Aug 252016
 

lightningToo Like The Lightning, by Ada Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 242016
 

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

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

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

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

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

Aug 242016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good panel, wish I had gone.

Aug 232016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

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

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

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

IMG2082

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

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

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

I had a great time!

Aug 222016
 
This year's Hugo winners

This year’s Hugo winners

All the Puppy News That’s Fit to Print!

I’ve been gone since Wednesday, at WorldCon (woo woo!). I’ll start with the Hugo Awards, since that’s the big thing everyone cares about. They were AWESOME. Pat Cadigan was entertaining as hell, everyone loved her. Last year was high drama due to all the Puppy Poo, so the emotional imprint of this year’s awards wasn’t as high. But on the other hand, it was nice to have a mostly-normal awards ceremony again, which focused primarily on the artists and the joy of the awarding. There were a couple No Awardings again, and Neil Gaiman delivered an EPIC smack-down to the puppies, but it wasn’t the focus of the ceremony.

The Puppies were again shown to be impotent during the event. This night was literally the optimal-case scenario for the regular fan community, I don’t think a single result could have gone better. Vox’s strategy of slating “human shields” absolutely backfired, almost as much as the Tingle slating, it was glorious to behold.

ha ha

WorldCon Community to Vox Day

I checked Vox’s blog the morning after, out of curiosity, and he of course was crowing about his great victory. I guess if you define victory as “We fucked up the nominations”, then yes. But I got the impression he was trying to say the victory extended into the awards as well? Man, good luck to him spinning that one. The community showed once again that a small tantrum-throwing minority can game the nominations, but they speak for no one else. He is, as Scalzi said, the wad of chewed gum stuck on history’s shoe.

I heard from someone who couldn’t attend that the livestream of the event was a clusterfuck. While we were having a grand time in the auditorium, free of Puppies, they were showing their colors online as trolls. Our friend stopped streaming after a while, because the chat was such a frothing ragestorm. WorldCon would be well served to switch to a streaming company that pays a moderator or two to watch the channel.

Speaking of throwing a tantrum, there wasn’t NO Puppies activity this year. You’ve probably already heard of the State of Short Fiction panel kerfuffle (wherein Puppy-sympathizer David Truesdale, who was supposed to be moderating the panel, instead launched into a rant about SJWs ruining SF and hijacked the entire hour with shenanigans).  It was one of two panels going at the same time that I was torn between attending, and I ended up going to the OTHER one, since I’d been to a short-fiction panel the day before. I chose poorly. :( I missed out on the most-talked about event of the con. It was a fantastic conversation piece, even better than Tingle-talk. This was a great year for chatting with people you don’t know well! :)

While not widely reported (since everyone pretty much focuses on Truesdale’s cock-up and expulsion), there was a large guy in the audience who stood up at one point to berate of the panelists for turning his back on Truesdale during his rant, and shout about the panelists “lack of respect.” (reportedly “It’s people like you that are the problem!” or similar) A member of my Colorado writer’s group (call her “Lady M”) was sitting directly in front of that man, and she was scared she would get hurt. Now yes, I always hate reports of “I was afraid for my safety”, because a person can’t control someone having an irrational fear-reaction of them (happens all the time to young black men). But I felt really bad for my friend, as she’s an incredibly sweet and funny lady in her 50s, and normally a really tough cookie. Feeling scared is a shitty feeling.

Also, I can understand her fear, because I think I ran into the same guy. I attended the WSFS Business Meeting on Sunday, to vote in 3SV and EPH. During the meeting a big dude took the floor out of order, and nearly refused to yield. Though he did return to his seat, he was angry and aggressive for the entire 3SV debate. He had the beefy look of ex-military or ex-cop, and his tone and body language was very much “gearing up for a fight.” I was glad I was one row from the front in case anything happened, but I really did NOT want anything to happen! He was fuming and arguing with officers during the break, and finally stormed out before we came back into session. So no harm done. Guess he just needed to vent and get stuff off his chest. But I can see why even our normally-assertive Lady M was intimidated if it was the same guy at the Short Fiction panel.

Anyway, that’s it for the Puppies this year. With EPH now in effect it’s nearly impossible for them to sweep a category anymore. Given that, I assume they won’t bother to throw down another $40 next year just to be ineffectual again, but who knows? It might be worth it for some people to get their annual rage-fix. If so, 3SV will be ratified next year and we’ll finally be done with their tantrums forever.

