Dec 032016
 

sports-braDenver Comic Con has greatly disappointed me recently. A while ago they released cosplay guidelines saying “realistic” weapons wouldn’t be allowed. I grumbled, but I guess that those can be frightening to some people? So I didn’t really complain, even though they said “A Star Wars Blaster might be OK.” I’m sorry, might?? Those things look NOTHING like a real gun, what the hell is this might crap?

Anyway, first they came for the weapons props, and then…

“Regardless of your gender identification, we require all attendees, exhibitors and guests to:
Wear sports bra-like coverage on top with leotard-type coverage on bottom. (i.e. no butt cheeks)
No thongs and no “plumber’s butt”
No bare chests, no singlets, and no Vampirella-type costumes”

aladdin-jasmine-carpet2Which is ridiculous. That’s a sports bra up there. It makes an insane number of costumes ineligible. For example, both Jasmine and Aladdin would be banned, despite being from movies aimed specifically at children. I have a friend with a Wonder Woman costume, which is more modest than the true Wonder Woman costume, because she wears it for children’s charity events. She is irritated that the costume she wears for sick children is inadmissible to Denver Comic Con now.

Obviously a ton of guy cosplay is out now too (Hulk, Goliath, etc)

This doesn’t really impact the Literary Track at all, except for the embarrassment that may come from being associated with the slut-shaming Comic Con. Ewww.

And of course for the fact that a fair portion of my cosplay friends just aren’t going to bother with DCC this year. As the cosplay community is slowly choked off, I expect general attendance to fall as well. Cosplay is a fair bit of the draw of a comic con. Less attendance overall will also mean less people coming to see the Lit Track stuff.

maryjaneBut I’m very curious to see how exactly Denver Comic Con will remain a COMIC con now. Has anyone in DCC management ever read a comic book? 90% of them would be inadmissible at the con now. I didn’t need Playboys as a kid, because I had X-men, which gifted me with superstimulus versions of female sexuality that real-life biology simply can’t compete with (to the left, Mary Jane as drawn vs real-life person Stacey Rebecca. To the right, the infamous Starfire, who is exceptional among women superheroes only in that she has about 30-60% less costume)teen-titans-starfire-dc-comics

Is DCC going to ban all sexualized depictions of comic book characters at the con? How will they draw any comic book fans, without comic books?

For that matter, are they planning on enforcing similar guidelines with the vendors and artists in their exhibitor’s hall? Many comic vendors will be upset to hear they can’t sell 90% of their stock at the con. Many artists will feel the same way. Below is a piece of original art I picked up at the last DCC, because I think it’s important to support the local art community. The yellow box I’ve photo-shopped over the pic is roughly the same size as the post-it note that was on the display piece that was hanging in the artist’s booth (without it, the pic is NSFW). This was one of a about a half-dozen similarly risqué works with post-it notes, and a dozen less titillating but still rather sexual and not at all sports-bra-complying works.

img-censoredWill these artists and vendors be turned away from the con? Or will this be a case of “the rules don’t apply to people paying for floor space”?

Either way, I hope something changes soon, or Denver Comic Con may turn into Denver Focus On The Family Con. :(

Nov 302016
 

Vandals_Migration_itLately I’ve been going to a local goth club a few nights each month, to make up for a youth misspent on studying and homework. I’ve been loving the hell out of it.

A few days ago, waiting at the bar, I noticed the guy in front of me ordered a Bud Light (!). He was wearing a baseball cap (!!) backwards (!!?!). He wore clothing with bright colors (!??!?!&$@!??) and a SPORTS TEAM LOGO! (?#%#U!!!omgwtfbbq1@??^!;:!?!)

He was a Bro. There were a small handful of them, and a couple girls as well. They did not Fit. Their visual aesthetic clashed awfully, and they had no idea how to act or dance. But Goths are a fairly chill crowd, so we all just gave them their space and wondered when they’d leave.

