embrodski

Oct 222017
 

This is both my second Humans Wanted post, AND the position the anthology has reached, so this post’s title does pleasing double-duty.

EDIT: Now #1! Sad it messes up the title symmetry, but happy that it now gets the cool “#1 Best Seller” banner on Amazon. :) See below for details.

The “Humans Wanted” anthology that my most recent short story (“Through The Never“) appeared in, has reached #2 in the Amazon Best Seller list for SF Anthologies! [Edit: #1!]

Amazon is pretty famous for awarding “Best Seller” status like candy in sub-sub-sub-niche markets where selling three copies in a day will make you a best seller. Amazon’s algorithm is still pretty wonky, and anthologies are famous for not having a lot of volume. But “SF Anthologies” isn’t that super-niche, the top 15 at the time this screenshot was taken includes “Machine Learning” by Hugh Howey, a Harlan Ellison collection, and “Stories of your Life” by Ted Chiang. So this is a fairly legit accomplishment!

My best guess for why this happened now – A. Merc Rustad’s story “Longing for Stars Once Lost” just went live on Lightspeed a few days ago, and at the bottom of the Author Spotlight section that goes along with it, they say “Oh, and if you like my Principality Suns storyverse, I have a short story in the Humans Wanted anthology (ed. Vivian Caethe), which I hope you’ll check out.” I believe the spike in sales came soon after.

Of course the anthology is the work of many talented people, including the editor Vivian Caethe! So thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, and extra thanks to Merc for helping to spread the word! I’m super stoked about this sudden good turn. :D

Oct 192017
 

[cw: culture war crap]

Straight White Male was the default Awful Group for most of my adult life. It was the typical term of derision to describe the thoughtless bro-type we all can’t stand, and before I woke up I used it a lot too. Over the past year (maybe two?) I’ve seen it morph to Cis White Male.

I hypothesize there are three reasons for this.

I.

The first is that being Gay no longer is enough to firmly place one on the “oppressed” side of the Oppressor/Oppressed scale. It’s no longer the 50s. Everyone knows someone who’s gay. Dick Cheney supports gay rights, Donald Trump has held up the rainbow flag. The Log Cabin Republicans have been around for a long time. But, most dramatically, Milo Yiannopoulos exists.

Don’t get me wrong, Yiannopoulos is a complete douchebag. He picks on vulnerable people for audiences that love to cheer on a bully. More importantly though, he’s totally gay. He is the archetypal Straight White Male that all other Straight White Males are stereotypes of, and dammit, he isn’t straight. This decoupling of “Social Justice Virtue” from “Gay” has been building for a long time, but Yiannopoulus was the nail gun that sealed that coffin up tight.

II.

It turned out as more and more people came out that there’s a lot of ways to be gay. So many ways, in fact, that you can’t reliably tell if someone is gay or not just by observing them. Sure, there’s some stereotypical looks and behaviors. But you can’t really ever be SURE that someone is gay unless you ask them. It got to be that you couldn’t call ANYONE a Straight White Male if you didn’t know them personally (and fairly well), because that all-American quarter back or that manly oil rig worker could be completely gay. The darn genderqueer and non-binary people didn’t make things any easier–they might have high heels and nail polish and be totally straight! If you can’t quickly determine if someone is a Straight White Male or not, the term loses a lot of it’s attack power.

III.

Finally, homosexuality is no longer a good signal. A good signal is hard to fake, normally by being costly.

Homosexuality is super easy to fake. You don’t have to have sex with anyone, because it ain’t no one’s damn business who you sleep with. All those gay kids who are still in the closet and have never had sex with, or even kissed someone of the same gender–are you saying they aren’t gay? Very unwoke of you. All that one has to do to BE gay is to IDENTIFY as gay.

And identifying as gay is sooooo easy. Almost no one is on the extreme ends of the Kinsey scale. Have you (as a guy, since all Straight White Males must be Male) ever fantasized about a guy? Thought “man… I would totally sleep with Johnny Depp if given the opportunity” (or insert pretty celebrity of your choice, I’m obviously dating myself with the Depp reference)? That’s good enough to be slightly gay. Have you kissed a guy, just to try it, and didn’t retch in disgust? That’s enough to claim freedom from the yoke of “Straight White Male.” You are at least a little bit gay.

