As more than one study has shown, emotions are actually necessary to processing logical problems. Our brains have evolved as a system to process information from our senses to evaluate our environment and make decisions about how to survive and succeed, and that processing involves hormones and emotions on at least an equal footing with what most people would think of as pure data. And as a social species, we are hardwired to take in cues from other members of our species into account, as well. This is true whether one is neurotypical or not. How a non-neurotypical person processes some of that input is what’s different, not that they don’t process it at all.
That biological need to take into account the feelings of others isn’t an accident. It’s part of a fundamental aspect of what has made our species successful thus far. Survival of the fittest means the fittest species to fill ecological niches, not the fittest individuals. Social animals, including humans, are fit for the environment because they take care of each other. Not because of a transactional obligation, but because a particular social unit benefits from having many members, sharing the burdens of keeping an eye out for danger, finding food, raising offspring, and so forth. Taking care of each other shouldn’t be thought of as a matter of charity—it should be recognized as necessary to the survival of the species.
And that’s just one of the reasons why feelings are important. Keeping track of each other’s physical and emotional health—maintaining each others’ goodwill and trust—are vital parts of our survival strategy.
But I most often encounter myths about logic divorced from emotion in certain fannish arguments where some people want to assert that there are objective criteria by which one can determine the definitive quality of a particular work. This is usually used as a cudgel to bludgeon fans who like things that the self-proclaimed logician dislikes, as well as fans who do not care for the favored thing of the logician.
And that’s just incorrect.
We’re talking about being fans of something. Since the logician is making a claim of definitive determination, let us turn to the Oxford Dictionary definition of fan which applies: “an enthusiast for a particular person or thing.” This sense of the word is derived from the word fanatic, which Oxford further informs us means: “A fanatical person, a person filled with excessive enthusiasm.”
Enthusiasm is an emotion, specifically a “strong intensity of feeling in favour of something or someone” and a “passionate eagerness or interest.”
Emotions, by definition are not rational.
While it is possible to evaluate a particular work of art (whether a novel, movie, television episode, graphic novel, short story, et cetera) in terms of craftsmanship, it will never be an entirely objective analysis. Feelings, preferences, and expectations will always color these evaluations. That doesn’t mean the evaluations are meaningless, we just have to recognize that there will always be subjectivity involved.
Also, craftsmanship isn’t the be all and end all of art. I might well agree that a particular story employs clever use of language and high skill at plotting and dialogue and characterization, I may also still not like the story for reasons complete separate from craftsmanship. Which is a perfectly valid part of the evaluation, review, and critique process.
Fan are passionate. Many of us love talking about the things we passionately like, and sometimes the things we passionately dislike. Some fans love to debate. Others just discuss. And the level of enthusiasm some of us feel make it sound like we are debating when we think we’re discussing.
Art, story telling, and the appreciation of those things are inherently non-rational. Which means that there is no formula or algorithm to settle upon a definitive, objective, or categorical determination of the relative quality of different works. Because, again, we’re talking about passion, enthusiasm, enjoyment, and satisfaction. All non-rational things.
When who plug in a bunch of non-rational ingredients into a purely rational process, you’re not going to get a meaningful answer.
And that’s simply logical.
About two years later—after I had transferred to university in Seattle—I was involved in a conversation with a couple of different friends who were enthusing about a book and its sequel that they both quite enjoyed. One of them had a copy of the second books with him, and suggested I give it a try. “You don’t need to have read the first book to get this one,” he assured me. The cover looked suspiciously familiar, but I didn’t quite put two-and-two together.
Until later that week when I was trying to read it, and realized that the author of the book was the same as the other book from two years ago, and the protagonist that I had despised before was the main character of this book, too. So I gave it back, thanking my friend from loaning it, but admitting that I hadn’t liked it.
About three years later, on our regular gaming night, a group of friends which included the two guys who had tried to get me into the series before were going on and on and on about this latest book in the series. One of them, however said, “Oh, wait, you already tried these books before, didn’t you?” But one of the other guys chimed in to say that the first three books in the series had not been anywhere near as good as the latest, and the next thing I knew I was borrowing someone’s copy of the eighth book in the series.
