Apr 242014
 

Every year my book club reads the short stories and novelettes nominated for the Hugo Awards that are available for free. This year that is all of them. Here are the links:

Short Stories

‘‘The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere’’, John Chu
‘‘The Ink Readers of Doi Saket’’, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers’’, Sofia Samatar (audio)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’’, Rachel Swirsky (audio at same link)

 

Novelettes

‘‘The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling’’, Ted Chiang
‘‘Opera Vita Aeterna’’, Vox Day
‘‘The Waiting Stars’’, Aliette de Bodard
‘‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’’, Mary Robinette Kowal
‘‘The Exchange Officers’’, Brad Torgersen (text is not available free online, but the audio version is!)

 

Apr 232014
 

Jamie Cersi RapeEveryone is freaking out about how HBO is making Game of Thrones extra rapey. From The AV Club: Why are the Game Of Thrones showrunners rewriting the books into misogyny? and from navigatingwonderland on Tumblr: I guess consensual sex isn’t edgy enough for hbo.

Let me quote from that last one.

Book:    “He stopped then, and drew her down onto his lap. Dany was flushed and breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest. He cupped her face in his huge hands and looked into his eyes. “No?” he said, and she knew it was a question.

She took his hand and moved it down to the wetness between her thighs. “Yes,” she whispered as she put his finger inside her.”

Show:   rape

Book:    “Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him.

Show:   rape

Let’s start with the Daenerys/Drogo case, as that one is easier. She’s 14 in the books, maybe 16 in the show? Let’s split the difference and call her 15 years old. As a society we do not accept that a 15 year old can give consent to a 30 year old in any meaningful sense. ESPECIALLY not with such a huge power differential (as he’s a king, a violent warrior, and has just purchased her). Is there any scenario you can imagine where a modern-day congressman or general is caught in bed with a 15 year old girl, and we let him go because she’s consenting? Not a chance in hell.

Now say that HBO portrayed this scene as it was played out in the book – an adult male buys a child bride, gets her permission to have sex, and the two of them consummate their relationship. Can you imagine the shit-storm that would ensue? The cries of pedophilia and rape-apology? HBO realized that Americans are not good with nuance. Any rape must be shown to be unequivocally bad. HBO’s safest course of action is to remove all doubt and simply show Drogo throwing Daenerys down and raping her as she’s crying. Because at least then there’s no implication that anything other than pure evil is happening here.

And I am NOT defending statutory rape! Drogo should go to jail for that scene, even as it was written in the books, because he is evil. What I’m saying is that many people would not have understood that if HBO didn’t portray it as a violent rape, and would have attacked HBO for “promoting rape.”

Moving on to Jamie/Cersei.

The quote above makes it pretty clear Cersei is willing. One could make this even more clear by quoting the next couple lines:

“Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.” She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair.

But that’s jumping the gun just a bit. Let’s rewind a few paragraphs.

“No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck

and

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists

What’s going on? Let’s take the passage as a whole.

She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. “No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.” She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei’s heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.

It becomes clear that Cersei does want to have sex, but she’s worried about the risk of them being discovered. Jamie says “Fuck the risk, I don’t care.” She protests initially, then grabs his dick and guides him in. Was this consensual?

Discussing the book, one friend said “the original scene was complex but ended with Cersei enthusiastically consenting.” But in a separate discussion regarding the HBO scene (in which Cersei is very obviously raped, yet some people thought maybe not?!) she said: “ “No” is potentially the least relative term that exists in the English language. Everyone just needs to realize that when it comes to consent, NO LINES ARE BLURRED.”

But she said “no” in the book as well, at least once. She retracted that no soon after, isn’t that some blurring of the lines?

The answer that some people give is that it doesn’t fucking matter. The word “no” was used.

