Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Aieee, I found a typo in my book

I typed "June" when I meant "May."
Please forgive me.
I suppose editors aren't totally superfluous, assuming an editor would have caught it.
I do have a relatively detailed timeline for this epic (complete with 3748 moon cycles), but I'm afraid that one got past me.
My next book will be better, I promise.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

The shock of the election is fading and turning into acceptance. So the noob got in. I’ll give him a chance to prove he’s more of a Johnny Ramone than a Hitler, while crossing my fingers and trying to detox from both Facebook and politics.

I needed some comfort reading, so I reached for Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. I had him autograph my print edition at last Worldcon so now I can’t just casually read it while commuting, so I bought it again in digital form. It was every bit as comforting. It reassured me that yes, I am too a speculative fiction nerd, despite my distaste for Star Trek and Marvel, and my constant flirtations with litfic and other genres. I love this cheesy pulp fiction vampire story with all my heart, and I thought I’d try to analyze that. Spoilers shall proliferate but this is a 1982 book which has been in print longer than most people have been alive, so I figure it’s fair game. There’s also a graphic novel, but the prose version is the one permanently lodged in my skull.

First, some history. Together with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s books about the vampire St. Germain (starting in 1978), and Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire (1976, followed by The Vampire Lestat in 1985), Fevre Dream was part of a wave of anthropology horror that considered the proposition of vampires as a parallel species rather than supernatural beings. This theme is alive and well, as any Twilight fan will assure you, but back then it was brand sparkly new. The idea that a vampire could be a protagonist, or – gasp – even a hero was deeply weird, because everyone knew that vampires were creepy guys with Eastern European accents who went around saying “blah” and obeying all kinds of weird superstitions involving mirrors and garlic and silver. Like Grandpa Munster, or the dude on Sesame Street.

Then a handful of novelists started throwing around ideas about vampires being sexy and dashing and minds are still being lost over this concept. Martin wasn’t first, but he was hot on the heels of Yarbro and Rice, adding a unique American spin by blending his vampires with a heaping scoop of Mark Twain.

And then, because the sixties were still alive and twitching in the early ‘80s despite Reagan, and because Martin is a social justice warrior hippie at heart, and because his vampires crossed the Atlantic to become riverboat dandies in the old south, he threw in some parallels to racism. George is a liberal kind of guy who stands against racism, and Fevre Dream is a surprisingly anti-racist book. 

At it’s heart, science fiction – and to some extent fantasy, and horror – are about what we’ll do when we finally meet the Other. Fevre Dream is an extrapolation on that riff, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I love it. I’ll explain.

The book starts with two men meeting for dinner. Our perspective character is Abner Marsh, a big fat ugly riverboat captain who has just suffered a devastating business loss, but he’s sucking it up and standing tall like a good American, meeting with a mysterious prospective business partner that just might save him from ruin. The man he’s meeting is Joshua Anton York, who is … odd. At first he has old man’s hair, then he’s a boyish-looking guy with pale blond hair – sort of like the Targaryens in Game of Thrones. He’s a rich dandy who wants to buy himself a premium steamboat – coincidentally, Marsh would like to captain a premium steamboat. The two hit it off, bonding over engineering nerdery.

Now 1982 was still a relatively closeted time, one in which even a luminary like Elton John could find himself on radio blacklists for coming out as bisexual. AIDS was fermenting in the shadows and Reagan would continue denying it even existed. The Rocky Horror Picture Show could only be shown at midnight. And you could still write about same sex friendships without everyone automatically looking for a sexual subtext.

It’s there, I suppose. The idea of York and Marsh getting snuggly does absolutely nothing for me, but maybe there are some readers who would find it appealing. The readers who insist most fictional same-sex relationships are closeted romance have a lot in common with the kind of guys who insist men and women can’t have platonic relationships. Still, I couldn’t help but think that in a modern version Marsh and York would probably be a couple, and I think I prefer them as total opposites. The bear and the dandy. The sophisticate and the working man. Idealism and reality. Felix and Oscar. A perfect contrast for a story about long-ago America.

After the partnership is formed the action shifts to the wonderfully named Sour Billy Tipton. Lank hair, fishlike blue eyes, Southern – I’ll bet you can picture him. Sour Billy is buying a slave. That’s because he works for a pack of vampires, and they eat slaves, because it’s New Orleans and the Civil War hasn’t happened yet. The leader of this vampire pack is Damon Julian, another dandy. You can tell he’s the leader of the vampire pack by the way he decides everyone else’s feeding order.

Back to Marsh and York, sailing along on their premium steamship Fevre Dream, through wide swaths of steamboat lore inspired by Life On The Mississippi. Marsh glances at some slaves during this process. His personal cook is a former slave, whom he bought after tasting his cooking, but he’s never taken much notice of politics before.

He’s enjoying his new boat heartily, even though some of his crew are a little suspicious of co-captain York’s odd habits, such as avoiding daylight. This is the part where I hate giving up spoilers even though the word “vampire” was right there on the cover when I first picked this book up. Martin does a masterfully suspenseful build. Oh, okay, there are vampires and York is hunting them. Oh, all right, fine, York is a vampire. Oh, since you asked, York is actually a good vampire hunting bad vampires, and thanks to a magical drink he concocts out of sheep’s blood and laudanum, he’s also a vegetarian vampire, which is the reason he’s a good vampire.