Admittedly, the main character of book eight was a completely different character who wasn’t quite as irritating as the other guy had been, but I still found myself getting bogged down and rolling my eyes a lot at things in the book until finally I once again gave up.
A few times over the eight years, some subset of friends or acquaintances in various fannish or gaming situations would talk about the series, including explaining which were their favorites and which they could take or leave. And at least one more time during this interval I picked up another book in the series, but it just didn’t grab me.
I found myself after that in a conversation with another friend about the series. She was a little bit surprised that I didn’t like it, as she thought a lot of the themes the author explored were things I enjoyed. We ended up having a very long conversation about books other people had recommended that we didn’t like, and why we thought that was in various cases. This last conversation happened around the same time that my first husband, Ray, was undergoing chemotherapy. Or maybe it was during one of his surgeries? What I know is that the conversation happened in a waiting room at a medical facility where she was hanging out with me specifically to give me emotion support and distract me a bit.
A few months later, Ray died —just two weeks before Thanksgiving. Just before Christmas, she dropped by one day to drop off a Christmas present, but more importantly, to loan me a few books. Most of the books in the pile I recognized as series that I had been interested in trying one day. And then one of the books was in the series that people had been trying to get me to try for a long time.
She pulled it out of the pile and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation we had about why you didn’t like other books in this series. The more I think about it, I think if any of the books will appeal to you, it’s this one. Give it a try. I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.”
It was one of the books I stuck in my suitcase when I went to spent about a week at Mom’s for the holiday. Mom tended to go to bed a lot earlier than I did, at least on the nights that weren’t filled with holiday things with the family. So the first night after Christmas, I was laying in her guest room, trying to occupy myself quietly until I was ready to sleep. And I opened up the loaned copy of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. I had intended to just force myself to read it for an hour or so until I go sleepy. Because I was not at all confident that I’d like it any more than any of the other Discworld books I had tried before.
The next thing I knew, I was on the last page of the book. The sun had risen outside. I had stayed up all night, eagerly turning pages to find out what happened next!
I re-read the book from beginning to end two more times before that vacation was over. Shortly after getting home, I was telling my friend how much I loved it and that I knew I needed to get my own copy. A couple days later she dropped by and loaned me the next book from the series with the same character, Witches Abroad. And while at the end of Wyrd Sisters I was a big fan of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Greebo the world’s scruffiest cat, by the end of Wyrd Sisters, I was ready to say that Granny Weatherwax was the greatest fictional character ever created.
It was at this point that the friend advised me that there was an earlier book starring Granny Weatherwax, but it was “written while Pratchett was still figuring out the world, so it’s almost like she’s only a similar character who happens to have the same name.”
Over the course of the next few months I read all of the witches books in the Discworld series which existed at that time (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Maskerade). By this time I was dating Michael, and he was as surprised as many other friends had been that it had taken me so long to start reading these books. It was his copy of the first Granny Weatherwax book, Equal Rites, that I finally read. And I could see that my other friend had been correct, if I’d read it before I had come to love the more fully realized Granny, I would definitely not have liked it.
Having reached the end of the witch books available at the time, I was eyeing some of the other books in the series, when the friend who had picked Wyrd Sisters for me said, “Skip the earlier guard books. Start with Feet of Clay, then if you like the characters try circling back to the beginning.”
And that’s how I eventually wound up reading (and buying my own copies of) almost the entire Discworld series mostly out of order. Because the earlier ones did make more sense once I had gotten into the mindset of the series overall.
The earliest books in the series feel like broad parodies of epic fantasy novels. They have their funny moments, but when the jokes clunk, they remind me (at least) of the non-parody fantasy books that I love and make me wish I was reading one of those.
Wyrd Sisters, in my humble opinion, was the first time that one of the discworld books became full-on satire. Parodies always contain satirical elements, but a full literary satire doesn’t lampoon or ridicule an individual person or work—it uses the elements of irony and humor to lampoon society as a whole.