Tomorrow, a journal-ish post of my weekend, with pics! Had such a good time!

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

Aug 152016
 

all-the-world-is-a-stage-william-shakespeareIn my review of Seraphina I wrote “I never feel like I’m being honest with the world, everything is a dance performed so I am not shunned”, and someone wrote in to ask me 1. How did you learn to do this, and 2. How do you feel ok about doing it (or the need to do it).

1.

I learned, eventually, because all of society is bent to making one learn this. I don’t feel special in this regard, I assume nearly everyone in the world has the same experience. But when something is that ubiquitous, it’s not really all that interesting to talk about, right? “Hey Bob. How’s the sky, still blue? You eating food, drinking water? How about that.”

I learned by watching my parents drive home from church, fighting, yelling. Sometimes consoling my mother when she broke down. Then hosting a dinner party where everything is great. You don’t let outsiders see problems. It makes you weak.

I learned by growing up in a strict household, with rules I couldn’t abide. When I was young, I would sneak around to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons (which was forbidden). I couldn’t not watch Captain N. But I had to do it quietly, never letting on that earlier in the day I’d been breaking the rules. It was stressful, and sometimes my parents were already awake and I couldn’t pull it off that day.

On the playgrounds, I often pretended I knew what kids were talking about when we played whatever movie or TV show was currently popular. Basically it’s just running around anyway. And I didn’t want to be left out.

I learned to always, always be performing from my religion. Maybe the irreligious have times when they can let their guard down, when they don’t have to play any role for anyone. But those with an omnipresent god who take their faith seriously are NEVER without an audience. Every waking moment you are on display, being watched and judged.

I did not have many friends growing up. I was performing for authority figures—parents and God—rather than peers. It was a very hard switch to make, and it took me quite a ways into my adulthood. But now I’ve adapted, and my life outcomes have drastically improved since I started performing masculinity. It isn’t even all that hard, and the rewards are myriad.

Learning to perform isn’t too hard, everyone is willing to teach you. They can’t help it. Watch what makes people smile, or laugh. What makes them want to engage with you, rather than wince and move away. It actually feels good. Just make sure these people are the kinds of people you WANT to perform for. I never perform religiosity, for example. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area where I don’t have to.

 

2.

When you actually fit in, many of the rewards are self-generated. At least they are for me, and I suspect most people are hard-wired to feel pleasure naturally from such a situation. Intellectually, sure, maybe it’s a bit appalling. But so is almost everything about life in a physical reality, if you look at it the right way.

I prefer to find the roles that best fit me whenever possible. The Enthusiastic Geek is a fun one. And when possible, I try to stay with the audience/friends I most like to perform with. Because ultimately, we’re all performing together, for each other. And every now and then if a mask slips, your friends are the ones who are most happy to nod, smile, and keep playing along.

Aug 112016
 

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman16085483

Synopsis: A half-dragon teenage living secretly as a human in a country that despises dragons must foil a plot to plunge the two races into renewed warfare.

Book Review: I have a well-known prejudice against YA, so I was initially extremely surprised when I showed up for book club and everyone referred to this as a YA novel. Because I loved it. After thinking on it for about five seconds I realized that yes, this is totally YA. But it is awesome!

The heart of this book is its characters. They pop in bold colors, and feel like real people. Interesting, expressive, often admirable, and always real. I fell in love with all of them.

Particularly interesting to people like me are the dragons, who are basically extremely-thoughtful, Aspergers-ish, geeks. They love math and applied game theory, and have trouble understanding emotions, and give off a bit of a Spock vibe. Seeing a society of such creatures, and the way they are hated by humans, warms my heart. Even moreso when Seraphina (the titular protagonist) starts to discover her own dragon-like tendencies. When she first enters a pub for dragonkind and finds other humans like her, who love to talk about math and are terrible at flirting and other social things, she finally feels like she’s found a home. She’s finding her geek family!! It’s YA for people like us! Sadly, this doesn’t get as much attention as maybe it should. The story focuses more on the Prince and Princess of the kingdom (well, queendom technically), who are very much the Popular Kid crowd. Yet I still related very strongly with the geekiness of Seraphina, and it was kinda gratifying seeing her find acceptance among the cool crowd too.

(Seriously tho, one of the dragons is investigating love, which has been striking some of his comrades, so that he can better understand and combat this malady that has been infesting some of their brightest minds! And he’s willing to face lobotomy as a consequence, to help his people overcome this scourge. How can you not love that?)

