Your Happening World (October 3rd through October 7th)

  • Where Should We Bury the Dead Racist Literary Giants? – The Awl – At the same time, focusing on race in Lovecraft can also lead to a greater appreciation of his work, and a better understanding of its horror. Joshi may think he's protecting Lovecraft's legacy by minimizing the role of race in his stories, but the truth is that, to the extent that Lovecraft is still meaningful, it's in large part because of his portrait of his own racism. Lovecraft isn't a great artist despite being a racist, as Joshi would have it. Nor is he a lousy artist because he's a racist, as Older says. He's a great artist and he's a racist: Lovecraft's world is one in which racism poisons everything, in which the fear of anyone who isn't white is so overwhelming that it fills the seas and the skies and everything in between with gibbering demons and cosmic despair. The bleak, clotted hatred with which he renders that world is precisely what makes his work valuable.
  • What to read on the Tory proposals for a “Bill of Rights” | Jack of Kent
  • GUEST POST: Of Meat Hooks and Desire by Max Gladstone | Brian Staveley – There’s more to life than stabbing people in the gut. Or melting their faces off with a fireball. Or being dropped out of a helicopter, or tortured with a potato peeler.
  • Fantasy-Faction World Tour of Wonderment: The Netherlands | Fantasy-Faction
  • Marvel & Jack Kirby Family Settle Long-Running Legal Dispute – Page 5 – So what happened wasn't that the Kirby family sued Marvel just because they one day decided to up and want more money. They didn't even sue. What they did was file for termination of copyright assignment — the very thing that the law allows creators to do. They didn't do this against the wishes of Kirby himself — Kirby had been all for doing it, ever since the law had been changed. But they had to wait a certain amount of time, and Kirby didn't live long enough to see it happen. But he was always on board with it.

Exiles of the Stars — Andre Norton

Cover of Exiles of the Stars


Exiles of the Stars
Andre Norton
249 pages
published in 1971

It was clear from the first page that Exiles to the Stars was a sequel and a quick trip to Librarything confirmed that this was a sequel to Moon of Three Rings, which I’ve never read. It’s neither the first nor likely the last time I’ll read a sequel before the original novel and in Norts on’s case, since she wrote before the rise of the epic fantasy series, her novels always tell complete stories, with anything you need to know from earlier books neatly explained. In Exiles of the Stars the things that need explaining are the protagonists, Krip Vorlund and his companion Maelen. Both are not what they seem. Krip outwardly looks like a Thassa, a humanoid alien race, but his midn is human, having taken over the thassa body when his original was destroyed. The same thing happened to Maelen, now inhabiting the form of a glasssa, a small four footed hunting animal where she once had been a woman and priestess on a planet where the priesthood was adept at body switching. All this of course the result of the action from the previous novel.

Their prediciment shows up the important role psi powers and mind control play in Norton’s space opera, as it does here. Many of her heroes either encounter ESP or discover their own talents during their adventures. It can feel a bit old fashioned, on a par with the navigation tapes used to steer the spaceships. But in this case it also shows how large and strange Norton’s universe is, where her heroes are lucky to survive, let alone thriumph. Occasionally in the wrong body.

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GamersGate: Intel lets spoiled manchildren think they’re important

So GamersGate. A bunch of petulant man children from the open sewer of the internet got roped into some creep’s crusade against his ex-girlfriend under the banner of “objective gaming journalism”, spewed the usual mix of rape and death threats against her, but Zoe Quinn, their intended victim, turned out to be smarter than the lot of them and had infiltrated their main planning channel for weeks. These losers are still sputtering on, the 101st chairborne brigade fighting a losing war against the forces of social justice on blogs and Twitter, a tweet too far.

What kind of lame company would let themselves be roped into their campaign and feel pressured to withdraw advertising from a gaming site just because they say so? Intell, that’s who:

GamerGate’s ballyhooed success with Intel reveals them to be a movement for “journalistic integrity” that is willing to use major corporate sponsors to dictate the editorial content of a website for no reason other than the fact that they disagree with it. As a “consumer revolt,” it has shown itself to be a neoliberal nightmare wherein large corporations are the heroes and plucky independent journalists are the “elite” villains who need to be toppled.

