Sunday, August 12, 2018

Getting Ready for Worldcon

My bag is mostly packed, I just need to eliminate a few t-shirts, since no doubt I’ll pick up a couple of t-shirts there.

That last post, about the Citizen app, came from a File 770 discussion. There is a “protest” scheduled for next Saturday, and already there have been fliers describing the invaders as Nazis, and an argument over whether Trump is, in fact, a Nazi is percolating on my Facebook, which is probably as good a reason as any to go on vacation.

Citizen is a phone app that picks up dispatch records for emergency responders like police and ambulance, while lighting up a dot on a map to give the location. It’s only available in New York and San Francisco, and San Jose (only 60 miles away) is considered a suburb of San Francisco by some. If it starts lighting up with notifications about ambulances or mass arrests, I’ll head in the other direction.

Writers, and gamers, and nerds – oh my!

In which Charon posts a phone screenie as foundation for an assertion

that the Citizen app indeed works in the South Bay.  (Because we heard there would be a bunch of Nazis protesting outside Worldcon.)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

BayCon Follow Up

Normally when I go to a convention, I sit down right afterward and write bloggage about who all I talked to, and what books I intend to read. This year I failed to do this after Baycon. I have lots of excuses, the main one being that I was busy climbing a mountain, while suffering from a fever, during a thunderstorm, at a Colorado rock formation haunted by the ghosts of dinosaurs. And I’d do it again.

Meanwhile, here are all the business cards and bookmarks I harvested at BayCon:

Jay Hartlove – writes Crichton-style thrillers, here’s his website. I started his book Daughter Cell but only got 10% through it before deleting it from my Kindle, not sure why.

The Steampunk Explorer – a fun news blog for afficionados of the Steampunk genre. 

Jim Beach wrote a book called Two Fisted Jesus Tales: Book 1: The Book of the Job. I wonder if it’s sarcastic? I just grabbed a copy from Amazon so I can find out.

Daniel Potter writes about Freelance Familiars, and they look like fun. I just snagged volume 1.

Ann Gimpel did a 3D postcard to advertise her books Earth’s Hope and Earth’s Requiem. She’s a prolific writer, like I hope to be someday, and she writes a lot of different kinds of paranormal romance. I just picked up Gemstone: A Zodiac Shifters Paranormal Romance: Gemini (Wylde Magick Book 1) (because you know me, I’m fond of astrology. I’ll let you know if I like it. 

I had a devil of a time finding Marc Anthony Johnson, author of Catalyst (The Passage of Hellsfire, Book 1), on the interwebs, but once I did, I learned he’ll be at Worldcon, so maybe I’ll run into him. I picked up a copy of Catalyst; maybe I’ll read it and then we’ll have something to talk about if we bump into each other in an elevator. 

When I googled Dorian Graves’ book Bones and Bourbon, I got a bunch of steakhouses. Their book is $6.99 at Amazon and is an urban fantasy of some kind; I’m going to read all these less pricey authors first but I do like the cover and concept.

Right now I’m packing for Worldcon. Hope to find out about a bunch more indie authors there, and maybe even pick up some more of these awesome promotional bookmarks and business cards.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review: Isle of Dogs

I was befuddled and perplexed by this movie. Maybe it's because I'm a cat person, but my cat was befuddled and perplexed too. 

It takes place in a graphically stunning world based on WWII-era Japan. The people in it are Japanese, but their words are not subtitled, although I’m told they say simple phrases that are also communicated by their gestures.

The main characters are dogs. Specifically, a grungy stray who reconnects with his father and bonds while learning leadership skills.

All of this leads me to scratch my head and wonder who exactly is in this movie’s intended audience. White American dudes in their ‘90s who kinda like Japanese wartime art? Or maybe younger men having midlife crises? Dog lovers? Pixar fans?

The gorgeously animated dogs live in a grim and gritty dystopian world, in which politicians are in league with evil cats, who have exiled all the dogs to garbage island. It looks pretty amazing, and I’m passingly familiar with mid-20th century Japanese art from growing up in Hawai'i, so I thought it looked pretty neat. The story left me cold, though. It’s a manly film, where the only female dogs are fragile femmes with husky voices and fluffy ears.

