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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Your Happening World (October 14th through October 17th)

  • The Argument That Saved Paris by Ian Buruma | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books – This much is known: Nordling did meet von Choltitz several times, mainly to arrange the release of French political prisoners, and to negotiate a truce (threatened by the Communist resistance as much as by German zealots). We also know that von Choltitz, however aristocratic in his comportment, had been a very ruthless character, responsible for the destruction of the center of Rotterdam in May 1940. Worse that that, in 1942 his regiment flattened Sevastopol, and von Choltitz faithfully carried out orders to “liquidate” the Jewish population. He was a perfect illustration of the complicity on the eastern front of German army officers with the Nazi genocide, a shameful fact that has only recently been acknowledged in Germany.
  • Intocht Sint Nicolaaas in Amsterdam in 1935 – YouTube
  • Killer whales living with bottlenose dolphins demonstrate cross-species vocal learning – Now, University of San Diego graduate student Whitney Musser and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute senior research scientist Dr. Ann Bowles have found that killer whales (Orcinus orca) can engage in cross-species vocal learning: when socialized with bottlenose dolphins, they shifted the types of sounds they made to more closely match their social partners. The results, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, suggest that vocal imitation may facilitate social interactions in cetaceans. Read more at:
  • Dust – Lightspeed Magazine – Very late at night, when the buzz of drill dozers has died out, I can hear her breathing. I know that sounds crazy. I don’t care.
  • SSLv3 goes to the dogs; POODLE kills off protocol – Over the past week, rumours were circulating about a new vulnerability in SSLv3. No details were widely available until today and now we have POODLE, the 'Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption' attack. The attack, specifically against the SSLv3 protocol, allows an attacker to obtain the plaintext of certain parts of an SSL connection, such as the cookie. Similar to BEAST, but more practical to carry out, POODLE could well signal the end of SSLv3 support.
  • Tricia Sullivan and Shadowboxer – Imgur

Does a Bee care?

Requires Hate is an abrasive blogger from Thailand who made her name pointing out and critiqueing the racism, sexism and orientalism found in science fiction and fantasy, often going after supposedly liberal writers. In the best of circumstances being accused of these things can lead to a defensive response and Requires Hate could be rather aggressive in her criticism. Case in point: her review of Tricia Sullivan’s Double Vision:

It’s a white woman who, through a fictional black woman as her mouthpiece, is describing Japanese men as “little robotic bulls” (the idea of East Asians being robotic itself echoing offensive stereotypes) and “like little Nazis”: not necessarily the comparison that’d first leap to mind when you are describing people who move like robots or even like soldiers at a drill. Later on, after hearing about the sexual assault (perhaps in an attempt to make light of things and make the survivor feel better), Cookie’s friend Gloria idly asks whether it’s true what they say about Asian men’s penis sizes.

And this was for a writer she actually liked at the time. With writers she didn’t, she could be far more biting, if not downright nasty, as with her posts on Cindy Pon’s novels. Furthermore, under her Livejournal persona, Winterfox, she was also accused of bullying and harassment. In short, she made a lot of enemies before she disappeared late last year as it seemed she’d lost the will to blog.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a science fiction writer from Thailand who started getting published in 2012, got a fair few excellent short stories published, enough to get her nominated the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer this year. Like any other new writer, she’s active online, on twitter and her blog, which is light and happy and nice and more than a bit twee. You can understand why the moment she got any attention, rumours started that she and Requires Hate were the same person. These rumours apparantly started to intensify around the Worlcon, though the first time I became aware of them was early September, when it was mentioned in the comments at James Nicoll’s blog. Glad I didn’t comment back then so I look smart now, as I was sure it was just stupid to think two people could be the same just because they were from the same neck of the woods and active in sf/fantasy.

Because it turned out to be true this time, as Nick Mamatas officially revealed that yes, Sriduankaew had been blogging as Requires Hate/Winterfox:

Anyway, Benjanun Sriduangkaew used to blog under the name Requires Only That You Hate. I like Bees’s writing, I liked the RotyH blog, and I’ve known (without exact confirmation, but Bees had a contracted story in PHANTASM JAPAN) for quite a while. I suppose I am most interested in the reactions of the people who were yelling that to even suggest that Bees and RH were the same person was racist, which should be hilarious.

