It’s Friday! We have five Fridays in May, which is cool, I suppose. Tomorrow is the beginning of Pride month!
The weather all week has been cool, overcast mornings (sometimes with some light rain), yielding to sunny and clear each afternoon, and the sunsets have been brilliant (though apparently that’s because of wildfires in Canada sending smoke into the upper atmosphere).
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I am breaking my rules. First, I bring you: the top two reviews of the week, then because it’s nearly Pride month the top five stories of interest to queer folks, and five generic stories of the week, five stories about deplorable people, five stories about the impeachable one, and five videos (plus some things I wrote).
Jack L. Chalker is probably most famous for the Well World Series, which consisted of ten novels written over the course of 17 years. And while it was through the first several novels of that series that I first began reading Jack L. Chalker, I didn’t become a squeeing fanboy of his work until I read a different series, beginning with The River of the Dancing Gods, either late in 1985 or early 1986. The book was published in ‘84, but I didn’t read it until a friend was going on and on about it, being surprised that I hadn’t read it, as it was the sort of thing he would expect me to love.
So I borrowed his copy of it and blew off homework one night to stay up all night reading the novel.
I really liked it.
The premise of all of the Dancing Gods books is that when god created the world as we know it, there was an unintentional echo. A parallel Earth, if you will, though it was a bit messed up. For whatever reason, the Creator let his messengers, the Angels, take control of this unintended echo universe, and they began trying to clean up its broken laws of physics and so forth. The Angels did this by writing down rules of how reality should work each time they encountered an anomaly. These rules eventually became a giant encyclopedia of rules, and mortals living in this parallel world who studied the rules could become wizards and perform magic. Unfortunately, at the same time, Demons were trying to subvert the Angels’ efforts, so the war between Heaven and Hell spread to a new battleground.
All this this is something that the reader learns during the middle of the book. This back story isn’t how things start. No, things start with a woman named Marge in our world, who has leapt from the car being driven by her abusive boyfriend, and finds herself walking along a long stretch of Texas highway. Then a truck driver named Joe stops to offer her a ride, but then there are both who confronted on an unfamiliar stretch of highway by a man who looks like Santa Claus dressed in a very elaborate Victorian suit. The man introduces himself as Throckmorton P. Ruddygore, wizard, and explains that in about 18 minutes Marge and Joe are going to die in a horrible accident. Unless they allow Ruddygore to transport them to his world, where they will become epic heroes and have the opportunity to thwart an Apocalypse.
Marge and Joe agree, and they are transported across the Sea of Dreams to the other world, were each of them begins a process of being transformed into a heroic archetype that can take on the evil which threatens the world.
The River of the Dancing Gods is a book that defies categories. Looked at from one angle, it is a portal fantasy (characters from our world go through a magical portal to a fantastical world), but from just a very slightly different angle it is a standard epic fantasy (story set in a world unlike our own where epic events that change that world forever occur). Except from a very slightly different perspective it is a parody of an epic fantasy. Or, if you tilt your head a little in a different direction, it looks like a deconstruction of each of those things.
Joe and Marge undergo a physical transformation when they cross into Ruddygore’s world. Then they spend some time being trained for their roles as Barbarian Warrior and Mysterious Sorceress respectively. And during the training is where we start to learn about all those rules written by the Angels. Most of the ones we learn are based on trope of epic fantasy and sword & sorcery stories (particularly of the pulp era), such as “All fair maidens must dress as scantily as the weather allows,” or “Magic swords for quests must be named” or “Barbarians must be tall, dark, and handsome, exotic in race but of no known nationality.”
The book is written comedically, but only occasionally crosses the line into parody. It is clear that Chalker loved high fantasy and sword & sorcery tales, but he also loved a good laugh. Most of the jokes in the story are aimed at the ridiculousness of those tropes, or finding ways to make the incongruities that come to mind when you examine those tropes carefully into twists in the story.
The quest of the story seems straightforward enough: a mysterious evil sorcerer called the Dark Baron has gathered an army of goblins and other monsters and so forth and is almost certainly aligned with the forces of Hell and is out to conquer the world. While the rules limit the number of full-fledged mages in the world to 12, and it seems certain that the Dark Baron is one of the other eleven mages, Ruddygore hasn’t been able to determine which one the Dark Baron is, which complicates things a bit.
I had enjoyed the book so much, I was frankly a little worried to re-read it years later. I didn’t want to find chockful of problematic material that was so cringe worthy I couldn’t enjoy it. Fortunately, it wasn’t bad on more recent re-read. Marge has a bit more autonomy than the usual Fair Maiden in sword & sorcery tales, and at some crucial points Joe manages to rise above the usual limits of a dude with a sword. But there are other ways in which the story fails to transcend the typical problems of the sub-genre or its period. It also shares one issue that most of Chalker’s books have: he has a strange fascination with physical transformation, sometimes slipping into body horror in what would otherwise be funny books, and other times completely glossing over the traumatic effects of such transformations. It isn’t exactly problematic here, but as I recall it gets weird in one of the later books.
