Wrestling isn’t wrestling

In an alternate timeline, if WWF wrestling had had slightly more coverage in the Netherlands in the mid-eighties, rather than being banished to the post-midnight slot on Superchannel/Sky Channel, I would’ve become a wrestling nerd rather than a comix nerd. This video gives a great example of the appeal of wrestling when, as everybody knows, it isn’t real. Starring some people you may recognise.

Long Live the Queen — HA!

Loading screen from Long Live the Queen

Kim Nguyen plays Long Live the Queen

Hanako Games’ Long Live the Queen is a princess story all about facets and demanding respect. You play as Princess Elodie, who must replace her late mother as queen by the end of the year. It’s a princess power fantasy where you learn all about Elodie’s world so that she may navigate politics both at home and abroad and survive attempts on her life. It’s a brutal game, as you learn how to progress by failing and/or dying repeatedly. It’s maddening for perfectionists.

skills menu from Long Live the Queen

Long Live the Queen is one of those deceptively simple spreadsheet simulator games where the appeal is that it is really, horribly, unfairly difficult. Basically the only decisions you can take is what classes to send Elodie to, how she spends her weekend to help change her mood to get bonuses in her classes and hope you can take the right decisions during the cut scenes, which is when all the action happens. Some of the crisis events are triggered, some are random, some unavoidable but all you can only prepare for either by accident or because you’ve played it before and died. (Unless you cheated and had the wiki open next to it.)

Elodie looking depressed from Long Live the Queen

Not a game with much of a visual glamour going on, so if that’s your bag, this is not for you. At best you get scenes like this, with princess Elodie looking at you depressed, angry or happy depending on her exact mood. All the real interest is in beating the story, which has set you up for failure. Having played it for a couple of hours, I can say it’s really frustrating to be blindsided by something you have recovery of; it needs an entirely different mindset to play than the sort of game I normally play, where there’s always room to correct a mistake you make. Here, you die and have to restart.

An all too familiar ending from Long Live the Queen

So instead you have to find out the perfect combination of skill training and luck to make it through the crisises that hound you and hope the game has mercy on you. But it probably won’t.

Resident Evil redux

Alice versus patient zero

Unlike myself, Mr Moth has played and is a fan of the original Resident Evil games the movies are based on. Therefore he’s considerably more hacked off at them than I was, though I can certainly agree with much of his criticism:

3) Paul WS Anderson really believes the Umbrella Corporation is staggeringly incompetent.

Umbrella manage to wipe out nearly every human in existence but to what end? They’re a business and the undead are not a target market. By the fifth film it’s clear that the Red Queen is intent on destroying humanity. The problem is that humanity is well on its way to total extinction by the time of, well, Extinction. Las Vegas is a ruin, buried by the Nevada desert in just five years. There’s no coming back from that, but still Umbrella hold board meetings and employ receptionists (exactly how were they recruiting their staff? “Are you a zombie?” “No.” “Welcome to Umbrella.”). Their long-term plan made no sense, and it’s worth noting that in the games, humanity is in much better nick.

But that’s ok, because they were never going to benefit from it, anyway. Every single one of their developments got away from them in one way or another. The Red Queen goes rogue and kills everyone. The Nemesis turns goodie. The super-secret exit to their bioweapons lab is besieged by thousands of zombies, kept at bay by the thinnest of chainlink fences. The airtight lab they store their highly infectious weaponised virus in has aircon vents that link directly to the offices. If their underwater base loses power, all their soldiers go to sleep during the power cut. They leave hundreds of clones lying around of their most powerful enemy.

The Resident Evil movies really only make sense as spectacles, especially after the first one, which I still think was a rather good suspense horror movie even if there were plot holes there you could drive a zombie horde through. The overall story arc doesn’t make much sense and Umbrella has to be the most incompetent, pointlessly evil corporation in the world.