It has some fantastic humor based off of this geeky stuff too. When one particular musical instrument is played FAR too loudly near her, Seraphina says “my appreciation increased with the square of the distance separating us”. :D

I also love that much of the conflict is informed by her constant need to lie to everyone about herself. The world of lies she wraps herself in feels very close to home for me. I never feel like I’m being honest with the world, everything is a dance performed so I am not shunned, and Seraphina has the same problem. Her fear of being found out comes with far worse consequences than mine, and that made the story all the more compelling.

Finally, while it ends in a traditional “love triangle” situation, the reader ends up loving all three of the people within it, and more importantly – all three of those people care deeply for each other, and are very close friends! I strongly suspect that this is setting up for a polyamorous triad situation, which would just be the best coup ever for a NYT Best-selling YA series! Yes!! Make it so!

The one downside of this book is that the ending goes on forever. The denouement is 2-3 times longer than a good denouement should be. The final three chapters should NOT have been in this book – they should have been the first three chapters of the sequel. Or just hinted at. It felt very much like the sequel was started at the end of this book, and that’s just clumsy. Yes, we know there are lots of complications that arise due to the events in this book, and much will still happen in this world. We understand not ever thread can be tied up when there’s so much left to do. Don’t go starting the NEXT story within this book! Just finish up the one you have, and start the next story at the beginning of the next novel.

Still, that’s a small drawback to a delightful novel. Recommended!

Book Club Review: In general, I think YA has less to say that can really get adults talking. That was borne out again. While we did talk quite a bit about the things we liked, there wasn’t any deeper conversation that was sparked. Nevertheless, just seeing a YA book that is aimed directly at the growing-up-geeky demographic was so refreshing that I have a hard time saying one shouldn’t read this. I’m glad I read it, and so was everyone else at the book club, it got very high ratings from all. If you’re willing to have a meeting that’s less about theme and more just chatting about a fun book with lots of heart, this is a good one. Recommended in that case, but otherwise the most warm-feeling Not Recommended I can give.

Aug 082016
 

13895232_1363555407006280_7036367322075833613_n15 Stats That Show Americans Are Drowning in ‘Stuff’ “Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items”
!! Based on survey results finding average of 10 min a day looking for misplaced items. Seems unreasonably high to me, likely people are overestimating how long they spend looking for stuff on a daily basis, cuz it’s so frustrating it seems like a long time. I can’t imagine anyone would blow 10 min a day looking for things for more than a week or two before altering their lifestyle to fix that!
Still, this article confirms my personal prejudices, so I choose to share it!

Donald Trump quotes make a lot more sense when you imagine Zapp Brannigan saying them…

Two more things about The Great Wall:

First, MovieBob puts into words pretty much all my thoughts. As ususal, he is a voice of sanity. :)

Second, a few days later the Chinese director of this Chinese movie said it’s not racist. I dunno tho, that’s exactly what you’d *expect* a racist to say.

Y’all saw that Trump asked, three times in one hour, why we don’t just use nukes, since we have them, right?

UNNECESSARIAT:
“In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot.
… from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that.
…The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault. The world of self-driving cars and global outsourcing doesn’t want or need them. Someday it won’t want you either. They can either self-rescue with unicorns and rainbows or they can sell us their land and wait for death in an apartment somewhere. You’ll get there too.”

What This Feminist Sees in Harley Quinn
“I’ll come out and say it, she is my favorite female comic book character. Not because I admire her, but because I understand her.
She’s every negative female stereotype you can think of and then some. But there’s more to good storytelling than characters who are good role models.
She wants to live for fun and mischief and sex without responsibilities. She wants to screw a charismatic badboy (literally) without getting screwed by him (figuratively), and she refuses to accept that life doesn’t work that way.
No one’s halfheartedly dressing up the things she does for Joker as some kind of progressive, liberated forwardness like Catwoman’s ill-advised flirtations. She’s a comic book version of someone we’ve all met, of self-destructive feelings we’re all capable of. Her weaknesses and lunacy aren’t implanted in her to make her conveniently rescueable and compliant with a nonsensical plot. They’re lifelike. Human.
And that is what is missing from the majority of women in today’s fiction, far more than strength, intelligence, and independence:
Honesty. Thought. Depth.
That is how we will know when we’ve achieved equality in fiction. Not only by the number of female characters or even by what they do but by why they do it.”

