Your Happening World (October 24th through October 29th)

  • The Scientific 7-Minute Workout – NYTimes.com
  • Various – Beat The Bands Of Modern Dance (Vinyl, LP) at Discogs
  • 72 Hours of #Gamergate — The Message — Medium
  • Confessions of a white Oxbridge male – FT.com – Like the communist rulers in 1989, we white Oxbridge males cannot defend our dominance with arguments. Most of us know we didn’t get here through individual brilliance. Perry is wrong when he says, “Default Man will never admit to, or be fully aware of, the tribal advantages of his identity.” I’m very aware of those advantages. That’s why, although I currently have a decent job at a good newspaper, I feel very little sense of achievement. My dad went to Cambridge. I was born to be a minor establishment functionary. That’s also why I’m not desperate for my children to join the establishment. What would it prove?
  • Head Nurse: Conclusions.** – Conclusion the first: The first reaction on the part of everydamnbody has been to blame the nurses. From the first inkling that Mr. Duncan's diagnosis was missed to the news that a second nurse was infected, the director of the CDC and the administration of Presbyterian Dallas have pointed to the RNs as the weak links in a chain.

Actually, I’d rather have Captain America: Serpent Society

Amongst all the news of more, many more superhero blockbuster movies to be put out by Marvel, was one announcement that made very happy, until it didn’t:

11:16 a.m. — Feige points out the Russo brothers in the audience, and says, “they reinvented the franchise of Captain America, they shattered and changed everything going forward, and they will be back for Captain America 3.” The subtitle for the film (out May 6, 2016) will apparently be Serpent Society. (Some disappointed faces in the crowd, hoping for Civil War.)

[...]

After that Avengers 2 footage showing the hard feelings between Rogers and Stark, Feige says he’s been having second thoughts about that Serpent Society subtitle for Captain America 3. A new title card appears, giving the fans what they want: Civil War.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’d much rather see Captain America versus the Serpent Society, rather than a movie rethread of what was probably the dumbest story Marvel has ever published (perhaps second only to Alice is a skrull). It’s not just that Civil War made no sense and makes even less in the movies, for all the reasons John Seavey lays out here, but that it goes against the very core principles of the Marvel Universe: righteous rebellion against overbearing authority.

Let’s not forget that Steve Rogers himself was a premature anti-fascist when he socked Adolph Hitler on the jaw, a year before the US would enter World War II. Or that the foundational act of the Silver Age Marvel Universe is the Fantastic Four stealing their rocket from the army to launch into space, against the wishes of the military brass.

Civil War went against this, by arguing that the establishment is right, that superheroes cannot be trusted without supervision by a quasi fascist, paramilitary organisation.This is supposed to be realistic, like heroes using torture, but it’s a very adolescent sort of realism. Despite the attempts to dial down the worst effects of the Civil War, much of the MU still suffers from this sort of realism, of endless stories of heroes torturing and killing and forming shadowy groups to take the though decisions that can’t be left to lesser people and the even more endless talking about it. Marvel’s cinametic universe also suffers a lot from this, but this is more an artifact of the post-Bush political landscape it was constructed in, rather than a deliberate decision to piss on seventy years of Marvel history.

supervillains who just want to unionise, not take over the world

The Serpent Society on the other hand, for all that it’s used here as a dumb punchline, was actually a pretty good attempt at creating a realistic supervillain group, one without delusions of grandeur, not wanting to rule the world, just wanting a proper dental plan and decent legal coverage. that’s right, the supervillains team up to form a union, to defend themselves not against the heroes, but the harsh realities of Reagan’s economy.

It’s a typical Gruenwald sort of story, where you have a core of realism in an old school, bronze age capes vs capes superhero story. Gruenwald always worked within the confines of the monthly superhero comic grind, a fact that might have worked against the recognition of him as a writer, at his best when he was on Captain America. Having a bunch of second and third tier snake themed villains team up for union benefits is brilliant, makes complete sense in the context of the early eighties Marvel Universe, but isn’t the sort of easily recognisable, signposted “realism” you have to hit comics fans over the head with for them to get it.

