Tag Archive | fantasy

…and the darkness comprehended it not

I have a longer, rambling post about my feelings after seeing the movie A Wrinkle In Time last week. There’s a long digression about what the book meant to me as a kid and so forth. And I will finish it and post it soonish. But there are stressful things going on in the lives of people I love, and I’m in a weird headspace.

So, my quick review is this: The movie is awesome, it is glorious, it is moving, it is sincere, and it absolutely sells the truth of the book. There are many dissenting reviews I have seen, many from friends, so I will offer the following caveats:

  • If you’re a cynic, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. I’m giving certain cynics of my acquaintance serious side-eye when they claim, while griping about this movie, to be fans of the book. If you’re a cynic, you completely missed the point of the book.
  • If you’re the kind of fan who complained that Tom Bombadil was left out of the Lord of the Rings movies, you will not like this movie. Don’t bother. And if you did see it, don’t post long lists of things they left out. You sound like a small-minded pedant shrilly complaining that they got the stitching wrong on the tunic of that background character from page 76…
  • There’s another kind of fan that I don’t know of a way to warn they won’t like it. But their reasons for not liking the movie were summarized best on Twitter by Matt Santori (@FotoClub): “It is earnest and it treats a girl who has low self-esteem with respect instead of ridicule. And I think that bothers a lot of men.”

There was a point, early in the movie, and not when anything that you would expect to make you cry, when I found myself crying so much I kept having to wipe my eyes to see. It was a beautiful scene that was giving me all kinds of feelings, and realized that the people making the movie had captured the wild sense of wonder and joy that I, as a 9-year-old when I read the book the first time, felt at several parts of the book. It’s a feeling that L’Engle herself described at one point:

“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Adaptation requires elliding things, simplifying things, and in a book that was written 56 years ago, updating things. The movie is only a little over an hour, which is a perfect length for a kids movie. And there are things that work in text that don’t work so well visually, so sometimes directors have to get metaphorical.

One last note: one of the authors I follow on Twitter is Saladin Ahmed. Last Friday he saw the movie with his daughter and a whole bunch of her classmates. I’m going to paraphrase his review: “I don’t usually say ‘screw the critics.’ I will simply say, If you possibly can see A Wrinkle in Time with some kids, do so. They will love it, and you will love being there while they watch.”


She Knew What She Was Doing and Why – Ursula K. Le Guin

“Fake Rule: The generic pronoun in English is he. Violation: “Each one in turn reads their piece aloud.” This is wrong, say the grammar bullies, because each one, each person is a singular noun and their is a plural pronoun. But Shakespeare used their with words such as everybody, anybody, a person, and so we all do when we’re talking. (“It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses,” said George Bernard Shaw.) The grammarians started telling us it was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in “If a person needs an abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.” My use of their is socially motivated and, if you like, politically correct: a deliberate response to the socially and politically significant banning of our genderless pronoun by language legislators enforcing the notion that the male sex is the only one that counts. I consistently break a rule I consider to be not only fake but pernicious. I know what I’m doing and why.” —Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

“Fake Rule: The generic pronoun in English is he.
Violation: “Each one in turn reads their piece aloud.”
This is wrong, say the grammar bullies, because each one, each person is a singular noun and their is a plural pronoun. But Shakespeare used their with words such as everybody, anybody, a person, and so we all do when we’re talking. (“It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses,” said George Bernard Shaw.) The grammarians started telling us it was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in “If a person needs an abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.” My use of their is socially motivated and, if you like, politically correct: a deliberate response to the socially and politically significant banning of our genderless pronoun by language legislators enforcing the notion that the male sex is the only one that counts. I consistently break a rule I consider to be not only fake but pernicious. I know what I’m doing and why.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

“Dear Mr Radziewicz,
I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.
Yours truly,
Ursula K. Le Guin”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Acclaimed for Her Fantasy Fiction, Is Dead at 88.

The fantasy and science fiction community pays tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin, the spiritual mother of generations of writers; John Scalzi pays tribute.

I’ve written about two of Le Guin’s books that were instrumental in my life: Timebomb from the Stars – more of why I love sf/f and The Original Wizard School – more of why I love sf/f. Please note I said in my life, not just in my understanding of science fiction/fantasy or how to write. Her stories did that, too—but Le Guin’s books were particularly important to teen-age me trying to learn how to be comfortable in my own skin.

As I said in one of the earlier blog posts, she may not have explicitly meant her story to help a queer kid learn to accept himself, but that’s what her tales did for me. Also, every time I re-read one of Le Guin’s books, I notice ideas that she develops in the story that have become such an intrinsic part of how I look at stories, that I have forgotten she was the one who introduced me to the idea. The ideas in her tales weren’t messages that slap you in the face, they are simply a part of the story in such a way that you accept them. They aren’t “Ah ha!” moments, but more like, “Of course!”

I don’t know how to express how heavy my heart is because of her passing. Tuesday afternoon, when my husband got home from work, he asked me if I had been paying attention to the news or twitter, then told me that Ursula K. Le Guin had died, and I just said, “No! Oh, no!” emphatically. It struck me harder than a celebrity death has in a long time. Once I was finished with work, I cued up the audiobook in which Ursula read her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, because I just needed to hear her voice for a while.

I was a little surprised how upset I was, until I read John Scalzi’s column above. I hadn’t realized it, but she was a spiritual mother to me, despite my only ever meeting her at a book signing. And he’s right. It takes time to mourn a mother.

Weekend Update 8/12/2017: Hugo Winners and many other things

The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)

The 2017 Hugo award base was designed by Finnish artist Eeva Jokinen. (Photo by Michael Lee.)