(Incidently, the habit of Feministing here to blank out the Twitter accounts sending death threats in their screenshots but not those of the victims of said threats is mildly annoying.)

By giving in to blackmail, Intel has enabled the most whining, dumbest and aggressive part of videogaming “culture” to terrorise more women and the websites that publish them, in exchange for much more negative p.r. than it would’ve had, had it refused to play ball. The LoserGaters are a noisy and obnoxious part of gaming, but they’re only a minority. Normal people, sane people, want nothing to do with them.

Books read September

Guess what? I actually read some non-fiction this month, in the shape of a history of the 1953 Iranian coup. Apart from that, I’ve also dipped my toes in the troubled waters of Dutch science fiction and fantasy, thoroughly enjoyed Kameron Hurley’s new novel but was slightly dissappointed to still have only read six books in total this month. UPDATE: seven actually, as I completely forgot I’d read The Secret Feminist Cabal this month too.

Zwarte Sterren — Roelof Goudriaan (Ed.)
An anthology of Dutch science fiction I got from the library to find Dutch authors worth reading.

The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley
One of the biggest sf&f books of 2014 and it lived up to its hype.

Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis
A Dutch author writing in English, this is Duyvis’ first novel, a well written YA fantasy with one of the more original ideas I’ve seen in fantasy behind it.

The Secret Feminist Cabal — Helen Merrick
A cultural history of feminism in science fiction, science fiction fandom and academic research into science fiction. This is essential reading for anybody interested in the history of science fiction and women in science fiction.

All the Shah’s Men — Stephen Kinzer
An overview of the 1953 coup that ended democracy in Iran and the role the British and Americans played in it. Comes close to victim blaming at points.

The Outskirter’s Secret — Rosemary Kirstein
The second novel in the Steerswoman series of science fiction disguised as fantasy.

Roadside Picnic — Boris & Arkady Strugatsky
A classic of Russian science fiction and the inspiration for the 1979 movie Stalker as well as the more recent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video horror games.

Your Happening World (September 25th through October 3rd)

  • BBC News – Cat Watch 2014: What’s it like being a cat?
  • The Radical Ellen Willis | Dissent Magazine – Maybe we’re oblivious, or maybe just stretched thin, but not enough people are talking about this. The late cultural critic Ellen Willis did—and years before the worst of it hit. With a clarity of thought and the kind of fury that pangs and never scabs over, she diagnosed, snarled, and illuminated what she considered a central plague of her day: the way our economy limits our creative expressions. As she put it in her essay “Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity”: “On the crudest level, the lives of American intellectuals and artists are defined by one basic problem: how to reconcile intellectual or creative autonomy with making a living.”
  • Black and Blue. – Free Online Library – The violence perpetrated by the P.G. cops is a curious development. Usually, police brutality is framed as a racial issue: Rodney King suffering at the hands of a racist white Los Angeles Police Department or more recently, an unarmed Timothy Thomas, gunned down by a white Cincinnati cop. But in more and more communities, the police doing the brutalizing are African Americans, supervised by African-American police chiefs, and answerable to African-American mayors and city councils. In the case of P.G. County, the brutality is cast against the backdrop of black America's power base, the largest concentration of the black middle class in the country.
  • kankedort: On Diversity: Two Sadnesses and a Refusal – don't refuse the issues. I accept them fully. But I refuse the sense of scarcity and shrinkage. I refuse a world this small. I refuse to believe that there are only so many seats at the table, that I have to fight for scraps against all other possible representatives of diversity. You guys, I refuse this EVEN IF IT'S TRUE. Daniel José Older and Saladin Ahmed, who were mentioned in the Nation piece, are my friends. I'm thrilled for them. Is it possible to recognize that there is a problem with women of color being ignored, and still be thrilled for them? I intend to believe the answer is yes.
  • Marooned Off Vesta: Confusion and understanding: one post about The Stone Boatmen – Though I try always to extend sympathy at least, it is difficult for me to approach any new work of sf with anything other than suspicion. But very early on in my first reading of Sarah Tolmie's The Stone Boatmen — I am no longer able to say when or where, exactly — I decided to trust: to have faith in the work, and in Tolmie's ability and above all responsibility in pursuit of it. Or — can this really be characterized as a decision? Perhaps better to say that I found myself trusting her, that something palpable but not quite locatable in or between her words made such trust not only possible but natural, even unavoidable. Tolmie does not betray this trust.

