Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hayao Miazaki's 50 Favorite Children's Books

Here's a link to the article (includes video), and below is a cut-and-paste of the list. Which made me go "ooh, good pick!" Several times.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Top 50 Children’s Books
  1. The Borrowers -- Mary Norton
  2. The Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. Children of Noisy Village -- Astrid Lindgren
  4. When Marnie Was There -- Joan G. Robinson
  5. Swallows and Amazons -- Arthur Ransome
  6. The Flying Classroom -- Erich Kästner
  7. There Were Five of Us -- Karel Poláček
  8. What the Neighbours Did, and Other Stories -- Ann Philippa Pearce
  9. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates -- Mary Mapes Dodge
  10. The Secret Garden -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  11. Eagle of The Ninth -- Rosemary Sutcliff
  12. The Treasure of the Nibelungs -- Gustav Schalk
  13. The Three Musketeers -- Alexandre Dumas, père
  14. A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. Les Princes du Vent -- Michel-Aime Baudouy
  16. The Flambards Series -- K. M. Peyton
  17. Souvenirs entomologiques -- Jean Henri Fabre
  18. The Long Winter -- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. A Norwegian Farm -- Marie Hamsun
  20. Heidi -- Johanna Spyri
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- Mark Twain
  22. Little Lord Fauntleroy -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  23. Tistou of the Green Thumbs -- Maurice Druon
  24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -- E. L. Konigsburg
  26. The Otterbury Incident -- Cecil Day-Lewis
  27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- Lewis Carroll
  28. The Little Bookroom -- Eleanor Farjeon
  29. The Forest is Alive or Twelve Months -- Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak
  30. The Restaurant of Many Orders -- Kenji Miyazawa
  31. Winnie-the-Pooh -- A. A. Milne
  32. Nihon Ryōiki -- Kyokai
  33. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio -- Pu Songling
  34. Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in For Good Measure -- Karel Čapek
  35. The Man Who Has Planted Welsh Onions -- Kim So-un
  36. Robinson Crusoe -- Daniel Defoe
  37. The Hobbit -- J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. Journey to the West -- Wu Cheng'en
  39. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- Jules Verne
  40. The Adventures of the Little Onion -- Gianni Rodari
  41. Treasure Island -- Robert Louis Stevenson
  42. The Ship that Flew -- Hilda Winifred Lewis
  43. The Wind in the Willows -- Kenneth Grahame
  44. The Little Humpbacked Horse -- Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov (Ershoff)
  45. The Little White Horse -- Elizabeth Goudge
  46. The Rose and the Ring -- William Makepeace Thackeray
  47. The Radium Woman -- Eleanor Doorly
  48. City Neighbor, The Story of Jane Addams -- Clara Ingram Judson
  49. Ivan the Fool -- Leo Tolstoy
  50. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle -- Hugh Lofting

A Policy of Reviewing Things

I recently corralled all my reviews into a Review Portal, and when I did that I realized I’ve reviewed a lot of things. Some more deeply than others, depending on how that particular work moves me. In another month I’ll run out of Hugo nominees to review, so I’ll be grasping around for more material.

When I decide what to review, I tend to ask myself, first of all, is this YA appropriate?  I’m well aware that the major audience for YA is millennial women, but there are probably at least a few actual Young Adults interested in the subject, so I try not to alienate them by reviewing books that are too grownup in all the wrong ways. With regard to movies, I tend to stick to Disney/Pixar because that’s what YAs watch with their families so it's safe to discuss. Yes, I’m aware they’re probably watching totally different things when it’s just them.  

With regard to books, I’ll review books written for grownups if they seem like they have YA appeal. The Forever War is a tense and gritty war story in space, but the narrator starts out as a YA, and there isn’t a lot of explicit mayhem and sex.  Most Stephen King stories are what I’d consider all-ages. 

Some of my Hugo review material has been a little bit grownup, and it looks like I’ll be doing that for at least one more year.  The whole Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies event made me aware there are lots of subcultures with different views of what is appropriate for YAs, and I believe I’m vaguely within the guidelines as far as all the different culture war factions are concerned, although I do have a few female characters that actually finished college (unlike me), which may perturb some of the more conservative Rabids.

I read a lot more than I review. I don’t want to do hatchet jobs over books I dislike. I do have an inverse scale of pickiness – if a novelist is making large amounts of cash for the work in question, I won’t hold back with my criticism, whereas if it’s some fellow indie scuttling around trying to be an editor and a publicist and a typesetter and a novelist at the same time, I’ll try to be kind. If I fail to wrap my brain around a particular work, I generally take it as cosmic incompatibility as opposed to any technical or moral failings on the part of author or reader.