The Hugo Award winners were announced yesterday at Worldcon 75, this year happening in Helsinki. I’m not there, but enough people I know are that my twitter feed was full of news and reactions. And it’s really fun when people whose work you love and who you have met in person are among the people bringing home rockets. I checked against my ballot after, and found that in four categories the person/work that I picked as number one had won. And it looks like in every other category, the winner was in my top three. Of course, as I said at the time, I thought that every category had at least four or five pieces that I absolutely thought deserved the award. It was a good year. And isn’t this year’s trophy gorgeous?

Anyway, the winners are:


The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)


Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com publishing)


“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Short Story:

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Related Work:

Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer)

Graphic Story:

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough (SyFy)

Editor, Short Form:

Ellen Datlow

Editor, Long Form:

Liz Gorinsky

Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon


Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Julia Rios, and podcast produced by Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky


Lady Business, edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan


Tea and Jeopardy, presented by Emma Newman with Peter Newman

Fan Writer:

Abigail Nussbaum

Fan Artist:

Elizabeth Leggett

Series:(Special Category added by option of Worldcon 75)

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards)

Ada Palmer

And I’m sure that in certain corners of the trollnet there is a lot of angry thrashing: Women swept nearly every category at the 2017 Hugo Awards. To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg: and for how many years were the categories literally swept by men (and almost always white men, at that)? Let me repeat: I’m an old, literally grey bearded, cis male white fan who literally learned how to read from Robert A. Heinlein novels, and every single one of this year’s winners were fabulous sf/f works that deserve that award because they are awesome stories.

So, congratulations to all the winners!

Oh, another thing announced yesterday: Worldcon 2019 will be in Dublin, Ireland! It’ll be the first Irish Worldcon! Yay! There’s a lot of other fun news from the con, you can see a bunch of pictures and more here.

On to other things: Terry Gross is one of my favorite people to listen to on the radio. She’s been interviewing people for years, and much of what I like about her show is how many times she made me really connect with and care about people I didn’t expect to. Anyway, she was on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week, and it was funny in a way I absolutely did not expect. Watch the whole clip to learn about her process, but also to get a really good laugh when she tells the story of the time Bill O’Reilly angrily stormed out of an interview.

NPR’s Terry Gross Has a Sick Burn for Bill O’Reilly Walking Out on Their Fresh Air Interview:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.

Lots of people have been freaking out about all the nuclear war talk this week. I left most of it out of yesterday’s round up of links other than to link to an analysis of why it is almost certain that we don’t actually need to be worried just yet. But besides most people not understanding the technological hurdles as to why North Korea doesn’t have that missile-capable bomb there’s more. And Nothing New On North Korea Except Donald Trump’s Freak-Out. There actually isn’t any new news. Only one agency is saying this is a possibility, and that same intelligence agency claimed the same thing several years ago and was shown to be wrong then. Furthermore, Donald isn’t suddenly talking about this because of a security briefing he got. He started angrily threatening war when he saw a headline in the Washington Post… which he has also claimed in one of the fake news outlets, but obviously he doesn’t really think that, does he? Anyway, Rachel Maddow’s clip that I linked is really good. And she had an actual
(recently retired) intelligence expert whose specialty was North Korea for decades. It’s really worth the watch.

Related, I’m really irritated that this is even necessary: From the editor in chief of Christianity Today: The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Inherently Evil. Even though I consider myself a former christian, it angers me to a level that is difficult to describe that there are so-called christian pastors saying the opposite, saying things like Megachurch Pastor Says Trump Has God’s Approval to Start Nuclear War. Geezus! Even the religious right’s favorite president, Ronald Reagan, condemned nuclear weapons as “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilization.” And who can forget what the late evangelist Billy Graham said on the subject: “I cannot see any way in which nuclear war could be branded as being God’s will. Such warfare, if it ever happens, will come because of the greed and pride and covetousness of the human heart.”

Well, we certainly have a president who epitomizes greed and pride and covetousness…

Grrrr! And don’t get me started on the literal Nazis marching in North Carolina… but at least some Republicans are waking up: Former GOP Senator Calls For Trump’s Removal “Donald Trump is seriously sick. He is dangerous. As a citizen, a former U.S. Senator and twelve-year member of the Armed Services Committee, I urge you to act at once. This is an emergency.”

I can’t end on a sour note. So, here’s some much better news: ‘Sense8’ is back in production, and the finale is going to be totally ‘epic’ and Formerly Abused Husky Now Helps Children Who Have Been Abused.

Everybody was kung fu fighting, even mighty whitey — more of why I love sf/f

On reflection, I don't think the story lines were why hormonal 14-year-old closeted me was fascinated with the character right away...

On reflection, I don’t think the story lines were why hormonal 14-year-old closeted me was fascinated with the character right away…

This post will eventually become a commentary on the Netflix series Ironfist based on the Marvel comics character, but I have a lot of ground to cover first. I am an old literal grey-beard fan who was reading U.S. comic books before the great Kung Fu/Asian cultural appropriatation phase of the early 70s, so my relationship to any media property related to that era is a bit complicated. Because both the Jessica Jones series and Luke Cage series had significantly transcended their original comic book incarnations, I had high hopes for what might be done with Iron Fist. Alas, those hopes were not met. However, I think that the series Netflix ultimately produced is not a complete failure, and may eventually be redeemed with the subsequent series in the franchise.

