Sep 212018
 

This post has spoilers that go right up to the last few chapters of Downbelow Station.

 

So don’t read it if you don’t want spoilers! Big ones!

 

..

 

..

 

..

 

Now that that’s out of the way, also a content warning – this post talks about rape. Although that itself isn’t a spoiler, since the alluded-to rape happens in the first few chapters. But it’s another possible reason not to read this.

 

Early in the book, a character (Josh) is taken as prisoner of war by a warship captain (Mallory) and used as a sex slave during his captivity. He is clearly raped by her, seemingly multiple times, before being left at Downbelow Station. He’s damaged by this, and later in the novel when Mallory returns, makes an attempt to murder her in revenge.

Later on, Mallory begins a redemption arc. She’s shown to be one of the least bad captains, given the situation. In the end, she breaks from the fleet admiral and turns on her former comrades in order to save the station and save the lives of tens of thousands of civilians that were to be slaughtered. It’s a great emotional moment, which builds for chapters as we see more and more injustice through Mallory’s eyes, and feel her silently raging against it, until she realizes the holocaust that’s about to take place and simply cannot stomach to accept orders anymore. We readers are very glad she switches sides and comes to the rescue. However it occurred to me as I was reading it that if this had been a male captain who had raped a female sex slave in the early chapters of the book, I wouldn’t be even a fraction as accepting of this redemption arc. I might accept it grudgingly, because preventing holocausts is a good thing. But I’d be angry with the author and wondering what the hell they are trying to pull. As it was, I was only really uncomfortable and struggling with this dissonance.

Then, in the last chapters, Josh returns to Mallory and volunteers to join her crew. And is accepted. He is now part of a family, content to be a crew member of the captain who raped him repeatedly. If this was a male captain and a female character going back to him in kinship, I would have thrown the book across the fucking room and cursed the fucking author. Disgusting, and unbelievable, and infuriating. As it was, I was again only uncomfortable… and now REALLY struggling with the fact that I feel that I should be outraged, but I’m just kinda fucked up instead.

Why the hell are the two situations so different? I did, of course, turn to rationalization right away. Men are less likely to contract STIs from women. Men can’t get pregnant, the most horrific STI of all. Men raped by women are far less likely to by physically damaged by the act. Men do not suffer the stigma and (depending on the society) loss of status of being “impure” or “dirtied” by the act.

However the violation of bodily autonomy is just as present. The helplessness of being an object used by someone else is just as damaging. It was still rape, after all. Shouldn’t I be just as outraged? I should be enraged that this character could be portrayed as forgiving and living with (and under the command of) his rapist.

I’m still not sure what to make of all this. I don’t have any statements or conclusions to make. I’m just expressing my own discomfort with my non-equal emotional reactions in this post. I think that Cherryh was wise to choose the sexes of Josh/Mallory as she did, because this would have been unacceptable to most audiences if written with their sexes swapped. But, OTOH, it probably would have also been written very differently if their sexes were swapped, and likely would have resolved in a completely different way. So the fact that we are more willing to accept it written this way says something about us. With this subplot, Cherryh has held up a mirror to me, and shown me an aspect of myself I was unaware of. And done that to our society as a whole, I venture. That’s good writing.

Still weirded out by myself, though.

Sep 192018
 

Downbelow Station, by C.J. Cherryh

Synopsis: A neutral outpost is drawn into a war between two vastly more powerful adversaries, threatening everything they believe and ultimately their existence.

Book Review: For a book published in 1981, this is still a surprisingly relevant story! It starts with a refugee crisis, one infinitely more interesting and well-represented than whatever Exit West was trying to do. It shows the moral difficulty of the situation, displaying both the injustice and despair of the abused refugees, and the societal problems and resource constraints experienced by the pre-existing population. One of our heroes even begins to fantasize of atrocity to solve this problem.

This deep understanding and unguarded presentation of all sides continues through-out the book. Cherryh presents real people with compelling views among all sides, which I greatly admire in fiction. While there are some villains, the biggest true villain is the specter of war itself, and the horrors it brings. When an antagonist looks poised to take control of the station, all I could think was “Yes! Please let him do a good job of this! I don’t care who controls the station just so long as we can avoid the ravages of warfare.” This is good writing.