But they stuck around for quite a while. And, slowly, they began to acclimate. They tried to imitate the dance style in their own Bro-ish way, and really threw themselves into the music. It was actually very adorable to watch. They were honestly trying. And they attracted a small group that found this endearing. By the end of the night maybe they were still Outsiders, but they weren’t Strangers anymore. :)

It was heartwarming to watch. It was a microcosm of the entire American experience. The melting pot of our great country, accepting the new comers and helping them; and the new comers just wanting to make good in their own way. It’s the classic immigrant’s story. I was happy to be an American, and a Goth.

Of course on the drive home I shuddered to think what would happen if it wasn’t a handful of Bros. The Goth scene is small. It wouldn’t take much effort for the Denver Bro scene to overwhelm the place, and outnumber the regulars. What if instead suddenly the club was swamped with crew-cut, bright-shirted Chads?

I would throw my support behind a Bro-der Wall pretty damn quick.

Nov 222016
 

img_20161117_230102978I’ve kinda adopted Starbucks as my make-shift office. Last week, we got the first snow of the season, and Starbucks played Christmas Carols all day. :) <3

Today, it’s snowing again, and we have carols again! Squeeeeee!

Some grinchy friends complained about Thanksgiving being absorbed by Christmas. Apparently they don’t understand about The Holiday Season. I will clarify for them now–

Thanksgiving is basically just Christmas Lite. It’s a warm-up. It’s the pre-season of Christmas. If your Xmas Tree isn’t up for Thanksgiving, you’re doing it wrong. (“Just one calorie of Xmas. Not Xmas enough.”)

Hooray for the Holidays!!

(oh, quick carol hack for anyone who hates the super-Jesus-y carols as much as I do – get both the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s Solstice Carol albums. They are so much fun, and now I have much better lyrics in my head to take the place of all the Jesus-y ones when those come on. :) )

Nov 172016
 

toafI have this personal theory about Thamiel, from Unsong.

Note – I apologize if this has already been discussed in comments at some point. I read all comments on a chapter when I first read the chapter, but I don’t have the time/ability to keep up with all the discussion as it develops. I am eternally grateful to the commenters who link back to developed fan-theories in newer comments, they’re super helpful!

Anyway. Thamiel was once a necessary and positive force within creation. An aspect of the divine. Thamiel was Justice.

“You convince God to save Sodom. And what do you get? A city full of Sodomites. The scum of the earth. Worms and maggots infesting the world. And now they’ll never stop, because you showed them they’ll never face punishment for their crimes.”

Justice is a vital force in the real world. A world without Justice would be far more terrible than what we have. Thamiel’s purpose was to make sure that Justice was served. That evil was punished, and deterrents preserved. But Thamiel was not created with proper limitations. Justice is the only thing he cares for, and he wants endlessly increasing amounts of it.

What’s an effective way to increase the amount of Justice he gets to mete out? Cause more people to sin. The more that you can incentivize people to do wrong, the more souls you get to inflict “Justice” upon after death. So, in a perverse attempt to maximize the total volume of Justice handed out, Thamiel does his best to create the conditions that result in the greatest amount of people damning themselves. A horrific world of endless violence and despair. All in the service of what we would agree is a good principle. We want a Just World, but not Maximum Justice Inflicted. Much like we want enough paperclips to fulfill our needs, but not Maximum Paperclip Mass.

I’m not saying that Thamiel is an admonition to humanity to work harder on the AI Value Alignment problem, because not EVERYTHING has to be about AI. It could totally be a coincidence. After all, Some Things Are Coincidences Some Of The Time.

I’m kinda hoping that the second, withered head of Thamiel is later revealed to be the counter-balance that was supposed to keep this desire for Unbounded Justice in check, which was flawed in some way, and now vainly tries to protest with the minuscule scraps of energy it can muster. But that’s pure speculation/hopefulness on my part. Can’t wait for more Unsong!!

Nov 152016
 

thelibraryatmountcharjacketThe Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

Synopsis:  When God disappears, his twelve adopted children try to find him and/or take his place, while negotiating internal power struggles and the interference of the US government.