Imagine, again, that HBO had aired the scene as originally written, where Cersei first says “No.” It doesn’t matter if both of them wanted to have sex. Jamie was less risk-averse and he pushed Cersei for sex after she said no. If HBO had shown Cersei relenting under such “enthusiastic encouragement” and then enjoying the following sex act? Oh my fucking god, the internet would have EXPLODED. The Blurred Lines controversy would have nothing on this. Rape-apology, rape-promotion, “telling boys it’s ok because the slut wants it”, etc. Again – all of these are very real problems, and traditionally society has blamed the victim and let the rapists get away with it. There’s a reason that there is all this pent-up emotion behind such portrayals.

So HBO took the safe route. They jettisoned nuance, they jettisoned the complex sex real adult couples in relationships have, and instead they showed a violent rape with a crying woman. Perhaps it says something about our knee-jerk reactions when HBO considers it safer to show a violent rape than to show a troubling scene of consent granted under pressure.

A different friend said “GRRM is really out of touch if that he thinks that what he wrote was consensual. That scene was always rape to me.” HBO wanted to avoid that controversy.

Apr 212014
 

Larry-CorreiaLarry Correia had a problem – he was getting what he wanted. For years he’d been whining about the “liberal intellectual elite” that run the Hugo awards (which is laughable to anyone who’s seen the sausage made… but I digress), and how they would never give a conservative down-to-earth guy like him a fair shake.

Fortunately for him, Larry is a popular guy. Say what you want about his politics or his attitude, he’s got some major online charisma. I may disagree with some of his politics, but his blog is a great read. This man can lead and inspire. So he does what any popular guy who wants to win a popularity contest does – he told his fans to vote for him.

Larry runs on the same formula that a lot of the “persecuted majority” use – anger at what they view to be an authority figure for failing to give them the recognition they feel they deserve, combined with contempt for that authority figure and constant crowing about how much better he is than them (he often brings up that he’s in the top 1% of authors based on royalty income). It’s the classic inter-generational conflict story, anyone who’s had an asshole father can relate to it. It inflames the passions and makes you want to cheer for the young challenger, and we all love it.

The problem comes in the winning. Once the challenger marshals his resources and overcomes the haughty authority figure it becomes apparent to pretty much everyone that he is now the institution he hated. Now that he can point his legion of followers at the works he most wants to promote and have them respond, HE gets to wield the power of approval to decide who should get the coveted acknowledgement from on high. Oops.

Moreover, all that talk about how they’re a bunch of dicks and he doesn’t care about their stupid approval anyway, cuz fuck those guys, is shown to be a sham. Obviously he did care about their approval, because he went to great lengths to secure that approval. Before he was all Groucho – “I wouldn’t want to be part of that club even if they would have me,” now he’s all Honey Boo Boo “I should be getting this prize!!!”  Makes him look like a kid with daddy issues. Double oops.

But Larry ain’t dumb. In fact, Larry is a friggin genius. Because Larry has a secret weapon. Larry had his fans get Vox Day nominated! As Larry knows, the majority of the SF community *hates* Vox Day. Mainly because Vox Day is a neo-reactionary and loud about it. He’s famous for his racist, sexist, anti-liberal rants. He’s the guy that shows up at the party with a giant sack of ripe dog shit and starts throwing shit at everyone. Predictably, the SF-blogosphere has a collective seizure. Instantly all attention is off Larry and onto Vox Day. Success!

Moreover, this thumb-in-the-eye probably feels awesome for Larry. All those stuck-up pricks now have to include this guy they hate, because they were dumb enough to trust in their stupid system which they thought would exclude people they didn’t like! Their party will be, well, probably not ruined… but certainly marred! This will stick in their craw for a long time. Vengeance has been achieved. Double success!

And, of course, there is both the prestige of receiving a Hugo nomination, and the increased sales it will generate. And the validation that one gets when successfully pulling off a move like this. Quadruple success.

In the social status game, Larry manage to strike a decisive victory this year. I doff my hat to him, it was a master stroke. I assume that for the coup-de-grace he will shun this year’s Hugo ceremony. While his attendance may irritate some people, it will give them the opportunity to either shun him, or show their good graces by accepting him anyway. Either option will be a bit of a loss. Showing his contempt with a pre-emptive rejection of the entire affair is the best possible play, as far as I see it.