The station itself reminded me of Renaissance-era city-states. Geographically small, dependent upon the laborers of the lands around them to survive, with politics ruled by strong families that often have bitter rivalries among them. Betrayal and intrigue is the order of the day, but in the end it is the city that is the most important thing, rather than any individual person or family. I loved it.

Maybe it’s not a perfect book… the protagonists are slightly too Paladin-like for my tastes. The innocent pre-civilization aliens that work with the humans are just over-the-top innocent and sweet and helpful, going beyond even the caricature of the Noble Savage. But nonetheless, this is a fantastic novel. It was never slow, never anything but supremely written, and I cared for the station and what was happening on the next page. The structure of the novel, written in many places as a series of vignettes that show how major political decisions affect the day-to-day lives of the small people on the ground, as well as the outcomes of flashy space-battles, was exquisite. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I’m reading Hyperion in my free time right now as well, and these two books together are making me reconsider my reading strategy. Rather than chasing the shiny new thing, which often disappoints, I am beginning to think I really should focus on reading through all the books that I hear many times, from multiple sources, are amazing. Seminal works, things considered classics of the genre, and so forth.

Recommended!

Book Club Review: Also a great book club book. There is much to talk about, and everyone will find something to love. In addition to asking if ideals can survive the necessities of a callous world, the book raises several moral questions that will likely get people talking. I’ll be writing about one tomorrow, but it’s hell of a spoiler, so I’m not including it in this review. If your book club is willing to have conversations on difficult issues without good resolutions, this is a great starting point. And even if they aren’t, it’s still a good book which will be enjoyed and bring discussion with it. Recommended.

Sep 132018
 

A few pics and comments and vids.

StarBuds 4Ever

Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle. :/

Outside Baba Yaga’s hut. This was the coolest thing, propped up on giant chicken legs. The inside was gorgeous! Very atmospheric, and it felt much bigger on the inside than it had any right to be. :) Sadly, I’m not a photographer, and couldn’t really capture the coolness of it.

Inside Baba Yaga’s hut (one small corner only!).

Bottom of the Car Spike. We climbed to the top, it was great! Lots of handholds and standing room, good climbing design. But they closed it to climbers on the 3rd day anyway, cuz some doof fell and broke his shoulder. Advice to all: get to cool climbable stuff early in the week, before the doofs injure themselves!

Houses, from human sized, to 6 foot, to 2 foot, to tiny. I counted six houses altogether, the last one being maybe an inch tall. I like that the birdcage enclosing the largest one is broken open at the top. Like the house finally grew big enough to escape.

I’m on a train. Take a good, hard look at the mother-f**’in train!

[Edit: replaced pic with a better-quality one from a friend.] It’s hard to get the scale of this thing. This sphere was HUGE. Could be seen from halfway across the city, and we used it as a landmark and a meeting place. Very useful, and pretty. My favorite memory was reuniting with my great friend under the sphere at midnight, in the middle of a big ol’ dust-storm, because we agreed to meet under it at midnight if we got separated. It was a reunion scene for the ages!

Robot Prophet.

The manufactured man looks to be leaving the wheat behind. I take it to symbolize how we will no longer require nature’s bounty to sustain us once we’ve surpassed our flesh bodies. A little melancholy, but as we grow up as a species we must put childish things behind us.

This was a nice place to chill out in the middle of the desert.

Atlas, defeated. Having finally broken, he slumps in his failure. And yet, the world remains aloft. What was all his straining for? Why the anguish and agony, struggling to hold up all this weight, when it turns out that he was never needed? All those millenia… for what?
Is my interpretation, anyway.

Our bikes, resting together, like friends.

Burning Man is among the greatest fireworks shows in the country.

The Temple Burn was much more solemn this year than last year, which I appreciated.

Burning Man is an amazing experience. However it wasn’t as good as my first year. I knew what to expect this time. Last year everything was mind-blowing and new and unbelievable. Knowing what was coming made this year very different. I think I spent much of this year trying to recreate my first year’s experience, and that was a mistake. Next year I will be much more intentional in my explorations.

