Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Incoming Cons! Hawaiicon! SF Comic Con!

The Hawaiicon schedule just came out and I am stoked. I’ll be on two panels: Translating Science Into Fiction on Thursday at 5 and Writer Reviewers’ Panel Friday at 4.  Although I’ve been on panels before, this will be the first time as a published writer. Yes, yes, eventually I’ll get around to writing books that are brilliant, and perfect, and popular (maybe), but for now I’m just glad that books with my name on them exist. They’ll get better, I promise.  

So far Hawaiicon looks like a nice blend of media con, fan con, gamer con and Hawaiiana. I’m intrigued by the panels about Hawai'i archeology and volcanoes, and we’ll see how well I do at Star Wars trivia. 

But!  Even before that is San Francisco Comic Con, which is at the Moscone Center this year, having outgrown the Marriott.  I’m just attending as a fan, although I might try to sneak a few promo bookmarks onto unattended tables.

Reality has been especially harsh and heartbreaking lately. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of September wrapped in a protective cocoon of speculative fiction and art.



Monday, August 28, 2017

Protest and Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Apologies if I'm getting tiresomely repetitious with stories about the protests that happened last weekend, but I wanted to throw yet another post script on the pile: this Slate story about a journalist that shielded an alt-right marcher from an antifa attack.

All this political material is definitely a distraction from blogging about YA science fiction, but it does involve the alt-right, whom I've been writing about ever since the Hugo awards in 2015, as well as some of the more newsworthy events happening in my everyday life, even if I did spend these particular events hiding in the house.



Sunday, August 27, 2017

Protest Post Script

The posts on my wall from people who were there are mostly about peace and harmony.
The headlines I'm seeing from both liberal and conservative news mention about 10 alt-righties getting attacked by antifa and/or anarchists, including the organizer.

I will therefore retract what I said about these provocateurs crying wolf regarding violence, although I'm not certain who swung first. I'm retreating back to my position of "free speech is for societies advanced enough to have bloodless debates and/or healthcare for those who get injured while speaking freely, and it doesn't appear we're there yet." We are still in the stage where it's dangerous to be a provocateur of any flavor.

I'm also calling them "alt-right" rather than Nazis as it appears the people with the Nazi flags and chants weren't in attendance.

Doesn't mean I agree with them. My heart is firmly on the side of the people waving signs about unity and peace. I've got a lawful alignment, however, and I wish them a swift recovery.

Lying About Blurbs

On the heels of the scandal about the writer that bought herself a number one bestseller, here's a writer who managed to get dead people to give him blurbs. Or possibly he's just another liar.



The Day After The Alt-Right Tried To Invade San Francisco

Since I didn’t go outside, yesterday I sat around encouraging friends and reporters on Facebook. Thousands showed up in Alamo Square, and elsewhere, to register their general disapproval of Nazis.

The alt-right protestors made a brief appearance, even returning to Crissy Field. I watched them give a brief, confused press conference before declaring they had to flee for their lives because Antifa was coming.  They seemed a little amazed that absolutely nobody was buying their “brave supporters of truth being pursued by mean oppressors” narrative. They were non-white, and also seemed nonplussed that wasn’t a conversation topic either; apparently they were expecting San Francisco to gape in astonishment over the fact that people of color were endorsing … it wasn’t really clear exactly what they were endorsing. Trump? Anti-antifascism? Anti-Marxism? Their leader did declare Stalin was as bad as Hitler, which was the closest thing to a policy statement I heard. It wasn’t like they were trying to claim Hitler wasn’t bad in the first place. Plus I got the distinct understanding that San Francisco is not the kind of place where people may march around brandishing tiki torches and chanting “blood and soil.”  I’m a bit disgusted to live in a country where that kind of behavior is acceptable anywhere, but it makes me happy to know it isn’t tolerated here at home.

Today there is another protest happening, in Berkeley, where the alt-right tried and failed to get a permit for an anti-Marxism demonstration. My Facebook is lighting up with invitations and photos from my friends that are attending. And even though my public transit is functional today and I can leave the house without laying down fistfuls of cash, I’m still in not-going-outside mode, so I’m providing moral support from afar.

I have a prediction that this will go the same way as the Sad/Rabid Puppies thing.  Alt-righties make noise hoping to mobilize allies chafing under the boot of the oppressive left.  Left shows up in force to state in no uncertain terms that whatever problems might exist, a return to Mad Men era social mores is not a viable solution and revises rules to discourage further noise. Alt-right rephrases a few times, then abandons the battlefield (while claiming victory) and moves on to conquer the relatively uncontested Dragon Awards.

In 2018 Worldcon will be here, in Northern California, home of all the scary liberals that are waving signs in Berkeley today, plus a fair number of us that can’t be arsed to go outside, providing moral support. I’ve got a strong feeling the ballot will be puppy-free and the winners won’t be white dudes and the slating threat will be over, and the puppies will have been effectively neutered. 


Maybe I’m an optimist but I think these free speech battles will go the same way.  Any moment now the alt-right will realize mobilizing people to support white supremacy is counterproductive and slink off to revise their tactics.



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Can’t Go Outside Because Nazis

It’s a beautiful day. The heavy fog that protects San Francisco from the harsh rays of summer (affectionally referred to as “Karl” by locals) has dissipated to reveal a bright blue sky, first I’ve seen in weeks, and yet I’m looking at it through the window, because I'm not going outside.

Recently an announcement was made that the “alt-right” as represented by a group of praying patriots would be rallying in Crissy Field, which happens to be within hearty hiking distance from where I live. Many things were done in response.  Some San Franciscans organized a drive to leave dog poop (and clean it up on Sunday) and before the event was cancelled over five thousand people had joined the Facebook group associated with this project.

An interfaith service was scheduled at Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. A dance party was arranged for the area around City Hall. A flock of smaller counterprotests sprang up in various locations. Security was heightened around Crissy Field, a stretch of green seaside with a marvelous view of the bridge, including canceling all public transit in the area for the day. Yours truly lives in the area, and is stuck here unless I want to spend the bucks on a taxi or a rental or a rideshare, while gambling on my ability to get back home within a reasonable amount of time, on streets crowded with agitated political fringe-ists. 