Western civilization is taking over the globe. … Given a choice, young people choose Western consumerism, gender norms, and entertainment. Anti-Western governments from Beijing to Tehran know this this to be true: Without draconian censorship and social regulation, “Westoxification” will win.
A big part of the West’s strength, I hasten to add, is its openness to awesomeness. When it encounters competing cultures, it gleefully identifies competitors’ best traits – then adopts them as its own. By the time Western culture commands the globe, it will have appropriated the best features of Asian and Islamic culture. Even its nominal detractors will be Westernized in all but name. Picture how contemporary Christian fundamentalists’ consumerism and gender roles would have horrified Luther or Calvin. Western civ is a good winner. It doesn’t demand total surrender. It doesn’t make fans of competing cultures formally recant their errors. It just tempts them in a hundred different ways until they tacitly convert.

Scott Alexander rebuts withboth Chinese people and traditional Americans assimilating into universal culture in order to share a common ground – with this being invisible to people who are already assimilated into universal culture, to whom it just looks “normal”. […] the incorrect model of “foreign cultures being Westernized” casts Western culture as the aggressor, whereas the model of “every culture is being universalized” finds Western culture to be as much a victim as anywhere else.

My friends are quite talented. :) “Pokemon Go Yellow”: A Coldplay Parody by JessoLaurus Rex

Photographer Visits Famous Landmarks, Faces The Wrong Direction. Great pics!

Huh. The Green Party supports Homeopathy as an official plank of their platform(!). And they have a sizable enough anti-vax wing that Jill Stein felt she had to pander to them with circuitous hemming about the “medical-industrial establishment” when asked about vaccines, even though she has a doctorate from Harvard Medical!

“like Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not start trying to capture monsters.” (Or something like that.)” – AV. Club

Oof. Right in the gut. :( I Am A Transwoman. I Am In The Closet. I Am Not Coming Out.
“I am a girl who has been through a lot of shit and who has grown into symbiosis with her boy suit. But what else I know is that my point is my fucking point. Do I even want to convince someone who will only listen to me when they find out I’m a girl?
Do I have to out myself to be treated like a person worth listening to? To stop my cis classmates laughing at someone who’s reckoned with the boundaries and the dimensions of masculinity and femininity in ways they never had to? Do I need their permission to speak?

I hate that the only effective response I can give to “boys are shit” is “well I’m not a boy.” I feel like I am selling out the boy in baseball pajamas that sat with me on the bed while I tried to figure out which one I was supposed to be, and the boys who I have met and loved from inside my boy suit—who believed they were talking to a boy. I feel like I am burning the history of the naked body that sits on the floor of my shower. ”

My basic problem with Trolley Problems. Sacred Values Are How Ethical Injunctions Feel From The Inside
“A perfectly rational being, of course, would have no need for ethical injunctions. But we’re monkeys with pretensions. We’re self-interested and prone to rationalization. If we say “it’s okay to torture people in very extreme cases that are never going to happen”, then you can talk yourself into thinking that this is a very extreme case, even though the actual reason you want to torture the guy is that he’s a horrible person and you want to see him suffer, and next thing you know you’re the U S Government.”

We built voice modulation to mask gender in technical interviews. Here’s what happened. (quoting FoF) – I hate clickbaity titles, but in this case the fact that the title describes an experiment but not its result is an opportunity to try predicting the outcome before reading about it.
also, fun lines from article: “programming is like sex — one mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.”
“you might want to do what any reasonable person would do in the face of an existential or moral quandary, i.e. fit the data to a curve.”

Fight the power! Chatbot lawyer overturns 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York

Holy crap, this deleted scene in ZooTopia would have been *amazing*!!

“the Hall of Presidents … as a representation of how America understands itself and its history, is absolutely correct. … the national mythos rests in the hands of a publicly traded corporation.
[…] We live in the capitalpunk AU.”
(also: “They say American copyright terms keep getting extended under pressure from Disney who wants to keep hold of all their founding properties, I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be less of a corruption of the civic system to just carve out special protections for Disney in recognition of their distinct role in America.”)

