Oct 022018
 

Any synopsis would be spoilery. These are books 2 and 3 of Terra Ignota. If you liked Too Like The Lightning (book 1 of Terra Ignota), you will continue to like these. They’re really good. If you haven’t read any yet, see my post on Too Like The Lightning, or my interview with Ada Palmer.

This review kinda contains some spoilers, in a general sense, but nothing that isn’t already strongly telegraphed in the first book.

The more I read about today’s Culture Wars, the more I see Terra Ignota in everything around me. When I started Too Like The Lightning, I thought this was a wonderfully built future world. Fabulously imagined, meticulously built up in many layers across wide domains, and incredibly imaginative. Now I read it and I think “Holy fucking shit, this is the world we are living in right now, with the skin changed so that observations on the current day can be made through metaphor.” And yes, I know that all fiction is contemporary. I know that SF/F has been used since its very first works to actually be conversations about pressing current-day issues that pretends to be fanciful so it can say things one couldn’t say otherwise. But it still startled me just how insightful these works are when I woke up to what was happening around me.

The hives are our cultural tribes taken to their fullest extreme. One of our great problems today is that our geographic nations rule greatly disparate cultural tribes under a single government, binding them all with laws that are morally unacceptable to every one of them (although which laws it is are that are morally unacceptable differs from group to group, so everyone despises some thing, but never the same thing, and often what one group considers morally abominable is a moral requirement of others!). This leads to constant struggle to seize power and rewrite the laws (and norms) binding everyone, and thus The Culture Wars. This is exactly the situation in the Terra Ignota series, except they’ve found a way to prevent anyone from having to live under laws they find morally abhorrent. Problem solved!

Except not really, because all this did was paper over the problem and tell everyone it’s fixed, so we should all ignore it. The root cause, the incompatibility of the cultures, is still present. It continues to cause social strife and conflict, so that it can only be averted by a global regime of full surveillance and preventative assassination.

Let’s also take a moment to admire how Palmer included the parallel social construct of suppressing all gender expression. She says on more than one occasion, both within the books themselves, and in interviews, that she is portraying a society that went post-gender badly. Instead of resolving the sex divide, everyone simply agreed to remove any acknowledgement of gender and pretend this fixed the problem. It leads to deep pathologies within society, as well as individual defenselessness to sexual desires and sexual predators. This is the exact same tactic that was used to “resolve” the culture wars. I didn’t realize it while reading the novels, but in retrospect it’s so obvious it’s blinding. Palmer is yelling “Hey, society! Stop burying problems and pretending they don’t exist! Actually solve this shit!!”

She seems to be less than hopeful as to what will happen to us if we don’t. The society of Terra Ignota is descending into full civil war. A vicious, terrible war, because there are no borders, and thus there is no place that is safe. Every combatant lives interspersed with the enemy at all times. There’s a lot of people in the US worried that we’re heading for a Civil War II. We would find ourselves in the same situation. Sharing our grocery stores, our subways, and our neighborhoods with filthy Alt-Righters, Social Justice Activists, Rationalists, etc.

I also want to take a moment to highlight how damned prophetic Palmer is. She started writing this series in 2008. 2008!!! When I heard that I asked “Waitaminit… you were already writing the post-gender They/Them world in 2008? I know I haven’t been on college campuses in quite a while, but that seems really freakin’ early! I’m not totally out of touch, and this has only been a thing for a few years now. Was this already a thing where you were in 2008?” She replied, with some exasperation, “No! It came out in 2016 and people were all ‘oh, she’s jumping on this gender bandwagon’ but I totally want credit for coming up with it way before that!” And first of all – mad props to her for just that. But think about what she’s done. Combining historical insights and the subtle interactions she saw building in the world around her in 2008, she created a world that reflected the most pressing cultural issues of ten years in the future before any of us were even near that stage. Back when we were still freaking out about the worldwide financial collapse and catching Bin Laden. I know it’s partly luck, but even so, it’s damned prescient. I am honestly shocked.

And as frustrating as it must be to have your book in limbo for years before it finally makes it to print, I think it may have been a boon in this case. Five years ago, we didn’t know this was the world we were living in. It may not have made this same impact, and drawn this much attention.

Or who knows, maybe it would have. Maybe we could have more clearly seen what was coming, and been better able deal with its unpleasant surprises. I don’t think most people are quite that insightful. I certainly wouldn’t have been. Hell, I didn’t even fully realize what was happening when I read these two books a few months ago.

If you are at all interested in the world around you, or how truly exceptional SF can be more historically relevant than anything in the New York Times: Highly Recommended.

(added: a few hours after I wrote this, I discovered Ada has launched a Kickstarter to fund a lecture & discussion series on Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions, should you be interested in that as well)


Sep 282018
 

I saw this driving in to work. I will say that it’s really disheartening that the term “geoengineering” is already starting to get baggage!