And yet, having watched all five movies over the last two months, these are still entertaining movies that have the redeeming feature of starring strong, female characters who aren’t undermined by their male costars, hold their own without becoming the usual bad girl cliche. It can be so much worse, as a look at the Underworld series, that other naughties action horror with female lead franchise, shows.

What can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the Reaper Man?

The news is no less shitty for being expected. Terry Pratchett, long suffering from early onset Alzheimers, has died. I’d been worrying about it ever since he pulled out of the Discworld con last year. I’ve been crying ever since I heard the news, coming in from an after work dinner with co-workers.

It’s hard to underestimate the impact he has had on my life, through his books and his fandom. The humour came first of course, shining through even the idiosynchronatic Dutch translation; the deep humanity came later. And then, in 1997 pTerry came to the Netherlands for a book signing in Rotterdam and I came into contact with alt.fan.pratchett fandom, people who are still friends almost twenty years later. There was Usenet and meetups and irc and Clarecraft Discworld Events and Discworld Cons.

And then there was Sandra.

We met on lspace IRC in spring 2000, mutually annoying each other (in what turned out to be a flirty way), then getting to talking each evening on the phone, then she came over just after Christmas 2000 and that was that. We spent the next two years travelling to and from each other’s homes, until in 2003 she moved in with me. Cue seven years of bliss, or at least domestic comfort, all thanks to Terry Pratchett.

But that’s not the best thing Terry Pratchett did for Sandra and me. The best thing he did for her was to help her die at a time of her own choosing. It was watching his documentary when she was in the middle of a two year battle with failing kidneys and the side effects of receiving a transplant. Talking it over afterwards she admitted that she had been thinking of wanting to die herself, of thinking that there would be a point at which she felt her life would no longer be worth living, that she had to give up the battle.

In the end, she of course did. She had been afraid that if and when she died, it would’ve been in pain and fear, not at a time and place of her own choosing. Terry Pratchett’s documentary gave her the strength and conviction to do put an end to a struggle no longer worth fighting, when she still had the ability to do so with dignity and on her own terms.

That was the greatest gift he could’ve given her and me, but I’ve never found the words to thank him for it.

“a covert kind of feminist SF”

In ada, “a journal of gender, new media & technology”, Lucy Baker looks at how Lois McMaster Bujold treats the birthing process in her Vorkosigan series and how it echoes real world feminist concerns:

Lois McMaster Bujold’s science fiction (SF) relies on the symbiotic relationship between the technological and the social. This is often illustrated by the tension between the scientific and medicalized process of reproduction (via uterine replicators, cloning, and genetic modification) and the primal, ‘natural’ process. Varied levels of technological advancement and associated societal changes across the myriad planets within her SF universe allow Bujold to structure this tension as an emotional and social process as much as a medical or obstetrical one, while maintaining a respect for the choices, risks, and vulnerabilities involved in becoming pregnant.


Bujold’s SF work highlights and integrates women’s experiences into the narrative. It is this examination and ultimately hopeful yet practical approach that makes Bujold’s work feminist – it is “Invention…stories and role models and possibilities, that prepare us to leap barriers and scale heights no one has reached before, that prepare us to change the world.” (Gomoll 6).

I only found this because it showed up in my referers one day, linking to my post arguing that Bujold writes hard science fiction. It’s further proof that despite her and the Vorkosigan series massive popularity, she’s still underestimated as a serious and important science fiction author. Partially it must be because the series is published by Baen Books, often somewhat unfairly dismissed as a publisher of cookie cutter mil-sf and other pulp and at first glance it’s easy to confuse the Vorkosigan books as something like the Honor Harrington series: lightweight entertainment.

That her gender also plays a part I’ll take as a given, though I note that hasn’t stopped her from winning an impressive number of Hugo and Nebula awards.