I did bring two virgins, however. Watching them experience Burning Man for the first time was pretty damn fantastic. :)

Aug 292018
 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

Synopsis: The daughters of Victorian-era SF heroes and villains band together to solve a mystery.

Book Review: This novel hits you with its cool twist right in the epigraph – the story is being told by the protagonist, who is typing it out while her friends are watching, and their comments as she’s telling of their exploits are included in the text. It’s a delightful conceit! Feels a bit “Series of Unfortunate Events”-ish, in that the author/narrator is an active part of the story. This gives it a very conversational feel, like your friends are all sitting in the room with you and telling the story at once, butting in to interrupt each other.

It’s used to great effect several times, where one of the supporting characters complains about something, or protests how they are portrayed, only to have the author immediately change things within the novel to aggravate them even more to teach them a lesson. It’s fantastically fun!

In addition, it’s really cool being introduce to most of the characters through their commentary, and then meeting them in the narration as the story is related and saying “Oh! *THAT’S* who Justine is!! Neat!”

I also enjoyed the re-imagining of so many old characters, from Jekyll/Hyde through Sherlock, mostly seen through the eyes of their daughters. They spend the novel basically cleaning up the mess their fathers have left behind, and it’s a fun romp. Also, Diane is amaaaaazing. If you like stabby tom-boy characters (like Arya!) you’ll really enjoy her. She’s fantastic, and hilarious. Shortest daughter is best daughter!

On the downsides, the book isn’t very deep. It feels very much like the pilot episode of a series, where all the characters are introduced, but there are no character arcs and the plot isn’t terribly relevant; presumably because it’s basically setting things up for later. It’s also an ensemble piece, and each character is focused so strongly on being unique that they start to feel a bit single-note. Their strongest character trait is stressed over and over.

In the same way, there’s a number of things that are repeated ad nauseum, just to make sure we reaaaaaaaally get it. Yes, the crazy man is innocent despite his guilt admission, WE GET IT. It makes everyone in the story look like idiots because they keep saying “Wow, it’s so unbelievable that this gentle, weak, harmless, disconnected from reality old man could murder someone! But I guess he admitted it, so there’s just no way he isn’t guilty! So weird!” auuuuugh.

Similarly, there’s a few times very important things are ignored by characters just so they can be revisited later. Like, hey, if the girl I just rescued from an orphanage keeps calling me “sister,” maybe I should ask her why, instead of putting it off until after tea, and lunch, and dinner, and a good night’s sleep, and breakfast the next morning?

And the interjections don’t do nearly as much in the later half of the book. Most of the cool narrative jostling is in the first half, which made me sad, I would have enjoyed seeing more structure play.

This is a light, fast read, and fairly enjoyable. But it’s a set up for a longer series, and doesn’t have any weight to it. I get the feeling it’ll be popular, because it is fun and inconsequential, and lots of times that’s what people want in their pleasure reading. But for me, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I was surprised by how much there was to discuss. This hits the sweet spot of having a bunch of cool things that people liked, and a bunch of little irritating things that people had opinions on and could dig into for a fair bit. We ended up chatting for quite a while about this! The fact that it’s fanfic of SF classics that everyone is familiar with also really helped. There were some strong opinions on some of the portrayals. :) And that sparked further conversation about the nature of transformative works, as well as opinions on bringing modern sensibilities and language into old stories.

It also made me despair for American copyright law again. This is the sort of thing we are stealing from the current generation with our ridiculous restrictions.

Anyway, this made for some great talk, and it’s not a hard read! I’d use it as a break between heavier stuff, but yes – Recommended.

Aug 242018
 

At my last book club meeting, a member expressed surprise that nearly every Hugo short work nominee this year came from an online publication, rather than the traditional Big Three print magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF). I was surprised that they were surprised. I find it unlikely that a traditionally published magazine will ever publish a Hugo-winning story again. Not because they don’t publish quality work (they do! and are rightly respected for it!), but because they will not get nominated to the final ballot.

Getting nominated is about exposure. A story will not get nominated if it has not been read. Likewise, the more people read a story, the greater the likelihood it will be nominated, simply because more voters are aware that it exists.