Really, the biggest disappointment was realizing that the scene that made me laugh out loud so long and hard that my side literally ached and I had tears running down my face isn’t in this book at all. A little research in the sequels turned up the scene I recall, so it is there, just not in this book. Which I think is actually a good thing. Too many sequels don’t live up to the first part of a series. If the funniest bit is yet to come, that’s a good thing.
To sum up, the story of The River of the Dancing Gods was very funny, and engaging enough that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Chalker was clearly having a very good time writing the book, and I think the reader enjoys the ride exactly as much as the author did. Which is a trick some writers don’t pull off very well. Re-reading it, I see the book has influenced my writing in ways that I hadn’t quite realized. Of course, during my 20s I read a whole lot of Chalker’s work, so it shouldn’t surprise me that some of his themes and quirks have slipped into my own writing.
I am looking forward to re-reading more books in this series.
I’ve written before about how growing up I thought of cans of Folgers ground coffee as high quality, and then the little cans of instant with pre-mixed flavored creamer that was sold under the name General Foods International Coffee were gourmet coffee. A coffee grinder was an antique appliance with a big hand crank on top that you would see from time to time, and the adults would explain that in the Old Days™ you had to grind your coffee yourself—and no one described it as if it were a good thing.
So I was a little surprised in my late teens when a couple of friends took me with them up to Seattle one weekend to go to a comic book shop there, and one of the other shops we went by was a place where they sold whole coffee beans, or if you wanted to buy a cup there, they would grind some beans and use what to me was a very weird looking machine to make you a single cup.
It would be some years later, after I came to Seattle to attend university, that I would start seeing whole bean coffees on sale regularly in supermarkets, and it wasn’t until I got my second full time job after college, in an office building in downtown Seattle, that I would learn that the odd shop my friends had shown me was the oldest continuously running Starbucks in the world (not exactly the original, because that had been a few blocks away, but they had had to relocated when the building they were originally in was renovated).
The upshot is, that it wasn’t until my late twenties that I owned my own (electric) coffee grinder and started buying whole bean coffees of various varieties and blends. And soon I had opinions about which blends (and which companies that sold blends of roasted beans) were the best.
One type of coffee I became fond of were various Kona mixes. The Hawaiian islands are the only place within the U.S. where coffee can be grown, and the Kona district of the Big Island contains a large number of small farms most of which are still owned by individual families. The climate in that district produces coffee beans with a distinctive flavor. Because the area where it grows is restricted, the annual production is low, in comparison to coffees from other parts of the world, so there are laws defining when one can put the work Kona on a coffee blend.
Starbucks isn’t the only company to sell blends that consist of a small percentage of Kona beans mixed with other beans (usually Brazilian) that have been determined to compliment the flavor well. Pure, 100% Kona coffee is always sold at a premium price.
For years I was perfectly happy to purchase these Kona blends. Until one day, while shopping at Ballard Market (a store only two blocks from my home at the time) I saw bags of coffee called Wings of the Morning, pure Kona Coffee. And the canvas bag further indicated that the beans were grown on the Wings of the Morning Farm which was still owned and run by a family that had been growing coffee there for many generations. It was about $22 bucks for a bag, which was a bit steep (other whole bean coffee was often on sale for $7.99 per pound, as I recall) but I’d never had pure Kona before. So I bought it.
And I became quickly addicted. Because it was more expensive than my usual coffees, I tended to ration it. The $22 bag at the time contained only 14 ounces of coffee, not a full pound, which meant that it was even more expensive than I had originally realized, but it was so, so good!
As I said, I rationed it. I would only make a pot at most once a week. The rest of the time I used other coffees. Sometimes, yes, much cheaper Kona blends, though I’ve always liked switching between light roast coffees (Kona beans are usually lightly roasted) and very dark roast coffees. Over the next couple years I watched the price creep up, eventually reaching $29 for the 14 oz bag. I kept buying it, but continued to ration it.
Then the coffee vanished from the store. For several months there was no Wings of the Morning on the shelf. When I asked about it, I was told that some years the supply of coffee from an individual Kona farm will run out before the next year’s crop comes in. Then, one day I’m in the store by the coffee and I looked up and there it was! And it was back down to $22 for a bag! Yay!
It wasn’t until I was unpacking groceries at home that I noticed that the bag now said it only contained 12 ozs of beans. But it was still really good. And I had been without it so long, that I let myself make the coffee a little more often, because, it’s all right to treat yourself kindly, right?