But what may also play a role is perhaps that Bujold is actually not obvious enough with her writing; as Baker argues, she writes “a covert kind of feminist SF”, nowhere near as overtly political as a Joanna Russ or even a Nicola Griffith. That the setting is the familiar sort of semi-feudal, aristocratic stellar empire helps hide this too, as the revolution the uterine replicator brings to Barrayar on the surface looks just like modernisation, not anything really revolutionary. In the same way the uterine replicator itself doesn’t look like hard science fiction because Bujold focuses too little attention to the technological side of things, but rather more on the social impact of it as filtrered through the point of view of her aristocratic protagonists.

(You could even make an argument that the overall story of the Vorkosigan series is showing the start of a bourgeois revolution, as progressive members of the old aristocracy make common cause with the up and coming rich merchants to remake the feudal system in their favour…)

And of course perhaps the most important reason why Bujold is underestimated is that she’s so very readable; you rarely have to struggle with reading her novels and we still tend to think difficulty equals genius.

Hugo Noms: Fan writer & fanzine

Just in time before the deadline closes, let’s talk a bit about potential candidates for the Hugo’s best fan writer award:

First for consideration is Deidre Saoirse Moen, for her work in uncovering and investigating the child abuse of Walter Breen & Marion Zimmer Bradley in fandom, a story that waited fifty years to become fully public. She’s not the only one who had been pushing this story last year, but she was the impetus behind getting what “everybody knew” out in public and making it undeniable. It’s not a happy fun story and I do have the feeling some segments of fandom are less than happy with her for doing this, but it’s an important bit of fan history that was previously swept under the carpet and it illuminated the deep dysfunctionality of some corners of fandom. Something that’s sorely needed especially today, as fandom attempts to belately welcome those who want to be fans but by reason of gender, race, sexual or gender orientation found themselves less than comfortable in it.

Similarly, James Nicoll has also been adept at peeling back the foreskin of ignorance and applying the wirebrush of enlightenment to fandom, being an amplifier both of inconvenient truths and an (unpaid) publicist for worthwhile ventures that otherwise might have escaped my knowledge. His critical attitude towards much of what happens in SF fandom makes his opinion on what is worth looking into that much more important. His recent reviewing site is also a good example of how he has helped shine a light on the more neglected corners of fantasy and science fiction.

The same can be said of Ian Sales, for his SF Mistressworks project, showcasing overlooked works by female writers that should be in the Gollancz Masterworks series. (Full discloser: I review for it). But I also like his own personal writing outside of it, on his blog and on Twitter, like James, that of a critically engaged fan.

Natalie Luhrs may call her blog Pretty Terrible, but it’s far from it. Her fan writing these days consists mainly of link posting and writing on Twitter, but don’t underestimate the power of a good link roundup. She has also been actively pursuing some of the nastier stories in fandom last year, one of the people who with e.g. Moen helped keep the MZB saga out in the open, as well as the Wiscon/Frenkel debacle and far too many other scandals. She has helped keeping fandom honest.

Abigail Nussbaum is one of those people whose opinions I always want to argue with, not because they’re wrong but because they’re consistently smart and well reasoned and I still disagree with them and they make me think more about why I like something she doesn’t or vice versa.

The same goes for Ethan Robinson, who is often wrong, but interestingly wrong.

Fanzine wise, Europa SF is a great project that deserves more attention, attempting to provide an English language portal for the European (continental) science fiction scene(s). In a world so dominated by American and British concerns, any counter to it is welcome.

The other fanzine I like to nominate people will probably not know, is Chaos Horizon, attempting to “make sense out of awards chaos” and predict the Hugo/Nebula winners. Whether they succeed is not the interesting part, but just getting some scientific rigour to this whole awards business is sorely needed.