All of which would only be mildly interesting if not for the enemies RH/Winterfox had made as a blogger. Because allegedly some of those had been waging a whisper campaign against her, revealing her true identity to her editors and other influential people to try and derail her career. Mostly it’s been done behind the scenes, but at least one author publically called on her readers to write to Sriduankaew’s editors. This sort of doxxing, revealing of real life identities, is one of the worst crimes you think of in many online communities, if only because it’s so often used against people with good reason to be anonymous or pseudonymous. I may have the privilege not to have to worry about keeping my online and offline lives separate, many people don’t.

On the other hand, as has been argued forcefully in James Nicoll’s thread on the news, what’s so wrong in making people aware that sweet butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth Sriduankaew is actually a notorious online bully and abuser? Somebody who’s been careful to not reveal her past, who in fact has been busy memoryholing it?

Which is the biggest problem in getting to the truth of this. So much of what happened has now devolved into he said/she said territory, what with the deletion of posts and comments as well as the general entropy of the internet. None of the people claiming to know the truth are impartial and what’s abuse to one party are just forcefully expressed opinions to the other. What’s more, there are good people on both sides; this isn’t a GamersGate situation or a Vox Day inspired witch hunt. Some of these people genuinely believe that RH was fighting the good fight against racism and orientalism, perhaps a bit abrasive in how she went out it, while others believe that she just used this as a shield to attack women of colour she disliked. The point is, it’s almost impossible for an outsider to find out the truth and at this point it really doesn’t like much like there are any high minded motives behind this fight anymore.

No, this is a good old fashioned fannish feud, where the original cause for the feud are not so much forgotten as irrelevant at this point. People have been hurt and upset on both sides and have caused hurt and upset themselves. Neither side is innocent.

For me personally, I’m going to try and stay out of this fight because I’m far from sure it would solve anything to come down on one side or the other. I like Sriduankaew’s writing, but I also think it would credit herif she was to break her silence and make it official that yes, she was Requires Hate, to be honest about her history. It would credit her enemies to stop trying to ruin her career, or, at the very least be open about believing she’s a toxic influence on science fiction. Don’t keep it festering in the shadows.

It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna to miss you.

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is Glen Campbell latest and last ever song. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease back in 2011, he embarked on his farewell tour which finished 2012. Now checked into a long term Alzheimer’s care facility, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is his farewell song to his wife in the knowledge that the disease is taking away his memories of her.

Not a video you can finish with dry eyes.

Your Happening World (October 8th through October 13th)

  • Guest Blog: Imagining Future Africa: Sci Fi, Innovation & Technology. | CONNECT/ZA
  • The Daily Targum :: Neither man nor woman: life as a non-binary student – On the bottom of my column, I use the pronoun “they.” This isn’t a typo, despite what many writers at The Guardian and Telegraph assumed as they reported on my Trigger Warning activism. Indeed, I do not identify as a man, the gender I was assigned at birth. I identify as a non-binary student.
  • From the Heart of Europe – Refugees of Casablanca
  • The First Female Gamers – Could it really have been so unthinkable to Gygax that a woman would purchase Dungeons & Dragons? His game went on to wild, unprecedented popularity, and women constituted no small part of its long-term audience. To appreciate the situation in 1974, we must understand the market Dungeons & Dragons entered, and the curious consumer group it targeted: gamers.
  • Retired NSA Technical Director Explains Snowden Docs – Well, they participate in the parallel reconstruction. So, in other words, when you can't use the data, you have to go out and do a parallel construction, means you use what you would normally consider to be investigative techniques, go find the data. You have a little hint, though. NSA is telling you where the data is, it makes you look really good. If you have it quickly. So then you can justify, taking it into court and use that in court. And so I call that perjury. In fact, I call this a 'Planned Program Perjury Policy' run by the Department of Justice of the United States. And, it's not just affecting our democracy, it's subverting our entire court system. It's not only subverting ours, it's subverting everybody's in the world that has a relationship with the FBI or the DEA. So this is infecting entire democracies, all of the world.

Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

Cover of Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword
Ann Leckie
356 pages
published in 2014

Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won about every major science fiction award going: the BSFA, the Clarke, The Nebula and the Hugo, the first time any author won the four most important awards in the field with the same book, let alone with their debut novel. Anticipation has therefore been high for the sequel, not least on my part. Would Leckie been able to keep up the high standard of her debut? Would Ancillary Sword build up on it or be more of the same? Is Ann Leckie really the major new sf talent she seems to be or just a flash in the pan?

The main reason for Ancillary Justice‘s impact was Leckie’s use of gender. The Radchaai culture she created uses female pronouns exclusively, making no distinction between male and female in their language. but it goes further than just mere language. Leckie’s protagonist, Breq, struggles with establishing gender, has to consciously evaluate gender clues even when she does speak a gendered language. Possibly this is because she’s an ancillary — one of the meat puppet extensions of a ship AI — because from what we saw in the first novel other Radchaai had no such difficulties. Breq is also the last surviving part of her ship AI because her ship, The Justice of Toren was killed by the immortal ruler of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, at war with herself.

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comics need more fan run conventions

Allow me to hijack the ongoing controversy in the online comix communities about the evils of cosplayers and how they don’t spent enough at comic conventions to make a tangentially related point:

I think Denise Dorman’s railing against the ‘instagram’ generation is hilarious but actually has a point–she’s just not using the best terminology to describe what is an actual phenomenon–before 5 years ago, no one (in their right mind) would go to a show thinking that they were an ‘attraction’ without buying themselves an exhibition space, a booth, an artist alley table, something. However, in the last few years the number of people who think that a badge (whether paid for or comped) entitles them to an audience within a convention space is on the rise dramatically. It’s been pegged as cosplayers, and honestly there are more cosplayers at shows than ever, and more professional cosplayers who are going to shows to make money and build an audience. Cosplayers attending shows as businesspeople, who aren’t contributing to the economy of the show.

As you know Bob, comics cons started as spinoffs of existing sf fandom, by people who were steeped in the mores and history of fandom and the original comics cons were very much like the sf cons, by fans for fans, with little to no distinction between fans and pros and without looking to make a profit. Where comics fandom went wrong was that conventions went commercial in the first place, which started at the very latest in the mid eighties. As the comics industry itself collapsed but cons like San Diego grew year on year, that commercialisation just grew more blatant. It’s the same thing you see with niche cable channels: they may start out with all kind of lofty aspirations and call themselves The Learning Channel, but if the money’s in crappy reality shows, that’s what they’ll end up doing. There’s no money in selling comics, so you get expensive nerd toys instead.

Cosplay meanwhile, for all its “professional” cosplayers, is still pretty much done for the love of the characters and the art itself. At worst it’s a symptom, not a cause of the difficulties comics have in being visible at comics cons. Chris Butcher is right when he says that:

The changing convention landscape is inherently shitty for people who make comic books. Art comix, indy comics, mainstream comics, whatever comics, the changing makeup of conventions is hostile to people who want to make and sell comics at comic conventions. And let me be clear, this is comic books and graphic novels, as opposed to ‘prints’ or crafts or whatever manner of tchotchkes makeup most exhibitor tables these days. Basically, comic book conventions are aggressively attracting an audience who don’t necessarily value books, or comic books.

What seems to be missing in the (American) comics convention landscape is what you still have in science fiction: a thriving fan run, non-commercial con scene. There’s Dragoncon, but there’s also Worldcon. And whereas science fiction writers may drown in the media orientated atmosphere of the former, they can thrive in the latter. The fan conventions help build and retain an audience that might otherwise not exist.

But perhaps the dismal state of mainstream comics cons is due to the dismal state of the (supposedly mainstream) superhero comic. Superheroes are more popular than ever, but the actual comics seem to be bought only by an aging and shrinking fanbase. New fans meanwhile are drawn in by movies, tv shows and cartoons, anything but comics and hence are at best interested in comics as a tertiary activity. In such a climate it’s no wonder people like Dorman find themselves struggling. They’re cut off from their audience and the new people don’t know who they are nor why they should spent $50 or more on a sketch. That’s not going to change by banning cosplayers. That can only change if you get more comics cons not run for profit, not aiming to maximalise its audience at the expense of a focus on comics, have more people, pro and fan both, go there for the love of comics, not as a business.