And I don’t. Crime has been a little high in the area of late and an influx of white supremacist praying patriots isn’t exactly making the streets of San Francisco feel more secure. A little later on tonight the sports bars will be packed with dudes watching some big deal prize fight, and likely one or two of them will emerge drunk and testosteroned-up and itching to leave knuckleprints in some white supremacist’s hide, assuming there are still any within city limits. The summer of love was forty years ago, as the ads tour pasted on the tour buses keep reminding us. Its children and grand-children grew up steeped in hippie values and don't take kindly to any foreigners coming in here to tell us who to hate. 

The night before this alt-right praying patriot rally, they changed their strategy. Perhaps the mountain of dog poop awaiting them at Crissy Field was just too galling. Their official excuse was that they received death threats, and don’t feel safe. First they said they’d convene in Alamo Square. Then today the City closed Alamo Square and the organizers announced an indoor news "conferance.”

This is really rich coming from folks that were running around with tiki torches chanting Nazi battle cries like “blood and soil” a couple of weeks ago. 

Just for the record, I categorize people who commit false accusations of violence in the same filing bin as child molesters and animal abusers.  Somewhere at the crossroads of coward and bully.  Radioactive people, too damaged to interact with.  I’m sure the rally organizers received plenty of trash talk and threats, but when they start representing themselves as decent citizens victimized by the wicked antifacists … as a writer of over-the-top science fiction full of reconstituted dinosaurs, I find this particular plotline implausible and deem it unlikely to convince readers to suspend their disbelief.

I’m really looking forward to the day when all the reasonable people band together against the haters. When that happens we’ll get some healthcare and human rights and art and happiness.

Until that happens – bigots and liars everywhere. So I’m going to consider myself emboldened by the current White House occupant too, and revel in my own bigotry. I don’t like supremacists, or people with suboptimal IQs who have difficulty spelling common words in their own native language and yet fancy themselves competent to state political opinions, or bullies who cry wolf about violence.  I’m better than them and don’t want to be in their grimy ill-bred presence, and am segregating myself from them here in my apartment. Where I have some leftover Hunan smoked pork, as well as a box of Napoleons from North Beach: one for tonight and one to savor with the Game of Thrones finale.

I made a special trip to North Beach the other night for them, in fact. I love North Beach, my first San Francisco neighborhood. It has artists and funkiness and hills and the best food ever. Walking up Grant Street checking out the buildings makes my heart swell up like I’m falling in love. This city is beautiful, and magical, and people whose hearts are full of hate feel very uncomfortable here.



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Further Notes on Review Fakery

File 770 frequenter Camestros Felapton has been exploring Amazon review scandals and reports there is now an analysis website that will crawl your reviews to see whether they look fake. Which leads to meta-discussions about whether it could tell, for instance, a legitimate brigade of 1-star reviews from a deliberate malicious flood of them. And the inference that the presence of at least some bad reviews being a heavier endorsement than a flood of good reviews.

Meh. I would rather have readers than reviews and ratings, and I have a few, but apparently reviews and ratings are a good way to find more. I'll have to work on that.



Cheating the Best Seller List

Apparently, if you have a lot of money, you can buy your way to the top of the NYTimes best seller list like the author of Handbook for Mortals.  I don't have enough money to do it myself. If only I were a best-selling author, then I could afford it.

We're in a golden age of corruption, and not being able to afford the personal helicopters and gold-coated earbuds can be sad. I did come within six digits of winning seven hundred million in PowerBall last night, so I guess there's hope for the future, but right now I'm a San Franciscan working stiff, riding my public transit and eating from humble take-out containers in my cat-hair-coated rent-controlled apartment. No doubt there are nine million things that I could be doing to monetize my existence, which I would know about if I didn't prioritize having the time and space to write above everything else. Even though it hasn't produced anything but epic underachieving so far.

I do think that we underachievers will have our day. I hope I live to see it. Until then, I'm going to reframe "underachiever" as "polar opposite to people that bribe their way to the top of the best seller list" and wear it with pride.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Parameters For Reviewable Books

I’ve been trying to select the books that I review, making sure they’re similar to the ones I’m writing. Maybe synergy might form, and then we’d have a movement, like “the beats” or “hair metal” or “the Algonquin Round Table.”  Obviously I don’t always hit the mark, such as with my Hugo novel reviews, but the target is generally other YA-focused stories about action-and-excitement in a speculative – that means horror/science fiction/fantasy -- setting.  With that as a guideline, here are some of the other filters I tend to use.

YA Only. Fiction Only.

Teenagers come first. I could see myself reviewing occasional books about people in other age groups, but only if they have minimal adult content, and seem like they might be enjoyable to teenagers at some level. Many of Stephen King’s books qualify, even though he does write about sex and violence frequently.

Similarly, I’m focused on fiction. Not biographies or cookbooks or guides or shop manuals. No graphic novels or music albums or video games.

The Softness-Hardness Scale

Some people (foolishly) invest a lot of energy into making the softness-hardness scale correspond to human genders.  Girls are supposed to like quiet stories about women and their feelings, and guys are supposed to like loud violent kinetic stories about soldiers and fighting and explosions.

And this is sometimes true, but not always, and people should rely on things that are sometimes-but-not-always-true at their own risk.

I’m writing for humans who are more about the gee whiz than the soft sigh, so I’m not going to review a lot of books that are at the other end of the contemplative scale, like romances, or domesticity stories, or babysitting adventures unless they involve, e.g., babysitting raptors … on a volcano that’s about to blow up … while being attacked by, er, attackers … and maybe there’s some bad weather.  Perhaps some zombie sharks.

The Demographic Thing

I’m guilty of Hawai'i nepotism, which means that if a book or a movie takes place in Hawai'i, or was created by somebody from Hawai'i, I’ll check it out.  It might be not that memorable a book, but maybe the characters go get shave ice or spam musubi and I’ll feel all, like, represented. It’s always nice to cheer for your own team. I will definitely give preferential treatment to a story that connects with me in some fashion, and I will also gravitate toward stories from voices I don’t seem to hear quite as often.

Just … don’t mess it up. Like one time I read this book that took place in San Francisco in July and nobody was wearing a coat or jacket or windbreaker or hoodie.  As if.

Dishonesty

I dislike books that lie. 

I realize fiction books are liars by their very nature, and science fiction is a particularly dishonest genre since not even the setting is truthful.

To me, a dishonest book is the kind where you put it down, disgusted, saying aloud, “that could never happen.” 