It’s a grownup-ish film, with no puppies in sight, although there is a human boy, Atari, who has uncharacteristically Japanese golden eyes, and is kind to dogs, and is determined to rescue his faithful guard dog and resourceful enough to steal a small plane in which to do it. Even the only kid in this film is mature beyond his years.

Maybe someday we’ll have a movie industry that isn’t run by boring creepy old men who think everyone wants to see movies about what boring creepy old men do, even people who are lined up to see an animated kids’ movie about dogs.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Review: Ready Player One

I loved it. 

It held my attention, I was charmed by the visuals, I had fun spotting Easter eggs. I hated the funny, grandstanding villains and I loved the working class heroes. 

Specific things I loved: the spot-on music, from easy-on-the-eyes 80’s David Lee Roth to riot grrl goddess Joan Jett to Blondie belting out “One Way Or Another” and even an homage to the glorious Bee Gees and “Staying Alive.” The sweetly awkwardly autistic Halliday. Atari freaking Adventure – as someone who found the invisible dot around 1982, I experienced a twinge of Spielberg Moment. Reliving The Shining. Awesome virtual dance sequences. Cameos everywhere, from Hello Kitteh to Iron Giant. The avatars, the race scene, the barrage of cultural references. This movie was made for me and people like me, and people that I like. I will probably watch it several more times.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Separating Parents and Children: Let's Talk About That

There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about children being separated from parents; that’s something I know about, so I thought I’d spew some words.

When I was born, in the sixties, women who got pregnant outside marriage either (a) gave their babies up for closed record adoption or (b) faced financial ruin and social humiliation. They could also try to get an illegal abortion, but those were sketchy and you could die or give birth to a severely handicapped baby, according to my bio mom. She got knocked up and I was given to an infertile couple and the records concerning the transaction were sealed until I ponied up multiple thousands of dollars in the nineties to get them reopened.

Aside from a few deep south states, most of the US is moving toward the “any adult who wants to know their genetic history can just ask” sort of recordkeeping which is practiced in places like Europe. This may be moot given the availability of DNA testing. Although there are some adoptees/bioparents who aren’t interested in genetic relationships, which is a perfectly respectable option to choose, a large contingent (possibly the majority) are very interested. My interest began when I hit age thirty and had a hard time bearing children.

When I learned my bio mom’s name, and I called her up, I wasn’t looking for a maternal relationship; I had a bad one with my adopted mother. She grew up in an orphanage in Texas where they had “state-of-the-art” care: swapping out caregivers every few months so they wouldn’t bond with the kids. And making them line up every day, sorted by height. My adopted mom had some issues, we both suffered due to trendy beliefs about parenting that were later overruled, we didn’t get along and I left home as a teenager. The thought of her potentially getting custody of any child of mine should I die early was enough to keep me from trying harder to become a parent myself. 

Fortunately, I have a plethora of fertile genetic relatives to take up the burden of passing our DNA to future generations, and thanks to the fact technology happened, and now I can spit in a cup, or type a couple ancestral names into a computer, I’m finding them. I still haven't seen a picture of my father's face, but now I have a family tree on Ancestry. 

Overnight, I went from being an ignorant bastard to a snotty white person who can trace her ancestry back to a minor politician in Leicestershire born in the 1300s. Or to a German guy named Haussmann whose multiple descendants include renowned filmmakers and (possibly) the architect of Paris himself. Or to a bunch of Pennsylvania Dutch and Quaker and Puritan types with names like “Submit” and “Pretitia” and “Sampson” and “Kerenhappuch.” I have plenty of revolutionary war solidiers, such as the intrepid Peter Arterburn, and some Civil War Yankees, with a particularly mean one that fought in a long list of battles, survived them all and settled down with a nice lady to weave a new branch into the family tree.

I’m not going to let my head swell over all the distant nobility happening 19 generations back, though. I’ve got coal miners and janitors and laborers and enlisted men too, and quite a lot of farmers. Some Colorado cowboys, a turn of the century electrician, a post-1776 lawyer. Ordinary, boring people, just like me.

I feel more grounded now that I have a sense of personal history so I can see where my people fit. I haven’t delved into details but I’m sure there are good and bad ones, as well as a few tragic ones who barely lived long enough to contribute their personal branch of the tree. 

