Before I get into that, I want to remind you that voting for the Hugo Awards ends tomorrow. If you are a Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) member and haven’t completed your ballot online, do it now before the servers get bogged down with the rush. The ballot is here. If you aren’t a member, you can still buy a supporting membership to become a voter, but since processing a membership might take a while as more traffic hits the servers, time is running out!
At the time The Last Enchantment was published, in 1979, it was usually referred to as the last book in the Merlin Trilogy… Read More…
Sometimes it feels as if my whole life consists of defending why I like something. When I was a kid, I was frequently called up to justify why I preferred reading books to playing with other kids my age. Even the notion that reading was educational wasn’t enough to satisfy some people (many of them teachers). And heaven forfend that I should mention how many times “playing” with kids my age actually meant being bullied, harassed, and ridiculed non-stop! As I got older, the kind of books I liked became the issue. “Reading too much make-believe is unhealthy!1” or “Aren’t you a little old to believe in all the space hooey?2”Of course, it wasn’t just the science fiction and fantasy that set people off. If I was caught reading a book about science fact, or the hardcover of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House my grandma bought me at a library sale, or my well-worn paperback of Homer’s The Iliad, it was more proof that I was an “over-educated freak4.”
When I finally escaped to college and met people who valued reading over sports, I thought that I had left all of that behind. Oh, how naive I was! According to these literati wannabes, my tastes were quite low brow. How could I possible understand the meaning of serious art and literature if I actually enjoyed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or The White Dragon or Harpist in the Wind or Midnight at the Well of Souls? Or even worse, I watched television!?
It’s easy to dismiss those latter examples as either snobbery or hipster-ism. Except I can be just as guilty of judging other people for liking things that I don’t.
Who am I kidding? I have been incredibly worse about this. When I think a particular book or series or movie or what-have-you is not just unlikeable, but very badly made, it will completely boggle my mind when someone I know actually likes it. And I seem to be absolutely incapable of hiding my incredulity. I frequently have to remind myself that sometimes what I think of as one of a particular work’s mediocre-but-not-awful parts might be someone else’s fiction kink. And by fiction kink I mean, it’s something they like or identify with so much that it can be a redeeming quality. Such a redeeming quality makes the parts some of us see as glaring shortcomings, merely a small price to pay to get the other thing.
Goodness knows I have my own favorite books, series, and movies that I know are flawed, but I enjoy them anyway because they contain a particular character dynamic, or a type of plot line, or use a particular combination of mythic tropes which appeal to me. I try to make the distinction between something that I don’t like for reasons of taste as opposed to something I don’t like for reasons of actual quality. It is a subjective judgement, but not an impossible one.
I got tired of finding myself having to defend my preferred reading material. Eventually, I was saved by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy, the Russian author of such great classic novels as War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I have to confess that I tried to read War and Peace at least a couple of times, and just failed to plough all the way through it. And failing to get through it was one of the things that made me wonder if those people who said my tastes were too low brow to understand great works of art were correct. But then, when a similar sort of discussion happened in one of my college literature classes, the instructor5 quoted a bit from Tolstoy’s nonfiction book, What is Art? I think it was this passage:
Not long after that, I found a copy of the book in the library, which I wound up checking out and reading. There are a lot of Tolstoy’s arguments in the book which I don’t agree with. He had adopted, by the time he wrote it, a rather radical form of Christian anarchy. So he critiqued a lot of specific examples of art as being immoral in content—more often because he thought it promoted capitalism and classism than the sorts of things that get the modern religious right up in arms. He dissed Shakespeare and Dickens, for instance (though with a lot of caveats in Dickens’ case, since much of Dickens’ later work was critical of the dehumanizing effects of the industrial revolution).
The assertion that art may be good art and at the same time incomprehensible to a great number of people is extremely unjust, and its consequences are ruinous to art itself…it is the same as saying some kind of food is good but most people can’t eat it.
Despite those parts of his thesis with which I still disagree, his arguments in favor of accessibility and sincerity in art helped me figure out that those literati wannabes had mistaken obscurity for superiority. They’ve fallen victim to the notion that if “ordinary” people enjoy something, it cannot possibly be high quality. If you define art by its difficulty to be comprehended, you’ve completely misunderstood what art is. That doesn’t mean that art can’t be challenging, but there is a difference between a piece that requires thought, afterthought, and re-visiting to tease out all the layers of meaning and something which hides its meaninglessness under layers of pretension.
Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.
The way I usually try to sum up Tolstoy’s notion is: Art happens when the heart of the artist touches the heart of the audience, and the audience responds. The audience doesn’t have to like it; a piece of art that evokes intense dislike must be doing something right, or you wouldn’t feel so strongly about it. But art should never leave you unmoved.
1. The exact words said both to me (and later to my parents at a parent-teacher conference) by my seventh grade social studies teacher. He was not that only one who said things to that general effect.
2. The exact words said to me by a minister3 of another church who caught me reading during afternoon free time on a rainy day at Bible camp. Again, he was not the only person by any means to make similar comments about my penchant for both science fiction and science fact, particularly NASA.
3. Of course, this was the same preacher who thought it was funny, when teasing or disagreeing with a boy (he never would do such a thing to a girl, oh no!), to grab your pinkie, twist it into a stress position, and keep you there not only until you agreed with whatever he was trying to make you say, but that you cried sufficiently that he thought you had learned your lesson.
4. The favorite phrase one of my uncles like to use to describe me.
5. Several instructors quoted Tolstoy at me around this time. Another literature profession quoted the famous line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” but he completely misunderstood it. On the other hand, one of my mathematics professors quoted the exact same line, and then explained how the line was the perfect example of an important statistics concept. The concept is sometimes referred to as the Anna Karenina principle in honor of the Tolstoy novel from which the line comes. One way to think of the principle is this: in any system, there are a large number of ways that a given process can fail, and the only way to achieve success is to avoid every single possible failure. A successful outcome depends on every single requirement being met, whereas a single shortcoming in only one requirement can cause failure of the entire endeavor.
I have had two topics I’ve been trying to finish a blog post on today, one kept turning into yet another a kvetch about the Sad/Rabid Puppies bloc-voting scheme, and the other is just not quite finished (which I’m kind of sad about, as it features both another Tolstoy quote and a digression on statistics). And then I read Aaron Pound’s blog post, 2015 Hugo Voting – Roundup and Review and his first few paragraphs more calmly say some of the things I was trying to say, and I figure why not just point people to his better post (and if you haven’t read his blog before, take a look around while you’re there!).
And I have to quote my favorite bit:
The worst thing that could have happened to the reputations of many of the Puppy-promoted authors is that people would read their work, and once they were placed on the Hugo ballot, that is exactly what happened.
– Dreaming About Other Worlds blog
Anyway, don’t forget to vote! And remember that buying a supporting membership to WorldCon supports not just the Hugos, but the conventions themselves! (And I’ll try to finish up the Tolstoy/statistics post in time to post this week!)
That’s because, while unifying social justice advocates is like herding cats because they are each outraged in their own way, haters are easy to predict because they are only happy when the people they hate are unhappy.
But I think more than enough pixels have been spilt explaining all of that. Today, let me remind you that voting for the Hugo Awards ends on Friday. If you are a WorldCon member and haven’t completed you ballot online, do it now before the servers get bogged down with the rush. The ballot is here. There is still time to buy a supporting membership to become a voter, but since processing a membership might take a while as more traffic hits the servers, you want to do that soon! George R.R. Martin posted a nice summary of why, if you love science fiction and fantasy, you should “ vote NOW.”
Both Michael and I completed our ballots this weekend. The system allows you to go back and change things if you want, and there are two categories I keep changing my mind about. I’m not certain whether or no I’ll post my final ballot. I can sympathize with arguments for either option. I’ve already said enough in my Hugo Ballot Review series of posts for a bunch of the categories to give everyone a good guess.
I should also mention that if you are a WorldCon member this year (supporting or full attending), and if you purchase an advanced pre-supporting membership for 2017, you can vote in the site selection for 2017. That deadline is August 10, but you can’t vote online. Rules require the committee conducting the vote to allow each of the groups that are bidding to host the con to audit the ballots and for ballots to be signed. So you need to do it soon enough for your ballot to arrive in the mail by August 10th (not be postmarked by August 10, but to arrive at their P.O. Box, which this year is in Pennsylvannia).