For a lot of people, it happened in a recent episode of Game of Thrones. Throughout all seven of the seasons, viewers have agreed to suspend their disbelief and accept a world with dragons, and dire wolves, and ice zombies, and sorcery. However, when it came to a scene where a dragon-riding rescuer responded to a SOS call sent via raven within what seemed like a matter of hours, many fans found their disbelief crashing to the ground given the great distances. (I personally had a more difficult time swallowing the notion of the dragonrider lacking protective gear, since it must get chilly up there at that kind of velocity.) This wasn’t enough to make me want to stop watching, but it did make me appreciate George R.R. Martin’s plotting skills a little bit more (because the TV version has been Martin-less all season and it sure does show).

Regardless, a fibbing book is not a book I generally want to encourage. Whether it’s giving bad advice or merely betraying its own plot, characters or genre, or cheating its way out of plotholes via supersonic dragons and dragonriders who are so naturally hot that they never have to de-ice their flaps. 

Mind Stuff

I’ve ranted about this before, but I like ranting about it, so here’s some more. When I grew up and first started reading science fiction, an awful lot of it concerned ESP, telepathy and various kinds of “-kinesis” such as pyro and tele. Like many, I assumed that this was something science was on the verge of actualizing, given the sheer amount of material on the subject. For instance, Stephen King’s first several books concerned psionic powers (Carrie; The Shining; Firestarter; The Dead Zone; The Stand). Comic books and tabletop roleplaying games were full of psionic characters grimacing with exertion as ice or arcane energy or good vibrations or whatever shot out of their outstretched hands or throbbing temples.

But none of it was real, except maybe the kind of intuition that inspires people to notice their potential proximity to bad events in advance – “I had a feeling I should cancel out of the flight that crashed and take a different one” kind of stuff, which happens all the time. Beaming directives into peoples’ heads (or wrestling them into psychic submission), levitating X-Wings, making your high school prom explode without using your hands, that sort of stuff – nope.

A ghost here and there, a prescient dream, a feeling that you should introduce yourself to some attractive stranger – sure. I’ll totally buy that. Yet another psychic child being pursued by the government for her mind powers? If you’ve written a book like that, you probably already knew I wasn’t going to review it when you were on the first draft, and nothing has changed.

Ye Olde Grimdarke

I love me some Lovecraft, and Joe Abercrombie makes my heart beat faster. I’ve read nearly everything Stephen King has ever written. And because I’m a priggish guardian of morals, I don’t think you should read things like that, so I won’t review any of it.

I’m kidding. I’m also aware that some of my book-consuming friends don’t have the cavalier sense of humor involving nihilistic scary darkness that some of my heavy metal and gamer buddies enjoy. I’m frequently worried about accidentally crossing over one of my many self-imposed PG-13 demarcations when it comes to this sort of thing.

So I try to hover around “grim lite” – closer to anxiety than terror.  Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a great example of grim lite. The horrific stuff is right there between the lines, but you have to do some pondering before you find it.

Sex and Drugs (and Terrorism)

This is the escapism department. If you were looking for the grim and gritty realism department, hang up and dial 911.

There’s a Religious Line Somewhere

I love some stories with religious elements: Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time, Watership Down, Rick Riordan’s stories of demigods – or anti-religious, in the case of the Golden Compass books. I find other stories with metaphysical elements to be overbearing, such as the Left Behind series, and Avatar.

I guess this boils down to my desire to steer clear of 95% of the YA books that center around metaphysics while adoring the 5% of them that fall within the sweet spot on my unlabeled Venn diagram. I’ll let you know if I ever come up with any labels. Until then, if there’s a lot of mysticism in a story, I’ll probably shy away unless it’s really good.

There’s a Fuzzy Political Line Too

For example, a story with a cast of characters that all seem to be one-dimensional point-provers is one I will probably avoid. 

Soapboxing and Scaremongering

Some people think the entire purpose of writing YA fiction is to harangue YAs into behaving properly, often by lecturing them or giving them grotesque examples of the hideous fates that await them if they resist your well-meaning bossiness. 

And if haranguing worked, we’d all be behaving properly now. Go figure.















Saturday, August 19, 2017

Astrology and Eclipses (and My Novels)

I’m looking forward to the eclipse on Monday. People have asked me, because they know I’m knowledgeable about astrology, if this is some kind of portent of doom. And the answer to that is no, because sun-moon conjunctions happen routinely every 28 days. It’s like asking your accountant if the fact that your income tax total is a prime number means anything especially lucky.  Eclipses aside, we’re experiencing some very interesting astrology lately.

Like many before me, and many yet to come, I was a teenage goth. In order to distinguish myself among the other goth teenagers, I acquired an occult skill. Not palmistry, not tarot cards, not ouija boarding or herbalism or dream interpretation, although I was passingly familiar with those things. I went for astrology. For many reasons: (1) it had trace elements of actual science; (2) it was good enough for many a historical sinister mystic, such as John Dee and Aleister Crowley, while still being dubiously respectable enough to feature in newspapers; (3) cool looking glyphs; (4) classical references; (5) cryptic words like “quincunx” and “peregrine” to add extra layers of obfuscation to everything; (6) not a lot of competition from the other teenage goths due to all that math.

I swiftly found out there were actually several things called astrology, and they were similar but different. Underneath them all was a belief that has been around since ancient Babylon: there are recurring cycles and you can keep track of them by the planets, and each cycle goes through a series of symbolic periods – very similar to how Hollywood movies follow a formula regarding when all the plot complications happen.  There are times when you plant, times when you reap, and these cycles repeat.

This is how astrology worked for centuries. People worked out ways of forecasting the future – such as the lives of kings, and the outcome of battles, and when to plant beans. These forecasts were correct just often enough to keep astrology from shifting into the same obscurity as, say, telling fortunes by looking at sheep’s livers. I’ll call this classical astrology.

Fast forward to the United States of America during the era of psychotherapy. “Fortune telling” is against the law, but a certain group of astrologers figured out how to make it about psychotherapy instead, inventing what I'll call psychological astrology. That’s the astrology you’ll see in most modern books.  Jung was heavily influenced by this, although he filtered out much of the jargon in favor of terms like “INTJ” and “archetype.” 

Other astrologers took this concept and simplified it further, working with only the sun sign. This is where newspaper horoscopes come from. No need for messy math. Sun sign astrology eliminates everything but the ego, providing a quick little jolt of sunny affirmation for you and the rest of the 1/12 of humanity born near the same time.

