take the appropriate social hit. No excuses for cleverness.

(yes, HJPEV hides behind this a lot. It may be fun in a story, but he’s a deluded kid if he thinks he can claim he doesn’t lie to people’s faces all the time)

Sep 042015
George Carlin

George Carlin

Why can’t you slur a straight, white male?

From what I’ve been told (and what I remember of my childhood, though that’s probably very skewed) words like “fuck” and “shit” used to be a big deal. You couldn’t say them, and you couldn’t print them. Nowadays, unless children are around, no one really cares. They just mean you want a bit more emphasis in a particular sentence. You use ‘em on Facebook and no one blinks.

There are still some words that will elicit strong reactions. It’s difficult to use them in fiction without a lot of forethought. They will upset people on Facebook. There are only three I’m aware of, and they are:




What’s interesting about them is that they are slurs against a specific group. You’d think you could extend the pattern, and find equally bad slurs for the counter groups, right? But you can’t.

Honkey or Cracker? Those have no punch at all. They’re so silly that they’re often used as jokes.

Prick has some insult behind it, but not much. It isn’t directly sexual (at least, not to anyone I know), and is basically just a variant of asshole. It’s mild enough that it gets used in PG-13 movies.

Breeder isn’t even that well known, and it again sounds more like a pun than a slur. You can kinda see the intent, but it’s hard to feel it.

What the first three words have that Honkey/Prick/Breeder don’t have is a history of violence. And not just any violence, but state-approved violence. When one is subjected to violence, there is a general threat of reprisal – there are laws against this. If the offending party is caught, they will be stopped. The victim can press charges afterwards. The Leviathan is fallible, but at least in theory the perpetrator of the violence is doing something wrong.

The three slurs listed come with the promise that the victim has no recourse. Society won’t just look away, society actively approves of their victimization. In fact, if the victim tries to defend him/herself, s/he will be punished for it by the Leviathan. The victim is powerless, a piece of refuse that is only allowed to exist because most people can’t be bothered to stomp it themselves. And this promise was loaded into the word by decades of exactly that – violence against those called such names, approved of by the state. They carry a meaning far deeper than mere words can lend them, they carry the weight of physical acts and lost lives.

I’m glad those words are considered as awful as they are. It means that we, as a society, now understand how horrific that legacy is. What words a society decides are too vile to be commonly used reflects upon what that society values. It’s a good sign that we value human dignity for all.

Sep 022015

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_CoverThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Synopsis: A seven-year-old boy’s life is turned upside down when an Eldritch Monstrosity moves into his house disguised as a nanny.

Book Review: Anyone familiar with the SF/F scene doesn’t need me to tell them this, but I’ll reiterate it – Neil Gaiman is a hell of a storyteller, and a damn fine wordsmith. This story is told as a retrospective by a middle-aged man in the current day, recalling a childhood incident in 70s Britain. It manages to be touching and insightful, combining the wisdom of an older man with the innocence of a young child in the same narrative. That sounds sappy when I write it out, but Gaiman makes it work with his charming style. The magic is fantastical and blurry, and all the characters feel like they’ve come straight out of your favorite fables – vibrantly colored and larger than life.

There are a number of great things about this book, but the biggest success is in portraying how helpless children are, how completely at the mercy of adults, and how terrifying that is. Your world is so small, and everything in it so much bigger than you, and you have no recourse if it turns against you.

The biggest flaw in the book is that the boy gets an over-powered ally, which ends all meaningful conflict once he makes it into her protective sphere about 2/3rds of the way through the book. After that he is (almost literally) under the protection of god. All the conflicts are resolved by the goddesses, mostly offstage, and always with very little the boy can do to have any effect. Don’t get me wrong – the climax is heart-pounding and incredible! The boy is running from the eldritch monstrosity, lost in the fields, being taunted by her, unsure of where he is and if he can get to safety and how he can save himself. But once the climax is over, the story just keeps going and going as the goddesses do other things. Those things are played off as part of the storyline, but they aren’t really… the story was resolved when the boy escaped from the monster/nanny. If the goddesses had only been less omnipotent, and the boy had something he could do to help them, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But alas.