In the past I’ve encouraged people not to review my stuff. I suppose I’ll have to rescind that eventually although I’m not looking forward to it. I’m carrying out my publicity in this weird sort of progression, where I scatter a few seeds here, record what happens, scatter a few over there, catalog results. Kinda like science. In my heart of hearts, I know that all I really need to do to get attention is write books that don’t suck, but realistically I suppose I need to collect some stars, so I’m fixing to look into that. If you’re a reviewer and need a review copy – which is the only consideration I am going to offer you in exchange for a review – let me know in the comments and I’ll hook you up. 

Likewise, if you’d like me to review your thing (and it’s YA and speculative fiction), comment away and tell me where I can pick up the free stuff. 

At the moment I’m reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and in line after it is Among Others by Jo Walton, both YA-suitable grownup science fiction from what I understand. I’ll report further after I’m finished.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hugo Reviews: Penric and the Shaman: A Novella in the World of the Five Gods by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric is back. Last year he appeared in a Hugo-nominated work that explained how he hooked up with his demon, Desdemona, who possesses him and enables him to do magic. This time Penric is playing detective with regard to a deceased shaman, teasing out the worldbuilding and magic system as he goes. It all takes place in a congenial civilized fantasy world with all kinds of rules regarding religion, and education, and etiquette – and we’re going to learn about them, oh yes we are. 

This is the kind of story all those “how to write stories” articles are talking about. Clear, articulate, has a plot, the author devoted some brain cells towards making it contiguous, I could see how some people might love it. I thought it was enjoyable enough but it didn’t really stick. The characters seemed similar, the magic is a little convoluted and Penric’s amiable demonic possession creeps me out a little.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Religion and politics -- let’s go there

I am, after all, a YA author. You probably don’t want to select a YA author with incompatible values.

As far as politics, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a liberal social democrat, I believe in a safety net that includes universal health care. I believe discrimination is bad. I don’t believe in censorship but I have a narrow view of “censorship” which is limited to edits performed by the state, and I support the rights of private individuals to curate speech as they see fit. I definitely lean libertarian and have always hung out with my libertarian buddies, but I think libertarianism needs some hard caps because people tend to group up and unfairly dominate outliers, and some are hypercompetitive while others are unlucky. 

As far as philosophy, I am a compatibilist. I lean more towards determinism than behaviorism, but I do think we have a certain amount of free will when it comes to veto power and technological assistance (see my novels for further meditation on this).

With regard to religion, you may file me under “agnostic.” I was brought up under a spiteful, isolationist version of the Southern Baptist faith. We went to churches when I was little, in Hawai'i, where they were multiracial and full of singing, but we stopped around the time I entered my teens. My dad had entered his socioeconomic decline and apparently he could only socialize if he was strutting around being prosperous. Once the prosperity started slipping it turned into John Birch and talk radio. 

My mom backed him up, agreeing that all those strangers were far too sinful for a good moral family like ours to hang out with. She would act friendly toward neighbor women, then disclose all their secrets to me, apparently as some kind of moral warning. She was also kind of extreme in her submission to the patriarchy, as she never held a job, never learned to drive, never went anywhere farther than the grocery store unless accompanied by dad, refused to touch computers. Recently on Facebook I noticed a cousin on her side in a thread chortling about how all liberals were demons, with each comment containing a typographical error; it brought back memories.

Once I finally got out of there at age seventeen, I was predisposed to dislike religion. I went around being an insufferable atheist for a while, ridiculing everyone’s beliefs, then a new ager dared me to open my mind. So I spent a few years joining all kinds of mystical cults and nascent religions and secret societies and nontraditional faiths – we have a lot of those in Northern California. I ended up having a fling with an official in a particularly notorious one, which is indirectly how I got started working in civil litigation, but that’s a digression. 

By the time I hit forty I had snapped back to nonbelief, having made a sincere effort to be religious. Ultimately I was unable to suspend my disbelief as to the metaphysical aspects. I did learn several things about religion along the way: (i) not all religious people are ignorant (e.g. Jesuits); (ii) not all religious people hate art (e.g. JS Bach); (iii) in fact, some people are more about the contemplation-of-beauty or other religious aspects separate and apart from social aggression; (iv) religion provides an excuse for people to get dressed up and gather while appreciating poetry and art and music and fellowship with friends and family; (v) religion provides a comforting sense of historical continuity; (vi) atheists can be just as evil as persons of faith (e.g. Pol Pot) so attributing default good/evil toward religion is a fallacy; and (vii) ignorant atheists who don’t care about any of that dumb religious stuff are every bit as infuriating as people who write incorrectly spelled comments about other people being demons.  The real enemies -- ignorance, cruelty, violence, etc. – are nonsectarian. And rather than define myself as an atheist (thus, as GK Chesterton pointed out, asserting a universal negative), I now define myself as agnostic (i.e. idk).  