But still, wouldn’t you’d rather see Captain America, the ultimate Roosevelt Democrat, taken on a bunch of unionised everyman supervillains banded together because of the economic regression than whatever the movies will make of Civil War, no matter how much shipping fuel a Tony/Steve catfight will give the fanfiction writers?

The Outskirter’s Secret — Rosemary Kirstein

Cover of The Outskirter's Secret


The Outskirter’s Secret
Rosemary Kirstein
342 pages
published in 1992

The Outskirter’s Secret is the sequel to The Steerswoman, the second in what’s so far a four book, projected to be seven book series. Kirstein is one of those authors who’ve fallen between the cracks of the science fiction/fantasy field: incredibly loved by those who’ve read her books, but barely known outside that circle of aficionados. The trouble is, for all sort of reasons, she isn’t a fast writer; the first two books in the series were written in 1989 and 1992, the second two in 2003 and 2004, with the fifth scheduled for publishing next year. Perhaps. Which means that, because she’s never been the runaway bestseller kind of author, that her books slip out of print faster than they’re written and you have to luck into finding her books secondhand to be initiated into her cult once you’ve heard people like Jo Walton rave about her. Luckily these days there are ebooks.

The Steerswoman series is science fiction in what looks like a fantasy setting, complete with wizards, dragons and goblins, in which Rowan, the titular steerswoman through her curiosity and intelligence is driven to investigate the nature of her world. Steerswomen (as well as the occasional steerman) are members of what you may call a semi religious order bound to answer any question truthfully as long as in return their own questions are also answered in the same manner. In the first book, Rowan’s curiosity into a peculiar kind of worked blue stone she found made her into a target for a wizard conspiracy. She escaped and in The Outskirter’s Secret, together with her faithful companion Bel, an Outskirter herself, a member of one of the nomadic tribes living in the wildernesses beyond the civilised inner lands, sets out to track down the source of the blue stones, deep in the Outskirts.

Books read

Your Happening World (October 21st through October 23rd)

  • In The Second Year : Storm Jameson
  • A Month Soon Goes, Storm Jameson | It Doesn’t Have To Be Right… – Storm Jameson was prolific and successful, writing around sixty books between 1919 and 1976 – fiction, criticism, biography and history. None of her books appear to be in print now. At least two of her novels, In the Second Year (1936), set in a fascist Britain, and Then We Shall Hear Singing (1942), about a Nazi invasion of an invented country, qualify as science fiction although I’m not aware of them being claimed by the genre.
  • New Statesman | Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going – Because one of the most boring things in the world is watching a person write. They do not move. Their google searches are tedious; they google synonyms for words they just made up. If you ask a novelist how they wrote their book, it’s always “I researched a bit and then I didn’t get out of my pyjamas for properly ages.” That’s it. There was probably an exiting moment when a blob of apricot jam fell off a bit of their crumpet and they had to suck it out of the lapel of their dressing gown to avoid having to wash it properly. That’s it.
  • Five Ways To Respond To A Negative Review: A Helpful Guide! « terribleminds: chuck wendig – Go punch a punching bag. Write in your bedside Twilight Sparkle diary. Go fire off an email to an author or artist friend and be all like AHHH DID YOU SEE THIS REVIEW (and if that author is truly a friend that author will say, yeah, yeah, that sucks, the reviewer sucks, but hey don’t get cuckoo bananapants, maybe go have a drink, go for a run, eat a cupcake, something, anything, calm thyself because this shit happens all the time).
  • The Liberal Democrat approach to campaigning: the history and debunking some myths – Most notably, far too many accounts of British political campaigning are written without noticing how dramatic 1997 was, not just in terms of a Labour landslide, but also in terms of the impact of constituency campaign tactics. Fail to understand what happened in 1997 and why and you not only fail to understand British political campaigning but also, closer to home, fail to understand the roots of more recent events involving Chris Rennard.