Marsh is down with this. He really likes his boat. York likes it too, and learns to pilot it in the dark, using his super vampire night vision. They are two men in love with their boat, but alas, Damon Julian eventually comes between them.

He does this at a banquet, at which a slave baby is served as a centerpiece. Marsh is finally morally appalled, and he gets a couple of his crew members killed attempting a retaliatory sneak attack on Julian later on. But Julian outsmarts him and dominates York, leaving Marsh in the messy position of discovering them, holed up naked in their cabin drinking blood together. 

Marsh barely escapes with his life, and spends some effort trying to get his boat back before settling into a far less than illustrious career in a dying industry. He does take some time out to serve in the civil war, having picked his side shortly after watching Julian’s disgusting child sacrifice. He grows old and retires, and sits in his house looking at the river until one day he gets a letter from York.  Hasn’t aged a day. Wants Marsh to help him prevent Julian and the evil vampires from crashing the last great steamboat race.

So Marsh and York head out to Julian’s plantation, where they find the Fevre Dream, gray with age and neglect, sitting on dry land, in disrepair. York apologizes for lying, telling Abner he’s been Julian’s lackey all this time, and Julian has finally decided to end it all in a blaze of glory, which will surely get the last handful of vampires killed. And not only that – York’s vampire girlfriend is pregnant.

I’ve already spoiled everything else, so I’ll spoil the fight, while noting there aren’t a lot of fight scenes in this book. Murders a-plenty, including some sad demises of minor characters that foreshadow all the carnage Martin would eventually sublimate into Game of Thrones. Martin has a way of making you care deeply about characters shortly before snuffing them, bless his heart.

After getting York in a stalemate, Julian parks him in the sun and waits for him to die of solar exposure. However, the elderly Sour Billy Tipton is still lurking around because Julian promised to turn him into a vampire some day. Sour Billy would like for it to be today, since Marsh has just inflicted some grievous spinal cord injuries on him with a high caliber vampire-hunting rifle.

An exciting skirmish happens, during which Sour Billy learns Julian's been lying to him all this time, and Marsh saves the ending by firing his last bullet into York—this pisses York off to the point where he can beat Julian, plus he’ll just regenerate, so it’s all good.

And then the epilogue, telling all about that lonely little graveyard beside the river, and the custom made headstone showing the faint outline of a racing steamboat along with the inscription “So, we'll go no more a roving, So late into the night,” (Marsh and York bonded over the poetry of Lord Byron earlier in the story) and the visitor who sometimes arrives (only at night). And I cry every time.

On this last reading, the race stuff is what caught my attention. Marsh does a one-eighty from being mostly ambivalent about slavery to fighting for the union and spending his dying days with a housekeeper that is impliedly black. In contrast, Julian’s predatory reliance on it renders him too crazy and stupid to come up with any plans beyond decay and self-destruction. It’s not anvilicious or spotlighted, it’s not a central theme. It’s just a little ripple running through the background of some riproaring pulp fiction about vampires and steamboats. York decided to be a good guy, and that decision had lots of reverberations, including Marsh’s change of heart.

Friendship can flourish through even the strongest cultural barriers. Such a lofty theme for a little pulp fiction vampire story, a hippie dream about achieving peaceful brotherhood by keeping all the predators high on poetry and laudanum and American idealism. 

Decades later, Twilight would mine some of this territory to overwhelming success. Vampires and werewolves as reflections of racism in America. Heroic paladin vampires who eschew throat biting. Buffy would get in there a little earlier, putting a very American spin on fighting supernatural badness. Anne Rice would get there a little after Fevre Dream with The Vampire Lestat, an exploration of vampires as sexy rock star paladin goth poetry reading fashion plates. Blade would interact with race and America and vampirism.

And none of them, absolutely none of them, could make me cry even once. Not like Fevre Dream

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Review: Moana

A whole lot of animators got to expense a Hawaiian vacation during the making of this film. And they clearly had a blast. I can tell by the loving way they captured so many details – how a starry sky looks from the sea, what it feels like when a big angry hunk of weather rolls up, the rough texture of barkcloth.

“Moana” means ocean and the ocean is the real star of this movie. It pulls all the plot strings, literally flinging the characters into place whenever they get petulant and head for fourth walls and distractions. 

Moana is also the name of a little girl. A prepubescent, non-romancing, seriously intelligent and brave girl whose skills are having magical interaction with the ocean, leadership, climbing and hula dancing, and she picks up sailing and navigating from the demigod Maui himself. She can be an annoying little girl, or at least Maui thinks so occasionally, chucking her into the ocean (don’t worry, the ocean always brings her right back).

Moana’s island is running out of food, and as the chief’s daughter and successor, she desperately wants to save her people. Doing so requires that she sail beyond the reef, to find Maui, a shapeshifting trickster demigod covered with animated tattoos.  He’s whiny, vain, boastful and goes around breaking the hearts of islands. I can see people comparing The Rock’s voice acting to Robin Williams as genie, and it’s in the same league but on different planes. Maui is full of angst and personality flaws, which Moana helps him conquer, while the genie is from some non-Euclidean surrealistic universe detached from human passions.