In the early 70s U.S. pop culture became obsessed with martial arts. One of the best examples of this was the television series, Kung Fu which ran from 1972-1975. The show, which was wildly popular both with audiences and critics, told the story of Kwai Chang Caine, a half-chineses, half-white man raised in a Shao Lin monastery who winds up in the American Wild West wandering the countryside seeking his father while evading agents of a Chinese nobleman who wants him dead. The show cast white actor David Carradine in the role (after rejecting Bruce Lee). And it really was wildly popular. In the redneck rural communities I was living at the time, every one of my classmates would quote favorite lines from the show and make allusions to it in various ways. While the show cast a white actor in the role of the supposedly biracial lead, since ever episode relied heavily on flashbacks to incidents in Caine’s childhood, teen, and young adult years back in China, it also provided a lot of acting roles for Asian American actors in recurring and supporting roles. Probably more so than all of American TV before then. Which doesn’t make up for the white washing, but was at least a teeny step forward.

That TV show wasn’t the only bit of pop culture effected. Action movies and television series of all kinds started introducing martial arts experts to their story lines, and soon audiences were expecting amazing martial arts fights in all of their entertainment. Even the BBC’s Doctor Who had to bow to the expectation, with the velvet-jacketed Third Doctor suddenly becoming an expert in “Venusian Karate” though embarassingly what that meant was the actor occasionally exclaiming a cliche “Hai-ya!” as he felled opponents with an unconvincing chopping motion of his hand.

And comic books were hardly immune. Suddenly every comic company was adding martial arts experts (some of asian descent, some not) into their superhero lines. Comic titles such as Master of Kung Fu, Karate Kid (no relation to the 80s movies), and Kung Fu Fighter, and Dragon Fists were suddenly popping up in department store comics racks. Along side characters such as Shang Chi, Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, and Karate Kid (no “the”) there was Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist: the Living Weapon.

Danny was a classic mighty whitey: a white orphan taken in by mysterious monks in a secret temple in the Himalayas, who masters their semi-mystical martial arts to a degree that far exceeds any of the natives and becomes their greatest warrior. This being an American comic, of course Danny comes to America, specifically New York City, where he tried to reclaim his family fortune (along the way discovering that his parents’ deaths on the journey may not of have an accident). His costume was a bit unusual for male superheroes of the time—ridiculously plunging necklines were usually reserved for women. The excuse for exposing all that skin was the black dragon mark on Danny’s chest. It’s not a tattoo, but rather a symbol that was burned into his flesh during a fight with a dragon, which is an important part of the ritual of becoming the Iron Fist.

This was the fifth issue of Marvel Premiere that featured Iron Fist. Premiere was a series Marvel used to introduce new characters or revive old ones that might lead to a new series.

This was the fifth issue of Marvel Premiere that featured Iron Fist. Premiere was a series Marvel used to introduce new characters or revive old ones that might lead to a new series.

When Marvel debuted in comics in 1974 I was 14 years old. I didn’t read the very first couple of issues. Back then my source of comic books was the rack at the only drugstore in the small town where we lived, and which comics they got were hit and miss from month to month. But I remember seeing this cover in that rack one day and being instantly fascinated. I bought the comic, and as I frequently did in those days, read it, re-read it, and re-read it again and again. The story was middle episode in the middle of a story arc, so I was a bit confused about some things, but was still immediately enamored with the character. I kept my eyes peeled for the character from then on, and managed to pick up a few more issues as they came out, but not all of them. It was a constant frustration at the time: not being able to count on the next issue making it to my town.

Because of that inconsistency—where I would pick up, say, issue #85 of Spider-Man, then not find another issue until #89 came out—I spent a lot of time looking for clues in the stories as to what I had missed in the intervening issues, and I would write up my own versions of the adventures my favorite heroes had experienced in between. Very occasionally I tried to draw my own comics, but mostly I wrote them out more as prose stories. This skill of figuring out all the ways a character might go from point A to point Z has been useful in my own writing since.

Eventually, after my parents’ divorce, Mom, my sister, and I moved to a town large enough to have multiple book stores and an actual comic shop, where eventually I managed to purchase at relatively cheap prices many of the back issues I had missed of Iron Fist and several other titles. I was a little disappointed that some of my attempts to fill in the gaps between issues were way off, but I still loved the character. I know now (but didn’t realize back then) that one of the things that appealed to me about the character originally was that chest-baring costume. But Danny Rand’s story also appealed to me because he was an outsider, never quite fitting in anywhere. That was something I really empathized with.

Another thing that appealed to me about Iron Fist the comic (and some of the other Kung fu-ploitation properties) was the inclusion of (often mangled, I know) zen, buddhist, and taoist philosophy. Seeing other traditions underpinning moral and ethical principles, seeing good, brave, and noble character behaving morally and ethically outside of the fundamentalist Christian framework helped me reconcile my growing discomfort with the evangelical beliefs I’d been raised with. Yes, it was culture appropriation, and it was a stripped-down and distorted representation of those other religions, but it wasn’t being done to deride those beliefs. The distortion was because of ignorance and the expediency of meeting writing deadlines, not out of a hostility to the cultures themselves. While it was problematic, it still helped me find a way to escape the clutches of a homophobic denomination. And that’s a good thing.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I had had high hopes for the Netflix Iron Fist series. I’d read enough reviews when it first came out to know that the consensus of critics and a lot of fans was that the show was nowhere near as good as some of the other Marvel-Netflix shows. But I still hoped. I still think that the show would have been improved immensely if they had cast an asian american as Danny. It would have been really easy, and I think would have made the way they chose to tell his story work a bit better. The external conflict of the series is mostly about control of the corporation originally founded by Danny’s father and the father’s best friend. The internal conflict is about Danny trying to figure out his place in the world. If they had made Danny biracial, showing his father in the flashbacks as white and his mother as, let’s say, Chinese American, then that internal conflict would have had more layers. And this story desperately needed something less shallow than a badly thought out boardroom drama.