Heck, the person you’re attracted to doesn’t even have to be a male-presenting guy. There’s tons of really hot feminine guys. My first guy-crush was on Kenshin, I didn’t realize he was a guy until 5 episodes in (missed the first one where it was spelled out), and then realized I didn’t really care, cuz he’s feminine and it’s femininity I’m attracted to. So if you’re a guy, attracted to feminine people, but aren’t freaked the hell out by your feminine partner having a penis, well shit, you can claim the label of “gay” or “gayish” if you want to, and those who say otherwise are the real bigots.

People didn’t used to do this, because being openly gay was costly. It’s not anymore. Gayness is no longer a good signal because it’s broad enough of a term to encompass almost anyone who wants to claim it, and there’s no penalty for claiming it.

III.

So a replacement was needed for the “Straight” in “Straight White Male.” Fortunately, trans-visibility has become really big nowadays.

Which, first of all, thank goodness. I say this in complete seriousness. Trans rights are important, and they’ve been neglected for a long time.

But in terms of signaling and tribalism, replacing Straight with Cis was also the logical step. Being trans is much more definitive than being gay, and is pretty costly. It’s also hard to be “slightly” trans so that one can claim non-Cis status. Even being genderqueer or non-binary is fairly costly in many situations.

Also, Cis is easy to say and follows the asthetically-pleasing sound scheme of “Straight White Male.” “Cis White Male” has a similar mouth feel, possibly a better one, and can be said derogatorily very easily.

So, success. The group that is most deserving of hate is once again easily singled out, and any individual you meet can quickly and easily be placed into it (or out), with very little chance of escaping. I may not be a Straight White Male, but I’m definitely a Cis White Male, and good luck getting out of that pigeonhole. I guess it was nice to think I was out of Most Hated status for a while, even if it was illusory.

 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Change my circle of peers. I have, for the most part, but it’s still frustrating how many otherwise-good people I like that I have to keep at the margins because of this. /sigh

Oct 162017
 

The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross

Synopsis: A modern, snarky take on the Lovecraft mythos that combines IT geekery, eldritch horrors, and James Bond.

Book Review: Most of my readers are likely already familiar with the Laundry Files series, because it’s basically aimed directly at us. Modern humor, lots of tech-culture feel and computer geek in-jokes (due to magic being a branch of applied mathematics), all the Lovecraft references you can shake a stick at, etc. It’s like if the Buffy TV series was written by someone even nerdier and very well read in Lovecraft. Also Stross wrote “Accelerando,” which is a staple of the rationalist fiction reader’s diet.

But hey, maybe like me, you haven’t had a chance to get to The Jennifer Morgue yet. So here we go!

If you like the things I mentioned above (Buffy, snark, Lovecraft, tech culture humor), you’ll likely enjoy this. Charles Stross writes well, and he’s obviously having a lot of fun while putting in solid work!

The most frustrating part of The Jennifer Morgue is that it’s written in the style of a James Bond novel. I’m not sure why exactly Stross decided to do this, maybe just as an exercise for himself? At times it’s fun, but more often than not it gets in the way. It’s introduced via a clunky “invoking narrative magic” way, which immediately reminded me of placebomancy from Unsung. But in Unsong, Alvarez used the fact that the universe runs on narrative magic to exploit the fuck out of the universe! It was rationalist-fiction style reality-hacking, and it was hilarious and beautiful. In Jennifer Morgue the protagonist is not allowed to know about it (that’s part of the magic…) and so we don’t get any cool exploits. Instead we get a hand-wave whenever anything dumb happens as “This is because James Bond novels have dumb things like this happening, and the story is required by magic to follow a similar plot arc.” It’s specifically called out a few times, such as when the villain begins monologueing. Which is just lazy. There’s better ways to do that. It feels very much like Stross simply couldn’t take the Bond novel seriously, and kept apologizing for it. IMHO, if you’re gonna write a Bond novel, write a Bond novel! Commit to it. :)

The Bond novel also doesn’t fit the characters very well. The protagonist has to be involved with a femme fatal, but he’s a monogamist in a committed relationship, so we get the kind of sex stuff you see in romance aimed at Puritanical Americans – the protagonist is forced into a hot relationship against their will while secretly enjoying all of it, so the audience can read the salacious bits but still feel like they are chaste and pure in the end because it was out of the protagonist’s control (ala 50 Shades of Grey).