If I read a fantastic story in last month’s issue of Asimov’s magazine, and I tell my friends, “OMG! Story X is amazing!!! You have got to read this!!”… what can they do with that information? Unless they also have a subscription to Asimov’s – nothing at all. No one is going to drive down to wherever the nearest bookstore may be to search through the bottom racks among rows and rows of magazines to try to find a copy of Asimov’s for this one story. Nevermind the cost of a single issue, the investment in time and effort is greater than it would take the read the story itself! Not to mention, some bookstores don’t carry all three magazines (or any…), and those that do often don’t carry more than one or two copies of any given issue! And what does my friend do if I got to Asimov’s a couple month’s late, and read the story after that issue has been removed from the stands? Go track down a back-copy somewhere? OMG.

For this same reason, if someone recommends an amazing story from F&SF to me, unless they physically hand me their own copy of the magazine, I will never get a chance to read it. No matter how great it is.

OTOH, say I read something that blows me away at Strange Horizons. Not only do I tell my friends at book club, I also share the link in Facebook. Now dozens (maybe over 100?) people not only see that I like they story, they can read it instantly. At work, on the train, in bed, whatever. And if they like it? They can share as well. The exposure potential is massive.

The Big Three print magazines will probably never get another Hugo, unless they change their distribution model. This year out of 18 short work nominees, only one came from the print magazines.

 

The thing that really interests me about this is that the online publications are all works of passion. That is to say, profit is only of distant interest. They are staffed almost exclusively by passionate volunteers. Nearly all revenue raised is used to buy stories and keep the website up. The few that can afford to pay the editors at the top cannot pay them a living wage – everyone still has a day job (or doesn’t have to worry about making money for some other reason). I don’t know what effect this has on the fiction they buy – it’s very freeing to simply purchase and publish what you think is really freaking good, without having to worry if it’ll “satisfy the market.” But it could also lead to the increased insularity and inaccessibility that has made Lit Fic a wasteland. I admit to being a bit of an SF snob myself, so I may be contributing to the problem…

Aug 222018
 

WORLD CON POST TIME! The annual geekening is over; here are my photos and thoughts.

I’ve started to branch out a little, and see a local attraction in the cities I visit. O_O Madness, I know! At WFC it was the Alamo, and at WorldCon76 it was the Winchester Mystery House. Very cool place!! The Winchester widow kept adding random rooms onto her mansion for the entirety of her life, believing it would appease ghosts, and helping to support the local construction industry. She wasn’t the best architect (and/or was intentionally trying to confuse ghosts) and so there’s staircases to nowhere, doors that lead to multi-story drops, and other cool oddities. The whole place is awesome, and you should go if you’re ever in town. It’s like being in a video game house!

From the top of the Winchester Mystery House

I spent a lot of my time with friends I’ve met at past cons, this is almost turning into an annual reunion thing. This is not a complaint, that’s sort of thing is really fun! And I still somehow find time to make a few new friends every year as well. :)

The highlight of the con for me was, BY FAR, Ada Palmer. I got to hear her perform epic viking duets. These literally made me cry. I don’t cry that much. She’s very, very good. I cherish this memory, and bought a bunch of CDs and DVDs as thanks, even though I know they will never have the same impact as being 20 feet away and feeling the physicality of such anger and despair.

Ada standing on the right

Afterwards I got to hear her talk about the Terra Ignota series for well over an hour in a semi-private hotel lobby. Including Q&A and audience discussion. AND she read the first two chapters of the final novel. Guys, this is gonna be fucking epic. Holy shit. We gotta wait until 2020 though. :(

I was invited back to another discussion the next day, and my biggest regret is not going to that. At this point I’d already missed a lot of programming I had meant to go to, either to catch up with friends, or to go to the Palmer events (I found out about them last-minute). And I really wanted to go, but I also felt like I should try to go to some programming for realsies one day? So I ended up sticking with the panels I’d picked out of the guide. That wouldn’t have been a mistake if there WASN’T more Ada Palmer to be had. But there was, and I deeply regret my decision now. :( Best heuristic – always go fan out over/with the person(s) you most admire in a con. It feels incredible because this is how we evolved to make good super organisms. It is doing a good thing to pay your heroes with admiration!