When a person is separated from their biological relatives, there is no guarantee they won’t sign up for a DNA database – or even encounter actual genetic relatives who look just like them. When a person discovers their identity is built on a foundation of falsehoods, they sometimes lose the ability to put their faith in parents, or governments, or recordkeeping.

It’s not that it damages/traumatizes us. I’m not that much of a Freudian. Unless they get abused to the point where a weed becomes an orchid, kids grow up and head directly toward their DNA potential and get busy building a new generation, unless obstacles like disasters or discrimination or money get in the way. I lean more toward the theory that some kids are hardy weeds while others are fragile orchids, and different people react to similar events with varying magnitude. 

We should err on the side of the orchids, therefore, and assume all kids are delicate, and take decent care of them. Separating very young children from caregivers who have a vested interest in keeping them alive and happy ... that's just evil. You're throwing a hard curveball into those children's ability to parent future generations. For the orchids among them, you're placing a huge obstacle in their ability to survive into adulthood. 

The biological relatives I'm finding are astonishingly similar to me as far as aptitudes and talents. It definitely benefits a child to grow up exposed to all of that, to have an awareness of the kinds of hobbies and sports and careers their kin enjoy. It also helps to know about bad potentials that occasionally surface in your clan, such as diseases and allergies that can be mitigated through lifestyle changes. 

Or even fostering/adopting -- something that has helped families caught in a downward generational spiral that can happen when you grow up in an environment with a lot of obstacles. European royalty used to foster their kids out for political reasons, and in the South Pacific cultures where I grew up, being hanai'd out to some family or another could happen for plenty of reasons. I'm not frowning on putting kids in competent foster homes while their parents are detained, or even placing them for adoption if that's what needs to happen.

This part about rounding kids up and stuffing them in prisons and/or selling them into vaguely-legal adoptions? Nothing good can result from that. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review: The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Emmett Till would have been 77 years old today. Same age as Bob Dylan and Bernie Sanders and lots of other baby boomers. He came up in a book I recently reviewed (The Hate U Give), where a character posted a picture of his corpse, which grossed her friend out. The photos are very gross, and you can easily find them online. They show a dead fourteen-year-old boy who was tortured and shot and tossed in a river with a weight tied around his neck.

All because he may have said something inappropriate to a white lady named Carolyn Bryant, who claims she still can’t remember what exactly happened, although now she thinks she made some of it up, and the murder case is being reopened after all these years. Her late husband and his dimwitted brother, the ones who actually tortured and murdered Emmett, are both dead -- of cancer, in their sixties, after long free lives full of misdemeanor charges like welfare fraud and writing bad checks and even making money for recounting the details of the crime in a media interview. It wasn’t like the case would be re-opened over this new evidence, not in that time or place; they had been judged not guilty by a jury of their peers, leaving them free to boldly confess.

This book, The Blood of Emmett Till, is the reason the case is being reopened now, since Carolyn gave an interview to the author where she admitted to lying in the first trial. The one where she claimed Emmett grabbed her around the waist and used a word so vulgar she couldn’t even identify the alphabet letter it started with. Now she’s saying she made all that up. Which would mean that her no-account peckerwood husband and his skeevy brother tortured a 14-year-old boy to death for no reason at all, as opposed to a stupid and flimsy reason.

Emmett Till’s mother wanted the coffin open so the world could see what these men did to her son. Some were outraged and horrified. Some nodded in satisfaction. Laws were passed, memorials were built. There was a memorial sign and someone filled it full of bullets.

And it’s still going on today. Black kids, and adults, are still getting tortured, and killed, for no reason at all, or sometimes reasons that are flimsy and stupid. A lot of us white people grouch about people protesting it. Some of us white people don’t like it, and want to do something, but a lot of what we do amounts to having circuitous arguments with other white people over the best way to stop racism – or, all too often, whether we should even bother trying. 

When I’ve asked my black friends about it, they tend to say white people have done plenty already, and perhaps we might benefit from sitting still and listening. Emmett Till, for instance. I’d bet most American black people know who he is, but probably not nearly as many white people. If you’re one of them, this book is informative. It’s hard to read. There were a lot of times I wanted to just put it down and go read something light, but I’m trying to do some of that sitting still and listening, and Emmett Till’s story is a very important one.