I also both love and hate the ending. I love that there is a really cool twist at the end which makes everything about the book much cooler and better in retrospect. :) But on the other hand, the protagonist passes out as we’re getting to the climax, and then the story jumps to the epilogue.

That’s right, Stross skipped over the climax. He simply didn’t write it. It’s like someone ripped out the last ten pages. W.T.F??

I’m not unhappy that I read this. It really is enjoyable, I laughed several times, and was enraptured in wonder a few times too. I think, however, that other books in the Laundry Files series are probably better than this one. I assume they’ll all have the similar snarky humor, geek culture, and Lovecraft, sown together by a deft writer, but without the hampering James Bond frame. And hopefully including a climax. Slightly Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: In terms of enjoyability, this is a pretty good book for groups. It’s solid fun. But in terms of things to talk about, there really isn’t too much to spark conversation, and that’s how I rate these things. We chatted about the book for a while, shared some high points and some complaints, and then moved on to other topics. The reading is good, but there isn’t all that much to really dig into, discussion-wise. Unless your entire reading group is The Target Audience and you feel you’d all love this thing, probably Not Recommended.

Oct 102017
 

[cw: death, suffering, mention of torture]

There’s an argument made by wild-animal welfare EAs that bothers me. It points to the fact that nearly all deaths in nature are horrible. Torn apart by predators, or eaten from inside by parasites, or starving to death. This near-100%-level of torturous death is supposed to be a reason to be against allowing wildlife to continue in its current (“natural”) state.

Immediately I think of the deliberate torture-deaths humans have inflicted on each other in history. And as disgusting and stomach-churning as they are, I always think “at least the victims will never remember or feel that pain, after the minutes/hours of horror are over.” It is a small mercy, but really… once someone is dead, the pain doesn’t matter to them anymore.

In fact, once any pain is passed, the pain itself doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve gone through two surgeries with very painful recovery periods. I distinctly remember thinking “This is horrific. I can’t take this pain. Please, someone make it stop.” But just a few days after it was over, the memory was fading. Today I literally can’t remember the pain at all. I only remember having hated it.

The real disutility of pain comes from the after-effects. The loss of physical ability, in the case of crippling injury. The humiliation and fear of additional pain, in case of attacks by others. The psychological trauma, that continues to haunt for years afterwards. But in cases where these don’t apply, the pain is basically valueless once it has passed. Ask someone who’s had a corrective surgery with good consequences. Ask someone who’s given birth.

The kind of pain that matters is the pain that lingers. The depression that hurts you every single day of your life and won’t get better. The lasting injury that causes you pain every time you put weight on your left ankle.

The pain that you feel at death is pain that cannot linger, because there is no one left to feel it. It’s still horrific while it’s happening, but once it’s over it doesn’t have any lasting effects.

And since the pain of death is the least lasting, and thus least important sort of pain, I find it to be basically valueless to determining if a life was worth living. I discount claims that deaths in nature are painful and horrific, so we should intervene. I would base any opinion on the necessity of intervention on how the pain/pleasure balance comes out through out an animal’s life *leading up to* the death itself. If the majority of a life is basically non-torturous, with food-finding games, and feasting when finding a major score, and the comfort of familiar animals/settings, punctuated with exciting flights from danger and occasional bouts of sickness or hunger… well, that’s not necessarily a bad life.

(Of note, none of these arguments apply to factory farming, which gives animals a life of torture in awful conditions.)

Maybe non-domesticated animals do, in general, have awful lives. But it probably varies by species and even by location, and would require actual metrics and research. Simply pointing out that their deaths are painful doesn’t sway me at all.

Oct 082017
 

I didn’t want to go see Blade Runner 2049.

I saw it has Harrison Ford in it, and it shouldn’t. There’s always been a large contingent of people who are adamant that Deckard is a replicant, and that this is what makes the first Blade Runner so good. Which is also why one shouldn’t watch the Theatrical Release, because that has a voice-over which basically asserts “He’s totally human.”

I don’t think it matters if Deckard is a human or a replicant, but I despise the Theatrical Release if it does assert things one way or the other (haven’t actually seen it, myself). The implication that he could be is what is important. It works so well because it doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t… even if he’s not a replicant, he might as well be. Social isolation and official mediation of experience have brought him to the point where he only exists as far as the system says he does. Reality is out of his control. Which goes hand in hand with Phillip K Dick’s general philosophy and is a theme in a number of his works. So, yeah, a version which steamrolls that to say “NOPE, DEFINITELY HUMAN!” is kinda missing the whole point.