Seriously tho, Ada is so ridiculously smart and erudite and inspiring. I could listen to her talk about anything for hours. Maybe 5% of panelists are in her league, and the fact that she’s written a series I love and seems to be “my tribe” personality-wise is just so much extra awesome on top.

 

On the topic of programming – the rooms were all too small, and didn’t have enough chairs. Seriously, just about every single panel was over-crowded with tons of people against the walls or sitting on the floor. I’m not sure if more programming was added at the last moment and rooms had to be split to make more space? But the con was under prepared.

Every panel

Also on the topic of programming – ALWAYS GO TO FANFIC PANELS. All other panels are hit-and-miss (unless you know one of the authors on them and are going to see that author. Then go! Knowing a good panelist/author and following them around is generally a good strategy). But aside from the parenthetical, it’s hard to say if a panel will be really good and on point, or if the people up front will have only a passing knowledge of the topic, or lack enthusiasm, or are too shy, or whatever. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, and I suppose that’s part of the fun. EXCEPT for fanfic panels. The panelists on those are always super informed on the topic, and really enthusiastic on the topic, and gushing to talk about it. Fanfic panels are simply *the best.* I’ve never regretted going to one.

L->R: Nino Cipri, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, KM Szpara, Alex Acks, Faith Erline

If you heard about the protest on Saturday, it’s basically what you probably expected. A teeny tiny storm in a wee teacup. I think there was more police presence than protestors? I feel kinda sad for anyone who had anxiety cuz of this thing, though. And I hear it gave the con organizers all sorts of headaches. But yeah, a few idiots showed up to do some 4th-rate trolling. A few antifa came, hoping for a fight. Then it all blew away like dust in the wind, dude.

Days of Rage

Interesting, the con skewed a fair bit younger than usual! I was used to the median age of the con being decently above my own in previous years. This year I think I may have actually been near the median! Writing that now, I realize that I’ve also been aging every year, so naturally I’d approach the median anyway, but I mean – it really felt like there were a healthy contingent of Young Whippersnappers there this year, moreso than previous years. I dunno if that’s due to the most youthful demographics of the Bay Area specifically, or if it’s indicative of a larger trend of people growing up with SF-lit-love coming of age.

One thing I did notice about this year though… aside from my amazing experiences with fanfic panels and Ada Palmer, I felt much more detached and less joyful this year. Always before I’ve been super extroverted and fully engaged. This year I had some melancholy. I think… I kinda think it’s because in all previous years I thought of myself as an SF fan. And this year I thought of myself as an author… except that I’m not a successful author (yet?). No novel. Only a few short stories. I’m surrounded by famous authors rocketing into their careers, and I haven’t done much. These people know each other, but no one knows my name, and I feel like I don’t belong. I want to no longer just be a fan of The Thing,  but be an active participant and doer of The Thing. I kinda feel like I should sit out the next few WorldCons until I actually DO something to earn it. But fortunately the next two will be out of country and beyond my financial means to attend anyway, so I guess I don’t have to worry about deciding that.

Amethyst is best pony!

Like everything else this year, the awards had a strong “reactive against the Trump presidency” component. This is the theme of 2018, and none are immune. That being said, all the winners were absolutely deserved, and Jemisin’s speech was fucking amaaaaazing!!!!!!!! God DAMN! :D

All in all, good experience. :)

(JY Yang on piano in the airport)

Aug 212018
 

Who?

I was raised in a cult.

I’ve experienced the joy of knowing that I am doing the most important work one can possibly do. I’ve had the overwhelming exuberance of sharing vital information with a friend that would save his life and that of his entire family. I’ve felt the delight of unconditional love and acceptance.

I’ve also known the confusion of seeing inexplicable hatred towards a group that loves the wrong gender. And the dread of losing everything that means anything.

I often heard sermons about lapsed church members. They are cast out, and are supposed to be shunned by all believers. The sermons speak of how disavowed young adults (and sometimes teens) are locked from homes, whose family won’t even look at them or acknowledge their presence, and those family members are lionized and held up as a shining example for us all. Occasional testimonies tell of someone weeping outside their mother’s window for hours, until weeks later they finally relent and rejoin the church. This sparks the triumph and love of re-welcoming a lost sheep, of an endangered soul once again saved by grace. I wasn’t completely terrified of coming out as atheist to my parents, because I suspected, deep inside, that they wouldn’t go that far. And they didn’t. When I came out, my mother left the dinner table and went to her room, and I didn’t see her again for three days. But in the end they didn’t abandon me. Couldn’t. I felt very lucky.