Temuera Morrison, does the voice for Moana’s father, the ultimate isolationist. The catalyst for the plot is a daddy-daughter duel, sort of like Little Mermaid, except here Moana’s being an altruistic savior rather than just wanting to go meet boys like Ariel. 

I’m wondering if political correctness is finally dead, and whether I should even bother to mention the potential triggers in this movie. And I think I will, while trying to include conservative triggers too.

First of all, the characters are drawn in a lumbering, exaggeratedly sexual dimorphic style that reminds me of the Simpsons, and the Flintstones, and the Draenei in World of Warcraft. Women are slender and curvy; men are stocky and blocky even when sucking their bellies in. Nobody in this movie is really sexy except maybe that anthropomorphic island. Still, I can imagine the idea of absurdly large males next to fragile little females might probably offend some people – the kind of people I wouldn’t like to hang out with, but still.

Moana, meanwhile, is not an action girl out to swash buckles and make points. She’s an adventurer, and she’s brave, but she’s not a fighter and she’s not looking to model any roles. She’s only doing what’s right for her people, because she loves them. She’s a pesky little girl with a kind heart. I liked her.

For those concerned with race, this movie has more Poly than any other movie I’ve ever heard of. Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, plus the characters have the right kind of features and comfortable, familiar-sounding accents.

For those who are religiously conservative, there’s lots of paganism, and a little bit of revamping Polynesian myth to be more goddessy than what I recall reading. The main message is one of self-reliance, however, and being true to one’s nature.

And most of the story is glorious nonpartisan adventure that the whole family can enjoy. Human beings surviving the hell out of water, weather, coconut pirates, an evil glitter rock crab and a scary lava demon. Plus there’s scenery porn, every last pixel of it inspired by real life. Yep, that’s what things look like there. There are plenty of audio earworms to go along with the pretty pictures, including a Rock rap and a diva ballad that will clean that wretched Frozen song right out of your head.

My rating: this is the best movie in the world and I could cheerfully watch it a hundred more times. It made me forget all about Donald Trump for several minutes. Yeah, yeah, call me a Disney shill if you must. They finally got around to making a Disney princess who comes from my hometown, and they did a bangup job, and I’m glowing with something that would be nationalistic fervor if Hawai'i hadn’t been stolen by colonial superpowers. This movie gets all the stars. Moana no ka oi!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Meadowlark Series by Julie Dawn

I've been reading the 2nd volume in this series nonstop, even though my typical practice is to read five books at once, alternating every few pages. Ms. Dawn has got the gift of good pacing.

Some of her details are a little raw; her dystopian heroine gets involved in sex and violence often so I guess I'll throw up a general sensitivity warning. Very exciting page turner of a story about zombies and a mysterious organism that's stalking people and life among the American down and outs in a grungy trailer park.

Brain Fingerprints!!

Enough writing about politics and making new enemies (and/or reminding old enemies why they hate me)! In fact, I stumbled across a thoughtful piece earlier today where the author admitted they wanted to punch a Stein voter, and I kind of agreed until I thought about it.

Then I found something even better: an article about brain fingerprints!  Linking to a legit sounding study!  At least it sounds legit to me; please comment if it's not.

Why am I so thrilled? Personal vindication. Nope, you can't body swap and yes, my ideas about digital people living alongside flesh and blood people haven't been contradicted yet.  No, there are no blank slates. Yes, we're all individuals, even twins have wildly divergent brains if you look at the connections beyond the DNA.

Yes, there are probably a myriad of things that can change your connections, BUT -- if everyone's different, than so are the changes. A movie could give me nightmares while inspiring you to make the world a better place while boring the crap out of him and making her laugh and bringing them to tears.  So could a novel, for that matter (such as mine).

And yes, the more tribal and isolated we get, the more we lose the ability to relate to all that diverse neurology out there. And yes, there are all kinds of fabulous brains. Non-repeating brains. Distinctive individual brains. Beautiful human brains, capable of love and art and electing good presidents. Fallible and foolish brains too.  Brains that can communicate and form strategy. Brains that are not all the same size.

Some days when I'm feeling pessimistic I wonder if science will suddenly overrule all this laborious science fiction I've been writing, by coming up with some study that controverts everything. So far that hasn't happened, and apparently I'm walking hand in hand with the information zeitgeist, which makes me feel happy inside.

My extremely individual brain is imagining I'm raising a toast (because I don't actually drink very much) to you, dear reader, and your own non-replaceable quirky individual brain.  May we eventually find our way into a world where all the brains are precious and none of them are exploited or taken for granted or deactivated before their time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Stage Two: Listening To The Ramones' First Album and Meditating on Politics

Oh, great. People actually clicked on the blog post where I said I agreed with JCW. I didn’t say I agreed with his argument(s), by the way, which I haven’t really read in their entirety, or anything else that he has said.