Several of the books immediately following Wyrd Sisters strayed a bit back into more broad parody elements, but by Reaper Man and Witches Abroad, Pratchett had finally found the groove of holding up a mirror to the reader and the world we live in rather than poking fun at individual works.
This post was originally supposed to be about Witches Abroad, why I love it, and how it changed the way I looked at the world, so maybe I should get to those specifics.
The premise: the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre is served by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlik. There are many other witches who live in neighboring and not quite so neighboring communities, but these three form the core of most of the witches books. Nanny Ogg is the ultimate grandmother—she has outlived a rather large number of husbands, has sons working in various jobs in her hometown and the neighboring communities, a large number of daughters-in-law who fear her, and innumerable grandchildren. She loves to drink and is famous for singing a particularly naught song. Magrat is the youngest of the coven, and is prone to trying new and modern things like crystals and meditation. Granny is older, has never married, and would never, ever be described as nice. But she is also the undisputed leader of their coven, and the one that everyone turns to when the situation gets dire.
This particular book is kicked off when a witch who lives in a neighboring county dies, and leaves a powerful magic wand (and the fairy godmothering duties that go with it) to Magrat. And she writes her will in a way that she knows will provoke Granny and Nanny to insist on going with Magrat to help the girl she is now the godmother to.
The middle of the book involves adventures the three witches have traveling through unfamiliar lands (with a lot of funny events along the way). But there is also a growing sense of trouble, as it becomes clear that the goddaughter in the far-off land is under the influence of someone who is quite dangerous, indeed.
When they find the girl (living in a sort of parody of New Orleans), they quickly discover that the other godmother is someone known to Granny and Nanny: Lily Weatherwax, Granny’s older sister.
The image I included above is a bit of dialog from Witches Abroad.
“You’d have done the same,” said Lily.
“No,”“ said Granny. “I’d have thought the same, but I wouldn’t have done it.”
“What difference does that make, deep down?”
“You mean you don’t know?” said Nanny Ogg.
—from Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
Lily does not fit the mold of villain when we first meet her. She is nice and charming. She claims her only goal is to ensure everyone is happy and get what they want. It becomes clear fairly quickly that what Lily really wants is for everyone to act happy and cheerful and more than content with whatever their lot in life is.
I mentioned above that Granny isn’t nice. She is sharp-tongued and blunt. She is ruthless when going up against someone who is causing harm to others. But she isn’t one of those characters who is rough and mean on the outside and turns out to have a soft squishy golden heart. Granny is granite all the way through, but it is a granite of morality.
In the above quote, Lily just given her explanation for why she uses her magic to force people into the roles she deems them suited for. She has explained how people make foolish mistakes, live inefficient lives, and waste a lot of time and effort of frivolities, often causing themselves misery and trouble along the way. Isn’t it better, she argues, for someone like her who can see how they could be happier, to make sure that they are?
When Granny objects, that’s what causes Lily to say, “You’d have done the same.”
It is this exchange that shows the core of Granny’s hard, granite soul. She knows that she is capable of doing immoral things. She has had those unkind, cruel, manipulative thoughts. And she refuses to give in to them. She can be harsh-spoken, but she is always harsher to herself, and she knows that kindness isn’t about how we talk to people, but what we actually do for them.
In more than one of the books, Granny defines evil not as maliciousness nor cruelty nor depravity. No. Evil, she tells us, begins when you start thinking and treating people like things.
The book hits on many other ideas along the way, but I think the heart of it was the revelation that how you treat and care for each other is what matters. And there isn’t a grey area between treating everyone as a person entitled to dignity and consideration, and treating them as expendable.
So other people have been posting about the Hugo ballot since it came out. This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but I found all of these posts interesting and informative.
Cora Buhlert shares her views on the Retro Hugo nominees: Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards and the 2020 finalists: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/04/10/some-thoughts-on-the-hugo-award-finalists-part-ii-the-2020-hugo-awards/.
Nerds of a Feather have a bit to say: Adri and Joe Talk About Books: The Hugo Awards.
Paul Fraser and SF Magazines has some thoughts: 1945 Retro Hugo Award and 2020 Hugo Award Finalists.