When I was at my closest friend’s house, where I spent half my free hours, and I said that I wouldn’t be studying the Watchtower with him anymore, he physically assaulted me. It wasn’t that big a deal – he wrestled me to the ground, and kept me in a submission hold until I relented. I went upstairs and studied the Watchtower with him and his parents that night, and didn’t stay over on Saturday nights any more after that. It was still more violence than I was used to in my life.

I have very strong feelings about cults. I hate religion with a passion, probably in large part due to cultism. And I partly blame my lack of ability to form trusting bonds with groups due to my cult past.

 

SWFA is considering no longer accepting winning the Writers Of The Future as a qualifying sale for purposes of qualifying for SWFA membership, due to the fact that the Scientologists administer the contest.

I was really impressed with the Scientologists at the Writers of the Future workshop. They were, for the most part, extremely respectful of the fact that none of us winners were Scientologists. You could see the passion bubbling up in them whenever they spoke about Hubbard or his works. And yet they never proselytized, never tried to sell us on their religion. I *know* how hard that is, when you have this joyous, wonderful thing inside you that can help other people so much! I hear that things used to be less muted in the past, and their reserve is a feat I appreciate.

Ironically, I think this very reserve is why people are now upset. From what I’m hearing, there’s a few people who feel like they were tricked into “supporting” Scientology, somehow. This is frustrating, because A. the connection to Scientology was made as thin and weak as possible (to the point that the term “firewall” was frequently used) not because the Scientologists are trying to trick anyone, but because all us non-Scientologists prefer it that way and they are accommodating us, and B. the contest boldly advertises itself as “L. Ron!! Hubbard!!!! Presents!!!! writersofthefuture.” This ain’t exactly a secret.

The experience of WotF from a non-Scientologist view point is overall very positive. They pay a ridiculous amount of money for a short story. I got more per-word in cash money than I’ll likely ever get for short work again, unless I become Gaiman/King/Rowling level famous. And that doesn’t even count the extra expense of flying me out to LA and putting me up in a hotel for a week, to get to meet and be tutored by famous authors. AND then a fancy award ceremony on top of it all. It was pleasant. I made some life-long connections and (I hope) friendships with fellow authors and illustrators. I learned some valuable things, and I have a great award to add to my cover letter. I feel any new author would benefit quite a lot from winning this contest and attending the workshop.

I admit this post is in large part prompted by the “scandalous” revelations posted earlier this month by a former winner. They were given a free flight to a book signing, and stayed without charge at a Scientologist-owned hotel, where copies of Dianetics were in the drawers rather than the Bible. Also basically the entire book signing was just tons of Scientologist buying the book en masse.

This is underwhelming, as a scandal. Anyone with any familiarity with the exuberance of cults can only roll their eyes in sardonic amusement.

 

This doesn’t address the issue of the Church of Scientology itself. The Church has a history of abusing the legal system to censor and punish people who speak out against it. I find this morally repugnant, and our legal system should be reformed to fix this. I’m glad that Anti-SLAPP legislation is gaining ground in the country, and I hope there is a strong federal version passed as well. For every act of legal attacks on free speech that the CoS has committed, I hope they suffer righteous punishment.

I do not, however, think that delisting WotF from the SWFA-accepted markets is a good tool for doing that. It basically does nothing to hurt the CoS or deter that sort of legal abuse. It doesn’t help authors either, because as I said above, I believe authors are indeed helped by the contest. It seems the primary purpose of such a move is to make the statement that “We don’t associate with those kinds of people.” I think this is an ugly sentiment. I think it is being applied to CoS only because they are the most visible right now, not because of anything exceptional they’ve done to deserve it. And I believe that if it’s successful, it will simply continue on to the next-most-visible target, because that sort of destructive purity-demonstration always needs another target.

I think SWFA is a great organization, I plan to remain a member, and I hope they refrain from joining in the pettiness.