Finally, the supposed sacrifice at the end felt weak. If a godlike being has existed from the beginning of creation, and will last until the heat-death of the universe, but is forced to step away from Earth for a century or two… that’s not really a big deal. I don’t consider that “giving up my life.” The goddess didn’t sacrifice herself to save the boy, she was temporarily inconvenienced. Sure, the boy won’t ever see her again, but… eh. It makes the action not very meaningful, IMHO.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this or not. It is great where it is great, but it’s disappointing where it isn’t. Maybe I wouldn’t be as harsh on it if it was written by someone less talented and famous that Gaiman? I dunno. Howabout we agree to stop at the point where the boy finally escapes from the nanny, and call it The End. In that case – Strongly Recommended.

Book Club Review: There’s a number of things to talk about here, such as the nature of sacrifice, and parent-child relationships. This book may get people to open up about their own childhoods (it did in our group just a touch), which I find to be a very strong point for it. Isn’t learning about each other why we’re all here? It’s pleasurable to read, and it is very short (even if you read it all the way to the end!). I’m not sure it would technically qualify as a novel, come to think of it. All these things combined to make it a high turn-out meeting for us, with some fine discussion. Recommended.

Aug 282015


Wow, where to begin?

The thing that sticks out more than anything else is the award for Best Related Work. Because everything up until that award wasn’t too badly vandalized by the Puppies. Best Related Work was the first big pile of crap that was nothing but awful Puppy trash. This was the big turning point – if this didn’t get No Award, it was likely nothing would. So I was tense and actually on the edge of my seat. The cheer that went up when No Award was announced was viseral. I was part of it. Things would be OK.

Neil Clarke

I sat in the Literary Beer with Neil Clarke, which was really fun. The man had great stories about his heart attack, the Clarkesworld Stalker, and the amount of sweat that went into deciding whether to publish Spar, among other things. He also talked about how when he helped write the criteria for Semi-Pro Magazine category he deliberately helped set it up so that Clarkesworld would soon be “Weighted Out” of the catagory (boxing term, meaning they were too big to qualify anymore). I found that rather noble of him. It’s hard to disqualify yourself for a catagory while you still try to hold down a full-time day job as well!

My first WorldCon I didn’t go to any Koffee Klatches or Literary Beers, as I was scared as hell about what I’d say around someone famous like that. I’m super glad I went to two this year, and I plan to go to them again next year.


Me and Dano

Speaking of things learned from my first con – find a con spouse! My first time I hung around with Anaea Lay a lot, and took her as my date to the award ceremony. This year my con spouse was Danielle, we checked in a few times, shared several meals, and went to the ceremony together. (As a note – for those who aren’t familiar with the term “work spouse”, a “con spouse” is just someone you share a lot of time with, absolutely nothing sexual or romantic about it). It made everything easier and more enjoyable, and she managed to “track down” (ie: coincidentally bump into) one of the Hugo Awards, so we got to TOUCH THE HUGO! And take pictures with it!! Aaaaaaah!


My hotel was baller as hell, with AMAZING service!! I will try to always stay at Holiday Inn’s, I recommend them highly. When I tried to book my hotel I was dissapointed that the con hotel was already booked up, but now I feel I dodged a bullet. That thing was built at the nadir of American Architecture. The hallways are cramped, the roof is no more than six inches above my head, and the whole place looks like it came out of the 60s. Ugh. My Holiday Inn, OTOH, looked like a freakin’ castle, and was perfect and accomidating in every way.

Seth and Anaea and Me

One of the HIGHLIGHTS was getting to meet Seth Dickinson in person! Yes, the guy whose writing I ADORE and can’t stop talking about. We had dinner together, and drinks too, I got to talk with him for like FOUR HOURS across two days!! We talked fiction, his stories, rationality, the Rationalist movement (Anaea was there for most of this too, she’s not as enthusiastic about the rationality scene, so that was an interesting conversation. That’s her on my right), pets, and so forth. OMG it was so cool! If you can buy your idol dinner and drinks, do it, it’s so worth it! Insights from Seth #1: If a sentence doesn’t work, the problem is generally a few paragraphs up. Good fiction progresses naturally, and if you can’t get it to flow right, you probably messed up something upstream. Insight from Seth #2: Blindsight is proof that the SF genre of fiction is necessary. Most stories can be told in any genre, even most SF/F could be recast as Earthfic with some work. But Blindsight could only be done in SF, and it is an essential work.