Petrov Day Shenanigans. To quote a friend: “Seattle, in the midst of confusion stemming from a technical malfunction, launched an unprovoked (pretend) nuclear strike against Oxford. This attack resulted in the senseless, fiery death of Oxford’s cake, but perhaps we can find wisdom among charred, frosting-strewn rubble”

From post:  “I think this is highly illustrative of the real point of Petrov Day, which is that we treat nukes way too lightly and make it far too easy to kill other humans even when no harm was intended on anyone’s part.”

 

Software disenchantment. “Look around: our portable computers are thousands of times more powerful than the ones that brought man to the moon. Yet every other webpage struggles to maintain a smooth 60fps scroll on the latest top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. I can comfortably play games, watch 4K videos but not scroll web pages? How is it ok?
…Google Inbox, a web app written by Google, running in Chrome browser also by Google, takes 13 seconds to open moderately-sized emails
…Modern text editors have higher latency than 42-year-old Emacs. Text editors! What can be simpler?
…Windows 95 was 30Mb. Today we have web pages heavier than that! Windows 10 is 4Gb, which is 133 times as big. But is it 133 times as superior? I mean, functionally they are basically the same.”

I know this isn’t the fault of my software developer friends, and is instead a problem with Inadequate Equilibria. But goddamn this just frustrates me soooo much. The world doesn’t have to be this way!

 

Memetic Tribes and Culture War 2.0 is long, but so worth it. A thesis that brings together everything about today’s cultural crisis and explains both its origins and effects. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Here’s just one small part:

“The internet pornifies our private lives, including our political views, leaving nothing to the imagination. When everything is laid bare, respect vanishes, for our proximity exposes all of our ugliness. This manifests in what psychologists call dissimilarity cascades (the more we know about someone, the less we like them) and environmental spoiling (proximity with those we don’t like spoils the environment as a whole).

Mutually exclusive memeplexes, or “mutex” memeplexes, have no distance from one another thanks to the global village. This is the proximity crisis. Good fences make good neighbors, and the power of media has flattened all social fences.”

 

SMBC with a fantastic example of “The Medium is the Message”

 

This song is really good! If you liked “This is America” you’ll probably like this. Her other stuff is also very good.

 

Why PayPal’s crackdown on ASMR creators should worry you. Oh look, FOSTA is being weaponized to enforce misogyny. Who the fuck could’ve seen THAT happening??
/veryangry
Also, fuck 8chan

Modern text “communication” is insane. “How the hell is anyone supposed to communicate and connect through this stupid world of words? Apparently we do it by saying very, very little, and by restricting what we think and share so that it fits this insanely sparse format”

 

My friend Thomas is Kickstarting a new translation of the 2nd century stoic text “The Enchiridion.”

Why for? Stoicism continues to be a popular philosophy, but the last English translation of this text is over 100 years old. This new translation will be written in modern, conversational English. This will not only be easier to understand, it will also be more accurate to the original Koine Greek.

Example given: “consider this line from lesson 40: αἱ γυναῖκες εὐθὺς ἀπὸ τεσσαρεσκαίδεκα ἐτῶν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνδρῶν κυρίαι καλοῦνται.

Previously, this has been translated this as “Women from fourteen years old are flattered by men with the title of mistress.” But this is a very inaccurate and misleading translation! “καλοῦνται” does not mean “flatter”, it means “call”, as in “calling your sheep back to their pen”. Flattering a person has a clearly different connotation than calling an animal. It almost comes across as a positive thing, which is very much not what Epictetus is trying to convey!

Thus a more accurate translation is “Women as young as fourteen are catcalled by men.” This makes much more sense to a modern reader, and is actually applicable to your life – catcalling is still an issue, even eighteen centuries later.”

Also, their final stretch goal will fund an audio book version that will be narrated by me, so there’s that

 

Country pride: what I learned growing up in rural America. All sorts of interesting in here. This is only a small piece of a very varied read:
“Owning a small bit of the countryside brought my father deep satisfaction. The state had seized some of his dad’s farmland through eminent domain in the 1960s to dig the reservoir and move water east in underground tunnels for the people of Wichita. Sometimes Dad would park his truck on the shoulder of the two-lane blacktop that ran along the lake dam and take my brother and me up the long, steep concrete steps to look at what would have been his and then our small inheritance, now literally underwater. We couldn’t use the water ourselves; it was for Wichitans to access by turning on a faucet. We thus had dug a private well right next to a giant reservoir on what once was our land. It’s an old story: pushing poor rural communities out of the way to tap natural resources for cities.”

 

People often say “Sugar is poison” or “Coconut Oil is poison” or etc, for memetic/dramatic effect. But alcohol is perhaps the only thing most people regularly consume that is *ACTUALLY* poison. So every study I’ve ever seen saying that it increases health I have dismissed as wishful thinking/pack of lies. Today I am vindicated.

That being said, I ain’t gonna stop drinking. That can be some really fun poison!

“Numerous peer-reviewed studies found evidence that people who have a drink or two a day are less likely to have heart disease than people who abstain or drink excessively.