And I do recall hearing that he can use some sales, so if you want to understand why he’s my least favorite writer in the whole world, ever, a guy I’d rank beneath Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown, buy a couple of his books. They also make good kindling for cozy holiday fires, or happy holidays gifts for children who will be spending them in military school. I’m told his initial books are really good but I’ve read so many of his recent works that I wouldn’t touch them with a ten meter pole. If you like conservative misogyny and twenty dollar words you’ll adore them. Resuming ignoring him now, kthxbai.

But yeah, that whole self-serving, circular deal about telling yourself pretty lies with the vague general intent of making them sprout into truth … whatever you want to call that sort of thing, I’m against it. There are objective truths in the world but in order to find them we must continually challenge our assumptions.

I really really really wanted to take that post down because I sort of went out of my way to hysterically insult most people, but I’m leaving it up as a memorial to my post-election state of mind.

Yes, in fact I am a freeze peach advocate. I grew up under censorship. Porn was illegal. There were seven words you couldn’t say on TV, or on the radio, or in records. When I was a teenager I discovered the lofty world of underground comix and Loompanics press and punk zines and my mind did a tesseract shift and hasn’t been the same ever since.

I do understand what it’s like to be emotionally upset by media. A grim novel or movie can linger with you for days. I fully support people being able to find out whether a work is likely to touch their triggers before consuming it.

I disagree, however, with the notion that forbidding media can change human behavior. There were plenty of gay people in the seventies and before, when it was illegal to distribute gay porn in the US. People used the F word, just not in the movies. Teenagers get knocked up even if you don’t teach them sex ed.

I’ll grudgingly agree with parts of cultivation theory but I really have to contrast that against my years of fannish media consumption and all kinds of extreme outsider art. I’ve never personally beaten on any brats with baseball bats despite listening to that song well over a thousand times.

Also, I insist on polite speech, but that’s mainly because I’m an old lady. We’re just that way.

There are a lot of things that I proudly stood for in my twenties which have been all redefined, with extra footnotes and clauses, so I try to avoid officially labeling myself as an advocate in favor of anything, just because I haven’t reviewed the fine print, and if it’s full of that Foucaultian doubletalk I’m not sure I want to. I’m more about nuts and bolts liberalism at this stage of my life. Feed the bellies. Suture the lacerations. Deliver the babies. Roofs over heads.

The Ramones were a great band. They consisted of Johnny (a republican, who made sure everyone got to the gigs on time) and Joey (a liberal, who ended up doing lots of charitable events) and Dee Dee (a heroin addict who therefore probably counts as a libertarian). And lots of drummers, but the first one was Tommy, from Eastern Europe.  They did some songs that sounded like they sympathized with Nazis but they didn't really, and Joey was actually Jewish. Together they changed the course of rock and roll, bringing it from bloated studio stylings back down to workingman basics, launching a whole new era of social harmony as kids got together to play loud three-chord rock. That's the kind of synthesis that I'm crossing my fingers and toes will happen, after what feels like the most disappointing election of my lifetime. 

Hey, didn't I say I was going to shut up about politics?  Shutting up, attempt two. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Neurodiversity and Music

Here's something that popped up in my Facebook feed about how some people just don't like music, and it's a physical anomaly detectable on MRI.

I was raised by people like that. And I confess I immediately thought about how Republicans only seem interested in Ted Nugent and church music, with an overwhelming majority of musicians leaning left. There are probably conservatives who like music -- country/western jumps to mind -- but it does seem like the current conservative-liberal split is overlapping with the distinction between anhedonics and music-likers.

I immediately thought of doing a short story about someone with musical anhedonia in a society where 90% are musical -- and language is tonal (like many Asian languages are), and people sing formal things like greetings and introductions, and the anhedonic are forced to use all kinds of cheats and apps that count cycles-per-second to integrate successfully into society.  Except I'm busy wrestling with Sonny Knight right now, so I'm throwing that idea out there for anyone interested.

I suppose you could also write a story about anhedonics outnumbering/oppressing the music-likers, sort of like Footloose or Yellow Submarine, but there's lots of competition.

Neurodiversity is some fascinating stuff.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Politics and Libertarianism and Free Speech and the Alt Right and Stuff

The little angel on my right shoulder is screaming that I’m about to incite the wrath of the internet. The little devil on my left shoulder reminds me that hardly anyone reads this blog anyway, at least as of yet. 

So I mentioned getting in libertarian arguments last post. The whole reason I voted for Nader in the first place was that the democratic candidate’s wife started a witch hunt called the PMRC where much attention was focused (and money was concurrently wasted) on popular music lyrics. Frank Zappa and John Denver and several other luminaries gave testimony; you should check it out on YouTube if you’re interested. It succeeded in getting those little “parental advisory, explicit lyrics” stickers put on music, which mean that bands had incentive to earn them, and that’s why music lyrics are even filthier today, thank you Tipper Gore.  

In the current era, the free speech issue usually translates to trigger warnings, and the “right” of anonymous internet trolls to inundate people with aggressive disrespect. At the moment, a lot of racist Americans are having a field day exercising their “right” to say mean things to minorities, and a lot of minorities are reporting spontaneous random outbursts of scary rage.

