At Wiscon!

I’m at Wiscon!

You can follow me on Instagram

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or Twitter

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for updates.

Or, honestly, MUTE me there if you don’t want to hear about the convention! Mute is your *friend*.

My Tumblr will be doing queued posts, mostly. I might post here if I get really inspired, but it’s not likely.

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Links are thoughtful and interested in stories

We Are Not Things: Mad Max versus Game of Thrones

SPOILERS FOR BOTH

“Some folks will say — okay, there are topics and subjects you can’t write about. Which is nonsense, obviously. Everything is the domain of fiction. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted. It must be, for fiction to maintain its teeth. Fiction only has meaning when everything is permissable. Rape and sexual assault is one such topic — some will say it’s off the table. Which again: it can’t be off the table. That’s a very good way to ensure silence around the subject, isn’t it? Saying you can’t speak about it in fiction is adjacent to saying you can’t speak about it for real, which is already a problem that doesn’t need worsening by made-up rules of fiction.

So, take that subject, and filter it through the lens of Game of Thrones and then Mad Max.”

Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max

SPOILERS HERE, TOO

“There’s a lot of whining about “message fiction” these days, which is bizarre because every story is a “message” story or it wouldn’t be a story. Asking for “stories without messages” makes me think this is code for a steady diet of inane reality TV shows that do actually have their own “message,” which is selling and reinforcing capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo. The reality is that every story is political, and the stories that stick with me best are incredibly and transparently so. There’s a reason we remember Animal Farm, and A Canticle for Leibowitz and 1984. There’s a reason I can’t stop thinking about Parable of the Sower. Post-apocalyptic stories have always had a lot to say about where we’re headed if we don’t right our wrongs. They warn us about our reliance on fossil fuels, our abuse of the environment and where it will lead us. They tell us about the inevitable future we are building by relying on war, and what our continued reliance on slavery as an economic system means to our humanity. Post-apocalypse stories simply do not exist without politics.”

Why We’re So In Love With The End Of The World

“In 2015, the apocalypses have become ground level: uglier, dirtier, more personal. There’s no more sudden, searing flash. Instead, we have the merciless grinds of pandemics, economic collapses, peak oil, peak water. Instead of exploding, of burning out in a perfect instant, we imagine devouring ourselves.”

The Only Ones Puts a Heartbreaking Spin on Dystopia

“The nature of motherhood itself becomes The Only Ones’ overriding theme, and it’s where Dibbell shines the brightest. Inez and Ani settle into a semblance of a normal life, despite the secret that could destroy them both, and their relationship goes through all the standard stages: finding a good school, puberty, teenage rebellion. But it’s underpinned by the tragic truth that only Inez knows. When Ani goes through a typical childhood phase of mimicking everything Inez says, it eerily drives home the point that the two of them share the exact same genetic material, which raises even bigger questions: How much are we products of our parents versus products of our environment? Or is the fault in thinking that we’re products at all?”

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Taking time to look at them

At the moment, my son loves watching Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. He read through all of my collected editions of Locke and Key last week. He asked me to re-download all the episodes of Rachel and Mile XPlain the X-Men so he can listen to them.

My daughter watches dance competition tv shows on YouTube. She loves Batgirl: Year One. We listen to the BBC’s The Conversation on the rides to and from circus.

Her hands are the same size as mine.

My son’s feet are bigger than mine.

I made sure to show them both the new Taylor Swift video for “Bad Blood” yesterday. They both love it.

They play outside together on the trampoline and the hammock. They tell each other ridiculous jokes over lunch, jokes about farts and slapstick.

My daughter is incredibly thoughtful about the pets, and always remembers what they need.

My son is loving cooking for himself and the family, and he even kinda sorta cleans up the kitchen.

I’m going out of town this weekend, for Wiscon. Every year I take two small stuffed Pokemon with me — Munchles and Snorles. I take pictures of the Pokemon and post them so the kids can see.

We all miss each other, when we are away.

They are great kids. I like remembering to take the time to really see them.

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Station Eleven, Empire of Cotton, Wool: Three Intertwined Sort-Of Reviews

I finished reading Station Eleven this weekend. I really enjoyed it. I found the writing to be excellent, and I liked the elegaic tone. (I saw a criticism on Goodreads that, essentially, too much of the world-building was handwaved, or deemed not important enough to think through. That’s a valid point, and if you need the world-building to make extrapolative sense, this novel is Not For You.)