Aug 152018
 

After interviewing Alexander Wales and Daystar Eld for The Bayesian Conspiracy podcast, I put together a Rational Fiction Online Anthology. It consists of links to nine Rationalist short stories, with brief introductions explaining what aspects of Rat Fic I believe they demonstrate.

The intros aren’t really necessary, these are all really awesome short stories that I think just about everyone will love. But they do provide a bit of a snap shot of just what Rat Fic is.

I hope some people find this cool and/or useful. :)

Shut Up And Do The Impossible: the rational fiction online anthology

Aug 132018
 

A less tech-savvy friend recently needed help uploading a file into a Slack channel. I posted the above pic with a line of explanation. And it occurred to me that a lot of software use, as well as website use, is searching the damned screen for icons that might, conceivably, be useful for what you want to do. Because software nowadays is designed like shit. Everyone wants to be special and look unique and slick, rather than being functional. Take the Slack “+” for example. It breaks both the “looks like a paperclip icon” rule for attachments, and the “is on the right-hand side” rule.

I swear, I thought all those “Find the hidden object in the picture” puzzles from my Highlights magazines was just a way to waste my time as a child, but it looks like they actually taught me the valuable skill of figuring out modern user-interface “design.”

The worst offender is the Ribbon, of course. The team that invented that godless abomination should all have a fingernail ripped out, or spend a full year experiencing 100% sexual rejection; their choice. (Or something just as unpleasant for any asexuals in the group). This monstrosity takes up way too much screen real estate, lacks any sort of organizing sense, has buttons of random sizes scattered everywhere in a way that doesn’t allow your eyes to simply scroll in a straight line, uses arcane short-hand icons rather than words so that as much bullshit junk can be crammed in those boxes as possible, randomly includes drop downs and expansions, doesn’t show any hotkeys by default, and freakin’ changes with forced updates! It looks like a hostile act against info-worker productivity, likely perpetrated as sabotage by Soviet agents!

WTF is this shit

(Flames! Flames, on the side of my face!)

Aug 082018
 

Deepsix, by Jack McDevitt

Synopsis: A crew exploring alien ruins is marooned on a planet about to be destroyed by natural events, and must be rescued by quick seat-of-the-pants engineering both on their part and the support team in orbit.

Book Review: Did you like Apollo 13? Would you like Apollo 13 if it had survival-adventure-archaeology (kinda Indiana Jones-esque) mixed in? Then this is a great book for you!

Tons of fun, LOTS of created engineering/hacking to pull off a rescue, and things constantly going wrong. :) And, importantly to me after the last several books, every chapter feels necessary. There is always something interesting happening! No filler or dragging. This was some of the most fun I’ve had reading in a while.

It’s not a perfect novel. The characterization is either not done, or done poorly. When the over-the-top moustache-twirling villain does a heel-face turn it comes out of the blue, and none of the motivations or implications are explored. He basically feels like two different characters.

The overall view of humanity is one of “everyone is dumb and shitty.” I guess that comes from spending one’s life trying to work in the navy bureaucracy (if what my fellow book clubbers tell me of McDevitt is true).

The novel kinda lives up to the older stereotype of SF authors who are fascinated with ideas and aliens and space and tech, but don’t do people very well.

But none of this matters that much, because the book isn’t really about those things. It’s about exploring cool alien ruins, and amazing planet-smashing set pieces, and genius engineering hacks. It delivers those things with gusto, and for once, I don’t really need much character exploration an angst. The characters work pretty well as humans caught in a shit situation and trying to live through it, and if there’s no time for exploring their inner turmoil, well, it’s all good, we got a planet coming apart and our only surface-to-orbit vessel is demolished!

Recommended.

Book Club Review: Not bad! There would’ve been less to talk about, because you can’t really discuss cool engineering feats all that much in a discussion… there’s only so much to say, I think? Maybe that’s just our group, I can see other groups getting into technical debates on just how plausible something may be. But the weird characterization actually led to a bit of discussion on its own (Just what was McDevitt trying to do with that heel-face turn? And how can he be so down on humanity as a whole, but then portray lots of individual humans as rocking so hard? Is it slightly sexist, or slightly liberated?). I don’t think everyone will love this, but there was conversation to be had, and it was a refreshing change. Recommended.