TNH's Particles
* Bella Ciao dopo la Santa Messa.
* 27 unbelievably bad maps.
* Dolce and Gabbana, 2013.
* Voracious sea lions swarm the Columbia River.
* David Gerrold on the original Star Trek and SJWs.
* A hair clip for dangerous women.
* The Battle of Karánsebes.
* Every Argument About Buffy On The Internet, From 1998 Until Now.
* The Bingham Family Civil War Memorial Secretary.
* Italians: dragging home massive slabs of fancy stone since time immemorial.
More...
PNH's Sidelights
* John Renbourn, 1944-2015
* Peggy Rae Sapienza, 1944-2015
* On bookstore signings: Terry Pratchett's advice to booksellers
* NYPD computers used to alter Wikipedia entries about people they've killed
* From 2012: Laurie Penny interviews Terry Pratchett
* Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015
* One more time: Fuck. The. Police.
* And just in case you were still unclear: Fuck the police.
* Let us make this perfectly clear: Fuck the police.
* NYPD spokesman: Not the cops' fault, crazy people off their meds just use the police as a way to commit suicide
More...
Abi's Parhelia
* The curious case of the disappearing Polish S
* Snoppen och snippan (YouTube video, probably NSFW)
* Ship your enemies glitter
* An examination and taxonomy of Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants
* Bruegel's Dutch Proverbs, Annotated
* Salt Potatoes
* Building banknote bridges in the Netherlands
* This Old House Erotic FanFic (SFW)
* Lap Sangsouchong
* Stain Solutions
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Jim's Diffraction
* Angelus ad virginem 14th century Irish carol
* Christmas on the Theremin
* Kinect eye patch for Xbox One will protect what's left of your privacy
* Real-Time Wind Map
* IS-907: Active Shooter: What You Can Do
* Smithsonian museum artifacts can now be 3D printed at home
* PunditFact
* A Display You Can Reach Through And Touch
* The Craigslist killers: the full story
* Proposed Museum of Science Fiction
More...
Avram's Phosphenes
Definitely-Not-Filthy Sailing Terminology
Paul Ford on The Dress
The End of Libertarians (via)
I won’t fear Muslims
Higgledy piggledy / Benedict Cumberbatch…
Six hit country songs separated at birth
Halfway There: A Few Words on the 2010s
The War on Jewish Christmas must be stopped
Yellowstone Park’s “Zone of Death”
The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic
More...
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Commonplaces
“We are prophets of a future not our own.” (Oscar Romero)

“Peace means something different from ‘not fighting’. Those aren’t peace advocates, they’re ‘stop fighting’ advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it.” (Jo Walton)

“You really think that safety can be plucked from the arms of an evil deed?” (Darla, “Inside Out”)

“Forgiveness requires giving up on the possibility of a better past.” (unknown)

“The whole point of society is to be less unforgiving than nature.” (Arthur D. Hlavaty)

“You don't owe the internet your time. The internet does not know this, and will never learn.” (Quinn Norton)

“Great writing is the world's cheapest special effect.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” (Gertrude Stein)

“Very few people are stupid. It’s just that the world really is that difficult and you can’t continually be careful.” (Quinn Norton)

“Armageddon is not around the corner. This is only what the people of violence want us to believe. The complexity and diversity of the world is the hope for the future.” (Michael Palin)

“Just because you’re on their side doesn’t mean they’re on your side.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“The fact that ‘there are only a handful of bad cops’ cuts no ice with me. If ‘only a handful of McDonald’s are spitting in your food,’ you’re not going to McDonald’s.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, like always.” (Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars)

“The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.” (G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday)

“When liberty is mentioned, we must observe whether it is not really the assertion of private interests.” (Hegel)

“History is the trade secret of science fiction.” (Ken MacLeod)

“But isn’t all of human history simultaneously a disaster novel and a celebrity gossip column?” (Anonymous LJ commenter)