It also doesn’t help that the actor they cast as Danny seems about as talented as a block of wood. Seriously, the adam’s apple of the actor who was cast to play Danny’s childhood friend from the mystical city displays more acting talent and skill in a single scene than the actor playing Danny does in the entire series. Another big problem is pacing. The series spent about 9 episodes setting things up that could have easily been handled in one. The first episode was pretty an okay beginning of the tale, but it wasn’t until about episode 11 that things seemed to pick up. I also can’t figure out why they showed virtually no scenes of the mystical city where Danny gets his training. Let along never showing us the dragon. I mean, what is the point of telling Iron Fist’s story without showing us all that?

Maybe they’ll do better in season two.

In case you don’t know where the title of this blog post originated, here’s a music video that might explain things:

Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Zen, Bradbury, and the Hugo Awards – more of why I love sf/f

A quote from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A quote from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

Recently someone posted these images of a couple of paragraphs out of Ray Bradbury’s book Zen and the Art of Writing which is only one of the times he told this story. At the age of nine Bradbury fell in love with the Buck Rogers comic strip in his local newspaper, and began cutting out and saving the strips and so forth. His classmates at school teased him for loving such a ridiculous and unlikely story. The teasing eventually drove him to tear up with collection of carefully cut out comic strips. And he was miserable for some time afterward. The bit I found most profound in this version of the story was his realization that the classmates who made fun of the stories he loved weren’t his friends, they were his enemies. It was a realization that resonated deeply.

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury's “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

A later paragraph from Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” (click to embiggen)

But it’s a realization that is difficult to remember when one is on the other side of that divide. We’ve all been there: a friend or relative is completely enamored with an activity or book or series or movie that we just can’t stand. And try as we might, we can’t understand what they see in it. Assuming that the pastime in question isn’t something that harms anyone (so let’s leave dog fighting and fox hunting and the like out of the discussion), it shouldn’t matter to us where their enthusiasm goes, right?

And yet it it can bother us a lot.

Some works of art (movies, books, TV series) are racist or sexist or misogynist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, but still have some redeeming qualities. We’ve all liked something which had some problematic stuff in it. The original Dune novel is homophobic (the more evil a character was, the more gay they were, no good character is even bi-curious), for instance, but I still really enjoyed the novel when I read it as a teen (and the first few sequels). I still like the book, but now that I’ve become aware enough to recognize the homophobia, there is a caveat when I recommend it.

I wrote a lot of fan fiction in my late teens and early twenties and some of it utilized the same problematic trope as Dune: the few bisexual and gay characters I wrote back then tended to be at least a bit on the wicked side. This was true for a while even after I started coming out to myself as queer. So while I can’t excuse the inherent homophobia in a lot of stories written in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s, I understand that it doesn’t always come from an actively malicious place. I’ve also written before about how shocked I was when, after someone pointed out a certain amount of sexism in a story I’d written, that when I looked at a lot of my other works with that in mind, there was casual sexism all over the place. So just because someone is able to enjoy a piece of art because of a small amount of problematic content that doesn’t necessarily mean that they endorse the prejudice.


While I’m willing to let other people like whatever they want, I’m not required to approve of their choices or withhold judgment. If someone only likes things that are extremely anti-semetic, for instance, it’s perfectly okay to infer from that predilection that the person is more than okay with anti-semetism. Furthermore, if:

  • the only works a person likes pushes a misogynist, homophobic, racist agenda;
  • and/or if they actively try to exclude works that give marginalized people a place at the table;
  • and/or if they actively harass fans who recommend works that center marginalized people;
  • and/or if they campaign against writers or artists because of their race, ethnic background, sexual identity, et cetera;
  • and/or if they say that portraying queers or people of color and so forth in a positive manner represents an existential threat to civilization…

…they have clearly shown that, like Bradbury’s classmates, they are not friends, and are actually enemies. Not just enemies of queers and other marginalized people, but in my not-so-humble opinion, enemies of science fiction/fantasy itself. I firmly believe and will always insist that sf/f is ultimately about hope. Even the most dystopian sci fi and gruesome horror hinges on a glimmer of hope. I am not being a hypocrite or intolerant if I decide to stop spending time with enemies (which includes exposing myself to their opinions). I am simply following Bradbury’s example: I’m taking my dinosaurs and leaving the room.

That’s enough about that, for now.

Voting on the Hugo Awards ends soon, and I’ve been fiddling with my ballot off and on for a while. Because of the move, I didn’t get around to downloading the Hugo Packet until later than usual. And because the unpacking is still going on and June at work was all about lots of very long hours, I’ve been having trouble reading all the stuff that made the ballot which I hadn’t already read.

Anyway, the status of my ballot as of Wednesday night is behind the link…

Read More…

Da, DA, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, dut-dut-da-daaaaaa! I love sf/f soundtracks

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I'd never imported them to my iTunes library!

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I’d never imported them to my iTunes library!

I saw the original Star Wars on opening night. I’ve written a few times before of being a 16-year-old geeky/nerd and my slightly older geek/nerd friends who always heard about every obscure genre movie before anyone else did who drove me down to a big theatre in a suburb of Portland, Oregon to see this thing… and it was awesome. The very next day we gathered up a bunch of our nerdy friends and made another trip to go see it. I immediately became one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. That summer, the soundtrack came out of vinyl, so I had to buy the album. The show was such an incredible surprise blockbuster, that someone made a disco single versions of the theme that became a number one hit. A bunch of my nerdy friends spent the summer touring with the evangelical teen choir of which I was technically a member (but was not deemed worthy to go—the ins and outs of that and how it was influenced by people’s suspicions I was queer is worthy of some separate posts, but not today). And I had a very hard time getting a couple of them to listen to the album when they got back, because they’d all heard the awful disco song on the radio.

But once I got them to listen, they all loved it, too.