Since then I’ve tried not to be infuriating. Not always successfully, but I work on it.

Because I was raised in a Christian culture, and understand its idioms and am familiar with its traditions, I count myself as a culturally Christian agnostic. I don’t balk at singing hymns or reciting the Lord’s Prayer or wishing people a Merry Christmas. You probably won’t catch me attending services, but you may find me sitting around being contemplative in empty churches, or spacing out while listening to various religious and secular pieces of music, or while staring at the beauty of nature. My preferred religious text would be the Jefferson Bible, with the gnostic gospel of Thomas coming in second, and I might fit within the boundaries of the Unitarian and/or Quaker churches should I ever feel the need to commit myself to a faith. I believe in positive Christian values like loving neighbors and being nonviolent and caring for the unfortunate.

With regard to the new age teachings, the only one that ever lodged in my brain was astrology, since it meshes with compatibilism – mostly deterministic, a little bit of leeway in the execution. Similar to religion, I’m far more interested in the symbolism than the application. I don’t really feel the need to engage in any of the other beliefs/practices. I get my transcendence through art and music, and my humility from contemplating the cosmos.

I think that kids should be taught about religion, since it’s such an important cultural foundation. If I had grown up with the knowledge there were many religions besides the kind in my house, I might have spent less time being hostile to the very concept of religion. I don't teach about religion myself, as I'm not qualified, but I like to occasionally sprinkle ethics situations into my science fiction.

I will note that I have a remaining and persistent dislike for magic feather systems like The Secret and prosperity gospel that claim all the world’s problems can be solved by privileged people wishing real hard. I’m more inclined to think that the world’s problems can be mitigated by people who are willing to get their hands dirty, and that blaming victims of accidents/catastrophes/wars for bringing on their fates by not thinking happy-enough thoughts is cruel and narcissistic.

Sermon over. May whatever you believe in inspire you to have positive emotions. 

Review: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

A futuristic weed-smoking space soldier fights a war that is chronologically imprecise, where one never quite knows whether one is attacking or retaliating, against an enemy nobody understands. Due to the space-time vagaries involved in transport, he does this for hundreds of years. During that time, earth makes its way through bloated inflation and famine and overpopulation and eventually to an orderly planet where everyone is gay/lesbian. Meanwhile, Mandella rises from grunt to officer, engaging in exciting space fights and edge-of-the-seat adventures and enjoying a bittersweet romance.

My new digital edition has a forward by John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, in which he states he never read FW before writing OMM, despite many reviewers noticing an homage-like similarity.  OMM is a very different book, about old people choosing to don sparkly new bodies and enlist in galactic war as opposed to nursing homes.  It’s also a great book, full of rollicking adventure, a tale that launched Scalzi on a trajectory toward being this generation’s rockstar in the sci fi corporate publishing world.

Everybody loves to read about people with interesting jobs – veterinarians, detectives, princesses, serial killers – and their daily routine. Soldiers have an incredibly exciting job, one where you can die a ghastly death at any moment, yet are much more likely to sit around being bored, and Haldeman captures that skip between open-ended doom and nerve-wracking tension and emergencies that make your heart skip. 

I’ve never served in the military. I’ve listened to soldier friends talk about it. The boredom, the adrenaline, the tragedies, the way every single aspect of life from eating to pooping becomes a bizarre ritual completely unlike how they do things back home. For me the appeal of military science fiction has to do with the workplace story linked up to all the dramatic battles and explosions -- that and the social story about how people react in a stressful environment.

Because of the weird time compression involved, Haldeman can tell the story of Mandella’s entire life, which coincides with the centuries-long war.  Every time he finishes a tour of duty he returns to an earth bizarre enough to inspire him to re-enlist. I really liked his ending, which resolves his extremely long arcs in a most satisfactory way.

This is one of my comfort reads, and I broke up my Hugo reviews to dive back into its soothing pages. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Too Much Rage

Today there were two, not one but two, mass shootings. One of them happened in my town, three or four miles from home, where a UPS employee shot up his workplace and killed himself.  The other one had to do with a crazed liberal opening fire on some Republicans who were getting some exercise playing baseball.

On my way home, which involved a crazy ranting drunk threatening to kill various other commuters, I reflected on a rant I read the day before, by one of the sad puppies who was angry about this website I frequent, File 770, and issuing a rant about all the rainbow-haired SJW never-was types who comment there.

It’s like you can’t travel a meter in any direction these days without encountering somebody else’s steaming pile of rage.