Book Review: This book does almost everything flawlessly. It is a portrait of extremely broken people, as being raised by the Old Testament God Himself is not conducive to good mental health. It is a portrayal of absolute power and absolute unaccountability. It is a study of acceptance of horrors, and forgiveness in the face of the unspeakable. And it will make you wonder if there are Ends so important that even you, yes you, would accept any Means necessary to achieve them. Seriously, this book is good. It’s especially meaningful for anyone raised in a fundamentalist religion, and who has since escaped from it but still has a lot of baggage from that past. Like myself!

Scott Hawkins writes very well. His set pieces are gorgeous, and you’ll remember them for a long time. He has the best/most horrifying zombies I’ve ever seen in fiction, you’ll forever see all other zombies in fiction as pale reflections of what Hawkins accomplished. He absolutely masters dark humor, there are a number of laugh-out loud moments, which is vital for this book, because it is dark. In between the atrocities and gloom it’s good to have that gallows humor pull to you through in a “you have to laugh so you don’t cry” sort of way.

It’s hard to say very much in a review without spoiling this book, because a lot of the story is given to you piecemeal, through twists and reveals. And I really don’t want to spoil those reveals. For the first third or so there’s all sorts of disjointed stuff in the air, and as the novel progresses everything is slowly tied together and brought to beautiful fruition. So I won’t be able to say much more, except if you like Dark, Existentialist, Religious-Flavored, Psychological Horror, with a great touch of humor, this book is absolutely for you.

Two caveats – I disliked how at one point the book made me partially like someone who should be hated. Yes, I know that even Hitler was a good friend to those close to him. It doesn’t change what he did. But that was one of the key points/features that Hawkins was trying to get across, and the fact that he pulled it off means he succeeded, and he should be praised for this. He was trying to make me feel that discomfort, and it worked.

The other caveat is that the book has a climax about 2/3rds of the way through. Everything was wrapped up, and there was still 100 pages to go, and I thought “What the hell? Why are there still 100 pages? What could possibly be left to say?” It turns out – A LOT. Like, the main “redemptive” thrust of the novel! BUT, because most of the loose ends were wrapped up in a huge climactic scene (and following denouement!), Hawkins has to spend a fair bit of time building up tension again, reintroducing conflict and stakes, etc. So the 20 pages following the conflict are a bit of a drag. They’re slow. They’re the establishing scenes that we normally get at the beginnings of novels, not near the end! I kept reading, because the novel had done everything so damn well so far that it had bought a lot of good will with me, and it deserved some slack. It paid off big time, but I can’t help but feel that a more perfect novel would have started introducing these conflicts earlier, before the big climax, so we’d already be hooked into the second-wave action and pulled along smoothly, rather than having this doldrums section. Still, it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise fantastic trip.

Highly Recommended

Book Club Review: There is a ton to talk about here. Everything I listed above cascades into discussions about Ends/Means morality, the psychology of unchecked power, the power of acceptance, the limits of redemption. Normally I would recommend this without qualifications.

However.

This is a horror novel. I didn’t realize this at first. But there comes a point where enough horrifying things have happened that one has to admit to themselves “Yeah, OK… this is horror.” One of our members was given nightmares. One stopped early, knowing they couldn’t handle what was being portrayed. The author does manage to psychologically distance the most horrific action from the reader, so you don’t feel it viscerally the way that you do in traditional horror. There is some space there, a margin of safety. But the events are still pretty horrific, and you still know about them as they’re happening, even if you aren’t directly present.

I don’t consider myself a horror fan. I like Dark Fantasy and Dark SF, but I don’t read horror. I associate horror with slasher flicks, and torture-porn. So I’m can’t say how well this novel works for dedicated horror readers. For me it was the perfect amount of terrible, without being grotesque. But not everyone draws their line in the same place.

So, I dunno. Ask your book club members first if they’re ok with something dark. If they’re prepared, then definitely Recommended!

Nov 092016
 

e9a7_hermiones_time_turner_closeupI see a lot of people saying “I feel sick that I didn’t do more in the past months to stop this.”