The pre-supporting membership will automatically become a supporting membership for whichever of the bidding committees win the site selection vote, so you will be a supporting member in 2017 (and if it winds up in a city near you or that you’ve always wanted to visit, it’s cheaper to upgrade your supporting membership to full membership). This also means you’ll be able to nominate and vote in the 2017 Hugos.
If you want to vote in the 2016 Hugos, you can buy a supporting membership to WorldCon 2016 (being held in Kansas City). If you do all of this, then you can nominate and vote in the Hugos every where from now on simply by buying a pre-supporting membership in the future WorldCon as soon as the e-mail comes out telling you that site selection voting for the 2018 has opened (and the next year, and the next). And you will get that email because it goes out to everyone who is a supporting or attending member for each current WorldCon. The pre-supporting memberships are usually slightly cheaper than what a supporting membership costs once the site selection vote is over.
Once you get on that train, it’s a simple matter of buying each pre-supporting membership as soon as they are announced, and then you can both nominate and vote in each year’s Hugo Awards. And while everyone is reminding everyone to vote, the only way to reduce the odds of future bloc-voting schemes succeeding is to get a much higher percentage of the people who will vote in the Hugos, to also participate in the nomination process.
I don’t want to unduly influence anyone’s voting in the site selection, but I was amused, after my husband and I had each independently filled out or ballots, we revealed to each other our reasons for voting as we did. I voted for Helsinki as my first choice because I think that Finland deserves to have a WorldCon (and I’ve always been fond of Finland because of one teacher’s aid I had in high school who was Finnish). Michael also thought Finland should get it because they have been passed over before, and added that if he wins the Lotto and we decide to go, it would be a fun part of Europe to see. We both voted for Montreal and Shizuoka (Japan) as our second and third choices because, as I put it, if finances suddenly come together for attending in 2017, Japan or Quebec should have more pleasant weather in August than Washington, D.C.
Neither of us want to go to D.C. in August.
And if Helsinki wins, all of us can put this song on continuous loop:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here!)
I heard the news that there had been a shooting Thursday in the International District (a place some people still call Chinatown), but I didn’t know that it was Donnie Chin until Friday: Donnie Chin, Chinatown ID’s ‘frontline hero,’ killed in early morning shooting. He’d been the director of the International District Emergency Center for some years. The IDEC is hard to describe. A “volunteer-based emergency services organization” Yes, they provided emergency medical services, but Donnie did so much more. He got homeless people to shelters, he helped find lost children. He checked regularly on elderly and disabled residents. He provided translation services for people whose English was not good, helping them navigate the medicare system and so forth. They say a lot of elderly people who realized their memory was getting bad, actually left their prescriptions with him, and he came to their homes and gave them their pills for the day, so they wouldn’t accidentally overdose themselves. On top of all that, he simply patrolled the neighborhood, keeping an eye out for trouble.
I didn’t know Donnie personally. I first heard of Donnie back in the 90s, when I was briefly dating a guy who was active in the Q-Patrol (Donnie wasn’t involved in Q-Patrol, it’s that some of the people in Q-Patrol were trying to model what they did on the things that Donnie and his organization did in the International District). And I remember when one of the local papers ran a nice story on him a few years later.
What can I say, except that we’ve lost a hero?
In other regional news, there was some good news yesterday: Court sides with state on Plan B sales. When you’re a pharmacist, your job is to provide medication, not impose your religious beliefs on others. And the court agrees. I go further: I think that refusing to provide Plan B because they think it is an abortion drug is proof that the pharmacist is incompetent at the science side (it isn’t abortion, the biochemical process prevents implantation, just like birth control methods taken before the act), and should have their license revoked. But I’m a hard ass.And of course, Lafayette Shooter Was A White Supremacist Tea Party Type. Yes. And in case there is any doubt, La. gunman was a Tea Partier who hated Obama, admired Hitler and wanted women to shut up in church where we also learn, “Houser was turned down for a concealed carry permit in 2006 because of apparent mental health issues and a previous arrest in Columbus, Georgia, for arson.” And I already know that since the mass shooting of 20 grade school children a few years ago couldn’t get America off its collective butt and pull its head out of its arse and admit that there is something seriously wrong with the gun laws in this country, I know an angry man killing two women and injuring nine others in a movie theatre isn’t going to do anything, either. One thing I want to observe: some of the headlines and summaries describe it as if it was blindly shooting into the crowd, but that isn’t what witnesses described. He slowly, silently, and methodically shot at individuals. I suspect it is no coincidence at all that the two fatalities were young women. Angry misogynist murders women at showing of film by feminist comedian; police worry “we may not find a motive.”