Allow me to state, for the record, that I, Charon Dunn, author of books with covers decorated by ragefaces and weapons and firearms, am against violence.  I am a pacifist hippie San Franciscan. I am an artist and my hands are for making art, not throwing punches. I disagree with the death penalty because I’d rather the state set 100 murderers loose than to kill a single innocent, and juries are fallible. I disagree with drafting soldiers. I don’t care if you hunt and fish, as long as you follow applicable laws regarding safety and not driving your prey to extinction, but don’t expect me to go watch you slaughter things. Yeah, I eat meat, but I’ll probably stop once the vatgrown stuff hits the shelves, plus I’m not the kind of extreme pacifist who takes care to avoid killing flies. Just the kind that doesn’t approve of people getting physically violent with each other.

I mean, Jeez Louise, it’s 2017, go play some freaking Overwatch or paintball or go take a capoeria class or go to the gym and beat the crap out of punching bags or throw it into your art and play some metal or draw some zombies or write about some kind of horrendous apocalypse or photoshop your town in ruins – there is no reason whatsoever to indulge in any of these impulses in a three dimensional sense.  Raauuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhh!  Hitting people is very, very retro. 

Even if it involves people I agree with attacking people I vehemently disagree with. 

Especially if the fight involves philosophy. If your philosophy can only be defended by bloodshed, it fails right on its face.  Use your words.  Philosophical arguments are one of the main things words are for.

Better yet, write a science fiction novel, about why your opponents are so, so, wrong. I feel this is the optimum way to fight, which is probably why I do it that way. 

The conservative who was mad at File 770 and its editor, Mike Glyer, went off on a theme regarding how Glyer would excerpt tantalizing political statements in his lede, accusing Glyer of being misleading and sensationalistic and out-of-context. And you know, I could almost empathize, because when he posted my “interviewed by my cat” piece about Retrograde Horizon, he excerpted my little political paragraph, about how I toned the violence way down. 

I later wrote an expanded piece about how originally RH ended with something resembling the finale of Reservoir Dogs, except in the president’s office. During the Obama administration, it was hipstery and snarky and “look ma, I saw a Tarantino film once!” and over the top. Once we changed to the Trump administration, it felt different. 

To say that I’m not terribly impressed with Trump is probably an understatement. He’s embarrassing. I don’t want to kill him, though. In fact, I think all my enemies should have long lives (that are filled with disappointment and heartbreak and papercuts, but long nevertheless, so they can reflect on their own loathesomeness and attempt redemption). My true enemies are things like concepts and attitudes, things which occasionally take roost in a human brain, and also occasionally depart.

Still, I felt a little bit like a deer under a spotlight when Glyer excerpted my paragraph about having toned down the violence. Would I get shade from my fellow liberals for not hating Trump enough? Would they accuse me of being a secret conservative? Would conservatives try to use me as some kind of example of a nervous liberal? Would I fall under the ragers' radar?

Sometimes I tell people that I write action stories where guns are de-emphasized, and that’s a true statement. My hero is more of a persuader than a gunslinger. While I’m pretty firmly against the idea that games/songs/books/videos/art causes violence, I do agree that it can inflame and inspire a mind that has already set upon that path. There are images I don’t want/need floating in my head. 

There was recently a comedian who got into trouble for a photo showing her holding up a severed presidential head. That’s the sort of thuggish, bullying impulse I was trying to avoid, including too much rage in my art, making it bitter and distasteful and potentially poisonous. I came of age during a time when violently nihilistic aesthetics were in vogue, and truthfully I still enjoy that sort of thing from time to time, so I have to consciously make sure I’m not spewing it into projects where it doesn’t belong. 

People get addicted to rage. They get high on the brain chemicals it induces, and to keep them flowing they rage out at every possible opportunity. Certain forms of social media encourage this. Certain subcultures encourage it too. Keep people enraged and it's easy to yank their chains. 

Liberals used to stand pretty solidly behind nonviolence. That's the main reason I lean that way. Once we start blathering about terminating republicans and going nuts with firearms and brandishing photos of severed heads, our credibility plummets.

I hope we humans can get a handle on our collective rage issues before we do too much more damage to each other.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, assuming you wanted to

 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a despicable exercise in calculated marketing. It’s not a Harry Potter story at all, even though it takes place in the Harry Potter universe.

This is a movie about two bros. Bro number one, Ginger Bro, has a magic briefcase that opens up to an alternate world, where he hoards pets, which all seem to be well cared for. Ginger Bro is not a bad sort, although he frequently lets his pets accidentally escape, thus providing this movie with a plot, which makes him the hero, if you want to call it that, especially given that his character wrote the book the movie is sort of based around.

Bro number two is a chubby Polish muggle who wants to start a bakery. He is the real star of the movie. He is incomprehensibly crushed on by a lovely lady despite being a chubby factory worker. For a moment, this puzzled me. The Harry Potter franchise is beloved by millions, but I never quite saw it as associated with factory workers who aspire to be bakers before. Me, personally, I’d pick a Young Adult to be the hero, or maybe a squad of them, but what do I know. 