I don’t think there’s anything in the realm of physical possibility that could have been done over the past months that would alter Trump’s chances from 50% likelihood of winning yesterday. Not one thing, regardless of depth of effort.

The time to start would have been 2008, at the start of the financial crash – at the latest. Possibly even years earlier. The economic and social disenfranchisement of a large sub-population that led to yesterday has deep roots, and we did nothing to divert it. Not until it was far, far too late.

If you want to change the deep past, you have to get started early. Today I’m looking at disasters that could come 20+ years down the line, that will be absolutely unavertable when they arrive, but that maybe we can still do something to prevent *today*. I’m going to up my donations to certain forward-looking causes very soon.

 

(As always, fiction is the best way to convey an emotion. I feel exactly like chapters 10 & 11 of HPMoR. To wit:
“You couldn’t change history. But you could get it right to start with. Do something differently the first time around.”)

Nov 072016
 

do-yodaStarting today I’m self-employed for the rest of the year. I’ve written about 80,000 words over the past 14 months, and I’m giving myself Nov and Dec to finish this up, which will be about another 40,000 words. That means 5,000 words a week, or approximately 1,000 words a day. From what I hear, that is entirely doable.

So now the big test – do I have the self-discipline to do this thang? Or will I end up sleeping all day, playing video games, and drinking a lot of alcohol? By the end of December I’ll know if I’m the kind of person who could, theoretically, do this for realsies. Or if it will forever be a hobby I indulge on the side, while doing something like accounting full time to actually pay the bills. I mean, obvs I have to go back to a real job during the years-long process of getting a publisher and having the book put onto physical paper. But as a proof of concept, the next two months mean a lot.

Not off to the best start – I am suffering from a cold, and spent the first half of my day at the doctor and pharmacy. Just means I have to work harder to make up for this over the coming days. :) Here we go!

Nov 022016
 

470282394I dropped out of college after a year, for a number of reasons, not least among them that I was tired of schooling and I wanted to actually participate in the Real World. I got a job as a office clerk at 19.

Since then I managed to work, jump, and slide my way up the ranks. I’ve been working as a full-on accountant for 15 years, despite never having official Accounting Schooling. You can learn a lot on the job, especially if you like numbers.

But it always felt like I was getting away with something. Especially over the last five years, I’ve been getting promotions I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified for, and been given work that I simply didn’t understand when it first landed on my desk. It would take months of flying by the seat of my pants to get a grasp on what was going on, and in the meantime I still had to make the numbers balance and file the appropriate reports.

I would have nightmares about people asking me what I do in an account (in detail), cuz fuck if I know! Every quarter I was convinced THIS would be the quarter they figured out I had no clue. And every time I didn’t get laid off or fired, I was shocked that I had gotten away with it for one more quarter. A lot of my efforts were put into saving up for when this house of cards came crashing down.

Last month, they finally caught on to me.

Which is kinda ironic, because I had only recently finally gotten almost everything figured out. I feel like I know what I’m doing more than ever before. (And OK — it’s not entirely fair to say they “caught on to me” — as far as I can tell everyone still thinks I was doing a great job.)

Regardless, I no longer have to pretend I know what’s going on, and worry constantly that someone will notice I’m faking it. Today is my last day at my current job. :) Thank god my long personal nightmare of security and prosperity is finally over!

They gave me plenty of warning and a nice severance, so I can’t complain. I’m taking the rest of the year off to finish my novel, and then I’ll dive back into the Real World come January.

Oct 282016
 

allbirdsskyAll The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

Synopsis: A pair of outcasts meet as children and overcome social isolation and opposing ideologies to become friends and save the world.

Book Review (Rational Fiction version): This must be done in two parts, because first I must address the Rational Fiction flavor of this book! This is the most only novel I know (so far) that captures the style of Rational Fiction without being Rational Fiction itself. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, so let’s start with the conflict.