Over the next couple years, the price crept up a bit faster than before, and I was feeling a little bit guilty. I had about half a bag at the house, and I almost bought a new bag, but the ghosts of my penny-pinching ancestors all seemed to be scolding me for unnecessary expenses. So I bought a pound of cheaper Kona blend instead. And the cheaper Kona blend was a perfectly fine coffee. I liked the coffee it produced. It wasn’t bad, it was good. It just wasn’t as remarkable as the Wings of the Morning.
It was as I was heading home with my purchases that I got an idea. The Kona blends usually contain about 10% Kona beans, while the rest of the blend is some other kind of coffee. What would happen if I mixed in a little bit more of Kona beans in the blend? Would it taste better than merely perfectly fine?
When I got home, I carefully cleaned out the coffee grinder. I measured out equal parts of the cheap Kona blend and the more expensive Wings of the Morning—just enough for one pot as an experiment, right?
I made the coffee, then sat down to try it.
It was not merely a perfectly fine cup of coffee, it was superb. Not as stupendous as pure Wings of the Morning, but definitely much better than the cheap Kona blend alone.
I took some of the cheap Kona blend and carefully mixed it with the remainder of my Wings of the Morning. I put the new mix in a bag that I labeled so I would know it was my blend. When that bag was about half empty, I bought a new bag of Wings of the Morning, I made myself one pot of pure Wings of the Morning (which produces a damn fine cup of coffee, let me assure you!), and then I blended the rest of the Wings of the Morning with my blend. Then, when I used about half of that up, I bought some other Kona blend to mix in. And from there on I started alternating.
When I get a new bag of the Wings of the Morning, I make myself one pot’s worth of coffee with it, then blend it. The last couple of years instead of really cheap Kona blend, I’ve been mixing it with Lowry’s Dark Roast Hawaiian, which isn’t really a very dark roast at all, but I find superior to the really cheap Kona blends.
The other thing this adventure has taught me is that many coffees can be improved with a bit of blending. A few years ago I picked up a new Starbucks blend and roast that was… um… well, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t very good. It was definitely worse than mediocre, to my taste buds. But it hadn’t been cheap, and those penny-pinching ancestors turn into a cacophony in my head if I even think of throwing out something like that just because it doesn’t taste great. And it occurred to me that it might be improved by blending with some cheap Kona. So I tried a single pot and darn, if the less than mediocre coffee didn’t turn into perfectly fine coffee once blended.
Earlier this year my husband (who doesn’t drink coffee at all, and usually only buys me coffee if he sees that one of the Christmas blends he knows I like has popped up in the store before I’ve bought any) picked up a two-pound bag of some coffee I had never heard of before at Costco. It wasn’t their Kirkland brand. I tried it, and well…
Okay, if you are a coffee drinker, I am sure you have experienced the phenomenon where a good cup of coffee turns into something icky tasting when it cools to room temperature? Remember that taste. That’s what this stuff tastes like when it is piping hot. And it just gets worse as it cools off. I even tried turning it into an iced coffee, but no, that was really really bad. If I added some creamer it was tolerable, but only just. And it it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried mixing it with a cheap Kona blend yet. Once again, something that wasn’t good was transformed into a perfectly fine cup of coffee, simply by blending in some Kona blend beans.
So I was able to use up the rest of that really big bag of coffee and actually enjoy drinking it. But, now that I’ve used it that up, well, I’ve indulged myself with Wings of the Morning two days in a row. I’ll blend it with some Dark Hawaiian for the rest of the bag, but every now and then, you need to reward yourself, you know?
My very first computer was assembled from a kit (had to solder some part together myself) way back in the early 1980s, and by default came with only a couple hundred bytes of memory (not kilobytes, bytes!). My first actually useful home computer was an Apple ][e clone, made by one of only two companies to ever get a license from Apple to make OEM machines–and it ran a version of DOS, not Mac OS. I wrote a lot of sci fi and fantasy stories, and more than a few college essay assignments, in Apple Writer on that machine. I also, for a time, owned an Atari 600XL (an 8-bit desktop machine) and did some of my writing it a little program called Paperclip.
Then, when I left college, I got hired by a company that made messaging software intended to run on 16-bit MS-DOS machines with Intel Processors, and since I was doing so much work in WordPerfect and could buy what at the time was a very good Packard-Bell desktop at a (somewhat) reasonable price (only the equivalent of three months’ rent instead of six) because of the company discount, I left the Apple ecosystem for some years. Eventually I moved into Windows, when it came out.