The bottom line: astrology is about an endlessly repeating cycle, chopped into twelve pieces. It can run through the course of a day and it can run over a hundred years, but it always has certain qualities in common. Harmonic points, stress points. Various points in the cycle are decorated with associated symbology, and the planets form the calendar upon which we mark current and past cycles to use them in forecasting the future. You can overlay that with Freudian psychology or military strategy or stock market behavior or whatever you want.

Astrology is not a religion, so don’t ask me whether I “believe” in it. You might as well ask me if I believe in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, or strawberries. While I don’t mind hanging out in caf├ęs having fabulous conversations about the Gauquelin effect and ayanamshas, I believe it’s well settled that astrology is a pseudoscientific fortune telling method that fails to meet scientific rigor. Yet its gorgeous metaphors and myths permeate our history and art and philosophy and religion.

I did astrological consultations at one point, but I stopped, for three reasons: (i) it’s not precise enough for me to comfortably endorse; (2) I focus on a different variant of astrology and often don’t even speak the same language as people more versed in new age versions; and (c) I don’t like dealing with the sort of pugilistic skeptics that go around saying things like “the Chronicle says Leo starts on the 23rd but the Times says it’s the 22nd – explain that!!!!”

[Okay, I will. Signs start on a different day each year, and since there is no governing protocol whatsoever, astrologers are free to pick whatever dates they like. If you’re a “cusp” individual, you can use a computer and/or math to figure out which side of the line you’re on, and no it’s not both, but it doesn’t really matter because sun signs are a very limited way of assessing an individual beyond a superficial basis. Also, because there’s a ton of wrong astrological information in the world and nobody really cares except you. I hope that clarified everything. And I don’t really take random arguers at face value -- I assume people who randomly approach trying to start arguments are afflicted with eighth house issues, and those are best handled by experienced professionals.]

At one point I was convinced that computers would prove astrology once and for all, but I was mistaken. There are too many subjective ways to interpret things. In fact, that’s one thing built right into the core of astrology – the world is full of people who have markedly different subjective impressions, some of which you’ll never understand because they are contrary to your own nature.

I eventually got around to studying classical astrology, which is the way it is still practiced in many countries. I played around with using it to predict the outcome of battles … in video games. With surprising success, no doubt because predicting battles is one of the things astrology was built to do.  

Predicting the future was the primary use of astrology for thousands of years. Determining how wars would end, whether babies would be successful or whether marriages would be fruitful. That was what I really wanted to learn when I first got interested in astrology, as a teenage goth who happened to be fond of science fiction. What did the future hold?  The bit about which parts of my psyche were at war with other aspects of it were interesting, but I wanted an inside track on the future.

The future remains notoriously slippery, and we’ve still got the astrology. It hasn’t gone away. My inner teenage goth still adores it, and my creative muse insisted on writing a story about classical astrological symbolism caught in a world of videogamer-style adrenaline before getting to the business of writing novels which might actually be good.

That zodiac cycle is at the heart of my Sonny Knight series, a series too weirdly delicate to submit to a publisher. It’s the story of an annual cycle, seen through the eyes of Sonny, a solar symbol traveling through the twelve signs of the zodiac and spending about a month in each one. Being helped and hindered by the planets along the way. Riding through all the exaltations, rulerships, detriments and falls the plot can handle.

If you read it, you could gain a good quick understanding of astrology in its primeval, fortune telling state, before it became focused on questions like whether your birthchart indicates you and your mother were pickpockets together in a past life, or whether a Sagittarian should have a love affair with a Piscean. I’ve scrubbed away most of the modern embellishments; feel free to add them back on if you like, after you glance at how the underpinnings work.

I thought there might be some interest in where the cycles are taking us, what with Brexit and the current occupant rampaging through the white house and all the craziness around us. There are some hard angles up ahead and things could get fierce.







I’m Somewhat Calmer

My heroes at the ACLU have modified their position on free speech too – if you protest while carrying guns, they no longer have your back.  My San Franciscan neighbors are making me feel warm inside by organizing all kinds of activities to provide counterpoint to a right wing protest that’s happening in a couple weeks, and posting rants similar to the one I posted. The opposition calls it “virtue signaling” because they can’t quite understand why anyone would want to reassure a stranger. 

In fact, I’m feeling greatly reassured because people I hadn’t dreamed would be on the same side have come out with rants of their own. Arnold Schwarzenegger did a great video informing the supremacists their heroes were losers. Mitt Romney and the Mormon Church came out against racism, which blew me away, because even though I’ve become aware of non-racist mormons through Hawai'i and science fiction, I’m more familiar with the other kind. People in my link-happy Facebook discussion groups have shared links from the Federalist, and Vox Day, and Fox News, and other bastions of conservativism, all denouncing these Nazi LARPers and confederate fanboys for making the rest of them look guilty/stupid/violent by association. Good.

As far as the confederate monuments, put them in a museum if people want to keep them but don’t leave them cluttering up the public square annoying large proportions of the population. I understand most of them were erected during the Jim Crow era anyway. All part of that society-as-perpetually-angry-hierarchy lifestyle.  Dominate and abuse everyone, keep them simmering with anger while making sure they have a subclass they’re permitted to dominate and abuse themselves, to let off steam. Great way to raise a culture of people whose brains are too soaked in cortisol to perform routine cognitive tasks, if you ask me. It’s going to take generations to work that out of peoples’ epigenetics.


  


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Can’t Believe I’m Denouncing Racism in 20-Freaking-17

I’ve held off on blogging about this for the last couple of days, primarily because I’m trying to focus on YA science fiction and relevant matters like my struggles trying to write it. Writing about how we shouldn’t discriminate against black people, or why we should definitely discriminate against Nazis, doesn’t feel like science fiction.  It feels like history from before I was even born. 

I wasn’t around when we whooped the Nazis in 1945, and I wasn’t around in the 1950s when we had to send in freaking combat troops so that black people could eat lunch at five and dime stores. Come to think of it, I wasn’t around in the middle ages and therefore have never had a reason to speak against burning witches. I wasn’t around during the days of the Roman empire, so I have no reason to protest the gladitorial games. 