I played that album a lot. But vinyl records lose fidelity over time because each time you play them the physical needle that has to run through the groove to vibrate because of the shape of the groove and translate those microvibrations into sound also wears the groove smooth, slowing destroying the sound. I played it enough that, a few years later when the second movie came out and I bought the soundtrack album for it, I could hear the difference in some of the repeated themes, and bought myself a fresh copy of the first album, played it once to make a cassette tape, and put it away. I also made a tape of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and stopped listening to the vinyl album. I listened to both cassettes often enough that eventually I had to get the albums out again to make fresh tapes.

And yes, eventually I ended up with a vinyl version of the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi. For many years after that, I would only occasionally play the vinyl albums, relying instead on the homemade cassette copies when I wanted to listen to them. I did this with a number of sci fi movie and TV series soundtracks through the 80s and early 90s: buy the vinyl album listen at least once while I made a cassette copy, then put the album carefully away and listened to the cassette as often as I liked. And I really enjoyed listening to the music for movies and other shows that I loved.

And then along came compact discs. I started buying new music on disc, and as I could afford it, if I found CD versions of favorite old albums, I would buy them. At some point in this period of time, I found a disc that was titled, “The Star Wars Trilogy” as recorded by the Utah Symphony Orchestra (the originals had all been done by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams) for a very reasonable price, and I bought it.

In 1997, 20 years after the original release of the first movie, a set of three 2-disc Special Edition sets of the soundtracks for all three of the original Star Wars movies were released, so I finally picked up the full soundtracks on CD. These sets had considerably more music than had been included in the old vinyl albums. They had also been remastered. Each of the discs was printed with holographic images of the Death Star and other ships from the universe. Each set came with a mini hardbound book with notes about the music. They were cool. I listened to them fairly frequently for a few years.

When I first acquired what they called at the time a Personal Digital Assistant (a Handspring Visor, to be specific), it came with a disc of software to help synchronize your calendar and contacts with your Windows computer. When I upgraded a couple years later, the new disc of software included a copy of Apple’s new music manager, iTunes (the Windows version), which you could use to put music on your PDA. At the time I often listened to music while working on computer by pulling discs out of a small shelf unit I kept in the computer room and stuck in a boombox we kept in there. The little shelf held only a subset of my library, as the rest of our discs were in a much bigger shelf unit in the living room next to the main stereo. So I grabbed some of the discs from the small shelf, stuck them in the CD drive on my Windows tower, and let them get imported into iTunes. That was the original core of my current iTunes library, from which I created my first playlists—imaginatively named “Writing,” “Writing Faust,” “Writing II,” “Layout An Issue,” and “Writing III.” And several tracks from the aforementioned knock-off Star Wars Trilogy disc were included, because that was the only Star Wars music disc I kept in the computer room at the time.

Many years later, I usually listen to music from my iPhone. I had thought that I had imported all of my music from disc into the iTunes library years ago, and most of the time I buy music as downloads, now. I have new playlists which include the Star Wars theme or the Imperial March. So I thought it was all good. I hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to the entire soundtracks of the original movies in years. I have continued to buy new soundtracks for movies I love. I tend to listen to them for a while, and then pick some favorite tracks that go into playlists.

Because of some articles I was reading about the upcoming films in the Star Wars franchise, I decided that I should re-listen to the original soundtrack, and was quite chagrined to discover that, even though I thought my entire iTunes library was currently synched to my phone, all that I had was the knock-off album. (And the wholly downloaded soundtracks from The Force Awakens and Rogue One.) I was even more chagrined when I got home and couldn’t find the original albums in my iTunes library on either computer.

So I went to the big shelf of CDs in the living room (which my husband was actually in the middle of packing), and snagged the three two-disc Star Wars soundtrack sets and carried them up to my older Mac Pro tower (because it still has an optical disc drive). I now finally have the albums on my iPhone. Sometime after we finish the move, I’ve going to have to go through playlists to replace the versions from the knock-off album with the authentic score. Because, that’s what I should be using!

Also, clearly, after we’re all unpacked at the new place, I need to go through the rest of the discs and see what other music which I thought was in my library is still sitting trapped in a physical disc which never gets used any more so I can import them to the computers. I mean, our stereo doesn’t even have a disc player!

The incredibly true confessions of a totally queer sci fi geek

“Half naked... staring at phallic spaceships... totally straight, right?” © Syd Barrett (Click to embiggen)

“Half naked… staring at phallic spaceships… totally straight, right?” © Syd Barrett (Click to embiggen)

The Hugo Award Finalists were announced yesterday. This is the first year with two rules changes that were enacted to try to prevent certain angry reactionary (misogynist racist homophobic) parties from slate-nominating a bunch of horrible stuff onto the ballot. The pups took over entire categories of the ballot two years ago (but we No Awarded all of those categories), and slightly less-destructively last year. The good news! They only got one nominee in on a few categories (plus two nominees in one), and even then, several of their slate pics were works that almost certainly would have gotten on the ballot without their help. I don’t want to re-hash the two puppy camps, their arguments and so forth here, because plenty of pixels have been spilled on that already. For this queer old fan, a big reason science fiction and fantasy holds a big place in my heart because its promise of better worlds and a better future was how I survived the bullying, bashing, hatred, and rejection of my childhood. That there are people who so despise people like me being included in works of sf/f that they’ll organize a bloc-voting scheme is more than a little infuriating.

But there are a few things to talk about on this year’s finalist ballot and the new rules. Mike Glyer at File 770 does some number sifting in an attempt at Measuring the Rabid Puppies Effect on the 2017 Hugo Ballot. David Gerrold, science fiction author (including perhaps most famously the Star Trek Original Series script, “The Trouble with Tribbles”) and 2015 World Con Guest of Honor sums up a lot of my throughs in a post of Facebook, part of which I excerpt here:

“My seat-of-the-pants analysis (I could be wrong) is that the Hugos are in the process of recovering from the 2015 assault, precisely because the Worldcon attendees and supporters see themselves as a community.

