Thursday, March 31, 2016

I Have Nominated!

Foolishly, I ate food that I cooked myself, and subsequently wound up with an epic bellyache, including the part where I showed up in the ER convinced my appendix was about to explode. In between writhing in misery I read some more Hugo eligible stories, and submitted my nominations.

I nominated the things I already mentioned, and I threw in some more short stories after binge reading a bunch of them. Nominating is hard work, compared to voting.

With the exception of an entertaining post by one of my fellow File 770 addicts about Ruritanians, I didn’t nominate any puppy-war silliness, even though I really enjoyed some of it, such as Alexandra Erin’s. I don’t want the younglings of 2116 wasting time puzzling over slang dictionaries trying to decode all those neologism failures.

And now I can go back to reading things that are old, or that don’t concern science fiction at all! Whee!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Reading Some More Hugo-Eligible Novels

I was very close to running off to a nearby comic con last weekend, but so far I have failed to make any promotional bookmarks or other propaganda for One Sunny Night, and besides that, I was exhausted from Daylight Savings Time. Someday we will rise up against the time-changing fascist overlords and never have to change our clocks again. Arizona and Hawai’i are already there.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading more Hugo-eligible books.

Star Wars on Trial by David Brin, Matthew Woodring Stover and a bunch of other writers. I like Star Wars, and I have a perverse affection for trials. But these aren’t real trials with things like evidentiary rules and foundation, they’re kind of like Maoist show trials, in which charges are leveled against the Star Wars movies and writers roleplay litigators arguing whether they contain malphilosophy.

Since this book concerned with the first six movies it’s a little stale, sort of like how Spaceballs felt given that it was released long after Return of the Jedi. Everybody’s busy talking about Rey and Kylo Ren now, and this book is rehashing the prequel trilogy, which I think we’d all like to forget to the extent possible, thank you very much and good day sir, moving right along.

I feel a little bit like that lunatic juror who stands up and points out that the court is flying an admiralty flag so the judge’s rulings don’t count, but I don’t like the idea of accusing art of harming society. Sure it harms society, but that’s not always a bad thing. The Jungle resulted in societal harm by causing several meat packing plants to go out of business, resulting in mass unemployment. Uncle Tom’s Cabin laid a great big harm stick on a segment of society that badly wanted harming.

Since you can’t unmake art, the only solution is to make more art, and better art. As we now know, Star Wars is a work in progress. That nice Mr. Abrams is hard at work, doing something about all the racism and sexism and gaping plot loopholes that formerly proliferated in the Star Wars galaxy. Whatever the prior movies lacked, future movies are working to address. Case dismissed. Not nominating.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Meanwhile, I found some excellent science fiction from Africa, and I’m totally nominating it. Binti is the story of about a young girl from a tribal culture at the fringes of a society run by an arrogant conqueror culture. She studies hard and gets good grades in math, her ticket to space adventures. Once in space, adventures begin to happen. She meets tentacled aliens who admire her locs as well as the healing propensities of the sacred red earth she carries with her, even in space. Without it, a woman of her culture is considered to be both naked and insane, and therefore completely unmarriageable. 

This is a sweet fairy tale in space, with a resourceful, diplomatic and brilliant female lead character. I would love to see it made into a movie. Nominating.

The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp

This novel is about an aging gay dude who frequents auctions, and fights vampires, because they have the best antiques. He also has flashbacks to his youthful days hanging out with very fashionable people in the sixties. I wish Freddie Mercury had lived to read this book; he would have loved it. Nominating.

The Border by Robert McCammon

Some aliens are having a huge war, and we just happen to live on the border. I will take back this recommendation in the event of a cheesy ending, but so far I’m about a quarter of the way through and am enjoying the suspense and page-turniness.  Probably nominating unless the ending fails.
EDIT: The ending is ... whoa. The page-turniness persisted throughout. I've been reading McCammon's books for years and he hasn't disappointed me yet. Change that to "Nominating."

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I really liked the writing style, and the characters, but I never quite fell into the world of orogenes studying magic that is literally earthshaking. I think it’ll get nominated without my help, and I may end up voting for it. Probably not nominating unless I still have an empty slot based on the belief it’ll get nominated anyway.

This Year’s Puppylists

Both the Sad and Rabid Puppies have issued what they represent are non-slatey lists, and their choices seem uncharacteristically reasonable (I was very pleased to see Binti there).

Personally, as a fringe-dwelling liberal-leaning self-pub loser with a mere handful of sales, I haven’t got much stake in this particular subculture war. I’m going to go ahead and nominate some of the Puppies’ choices, such as File 770 and Binti.