And then I saw that an old Harrison Ford is in Blade Runner 2049. Bleh. So I simply wasn’t going to watch it. The original Blade Runner is one of the best movies ever made, IMO. We’re approaching an infinite number of forgettable sequels and remakes that should simply be considered non-canon by anyone who cares about artistic integrity. This would be just another one of those, and I’d treat it as such. Bite me, Hollywood.

And then I kept hearing how amazing BR2049 is. /sigh. Fine. Went to see it. Still had some reservations, but also some hope.

Visually it is stunning. Literally worth it to go see it for the visuals alone. And the music accompaniment is perfect. This movie has atmosphere and style galore. So very beautiful.

BR2049’s biggest failing is the villain. I *love* fiction where I find the villain sympathetic. Where I honestly can say that if I was in the villains position, I would do exactly what they had done. Roy Batty is a fucking masterpiece, and I love him, and I kinda wish he’d won Blade Runner, except then it wouldn’t be a tragedy, would it? The villain in 2049 is ridiculously one-dimensional and stupid. Like, so, soooo stupid. “Allow me to put you in an easily escapable situation while I leave you unwatched, Mr. Bond” levels of stupid. So, that kinda annoyed me.

The story’s alright. It tries hard. And it provides a good framework for the beautiful visuals. It feels a lot like late-90s anime actually. Come to think of it, I think that’s a fantastic analogy. Gorgeous, a plot that is earnest if flawed, and one glaring bad note.

All in all, BR2049 is one of the best animes I’ve seen. It’s no Blade Runner, but then again, what is? Totally worth 3 hours of my life, I like it.

Oct 072017
 

I was recently selected as a winner of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest (2Q, 3rd place)! In addition to a nice cash prize and future publication, this is a fairly well-regarded award for new SF writers, because the organization hires well-known SF authors to act as the final judges. The combination of these two factors leads SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to count it as a qualifying professional market.

After Asimov’s and Analog, that makes my third sale to a pro market. Which means… I’m now a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America!! :D This has been a dream of mine for ages, I count SFWA membership as my personal mark of “being legit.” Woooo!!!

Oct 052017
 

Three months? Ack, I’ve fallen behind again.

 

An interesting take on the sabbath.
“On my first solo two-night camping trip, I forgot to bring a backup battery to charge my laptop or phone…I mostly kept my phone turned off. Very quickly, I started being able to think about aspects of my situation that had been too overwhelming, too in motion, to get leverage on the day before. Because I wasn’t dealing with them. I wasn’t keeping up with anything. I was just present, where I was. I wished I’d done this years ago.

And then I realized: if I had keeping a Sabbath, it wouldn’t have taken years to take a step back from social momentum. I’d have gotten a chance within seven days of noticing that there was a problem. And seven days later, another chance, and so on.

One more useful attribute of the Jewish Sabbath is the extent to which its rigid rules generate friction in emergency situations. If your community center is not within walking distance, if there is not enough slack in your schedule to prep things a day in advance, or you are too poor to go a day without work, or too locally isolated to last a day without broadcast entertainment, then things are not okay.”

 

To quote a friend: Trump is taking a harder line against NFL players kneeling during the national anthem than a neo-nazi driving a car into a crowd. >:(

 

This is so good it brought tears to my eyes. So much <3 for TNG

Oh shit, this is how Silicon Valley works? Can anyone I know in start-up culture corroborate? It sounds like a bad way to do business. But on the plus side, also sounds fun and exciting from my POV. :)

“everyone gets caught in a meta-reputational meta-signaling trap that allocates resources extremely poorly and forces founders to focus solely on activities that can help them raise funds until the point where they have to get ready to approach the actual stock market, and thus need to build a real company. Deviating from this plan gets you punished on multiple meta-levels.”

 

Holy Crap. This is powerful and amazing. Notes on an Imagined Plaque. Strongly recommend it, even tho I know listening to stuff is a pain.