One of the realities of working in all those Wintel machines was that every time I had to upgrade to a new machine, it was a bit of a nightmare. It always took at least a year after moving to the new machine before I finally had everything on it working as I liked. Usually it was because there were always programs that simply didn’t work with the new version of Windows and/or the new hardware. So I got used to the pattern of spending at least a year getting the desktop organized to my liking with all the programs working in harmony, about two more years of using the machine with everything being fine, then a year or so of rising frustration as the machine became slower as some programs were updated, and often simply not supporting the new technologies that the equipment or software I was using expected. Then giving in and buying a new machine, where I would trade the frustration of the slowness and incompatibilities for the frustration of finding much of my existing software wouldn’t work on the new machine.
Another frustration that came in was that my mother started using a home computer, but her machines were always hand-me-downs from another relative. And she had the bad habit for years of clicking on any link that was included in any of the chain emails she received from friends and family (not to mention buying discs of very dubious software from racks on stores). So we got into the habit that every time my husband and I went to visit, my husband would come equipped with a bunch of discs of anti-malware and anti-adware programs, and he would spend more than a day trying to remove all the viruses and such from her machine to get it working again.
Then one summer day my husband called me from his place of work, where he spent his time refurbishing old computers, and proposed that we purchase an iMac he was in the process of repairing, and switching Mom over for her birthday. This required me to also purchase a really crappy (it had a broken hinge) old Mac laptop that would run the same version of Mac OS because, as my hubby correctly predicted, for the first couple of months Mom called every week with a question about how to do something relatively simple, and I would have to walk her through it with such instructions as, “Okay, so there is a white bar with rounded corners in the upper right corner of the dialog box? Can you click in there and then we can type…”
For the next couple of years, we purchased newer refurbished iMacs for Mom, and I kept acquiring refurbed Powerbooks and Macbooks that ran the same version of Mac OS. And eventually I started taking the Macbook with me to conventions because I was remembering all the things I liked about my old Apple ][e—and it was more robust than my Windows laptop.
So, I was seriously looking at replacing my Wintel desktop with a Mac… and I got laid off by the company I’d worked at for over 19 years. So I had to wait a bit. After 7 months at a new job (well out of my probationary period), I started plotting the new machine. My past experiences with the Windows machines made me do just a bit of over kill. I intentionally bought a much more powerful Mac Pro than I strictly needed because I didn’t want to change machines again in five years.
Over the next three years (Apple made it really easy and cheap to upgrade the OS each year) I quickly learned that updates weren’t quite the nightmare they had been before. And as more of my day-to-day writing was being done on the laptop (heck, by then I was doing a lot of writing each day on the bus on my iPod — not any iPhone, and the iPad didn’t exist, yet, but Write Room was a great word processor that worked on the iPod and the Mac!). My desktop was still faster with the layout software (InDesign) and drawing software (Illustrator) than the Mac laptops I owned.
One of the pros of the old Mac Pro towers was that you can do a lot of your own upgrading. So I bought faster and larger hard disks, and then upgraded the memory. Then did a major update to the video card, which helped keep the machine humming when I needed to use those resource-hungry programs from Adobe.
As the computer was approaching its fifth birthday I was finally noticing that when I had a whole bunch of programs open it wasn’t as fast as it used to be, but it was still pretty good, so I mentioned to my husband that I would like to see if I could keep the machine viable for another five years. He scoffed… and then bought me a PCI solid state drive card and a solid state drive to go in it to be my new boot disc. Switching to the solid state drive for booting and for all the applications made the machine screaming fast, again.
A couple of years ago we finally hit the roadblock where Apple wouldn’t let me install the latest Mac OS any longer. And the Macbook Pro with touchbar that I bought in the fall of 2016 is faster at some tasks than the Mac Pro. I’ve also replaced Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro with less resource intense (And much more affordable) software which works really well on both machines. I haven’t yet gotten a viable InDesign replacement, but I’m also no longer publishing a periodical zine. In any case, at the moment even though I’m a couple of versions behind on the OS with the desktop, the latest and greatest versions of all the applications I regularly use still run on the tower.
I know at some point I’m going to have to retire it. Maybe it will be replaced with a dock that I can plug my laptop into when I want a bigger screen. I don’t know. But for now, please join me in wishing Fabulosity, my Mac Pro tower, a happy tenth birthday!
Long before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the Civil War there was another holiday called Decoration Day observed in many parts of the country. It was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members.
As one historical society defined it: “Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors… Traditionally, Decoration Day is in part a ritual, with families arriving on the day before Decoration Sunday with hoes and shovels for a graveyard workday. They scrape the ground, trim the grass, make new plantings, and prune old ones… The cleanup is followed by a Sunday picnic dinner, singing in church, placing flowers on graves, and visiting with friends and family. Sunday participants come dressed for church and participate in what amounts to a family and community reunion. Family members that have moved away often return on this day, giving them an important opportunity to teach children about their ancestors and the communities in which they once lived. Outdoor tables of concrete or wood, marked to identify participating churches, hold the food for the meal.”