A foundation of RatFic is that there aren’t “good” and “evil” sides (per se)–there are factions with conflicting values who are intellectually consistent and morally good to themselves, but who clash over their differences. All The Birds does this thing, as the two protagonists are from opposing ideologies and are each other’s antagonists, and whenever you are reading a chapter from the POV of one of them you identify with that character, and you realize how right and proper their actions are, and why of course they must fight the stupid/bad actions of their opposition. The next chapter switches to the other character, and you feel the exact same thing from the other side. I love that sort of thing.

Secondly, both protags are child prodigies who are socially isolated because of their gifts. This isn’t a defining feature of RatFic per se, but it is a common theme, and it’s very HPMoR-esque, which kicked off the whole RatFic genre in the first place.

Third, it is comfortable in the language/culture of transhumanism. It isn’t a treatise on the movement or anything, but the author is either familiar with the movement, or had a lot of input from people who are. This feels like it was written by someone in the scene, and it’s refreshing to read something that comes from my culture! You don’t realize how alien the overwhelming majority of the world is until you stumble across something that feels like it came from your home group, and you can love it for the comforting family tale it is. I get fuzzies just thinking about it.

Fourth, the humor is straight-up Yudkowskian. If you liked the humor of HPMoR, you’ll likely enjoy the humor here too! It is slightly absurdist, but in a way that is delightful, like the assassin’s guild that requires its members to perform pro bono hits from time to time to remain in good standing. The word play is top-notch. And there are a fair smattering of the geeky pop-culture references, done just right, that we all love (ala Forks +2).

That being said, this is explicitly NOT Rationalist Fiction! The male hero starts the novel by crafting a 2-second time machine which apparently anyone can make if they have internet access, but most people don’t, and which isn’t abused or munchkined at all. There’s a TON of these throw-away things in the novel which could potentially break the world if an enterprising hero were to munchkin them into abuse, but which are never exploited in that way, because this isn’t RatFic. It’s a story of friendship, and love, and growing up, and it focuses on THAT. As long as you don’t expect RatFic-style exploitation, and accept this as a surreal fantasy story where everyone has a blindspot as to the game-breaking-potential of all the magic/gadgets around them, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. :)

Book Review (Traditional Version): This is a beautiful story. I don’t know if anyone read the works of Daniel Pinkwater as a kid, but this novel feels exactly like I remember those. It is surreal in a way that allows the author to focus on the parts of reality that really MATTER to the story, and seriously drill into those. The story does not give any fucks about “realism.” In Pinkwater’s Lizard Music, for example, there are talking lizards who play jazz music on public access television after midnight. In a world that otherwise makes sense. There is no explanation given, it’s just a brute fact of the story world. All The Birds In The Sky has many similar things, straight-up absurdities which are fun and which don’t need explanation (like the 2-second time machine). They are quirky and delightful, and put you in the frame of mind that this is a fantasy for precocious, imaginative people that are willing to revert to a more child-like play state for the duration of a novel.

This is important, because much of this novel is an exploration of how we move from being wonder-filled children to jaded adults. Sooooo much of it is a commentary on Adulting. On trying to stay true to yourself in a world filled with mundane madness, with a sanity waterline so low it drives you to exasperation… and maybe conformity? This is a paean to anyone who still uses Adulting as a verb to proudly describe things they sometimes do, rather than a noun describing what they are.

And oh god, the childhood of these characters. It is my childhood. It is angst and isolation, and thinking if maybe you can do this one glorious thing it will all be different… but it never is. The parents are absurdly extreme in a way no real humans are, but in a way that speaks to the emotional reality of what it is to be a child. It sacrifices literalism to get to the emotional core of a world dominated by overwhelmingly powerful beings who cannot relate to or fully understand you.

The teen years too! The sexual struggles of the male character are the most true-to-life of any novel I’ve read, and I think it says something that a surrealist YA novel has come so much closer to portraying realistic sexuality than anything trying to be Serious and Literary.