 

No matter what the context, we sexualize male touch. We do it automatically.
As a result, it has become every man’s job to prove they can be trusted, in each and every interaction, day by day and case by case. In part, because so many men have behaved poorly. And so, we prove our trustworthiness by foregoing physical touch completely in any context in which even the slightest doubt about our intentions might arise. Which, sadly, is pretty much every context we encounter.”

 

This is admirable as hell! In Durham, crowds stood in line to turn themselves in for the crime of tearing down a Confederate statue

 

Me, listening to Hamilton: Wow, they did a great job making King George the abusive boyfriend. I hate him now.
Me, watching Hamilton: OMG, King George is the best, I see why people stay with abusive boyfriends now.

 

Zvi argues that value drift has estranged the movement from its Mission.

“The rationalists took on Berkeley, and Berkeley won. … This is taking many of the people most capable of saving the world, and putting them in a culture focused instead on better living.”

 

See screen cap on left. This goes for traitors and slavers as well. Tear down every monument to Confederate generals, rename every street, rededicated every building. No worship of inhumanity.
(via due process tho. Seriously, no vigilantism)

 

You know all those NFL owners standing side-by-side with their kneeling players? That is good, and I am happy to see it. But Colin Kaepernick, the courageous man who started this movement, still hasn’t been signed by any of those NFL owners. Time to start putting your money where your mouth is, guys.

 

Oh shit, shots fired. American Apparel is testing shoppers with identical “Made in America” vs. foreign-made clothes. I think American Apparel is making the wrong argument though. The “buy American” issue is a moral issue for those who make it, so even if most people decide not to pay extra to buy American, that only reveals that most people are immoral (again, to those who make this argument). For example, if most people would choose to reinstitute slavery, that doesn’t mean it isn’t immoral. Or substitute “burning carbon” or whatever.

 

The idea that children are individual human beings should not feel like a radical notion

 

Here’s what Time put in its headline: Charles Koch Says US Can Bomb Its Way to $100,000 Salaries. Here’s what Charles Koch actually said:

“I think we can have growth rates in excess of 4%. When I’m talking about growth rates, I’m not talking about that GDP, which counts poison gas the same as it counts penicillin. What a monstrous measure this is. If we make more bombs, the GDP goes up — particularly if we explode them.”

Even Time fucking Magazine?? >< Goddammit, there is already plenty of good reason to hate the Koch’s, why go out and fucking lie for no reason??

 

Outside of existential threats, this is the most important thing facing our society right now. It is the most disruptive technological change we’ve seen in our generation, and it’s wreaking havoc. This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit

“The knowledge of how to reliably hijack the human brain for attention is one of the most significant new trends of the 21st century. This discovery, like every large-scale invention in our history, has unexpected outcomes that are difficult to predict.

If we wish to continue to live in a common reality, we must be willing to look at these outcomes with a clear head. Addressing our biggest issues as a species — from climate change, to pandemics, to poverty — requires us to have a common narrative of the honest problems we face: Real threats. Real reasons for outrage.

Without this, we are undermining our greatest strength — our unique ability to cooperate and share the careful and important burdens of being human.”

 

After eight years, I finally opened the owner’s manual and made my car’s auto-unlock feature unlock ALL the doors when I put it in park. Shoulda done this years ago. Procrastination will damn us all!

 

The birth of meta-fiction :)

 

“Eco-consumerism may expiate your guilt. But it’s only mass movements that have the power to alter the trajectory of the climate crisis.” “Neoliberalism has not merely ensured this agenda is politically unrealistic: it has also tried to make it culturally unthinkable.”

The headline is Neoliberalism has conned us into fighting climate change as individuals. I disagree that it’s neoliberalism to blame, but it’s certainly a thing that’s happening. I wince whenever I see one of my friends beating themselves up for not washing out and recycling every tiny damn jar. Their attention is being misdirected so the real levers are completely ignored.

 

How A Reader’s Feminist Critique Changed My Sci-Fi Novel. So heartwarming that I got shivers of frisson at the end.

 

Corvids continue their ascension! Ravens Are So Smart, One Hacked This Researcher’s Experiment. Still unsure if we should be encouraging this or wiping them out preemptively. I hope to live long enough to see this become an actual issue ^^

Sep 292017
 

This meme confused me greatly when I first saw it, but now that Russian involvement is confirmed, it finally makes sense! Allow me to explain.
I had a VERY hard time figuring out which side of the debate this meme is endorsing.