Although I’m definitely in favor of having a heavy-handed oppressive nanny state (sort of like they have in the Scandinavian countries) providing health care and protecting nature and placing hard caps on how low we can fall and how much we can get away with, I have a hard time with censorship. Even porn. Even the kind of grimdark gorefests that have become popular in recent years as people flaunt their ability to speak freely. Even dangerous ideas like communism and naziism and racism and sexism and all of it. 

There’s a whole arena of liberalism that is more interested in censorship, and believes ideas can leap off the page like Lovecraftian demons and enslave innocent minds. I don’t agree with those folks. This doesn’t mean I agree with assaulting people with verbiage. Further, as a writer, I voluntarily provide trigger warnings for those who are interested in them; if people want to read my stuff because I promised them I wouldn’t bombard them with certain kinds of disturbing images, power to them.  

That was the basis of one of my epic libertarian arguments. The corresponding counterargument is that I let a warmonger get elected because I was being a prima donna about warning stickers on CDs. It’s a pretty good argument. 

And I still don’t trust censors, although I very much respect the importance of keeping free speech bordered with precautions that keep it civil and prevent it from fermenting into violence. And these days, being older and mellower, I can respect the impatience someone might feel over seeing a particularly horrible candidate win by a small margin because of pigheaded independents like me.

My other epic libertarian argument came about in a society of women I associated with at one time. Several of them were pretty cool. At the time I was having what amounted to a crisis of faith regarding feminism and its associated doctrines, and I committed the major sin of saying I didn’t think Hillary had enough charisma to get elected. And that liberals who cloister themselves in closed social circles have no idea how much large sections of the American public despise Hillary.  

I got massive amounts of shade for being anti-Hillary, and all of that is coming back to haunt me. Echoing in my skull like a bad click track.  I blew off in a big storm of disagreement with those women in particular, and with that particular flavor of feminism, and indeed with a meta concept that had come to infest the left during the last few years.

The conservatives and alt-righters call it cultural Marxism, or postmodernism, or relativism. Liberals call it structuralism, among other things. Vice President Pence believes in it, via his promotion of gay conversion therapy. New Agers call it the law of attraction. Steven Pinker wrote about it in The Blank Slate. Psychologists have a whole section of the DSM devoted to it and its subvariants like narcissism and grandiosity. It’s the belief that words make the world, rather than describe and reflect it – sort of qabalistic and maybe even gnostic, if you pin it down far enough. Definitely heretical. And definitely counterproductive, since it encourages empty vanity while flying contrary to science (see the Sokal Hoax). 

My least favorite writer, in fact, has been blogging about it lately – John C. Wright, whom I blame for everything that is bad about the Puppies, whether or not it’s true, because he throws so many general insults around that he deserves a few to call his own. My commitment to free speech is such that I would never want to censor Wright even at his most irritating; even though he wallows in violent hyperbole. I discovered it when File 770 linked something of his, and was forced to admit that yes, there is an area in which I do agree with the alt right, and with my least favorite writer – and that’s why free speech, and why listening to what the opposition is saying, is such a precious thing. Even if you find it foul and disgusting and would really prefer to read something else. 

And why listening to corporate media whisper poisoned lies about how we’ve got this in the bag, the opposition is just a bunch of whiny crazies who should be disrespected and disregarded, we’re much better than that because we’re super geniuses shining with wisdom – that’s what got us into this mess. We need to replace that kind of journalism with the trustworthy kind. On this issue the conservatives are dead bang right. 

As for the rest of it, I’m a liberal. I want maximal genetic diversity with optimal quality of life to the extent we can swing it. I don’t like the religious right and never will. I’m a friend to all races and orientations, and I’m an advocate of non-violence, and recycling, and solar power, and public transit. I’m a hippie that listens to Janis Joplin and questions authority. I’m a science-following secular humanist. I’m a woman with a large vocabulary and a fondness for dessert. I descend from abolitionists and pirates. I devote a lot of energy into trying to make universal healthcare happen. In an uneradicable and innate sense, I am everything the current crop of conservatives despises, and proud of it. 

And I’m going on record as preferring uncomfortable truths to flattering lies. 

Anyway, that’s how I managed to make literary enemies in the past. Probably even now I’ll get shade from my fellow liberals for agreeing with conservatives that relativistic flattery is bad and that the mainstream media needs some reform. Whatever. I’m self-pubbed. 

And I’ll shut up about politics for now, although I make no promises regarding how long that will last. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So How About That Election?

Aiee, the noob got elected. The streets are full of protesters. I’m fairly certain needless death and suffering will occur. And I’m sort of numb, the way I typically am when something eventful happens.
I’m old enough to remember the landslide for Reagan, in which an astounding number of voters went Republican, because back then the edges were smaller and the center bounced between them, making mercurial decisions. The stone cold partisanship arose during the Bush administration, when the red and blue voters solidified. Before that it was common for people to be liberal on some issues and conservative on others.  These days it seems like it’s more of an all or nothing kind of situation.

Much of blue America seems to be absolutely stunned by the appearance of so many contrary voters, having become accustomed to spending their time in a world that filters those people out. Similarly, it looks like red staters can surround themselves with conservative memes if they so choose. All of us cocooned in our own private halls of mirrors, stroking our egos with constant reassurance that we’re geniuses and everyone loves us. I think a lot of liberals thought it was a given that Trump would be buried under a sea of blue votes, similar to the reception the Puppies received in Spokane.