At many points in the novel, characters ponder the ease of things in the pre-apocalypse world. How effortless technology made certain types of production or movement. This made for a fascinating frame of mind when I finished the book and started reading Empire of Cotton.

Empire of Cotton is non-fiction. It is, simply, a global history of cotton manufacture. It covers the last five thousand years, but the majority of the book centers on 1660-1930. It discusses how the growth, harvest, treatment, and manufacture of cotton goods altered the world. And how the needs of the world — SPECIFICALLY the needs of European hegemonic empires (both political and commercial) — altered the production of those cotton goods.

Making cotton cloth used to be done in people’s homes, in their spare moments. It was the putting-out model, in which labor was contracted out to small households in the countryside, and the finished goods were bought by a merchant on contract and sold for a profit, often over extremely long intercontinental trade routes. This was time-consuming and limited. So improvements were made in cotton plants, then in technology, then in trade, and the entire things ended up requiring slavery to work.

The book argues, quite convincingly, that this model — which I was taught was called “mercantile capitalism” — is actually more accurately titled “war capitalism.” It requires exploitation, it requires forced economies, it requires armies.

I also finished reading Wool this weekend. It’s also a post-apocalyptic novel. But, unlike Station Eleven, Wool is ENTIRELY concerned with the means of production. With the costs of labor. With the relationship between workers and managers.

I can’t help thinking about these things, these days. I’m not entirely sure why.

Partially, it’s that I have a growing awareness over the last year that the United States has never stopped being run as a system that exploits a racially-defined caste. And that I benefit from this.

Partially, it’s that I am teaching my kids the mantra that if they can’t figure out how they are buying something on the internet — a fee, or advertising, or a sponsorship — they they are the product being sold.

Partially I am coming to a growing awareness that vast amounts of things in my life are produced far away by people who are treated very poorly and not paid enough and then those things are shipped to me using irreplaceable and polluting fossil fuels — and I don’t know what I want to do about these facts.

Partially it’s that I have learned to cook, and am learning to garden and learning to knit, and these things take TIME. Working out and exercising takes time. Cooking takes time. Knitting takes ohmygod time. Gardening takes time and good weather.

Everything breaks down. Our roof needs new shingles. My filling broke and needed replacing. The check engine light in my car is on. The oak tree might need trimming.

The fragility of things like the global cotton mercantile empire take my breath away. I look at accomplishments like that, like the Mongol mail system, like the building of Stonehenge, and I can’t believe we did it. I can’t believe we made it WORK. Things like that, the odds are so stacked against us. They take so much time, so much effort, they exploit someone, pretty much always, and everything breaks down.

I can’t decide whether my near-tears are due to the majesty of the endeavor, or the destruction such things wreak.

And then I read Wool, and Station Eleven, and I watch Outlander, and I can’t stop thinking about how hard it is to make a single cotton shirt.

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Some days hold magic, some hold dental work

This morning I’m off to get a cracked filling replaced.

Whee!

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The recent film Noah

It’s funny, the unexamined things that stick with you.

I don’t think I’ve thought about the story of Noah and the Flood since, oh, the last time I went to Vacation Bible School in some grade-school summer. Perhaps I thought about when I was reading some popular work of history discussing Mesopotamia, or the possible veracity of the global Bronze Age flood myth.

I certainly haven’t devoted any time to cataloging my presuppositions about the Flood. Yet, as I watched the recent movie adaptation Noah (the one with Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson,) I found myself checking off my assumptions as if on a list.

I’d always conceived of the flood story as taking place in a pseudo-historical time. Layered with legend, certainly, but grounded in a real time and place.

Bronze Age, check.
Middle East, check. (Though not the deserts of today — the scrubby arable land and small forests that archaeology has revealed to us.)
Small city-state kingdoms, check.
Some sort of climactic water-related event that caused considerable damage, check. (Not blanketing the globe, of course. But something that showed in the historical and archaeological records.)

On top of this real-world event is placed the story of Noah, with its allegory and legend and lessons for a small religious minority eking out a living on the edges of the known world.

Or …

Or we could have the movie version of Noah, which is straight-up SF/F.

Industrial global empires? Um, sure. Check.
Walking, talking demonic-form fallen angels who perform heavy labor? Why not? Check.
Magical powers? Check.
Post-apocalyptic Tank-Girl-style wastelands? :throws hands in the air: I give up, sure, check, why not??