“There’s a thought buried in that above paragraph — that communities unite to protect themselves when they perceive they are under attack. This works well when the attack is real, such as Pearl Harbor. But it can also have negative effects when hate-mongers such as Bryan Fischer and Pat Robertson (both of whom were in fine form this week) invent a scapegoat (LGBT people) for unwarranted attacks in an attempt to unite the community around their own agendas.

“So while those who have a long history of participation in Worldcons will see this unity as a good thing — those who identify themselves as the aggrieved outsiders will see it as more evidence that the establishment is shutting them out.

“Myself, I see it as a collision of two narratives — one that is based on 75 years of mostly healthy traditions, and one that is based on a fascist perception of how the world works.

“Most important, however, is that most of this year’s ballot suggests that we are seeing a return to the previous traditions of nominations based on excellence. Most of the nominations are well-deserved, and my congratulations to the finalists.”
—David Gerrold

I would characterize the two narratives as:

  • one thinks that a better tomorrow includes the notion that Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a good thing, and
  • the other that thinks the world was a better place when the heroes were always white men, while women only appeared in stories for the two purposes of being rescued by the hero and being his reward for a job well done.

But Gerrold’s wording works well, too.

Anyway, because of the drubbing they received the last two years and the rules change, one of the puppy groups essentially folded up shop. The other, realizing that the rules made it nearly impossible for them to take over entire categories, went with a more limited ticket this year. As mentioned in one of the links above, this resulted in them naming about 7% of the nominees, and a few of their picks are complete piles of steaming meadow muffins. Which means in every category we have four or more excellent choices to evaluate and choose from. Not everyone sees this year’s ballot as good news. One puppy apologist tries to claim that this year’s balloting numbers proves that the Hugos have driven off half the fandom (here’s a Do Not Link to his post if you want to read it). Now this is a person who claims that we’ve been telling Christian and conservative fans that they aren’t welcome. Whereas all that has happened is that more than a token number of people of color and an occassion LGBT person has made it onto the ballot.

Anyway, his reasoning is dubious on a mathematical level. First, he shows that the number of nominating ballots dropped by between 42-46% in some categories, and that sounds dire. Until you remember that the number of nominators surged last year way above the usual number precisely because after news got out about how the puppies had piddled on the ballot in 2015, a bit more than 2300 fans who had not previously been voters bought supporting memberships and voted in 2015. The overwhelming majority of those new voters resoundingly voted No Award in the categories the puppies had taken over. Fewer of those fans returned to nominate in 2016 for variety of reasons, but not all of them, by any means. Again, the majority handed the puppies a resounding rebuke and we passed two rules changes that made the bloc voting scheme less likely to succeed.

Statistical analysis of the nominating and voting in 2015 and 2016 showed that the number of puppy voters was probably no more than about 250 people those two years. That many people nominating in lockstep could take over the entirety of some down-ballot categories, but it couldn’t win. The larger of the two puppy groups gave up this year—not posting recommendations, not writing their angry blog posts, and generally not bringing a lot of attention to the cause. Their 250 people could not account for more than a fraction of the 1600 nominator drop that happened this year. Most of those 1600 who didn’t participate are from that group of fans who joined for the explicit purpose of opposing the puppies, and now believe that the rule changes and so forth have taken care of the problem.

Analysis of the partial numbers we have from this year’s nominations indicates that the remaining puppy voters number between 65 and 80 people. That’s a 68% drop-off in their group, a far more significant number, I think.

There have always been fewer nominators than voters. Nominating (filling in five blanks in each category) is harder work than voting (choosing from a small list of finalists in each category). And in order to vote or nominate you must purchased at least a supporting membership to WorldCon. A lot of fans don’t have the extra money laying around to buy a membership to a WorldCon that they aren’t attending. So you have to be pretty devoted to the ideas of sci fi/fantasy and/or feel a certain amount of sentiment toward the Hugo Awards themselves to participate year in and year out. Folks who normally don’t spend those funds on that felt something we loved was under assault, and we shifted our priorities a bit to make a stand.

The puppies whipped up some reactionary anger by referring to certain past winners as being motivated by nothing more than Political Correctness, and spinning a very distorted narrative that some of their favorite authors weren’t winning because of an anti-conservative or anti-christian agenda. An angry desire to give the middle finger to so-called PC elites might motivate people to spend some money and do some copy-and-pasting once or twice, but it’s hard to sustain that anger.

I love science fiction and fantasy. I think of it as a literature of hope and imagination. Even dystopian sf, in my opinion, touches on that hope for a better tomorrow even while it portrays a dire future. I am not the only fan, by any means, who was drawn to the literature because I felt like an outsider who didn’t belong in the mundane world of the present. Sf/f has always attracted outcasts of all sorts, which is why many more fans (not just the people of color, the women, and the queers) felt it was worth defending. I know that at least some of the puppies feel as if they are outcasts, though their argument is difficult to back up with facts. White male authors still make up a disproportionately overwhelming majority of the published works, and usually a majority of the nominees for these sorts of awards. They aren’t in any danger of being excluded. I’ve voted for books and stories in the past written by people I knew I disagreed with politically, because the story was good. It isn’t the political views of the author (and not usually of the story, though some of the examples in 2015 were so heavy-handed at hitting the reader over the head with politics and religion that I started to wonder if it wasn’t supposed to be a parody).

I want sf/f to be welcoming, yes. But not so welcoming that people who have literally called for the extermination of writers who include queer characters in stories to feel welcome. Or call an author who happens to be African a savage. I do have my limits.