Except that didn’t happen here. He won, Clinton conceded. I’m going to just accept that data without pitching a tantrum or questioning it and move along. The plethora of angry liberals marching in the streets tonight reassures me that Trump has plenty of opposition for whatever he intends to do. I’m basically aligned with Bernie Sanders in that I’ll accept him as our lawfully elected president up to the point where he starts indulging in bigotry.

His constituents do have a very glaring and valid point – the worthless mainstream media, including FOX, basically dismissed and ignored them. They were shining us liberals on, assuring us there was no need to worry, Hillary’s got this, according to the polls everything is fine. They were not reporting the facts. They were massaging everyone’s confirmation bias.

During the Puppy madness, the puppies were complaining that the media automatically wrote them off as racistsexistcommienazis without giving them an objective evaluation, and I saw a little of that occur. Some of it was emotional hyperbole but some of it definitely seemed like a slight.  During the Trump election I saw it all over the place. Conservatives were written off as laughable dimwitted rednecks who all dropped out of college (sort of similar to how Bernie Sanders supporters were all hackysack-playing sexist bro-dudes).

I'm a Sanders supporter. I do not like Hillary Clinton. In fact, arguing over the Clintons was sort of the first structural crack that developed in my ill-fated marriage. I liked her even less for making me feel obliged to endorse her in this last election. As I’ve posted before, I think Trump is a noob and the job requires experience. So I voted for her. There are a whole lot of people I’d rather vote for, and quite a few women that would make a better Madam President.

Meanwhile, I flashed back to arguments I used to have during the GWB administration. I was shunned as a pariah back then for leaning libertarian – I voted for Nader, so Bush was therefore all my fault. I’m watching similar accusations being leveled against the Jill Stein (and Harambe) voters now, and it’s moderately disturbing. The wrath focused in my general direction made me a little more sympathetic to the way conservatives get shunned and shouted down. It made me try to do that a little less, although I still indulge on occasion. I think we all probably mutter to ourselves about how our opponents are morons from time to time. And we need to keep that kind of thing to ourselves, because respect is important. 

My beliefs about being blacklisted as a writer stem from this era. I had some epic libertarian arguments with a bunch of more authoritarian liberals involved in the verbiage industry, including science fiction. The acrimony was present whether or not these beliefs are true, and that’s why I’m self-published. And that’s also why I’ve granted the Puppies a fair shot at my attention span and voting ability – I know what it’s like to get negative attention for failing to color within the lines.

We deserve better press. 

We probably deserve a better president too, but this is the one we’ve got for the next four years. 
Maybe he’ll surprise me.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Ursula Vernon posts on the File 770 comments where I hang out sometimes, and we’ve probably exchanged pop culture references. Nothing valuable, though. In fact, that’s where I heard about her books. They’re pretty good, and have lots of secret gardening lore embedded within. When I found out this one was going to be made into a movie I decided to read it, and it's easily the most amusing thing I've read this year.  

Castle Hangnail is small and unremarkable as far as evil fortresses go, and its new mistress, Molly, is not exactly the powerful wielder of dark arts that everyone expected. She’s more of a regular teenage girl, seeking refuge icky mean girls as she boldly steps into her new role while wearing especially wicked boots that had a lot to do with solidifying her authority. She’s got a little magic, though -- a lot more than she realizes -- and a rapport with moles, and she gets along well with the diverse crew of minions that keep Castle Hangnail running.

I was enchanted by this book. It’s just the right size, it’s exactly suspenseful enough and Molly’s story unrolls with a nicely-paced rhythm. Plus there are plenty of in-jokes for gardeners. I believe this one has been snapped up by television, and I’m sure it will be wonderful, but I do recommend it in book form as being a perfect tale for a window seat on an autumn day, or as distraction during a case of the flu or a presidential election, or sneaking chapters late at night under the covers with a flashlight, which is what we had to do before our reading material was backlit. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016


The US presidential election has been distracting me. The writing-in-progress concerns a monumentally crooked election, which is kind of a theme with the two hotheaded nations causing most of the trouble in my fictional universe. Volume one of the trilogy features a country where they couldn’t seem to get through an election without an unfortunate number of assassinations, until one politician passed a bill (signed in blood) decreeing that if you managed to murder the premier on the spring equinox, you could have his job.

In volume 2, we get to spend some time with their enemies, a nation made up of clones. Because the smartest guy in the nation murdered everyone else and replaced them with clones of himself, just so the world could take note that he won, and also, that he was the smartest, and that he really showed us.  They are having a particularly vicious debate over which clone is going to lead them – the one who actually gets along with people who aren’t clones of himself, or the isolationist who pulled the trigger with regard to the murdering of everyone else.

Compared to my fictional universe, the real life election is comparatively sedate, with hardly any assassinations yet. It involves one of my least favorite politicians of all time going up against an unqualified populist whom I think would stumble into all kinds of egregious mistakes. Since my primary issue is having the US get medical care for their populace established so that (e.g.) unintended devastation from antibiotic-resistant bacteria stemming from a large untreated sector of the population won’t happen in the upcoming years, I’m voting for Clinton.