But the new study, while noting the lower risks of heart disease from moderate drinking, as well as a dip in the diabetes rate in women, found that many other health risks offset and overwhelm the health benefits. That includes the risk of breast cancer, larynx cancer, stroke, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, interpersonal violence, self-harm and transportation accidents.

“People who report drinking in moderation tend to be very different from people who don’t drink at all. They tend to be a healthier population, they tend to exercise more, they tend to be more affluent, they tend to have more access to health care,” Brewer said.”

In case you’re wondering what the difference is between teetotalers and moderate drinkers, I’ve heard that part of it is that teetotalers include a lot of former alcoholics.

 

“Reducing China’s ocean plastic pollution by 3% would be as valuable as getting the USA all the way down to zero. Also much easier as it just involves scaling up well-understood rubbish collection methods used elsewhere.
If we cared about saving the oceans we’d focus on bringing the countries that pollute the most up to scratch rather than eeeking out the irrelevant incremental gains possible in the USA/EU.
Data source Table 1 and Data Supplement 1: science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768/tab-figures-data

 

 

This is really big for both readers and writers – Walmart and Kobo Launch Walmart eBooks, Including an Audiobook Subscription for $9.99 Wal-Mart is one of the few entities I think could actually compete with Amazon on this. Thank god. We need some competition.

 

Forward Progress! Scientists Just Successfully Reversed Ageing in Lab Grown Human Cells

 

The prison industry is fucking evil. How Florida’s Prisons and DRM Made $11.3M Worth of Prisoners’ Music Disappear

“There is no technical reason why the files can’t be transferred: the decision to prevent prisoners from keeping the music they bought at a steep markup is a purely commercial one

The Florida Department of Corrections is already earning record sums from Jpay, taking a cut every time a prisoner’s family pays to transfer money into the prisoner’s Jpay account. The music-repurchasing bonanza that will follow the Jpay switchover represents an especially lucrative windfall for the department”

 

GOOGLE scrambled to contain leaks and internal anger on Wednesday after the company’s confidential plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China was revealed. TY friends that work at Google, keep fighting the good fight :)

 

Yuppie Fishtanks: YIMBYism explained without “supply and demand”. “Most of the yuppies would probably rather live in the fishtanks. The fishtanks tend to be located downtown, near to where the yuppies work (SoMa, Embarcadero, etc.), rather than in the older residential neighborhoods. Additionally, the fishtanks are pretty and modern and new, with gyms and common space and other stuff yuppies like. Probably more attractive for the average yuppie than an aging Victorian far out in the Mission or Haight with no built-in community or on-site services.

Now if the new fishtank units catch the incoming yuppies and prevent them from invading long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s good!

And if the new fishtank units lure yuppies away from long-time residential working-class neighborhoods, that’s also good!”

 

TIL the origin of the phrase “Terminate with extreme prejudice.” Funnier than I expected.

 

And finally, a reminder that things are getting better.

Sep 252018
 

The last few months I’ve had some time to read a few books outside of book club (*gasp!*), and I’ve decided I might as well post a few thoughts about them. They aren’t full book club reviews, but they’re something.

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow

Synopsis: A society on the edge of breaking into both post-scarcity and transhumanism suffers intense adjustment shocks.

This is an intensely interesting look at the border state of a capitalist society turning into a post-scarcity one, and the potential conflict that could engender as people struggle to make the switch. One might not think it’d be that hard to switch to not laboring for anything once machines can do it, but the values of the work ethic and earning one’s keep can be really hard to transmute into something that doesn’t judge people for not working. The portrayal of a society struggling between such fundamentally opposed ideologies is very compelling, and that alone would be enough to entice me. But on top of all that, the human race starts dipping its toes into transhumanism here, struggling to create/stabilize the first uploaded humans, and that parallel storyline is fascinating as well, if perhaps not as integral to the plot.

Ultimately, this is an idea-novel. It has a lot of big ideas it wants to talk about, and it wraps those within an interesting storyline about rebellion and growth. The story works well enough, but it’s not the main attraction, and I could tell that in the reading. There are many occasions where characters monologue or dialog about ethics or economics (and usually both). It’s basically transhumanist punk message fic. Which is fine with me, I enjoy message fic! :) I really enjoyed Atlas Shrugged, and The Golden Compass, and several of John C Wright works, and so on. I consider message fic to be both fun, inspiring, and motivational, even when I disagree with the message! Assuming that it’s well done message fic. Walkaway isn’t as well done as the ones I’ve named, but it’s still pretty darn good. Recommended.

As a note, this book is heavily inspired by the post-scarcity community at Burning Man. Doctorow attends at least sometimes (I got the book from him there in 2017, when he gave me an audio version on USB), and if you’ve been before you’ll recognize a lot of the ethos, as well as great heaps of the jargon! It provided me with a sense of familiarity. Although it also meant I was constantly visualizing everyone in the Nevada desert rather than the Canada wilds. At least, up until the blizzards became a plot point.

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)