And yet here we are, in 20-freaking-17, with our newsfeeds full of stories about businessmen and generals and former presidents denouncing the current White House occupant for sucking up to Nazis and white supremacists. Following a “Unite the Right” rally at which one of our homegrown Nazis pointed his car at a crowd of human beings and floored it – occupant can’t seem to collect the cojones to denounce this man, as he tiptoes around allegations of bad behavior on “many sides.” 

I have been very lenient about my free speech opinions in the past. I allowed that we on the left can be censor-happy and screechy. However, with regard to white supremacists, I stand shoulder to shoulder with every screechy censor-happy leftist in the world. Every brave Allied warrior who helped defeat the Nazis too. This stuff doesn’t count as free speech any more than farting and belching does.

So from now on, I only believe in free speech that consists of actual expressions of coherent thought. Demented vocalizations, deliberate incitement and Hitler quotes fall under noise ordinances. Marching through the streets waving torches and chanting “blood and soil” … that’s something akin to a performance artist like G.G. Allin who craps on the stage and eats it, except without the “artist” part.

Call it Free Speech 2.0. There is now a style manual, with requirements such as moderate volume, complete sentences, coherent thoughts and peer-reviewed cites.  Speech that is not submitted in the proper format is hereby rejected. That's how it's going to work in my house/brain/blog, anyway.

Occasionally the – properly formatted – arguments of the neoright can get my attention. I pride myself in being a fair-minded and tolerant person. Although I do have huge biases (mainly against people who refuse to read books), I can be sympathetic to their claims of having their religion bashed, their heroes mocked, their communities ignored (but isn’t that what they want – low taxes and ignored communities?). I go out of my way to avoid the temptation to make villains that are lazy caricatures of religious bullies and moral conservatives.

When it comes to opinions that certain types of people should have their rights curtailed based on their innate DNA … nope. That's incorrect and offensive. First of all, there’s the Constitutional part about being created equal, which obviously has more to do with souls and metaphysics than literal capabilities.   

Secondly, the part about white supremacy is garbage. White supremacy is not in any protected class whatsoever. Yes, I’ve read up on human biodiversity and all the non-reproducible junk science associated with it, plus I do 23andMe, which briefly classified me under the one-drop rule and is now identifying me as 100% Northern European, under the maternal haplotype of J1c1a.  You can’t get much whiter than that, so since white supremacists -- by their own logic -- have to heed whatever I say unless they have whiter DNA and a higher IQ than me, I’ll use up all my imaginary supremacy points to state with genetic authority, that white supremacy is a crock of shit and people who believe in it are full of bad genes and low IQs and foul temperaments and poor hygeine.  

Superior people are well-learned and even-tempered. They have better things to do than marching through the streets waving tiki torches, identifying with the losing sides of tragic wars.  They don’t scream abuse and threats and incitement like shit-flinging gibbons. They don't claim that the reason they're screaming abuse/threats/incitement is because they are extra smart and superior.  And they don’t drive into crowds. 






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Writing Science Fiction About Science

Figuring out how much science to stuff into science fiction is a subject I spend considerable amounts of time worrying about. In my initial novels I’m proceeding nice and slow, throwing in a little chemistry here, a little periodic table there.  I’ve got plenty of bioengineering handwavium (e.g. the ultraviolet light is very harsh in the future, but we’ve engineered ourselves to have more impermeable skin) but at the same time, I’m busting myths, especially with regard to clones.

I came across this piece by Nancy Kress about the science in science fiction and the part about clones resonated – thanks to bad science fiction, people think clones are telepathic, or have bizarre mind-melding powers, or will cheerfully surrender their organs to their donor upon demand.  Fact of the matter is that cloning is merely an artificial way of making large numbers of identical twins.  In fact, my story has a good guy that is part of a delayed set of artificially-increased natural twins and several bad (and good) guys who are members of a nation of clones. I’m trying to approach that particular subject with some nuance.

One of my science fictional pet peeves has to do with another point Ms. Kress notes: the overwhelming amount of science fiction that has a “don’t trust science because it’s evil” theme.

I particularly noticed it in Jurassic Park.  The camera lingers over the initial shot of the brachiosaurs while ethereal music plays … 



and moments later, the film is snottily denouncing its audience as empathy-lacking savages for wishing they could visit the brachiosaurs too.  It’s an old theme, one that goes back at least as far as Icarus and his wax wings.

So I’m being reactionary, and trying to write science fiction about people that have good, beneficial relationships with science.  Without throwing in a bunch of telepathic clones or other examples of the kind of BS that raises my blood pressure.

I got my start in science writing not from fiction but from summarizing evidence from experts of various disciplines like medicine, physics, metallurgy. Since the summaries were being read by opposing scientists I had to be precise enough to completely capture the technical impact of what they were saying, and since they were also being read by non-scientists, I had to strive for clarity and lack of jargon.

As a result, when I write about science, I tend to think of it as providing some jury with a chain full of logical steps. That’s only one of many approaches. Some writers prefer to unfurl the science like colleagues at a conference, or like professors lecturing to students.  There are a few that just assume anyone coming close to their science fiction already has at least a Masters, and they’ll launch right into esoteric concepts.

It all depends on your audience. The more understandable your science is, the larger your potential audience. One important thing to realize is that a lot of scientific knowledge doesn’t translate to other disciplines. Your botanist isn’t going to intuitively grasp biomechanics, and a brain surgeon doesn’t necessarily know how to hack computers, and therefore you need to kind of calibrate your scale as far as the kind of people you’re hoping to meet at book signings later on.

That’s the real purpose of writing, you know. To attract the kind of people by whom you wouldn’t mind being surrounded. Nice, fun, smart people who understand the health benefits of showering – these are often people who are into science. Encourage and entertain them at every possible opportunity and you will be rewarded.






Friday, August 11, 2017

Hugo Award Winners!

Here's File 770's complete list of them.

N.K. Jemisen won best novel again. This was one of the books I failed to read. Last year I voted for her in a spirit of "this is some quality writing and the author seems like a good person so I'm gonna vote for it even though I thought it was nihilistic in that particular early 2000s way that sets my teeth on edge."  I couldn't do it twice, but I assume her writing is still of very high quality.

My pick, the Becky Chambers book, came in dead last, having offended the kind of people who enjoy the kind of nihilism that sets my teeth on edge. I'm kind of sad about that, but I'm happy that at least some of these nominees are stories I find enjoyable.