Powerful stuff.
“9. When I turned twenty-one, I could go to the clubs. Get dressed up, wear a coat to hide the outfit, pile into a car with friends, roll down the windows in the summer, sure, blare the music, sing along, roll the windows up when a car or truck pulled up alongside and shouted threats, hope they don’t follow, drive to the club, look around before parking to make sure no-one is staking out the street or parking lot, hide anything valuable in the car, lock it, walk to the club. Wait in the line to get in, all laughter and flirting and nervous grins and nervous shuffling and happy nervous everything, be grateful for the door-minder who was watching the sidewalk, pay, walk in.
Walk in.
Walk, strut, ease on in, breathe, breathe deep and happy and smell the smoke and beer and sweat and none of that matters because here, here no-one waits to catch you in the act of being gay.
Put vigilance down.
Put vigilance down, and dance.
[…]
14. The shooter went to a place of refuge, of joy, of celebration. He went to a place where queers go when we are told we are too queer to be seen anywhere else. He went to the place where all the shoving and flaunting of queer would have been hidden away from him.
[…]
I cannot stop anyone from murdering anyone else. I don’t have that power. But I am … done. I am done with letting the jokes and remarks slide by. I cannot continue to passively agree that I am a punchline, a threat, a bogeyman, a cautionary tale. I just, … I am done.
I can’t stop the Orlando murders, or any other murders of queers.
But I am done being complicit.”
(and yes, I dislike the use of the term “microaggression” here, but whatevs, it’s just a word and this essay is awesome)

Spoilery: The Quicksilver scene from X-men:Apocalypse. It is awesome! And only available on Facebook, for some reason?

On Taste. “it is a good idea not to develop taste in anything where developing taste will cost you more money. For instance, I would strongly advise against developing taste in chocolate. […] You should absolutely not develop taste about anything that is necessary for your life.”

I half suspect this is the most epic trolling of all time. “In line with our expectations, P [for “Psychoticism”] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes.”
You know where this is going, right? Spoilers below, I’d read the article if I were you cuz it’s short and sweet, but if you’d rather just get to the monkey:
“The authors regret that there is an error in the published version […]The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed.”

13327557_10153569326205965_2804770090938365614_n

Fandom is Broken. “Back in high school I had a great religion teacher. He used to have us bring in quotes from pop culture that could be applied to religion because he wanted us to understand how pervasive religion was to people a thousand years ago, as pervasive as music or movies are to us today. He believed that the future would see people no longer killing each other over interpretations of God but over bands…
I think he was on the right track when it comes to the way pop culture has replaced other things that used to give us meaning, but I don’t think he could have ever guessed it would be comic book characters and Ghostbusters that would motivate the 21st century’s holy popcult warriors.”

Aug 042016
 

cover_peter-and-the-starcatchersPeter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Synopsis: A Peter Pan origin story.

Book Review: This is straight-up very good fanfic. I guess not technically fanfic, since fanfic is fiction that you can’t legally sell, and Peter Pan is in the public domain now. But any reader of fanfic will recognize this in a heartbeat!

It’s a good story. It’s fun, it updates the story for modern audiences (ie: makes Peter Pan relatable, and removes the racism), and it creates a cool magic system that gives a neat alternate explanation for all the stuff we saw in the Disney animated movie. It’s full of witty humor and action. In fact, the entire second half of the book is basically one long, running, climax.

It’s also a very good portrayal of a newly-teenaged boy, if my memory of being 12-13 can be believed. I normally dislike YA, but this was well done. My only real complaint was that the introduction of Tinkerbell felt tacked on, like the authors didn’t want anything to do with her, but felt obligated to have her in there. She should have been left out if she wasn’t going to do anything (she literally just appeared for the span of a few paragraphs to be included in the origin story), and maybe introduced in some future novel where she’d have some reason to exist.

This book was a very quick, light read. That being said, it was a light read because there wasn’t anything of substance here. I had fun reading it, and I’ll probably never think of it again. Very good as a palette cleanser, or if you want to take a break after slogging through something overly-long and tiresome. But nothing to write home about. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: As mentioned above, this is very light. Normally I wouldn’t care for this sort of thing, but it really had impeccable timing for us, having come on the heels of SevenEves. We all needed a break, and this story was delightful and refreshing. It was nice to enjoy a simple thing together, and have a chat. I wouldn’t want to do this sort of thing often, but it’s good to do now and then. So, overall, Not Recommended, but consider Keeping It In Reserve for when your book club needs something like this to recharge. :)

Aug 012016
 

IMG_20160731_152605860I have been published again, this time in an anthology! My story “Of All Possible Worlds” appears in the Swords v Cthulhu anthology which is available now. You can get it from Amazon, or the publishers website (which has it in electronic version as well as paperback), and likely many other book sellers. I am very proud of this story, so I will talk about it a bit below. But first – what other people have said (both about the anthology, and about my contribution)


Aksel Dadswell said: “One of the best Lovecraftian anthologies out there, and one of the best anthologies this year in general” & “The truth is, there are a lot of Lovecraft-inspired anthologies oozing out of the woodwork every year, and it’s just a matter of statistics that not all of them are going to be as original or scary or fun as they could be. Some of them, though, exceed all expectations, and Swords v Cthulhu is one of them.”