“I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly.” (Lord Dunsany)

“I grieve for the spirit of Work, killed by her evil child, Workflow.” (Paul Ford)

“The opposite of ‘serious’ isn't ‘funny.’ The opposite of both ‘serious’ and ‘funny’ is ‘squalid.’” (R. A. Lafferty)

“Ki is, of course, mystical bullshit. That’s why it works so well, both as a teaching idiom and a tool of practice in martial arts. It’s as nonexistent as charm, leadership, or acting. Humans are all about bullshit.” (Andrew Plotkin)

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Charles Kingsley)

“Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying.” (The Joker)

“Hope has two daughters, anger and courage. They are both lovely.” (attributed to St. Augustine)

“Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“This movie has way too much plot getting in the way of the story.” (Joe Bob Briggs)

“If there is no willingness to use force to defend civil society, it’s civil society that goes away, not force.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Always side with the truth. It’s much bigger than you are.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.” (Tony Kushner)

“I don’t want politicians who are ‘above politics,’ any more then I want a plumber who’s ‘above toilets.’” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.” (Otto von Bismarck)

“Every organization appears to be headed by secret agents of its opponents.” (Robert Conquest)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” (Anne Lamott)

“Nothing makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner.” (Oscar Wilde)

“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical science-fiction cowboy detective novel.” (Alan Moore)

“See everything, overlook a great deal, improve a little.” (John XXIII)

“You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better.” (John Ruskin)

“They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.” (Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” (Jay Gould)

“I’m a leftist. I don't argue with anyone unless they agree with me.” (Steven Brust)

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” (Mark Twain)

“Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don’t struggle to get them right.” (Stephen Jay Gould)

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” (Gustav Mahler)

“But this kind of deference, this attentive listening to every remark of his, required the words he uttered to be worthy of the attention they excited—a wearing state of affairs for a man accustomed to ordinary human conversation, with its perpetual interruption, contradiction, and plain disregard. Here everything he said was right; and presently his spirits began to sink under the burden.” (Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander)

“Hatred is a banquet until you recognize you are the main course.” (Herbert Benson)

“For a Westerner to trash Western culture is like criticizing our nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere on the grounds that it sometimes gets windy, and besides, Jupiter’s is much prettier. You may not realize its advantages until you’re trying to breathe liquid methane.” (Neal Stephenson)

“‘There are no atheists in foxholes’ isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.” (James Morrow)

“And after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

“The man who tries to make the flag an object of a single party is a greater traitor to that flag than any man who fires at it.” (Lloyd George)

“The United States behaves like a salesman with a fantastic product who tries to force people to buy it at gunpoint.” (Emma of Late Night Thoughts)

“I’m a fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberal, and I think fuzzy-headed warm-hearted liberalism is an ideological stance that needs defending—if necessary, with a hob-nailed boot-kick to the bollocks of budding totalitarianism.” (Charles Stross)

“The real test of any claim about freedom, I’ve decided, is how far you’re willing to go in letting people be wrong about it.” (Bruce Baugh)

“As with bad breath, ideology is always what the other person has.” (Terry Eagleton)

“Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.” (Max Weber)

“No, it’s not fair. You’re in the wrong universe for fair.” (John Scalzi)

“I don’t understand death, but I got hot dish down pretty good.” (Marissa Lingen)

“Skepticism is the worst form of gullibility.” (John “adamsj” Adams)

“We have a backstage view of ourselves and a third-row view of everybody else.” (Garrison Keillor)

“The Reign of Sin is more universal, the influence of unconscious error is less, than historians tell us.” (Lord Acton)

“All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.” (H. L. Mencken)

“Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.” (Janis Joplin)

“Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.” (W. B. Yeats)

“It is a little embarrassing that, after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other.” (Aldous Huxley)

“Never believe in a meritocracy in which no one is funny-looking.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