"Every Heart a Doorway" won novella. More pouty angst, here to reassure you that there are a gazillion portals, and they're not all that magic, or that wonderful, and all they really do is make you sad and crazy, which is the normal way to be, so when you're fantasizing about cavorting in Narnia or Redwall or the lands beyond the Phantom Tollbooth or Nevernever Land -- or the gothy land of the dead, which is where the protagonist goes, where everyone wears dark colors and holds real still -- just remember that you're nothing special and life sucks anyway. *flips hair, runs into room, slams door, composes poetry*

"The Tomato Thief" won! I loved TTT. And not just because author Ursula Vernon has a jackalope on her book cover while I've got one embossed on my skin!  There are important stakes -- the best tomato sammich in the world!  The character cares very much about those stakes!  And does something affirmative in pursuit of them!  Instead of standing around mutely and passively while horrible things happen!

"Seasons of Glass and Iron" won short story, and I briefly wrote it off as one of those stories where characters sit around eating symbolic fruit, which to me smells of a calculated attempt to win the hearts of professors and editors (as opposed to civilian readers).  Maybe I owe it a second look.

The Le Guin book beat the one by Silverberg, which is fine by me. I voted for Silverberg's in part to demonstrate to the Puppies that it's not about dislike for non-liberals, since Silverberg identifies as a conservative libertarian and still managed to do some gracious presenting at the Puppyfest Worldcon. I love Le Guin too, and am thrilled she's still getting major awards.

Arrival beat Rogue One and Deadpool and Moana and Hidden Figures and other worthy movies.  Sheesh. I refuse to see this one based on the Wikipedia summary and discussion I've heard. Aliens come to share their language, which is a literal tool/weapon and can change your consciousness just by speaking it, while foolish barbarian earthlings run around doing tragic macho posturing in response.  The same kind of thinking that shuts down lecturers, burns books and criminalizes particular alphanumeric sequences.

Today I was reading an article by my comrades at the ACLU about why they were defending the right of conservative gasbag Milo Yiannopoulos to run his mouth. And I agree with them. I have no problem with people declaring their beliefs in public. Once they make threats or encourage others to commit crimes it's a different ballgame. No, I don't think their saying terrible things normalizes it, not as long as people have the right to object. No, I don't think words are weapons that change your brain and give you psychic powers. Thoughts can change your brain; words are how we express them.

And it's sort of funny how strenuously I'm objecting to even seeing this movie, when it's linguistics sci fi, for frog's sake, and I love linguistics!

All right, maybe I'm still salty about Moana.

The Expanse won best TV show. I will have to investigate that to see if it's something I would like. [How Charon watches TV: repeated word of mouth inspires her to Google TV show and read synopses of a few episodes, complete with spoilers, before deliberating on whether I feel like watching.]

This post is getting way too long to summarize the rest, aside from the Campbell Award going to Ada Palmer. I like that. I like Ada Palmer.










Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Crazy Men With Nuclear Weapons

My books make no predictions whatsoever regarding the rest of this century. I’m fast-forwarding all the way to 3748, when technology is high and travel is complex. So I have no idea whether Donald Trump got into a pissing match with Kim Jong Un and triggered a nuclear war back in 2017 in my artificial timeline. Or whether it'll happen in this one. 

One thing both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump seem to agree on is that San Francisco shouldn’t exist, so maybe killing us will bring them together and help them bond despite their differences.

Other targets that have been mentioned include Hawai'i and Guam. You already know how I feel about Hawai'i, and I would also be mighty irate if Guam got hit, even though I’ve never been there. We’ve already done enough to that long-suffering island.

I’m not a particularly suicidal person. I have my moments of gloominess, but I very much enjoy being alive and partaking of life’s pleasures. I’ve probably been an asshole to friends struggling with depression because I have absolutely no tolerance for that negative mindset where someone wants to argumentatively declare how much everything sucks. And yet I feel like I’ve accomplished most of what I want to accomplish in life, and more, and everything from here out is bonus material.

It would suck if I didn’t finish my trilogy, of course, but there’s enough foreshadowing for people to figure out how it ends, assuming it ever acquires any fans. Plus there’s that whole post-midlife-crisis career writing exciting science fiction which would no longer exist in this timeline, but that would be your loss, not mine.  You’ll just have to figure out how to get yourself over to the alternate universe where Bernie Sanders won if you want to read them. 

Other than volume three of the trilogy, I don’t have a lot of loose ends. I have one very distant and very young relative whom I hope survives, prospers and has plentiful offspring, but we’re not in contact and I don’t really know him. I do have a cat, who will hopefully be sleeping in my arms when the bomb vaporizes us. If he should somehow outlive me, hopefully concerned bystanders will make sure he finds his way to the rescue where I got him before he devours my corpse. He’s a very picky eater, so it might not occur to him that I’m edible until I’m full of botulism. Everyone else in my family is old and has already lived their lives, although I’d be bummed if the missiles took out their portions of California instead of mine. 

I don’t believe in life after death. I’ve known several people that died, and not a single one came back to show me their ghostliness after it happened. I’ve had coincidences regarding remembering them, but I do believe in coincidences, in fact, I think they happen all the time.

I think it’s pathetic that we’re having nuclear war scares again. That was happening around the time I was born, and I grew up under its shadow, living in a place surrounded by military bases and the Arizona Memorial, which inspired horrible nightmares when I was little. For a moment there it almost looked like we were moving toward a world ruled by intelligence and fairness and respect for human rights and rule of law, but I guess not.

Regardless, I’m going to keep pretending that’s the case, and writing novels that take place in a world where it does indeed happen.  Because stubbornness is one of my most enduring qualities.







Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Further Opinions on the YA Dogpiling Thing

I read a little further into the controversy, wondering if I was being jacked around by some writer’s hit piece against the dreaded SJWs.  I saw lots of thoughtful commentary from a variety of angles. The gist is that people didn’t like having to wade through a lengthy section showing the hero’s bigoted and unenlightened upbringing before getting to the juicy part where she casts it all off and moves in a different direction. Some of the critics thought it felt like the writer was having too much fun writing the bigoted-upbringing parts. That’s probably a valid criticism. Some of the reaction to that seemed a little excessive.

Some of the critics also seemed overly concerned with purity. One commenter wanted to feel represented within the first several pages of a story … I couldn’t do it, I like Watership Down too much. I respect her wish to only read books about people like her, though (and henceforth swear I will never write any).