It was usually observed on a Sunday in the spring, and frequently involved picnics in the cemeteries or potlucks at church. my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day.
Twelve years ago this week my nice Grandma died literally while in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of one of my great aunts—which has contributed to my determination that the original holiday not be forgotten. In memory of Grandma, I’m reposting this (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):
Memorial, part 2—for Grandma
Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.
I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.
Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.
She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.
One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t Grandpa’s grave nearby?”
Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.
Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.
Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.
The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.
Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.
Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.
We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.
I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.
Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter
It is still the case that when I drive to that part of the state to visit Mom or other relatives, I still find myself wondering what Grandma will be doing when I get there, and a moment later have a sudden resurgence of the old grief, remembering that she’s gone.
If you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that my Grandpa mentioned above served in WWII in Italy. Grandpa drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. My paternal Grandfather served in both World War II and the Korean War. Several of my great-aunts and uncles and many cousins who are no longer alive served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
This post is dedicated to all of their memories. They are all on my mind today, as well as other loved ones who have passed. I grieve for them, yes, but I don’t believe today should only be about grief. We should celebrate the lives of those who came before us. Remember their joys and their triumphs, as well as their sacrifices. That’s what Grandma taught me to do, and I will keep doing it on this day, as long as I draw breath.
Sometimes you just have to laugh: Owners of biblical replica of Noah’s ark sue over … rain damage (and it wasn’t even 40 days and 40 nights). In case you aren’t familiar, the Ark Encounters theme park (and Creationism Museum) in Kentucky was built with an $18,000,000 (that’s 18 million) from the taxpayers. This should have seemed an obvious violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on establishing a religion, but no, politicians insisted that it was really about jobs that the theme park was going to create thanks to the millions of visitors who would show up to see the park. Never mind that the park insisted not just that employees be Christian, but they have a very narrow definition of Christian: prospective employees have to declare that they adhere to a litany of anti-gay and ultra conservative doctrines to be hired.
By the way, those supposed millions of tourists have nevershownup. They dispute those numbers, yet they also have come back begging the state for more money to make up for the lack of income, so…
These are the same kind of people who insist that thoughts and prayers will end gun violence, and also claim their god will always provide and so forth. So, why the heck are they suing their insurance companies.
Irony is when people are (tragically) unaware that their perception of their situation or their actions are at odds with their actual situation. Clearly, irony is very much alive and kicking for the Ark Encounter wingnuts.
Speaking of wingnuts, Ben Shapiro is spouting off racist/facist/nazi nonsense, again. He and the alt-right are always disavowing each other, they because he’s Jewish, and he because somehow he thinks that people can’t see that he is saying all the same things they are. But don’t take my word for it, go read this incredibly good explanation: On the Right & Civilisations. “I know there’s already a thousand takedowns of this whiny crap from Ben Shapiro but good grief it is whiny crap.”
It’s definitely worth the read!
Edited to Add: Since the news about the Ark Encounter park suing its insurers over the refusal to cover all of the flood damage unleashed a million mocking headlines, they have gotten very angry and issued a counter-statment: Ark Encounter Really Hates That People Are Saying They Suffered “Flood” Damage. The statements from the Ark Encounter people declare all of those headlines fake news (they use the exact phrase) and then say that it is not flood damage, it’s rain damage—because that is totally different, and rain doesn’t have the same funny connotations as flood does when talking about Noah’s Ark.
So the places that specifically used the phrase “and it wasn’t even 40 days and 40 nights!” can totally keep the same headlines.
One more thing: I got a ping elseweb in response to this original posting that took issue with me poking fun at the Ark Encounters park because they light up the ark light a rainbow every night, making it look like a gay pride statement clearly visible from the nearest interstate. The commenter didn’t think I understood that the rainbow was a symbol from god. Ahem. As I have written before: the christianists who try to claim the gays stole the rainbow from god are the ones who don’t understand the importance of the rainbow in the story of Noah. I’ll just quote one of the times I wrote about it: “[quoting] from the end of the story of Noah in the old testament to justify his claim that queers have stolen god’s invention. I’m going to quote a bit of that: “13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” That’s god talking to Noah, and please note what god himself says: the rainbow is a sign of a covenant between god and the entire planet. A moment later he emphasizes that it is a sign of a covenant between him and all living creatures of every kind. Gay people are part of the planet. Gay people are a kind of living creature.”
I will leave for the reader the exercise of determining just what kind of an omniscient being needs to leave himself post-it notes in the sky just to remember that he shouldn’t commit genocide.