“Probably no man has ever troubled to imagine how strange his life would appear to himself if it were unrelentingly assessed in terms of his maleness; if everything he wore, said, or did had to be justified by reference to female approval [...] If he gave an interview to a reporter, or performed any unusual exploit, he would find it recorded in such terms as these: ‘Professor Bract, although a distinguished botanist, is not in any way an unmanly man. He has, in fact, a wife and seven children. Tall and burly, the hands with which he handles his delicate specimens are as gnarled and powerful as those of a Canadian lumberjack, and when I swilled beer with him in his laboratory, he bawled his conclusions at me in a strong, gruff voice that implemented the promise of his swaggering moustache.’” (Dorothy L. Sayers)

“Grown ups are what’s left when skool is finished.” (Nigel Molesworth)

“If you don't like the ‘blame game,’ it’s usually because you’re to blame.” (Jon Stewart)

“Slang is for a war of signals.” (Unknown semiotician/palindromist)

“Science fiction is an argument with the world. When it becomes (solely) an argument within science fiction, it breathes recycled air.” (Ken MacLeod)

“All worthy work is open to interpretation the author didn’t intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back.” (Joss Whedon)

“I really don’t know what you do about the ‘taxes is theft’ crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires.” (John Scalzi)

“So whenever a libertarian says that capitalism is at odds with the state, laugh at him. It’s like saying that the NFL is ‘at war’ with football fields. To be a libertarian is to say that God or the universe marked up that field, squirted out the pigskins from the bowels of the earth, and handed down the playbooks from Mt. Sinai.” (Connor Kilpatrick)

“True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.” (Abdal-Hakim Murad)

“There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.” (Joss Whedon)

“There's always romance at the top of a system.” (Will Shetterly)

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.” (John “Second US President” Adams)

“There is a document that records God’s endless, dispiriting struggle with organized religion, known as the Bible.” (Terry Eagleton)

“There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part; and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop, And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.” (Mario Savio)

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

“To live is to war against the trolls.” (Henrik Ibsen)

“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.” (G. K. Chesterton)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

“It’s just a ride and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money, a choice right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” (Bill Hicks)

“I don’t think we have a language, will ever have a language, that can describe transcendence in any useful way and I am aware that that transcendence may be nothing more than the illusory aspiration of a decaying piece of meat on a random rock. The thing is to be humble enough to be content with that while acting to other people as generously as if better things were true, and making art as if it might survive and do good in the world. Because what else are we going to do with the few short years of our life?” (Roz Kaveney)

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” (Iain Banks)

“If it doesn’t connect with people around you who aren’t like you, it isn’t politics.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

March 24, 2015
Distant thunder, and the smell of ozone
Posted by Teresa at 07:08 PM * 657 comments

I’ve been keeping an ear on the SF community’s gossip, and I think the subject of this year’s Hugo nominations is about to explode.

Let me make this clear: my apprehensions are not based on insider information. I’m just correlating bits of gossip. It may help that I’ve been a member of the SF community for decades.

If the subject does blow up, I may write about it in this space. In any event, watch that space.

Hello, pain
Posted by Patrick at 07:48 AM

I’ve had tendonitis in both shoulders for years, from two separate mishaps long ago. And like every practitioner of our brave modern lifestyle of staring at screens while idly mousing for hours at a time, I’ve had small bouts of RSI pain.

But for the last couple of weeks I’ve suddenly been experiencing the worst RSI pain of my life. Basically, I’ve got constant and often unmanageable pain in my entire right arm, from the shoulder down to the back of my hand. For a great deal of this time I’ve found it nearly impossible to type more than a few words. Needless to say, my sleep patterns are a wreck.

I’ve seen my GP; I’ve got a referral to a good physical therapist, and I’ve got painkillers and muscle relaxants which help somewhat (although not without side effects). But obviously this is putting a crimp in my ability to do anything that involves using a computer, like for instance answering email. Not that I’m a world champion at keeping up with email at the best of times, but right now the situation is extreme.