It all made me wish people would be less mean to each other, so we could have actual discussions instead of spite voting and dogpiling.




Oh hey, some rebuttal already

The plot thickens!  Another article alleges that the last one I linked was a hit piece which included "hate-links."  A comment about layers upon layers mentions the initial article is dog whistling.

Either I'm falling for a bunch of fake news here or I'm knowingly entering a community that has all kinds of dysfunctional drama in it, and now I definitely can't say I wasn't warned.

Sigh.






Redazzled

The adapter arrived and monitor is now securely bolted to my bracket and floating at eye level, an arm's length away, just where I like it.

But before that happened, while it was right in front of my face, I watched Rogue One on it, plus the episode of Game of Thrones with the dragon attack scene. Holy moly. I may never go to a theater again.




The Dogpilers of Righteousness


It’s an article entitled “The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter” and it explains why I’m lazy about publicity, and Twitter. I have no desire whatsoever to jump into the moshpit with these kids, and I often wake up wondering why I can’t just like soppy litfic books like all the other old ladies. Instead of toying with the wrath of irate mobs that aren’t quite clear on their reasoning.

I’ve written at length about my own politics so I’ll try not to rehash much; I’m innately liberal, but I was raised by conservatives, until I left home to hang out with libertarians, and commies, and then I discovered I kind of like hanging out with people that are on the religious or political fringes. Sometimes I can code switch and sometimes I forget. I don’t like fundamentalism, whether it’s Christian, Muslim or Marxist.

I’ve had my own drama with people who might be deemed Social Justice Warriors. I’d be at some gathering when some snotty millenial would prance in, looking for deviations from political correctness that would serve as their ticket to try and dominate their elders. Usually I had some card to play – I wrote X, I hang out with Esteemed Liberal Y, my carbon index is lower than yours. I often get the feeling that the people that lacked cards – and received a retaliatory shunning or firing or social excommunication – are not only still seething about it but make up the majority of the Trump voter base.  Just a hunch. 

So this article starts out talking about a book that’s apparently an urban fantasy regarding a character who gets woke at college. And a reviewer objected to the mustache-twirling racist villains because they’re racist. While accusing the author of being a white person that wants to act non-racist. And apparently this resulted in many Twitter pile-ons. My head spins.

I almost want to start dissecting my own writing as a defensive reaction. Let’s see, brown people, fourteen points each, subtract twenty for the white dude, if I just add a disabled lesbian here I can max out my high score. But I’m not that kind of girl. I am a girl who was exposed to ideas about diversity and colonialism at a fairly young age, as well as a girl who grew up as a non-majority surrounded by extremely intelligent nonwhite people, and that background informs my writing. There are definitely problematic things here and there, such as the way Sonny initially acts like an ass toward a person who ends up being his close friend, and the way he tends to stare at boobs. Possibly I’ll end up sacrificed on the altar of Twitter over these things.

It’s not really about me, though. Watching people being threatened generally tends to make us pull inward and do a security check, and that’s why people make threats. I remember once looking at a news story about a kid who got teased for having ears that stuck out, and a parent made some kind of heroic sacrifice to get them cosmetic surgery, and I just wanted to spraypaint “it was never about the ears” on their driveway.

It’s about the social dominance, and I say that as a kid who attended a different elementary school every year and can’t remember any of the teachers’ names. Also as a grownup who just read an article about someone that wrote a 9k word attack against another bougie for appearing racist when they could have invested that keyboarding power into, I don’t know, writing stories that aren’t racist, or doing pro bono legal work or helping the indigent fill out forms. 

That’s a personal philosophy kind of thing right there. Positive action, not negative reaction. That’s why I persevere at writing YA stories, even in a rather hostile climate.

Maybe eventually I’ll even get over my anti-publicity sentiments and get to work promoting this stuff.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Authors and Cons

I found this cool article by Francesca Barbini of Luna Press about authors and cons. At the moment I'm wistfully gazing at social media as people head off to Helsinki for Worldcon. I love Worldcon but not enough to brave expensive international travel for it.

If everything goes smoothly and I don't get nuked by that North Korean guy over my literary references to the United States of Korea, which totally exists in my fictional 3748, I intend to spend my golden years traveling around to conventions and nattering with the other science fictioneers, thus subsidizing my meager travel expenses.

She's not much for comic cons, while I'm still deliberating. I'm looking forward to San Francisco Comic Con on Labor Day weekend, and Hawaiicon right after that. Both have heavy media con features but also have material for writers and creatives. I think comics people might actually be more interested in my work than traditional book people, and one of my secret goals is to find people to collaborate with on comics or games. My style is very visual, even though I'm all about the words.

Some interesting things to think about!





Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trending: the "New Optimism"

I just read this Guardian article about the New Optimism -- something that interests me as an artist.  It ties in with the material in my books, and the path I want to take with my writing.

[The New Optimists] argue that it says more about us than it does about how things really are – illustrating a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. And that it is best explained as the result of various psychological biases that served a purpose on the prehistoric savannah – but now, in a media-saturated era, constantly mislead us.

The article mentions a few "controversial" aspects of being a new optimist, such as faith in progress and support for the status quo that brought us to this point.

I have to say, I'm guilty of both. While I'm a little leery of faith in progress due to its association with some kind of Hegellian upward spiral separating the "refined" from the "heathens" and "savages" and "barbarians", I decided years ago, for myself, that whatever rottenness lay at the foundation of this society where we live, I am in complete agreement with certain of its current values, such as universal rights, which arose out of centuries of sordid bloody misery and initiated the notion life didn't need to be that way. I think it benefits us to explore that rather than moaning and shrieking about tearing it all down.

My fictional future world gets along under a variety of socioeconomic constructs isolated by geography. One country has plantations with robotic slaves, another is inhabited by tech-shunning farmers, there's a tourist trap where capitalism is very much celebrated, and a futuristic city that is one of several "postcash" enclaves, while some people lead disembodied lives in virtual reality. Everyone realizes they need to band together to prevent nature from slapping the species out of existence, and everyone has the basic right to be fed and housed and given medical care as needed, although standards vary. That's my inclusive vision, which has space for conservatives, liberals, optimists, pessimists and sentient sea cows. I guess you can count me as one of the artists inspired by the New Optimism.