And let’s not forget J.J.’s excellent round-up of where you can find most of the nominees or excerpts thereof, online: Where To Find The 2020 Hugo Award Finalists For Free Online.
I have to start this review of the season one finale by paraphrasing Spider Robinson’s famous review of Children of Dune: It’s got plot holes so big you could fly fleets of Borg Cubes through them, but you probably don’t care because it’s such a fun ride. And yes, I think season one as a whole, and the final episode, were fun rides. To quote a friend who is not nearly as hard core of a fan as I am (who binge-watched it at the end and thus didn’t have to wait for any episodes), “Holy shit, that was amazing!”
For all earlier episodes of the series I scheduled my review to publish on the following Monday, in part just so there was some predictability, but there really isn’t a reason to put this off until then.
While there were some groan-worthy moments and several disappointments in the plot, the finale had its amazing moments. And to be perfectly frank, the first season of Star Trek: the Next Generation didn’t hang together half as well as this show has. It’s easy to look back on the old series with rose-colored glasses and only remember the episodes and arcs that we liked and forget the many (or so many) missteps.
Anyway, the rest of this is going to be all spoilers, all the time, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
If you click through, you’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
“Et in Arcadia ego” finds Jean-Luc’s motley crew confronting mortality while wrestling moral dilemmas
We are at the penultimate episode of season one of Star Trek: Picard and it is a doozy! The official title is “Et in Arcadia Ego, part 1” and it ends on many more cliffhangers than any of the previous episodes.
Before we do anything else, I want to geek out a bit about the title of the episode, which I can do without any specific spoilers. The title is in Latin, and the phrase has been used as the title of a number of works of art over the years, most famously a painting by 17th Century French Baroque painter, Nicolas Poussin. The phrase is usually translated into English as, “Even in Arcadia, there am I” where the I in question is usually interpretted to be Death. The usual interpretation of the phrase is that Utopias are never perfect, or that Death is a universal fate everyone faces.
In another interpretation, the painting is used by certain conspiracy theorists (who say that the I in the title is Jesus, not Death) to be proof of their claim that a bunch of Kings of France in the Middle Ages were descendants of Christ.
There are other interpretations, of course. There is no way to know which meaning of the title really applies until we see the finale, which we all assume is entitled, “Et in Arcadia Ego, part 2.” Of course, given that Raffi within the show is a conspiracy theorist, while Commodore Oh, Narek, Narissa, and Ramda are all members of a secret conspiracy, we can’t rule anything out.
This was a fun episode. Lots of interesting things happened. We got answers to some outstanding questions. There were a couple of fun reveals, and some teasers for what might happen in the finale.
Which means we’ve reached the point were I can’t make any other comments without revealing major spoilers. So it is time for the cut-tag. Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
If you click through, you’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
My episode-by-episode reviews of Star Trek: Picard continue with the eighth episode, “Broken Pieces,” in which Raffi, Rios, and Jurati finally meet Soji, while Seven of Nine comes to Elnor’s rescue and is faced with a horrific situation.
This was another bloody episode, with a rather lot of deaths, some depicted less graphically than others. And the deaths were hardly the most disturbing things to happen! I think it was an excellent episode. Since we are nearly to the end of the season, most of all the diverse subplot all start to come together.
I can’t say anything more without major spoilers, which means it’s time for the cut-tag. Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
You’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
I predicted at the end of my last review that things were heating up, and this episode did not disappoint. Several of the plot threads moved forward. There was action and also more than a bit of bloodshed. There was also a boatload of character development. This series continues to be entertaining while also taking the Trek universe into interesting new directions.
I’m not quite willing to say it was a good episode, simply because bad things happened to characters that I think a lot of viewers liked. That doesn’t mean that the quality of the writing or production are bad. Sometimes stories have tragic turns. The quality of the series rises, yet again, in my opinion.
And I think I have now reached the point where it is impossible for me to say anything more without major spoilers. Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
You’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
What more could you ask for?