Comments are closed, not because I’m ungrateful for suggestions, but because I’ve already got as much advice as I can deal with. I just want to make it known that I’m temporarily dragging one wing, and that I’m going to be slower than usual on various fronts as a result.

March 18, 2015
Open thread 204
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:27 PM * 315 comments

One of my favorite news stories this week is a local one: IKEA Nederland has denied permission to play hide and seek in its stores.

I totally get this. What amuses the heck out of me is the sheer numbers: thirty-two thousand people signed up on Facebook for a game of it in the southern city of Eindhoven. My local IKEA in Amsterdam was the target for nineteen thousand, and Utrecht came in third with twelve grand.

Another titbit of local news is that the rogue owl of Purmerend has been captured. Runners at an athletic center in the pleasant Noord-Hollands town were targeted for weeks by a large and aggressive eagle owl. The papers dubbed the creature the TERROR OEHOE (pronounced “oohoo”), and reported how locals were being encouraged to protect themselves with umbrellas.

What do these stories have in common, apart from the Dutch?

They’re both about intrusions: the playful crowd intruding on corporate space, the wildness of the owl intruding on human territory. Small intrusions are fine: five hundred people playing hide and seek in a Belgian IKEA last year, flash mobs, the silly waddling oppossums I saw while delivering newspapers as a teenager, urban beekeepers. But then suddenly it’s tens of thousands of people, too many for the targeted shop to safely hold; suddenly it’s “a brick laced with nails” coming after you silently through the air. It’s the urban mountain lions that take out a jogger or two every year few years in Western states; it’s protestors staging #blacklivesmatter die-ins in suburban malls.

On the other hand, these intrusions are only outsized until you see them against the things they’re intruding on. IKEA is a huge global company, one of many huge global companies who have encroached on our physical, legal and cultural commons, hijacking everything from the idea that the market square is a public space to the conversations we have about race. And the outsprawling of our urban spaces has given much of the natural world very little choice but to engage with us. Where else can they go? What corner of the world is free from our presence?

March 15, 2015
You must understand that it is the Borgonzian’s proud tribal culture that requires him to strenuously object when you punch him in the nose and steal his stuff
Posted by Patrick at 12:12 PM * 42 comments

From a piece in the Washington Post, yesterday, “This is why it’s impossible for the Kremlin to lie about Putin’s weird disappearance”:

As for the rest of Russia, if the buzz about Putin’s mysterious absence doesn’t make it on the television screen, it didn’t happen: for 90 percent of the Russian population, TV is the main source of news. And, even if they knew, for a majority of Russians this event would be like most other political events—that is, above their pay grade. When it comes to the intricacies of politics, the prevailing attitude outside Moscow’s liberal circles is a semi-religious one, and it comes from Byzantine culture. Just as the Eucharist is prepared behind the wall of icons that separates the altar from the eyes of the laity, so it is with political maneuvers: We are but mere mortals, unable to understand such mysteries. Let the professionals handle it.
The author, Julia Ioffe, is billed as “a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine” who was, before that, “the Moscow correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker.” And yet despite this evidence of real expertise, one has to wonder. Let’s assume that it’s correct to say that the typical Russian response to evidence of secret high-level political manuevering is to shrug it off as something one can’t affect. Is this, in fact, so specifically a Russian response that it needs to be explained as a result of “Byzantine culture,” with specific reference to the Orthodox form of the Mass? Or is it, in fact, an attitude taken by people all over the world toward high-level political events over which they feel they have no control?

I’m betting that it’s the second, and that this digression in what looks like an otherwise unexceptionable piece is a good example of a brain virus that chronically affects American writing about the rest of the world: the portrayal of perfectly normal behavior by foreigners as evidence of their irreducible exoticism. (Probably not coincidentally, an irreducible exoticism that requires complex explanations by credentialed experts.)