It’s Friday! it’s already the fourth Friday in May–and it’s Memorial Day Weekend. Already!?
My week has been dominated by severe hay fever. The pollen count has only been moderately severe, but my sinuses decided that DefCon 5 wasn’t enough.
Anyway, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five (IMHO) stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about forces closing in on the alleged president, five stories about other deplorable people, and five videos (plus some things I wrote).
So, this third installment in a series about misperceptions of what diversity means and how it has occured in science fiction/fantasy has been sitting in the draft queue for a long time, in part because I needed to do some more research to shore it up. But now, thanks to Cora Buhlert, I can leverage this excellent review: The Golden Age Was More Diverse Than You Think of this year’s Retro Hugo ballot. The whole post (and her many links) are worth the read, but I’m going to steal quote an important bit:
Survivorship bias can be found doubly in the Retro Hugos, because not only do people (and the Retro Hugo nominator base is small compared to the current year Hugos) tend to nominate the famous stories, the ones that endured, they also tend to nominate and vote for writers (and editors and artists) whose names the recognise. This is why unremarkable debut stories by future stars tend to get nominated for the Retro Hugos, while better but lesser known works and authors tend to get overlooked…
But even taking the known problems with the Retro Hugos into consideration, the breadth and variety of stories on the 1944 Retro Hugo ballot is astounding (pun fully intended), as is the fact that quite a few of them don’t really fit into the prevailing image image of what Golden Age science fiction was like. And this doesn’t just apply to left-field finalists such as Das Glasperlenspiel by Hermann Hesse in the novel category or Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Magic Bed-Knob by Mary Norton in the novella category, neither of whom I would have expected to make the Hugo ballot in 1944, if only because US science fiction fans wouldn’t have been familiar with them. No, there also is a lot of variety in the stories which originated in US science fiction magazines.
As I said, go read her entire post, it’s worth your time.
Among the claims that is constantly put forward from some quarters are that:
until very recently, virtually all sf/f was written by straight white men,
until very recently, the vast majority of readers of sf/f were straight white men and boys,
for most of fandom’s history, the vast majority of people organizing clubs and conventions were straight white men (young and old),
even now, the vast majority of “real fans” are straight white men and boys,
…therefore any sf/f that features protagonists other than straight white men, and talks about any issues not of interest to straight white men, isn’t real science fiction or fantasy, but it is so-called message fiction.
But the truth is that all four of those claims are false. And that isn’t a matter of opinion. Go look at the 1944 Retro Hugo ballot. More than a single token woman author. And even more intriguing, a rather large number of protagonists and major characters in the works are women and people of color.
In a previous blog post, I linked to some of 1930s, 40s, and 50s sf/f fan publications, showing that some of the most prominent founders of U.S. science fiction fan clubs during the Golden Age were queer men and women (who also became active in the gay/lesbian rights movement).
Go to the staff meeting of any medium-to-large sized fan-led sf/f convention today, and take a look at just how many of the people in that room are not male. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a disproportionate number who are queer. And that has been the case for at least three decades that I know of (I didn’t attend my first convention until the late 1970s, and didn’t start paying attention to how they were run until the late 80s, so I can’t offer personal testimony beyond that).
Look around any big convention at how many girls and women are doing cosplay, or staffing booths in the dealer’s dens, or are panelists. It’s harder to find how many are queer, but next time you’re at a convention, look for some panels whose titles mention queer topics, then go stick your head in the door of a couple and see how full the rooms are.
Listen, I’m an old literally white-bearded white guy. I grew up reading Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov in the 1960s. But I’m also gay. And I was also just as fervently a fan of Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton, and Madeleine L’Engle back then. But more importantly, one reason I was a fan from such an early age was because my mother was one of the biggest fans of Robert Heinlein and similar sci fi of the 50s and 60s you will ever meet. I am a second generation fan, but it wasn’t my dad who was reading sci fi (he preferred spy novels and westerns), it was my mom.
I’ve written before in a different context how my mom’s old, worn copy of Dune (which she told me I had to wait until I was older before I could read it) often tantalized me on the book shelf when I was a kid. A couple of things I should add to that story: she bought the Ace paperback brand new when it first came out in 1965, and it was looking very worn around 1969 when she decided to move it to a less tempting location. It looked that way after only 4 years because she re-read it frequently.
I know that’s only one anecdotal sample, but I also remember that when we went on our regular visits to used book stores when I was a kid, my mom was never the only woman browsing the sci fi/fantasy shelves.