I’m excited to see what the next move in the game will bring. :)

Apr 182014
 

grim_9-fullConfounded by people’s strong attachment to Deathism, I posited that they’re probably just automatically reciting back the answers they’ve heard. I thought better results would be achieved by asking “If you could live young and healthy for as long as you wanted, how many centuries would you want to live?” Get people to stop and think, ya know?

So recently when I was the TopicsMaster at a ToastMasters meeting I tossed out that topic, and then picked a random person from the audience. Turns out I had been naively optimistic (again!). The reply was “Just one”, with a standard Deathist elaboration about not wanting to live on without their friends/family.

This was partly my fault for not making it clear that this ability would be society-wide, and not unique magic.

But, with yesterday’s post about emotions being the biological tools of alliance-building still in my mind, I came to another realization. People are being alliance-smart when answering like this.

Right now, biological immortality is impossible. Saying “I’d like to live for hundreds of years” gets you nothing, any more than saying “I’d like to fly and be invisible!” does. When making such fanciful proclamations, the only thing to be gained or lost is the respect of your allies (or potential allies). For someone to say “I am so dedicated and committed to my allies that I would not want to live without them! I would rather die first!” sends a signal that one is a good alliance-partner to have. Loyalty unto death is a highly prized trait in allies. And while sometimes making this claim can be costly (maybe if someone needs an organ donated, or is in trouble with the mafia), it literally costs absolutely nothing to make such a claim in the face of eventual-death-from-old-age, since that’s currently unavoidable anyway!

All this time I think I’ve only been making the Deathist position stronger, by making supporting it have a social payoff. Dammit!

New strategy then – try to flip the tables, and make it look like supporting Deathism is a strike against your allies instead. Because, honestly, it is. You’re taking the position that you’re cool with all your allies dying due to inaction. New phrasing:

“If science cured aging, and your children & loved ones could live young and healthy as long as they wanted, how many centuries do you think we should limit them to?”

That’s probably too crass. But it’s a starting point. And supposedly this difference in thinking can help. When finding that women who ask for raises are much less assertive than their male counterparts, they were advised to stop thinking that they were asking for a raise for themselves and start thinking that they were asking for others, such as their children or family. Apparently that made a big difference. So, from now no more appeals to a person’s own survival when fighting Deathism – EVER. Only appeals to the altruism of preventing the deaths of their loved ones.

Apr 172014
 

animal,love,cat,dog,goodnight,kissYesterday I managed to screw up my back when I ignored proper form while putting down some weights. Yay me. :/

Now I’m all hobbling around in pain. Which reminded me of something I’ve observed several times, but haven’t commented on yet – when I’m ill or injured, I feel the emotion of love more strongly.

Not constantly, of course. Mostly I’m grumpy and achy. But when I’m around others I feel a greater desire to interact with them. I feel more warmth at that interaction, and a great deal more happiness when talking with or being around others. Touch is especially nice. I even feel a heightened level of love and affection for my SO (who, presumably, I love all the time).

This seems to simply be the other side of the much-publicized studies that show The Powerful feel less empathy. When you have power you don’t need other people as much, so you simply care less for them. For the most part I’m doing alright. I have a decent job which I feel secure in, and enough money for all my basic needs/wants. I’m a white male in a society that gives huge privileges to white males. I live in a safe neighborhood in a stable country, and I’m still young and healthy and (I’ve been told) somewhat attractive. I don’t really feel I need others in a visceral sense (even though I know that I do, intellectually), and thus the intensity of my emotional attachment to others is muted.

But every now and then I get sick. Or I suffer some injury. And all of a sudden everyone is wonderful, people are the best things ever, and I love all my friends and family. This seems to me to be alliance-strengthening behavior, in times when it is biologically obvious I need some allies! The blatantly exploitative nature of my emotions is embarrassing. As is their short-sightedness. This is the least appealing time to have me as an ally. My emotions should have been cementing alliances back when I was strong, and a desirable ally to have! It’s a bit late now! “Digging the well after your home has already caught fire”, as my parents would say (they’re from the Old Country).