See, I want the awards to recognize cool stuff written by people who really love telling stories. I like it when the ballot includes stories and authors I’ve not previously heard of. I like it even better when those stories make me want to read more by that person in the future. I don’t want “inclusive” stories or “diverse” stories for the sake of diversity, I want stories that look like the real world, where cisgender people and trans people and people of color and straight people and not-straight people and people of many different religions and people of no religion and people of different abilities are all included. Not to meet a quota, but because that’s how the real world is now! Yeah, as a queer man I’m happy when I see queer characters in a story, but it isn’t enough on its own to make me vote for it.

She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness — more of why I love sf/f

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

Anthony Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandon Nicholas, Allison Hannagan and James Marsters from a BtVS publicity shot.

I am one of the biggest, craziest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans you will ever meet. But I wasn’t always one. I saw the original movie when it came out, and thought it was very funny. There were some things I didn’t like about it, but it was a good laugh and a fun inversion of the typical teen horror film. Then a few years later I heard they were making a television series out of it, and I was certain it would be very bad. My late husband, Ray, watched it from the beginning when it started airing as a midseason replacement in March of 1997 and told me it was awesome. At the time, it aired on a night when I frequently had board meetings or committee meetings for the chorus, so I wasn’t home while he was watching it.

He managed to get me to watch an episode or two with him that summer, because he had a lot of the season on video tape. I don’t remember hating it, but it also didn’t really grab me. Season two started that fall. I remember one particular evening when I got home for chorus rehearsal that Ray was telling me about the show and how much he was looking forward to next week’s episode, because there had been a cliffhanger.

Two nights later, Ray had a seizure and went into a coma. Then he died, and I fell apart.

Some time after he died, I was alone in the house doing something, and I heard a noise from another room. I went to see what was going on, and one of the VCRs was rewinding furiously, then popped its tape out. In 1997 DVRs didn’t exist. We owned three video cassette recorders, though, and Ray had a complicated schedule of pre-programmed recordings, and a pile of labeled tapes. He would swap out tapes at different times in the week, so that the different machines would record the next episode of whichever series was kept on that tape.

And I hadn’t been keeping up.

This was maybe two weeks after Ray had died. I was still deep in the shell-shocked stage of grieving. So the idea that I hadn’t kept Ray’s rotation going seized me as a terrible thing. I was letting him down! I had let the wrong shows get recorded on the wrong tapes! Who knows what else I had messed up? Never mind that Ray was beyond caring about these things. I wasn’t rational. When someone you love dies, even the most stoic and logical person has some moments of irrationality over take them.

So I tried to sort out what was going on with the tapes. And that’s how I ended up watching all of the season two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with about half of the season one episodes out of order (because his labelling system wasn’t always discernible to anyone but him) in a very short time.

There’s a lot of things that happened to me in those first few months after Ray died that I don’t remember clearly. But one of the few crystal clear moments was one point when I was staring at the TV and I said aloud, “Dang it, Ray! You were right. This show is incredible!”

I was addicted.

Don’t get me wrong, the show has problems. I can rant for hours and hours about how monumentally awful were most of the decisions the writers made in season six, for instance. And the many ways that season seven doubled down on some of the failure. Even before the universally despised season six, there was the incredible frustration of how the first half of season four showed such brilliance and promise of taking things to a new level, then collapsed into a world of disappointment and lost opportunity. And oy! Trying to make sense of both the explicit and implicit contradictions about the nature of magic, demons, the biology of vampires…!

Dru and Spike!

Dru and Spike!

But there were so many things the show got right. One of the things they got most right is casting James Marsters and Juliet Landau as Spike and Drusilla, the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen of the undead set (and if you don’t know who they are, your life is sadly lacking in Sex Pistols, is all I’m saying). There was a point, after I had acquired the complete DVD set of season two of the series, where literally at least once a week I re-watched the episode that introduced Spike and Dru, “School Hard.” They were evil and cold and vicious and Dru is crazier than a coked out mutt in a hubcap factory. But they were also madly deeply in love. Spike rather proudly proclaimed himself love’s bitch in a later season, “at least I’m man enough to admit it!”

What made the show work was the relationships between the characters. Joss Whedon and his crew created a world in which a small, pretty girl regularly kicked the butts of evil creatures. A world where the real problems that teens try to deal with often made the monsters seem trivial by comparison. Some of the creatures of darkness were metaphors for the problems humans face coming of age, yep. And sometimes the parallel between the mundane story lines and the supernatural ones were a little on the nose.

But then there were the moments of brilliance, such as when everything had been taken from her: her first love turned evil, her best friend lying dying in a hospital, she’s been kicked out of her home, everything she cared about either broken, dying, or lost; the villain has fought her back into a corner and is berating her about all she has lost and all who have abandoned her. “What have you got?” he asks with a sneer, as he thrusts what we think is a killing blow with an enchanted sword. She catches the blade between her hands, looks him in the eye with the most amazing fuck-you glare of determination and says, “I’ve got me.” Then proceeds to kick his butt and save the world.

Those sorts of moments, where a simple refusal to give up in the face of impossible odds, and the many times that various characters in the story sacrificed for their loved ones and found a way out of a hopeless situation—they were what made the ups and downs of the show worth it. And I want to be clear: one of the things they did right more than once was not that the characters found that one last glimmer of hope in the midst of despair and defeat; rather, the characters made their own hope. Yes, Buffy was about empowerment. Buffy was about the damsel being able to rescue herself. Buffy was about turning notions of victims and saviors on their heads. Buffy was about seeing that the questions of good vs evil aren’t always black and white; that part of being a hero (and a big part of growing up) is about learning to make your way through all those shades of grey without losing yourself.