People of all genders read, create, watch, and love sci fi and fantasy (and comic books and horror and thrillers and weird fiction and all the other sub-genres). People of all sexual orientations read, create, watch, and love sf/f. People of all races read, create, watch, and love sf/f. People of color, queer people, women, and nonbinary people all exist, and together, they outnumber straight white men in world population (and also U.S. population, if you’re one of those people who think that the phrase “Third World Country” is objective terminology). If you’re trying to exclude people of color, queer people, women, and non-binary people, you are the one focusing on a niche market.
If you are a writer excluding any or all of those categories of people from your cast of characters, whether you mean to or not, you are serving a misogynist, racist, homophobic agenda. And that’s definitely not a non-political stance. Those stories are not non-political fun.
Science fiction was arguably created by a young woman/teen-age girl (Mary Shelley), for goodness’ sake!
I was reading (and participating) in the comments on Camestros Felapton’s excellent review of one of the Hugo nominated stories, and found myself thinking a lot about how and why we humans like to classify everything in general, and stories/movies/et cetera in particular.
For instance, what is the difference between science fiction and fantasy? When I was much younger, I would have answered that fantasy was “just making any old thing up” while science fiction required an understanding of and adherence to science! (and was therefore superior). But as Thor observed that all words are made up, so too all stories are made up. The usual definition isn’t far from what younger me said (minus the hypocritical and judgmental bit): Science fiction deals with scenarios and technology that may be scientifically possible at the time written, while fantasy deals with supernatural and magical occurrences that have no basis in science.
Of course, that phrase “may be possible” includes a lot of hand-waving. Faster-than-light travel seems less and less likely to be possible as our understanding of physics has grown, yet everyone is quite happy to classify space opera as clearly part of science fiction.
It has been persuasively argued that what dictates that one novel is shelved in the science fiction section, while another is shelved with fantasy, and yet another shelved in horror all comes down to marketing. Not because marketers are trying to advance some sort of agenda, but because a lot of readers like having books offered in familiar categories. Unfortunately, the marketers (and associated persons in the publishing industry), being human, can make those distinctions on rather dubious criteria. One of my favorite authors, who writes books that cross over many genres (and has won at least one major fantasy award for a work of horror), often finds her books being reviewed as “Young Adult” simply because she’s a woman and the books tend to explore sf/f themes.
Of course, that opens up another can of worms. Who decided that “Young Adult” was a genre? It’s an age category, like Middle Grade and Early Reader, right?
It’s useful, sometimes, to talk about a specific work of fiction in reference to similar works of fiction. The aforementioned comment thread I was involved in included a discussion about why portal fantasies seem to be resurging lately, which is why I starting thinking about what portal fantasies are. I know several works that everyone agrees are portal fantasies. When I suggested that the Saturday morning live action children’s show Land of the Lost from the 1970s (I don’t want to talk about the more recent movie) might be a portal fantasy, someone else pronounced it portal science fiction.
The conventional definition of a portal fantasy is a story in which people from our mundane world enter into a different, fantastical world, through a portal of some kind. In Land of the Lost, the family on a rafting trip go through some kind of hole in space or time and land in a world where there are dinosaurs, some primates that might be precursors of genus homo, and humanoid reptileans. Sounds pretty fantastical to me! I mean the dinosaurs and primates may have overlapped a bit in Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, but none of those primates were the size of chimpanzees, nor had brains anywhere near the size of the critters in the show. So it isn’t a time warp they went through to an earlier part of Earth’s history.
So is it a portal fantasy with some sci fi trappings? Or are the sci fi elements enough to call it something other than a fantasy?
Let’s set that aside for a moment and talk about magic systems. Because one of the things that often distinguishes science fiction from pure fantasy is the presence of magic. But some fantasies involve very strictly defined magic, with laws that seem to be as rigid as physics, and logical ways one can deduce what is and isn’t possible to do with magic from those laws. Yet, how is that different than the fictional science that underpins many science fiction stories? The author is just positing a different set of discoveries of natural law.
I described my younger self’s definition of sci fi as hypocritical because I’ve found myself, for the last decade or so, far more interested in writing fantasy. I have a couple of sci fi tales still rattling around in my collection of works in progress, but fantasy has been where I keep finding myself. And while most of my fantasy stories involve magic, I’m not one of the authors who thinks it is necessary to work out very precisely how the magic works in my universes. I have rules of my own, and I write my stories within them, but I don’t think it particularly interesting to have one of my characters (no matter how much the Mathemagician, for instance, may love giving lectures) deliver an info dump about the limitations of magic in his world. When it is important to the plot, I work it in, so that the reader understands what is happening and what’s at stake, but otherwise, I leave it to things like: dragons can fly and breathe fire, sorcerers can hurl fireballs and ride flying carpets/magic brooms, priests can smite their enemies and their blessings can cure wounds, and all of these things have costs commiserate with the extent to which reality is being bent.