But evolution is a short-sighted and stupid creator. Mainly I just feel frustration at being reminded that yes, I am just a conglomeration of hormones and chemicals that act subconsciously in ways that tend to ensure my genetic survival, rather than in ways I would consider morally or intellectually appropriate. Evolution ain’t ethical, and my surge of love is another damned example of it. I guess I should try to enjoy it while I can. It’s nice to feel that warmth among others coming so easily for a while.

Apr 152014
 

writeAn acquaintance asked a group of us to motivate him to finish his story for a writer’s workshop in a few days rather than attending the local book festival coming that weekend.

Ahem.

There will be other book festivals. If you go to this one, what lasting impact will you have on the world? What will be left of your life after you are gone? If you go to a book festival – nothing. Temporary enjoyment, and then it’s gone in a flash. If you work and produce something – possibly a great work of art. Perhaps not this one that you’re writing, but it will be one more stone laid in the foundation for what will become your legacy.

Do you want to fade to nothing like almost everyone else who’s ever lived? Or do you want your life to mean something?

Write.

Apr 112014
 

drowned citiesBy Paolo Bacigalupi

Synopsis: Child soldiers in a crumbling American South try to survive.

Book Review: An interesting mix, because this is marketed as “YA”, but the subject matter really pushes the boundaries of that. It’s rare (to say the least) for YA to feature amputation, pre-teens using drugs/alcohol and visiting brothels, and committing war crimes. However the writing style often feels like YA, which is unfortunate.

The book has an extremely strong setting, I loved the over-grown jungles and crumbling cities of a war-torn South. The characters are all vibrant and distinct. They really grab you, and you feel like you would love to meet any of them (not because they’d be pleasant to be around of course, but because they are so interesting). The plot moves along at a good clip, and there are a lot of things in this book that will stay with you for quite a while.

On the other hand, the prose itself is lackluster. It lacks a strong voice, and never gets very intricate. It is also sometimes too un-subtle (and I am not a subtly fetishist). I often hear “Well, it’s YA, you have to make allowances for the book due to the target audience. It won’t be as intricate as an adult novel.” And frankly I think that’s intentionally setting the bar low. It’s the same complaint people have about self-published stuff. With the excuses of “Well, it’s self-published, you gotta let some things slide” it just lowers the level of the entire field because no one strives for excellence. This is one of the reasons I don’t really like to read YA. Drowned Cities could have been an amazing novel. But the excuse of “it’s YA, it doesn’t have to be as polished” let it aim lower.

Also there is too much reliance on Tool to solve every problem, and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying.

However the book is so good in so many other ways it’s really hard to come down hard on it. It is, overall, good. If you like YA (and can handle some atrocities), I’d definitely recommend it. If you’re like me and tend to avoid YA, I’d wish the fates were different but say not to make a special effort to pick it up.

Book Club Review: We had a massive turn out for this meeting. Everyone had things they wanted to say. Things they loved that they wanted to enthuse about with others, and things that rubbed them the wrong way that they really had to get out of their system. I mentioned in my introductory postthat generally the best books for book clubs are ones that have great highlights and also substantial flaws, so there’s things to talk about other than just repeating “Yeah, that was great.” This is one of those books.

It also, like all of Paolo’s writings, has a lot to say. Political/moral/social things, which people can agree or disagree with at length. It was pointed out by another member that this book takes the position that there is no such thing as a just war, or as virtuous violence. If fighting erupts in an area they only sensible thing to do is walk away, leave the animals to wipe each other out, then maybe come back later to pick up the pieces. Violence only ever feeds more violence. Intervention, even for good reasons, will only make things worse. I don’t know if this is the author’s personal position, but it was well presented in the story and made for some interesting comments.

The discussion was insightful and fun, and no one disliked the book. Definitely a solid win. Recommended.

Apr 102014
 

The-PrincipleTell everyone you know – a Christian documentary says famous physicists and cosmologists accept the word of God: the Sun revolves around the Earth!