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
Because I participate in the Hugo Award nomination and voting process, I frequently find myself at this time of year scouring review sites and such looking for things that were published in the last year that I might want to read. Now, I look at review sites and follow-up on book recommendations year-round, but usually when I sit down to nominate and start going back through the things I’ve read recently, it turns out that a large portion of those books and shorter stories were published more than a year ago, and therefore aren’t eligible—hence the need to find and read more things that are eligible to see if any of them wow me enough to nominate.
During this process I occasionally come across recommendations of things that I decide I definitely will not read. Sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the review tells me that the story deals with things I don’t want to read about.
Now, when I have admitted this before, there have been people who chime in to say that it is wrong of me to condemn a story without reading it; why don’t I give it a try, just in case I like it any way? I have two responses to that. The first is, me declining to read a story is absolutely not the same thing as condemning it. Secondly, I don’t owe anyone or anything my attention. How I spend my life (energy, time, money) is my business.
My friends will tell you that when I really like a book or a show or an author, I will enthuse about them rather a lot. I’ll urge them to check it out. If they’re someone I see frequently, I may repeat the recommendation many times. I’m doing this because I really like that thing, I genuinely think that they will too, and it’s fun to share an enthusiasm with friends. Sometimes, I don’t recall that they have already told me that they aren’t interested, or that they checked it out and didn’t like it, or whatever. So I’m not meaning to be annoying. But I know it can come across that way.
I know it, because I’ve had those “Why not give it a try?” conversations mentioned above, and find myself explaining exactly why I’m not interested in a particular subject matter or whatever.
Then, sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the author of the story is someone I find problematic. For instance, back when I was in my early 20s, a series of sci fi books came out that several of my friends were reading and really enjoyed. And the world the books occurred in seemed to be right up my alley. So I read the first book and liked most of it. There were a couple of points where rape—one instance psychic, another physical—figured in the plot in a way that felt unnecessary to me, but other parts of the story were great. But as I read through the subsequent books, physical rape, psychic rape, maiming, and a disturbing number of murders while in the middle of the sex act became more and more prominent.
I decided I didn’t need to read any more in the series. Even though there were a lot more books, and people were gushing about how great they were for years after. And when the author started another series in a related genre, and it became a bestseller, people were again enthusing about it. It had been long enough that I didn’t connect the author’s name with my previous experience until I read some reviews. The guy’s plot, according to all the reviewers, still wallows in rape, grotesque murder, and similar stuff. And I just don’t need to read yet another tale like that.
There are thousands of books that don’t leave me feeling dirty and blood-soaked nor do they cause nightmares. I’ll read those. It’s perfectly fine if other people want to read the blood-soaked rapey books. Me not reading that sort of thing is not the same thing as saying it shouldn’t be published, nor that it shouldn’t have been written. Many years ago, after a series of unpleasant experiences of by verbally harassed by bigots who (correctly) guessed that I was gay, I wound up writing a story in which a gay character was cornered and gay bashed… and rescued. With the bashers dying in the process. It was not great literature. The plot was barely there. Some people read it and enjoyed it. Other people read it and didn’t enjoy it. Some people, I’m quite sure, declined to read it when they saw the content warnings.
And all of those responses are valid.
You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you don’t want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular thing.
A few non-spoilery observations (and let me nerd out about David Bowie for a bit): The name of the planet where most of the action happens this time is called Freecloud, and that made me think of an old David Bowie tune, “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” which was the B-side of the original single release of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “Space Oddity,” in case you don’t recall, is the song with the lyrics, “Ground control to Major Tom,” and is a song that is much beloved by real world astronauts. Alas, “Space Oddity” was not a track on Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, however, since the title of this episode is “Stardust City Rag” I can’t help but hope that the name of both the planet and the city are hat-tips to Bowie.
There are two homages to the character of Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One happens in dialogue, and another is in the background of another scene. There are probably many other Easter eggs I missed, but if you’re setting an Star Trek episode on a lawless planet that seems to be one giant casino, how can you not make some mention of Quark?
Final non-spoilery thing: this isn’t related to tonight’s episode, but have I mentioned that the orchestral soundtrack of the series is available to purchase? I bought it from the iTunes store more than a week ago and have probably listened to it far more than I should. The theme song of the series is just so, so good!
I can’t think of anything more I can say without spoilers, therefore…
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.