Meanwhile, yet another church in Charleston has been shot at: Bullet holes found in third Charleston Co. church. *sigh*
I’ve mentioned before that it’s my Mom’s fault that I am a fan of both science fiction and mysteries. From the time I was a baby, she would read aloud to me from whatever book she was reading (and when I got to the point I was trying to talk, she would cajole me into repeating back words and phrases and eventually whole sentences, which is how I learned to read at least a year before I was sent off to school). Since her favorite authors were Agathe Christie and Robert Heinlein, they made up a large proportion of what she read. But that’s a slight oversimplification. Because she read other books, too. The Christies and the Heinleins resonated with me in a way that the gothic romances she was also fond of did not. With one exception.
Mary Stewart wrote romances that weren’t always classified as romance. They were mysteries as well, and she integrated the two elements in a way where the solving of the mystery illuminated the character development as the characters fell for each other. So you’ll find some places classify her old books as thrillers, or mysteries, or romances, depending on the whims of the reviewer. Paperbacks my parents each bought tended to get taken back to used book stores to be traded in for store credit unless they were deemed worthy of multiple rereads. So there were only a couple of Stewart’s romances (most originally written in the 50s) that stayed on our bookshelves for years. One particular that I remember reading myself after pulling it off Mom’s shelf several times to look at the cover, was Stewart’s romance/thriller The Moon-Spinners.
I think I was in fifth or sixth grade when on a shopping trip Mom stopped at the used bookstore… Read More…
I find myself reading about consent a lot. Having grown up in a culture which socializes guys not to take “no” for an answer, while socializing girls not to make trouble and always put other people’s wants and comforts first, it’s no wonder a lot of people don’t seem to understand consent in that context. Then there’s the whole Harper Lee and her “new” book situation. Is she healthy and aware enough to give informed consent? Does she actually know what’s going on, or is she a victim of the younger lawyers from who sister’s old firm who have taken over her estate now that her sister has died?
When I had read that her home state had initiated an investigation because of the reports of coercion, and that the state had determined that she had given her consent freely, I was mollified. I also rationalized it by comparing it to volumes I own of posthumously published material from Arthur Conan Doyle and from J.R.R. Tolkien. Those early drafts (heavily annotated by experts) and small one-offs originally created for a limited audience are fascinating and very educational, particularly from a writers’ point of view. If I can own those and enjoy them, do I have a right to condemn anyone who purchases this “new” book?
Of course, there is a difference. Tolkien and Conan Doyle have been dead for decades, these things have the notes and commentary making it clear that they are drafts or incomplete works. They aren’t being represented as something the author thought was a finished product. They’re clearly an exercise is the academic study of the work of those writers, and intended to illuminate the other works of the author.
But now I read that the investigation that looked into Harper Lee’s case did not include any medical personnel. No part of the investigation seemed to focus on whether she still possesses the capacity to give informed consent. That changes things a lot.
I do like one local book reviewers’ take on it: he read the new book, says the first chapter is amazing and you can understand why instead of outright rejecting it, the editor asked her to write a different story without the flashbacks to the narrator’s childhood, but rather to tell a story about the protagonist as a child. And then as you get into the rest of the book, the fact that this is a first draft of a first novel by a novice author is clear. And, he says, you can see why, with the help of an agent and the editor, it took her about a dozen rewrites of that second version of the book to arrive at To Kill A Mockingbird.
His conclusion: don’t buy the new book, “it’s a trap!” Instead, he advises you to read (or re-read) To Kill A Mockingbird. You can read all of his reasons why here: When Was the Last Time You Read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do You Remember How Funny It Is?
One other reason: there is absolutely no doubt that at the time Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird that she thought it was complete, that she was ready for it to publish, and that she knew what she was doing.
It’s also, if my very vague memories of reading it in my early teens, a very good book. Which I intend to re-read soon!