Campbell Nominations

The Campbell Award for Best New Writer is not a Hugo award but is awarded together with it. Unlike the Hugo, writers have two bites at the cherry as you are eligible for nominations in the two years after your first professional sale. My list therefore has the best writers from the eligibility list at Writertopia eligible for the second year in a row:

  • Carmen Maria Machado
    I read two of her short stories in my SF marathon and liked both of them, she has a somewhat more literary bend than is the norm within science fiction and deserves some recognition for it.
  • Helene Wecker
    I just wish I’d read The Golem and the Djinni in time for last year’s Hugo Nominations.
  • Bogi Takács
    A writer with a lot of potential and I want to read more of e’s fiction.
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew
    Despite the revelations about her being the blogger behind Requires Hate, I still like her fiction and think she is one of the brighter talents on the SF scene currently.
  • Usman Malik
    I read two of his short stories in my SF marathon, which were almost good enough for a Hugo nomination, were it not for the stiff competition from others.

Hugo Noms: short stories

The clock’s ticking, but you still have time to read and vote for these stories as your Hugo nominations:

Alyssa Wong, “The Fisher Queen.” F&SF, May/June 2014.

“The Fisher Queen” is perfect, already a Nebula nominee and deservedly so. It’s a story about a fisher girl from the Mekong delta who one day learns the truth behind her father’s joking that her mother was a mermaid. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a feminist fairy tale.

Damien Angelica Walters, “The Floating Girls: A Documentary.” Jamais Vu 3, September 2014.

A very simple story about an unexplained wave of girls, well, just floating up into the air and the indifference with which it is greeted. It feels very much of the moment, a response to things like GamerGate and such.

Kelly Sandoval, “The One They Took Before.” Shimmer #22, November 2014.

An urban fantasy story that looks at what happens after you get back from fairy land. It reminded me a bit of Jo Walton’s Relentlessly Mundane, about the same general emotions of loss and bitterness, but in a different key so to speak.

Rachael K. Jones, “Makeisha in Time.” Crossed Genres #20, August 2014.

Almost impossible, but Rachael K. Jones has managed to write a novel time travel story, of a woman who keeps getting pulled back into the past to lead entire lifes there, only to return to the exact method she left, her family and friends none the wiser, and how she adapts to this. A great story.

Xia Jia, “Tongtong’s Summer.” Translated by Ken Liu. Clarkesworld, December 2014 (originally in Neil Clarke (ed.), Upgraded, Wyrm Publishing, 2014).

Xia Jia writes about the impact of high technology on everyday life and here tackles a very contemporary subject, the use of robots to help an aging population cope with day to day life. In this case Tongtong’s grandfather, in his eighties but still working at the clinic every day until a bad fall, has to come live with them, so Tongtong’s mother could take care of him. Because she and her husband both work, Tongtong’s father brings home a robot, an Ah Fu, to help them. Which isn’t actually a robot, but a tele-operated machine run by an intern for the company Tongtong’s father works for: real robots don’t work and full time carers are too expensive.

Nobody’s sidekick

SL Huang talks about writing intersectional characters and why they are important:

I am the protagonist in my own life, in my own story. I am not anybody’s sidekick.

Neither are my characters. Neither are they.

I have now, thankfully, gotten over the knee-jerk reaction that every axis I assign to a character off the straight white able-bodied American male (etc) is somehow an additional layer of disbelief I’m asking my audience to suspend. That I must justify these choices. If I ever feel that urge, I remind myself I am a perfectly realistic person, someone whose birth needed no special reason.

And I do not need anyone’s permission to be a hero.

For me personally, though I really don’t lack for characters with my sort of face, having more diverse, more realistically diverse characters in my fiction is only a good thing. The world really doesn’t need many more white men in its stories. Indeed, one of the reasons why I liked Huang’s Zero Sum Game and Half Life was that the protagonist looks nothing like me. One of the things that GamerGate and the Sad Puppies get so wrong is thinking that diversity is that nobody can actually enjoy reading or playing a character that isn’t exactly like you, when for many of us that’s actually the point.

For an idea of what I want to see more of, Chris Schweizer drew epic badasses from history for Black history month. Until science fiction and fantasy can show a similar list of awesome characters, there’s work to be done.

Your Happening World (March 3rd through March 8th)