Back to reading more stories!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Aogashima Volcano, Japan

It looks like the place where the villains in my story live. I'd probably get a lot of writing done if I lived there; few distractions.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I’d Rather Write About Science Than Magic

No cultural appropriation issues to worry about. No sweating over some laborious explanation of how the magic works. No cheesy “I win” buttons such as level 47 fireballs. Plenty of video games and coffee.

Charles Stross wrote a handy Taxonomy of Cliches in SpaceOpera and if I ever do write a space opera as threatened, I intend to be studying this list in great detail. And probably also finding some beta readers. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cultural Appropriation

It looks like Ms. Rowling is going to need some beta readers.

Recently she came up with some glimpses of a new Potter tale set in North America, and while doing that she managed to offend Native Americans.  Here’s Dr. Adrienne Keene’s account of both Ms. Rowling’s material and her own reaction.

For starters, I’m thrilled that Ms. Rowling is returning to kidfic. I haven’t read her adult books because I heard they were mysteries, not my favorite genre. Like many people, I’m a Harry Potter fan, in fact I carry the entire series around with me on my phone. Since I’m kind of a folklore nerd myself, I was well aware she was borrowing her creatures from a variety of European cultures, Greek centaurs and Scottish Banshees alongside mythical British creatures. European appropriation is fair game, to some extent.

I’m going to move briefly to the subject of pixies and menehunes. Both are rumored to be small, mischievous humanoids with magical propensities who are susceptible to being bribed with food (from Wales and Hawai’i, respectively – the rumor is that they split up the English language, with most of the vowels going to the Hawai’ians and most of the consonants going to the Welsh).

I saw nothing about it in the Wikipedia entry and assume the theory must have been overruled by historians, but I recall reading a piece about how possibly the pixies were actually the picts, small people overrun by my hulking Celt ancestors many centuries ago. I have also read speculation about menehunes actually reflecting legends about the people from the Marquesas who settled Hawai’i prior to being overrun by the next wave of immigrants from Tahiti.

Cute, roly poly midgets that love dessert – cute!  Beleagured original inhabitants (tiny due to malnutrition) hunkering in the hills, conducting late night guerilla raids in the hopes of stealing back some of the food that was originally theirs but now rests in the larders of those irritating giants who sailed up one day, murdered most of the local people and declared themselves conquerors – not as cute.  Horrifying, actually.  In a nutshell, that’s what appropriation is about.  Adding insult to injury. Reducing their history to kiddie tales about funny little men desperate enough to, say, perform laborious cobbler work throughout the night in exchange for a few crappy bowls of bread and milk. 

Part of this process involves reducing a conquered peoples’ religious practices to magic, and their gods to pesky malevolent spirits, or demons (see the works of H.P. Lovecraft, among others).  I’m praying for rain, you’re chanting a heathen incantation to the rain spirit. I’m asking the Lord to bless my marriage, you’re performing a fertility rite. My crucifix wins against your undead blood-drinkers who can turn into wolves, and my holy water turns your zombies to dust.

In recent years, there has been a revisionist backlash along the lines of “actually those conquered people had the real magic, and the colonizing monotheists were really the ones venerating evil spirits.”  That’s sort of the tradition Rowling is coming from, even though her wizards all celebrate Christmas, except for possibly that Jewish guy. Her witches and wizards seem to be secular humanists who never shout religious words when threatened or startled, and it is noted that a few of them have been burned at the stake by muggles throughout the centuries. Nevertheless, they have a cozy relationship with civilization, and the Potter stories revolve around welcoming newcomers to society. 

Oh, and by the way, why aren’t there more Irish students at Hogwarts?  There are leprechauns … you know, small jolly humanoids who have weird magical powers and are secretly hiding all their gold from their rightfully entitled conquerors …

Hey, maybe the house elves are the last surviving remnants of Legolas’ people … reduced into diminutive, debased, fearful servants. They do have weird magical powers.

I could probably go on at least for a couple of pages about wizards during the revolutionary war, but the real issue that’s annoying people has to do with the positioning between Ms. Rowling’s magic – cobbled-together fragments of pre-Christian cultures sprinkled with Latin -- and the Native Americans’ cultural beliefs, which have survived in an unbroken chain despite strenuous attempts to eradicate them. Including trying to write them off as weird magic.

N.K. Jemisin has a few good ideas about a better way to do this.  Personally, I’d go the other way and invent an entirely fictitious tribe of Native American wizards who intermarried with equally fictitious immigrant wizards (because the wizards recognized each other and cooperated while the muggles were busy beating each other to a bloody pulp, probably because they had been in secret telephonic contact the entire time) and built their own wizarding town that interfaces with NYC similar to the way London connects to the Potterverse. 