(For that matter, as Teresa remarked when I showed her the passage in question, if the Orthodox Mass really had such power to make people politically passive, recent events in Greece would have gone rather differently.)

This kind of thing has been well-parodied over the last couple of years in Slate’s “If It Happened There” series, in which current US events are described with the tone and tropes frequently used by US media to describe scary foreigners. (“EAST RUTHERFORD, United States—This Sunday, the eyes of millions of Americans will turn to a fetid marsh in the industrial hinterlands of New York City for the country’s most important sporting event—and, some would say, the key to understanding its proud but violent culture.”) But as usual, it was the Onion that truly nailed it, all the way back in 2007, with “Study: Iraqis May Experience Sadness When Friends, Relatives Die.

March 12, 2015
“IT’S TIME, TERRY.” “I know.”
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:21 PM * 90 comments

I started reading Pratchett back when his books were merely funny. No, I tell a lie. They were funny and smart, right from the start.

But what they weren’t at first, what they gradually grew into being, was funny, smart, and passionate. He saw the monstrosities of our world: economic inequality, racism, sexism, religious bigotry, the abuses of narrative and myth. And he made them irresistibly ludicrous, laying them relentlessly out until their inner absurdity smothered them, until the least bizzare and most reasonable thing in the story was that it took place on a disc resting on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant space turtle.

He was both wise and kind. It showed in his books, and it shows in the stories people are swapping about him on Twitter. He left a lot of that wisdom behind. May we all benefit from it.

March 09, 2015
Your “polarizing” opinions are part of what you write with
Posted by Patrick at 12:56 PM * 149 comments

I imagine that lots of Making Light’s regular readers also read John Scalzi’s Whatever, so I don’t link to posts by John every time I find myself in strong agreement with him. (Which is frequently.)

But I want to especially note this fine rant from today, particularly if you’re someone who aspires to write and sell genre fiction, or if you’re someone in the early stages of an actual career doing that. John is responding to an article in a publication of the Romance Writers of America* that advises upcoming writers to avoid discussing controversial—their term is “polarizing”—topics on social media, lest they turn off potential readers. John points out, correctly, that this is terrible advice, and goes on to list the several ways in which this is the case. They’re good points and you should read them all. But the one that interests me most is this:

Speaking as an explicitly commercial writer—I write books that I plan to sell! To a lot of people!—I’m of the opinion that one of the worst ways to be a writer is to shear off or trim down all parts of your life that are not obviously designed to further the goal of selling tons of books. Why? Because then you’re cutting off the parts of your life that inform your writing, and which allow you to create the work that speaks to people, which is to say, to write the stories that people want to read and buy, and make you an author they wish to support.
I couldn’t agree more. Good fiction doesn’t come from struggling to offend no one.** Good fiction comes from being in touch with certain deep parts of yourself, parts necessary to pulling off the trick that is making stories people want to read. Those deep parts will not come out to play if you’re bending your efforts toward being the Most Acceptable Kid At The Prom. To actually do the job you’ve got to be your troublesome and awkward self, because that’s all you really have.

There’s an enormous amount of well-intentioned terrible advice to writers about the crashing importance of “social media” and the absolute necessity of having a “platform” and all the desperate supposed do’s and don’t’s of what writers must and mustn’t do in our brave new age of ubiquitous interwebness. Some of this advice is slung forth in the time-honored diction of Grizzled Old Wise-Guy Pros, and some of it is tremblingly proffered as dire warnings of monsters hiding under the bed. Almost all of it is complete bullshit. In writing, just like in motion pictures, William Goldman is still right.


* Just one article. Not the official position of the Romance Writers of America. Obvs.

** You also don’t have to take a public position on any “polarizing” topic if you don’t feel like it. Also obvs.

March 01, 2015
It is not logical, but it is often true
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:54 AM * 132 comments

I’m still quietly reeling from Leonard Nimoy’s death on Friday.