There are some sisters to provide romantic adventures with the bros, Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein, a pair of nice wizard girls. Tina, the butch one, used to be an auror before getting in trouble for excessive force, while Queenie is a mind-reading flapper who channels Marilyn Monroe. She instantly falls in love with the muggle, because she’s psychic enough to realize she’s stuck in a bro movie and mercenary enough to make the best of it. 

Finally, we have some villains. Tormented child Credence, according to the X-ray View, is played by a handsome youth when equipped with his own hair. Here he is forced to wear an unbecoming Moe Howard tribute do, while suffering abuse from his mean religious mommy-surrogate.  The religious-flavored bullying of young adults has been a popular theme with my generation ever since Carrie. At one time it was a nod back at the bullied protagonists of English Lit, such as Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, but I’ll just say there’s a fine line between child abuse and lurid sensational depictions of child abuse that linger on the abuse in an overly-interested sort of fashion, and leave it at that. There are some eeeevil mustache twirling politicians too. I’m not sure I want to talk about these villains anymore.

As far as the beasts, the true star of the film, lots of them are deliberately gross or ugly, with tentacle faces and miniscule heads. Ginger bro’s prize specimen allegedly lives in the Southwest, and I actually sat through the entire remainder of the movie hoping there would be jackalopes, with resulting disappointment when they never got out of magic Manhattan. 

Because, yeah, an audience that thinks it’s headed to a kids movie, about animals, would probably assume it takes place outdoors somewhere, in a place that could benefit from the IMAXical special effects and 3D gimmickry that future generations will mock.  But no.  It takes place in Manhattan, where it tries very hard to be a Woody Allen film, as opposed to a Harry Potter film.

This is a bad, cynical movie that wants to rake in the fandom dollars while treating the fans with smug contempt. At least Cursed Child had some genuine affection for its source material. I feel sorry for the actors, since they do a fine job and most of it isn’t their fault.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Hunger Games movie marathon

I just watched all the Hunger Games movies in order, and I must spew words! I’m going to spoil them all freely, based on the theory that people interested in the HG series have already consumed them in prose and/or cinematic form. 

The first movie Hunger Games, is a patchwork of imagery resembling the worst of Nazism and the Iron Curtain. Katniss hunts small game under bleak foggy skies with her homey Gale until she volunteers for the games, alongside the baker’s boy, Peeta, who has a crush on her. Together they win by killing everyone else and breaking the rules, thereby pissing off the president. Emeritus winner Haymitch is around to provide wise, yoda-like guidance during his brief sober moments.

The second movie, Catching Fire, has Katniss and all the other winners forced back into competition, basically because the president is a power-grubbing sadist. We are introduced to cuddly new characters like hotspur Joanna Mason, prettyboy Finnick Odair and nerdy Beetee, and then we get to see all of them fighting for their lives in the Quarter Quell, an even more vicious version of the games, with angry monkeys and skin blistering gas.

The third movie, Mockingjay, Part One, is the only installment without a game of some form, and in some ways it’s the most riveting. Katniss wrestles with her role as face of the revolution while Peeta struggles with his brainwashing. There’s a heartbreaking scene where Finnick, stalling for camera time while rebels carry out an undercover mission, relates some of the abuse the Capitol put him through even after winning the Hunger Games.

In the climactic fourth movie, Mockingjay, Part Two, the political situation gets resolved good and hard.  Katniss fights her way to the Capitol, intending to assassinate President Snow. Both male members of her love triangle accompany her, and she finally makes up her mind as to which one she wants. Joanna Mason is completely wasted, only popping up a couple of times, which was a crushing disappointment since she swiftly became my favorite character. Some very bad things happen, as other peoples’ favorite characters meet sad deaths.

A Story That Left A Mark

First, the narcissistic section: the HG series is what finally drove me to start writing books. HG puts out such a relentlessly bleak future that I felt compelled to respond. I think quite a few other writers feel that way, given the array of series similar to HG such as Divergent, and Maze Runner. Battle Royale was certainly an inspiration to HG, at least the arena part. HG is sort of a conversational nexus for artists, something other people can bounce away from in creating their own future. It’s also eerie for the ways in which it hits close to home despite its future setting.

As a capitol resident, I know how easy it is to fall out of touch with what we derisively term the “flyover” areas of the country. HG takes that dynamic and turns it up as loud as it’ll go, with the flyover people living grimy oppressed lives, and the capitol citizens wallowing in Roman-style decadence.

Old people tend to become blasé about politics, after living a long life full of dire warnings about how we’re all gonna die horrific deaths right now if we don’t vote here or conserve there or mend our evil ways in some fashion. Young people find themselves thrust into a confusing forest of passionate rhetoric and worst case scenarios.