As are most of the people on my Facebook feed, aside from one of the last adopted relatives I’m still in contact with, who is a fervent member of the religious right and whose posts serve as a constant reminder why I left home as a teenager. As well as a reminder that the red-blue split is a biological one to a large extent, with the religious isolationists and the intellectual cosmopolitans forever deadlocked even when belonging to the same culture, and cynical politicians forever exploiting that rivalry. All my blood relatives seem to be liberals that like music, and although some of them are religious, it's more of a joyous thing rather than aggressively looking for sinners to bully.  

I grew up under a toxic strain of conservatism, and as a result spent a lot of time as a reactionary liberal until I found my bearings as a liberal primarily interested in keeping the humans, animals and environment healthy. I also spent a lot of time actively disliking religion, and in the process, I learned that I’m the sort of person who responds to my own dislikes by intensely studying the subject in an attempt to find out why.

Then I got to a place where I decided that being sensitive to the religious and conservative was probably just as important as not being bigoted with regard to ethnicity or neurological factors or any of the other stuff I espouse, so I’ve been working on not being too hypocritical in that regard. I’m not always successful, but I do try to step away when people that I agree with are savaging the opposition. Respect is important for everyone. Just because you dislike someone’s bigotry, for example, it doesn’t mean you have to throw in their hairstyle and county and favorite pizza chain and their mom as co-complicitors. That kind of meanness is how we end up with candidates like Trump in the first place. 

One thing I have noticed is that both liberals and conservatives despise having the enemy’s values forced upon them. If propagandists push enough buttons regarding this people tend to get even more polarized, until sane political discussion is made impossible by the sheer weight of the emotional reaction people bring to the table. This tends to turn social medial like Twitter and Facebook into a fever swamp of irrational reasoning as both sides try to get their constituents and opponents to squirm.

So on that note, my statement is that I’m in favor of talking to foreign people, and not being jerks to others based on innate physical characteristics, including political affiliation. I’m in favor of giving everyone medical care until we’re all in stable condition so that we can discuss things further. I see no reason whatsoever for making the state expend money to punish people for being poor, or to subsidize the irrational violent urges of racists, or to establish an ISIS-like state religion. I believe every child deserves a nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. I'll be voting for Clinton, because she's a few steps closer to alignment with me on those issues, and someday I hope to vote for someone even better.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Writing About Neurodiversity

I don’t pretend to tell people how to write, since I’m kind of a failed writer myself and you probably shouldn’t copy me if you want a real writing career.  I do have a certain specialized form of expertise that I can share – I’m familiar with neurodiversity, even though I encountered the word for the first time last year.

It was kind of an “aha!” moment, because I’ve spent much of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has long been renowned as a notorious center of neurodivergence – or eccentricity, which is what we used to call it. One of our most beloved historical characters is a guy named Joshua A.Norton, who declared himself Emperor of the United States (and Protector of Mexico) and printed his own money – which local shopkeepers and restauranteurs honored.

I’ve always been drawn to people with unusual cognitive styles, and in fact probably am one myself, since normal people don’t usually express a desire to be science fiction writers that live in San Francisco. Thank goodness.

I look at “neuroatypical” as including people whose brains don’t function in a typical fashion for any of a myriad of reasons. Bipolar, epileptic, dementia, post-concussion, anxious, phobic, depressed, autistic, Downs, Williams, psychotic, schizophrenic, borderline, ADHD, savant, migraneur, addicted, Aspergerian, eccentric, bohemian, brain injured, neurotic, hysteric, mad – there’s a starter list of tag words describing things that can be innate or acquired which characterize neurological differences.

As for myself, the main atypical quality that I’ll cop to is being a text prodigy. I was reading at three, and able to memorize and recite long pieces like Night Before Christmas. And since I grew up surrounded by people with only a passing interest in books, I mainly perused pulp fiction, comic strip collections, Mad magazine and whatever the library had. Later on I graduated to punk zines, underground comix, banned books, RPG rulebooks and science fiction.  Whatever was cheap, within reach and had words on it. 

In fact, I’ve still got a grudge against Shakespeare. Shakespeare is for effete elitists with helicoptering parents and sweater sleeves tied around their necks who enjoy things like mindless conformity, and suburbia, and being sheltered, and worshipping the status quo.  Yeah, yeah, I know, the actual writings of Shakespeare are actually pretty cool, but when I was growing up he was emblematic of the elite education I craved but couldn’t have.  However, since the education I didn’t have would’ve happened during the Foucault years, it was probably all for the best.

Due to my linguistic precocity I got tracked with the smart kids, which is where my adventures in neurodiversity began. Individual differences in how people think has always been something I’ve found fascinating. Being a person from a small blue island in the middle of nowhere, I grew up with a lot of different coexisting states of normal in the form of cultural diversity, so I kind of drifted in the same direction once I encountered other people with unusual minds. 