Dazzled By My New Monitor

Yesterday, which happened to be Friday, I came home to a bunch of weirdness on my computer, with windows open and a Nine Inch Nails shuffle playing, and I attributed it to either clashing auto-updates or my cat walking over the keyboard, since it basically looked like every icon on my desktop had been clicked a few times. I’m not going to attribute it to a virus just yet, but I am going to make a few backups. 

My monitor was hot – the weather was generally hot, with the newspaper comparing it to Hawai'I, interspersed with cold blasts of northwestern fog, resulting in humid weather switching between sweaty/stuffy to chilly/damp. Everything on my screen had a faint reddish cast, and was looking a little blurry.

I keep back up computer peripherals in the closet. A legacy from my game addict days. If my trackball or keyboard or whatever were to expire at 9:30pm, I could just unwrap a new one, without any potentially traumatic downtime. Unfortunately, my backup monitor didn’t have HDMI. I spent a moment reflecting on whether I could deal with a weekend of low resolution while ordering one on Amazon, or whether I had become the sort of spoiled princess who requires constant HDMI.

A few moments later I found myself standing on the corner, waiting for the Muni bus to Best Buy, a swift and lovely trip via the Presidio forest and the Golden Gate Bridge. In a bad mood nevertheless, because I don’t really like shopping in places with lots of visual distractions.

Now, due to this creature



I computerize from a couch (so that he can lie next to me with his head on my lap), equipped with a keyboard tray and a monitor on an arm which floats in front of my face at an adjustable distance. At one time, every monitor had four screwholes on the back where I could affix my arm, but that was back in the days when you could get perfectly good cheap monitors at Office Depot for $20. These days they cost more than TVs, which reminds me that I still haven’t gotten around to buying a TV.  And most of them lack screwholes. The only one I found with screwholes was a 24” curved gamer monitor, substantially bigger than my old 19” monitor.

And since the screwhole distance is much smaller on the monitor than on the vice grip arm, I’ve ordered an adapter from Amazon and it’ll arrive Monday.  In the meantime I have a super HD curved monitor Right In My Face, resting on the keyboard tray.

It would be overwhelming even if I didn’t have a magnificent left-sided cluster headache brought on by some plant blooming in the Presidio forest and/or the shopping experience in general and/or the freaky weather and/or the fact my house was painted this week and I’ve had the windows all sealed up.

Any minute now the headache pills will kick in, and the idea of a giant curved HDMI screen in front of my face to accompany the suspended speakers that dangle at ear level will be super awesome, and I’ll cue up Rogue One or Moana or something. Tomorrow night’s Game of Thrones should be interesting.





Thursday, August 3, 2017

Uncousined

EDIT: I have a distant cousin, we met on 23andMe, we socialized on Facebook, I cut her off at one point but then we talked about it. Removing this blog post because it was based on a misunderstanding. 




I can totally explain why there's a jackalope tattooed on my flesh ...

It all has to do with Kansas City.

You may recall I went there last year, for Worldcon. And while I was there I had a brief panic attack in the airport. I was seated next to a Muslim woman at the time. I could tell she was a Muslim woman because she was wearing a ski parka with a hood, in August, and the only reason for that besides insanity would be to stay modest without looking scary.

I started thinking about this tattoo on my hip. I got it back in the '90s, kind of an abstract green swirly thing that (to me) represented the chaotic forces of nature. I figured it would make a good band logo if I ever managed to have a band that lasted long enough to get a logo. Alas, the tattoo lasted far longer than any band I've ever been in, and it was the reason for my Kansas City panic attack: "What if I go to the hospital, or even just to the hotel jacuzzi, or possibly merely pass in front of the airport scanner, revealing my tattoo to the red staters?  Will they automatically assume it means I'm in a satanic cult and lock me up in solitary for three or four years, or just beat me to death and claim it happened because I was jaywalking and littering at the same time?"

These thoughts didn't invade my head last August, before I knew some of the things I know now about the beliefs of red staters.  In fact, the state of Missouri was recently subjected to a travel warning issued by the NAACP. I will concede that this anxiety may be exacerbated by the media, but NPR is a relatively sober source. The fact I've been living in my San Francisco bubble for decades might also come into play, but at least here I'm pretty sure they're not going to extrajudicially execute me for having a weird tattoo, because practically everyone here has a weird tattoo, or possibly something even weirder.

After reading A Close and Common Orbit, my Hugo pick, where two characters have a philosophical exchange about tattoos as the place where mind and body intersect, I decided to just go get it done. The old-fashioned tattoo parlors of my youth where heavily-inked dudes would cheerfully draw a quick picture on your carcass have mostly been replaced by hipster sanctuaries where people book watercolor-style backpieces months in advance, but after a little scouting, I found this place called Let It Bleed (hey, that's one of my favorite albums) that does old-fashioned American-style tattooing. I asked the dudes in there what was best for covering a swirly thing, and they recommended a shaggy beast.

Given my recent art-buying experience at Baycon, and given that I've been cheerfully pwning people as Jackalope in various Blizzard games for the past decade, and given that there was a bar right up the block named Jackalope, complete with a Jackalope-shaped gobo light that dances on the sidewalk after dark, the choice was obvious. I ordered a shaggy jackalope with floppy ears, and I got one.

I don't think there's anything quite as all-American as a jackalope. Not even a bald eagle -- they have those in Canada.




Lose Hundreds of Cousins, Gain a Jackalope

Technology has enabled me to cut off more relatives with one swift click than ever before, and I am grateful. I’m not going to discuss it any further than to say that due to conflicting views, I have parted company with my distant-genetic-cousin that resembles me, who found me on 23andMe, and the group of several hundred cousins she assembled.

I did stay friends with one cool cousin from that batch (she saw the Beatles live once), plus several civilized and refined genetic cousins who have excellent taste in food and music. But yeah, I won’t be attending any large reunions. I wish everybody luck. I’m just allergic to this whole “family” concept, apparently.

On the bright side, I found a new restaurant. They only serve macaroni and cheese, but they serve it several different ways. They’re not anywhere near as awesome as my former favorite restaurant, the one that used to serve me carrot halwa (sniffle), but they’re pretty good. 

I realize my bloggage frequency plummeted over the last month, but getting older was exhausting, and so was recovering from my birthday present to myself -- a pet jackalope.