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle recently about many well-known scientists “participating” in a documentary that claims modern cosmology is coming to accept that the earth is the center of the universe. And which Kate Mulgrew (of Star Trek Voyager) lent her voice to. Of course none of this is true in any sense that matters – their voices are in the documentary, but they have been lied to and extensively quote-mined to make it sound like they are saying the opposite of what they actually believe. The standard, sane position that the Earth circles the Sun, which has been settled for centuries.

Naturally a lot of people are saying this is reprehensible. But I think this is one of the best things a group could do to discredit biblical literalism.

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. Like all fundamentalist religions they can’t abide evolutionary theory, and they have their own handbook on how wrong it is. Like any good Jehovah’s Witness, I studied it so I could be ready for my biology teachers. Being a very geeky kid, I would argue online with non-theists and non-JW christian kids. It was through the wonder of the internet that I was first exposed to fact-checking, and was shown that the many biologists that were quoted in the JW book as coming out against evolution where doing nothing of the sort. Their quotes were plucked out of context to make them sound as if they were saying the opposite of what they were ACTUALLY saying. In one case it was almost literally a case of a biologist saying “I would never say that evolution is a crock of shit” and the part of the quote that made it into the book was “[…] evolution is a crock of shit!”

As an idealistic child who had always been proud of how honest and upstanding Jehovah’s Witnesses were, I was shocked. And I came to realize that if they were this deceptive about the scientists they quoted… they would twist around just about anything to seem to support their conclusion whether or not it actually did so. Evidence presented by the JWs was NOT TRUSTWORTHY on its face, because it was being presented by the JWs.

If I wasn’t an argumentative and precocious geek kid, I may never have stumbled across this information. Evolution is still seen as controversial by many people, almost no one questions a quote presented in a printed publication, so what trusting christian would go look up the quotes of every scientist (in a book their church presented!) in order to get the original context and intent?  Who knows how long it would have been before I realized these people are liars?

On the other hand, nearly everyone realizes that Flat-Earthers and Geo-Centrists are complete idiots. That the Earth orbits the Sun is common knowledge. If you see someone saying the Earth is the center of the Universe, you already know they are crazy, simply because they are claiming that!

And if you see a religious group producing a movie filled with respected scientists that have been quoted agreeing with them, no one thinks “Huh, they must be on to something,” or even “Those scientists are clearly idiots.” What they think is “Oh, a group of liars has taken a bunch of scientists’ quotes out of context, manipulating their words so it sounds like they’re saying the opposite of what they really believe.” It creates a very strong association between “Religious groups claiming things contrary to science” and “Liar idiots.”

It makes them look so incredibly sleazy and awful, that everything they say going forward will be more suspect. This act of deception makes them look so bad that it behooves us to spread their message far and wide.

I don’t think they could have hurt themselves more if they tried. It almost makes me think that this could be a false-flag operation by an atheist group to discredit religious fundies.

I’ve long suspected the same thing of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, incidentally. That group has done wonders for the gay-rights movement, by making the anti-gay bigots look so fucking ignorant, hateful, and despicable. Honestly, could a gay group wanting to turn popular opinion against the anti-gay hordes do ANY BETTER than to pretend to Hate All Fags, and then picket military funerals in the most despicable manner they could get away with? It’s genius. I don’t think it’s true, and that makes it soooooo deliciously ironic as well. Thanks for making gay-acceptance come quicker Fred Phelps!

But I’m getting off topic. Share this far and wide!

Apr 092014
 

You’ve probably already heard of the HeartBleed Bug. If not – here you go.

In short – Do you use passwords on the internet? Unless you use a unique password for every site, it’s time to change all of them. ALL OF THEM. (Although maybe wait a couple days for everything to get patched first, or even your new passwords will be compromised.)

I have been referred to a couple good unique-passwords-for-every-site-without-having-to-remember-a-million-password/site-combination resources (LastPass and PasswordMaker).

Obviously even unique passwords will have to be changed on compromised sites. And it may still behoove you to change everything.

But the really interesting part was the passwords I didn’t necessarily have to change. Of all the sites I use, exactly two have completely unique passwords. My bank account, and my podcast. It became immediately apparent what is most important to me.