The prose itself is just fantastic too. After a love scene between the male protagonist and his then-girlfriend, the final paragraph ends with

“When Laurence got back to bed, Serafina had fallen into a cold sleep, and her elbow jutted into him.”

It just ends like that, flat. And it’s the most beautiful way to say “They do not fit together. This relationship is awkward and uncomfortable and doomed to failure.” Because instead of just telling us that, it shows us it in the most physically-literal way possible. In just one sentence, describing a single action. And yet everything is wrapped up in exactly that one line, and it hits you and lingers, because that one line is all it took, and it did it via demonstration. There’s a number of these literary feats sprinkled throughout this book, and it’s perfect every time.

Also, it is written exactly the way I would talk with my friends! For example, there’s even a part where the two characters try to speak at once, and the next sentence is literally:

Then they were both like “You first.”

Which is awesome. :)

The book has a few weaknesses. Patricia’s stay at the Magic School (and the resulting Siberia Incident) never felt very fleshed-out or compelling to me. And the ending was a bit weak. But the beauty and wonder made up for it, for me. I don’t want to over-hype this, because nothing can live up to too much praise, and then one is disappointed. But I certainly enjoyed it. Highly Recommended.

Book Club Review: This review has gone on for quite a while already, so I’ll try to make this short. Not everyone liked this book as much. A couple of our members just couldn’t swallow the absurdist aspects. However, as a commentary on what sort of world we have built for ourselves as we became adults, and how we changed to accommodate that, it did give a group a couple interesting lines of conversation to talk about. The way it portrays environmentalism vs humanism, and the recklessness of over-ambitious leaders, is also intriguing. The fact that it isn’t too long and is a pleasant read helped with completion and turn out as well. Overall, this is makes for good book club reading/discussion. Recommended.

Oct 262016
 

palace-of-solitudeFirst of all – thank you to everyone who replied to my last post. It helps. :)

 

Recently I received an email about my flash fiction piece, wherein a reader expressed appreciation for it. In addition to making me feel happy, it reminded me of something Seth Dickinson said the first time I wrote him, years ago now, about his piece “A Plant (Whose Name is Destroyed)“. He thanked me for writing, because no one ever engages with short fiction. I didn’t know what he meant by that at the time. But now I do.

It’s very hard to gauge reader reactions to stories that are published in more “traditional” venues. There normally aren’t comments/likes to give feedback, and even in venues that DO provide a comment section, the vast majority of people never post any comments at all.

The artists I know feed on validation. It could be a general artistic thing, or a general human thing, or maybe I’m just stuck in a very weird social bubble. /shrug. I almost wish I’d gone into one of the performance arts… When you act, or play music, or do stand-up comedy, you have immediate feedback from the audience. That doesn’t happen with the written word. Which means that those of us that feed on validation but don’t perform are starving.

There is some recourse. I go to WorldCon regularly now, and as Robin Hanson noted, it’s a long party to celebrate the authors we admire. But even there, interaction is a bit limited. If I had to guess, I would say this is exactly why serialized fiction has become so popular again. People actually leave feedback on serial fiction. Scott Alexander could publish Unsong as a single completed novel. But he’d never see more than the smallest fraction of the community interaction that comes from telling a story to a collective audience over time.

Fanfiction is the same, I previously quoted a friend who observed “I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.”

I am also guilty of this. I’ve read stories that really moved me, and then never said a thing. Like, almost moved me to tears, and the author has no clue.

This is unfortunate, and I want to do my part to help change it. From now on, if a work takes my breath away, I will leave a comment on it, even if to say nothing more than that. If commenting isn’t an option, I’ll spend five minutes trying to find an email, website, or twitter of the author instead, and send them thanks. Reading something like that is rare, and it’s not fair for someone to not know they’re appreciated. In fact, I’m going to go back and do that right now, for several works I’ve read in the past year that I left uncommented. They deserve no less.

 

(That being said, this is not the thread to say good things about anything of mine that you’ve liked. If you agree with any of this, please find something you’ve loved by someone else, and comment/tell them instead! Spread it outward. :) Thanks!)