HG does several things that I admire very much. It ends on a positive note, after punishing us with relentless grimdark. It juggles the macro/micro issues with breathtaking skill, as matters like which dress Katniss wears, or which boy she kisses, become hugely important matters – the future of democracy is at stake! It gives us a cast with solid characters, each with a firmly laid personality.

And HG gives us a dystopia with social engineering turned up to frickin’ twelve, where people fight and win based on their innate personalities. That’s probably why I love this series so much. It’s not about education a la Harry Potter, it’s more about self-actualization. Katniss hones her rebellious streak sneaking outside the perimeter fence to hunt; she uses it to rules-lawyer herself and her buddy a victory; she ends up being the face of the revolution – and then she rebels from that!  She’d be a rebel even if she didn’t have seriously good reasons to be one.

Jennifer Lawrence is a beautiful woman who can also bear a strong resemblance to a tough-as-nails working class girl, and I think she does an amazing job playing Katniss.  She doesn’t seem all that hungry, but that’s the point: she knows how to hunt.

With her bow, Katniss gets around one of the major handicaps for action girl heroes: melee fragility. It takes a rare actress to pull off Xena or Wonder Woman style physical fighting. A girl with a range attack is much more plausible and believable. She does a breathtaking fight sequence in the sewer scene in the last movie, arrowing her foes swiftly and at close range.

She’s a Joan of Arc type figure, appearing from the underclass with a gift for rallying the troops. All the politicians want her and her massive + morale buff.  She’s a regency heroine, carefully managing public appearance and romantic attraction.  She’s Huck Finn, rough and hardscrabble in origin. She’s all kinds of different YA heroines rolled up in one.

Military Science Fiction for Girls

Lately a new adaptation of Handmaid’s Tale is popular. Another story of a young woman living in dystopia, far removed from the politics and fighting that brought such a thing into reality. She might easily be dwelling in some gated community in President Snow’s capitol, cloistered and isolated.

Yet Katniss has a bow. She fights mainly as a morale booster, accompanied by an impressive embedded media unit that includes Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones, affecting a super cool hairstyle. She is, nevertheless, a soldier, who shoots enemies from time to time. The ladylike characters in Ms. Atwood’s novel are far too passive for modern girls with video game and social media skills. 

Katniss has a soldier’s sensibilities, too. She’s not overly fond of luxury and when she gets to choose her own outfits, she tends to pick jeans. She’s a careful strategist, and she keeps her emotions strictly in check.

Graceful Political Balance

One of the genius things about HG that makes me want to stand up and applaud is the way both liberals and conservatives can look at it from their own spectrum. Maybe the villainous elites in the capitol are wicked Hollywood liberals, or maybe they’re socially conservative capitalists whose leader isn’t above creepy behavior toward young girls. Maybe they’re a fiendish coalition of both, enslaving the 90%. Katniss’ people manage to seem Bible Belt and Wobbly at the same time. Effie Trinket has echoes of both helmet-haired televangelists and wacky haute couture models.

HG is telling us that social values are a smokescreen for the underlying important issue of whose bodies are allowed to continue digesting food and breathing air. Everything else is subordinated. There may be racism in the HG world; Katniss’ District was all white (in the novels, there were blondes running the town businesses and olive-skinned brunettes working in the mines), and the black district is all black. Yet it’s never a plot point, and everyone goes shoulder-to-shoulder to fight the capitol.

There might be gay or trans or neuroatypical people in Katniss’ world, but they don’t discuss it. Literally in the form of the avoxes, the only disabled people we see. (Avoxes have been tortured by the government, their capacity for speech removed.)

Katniss’ world is devoid of culture, aside from mandatory reality TV, and a few folk songs and square dances. They don’t appear to have any religion whatsoever. Theirs is not a lofty philosophical fight of memes and theories; they are concerned with getting enough calories down their throat to keep them alive another day. And you know, all the political arguments aside, I am similarly inclined. Let’s get everyone fed, let’s get all the wounds treated, let’s get the kids cleaned up and educated, and then we can talk about whose deity/belief system/motivational plaque is the best.

HG stands firmly against tyrants. Doesn’t matter whether they’re liberal or conservative tyrants; all tyranny is the same in the end.

When Women Kill

Back in the last century, it was a huge deal whether action heroes such as Wonder Woman actually spilled enemy blood (that – and possibly bondage fantasies – is why she tended to carry around a lasso for hogtying villains).  Xena Warrior Princess bounced between angsting over bloody hands and cheerfully slaughtering thugs and warlords. Aslan benched Lucy and Susan for the climactic fight. The American military has had parallel discussions during this time as to whether women should serve as combat troops.

And yet here comes Katniss, slaughtering enemies left and right. They’re always deserving enemies of course, and it’s always self-defense. She doesn’t sneak around assassinating people, aside from the president. She has major nightmares about it, however – and that’s one more thing this series does right, examining everyone’s grief and post-combat PTSD, as opposed to blithely shaking it off like some of those superheroes.

HG is basically saying nobody should serve as combat troops, but sometimes it’s unfortunately necessary, such as when you’re being oppressed. And even then, the ends do not justify the means.

Movies versus Books

Both the movies and the books are excellent for different reasons. I felt much more positive about this adaptation than the Harry Potter series, which seemed to go way off the rails in certain aspects.

Finnick and Joanna and Beetee came alive for me in their cinematic version. Especially Finnick, whom I had previously dismissed. His movie version was warm and truthful and genuine. Joanna was intense and wacky in both incarnations, but her movie persona had an undercurrent of pragmatism. She might be dressed funny and saying weird things, but she’s taking the swiftest and most efficient route to victory while she’s doing it.

A Favorite

I love fight scenes, I love games, and yet my favorite movie was the only one lacking these elements: Mockingjay part one. It was all about trying to decipher enemy strategy, which is one of my favorite things about military science fiction. There was the team effort with Peeta’s rescue that left me on the edge of my seat, and there was a lot of character building. Everyone was playing outside of their routine – Katniss was being more cerebral than physical; Haymitch was sober; Peeta was deranged; Gale was being a solider rather than a lone wolf. I also love the fact that everyone is finally rising up against their oppressors.

Three feet of cat

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's longest cat is Ludo, at 3 feet 10 inches. 

I was curious as to how Kahuna measured up, so recently when he was helping me make the bed, I chased him down with the measuring tape again. You're supposed to measure cat length from nose to tail tip, and as you can see, the top end fell off of his nose, while the tail end is hovering around 36", or three feet (ten inches shorter than Ludo).

These contests are biased in favor of Maine Coon cats by the way, which are long and slinky like cheetahs, as opposed to Ragdolls, which are stocky like little lions. I'd need a lot more upper body conditioning to hold Kahuna in the same position as Ludo in his portrait.

However, I can see Guinness' point -- if you measured cats by weight, or circumference, there would be a bunch of evil creeps fattening up their kitties to earn that prize.

It's just as well. Kahuna probably would hate being a celebrity. He doesn't like cars, or strangers, or breaks in routine.  He has a bad back, and wouldn't like being held up in weird uncomfortable poses.  I have a bad back too, and don't like holding him in weird uncomfortable poses. We spend a lot of time on the couch together.

He weighs somewhere between thirty-two and thirty-six pounds. He eats one-half cup of Orijen kibble every day for dinner, and he alternates every two weeks between a quarter cup of kibble and a can of Tiki Cat for breakfast.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Baycon with More Detail (and a Terrifying Tale of Non-Harassment) (How’s That For Clickbait?)

Well, let’s see. I arrived in a great mood, because my Lyft driver was accompanied by an adorable little dog named Rocky and I spent most of the trip playing with Rocky and his squeaky toy in the backseat.  This was a far far far far far better idea than renting a fricking car. 

My first panel was Witch-hunts and Watch-lists with Diana Paxson, Jacquelyn Bartel, Edward Kukla and Jean Batt.  The panel discussed fictional witch hunts, and contrasted them with things going on in the real world such as surveillance of activists. Unfortunately my phone went off and I slunk out of the panel in shame, and then I got distracted by the info desk, and the dealers’ room.

The dealers’ room was small and compact. There was an impressive table for the Library Bards, a filk band with clever t-shirts. There were old and new books, jewelry, t-shirts with dragons and cats and books and such (I bought one with cats and books). There was a selection of t-shirts from past Baycons, in case I felt like falsely representing myself as having attended them, but I suck at prevarication so I didn’t buy any. 

At some point a headache attacked me and I used a combination of aspirin and Tylenol to turn it into a bellyache, and that was my first night at the San Mateo Airport Marriott. 

For Saturday, I started with a talk on risk and uncertainty given by Christine Doyle, M.D., one of the Guests of Honor at this Baycon.  I became a minor Dr. Doyle fangirl for the remainder of the convention, following her around to different panels so I could bask in her warm sciencey wisdom.

In fact – and this made me all sentimental and gooey at several points during the panels – in a world where science … may not be held in the highest regards by some of our political and religious leaders, coughetty cough cough … although several of the GOOD ones get it, and for example, in my great state of California we now have single payer health care … okay, there’s my political dream for the last forty years come true.  I have a story about how American-style health care is involved with the fact I never finished any of my diplomas, but I’ll save it for another day. 

But what I was getting to was that at Baycon, several times I found myself in the presence of all-female science panels!  Or panels of scientists of all genders hanging out talking about their nerdy sciencey hobby for the sheer fun of it!  There was so much sheer love for science, all around me, that it made me tingle.  Rational, evidence, fact-based science.  Mmmmmm.