The Zero Stone — Andre Norton

Cover of The Zero Stone


The Zero Stone
Andre Norton
221 pages
published in 1968

You can’t accuse Andre Norton from starting her stories slowly. When The Zero Stone opens, its protagonist, Murdoc Jern is fleeing through a primitive town on an alien planet, barely one step ahead of a mob of religious fanatics wanting to kill him. They already killed his boss when the priests of a local cult indicated the both of them for their next ritual victims, but Murdoc managed to escape. He finally manages to reach the dubious safety of a free trader ship, where his only friend is the ship’s cat, but when it falls pregnant after ingesting a strange stone on the traders’ first stopover and he himself falls ill of a strange plague once the cat gives birth, he learns not only that the trader’s crew plan to abandon him on an airless moon, but also that they had been hired to kidnap him. Luckily for him, the cat’s mutant offspring turns out to be a mysterious and powerful alien intelligence who calls himself Eet and who sets out to save Murdoc from his predicament.

The reason for Murdoc’s continuing bad luck turns out to be the old memento that was the only thing he’d taken from his adopted father’s home, who had been not just a gem trader but also a retired crime Guild boss. This memento is a ring too large to be worn and containing a dull, lifeless stone; it was found on a corpse drifting in space but Murdoc’s father could never find out anything more about it, which is why he called it the zero stone. As you’d expect in a story like this, his son has more success in finding out at least some of the story behind the stone, if only by being dragged behind it in a series of increasingly desparate escapes from danger, aided and abetted by his alien companion.

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A proper love story

Now here’s a great soppy love story I ran across when reading Jan Morris’ Wikipedia entry, about how she was forced to divorce from her wife after her gender reassignment surgery and how they got remarried again in a civil partnership in 2008:

. In a touching story of constancy, they stayed together after Morris’s trip to Morocco in 1972. He went as a man, and came back as woman. The law, then, did not allow same-sex marriages, so the couple were obliged to go through an amicable divorce. Morris used to describe her as her “sister-in-law”, but on BBC Radio 4′s Bookclub yesterday, she revealed that the relationship was closer and more enduring than that implied.

“I haven’t told this to anybody before,” she said, “I’ve lived with the same person for 58 years, I married her when I was young and then this sex-change thing – so-called – happened and so we naturally had to divorce, but we’ve always lived together anyway. I wanted to round this off nicely so last week Elizabeth and I went to have a civil union.”

The ceremony was held at the council office in Pwllheli on 14 May, in the presence of a couple who invited them to tea at their house afterwards.

“I made my marriage vows 59 years ago and still have them,” Elizabeth told the Evening Standard. “We are back together again officially. After Jan had a sex change we had to divorce. So there we were. It did not make any difference to me. We still had our family. We just carried on.”

I was looking at her Wikipedia entry because I just bought her Pax Brittanica history trilogy, which were still credited to “James Morris” but did have this dedication in them:

During the writing of the Pax Brittanica trilogy James Morris completed a change of sexual role and now lives and writes as Jan Morris.

Which is, changing language aside, a decent thing to do and it goes on to consistently talk about her as female, but the edition I have is from 1980, some eight years after her public gender switch and I wonder why they kept her old name on the books.