An important aspect of neurodiversity has to do with the extent to which people feel disabled by their differences. To use an analogy, being nearsighted is no big deal if you’re a fisherman in a small boat on a perpetually foggy sea. If you’re a watchmaker or a miniature painter or a scribe, it’s an asset. If you’re an archer it’s a disability, and if you’re a trapeze artist it could cost you your life.

A lot of people with severe disabilities in some environments can bloom in others. For instance, I used to be passingly familiar with a subculture of deaf punk rockers (they liked the fashions and vibes even if they couldn’t technically hear the music).  I learned there are some deaf people who hang out exclusively with others, talking with their fingers and customizing their environments so that beeps and chimes are replaced by flashes and colors. They have no need for a cure, or for audio-based people, or for implants which allow the deaf to hear, or for much of the world at large.

I’ve listened to a few YouTube videos about those implants and they remind me of the original Little Mermaid story where she gained the ability to walk but every step felt like she was treading on sharp knives – harsh and grating sounds, with music reduced to staccato machine beeps. I come from a strange audio orientation myself – I like music (and can play several instruments, and run a mixing board and/or ProTools), but I grew up in a family of people who don’t really seem to notice music all that much. Which would probably be the neurotypical mode, with both music afficionados and the non-hearing off in their own separate bubbles of atypicality.

Sometimes different states of cognition aren’t in fact disabilities at all, such as the creative obsessive focus experienced by musicians and programmers. You’ve probably known a few warm and loving people who can’t fathom computers, or their opposites, highly skilled nerds that don’t understand why some people find the joke they just told is offensive, and both those subsets contain plenty of good-hearted people that keep the world running. A lot of the time neuroatypical qualities are things we all possess or sometimes do, except jacked up to a degree where they can interfere with a person’s life. It’s a good thing to check the lights before you leave the house; it can interfere if you need to do it exactly three hundred and thirty-three times or else you stress out.

From a writer’s standpoint, one thing is certain: since more and more people are atypical, atypicality is becoming a new normal, and more and more readers will be familiar with various forms of it. These readers aren’t going to like it one bit if a lazy writer falls back on old stereotypes. 

As for getting it right, there’s a lot of gray area. As a writer of fiction, I make up imaginary people and give them voices, which is not quite the same as being harassed involuntarily by hallucinatory voices stemming from an electrical malfunction in my brain. When making up these people I try to involve a little rational thought by doing research, and I do that by reading what similar people, actual people, real live flesh and blood people are saying on webpages and forums.

For example, I’m aware that people with autism have wild disagreements on The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, and most of them dislike Autism Speaks for reasons that seem valid to me. I know that when you’re hanging around with people who have gender identity issues, it’s a good idea to ask people what pronouns they prefer. I previously mentioned the bionic hearing implants, and I’ve got a passing familiarity with the controversy and have seen several of the videos (and truthfully, given the choice, I’d opt for non-hearing over implant). Some people with anxiety or depression considerations might appreciate a mention before you show them potentially upsetting art. You may have noticed I’m putting the people first, rather than the conditions – that’s the polite way to do it. And an hour or two of informally checking out subreddits or tumblr blogs or whatever your preferred form of communication is can give you a good basic familiarity with people similar to the character you’re trying to write.  

Listening to the people themselves is what’s important. Not authority figures that claim to speak for them, or books that make sweeping generalities.

Writing Neurodiverse Characters – Tips and Tricks

Consider Casting.  Having neuroatypical characters be either crazed killers or poor sweet waifs is certainly easy, but it’s kind of boring (and cliched) (and offensive). Try casting them as the love interest, or the detective, or the sidekick, or even the hero.

I’m a Writer, Not a Doctor. Go ahead and copy the descriptions from the DSM if you like, but don’t build characters around them. Most people don’t have all symptoms associated with a given disorder, and there is no One True Way to experience any given condition. It might even be a good idea to book a therapy session with someone currently providing mental health care just to make sure your plot/characters won’t make actual therapists roll their eyes and groan the way paralegals do when opposing counsel puts an undisclosed expert witness with handfuls of surprise evidence on the stand. 

Modeling Roles and Preserving Dignity. Would the character make an actual person with that condition cringe?  For example, an anxiety-prone character who snivels and whines, or a depressed character that fails suicide attempts. Obviously this can work sometimes, such as when Bean's being especially obsessive, or when Napoleon Dynamite's risking everything by doing his brave awkward little dance. There's a fine line between comedy and tastelessly mocking people for things they can't help -- ride the edge only if you're confident that you know where to find it. 

There are Entire Subcultures That Would Exclude You in a Heartbeat. But they'd accept your neuroatypical characters, and give them a cast of friends to hang out with and possibly clubs or organizations to join. In other words, neuroatypical people have lives and don't spend their evenings gazing wistfully through their windows while wishing they were normal.  Your neuroatypical characters probably chill with like minds, unless being asocial is part of their profile. 

Easy Cures are BS. True love curing major disorders is a dangerous myth that needs to die. Similarly, people whose neurons misfire can’t readily be healed by poetry, walks on the beach, religion, etc. Yes, yes, I know, your religion/diet/philosophy has extra special magical powers where all the others fail – I’d love to talk about it someday but right now I have to wax the cat.