Even more personally, I’d probably sideskirt the whole issue by writing books set in the far future. If Ms. Rowling really wants to do this right, she’s going to need a boatload of beta readers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Adventures in Writing Adventures

Further to my post about beta readers, I mentioned in a forum that I was hesitant to use them and got back a reply from someone who thought one should never write in a vacuum, and that beta readers could alert you to unconscious plagiarism or misogyny. And that right there was enough to permanently close my mind. *seals airlock*

Because as a writer of adventure stories, my job is to make people a little bit uncomfortable. Possibly even sweaty. Things could easily get bogged down and acrimonious at the beta stage.

I didn’t realize that I was a writer of adventure stories until I wrote some, having previously wasted my time trying to exude something more literary. I was in denial at first, convinced I was really writing science fiction or YA, with a side order of adventure. But no, "adventure" seems to be my primary orientation. 

Lots of people besides me have tried to reinvent the adventure tale, and most of them have done a far better job. Pulp Fiction is an adventure story at heart, with a glowing treasure and strange temples and irritable natives flaunting extreme fashions. I just saw The Good Dinosaur, in which corny Western tropes are reborn with dinosaurs swapped in for cowboys. We could talk about Star Wars, but – ow, I just slapped my own knuckles with a ruler. One digression at a time!

Adventure is like horror lite. It’s meant for kids, as well as uneducated, boorish, unrefined, profit-oriented, non-literary oafs who are reading something that inflames their senses when they could be learning something. It is upsetting to the sensibilities of the refined, who prefer the long agonizing ache of despair to the bright flare of panic. People who enjoy policing art for problematic content tend to throw up their hands when they get to adventure, as adventure is all about making you feel uncomfortable. Deliberately.

I'm not sure you could really write adventure effectively as part of a collective given the amount of deliberate button-pushing that occurs, as well as the need to dance along the tightrope of appealing to kids without warping their minds. 

Adventure is both for children and bad for children, and throughout history there have been various crusades against the kind of stories that inspire children to bounce around and bop each other with sticks. Modern readers frequently cringe at the kinds of things that were accepted as children’s entertainment in days gone by (while other modern readers fetishize the first editions). I’ve never raised any children myself, but I’ve got some in my extended family that keep me on course as far as writing stories with responsible values which probably won’t inspire anyone to commit badness, or incite enraged Twitter mobs.  

The Good Dinosaur and Other Adventure Stories

I am pleased to report I am three pages into the sequel, and everything’s going good so far.

I’m a total slug as far as follow-up promo, but I’ll get there in due time. I’ve been distracted by reading Hugo novels, and then I reached a point where I decided I hated novels, so I went ahead and watched The Good Dinosaur.

I had heard in advance that this was an unusual Pixar film – pitched at dino-loving kids but unusually scary. I love dinosaurs AND scary things, so I liked it even better than The Force Awakens, which was low on both.

The movie takes place in a cute alternate universe where dinosaurs farm the land, and fend off pesky mammalian varmints. They all talk with cowboy accents and live on cozy family farms. A young doofasaurus finds himself in a Fuddian struggle with one particular varmint, a young human named Spot, which leads him into adventures.

Because this is an ADVENTURE STORY.  No wonder it’s scary.

(See large digression regarding adventure stories, coming up next.)

This movie is way scary. Savage beast predators, smooth talking predators, vicious nature, vicious water, stampedes, floods, storms, stampedes. Vulnerable little Spot is frequently endangered by huge vicious things. The doofy dinosaurian hero undergoes some hardcore trauma along with plenty of superficial cuts and bruises. All set against a gorgeous Colorado-Utah type mountain range. 

And yet the tyrannosaurs galloping magestically alongside the cattle they’ve just retrieved from the rustlers made my heart soar. The two brachiosaurs dashing toward each other in ecstatic reunion only to stop precisely short and intertwine necks brought a large smile to my face. The whole notion of dinosaurian farmers made me giggle. And the way the movie bounced from one cliffhanger to the next made me forget all about the rainstorm blowing against my windows.

Yup, I liked it better than TFA. Better than that live action dino movie with Chris Pratt. Better than the Pixar-goes-to-San-Francisco movie because there was a dinosaur John Wayne rather than a Bingbong. Why yes, it is a lazy pile of recycled cliches, but it recycles them in an interesting and novel way.

Is it too scary for kids? Depends on the kid. It does haul out the parental death trope, something I tried to steer away from when writing my own adventure stories, and there are plenty of snapping fangs and stomping hooves and dangerous currents that might agitate kids who have been scared by similar things. Not to mention the psychotic pterodactyls, who are even more terrifying when engaging in conversation than when swooping down from above with gaping jaws.

It’s another attempt at reinventing adventure stories for modern times. It doesn’t always score (like what’s up with that drunk-on-fermented-fruit scene, a Dumbo homage?) but it scores more often than it misses.