Diversity doesn’t mean Tobias Buckell should write magic realism

Tobias Buckell talks about being light but not white, diversity and how it can become mired in cliche:

But even as that happens, I also get annoyed with narratives that try to require me to fit into a certain ‘type’ of diversity. It seems the white power structures like immigrant narratives and magical realism from brown-identifying folk. Man, is that ever true, and even allies can fit into this. There’s been a heavy pressure on me to drop doing the action and to write about magical immigrants. I’ve been offered book deals and better money, and it’s funny, I’ve had three editors in the last ten years point blank sketch out the outline of the same novel: immigrant from the Caribbean arrives in the US and does something magically realist.

The reasoning here seems to be: Buckell is from the Caribbean, that’s almost Latin America and Latin American writers write magic realism, not technothrillers or space opera. It’s a Small World diversity, with your cultural background reduced to a series of cliches and no clue that you might want something else instead. It’s the dominant culture looking for the exotic, the thrill of the novel but only within rigidly defined borders.

In science fiction, as in much else, the dominant culture is American and American assumptions about race, gender and culture drive much of the debate about diversity. Somebody like Tobias Buckell who can (ugh) “pass as white” can fall through the cracks. Not exotic enough that he can be easily pigeonholed, but not “assimilated” either. A novel like Hurricane Fever is driven by assumptions and a worldview an American writer wouldn’t share, even if at first glance it’s just a technothriller.

As readers we should always be wary of cliches, of the conscious and unconscious ways we ourselves think about various cultures. It’s not just that we expect writers to adhere to certain cultural cliches, it’s also that we may see them where they aren’t. We’ve seen that with dialect and the use of “non-standard” English in science fiction, not just dismissed as a literary trick by some, but also seen as racist when writers use e.g. African-American vernacular English.

I’m not innocent of these things myself; I’ve tried several times to get into Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring but keep getting stuck on the first few pages, by the way one of the characters talks. Similarly, with several of Aliette de Bodard’s science fiction stories which draw on Vietnamese history and culture, I’ve felt they came uncomfortably close to cliche images of despotic and authoritarian, hivebound Asia, but is this her fault or am I guilty of seeing a much more complex setting through orientalist lenses?

Your Happening World (September 22nd through September 24th)

  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds – The Daily Beast – Fixating on a woman from afar and then refusing to give up when she acts like she’s not interested is, generally, something that ends badly for everyone involved. But it’s a narrative that nerds and nerd media kept repeating.
  • #GameOverGate (with images, tweets) · strictmachine · Storify – Zoe Quinn blows #GamerGate wide open.
  • Timothy Snyder’s Lies | Jacobin – In Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Hitler and Stalin are one and the same. And the partisans — Jewish fighters included — only encouraged German crimes.
  • Whirling Nerdish: Asthma and THE MIRROR EMPIRE – I’m particularly interested in how Hurley handles this character because all my life, I was told by movies and TV that people with asthma were nerds. They were geeks, dweebs, losers. Pathetic little wastes that fly into a wheezing, gasping fit when things get difficult while, meanwhile, the HERO goes and kicks the bad guys ass and handles his shit.
  • A few disjointed thoughts on other cultures and diversity in SFF – Aliette de Bodard – Researching another culture is freaking hard work, PLEASE do not undertake it lightly (and when I say “freaking hard work”, I don’t mean a few days on Wikipedia, or even a few days of reading secondary sources at the library). And PLEASE do not think you’ll be exempt of prejudice/dominant culture perceptions/etc. No one is.
  • Public Domain Super Heroes – Public Domain Super Heroes is a collaborative website about comic book, comic strip, film, literary, pulp, mythological, television, animation, folk stories, etc… Characters in the public domain fitting in genres such as the masked vigilante, caped crusader, villains, scientists, magicians, robots, jungle lord, and their supporting characters.
  • Pioneer winners — Butler: Thirteen Ways of Looking at the British Boom – “There certainly seems to be something of a boom. To a certain extent these things are always artefacts―there’s no objective criteria by which one can judge ‘boom-ness’ (boomitude? boomosity?―so the fact that everyone’s talking about it is to a certain extent definitional of the fact that something’s going on”