He does mention my story specifically at one point, noting “Just as the protagonist walks through the world as if in a dream, so the story feels like a waking haze. Dreams ooze into reality and back again with sickening ease. At one point the narrator proclaims that “every nerve had been frayed down to its raw, bleeding quick,” and I certainly felt that way, vicariously experiencing the horror myself. There’s a pleasing kind of bloody circularity to the story that gives it that little bit of extra weight, too.”

 

Teodor Reljic reviewed every single story in the anthology here!  I think that means he liked it. In the review of “Of All Possible Worlds” he says “A story with grit and teeth, told by a surrealist street performer who would just as soon slit your throat for all your cash rather than simply accepting your busking tips.” :) I take that as praise! To dispel any doubt he mentioned on twitter “Loved this Ancient Roman mindfuck”, so there’s that.

 

This is the teaser from my story that the editors posted on Facebook:

“Darkness flickered at the edge of my vision. A shadow swooped through the air, movement where there should be none. I strained to look at it but there was nothing to focus on. An inexplicable presence descended to the savage’s side, and as it touched the sand, it finally resolved into a discrete thing with surfaces and heft.

Its body was that of an ox-sized crow, but bare of any feathers. Black skin stuck tightly to jutting bones. A jagged beak took up the entire face, its upper mandible curving down from the top of the skull. The wings consisted of long arms webbed to the body in the manner of bats. Cricket-like legs folded beneath it.

The Colosseum grew still. Even the gladiators gaped at this intruder. With a shout of glee, the barbarian wizard hopped on the monster’s back, throwing his arms around its neck. It leapt upward with a beating of its wings, a deafening squawk piercing the sky.”


Alright, so about writing the story itself. I’ll make this brief and spoiler-free.

The primary plot driver is my fear and loathing of dreams. Not just nightmares—all dreams. Every dream is an epistemic nightmare to me, because they implant events into my memories that NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED. This is extremely disturbing to me. My memories are me. They are the most personal record I have of what I am, and I’m already well aware that they are a shitty, corruptible record. I’ve always had a poor episodic memory. I can’t recall names well. I often embarrass myself in conversation by re-asking things that people have already told me which were fairly important events to them. I’m pretty sure I will lose everything I am via Alzheimer’s some day. So the absolute last thing I want is to start generating random, non-real events on the fly and sneakily implanting them into my self-archive. You know that fear transhumanists have of an outside entity hacking into your brain and rewriting your memories to alter you? It was nicely portrayed in the opening scenes of Ghost In The Shell, to use a well-known example. I have that, all the time, and the outside entity is my own fucking brain!

Sometimes the dreams are so unrealistic I’m able to brush them off as obvious forgeries (one of them is retold almost exactly as it happened within the story). But many are realistic, and I only discover them out of luck. I don’t know how many of my memories are like this. I assume/hope only a very small percentage. But that fear is always there. How much of my life is a lie?

I tried to demonstrate that fear in the story, and maybe make the reader feel a little bit of it as well.

Influencing this fear is also the common transhumanist “What if this is all a simulation?” fear,  which I consider very related. “Wake up, Neo.”

Finally, if this is all a simulation, why is it such an awful one? Why is violence the final arbiter of all things? God could have made a world where humans were physically unable to harm each other, and he didn’t. That was just one more thing in a long litany of things that led me to doubt the God hypothesis in the first place. But if there was a God… the fact that the world is as it is says a lot about Him/Her/It.

 

My copies just arrived, so I haven’t read any of the other stories within yet, but a lot of them sound awesome, and I plan to over the next month or two! That being said, I’m kinda side-eyeing our publisher. The book seems to have had two different release dates (July 12 for Amazon, Aug 1 for all other wholesalers? Was that intentional?), and there still aren’t electronic versions available at Amazon or B&N. /shrug. Hopefully an oversight that will be resolved soon.