Blind Book Dates

See, there’s a reason why I stay loyal to the American Book Center:

The idea is simple. Pick one of your favorite books and get creative with wrapping, keywords, quotes or hints. At the day of the party you bring your Blind Book Date to the store; we give you a name-tag and number, and then the fun starts. You walk around the store and show your Blind Book Date to other BBD people and let them figure out which BBD you brought and you have to try and guess other people’s BBDs. We’ll provide paper and pens. At the end of the party all participants will reveal their book at the same time and the person with the most correct guesses wins a cool prize. It’s like a Halloween party, but in this case it’s the books that are in disguise.

The ABC has been selling “blind date” books for a couple of years now; books wrapped in brown paper with just a couple of keywords as hints. Handy for adventurous readers. So, frex, would you take a gamble on a book with these keywords?

- Fantasy
- Ancient China
- Mysterious Illness
- Scholar with a Slight Flaw

Hint: you should. More staff recommended blind book dates here. Personally I’m intrigued by book 5: Science-Fiction, Colonization Mission, Body Adapted to Mars, Penis Removal = Trauma. Any idea?

Benjanun Sriduangkaew apologises

Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate has broken her silence and apologies for her actions, first at Requires Hate:

Apologies aren’t easy to make. I’ll do my best and acknowledge that it’s not a magic word. First, I will say that I stand by the substance of most of what I’ve said on this blog. But not how I said it. I’ve gained a much better understanding of consequences and how people work, and the way I said much of what I said ignored the humanity of those on the receiving end. It’s a failure of empathy on my part. I make no excuses about this: I own up to what I said, and I own up that I conducted myself fantastically badly. I believed I was doing good and was punching up, and that my methods were perfectly fine weapons when in actuality they really weren’t. No excuses: many things in life can contribute to you conducting yourself one way or another, but generally you have your own agency.

And then at her new blog:

But I want, at least, some measure of a chance to explain myself. I’m not owed this chance. You aren’t obliged to read beyond the line. You don’t have to, at all. But please know that, if I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry.

I’m not one of the people who were attacked by Requires Hate or deceived by Benjanun Sriduangkaew — I doubt I’m on her radar — so it’s not up to me to say whether her apologies are good enough. But I hope they’re sincere and that this can be the start of healing the wounds these actions and those undertaken in defense or retaliation against her have created in science fiction fandom.

It strikes me that Nick Mamatas, by bringing the Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew connection out in the open as he did, had it by the right end. Her real identity was an open secret before that, but only if you were in the loop. Mamatas made it impossible for Sriduangkaew to keep up the pretence and he cut down the whispering campaign against her off at the knees.

On a Red Station, Drifting — Aliette de Bodard

Cover of On a Red Station, Drifting


On a Red Station, Drifting
Aliette de Bodard
116 pages
published in 2013

I wasn’t too impressed with the first story of Aliette de Bodard I read, when it was linked from Metafilter. I found the story, set in a Vietnamese or Vietnam inspired far future “too laboured, too trying to be interesting, but in the end it’s just another Orientalist allegory”. Which is somewhat ironic, as De Bodard is actually of Vietnamese descent… Can a writer be Orientalist if she’s actually writing from her own cultural background? That’s a question we’re going to come back to in discussing On a Red Station, Drifting as it’s at the heart of the problems I’ve had reading this book.

The reason I bought On a Red Station, Drifting, after that rough start I had with de Bodard was because she was nominated for the novelette Hugo and I discovered that her nominated story, The Waiting Stars, was “an excellent slice of Banksian space opera, a story of love, family and two incompatible views of the world”. On a Red Station, Drifting promised to be more of the same. It’s set in the same universe as The Waiting Stars, where the Dai Viet Empire ruling the stars makes a welcome retrieve from the usual Roman Empire model. At the time of this novel however it’s in trouble, with a weak emperor on the throne and rebel warlords springing up and taking over star systems.

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