1. Captain America in the current MCU is definitely a liberal. At first I got the impression that it was pro-SJ, because Cap is awesome (and liberal) and everyone wants to be like him. Also, the top picture doesn’t really make any sense. Everyone sits while watching football. So I basically ignored it and read “You are supportive of football players sitting” from the bottom picture, as that’s a very reasonable parsing of that sentence, especially with a celebratory, awesome Cap America pic just above it!

2. But the top pic is obviously supposed to be important in some way. Upon further thought I got the impression that it was a sarcastic anti-SJ thing, saying “You think you’re Cap America, but really you’re just a social media wanker posting SJW stuff and not doing anything of substance. Sitting on your ass like every other slacktavist, instead of doing something.”

3. But THEN I had the “read as sarcasm” filter on, and the bottom pic came into different focus. Now I think it means “Oh, so it’s a sarcastic anti-Trumper thing, saying THEY think they’re an alt-universe Right Wing Cap America, even tho they don’t even stand up for the pledge at home?”

In terms of clarity, this meme is garbage (as per above). In terms of accuracy, it’s also garbage. It assumes people are supposed to stand for the anthem playing in a stadium when they’re watching from their living rooms? And that Captain America is Right Wing? And that the athletes are “sitting” rather than “kneeling”? None of that makes a bit of sense. UNLESS! You are a professional Russian Troll without any real-world access to American Culture, and who gets all your impressions of Americans via stereotypes, 3rd-hand news, and pirated movies.

It’s entirely possible that a Russian Troll might assume Americans stand for the pledge in their living room, based on the crazy shit they’ve seen in the news over the past week. They don’t know enough about the subtleties of the American political climate to realize that Cap America, as portrayed by Hollywood and Marvel, is Left Wing. They just think of him as an UberPatriot draped in The Flag, which pattern-matches very nicely to Right Wing in shallow political discourse. And they could easily swap sitting for kneeling if they weren’t paying attention and didn’t realize the emotional distinction.

Also, it is targeted at “You.” When I first saw it thought “Screw you buddy, I don’t even WATCH football.” But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? The Russians don’t care about accuracy, they don’t care about targeting their criticism at the people who actually deserve it. They want to enrage as many people as possible, so “you” works perfectly. And bringing in a symbol like Cap America that both sides like works to anger more people. And the sarcasm works to infuriate as many people as possible.

This is a pretty good meme if your only purpose is to anger the maximum amout of people as indiscriminately as possible. It is designed to be divisive. To splinter social groups, to drive wedges between friends, and to make everyone miserable and worse off. Don’t fall into Putin’s lap. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

(to summarize: I hope everyone starts seriously considering that all anti-X memes may be the work of hostile outside interests hoping to maximize internal strife, and thus thinking twice or thrice before sharing or responding.)

Sep 282017
 

Dangerous Visions, editted by Harlan Ellison

Synopsis: One of the best-known and most-praised anthologies in Science Fiction.

Book Review: Well now. This was interesting.

Every anthology is a wide variety of hits and misses, and what hits and what misses will vary from reader to reader. Also, it’s been nearly 50 years since this was first published, and the world has changed significantly. But all in all, reading this, I had no idea why this anthology was a big deal. Every single story was either a Tomato Surprise – a short setup with a Gotcha Twist at the end, ala Twilight Zone; or else a story that went nowhere and did nothing and honestly isn’t really a story at all, it’s just an interesting world-building idea without any legs.

Which is weird, because it won so many awards. Stories from this collection won Hugos for Best Novella and Best Novelette, and a Nebula for Best Short Story. So I’ll touch on those three.

Best Short Story winner was “Aye, and Gomorrah…” is written with a lot of soul, as one would expect from Delany. The prose is elegant, and it leaves you with a melancholy feeling of loneliness. But the plot can be summarized as “Some people are asexual, and some other people fetishize asexuals.” I guess that saying this 50 years ago was a big deal, but… it’s not anymore. I kept expecting some sort of character development or plot movement, but there was none.

Best Novelette was “Gonna Roll the Bones.” It had very compelling visual descriptions, and great emotional action, centering around a gambler with amazing skills going up against Death (or possibly the Devil). But, again, nothing happens. It’s exciting while you read it, but there’s no there there. Also, it turns out in the end that It Was All A Dream. So why did I even bother reading it?