All the people who go around saying things like, “oh, science is hard, it makes my brain strained, I think I will just watch some television” – they weren’t even there.  Only science lovers were there.  Which makes me think I will be returning to Baycon even if maybe it’s not particularly suited to my audience demographic.  It’s suited to my emotional demographic. 

So yeah, Dr. Doyle talked about risk, in terms of surgical outcome, epidemiology and suchlike, with the intent of decoding the frequently-contextless “odds” published in non-sciencey journals by derpy journalists. 

Next I went to a panel on Autism and Asperger’s in Fandom. Lots of my biological relatives are on the autistic spectrum, and it’s a subject that interests me. Back when I first got into fandom there was an unarticulated sense that a lot of us were “weird” and could pass as normal to varying degrees, and this was written off as a side effect of having a high IQ.  These days the labels have become more clinical and precise. I’m very fascinated with cognition, and with how it varies according to innate factors, and how it recovers from traumatic injury. I carry that into my writing, and I was interested by what these individuals had to say.  Science fiction writers have been contemplating alien intelligences for years without paying much attention to the many divergent forms of cognition right here in our own species. The fandom community, meanwhile, has historically been a place accepting of all forms of diversity, including neuro-.  I’m looking forward to reading (and writing) more explorations of neurodiverse characters from a modern standpoint.

I did my restlessness thing for a while, checking out fragments of several panels without actually settling down until I got to the one about DNA and Gene Research panel, where Dr. Doyle expounded, accompanied by Rebecca Inch-Partridge, Sydney Thomson, Dr. Ellen Coatney and Trinity Adler. There was clarification about genetic tendency versus fate, and discussion of some of the latest cancer research.

I needed a retreat from the crowd at that point and I serendipitously found myself having dinner with Heather Rose Jones, a fellow Filer and wicked smaht lady who knows all kinds of stuff about history and biology and writing books that people actually read and buy.  She gave me all kinds of sage advice. Her books are more for adults but she told me she’s going to write one for YAs soon, and I’m looking forward to reviewing it. 

Full of steak, I waddled off to the hotel jacuzzi.  I had every intent of partying but somehow I found myself lounging in bed watching Samurai Jack and his new girlfriend Ashi.  And then falling asleep.

On Sunday, my first panel was Making Readers Care About Your Characters, with Ezra Barany, Laurel Anne Hill, A.E. Marling and Tyler Hayes. Quick ways to get readers to love your characters (and hate your villains) were discussed.

Then, the best panel of Baycon in my humble opinion: Ethics of Bio Engineering, with the same women as the DNA panel on Saturday, extrapolating further on smart viruses, evil clones, bioengineered dinosaurs and most of the plot of my current series.  I had a great time.

Historical Writing is not something I ever intend to do, but Heather Rose Jones was on the panel and I hear she’s pretty good at it.  Other panelists were Lillian Csernica, Gregg Castro and Jay Hartlove, talking about their various historical approaches. 

I darted into a few more panels and parties and ate a nice passion fruit dessert and said hi to Lurkertype (another Filer), and met editor Relle indirectly through Facebook.  On Monday, I lost an auction for this particular print:

(I should just buy it)

My favorite party was the Bear’s Picnic, hosted by Chazz, who baked a great many cookies, all of them delicious, particularly the Vesta Bars. 


I didn’t get harassed at all, possibly because a Harassment Policy was posted – literally taped to the walls in several locations – warning people that they’d be 86’d for harassing.  I did have an amusing adventure during one of the many times I was lurking in my room, watching cartoons and being introverted.

Suddenly I heard an exasperated growl at the door, and clicking, as if someone were trying to insert a card key.

I opened the door. Standing on the other side was a man dressed in head-to-toe camouflage.

He muttered something about being very sorry, wrong room, and sounded appropriately mortified; I said something to the effect of “oh, I thought I heard somebody trying to get in, glad to see it’s only a strange man dressed in camouflage two days after some crazy guy got arrested for bringing live weapons to Phoenixcon.”

Later on, I found pictures of him in my Facebook group -- part of a cosplay squad. It occurred to me that this could have metastasized into a very ugly situation had I been a little more paranoid (or maybe if he had growled louder). 

No matter. It didn’t even occur to me as weird until later on when I reflected I probably had a legitimate reason to be disconcerted.

NOTE: I want to make it very clear that I am not accusing this gentleman of anything whatsoever aside from misreading the hotel room number, which is just a silly error. He committed no crimes, offenses or misbehaviors. He seems like a swell guy. At no time did I feel threatened. It was just kinda ... strange to find some kinda space marine jiggling my doorhandle y'know what I'm saying ...  if I were twenty years younger I might've flirted with him and I might have screamed like a banshee, you never can tell.