I got to walk through a cool park whenever I went to/from my hotel. The entire con area was a nature wonderland, very asthetically pleasing! :) The nearby forest fires were a nuisance though. On the third day the smoke was so thick that not only was there a permanent haze, but the entire city smelled like the inside of a smokering room. It got to be nauseating, I had trouble eating dinner that day. A few times there was ash in the air, and yes, it even got into the convention center. It was really striking on the flights in/out, when you looked from your airplane window and saw smoke covering the landscape for hundreds of miles in all directions. Damn.

Spokane Smoke

Con Center

Oh, another thing I learned from previous cons that I put into practice in Spokane – before you do anything else, walk the entire con from front to back. Get a lay of the land, so you know where things are, especially in relation to each other. Schedule 30 minutes for this (more if you need it). I swear it’s one of the most important steps to enjoying any con, and well worth your time.

Brandon Sanderson

I went to both the Brandon Sanderson and John Scalzi readings, where they read from upcoming works. You guys are in for a treat in the near future. :) In addition to reading, John joked with the audience a bit and was all around charming and hilarious. Brandon talked about how he writes and some history, which was fascinating. Insights from Brandon #1: When you write, the novel/story is not the product you are creating. The product you are creating is a better author. You are upgrading you. The story/novel is a side-effect of this process. If it sells, great. If not – no worries. There will be more such side-effects as you keep working on yourself.

Acks Bingo

Pic stolen shamelessly from Rachael Acks
I went to the Business Meeting on Saturday. It’s a three-hour commitment right in the middle of peak con hours! I thought it would be a chore, but considered it an important duty. Boy was I wrong! This was among the highlights of the con for me! It is fascinating to watch the process happen. It feels like you are in a small Puritan village during the early colonial period. All the adults have gathered and are doing the best they can to keep society running because this is all the government there is. We are the only adults around, and who the hell thought that was a good idea? :) The strict adherence to Parlimentary Rules was charming, and I felt like I was turely part of a small community family. People were jovial. Apparently there are “regulars” who are well known for coming to these year after year after year. There was an informal Bingo game that listed the names of the 14 most common speakers, Whenever one stood up to make an amendment or challenge or speak for/against a motion their name would be marked off (and 5-in-a-row gets Bingo, of course). One person who spoke multiple times about the “YA Hugo” proposal was put onto the YA Hugo Committee by executive order. :) It felt like what governments SHOULD be. If only humanity could live in groups of a few thousand, rather than the hundreds-of-millions that nations consist of. /wistful

Most votes were done by raising of hands and estimation by the chair (most votes weren’t close and a count wasn’t needed). When a count was requested, everyone For stood up and counted off one by one as they sat down. Then repeat for Against. It was terribly exciting! Especially when I was sitting right next to the proposer of one of the motions (who was also the committee chair! Recused himself for that particular motion and sat down next to me) and voted against him! Later there was a presentation of EPH (E Plubris, Hugo) which cleared it up greatly for me and moved me from the “Voting against it, too complicated” to “This is brilliant!! I’m all for it!” camp. I hope they make that presentation available online at some point.

Anyway, the Business Meeting was great, and I encourage everyone to go! The sense of community was palpable. I only went for one (there were four, one each day Thurs-Sun), but I’m glad I did, and wish I had time to go to others as well. My friend Rachael Acks live-blogged all four days at her blog, here.

Feb Immortan Joe

I think it’s awesome that gender-bent Immortan Joe cosplay has become a thing. :)

[No pic here of Panel or Scott Andrews, sadly. I am a dumb.]
The Future-Of-Short-Story-Publishing panel was fantastic. Especially because they had an old-timer (Mike Resnic) moderating the panel. He brought in stark contrast, when he spoke several times of “these things are run by Profit-and-Loss” and so forth. I asked about this, because I knew for a fact that at least half the panel still had dayjobs(!) and one of them is set up as a non-profit because it’s the only way it can afford to run. These are works of passion, not capitalist endevours. IMHO. The panel itself was good, but as I sat in the front row I was now able to recognize John Joseph Adams and Scott Andrews on sight. This came in SUPER HANDY when I went to the airport to fly back home on Sunday. I saw Scott Andrews sitting at my gate, waiting for the same flight! Not talking to anyone or reading anything either. So, after about a minute of working up my nerve, I went over to talk to him. And OMG we talked for 20 minutes!! It was fantastic! He explained Science Fantasy to me, we talked SF and podcasts and several other things. And it turns out he is ALSO a huge fan of Seth Dickinson! Hell yeah!!

Anyway, I had one of the best vacations of my life. I can’t wait for next year!