And I admit one reason I don’t like going into any more detail than that is because ever since my early days of roleplaying (late 1970s, before Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition existed), the people I liked playing with least were the ones who got into long tetchy arguments about the rules before and after every single dice roll. Your mileage may vary, so if you want to write down all the laws of magic for your stories, go right ahead.
But, the fact that most fantasy stories do have rules of how the magic/supernatural stuff works, and most fantasy authors try to follow those rules and keep them consistent, I still have trouble seeing how some people can so blithely draw a strict distinction between science fiction and fantasy. XKCD had a great cartoon not that long ago around the fact that you can describe the tiny nuclear power cells in the two Voyager spacecraft as “orbs of power!” Because they are balls of a very rare metal which, once assembled, simply radiate energy for many, many, many years. Not only that, if you touch them (without proper protection), you can die! It sure sounds like a cursed magical item, such as an Infinity Stone, doesn’t it?
To circle back to the Land of the Lost–the humanoid reptiles had some very sophisticated science fictional equipment, but it was all powered by mysterious little crystals. Put the right colored crystal in the right spot and voila! A portal opens and a healing beam of energy comes down or something. Again, is that science or magic? Because, seriously, crystals?
These sorts of questions are why the late, great Jack Chalker was fond of saying, “All science fiction is fantasy, but not all fantasy is science fiction. And some science fiction becomes fantasy as our understanding of science changes over time.”
Time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five (or didn’t come to my attention until afterward). And as usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon.
First up, if ever a headline deserved the word finally: GOP Rep. Amash becomes first Republican to say Trump ‘engaged in impeachable conduct’. Representative Amash has always described himself as a Libertarian, so he’s never been lock-step with the more overtly evangelical or authoritarian wings of the Republican party. So it makes sense that he would be one of the people who would look past partisan loyalty and talk about defending liberty. The sad part is that so far none of the other self-described Libertarians have been willing to do the same thing.
If you’re wondering why so far no other single Republican has been willing to do their duty and uphold the Constitution in the face of the blatant unfitness and corruption of the Trump administration, this provides a nice explanation: Why Justin Amash stands alone. The short version: Congressional Republicans fall into roughly three camps: 1) they know he’s corrupt and unfit, but they’ll get the judges and tax laws they want until things come crashing down around him, at which point they’ll all say they were always secretly opposed to him, 2) those who recognize that they’re financial futures are tied to being about to stay in the Conservative Bubble Racket, so if they oppose Trump, they won’t get those lucrative Fox News or Think Tank jobs when they retire, 3) and then a lot of them are genuinely racist, homophobic, and otherwise hateful and actually believe in everything he’s doing.
I’m not ready to label Amash a hero, because Trump’s violation of the Emoluments Clause at the very beginning of his administration should have brought some protests from Congressional Republicans. And in various tweets and statements while trying to attack his perceived enemies, Trump admitted to the obstruction of justice about two years ago, long before the blatant refusal to respond to Congressional subpoenas now. Amash should have been making these kind of critical statements then. He was probably in Camp 1 above, though not very enthusiastically. I see Amash as more of a glimmer of hope that maybe his decision was driven by those polls showing a larger and larger number of Americans who believe Trump is guilty, and so we may be reaching the stage where the rest of Camp 1 will start peeling off.
I said was a glimmer, but a big one.
While we’re on the topic of why it matters that the Republicans in Camp 1 and Camp 2 have been derelict in their Constitutional duties for three years: Alabama’s Extremist Abortion Bill Ruins John Roberts’ Roe Plan — SCOTUS was all teed up to quietly gut America’s abortion rights. Then Alabama happened. The Alabama abortion bill is awful, and it isn’t just about abortion: it effectively outlaws a lot of medical treatments that people need. It makes the penalty for getting an abortion, even in the case of rape, more severe than the most severe penalty given to rapists! It’s just horrible. It’s also taking aim at the legal basis for the ruling that overturned sodomy laws, making it legal for gay people to have consentual sex in the privacy of their own homes.
And despite what the headline says, I don’t believe for a moment that the Supreme Court will go ahead and uphold it when it gets to them. Roberts may have hoped to destroy abortion rights in a continuing series of small steps where he could pretend that he was just allowing reasonable restrictions, but he was clearly on board with the goal. So I’m not holding out much hope.
And as I have tried to point out many times to some gay men I know who keep insisting that abortion has nothing to do with them: the exact same reasoning–a person has the right to decide what to do with their own body–that underlies the landmark abortion rights case, was also used by the justices who overturned sodomy laws, and it is part of the reasoning for the ruling the legalized marriage equality. This is just another domino in a long line of ways that some people want to take away rights from a whole lot of us.