Best Novella was “Riders of the Purple Wage,” and BOY do I have mixed feelings about this one. The prose is lurid and beautiful and really just to die for. OMG so pretty. It’s got the borderline schizophrenic quality that puts the whole world out of tilt, which I loved so much when I read Vellum. It is like James Joyce, except with a purpose and drive, instead of just literary masturbation. I was in love with this for the first half.

And it portrays a post-scarcity society where yeah, OK, most people just sit around and watch TV, but there are some bright parts to it, some people working to improve the human race. Except… the further you read, the less that looks to be the case. EVERYONE is a jerk-off doing nothing except squandering their lives. Everyone is incompetent, immature, and nasty. It’s humanity at its most petty and distasteful. Our protagonist is supposed to be one of the exceptions, actually pursuing something of value. But then a girl he barely knows refuses to be his personal baby-incubator, and he gets so pissed off that he sexually assaults her with a spermicide container. This sexual assault goes on for PAGES, and it’s played for laughs. She says later that she was unable to walk without pain for over a week, and the whole assault is written as a nearly slap-stick comedy. I guess back in that era most people still thought that a husband threatening to pummel his wife was hilarious, so why should this be different? Damn it left me with such a sick taste in my mouth. THIS is the best of humanity? We, the reader, were being invited to view all humans as the worst sort of Jerry Springer guests, and to laugh at their lower-class mouth-breathing idiocy. Even just talking about it infuriates me.

Anyway, not all stories were that bad, but many of them were. Either just plain bad as stories, or grossly misogynistic or misanthropic. So what’s the deal?

The SF historian of our group let us know what the deal was. Before this, there was only one type of SF. The straight Golden Age narrative. Great Men do Great Things. Whether via Science or Integrity or some other High Virtue, the straight-laced protagonist advances through adversity and rescues humanity. There wasn’t much literary artistry, the plots were fairly simple, the morality was fairly simple, and the whole genre was viewed as inferior tripe by the literati. Very much the way most people roll their eyes and snicker nowadays when they talk about Fan Fiction.

In the 60s this had started to change. Borders were being pushed. Exciting new ideas were being explored. The prose was moving from “functional” to “beautiful”, at least among those writers who were into that sort of thing.

But the Old Guard were unhappy with this sort of change. And the outside world still held their noses. The stimga of simplistic Flash Gordon-style fiction was hard to shake.

So Harlan Ellison put out “Dangerous Visions” partly as a big “Fuck You” to everyone who thought SF couldn’t do experimental, beautiful, and uncomfortable things. It had prose to rival anything Lit Fic had on tap. It had stories that didn’t do much, except show off what COULD be done. It was a display of literary showmanship. Whenever someone was confronted with “Ugh, you read that childish tripe? Why don’t you read real literature?” they could point to this anthology and say “Read this you sonovabitch, and update your decrepit old opinions!”

It serves that purpose well. But it’s also a weapon that was used in a fight that’s half a century in our past. It’s not very relevant to the present day, and the world has moved on to such a point that much of it is unpalatable. As a foundation of the growth of my genre, a herald of what SF can do, I have tons of respect for this anthology. I acknowledge and appreciate the work my elders have done to get us to were we are. “The Shoulders of Giants,” etc. I’m thankful for this anthology, and the battles it fought.

That being said, if you are into SF history and retracing our progression – sure, Recommended. For any other purpose (general reading, etc) – Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Every year after we finish reading the Hugo shorts, we say “This was really fun, and quite different! We should do it more often!” And this year we finally did! It was great to switch things up with short stories, rather than a novel. We’re glad we did this, and the shake up to the format was welcome.

The anthology itself led to a fair bit of conversation. Everyone liked different things, and recommended different stories. I’m going to go back and read several that I had skipped in the interest of time (and due to being kinda disgusted and disinterested in the anthology as a whole). There was a fair bit of comparison of notes (“You liked X? WTF, pls explain why, that’s crazy!”), as well as the excitement of bringing something cool you found to the attention of others. And we got to talk about both the growth of SF, and the changes in society overall.

Still, I’m not sure this anthology really fits an SF reading group, unless everyone there is OK with horror. I would’ve been more prepared for some of this crap if it had been marketed as a horror anthology. Seriously, lots of sexual violence. And in almost every case, no real pay off for it. :/ Unless your group is really sure – Not Recommended.