Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Space Magic

While I do try not to be picky about genre, I have to admit, it's a pet peeve of mine when people refer to things that have no particular relation to science as "science fiction". For example, one of the people I work with and I stopped in a room that had a TV tuned to what looked like one of those wgn magic shows- Charmed or somesuch, in which two demon creatures were arguing with a witch about the natures of spells and curses. I told the gentleman that I didn't care one way or the other about having it on, and wasn't paying much attention, to which he responded "I thought you'd be interested, you like science fiction."

In perhaps the opposite, complentary, horrific version of this, I was having a conversation with my stepmother about Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, both of which we'd read. My stepmother was praising it for its extrapolations from current science on both genetic manipulation and climate change research. And I said to her, yeah, that's the sort of stuff I really love in science fiction. And she said, "no, I wouldn't call this science fiction. It's really more fiction based on science" (these books, by the way, are set in a mid-near future post apocalypse and revolve around genetically engineered food animals and a new iteration of created humans). That's exactly what science fiction is, I protested. It's there in the name! To which she said, no, stuff like star trek on the TV, they're really just making stuff up out of whole cloth. This was using real science, so it couldn't be science fiction.

I can't help but feel like this is somehow our own fault.

I've been using the term "Space Magic" somewhat pejoratively for a while to refer to non-scientific things that go on within science fiction, be they "the Force", about 93% of the show Farscape, John Carter of Mars, Doctor Who what have you. There's certainly nothing inherently wrong with space magic, and I know I'm like many people in that the Star Wars theme can make me feel like a wide-eyed eight year old ready for the adventure of my tiny life, and I absolutely love that the Doctor routinely opens the door of his flying police box (which is bigger inside than outside) onto the cold, sucking vacuum of space and sticks his head out like he's checking the weather.

But I do often feel disappointed when I open something billed as science fiction and get space magic, in the same way that, while I love strawberry ice cream, I'm going to be terribly cross if I find it in a carton labelled chocolate fudge. Every time the aliens are suspiciously hot human-like babes. Every time people take the word quantum to mean they can make up whatever they like. Every time someone reverses the polarity of something. Every time an organism experiences "evolution" as an individual creature and grows wings because its "genes understand" that it needs to fly.

I suspect not everyone feels this way, mostly based on the fact that these sorts of things are both common and popular, and often pretty fiercely defended by people who are making the claim that science fiction can be opaque to the less scientifically minded reader. Then they'll talk about how much they love things where guys with ray guns fight of giant space lizards and hacking in just knowing the back door the programmer left in the software.

I do sort of wonder, however, how much other people draw the line between science and space magic, and alternately how much I fail to draw the line in places where I lack scientific knowledge. When Mars needs women, how many people pat themselves on the back for how pro-thought they're being by enjoying it. When someone talks about the properties of the Higgs-Boson in a story, past being responsible for mass, how do I know they're not just pulling numbers out of a hat to sound cool?

And how much does it ultimately matter to a story?

On the one hand, I do actually love some good space magic, and if it's clearly marked and no one is lauding it as terribly thinky, I will sink my worm-hooks into that magic and ride it across alien deserts in the sky. Real science might even be unwelcome on this strange road trip.

On the other, I think it's maybe a bit like prestidigitation. For a story to hang together, there's an illusion that you have to be mesmerized by, even if you know it's an illusion. Perhaps something of an inverse bell curve of appreciation- there's the high where you sort of buy that something wonderful is happening, and as far as you know, it IS magic. Then there's something of a low where you know he's palming it, there's doves in the sleeve pockets, whatever. Then there's a rise on the other side where you know there's a dove up his sleeve and that he's drawing your eye away with misdirection to the other hand and some witty stage banter, but what impresses you isn't the dove appearing- you knew where it was. What you're watching is how he pulls it off, and the craft of the performance.

Maybe? Honestly, I think that's a better analogue for writing in general than it is for the pretense of science in science fiction, but there you have it.

Enjoy yourselves out there. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Variations in Portraiture

Professional photographer takes a string of amazingly varied photos of a single man. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Generational Manhood

There are definitely parts of this article I feel are silly or overstated, but I think the idea of generational cycles is neat, at the very least from a narrative point of view. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Visual Hegel Aids

Mind you, I don't think this graph is 100% accurate, but the process is neat, and the end graph is really lovely. Hooray for resorting public data. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Podcast Linkspam:

I may or may not have mentioned how much I love podcasts. I listen to them on walks and while driving, and they've been great for introducing me to authors and stories I might not have otherwise gotten a hold of. So here are the podcasts I've previously mentioned:

Escape Pod - science fiction
Pseudopod - horror
Podcastle- fantasy
Drabblecast- weird short fiction
Clarkesworld- science fiction/fantasy
Beneath Ceaseless Skies- fantasy adventure
Tor.com- fantasy, seems defunct now
The New Yorker- literary fiction with commentary
Bound Off- literary
Cast Macabre- dark, on hiatus
Lightspeed Magazine- science fiction and fantasy (now incorporates what was Fantasy Magazine)
Dark Fiction Magazine- dark, british
Cast of Wonders- young adult, fantasy
Hooting Yard on The Air-  All Frank Key all the Time.

Writing Excuses- fifteen minute topic specific advice
I Should Be Writing- inspiration, interviews, feedback, market analysis. The Good Cop/Bad Cop is a personal favorite.

And here's the recent stuff:

Toasted Cake- Tina Connaly's flash fiction podcast extravaganza. The stories here are short and pretty groovy.

Flash Fiction Online- all kinds of stories. My favorite so far is The Materialist.

Dread Central Station Dreadtime Stories- Remember when you were like ten and you stayed up to watch Tales from the Crypt with all its silliness and spooky voices, and just the fun of a really high schlock horror story? That's what Dreadtime Stories podcast is. It's really closer to radio play than read stories, with full foley, and crypt keeper level humor intros and outros.

Locus Roundtable- Okay, there are some issues with the sound on this one, but it's some really interesting interviews and discussions about writing, myth, and all sorts of fun stuff. This podcast goes academic at the drop of a hat, but I've been having fun with it. It's put on by Locus Magazine.

Stuff You Should Know- From How Stuff Works.Com. Not actually related to craft in any way, but it's one of my favorite things in the world. Josh and Chuck explain the functional principles behind all sorts of things from lightning, to iridescence, to synesthesia, to marijuana grow houses. Huge back archive, loveable hosts, and a lot of nice, introductory level insight into a wide range of topics. It's a gold mine for story topics.

Generally I keep about 100 of these little episodes on my mp3 player. I'll just load up all the ones of the above podcasts that have come out since the last time, plus five to fifteen of the episodes from shows I'm still catching up on (for example, I'm not all the way caught up on Pseudopod or Stuff You Should Know). How long it takes me to get through can vary, but I think I've finally hit the tipping point where I'm listening to enough podcasts that trying to catch them all is actually causing me to slowly fall behind. That's perfectly alright, though, it's a good problem to have.

Also, if anybody has any recommendations for great podcasts not on the list, I'm always open. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Art Blog

Protect Me From What I Want is a fun little blog of art and poetry, much of it classical. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

10 Successful, Handsome Men Who Used to be Women

I hate to profile transdudes for how cispretty they are, but some of these guys are amazing looking. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Personal Quests

We need goals in life, things that we strive for even if they're silly. Sometimes especially if they're silly. Lawrence Edmonds is a man with a goal. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cherry Flavored

So. You may or may not read romance. If you read some of it (or even write some of it) there's a chance you're confused about what the hymen is. Luckily, these folks have produced a handy guide


One of my podcasts in the queue today was a round table panel thing about Monsters. It had a lot of silly things to say, as well as a number of insightful things. Because a lot of the people had an academic background, there was a fair bit of talk about monsters as "discursive" and "performative" and etymological analysis of the word monster. And then there was also China Mieville, who pointed out that the thing about monsters is that Jeffrey Dahmer is a monster, but so is Grover from Sesame Street. He also brought Pokemon into the discussion, which I think was something that it needed. The banality and domestication of monsters vs the actual scariness of the imagined monster was a pretty cool aspect of the whole thing.

There was certainly a lot of trying to shoehorn all the monsters into one big category, which I think is a false construct we get by applying the same words to a number of overlapping constructs.

They also asked people their favorite monsters. Zombies came up more than I expected. I so often hear people say they're tired of zombies. China picked Wells' Beast Men from the Island of Doctor Moreau, which I think is a lovely choice.

Mine is mermaids.

Really that whole genus of female monsters who live in water and lure you to drown; La Llorona was the monster we used to scare each other with at camp when I was a kid, and I've never stopped being fond of her. Lorelei, Rusalka, Nixies, Sirens, etc. They're generally pretty straight up cautionary monsters- the message is don't go near water, or you might get drowned. The whole lot of them are murderers, they're mostly cannibals, and historically there's a big running theme about how they don't have any souls.

I'm fascinated by the ocean in general. I'm a licensed diver and a strong swimmer, but it's hard not to be conscious of the fact that without special equipment, you've got only a few minutes, maximum, that you can live under water. The life there looks alien and bizarre, even close to the surface, and the closest ocean to me is so famously silty and opaque that we have a problem with people stepping on sting rays in water that barely comes to their waist.

So mermaids are the denizens of a place that is dangerous on a vastly fundamental level, strange, unknown, hostile, alien. They look superficially like us and they know our language. They lure us out where no matter how strong we are, we are weak and helpless as infants. They're a wonderful overlap of the frozen, crushing depths without light or air, the cold-blooded, boneless living fossils we call sharks, and smiling strangers offering candy if we'll just come into their van. They seem nice, but they mean you ill. They're not like us.

My other favorites are Wendigo, who are humans who have broken a taboo, gone too far, succumbed to a temptation too profane, and now can no longer be human at all.

What are your favorite monsters?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Bastille Day

Here is a photo essay collection of people around the world sharing kisses.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Big Brother Has Friended You On Facebook

Actually the stuff on We Know What You're Doing. Com is all public information, but it's a caution people should take to heart about watching what they say online. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Belated Blog Birthday

So, the 7th was the official two year anniversary for this blog (which google tells me is the cotton anniversary). The first post was an announcement that my story Sweepers would be coming out in Shock Totem magazine.

Seems like an awfully good time to post this fantastic anthology:

Edited by John Skipp as you can see from this image, it's going to to run my story Ralph and Jerry. This thing is huge and full of great authors, and the previous one in this series, Demons, won the Bram Stoker award for superior achievement in anthology. This is coming out right around Halloween, and I firmly believe you should buy it and read it.


In a dark room.

With the scritch of dried branches at the window in the howl of the October wind.

The way horror stories are supposed to be read.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pretty Strong

Sarah Robles is an Olympic super heavyweight weight lifter. On her blog, she talks about athleticism, celebrity, and body shape. She's got a very interesting take on things.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

In Soviet Russia, Ebook Reads YOU

I'm actually sorry about the Yakov Smirnov joke, but I'm going to keep doing it anyway. 

Anyway, as a lover of both consumer privacy and accurate data, I'm passionately ambivalent about the information presented in this article

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Walking in a Photo Wonderland

Kirsty Mitchell's lovely fantasy photo series is dedicated to her deceased mother. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"I Was Trekkie When Trekkie Wasn't Cool"

The current echochamber on the blogosphere appears to be the validity of geek culture in an age where smartphones are a real thing. As I'd been reading a lot about it, I figured I'd pitch my two cents in, which is probably best summed up as:

Don't be snobby, don't let the snobbery of others keep you from what you love.

People keep doing this thing where they build an identity around a hobby or some other bit of ephemera, and I'm not sure that's healthy in general, but I think it's especially unhealthy when they start erecting fences to keep out people who like the same things, but just not as much as they do. I get that we all want to feel elite within our own spheres, that's a natural thing, and when we earn the respect of other like minded people in our peer group through our mastery of our particular subject, no matter how inconsequential or obscure, it feels awesome.

But having the highest level dwarf ranger of anyone we know doesn't mean everyone who comes along automatically owes us respect for that achievement. It makes us happy. It's something we can share with our friends. It's great, but it's not necessarily important.

It annoys me to see people trying to establish Geek Cred, fight for Alpha Nerd, or build this little inner circle where you don't have to talk to anyone who likes Firefly but hasn't read Heinlein. Push The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at people if you must, but don't give people guff for not having read it yet. Everybody was a newbie at some point, and it's perfectly okay for people never to actually be grand master nerds. It doesn't mean they won't laugh at your Star Wars jokes.

It's hard to say adult geeks are justified in feeling a sense of persecution at the moment. We're kind of the cultural shock troops. We'll decide a thing is good or bad, build a fan base or a meme for it, and in a few years it'll be a movie, a TV series, or TV sitcom. At that point it's not just for us anymore, but we brought it there, and more and more movies especially have been getting the message that cleaving close to the heart of the original is a marketable strategy. Sure the adaptations are still adaptations, but they're good ones, and in some cases, better than the original.

Seriously, if you're a geek you've probably been picked on at some point about your dorky hobbies. Don't turn that around and pick on people for not being dorky enough. That just makes you hipsters without the fun scarves.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pretty Pretty Princesses

This is just dark fluff, but I really enjoyed it. It's some absolutely fantastic work.