See, the thing the makers of this movie realized, which I had not considered, is that IF the Flood narrative is 100% accurate, then you can put ANY SORT OF THING before it. Unicorns. Laser turrets. Yoda-I-mean-Methusalah’s use of the Force. Massive industrial cities buried in deserts. ANYTHING YOU WANT. Because the entire point is, God wipes all of that away as if it never existed, and Noah starts again.

So why not make it a sprawling SF/F action pic? Why not?

It’s … it’s not a terrible movie. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. (The gender politics and roles ARE terrible, I must say. Ugh, and double ugh. And there are no people of color in all the empires of the world, apparently. (I can’t tell which is worse — not having any people of color, or making the descendants of Cain all evil PoC.)) The special effects are pretty neat, the acting is decent. And I was kept entertained by noticing all the weird setting decisions. Like, full-face welding masks used by blacksmiths.

:shrugs:

Your mileage may vary, and I can’t exactly recommend the movie, but I will say it is probably nothing like you were thinking when you saw the title, “Noah.”

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What I read this past week

The lack of female genitals on statues seems thoughtless until you see it repeated

“Patriarchy has tried to erase imagery of the feminine since time immemorial. Destroy the image and you can control the narrative. Easter was appropriated from the pagans celebrating the return of Astarte. Before her, the fertility goddess Inanna descended to the underworld not to rescue her beloved male companion but to extend her own power; she banished her husband there in order to return to earth. Even the Venus of Willendorf has a vulva.

Yet, somewhere along the line, the vulva became synonymous with the obscene.”

The Engineer’s Lament: Two ways of thinking about automotive safety

“Toyota’s engineers approached the problem armed with the two concepts that define the engineer’s world: tolerances and specifications. A system’s tolerance is its ability to cope with changes and unplanned variation; systems need to be tolerant because you can never perfectly predict what stresses and unexpected behaviors they will encounter. Specifications are constraints. No one tells you to build a perfect car. People tell you to build a car in eighteen months that will sell for twenty-five thousand dollars. The fact that a car is revealed to be imperfect, in other words, is not sufficient reason to recall it: imperfections and compromises are inevitable. The issue is how tolerant the car is of those imperfections and compromises.”

RED CARPET RUNDOWN: THE 2015 MET GALA

“But the idea of a “Chinese” red carpet is trickier still. One can, eventually, hope to shame someone out of wearing something that’s of specific religious or cultural significance. Harder to pinpoint and claim the origins of the high collar gown, of the slim silhouette, of thick embroidery. (The contingent of this red carpet that tried to evoke Chinese Imperial grandeur and showed up looking like Byzantine idols suggests the history of fashion is long, confusing, and weird.) Centuries of international trade mean that silhouettes can be both both recognizable by national origin and long since under adoption elsewhere; it’s all a bit of a quagmire, and this red carpet will almost by necessity be graded on a sliding scale. Treated respectfully, borrowing elements of design can be seen as homage and celebration. Treated cheaply, it’s straight-up racist.”

The Littoral Space

“You realize in your 20s that you’re not a genius. You get past that first blush of success, if you’re lucky enough to have experienced it, and get next to the fact that, in the words of Patton Oswalt, you’re not going to be the next Bill Hicks. But you do harbor the notion that it’s going to get easier, and that there will be a calm place in the future where you’re not working 16 hours a day, and you’re not going to be subject to the ebb and flow of other peoples’ contempt and attention.”

Mom: The Designated Worrier

“No matter how generous, “helping out” isn’t sharing. I feel pinpricks of rage every time my husband fishes for praise for something I’ve asked him to do. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten around to drawing up the List of Lists and insisting that we split it. I don’t see my friends doing that either.”

London Throws an Amazing Date Night on Penny Dreadful

“This show’s priorities are fairly well-established: plot’s nice when you can get it, atmosphere is always welcome, but its joy is when the characters are hard at work filling that chart of interpersonal weirdness. And that can pay off in episodes like “Verbis Diablo,” in which nothing particularly happens except a witch stealing a baby for the evil puppet room (I know), but there are interesting beats everywhere, as characters pair off to great effect. Let’s rate the dates!”

Your Cyberpunk Games Are Dangerous

“Shortly after the Secret Service raid in March 1990, in an account written in the next issue of Jackson’s in-house magazine Roleplayer, Jackson reported that “we have since been told that neither SJ Games nor the GURPS Cyberpunk manuscript was the object of the raids.” Indeed, he further reports that “the home of the GURPS Cyberpunk writer was also raided, and his own computer taken.” Blankenship, for his part, remembered waking up at gunpoint as the Secret Service confiscated his personal computers and related paraphernalia.”

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