But mostly, Buffy was about love, chosen families, and not giving up.

Destiny, prophecy, self-discovery, and love — more of why I love sf/f

Cover of Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, cover design by Olga Grlic (click to embiggen)

Cover of Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell, cover design by Olga Grlic (click to embiggen)

Carry On — The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery.” So begins the official blurb on this novel that I found myself enjoying far more than I thought I would. First, an explanation. Rainbow Rowell, the author of Carry On first came to my attention through a recommendation on a podcast. Her work was described by one of the people on the podcast as being young adult novels that didn’t feel like YA. They also noted that she handled non-heterosexual characters really well. So I looked up some of her books and put them on my wish lists, but I hadn’t gotten around to actually trying one.

And then fan art for a book that seemed to be about teen wizards (but not characters I recognized) started appearing on my tumblr dashboard for a series that I’d never heard of: the Simon Snow series. Except there is no Simon Snow series. One of the novels by Ms. Rowell that I’d put on my list was entitled, Fangirl, and the blurb was that the main character, Cath, is just starting college, and that for the last few years her life has been dominated by her love for a series of urban fantasy novels. And these novels star a young man named Simon Snow.

In order to write convincingly about a fan who is very active in writing fanfic and has a number of close friends within the fandom, Rowell had to plot out a fictitious fantasy series. At least enough for the characters to talk about it as if it were a real series. Fangirl was a success, and received a lot of praise, particularly in sf/f circles, despite not being a fantasy story itself, because the portrayal of fannish culture was considered spot on.

After finishing that book, Rowell wound up writing a Simon Snow book. She didn’t write the entire series, she wrote a book that can be looked on as the next book that was published after all the books that Cath and her friends had been fans of in 2013 (when Fangirl was published). So, Carry On is not a sequel to Fangirl. Carry On is a sequel to the fictitious series which is talked about in Fangirl.

The magical world of Carry On bears a strong resemblance to the Harry Potter series, though it isn’t a parody or a satire. It also bears certain parallels to other young adult fantasy series. The plot seems straightforward, at first. Simon Snow attends a wizarding school called Watford. He was not born in the wizarding world, but he has immense power and various prophetic signs indicate that he is the person who is destined to defeat the Insidious Humdrum. The Insidious Humdrum is a mysterious being which, when it attacks, drains all of the magic out of the area, leaving what appear to be permanent dead zones where wizards and other magical creatures become powerless. Simon doesn’t know how he is going to defeat this creature, and has so far failed to master his magical powers. His powers are massive, but out of his control, and things tend to get destroyed when he tries to use them. His roommate at the school, Baz (full name, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch) is Simon’s nemesis at school, and is assumed by everyone to be the person destined to try to kill Simon when the big battle with the Humdrum finally happens.

But the story isn’t really about the conflict between Simon and the Humdrum. It’s really about the nature of prophecy, what does it mean to be a chosen one, and how people (whether mortal politicians or master mages) twist belief and hope to fit their own agendas. It’s about identity, not just what it means to be a hero or villain (or the fact that it is seldom either/or), but there are allegories for ethnic identity issues and class identity issues. Oh, and more than a bit about sexual and romantic identity (which aren’t always the same thing).

There is a ghost story. There are several mysteries. And there is even a love story. There are battles magical, political, and personal. And it all hangs together very well. I have to admit, I think the wizarding world portrayed in Carry On makes a lot more sense than the world of Harry Potter, or a number of other fantasies of similar ilk, even though the magic part of the story isn’t the main focus of the plot.

I’m not sure that those two observations are unrelated.

I enjoyed the book a lot. I didn’t find most of the plot developments surprises. As one reviewer put it, the revelations as the story moves along feel more like confirmations of your existing suspicions than plot twists. But again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s part of why the story hangs together better than some other books we could name.

I enjoyed the book a lot. It didn’t end quite as I hoped it would, but it ended in a way that felt right and satisfying regardless. It did make me wish that some of the series and fantasy books had handled their characters as well as Rowell does. I hope that the next person who undertakes this sort of tale takes note.

What’s better than Bikini Armor Battle Damage? Magic Meat March!

Magic Meat Week is reformatting into a month-long challenge (with a theme for every day of March). (click to embiggen)

Magic Meat Week is reformatting into a month-long challenge (with a theme for every day of March). (click to embiggen)

A couple of years ago fantasy illustrator Amanda Sharpe came up with the idea to dedicate an entire week to the creation of hot fantasy dudes… or… as they called it, Magic Meat Week.

For one week each the last couple years they encouraged artists to draw “hella objectified fantasy dudes,” post them to Tumblr, and tag the art #MagicMeatWeek ”

This year they want all of March to be Magic Meat March.

I learned about the event from of the awesome Bikini Armor Damage tumblr. I’ve linked to an written about Bikini Armor Battle Damage before, which pokes fun at the weird sexual objectification and impractical armor drawn on fantasy women in video games, comic books, and so on. You may recall the Bikini Magic Bingo card shared here and many, many places, for instance. Anyway, I’m not a good enough artist to really do this, but I love the idea of putting male characters in the same kinds of strange flesh-baring armor and fantasy costumes the women get drawn in all the time. So I’m spreading the word!

And yes, I like looking at the pretty artwork of the pretty, pretty men. I mean, the empowered men. Right! They’re empowered, not being objectified and shown in ridiculous costumes in overly sexualized poses which would never work in actual combat. No. Empowered. That’s what they are.

Oh! And there’s a theme for each day of the month! The event has its own blog: Magic Meat March. Check it out!

(Hey! I can’t just blog about serious stuff all the time! I’m a queer nerd, after all…)

%d bloggers like this: