Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Here Are Some Reasons I Am Incredibly Happy Feminism Happened

  1. Because I can earn enough to support myself, I do not have to have sex with someone I may or may not care about at all in order to access his money.
  2. I don't have to lie to people about what my name is (or more specifically what my sex is) in order for the work of my hands or mind to be considered valuable. 
  3. If I am sexually assaulted and attempt to report it to the authorities, they are legally obligated not to dismiss me out of hand.
  4. I can wear all the pink I want, but I don't have to.
  5. If my husband beats me or decides to piss away all the money I make, I can leave him and look for someone better.
  6. I will never have to look into my daughter's eyes and tell her the dreams she has are stupid, because they're things girls simply aren't allowed to do.
  7. I love feminist men.
  8. Because I can and do vote, politicians disregard my interests at their peril. 
  9. Physical violence against me is not considered anybody's god-given right.
  10. I can say no. Or I can say yes. And both of those are okay, because I have a say in these things.
  11. Tina Fey.
  12. Pants with pockets and sensible flat shoes. Jesus, I love sensible flat shoes. Really, any clothes where the maker has prioritized my comfort and the clothes' function over how the outfit will make my breasts and ass look to observers.
  13. Having a vocabulary and an intellectual framework to talk about things that have bothered me about my interactions with people, and the presentation of truisms by the culture at large. 
  14. My "virtue" isn't such a big deal that people are constantly policing my behavior, limiting the places I can go or go alone, or preventing me from having good friends who are men.
  15. If I am actually smarter or stronger than a given man, I'm not obligated to pretend I'm not to protect his ego at the expense of mine. 
  16. I have permission to make my own happiness a priority, so long as I don't go out of my way to hurt others.
  17. Birth control. Oh, man, birth control is the most awesome thing ever. 
  18. No one laughs at me for coming to university seminars, or tries to insist that there's no way I could possibly comprehend them.
  19. I am able to find stories, books, and music that don't make me feel like I could never be a main character in the story of my own life.
  20. My chances of being raped or beaten by a domestic partner, writ large, are only about 25%, which is pretty historically unprecedented. 
  21. As much as people do still expect stereotypical behavior from me, I am almost never punished for deviating from it. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

I respect that writing a novel is a thing I'm going to have to do if I want to make money writing.

I worry I don't have the same hunger for it as a lot of other people I know. These folks get a twinkle in their eye when they talk about their book, like it's their baby that just played concert level piano, graduated with honors, and then rearranged its alphabet blocks into the cure for cancer. By contrast, if we're just judging on enthusiasm, my novel baby could be assumed to be propped up in a corner filling its diaper, gorging itself on paste, and biting the cat.

I like short stories. I like flash. I like tight focus and ending on ambiguity. I like a single piece that can be extrapolated to a larger whole without ever describing the latter.

And honestly, I don't feel like I even have shorts down particularly well. Not enough to go bragging around about it. I can't pull the pieces of it apart and explain how it all works.

People keep telling me I shouldn't be afraid of novels- that I can chill out, relax, take my time. Not everything in a novel has to accomplish something right away; there's all sorts of frills and self indulgences you can sneak in and rather than hurting the novel, they make it deeper and more unique.

But, honestly, a lot of them feel like distractions and dead ends.

There's a weight to a novel too. A thing about many stories I've written- not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing- is that they don't hold up to hours and hours of scrutiny. I like magical realism- stories where why a thing happened isn't as important as the fact that it did. That's way harder in novels.

For example, I wrote a story where horrible monsters come to a school bake sale and set up a table. The people recognize the monsters, but I never went to any trouble to explain how they knew them, what the monsters' ecology was, what relationship the people had with the monsters, whether there were other terrible supernatural things in the world. None of that. The people just went "well, this is a thing that's happening now" and proceeded on with the sale. This idea is spun sugar, prose confection. It wouldn't hold the weight of seven thousand words, much less a novel.

Or maybe it would. I don't think so, but when I took the story to a group, a number of people (people, it should be said, who don't like short stories) said it struck them as the beginning of a novel, and that the end of the story (when it ends nobody is dead yet, but it could go any number of ways) seems to them like the very beginning. It feels to me like a complete three beat story, in a horror sort of way. Monsters come and sow direct terror, people gradually acclimated to the terror and even start to feel a bit normal and in control, monsters reveal a different, worse horror has been their agenda the whole time. That things go badly, I feel, can be reasonably implied without spelling it out. My group thought it should be a book, going into the town response to the monsters, making a character of one of the children, just a dizzying amount of extra stuff for a story I'd conceived of as working on the same formula as a recited joke.

For me, it's a satisfying experience as it is.

Sometimes I feel like the exception. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prehistoric Face Smashing Cult

The article takes this in a silly direction, but the basic archaeology is still really cool. People were exhuming long-buried dead, bashing their faces in with stone tools, and reburying the heads elsewhere. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Human Rights of Ecosystems

Ecuador has set legal precedent in granting ecosystems legal rights as people, not unlike those customarily allowed to corporations, allowing people to sue on behalf of rivers and forests for violation of their rights as organisms. I think it's actually a pretty elegant solution, and apparently so do the people in New Zealand, who have instituted a similar policy for one of their rivers. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Heroes

So over the last few days I've been exposed to a number of opinions, delivered from a position of passionate, self-styled underdog defense, about how there are no more heroes in our fiction, no more ideals, and how nothing could be more terrible. This has generally been in regards to comic books, heroic fiction, and space opera. This always grates on me a little, in part because there alway seems to be the quiet implication to it that if you don't like uncomplicated good vs. evil stories that's a moral failing on your part. Lately it's been really bugging me. 

So here are some responses.

1) I don't believe good and evil are that easy.

The good versus evil narrative structure is constructed. In part it's a question of position- if you know the personal tragedies of your hero and nothing about your faceless, masked antagonists, of course they look evil- this is doubly true in something like Lord of the Rings with their orcs or Star Wars with their battle droids: you have things in universe who were explicitly created with the sole purpose of being evil. How many people does Luke Skywalker kill while being a good guy? Yeah, they were all shooting at him or at his friends. He was also shooting at them. There's not automatically a right side in a gun fight. It's certainly not automatically the side you're on.

To tell a black and white story, there's all sorts of gray you have to deliberately avoid looking at, or do insane world-building gymnastics to make not an issue. 

2) I don't believe your heroes were ever all that good in the past.

People keep bringing up Superman and Captain America here. As the internet may or may not have informed you yet, Superman could be kind of a dick back in the day. One of the guys in the podcast brought up "the way our parents' generation talks about presidents". Like Calvin Coolidge, one wonders? Herbert Hoover? And then there's Terry Goodkind's objectivist heroes, who are all about the genocide and openly hating on pacifists. Or, you know, you have Indian fighters in the Old West. 

The truth is that pulps, fantasy, and science fiction, have always been full of people who were less than morally upstanding. Conan was a thief and a pirate. The best selling comics before the comics code were crime and horror. Your noir detectives were drunks and perverts more often than meaningful cops. People have always wanted stories about Billy the Kid as much as they have about Wyatt Earp. 

We had a blip of profound censorship- this is especially true in comics. A Batman who had previously been dropping people to their death off buildings became a goofy, colorful, prop-centered pun fest, while most of his contemporaries were thhrown away and forgotten completely. 

I think more than anything this has to do with childhood: what you take in when you're still young stays with you. You're told it's right and that's all you need to know. 

I go back now and watch some of the things I loved as a kid- Indiana Jones is a good example, as, honestly, is Star Wars- and the stories are more nuanced than I remembered. The heroes are a little dingier, even darker. And honestly, I like them better that way. They steal, they lie, they do cowardly things sometimes (did you remember the part where Indiana Jones uses a bunch of kids as human shields? Because I didn't), but in the end that makes their decision to do the right thing more meaningful. 

(There's also a really disturbing thing that goes on where the heroes are, at best, marginally less destructive than the villains, but the heroes are coded as heroic and the villains are coded as villainous, and there's no talk about how they're all basically doing the same thing).

3) I don't believe there aren't heroes out there now.

Superman is still there, and still selling loads of books. Captain America is the head of a brand new Avengers team on the big screen. Heck, most of the best selling movies of the last couple of years have been heroes doing heroic things.

Heck, Captain Marvel still sells books and shows up in media, and you can't get any more boyscout than that. 

What about Katniss from the Hunger Games? What about stuff like Mistborn? What about Paksenarion?

Half the times I hear someone gripe about there not being heroes, they're gearing up to sell you their book. About the types of heroes you just don't see anymore. I'm up to at least a dozen people I've heard say this as a preamble to a pitch.

Yeah, there's some grim stuff, and it does well. People like it. But I put it to you that you can still find the type of heroes you want, if you go looking. You're not guaranteed every book you pick up will have them there, but that's not the same as them being gone. Superman doesn't stop being Superman because he's sharing a shelf with Lobo.

4) Shades of gray are not the same thing as total moral equivalence. 

People always seem to want to reduce the opposite position to: there's no difference at all between the good guys and the nazis, and that's not what I'm trying to say, even with the Luke Skywalker example above. 

The main thing, I feel, is that you can't take the difference for granted. There has to be a reason your guy shooting people is better than the other guy shooting people, and I have trouble accepting reasons like: the story is from his point of view, he has the white hat on, he's the one who looks like an American teenage boy. 

If he's exceptionally good, does not shoot anybody, carries old lady's groceries across the street, and always says please and thank you, why? What about his life made him like that? How does he feel about it all?

I actually like quite a lot of Superman stories for this reason. In the best ones, you see the Kents, you hear Smallville Kansas coming through every time the guy opens his mouth. You see the clash of that smalltown idea of right and justice, not just with extradimensional monsters, but with his cosmopolitan friends, with other heroes, even with pushy barristas. Or you see him being apart and alone, holding back from people so that he doesn't hurt them, and imagining Krypton, where he would actually be completely at home. Superman is a fantastic character and "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" is only part of it. 

Of course, part of that might be that I don't think he's always right. Sometimes that mindset is a liability for him- he can't plan or anticipate the way Batman can. Very often he trusts authority and it costs him. He trusts people and it costs him.

Sometimes the way he sees the world causes him to make honest mistakes that hurt people baddly. Sometimes those are the best stories. For my money it beats the heck out of him just punching a guy in different colored spandex in space.

All of that doesn't come from the fact that he's the "good guy". He doesn't proceed outward naturally from a position of truth and justice. He's someone who has a history, a mindset, a set of advantages, and a set of limitations, and he makes what he can of it. 

Likewise, if your villains are hideous monster spawn straight from the depths of hell.. well, honestly that's okay. I like the primal horror side of things. But if your villains are people, and they're acting like they're straight from the depths of hell, I tend to require one of two things: either a specific, personal reason they are like that, not just "because they're fascists/muslims/rednecks/men/feminists/whatever other group I don't like"; or complete horror from every other character who sees their actions (inclusive of members of whatever group the guy belongs to, seriously, his/her own mother should shrink back in disgust).

It's totally cool for one of your dudes to be a better person than the other. There's a lot of fun conflict in that. But it doesn't come just because they have a badge, or they're the king, or they're the chosen one, or they're the viewpoint character. It comes entirely from the way they distinguish themselves through their actions, especially relative to the people they're claiming to be better than. 

I think that's really the heart of it- the two guys punching each other in space thing. We're asked to believe one is good, because he looks like us, because he has our colors on, whatever. 

I'll believe your hero when both he and his antagonist rise believably in a gray world, and live in that gray world, however light or dark they themselves are able to become. 

So... yeah. That was kind of a ramble, but it's what I think on it. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fatality and Femmes, Women in Crime Fiction

Christa Faust talks murder, dismemberment, and gender politics. Super fun article. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Escape Pod!

(First off, if you haven't voted yet, go vote.)

The Escape Pod semi-annual flash fiction contest ended yesterday.


Actually I both won and took fifth place out of 92 (we were allowed two entries), which was a weird combination of awesome and nail-biting horror for me. I was terrified I would place twice and feel like a total toolbag for making it so there were two published winners instead of the the regular three.

Some of my dearest friends have been perplexed by this reaction. Do I feel guilty about taking first place, they ask. No. Or, well, I do a little, but not enough that I'm not bouncing around like a loon for having got it. The prize is something I've wanted for years: publication on Escape Pod, which is the big bad granddaddy of the fiction podcasts. It's one of those magazines I want to be in because I read it (or in this case listen) and it blows my mind on a pretty routine basis (others include Drabblecast, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shock Totem, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, etc).

So, yes, I desperately wanted to win first place.

But first place is really enough, you know? Anything past that feels uncomfortably greedy.

I wrote the organizer before the finals went up and talked to him about taking the second story out of the running entirely. He talked me out of it, and I'm glad he did, but I still breathed a sigh of relief when that story was coming in a relatively distant fourth, and then got passed up on the last day to come in fifth. It was still a good showing, and it's way better than I showed in the previous competition, with one going into the semi-finals, and one making it to the quarter.

And, speaking of being greedy, this raises a big question.

There are also contests for Podcastle and Pseudopod, both of which I love and would love to be on.

Do I enter these, or do I take my win, bow out gracefully, and give somebody else a chance?

And if I do enter, do I risk entering two?