This isn’t some excessive fangirl reaction, some indulgence in popular over-emotion in the wake of an Officially Sanctioned Sad Event. It’s simply that one of the trellises on which I grew my character is gone, really gone. I felt the same way twelve years ago (to the day) when Fred Rogers died. It’s an inward-looking moment, an understanding that I have to be a grownup and make my own choices, because so many of my leaders and teachers are washing away before my eyes.

It’s simple, but that’s not the same as easy. Reinventing, or rediscovering, yourself never is.

But inventing myself the first time wasn’t easy either. I was always looking for models for interacting with the world and dealing with unacceptable emotions, trying to understand how to care about people who were different than me, looking for reassurance that they would care back. I was four years old when I started watching Leonard Nimoy use the character of Spock to teach those lessons.

There are lots of articles out there about how he, and Star Trek, affected people: how they grew onto, over, and beyond the trellis of those stories and characters. I don’t have anything that I want to add to them. But it sounds like there’s discussion to be had in the community, and I’d be interested in reading it.

February 10, 2015
Fanfic at The New Yorker
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM * 74 comments

I feel like I should mark it on my calendar: four days ago, The New Yorker published The True History of Jewish Wizards at Hogwarts by Nathaniel Stein. There’ve been earlier edge cases at the magazine, like their Bill Gibson/Sabermetrics mashup, but all of them have had plausible deniability. Stein’s piece is clearly fanfic. Arguably, it’s self-insertion.

Why does our beloved genre and its epiphenomena keep breaking through into the mainstream? IMO, because we have so many cool toys, and writers have near-zero resistance to them. The privileging of the mainstream was a social construct built around a distribution channel, and Main Street’s been in bad shape for a while now, but there’s nothing theoretical about a case of the plot bunnies. Ask any writer who’s had one. The only way to get rid of a plot bunny, even a disreputably fannish one, is to write it.

February 08, 2015
Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:57 AM * 100 comments

When I first got started in bookbinding, the person who inspired me the most was Thomas J Cobden-Sanderson. He was one of the foremost figures in the great flowering of the British Arts and Crafts movement, as a bookbinder, a printer, and a type designer.

Although it was his masterful bindings that first caught my attention, his personal story held it. He’d been a solicitor, focusing on railway law, when he suffered a nervous breakdown in his early forties. He went to Italy to recuperate, and ended up doing more than that: he met and married Anne Cobden (and combined surnames with her; he had been born Sanderson). Through her he met William and Jane Morris, and they convinced him to give up the law and become first a bookbinder, and then a printer. He was extraordinarily talented at all of it.

As an adult taking up an art, I found this tremendously heartening. I’m no Cobden-Sanderson, neither in talent nor in need for a change, but what he did in 24-point bold, I could certainly do in 8-point roman.

And the way he struggled with depression spoke to me, since I do as well. It was probably that depression that led him to what I can only call a work of artistic despair: when the future of the Doves Press that he had founded looked bleakest, and further control of his work less and less likely, he gradually took all of the type from the press to Hammersmith Bridge and threw it into the Thames. It was an incalculable loss: the Doves type was unique and beautiful.

There’s a powerful statement here about the tension between consent and preservation, between individual and collective good. I completely understand his desire to retain control of his work, and his revulsion at the idea that it could be used in the mechanical processes he so despised. It would be like Treebeard watching the ents be set on on treadmills to power Saruman’s monstrous works at Isengard. But still, the loss of the type has always seemed like a crime, or perhaps a sin, to me. It was a lessening of human knowledge and a diminution of the beauty in the world.

(We struggle with this always. Virgil asked that the Aeneid be destroyed when he died. Are we right to read it now, given his deathbed wish?)

If it was a kind of sin, there is now a sort of redemption: Robert Green, a designer working on a digital version of the Doves type based on printed examples, went looking and found some 150 pieces. But it’s probably not usable, and there will never be a complete set, so perhaps Cobden-Sanderson is also satisfied in the end.

(There remains the question of the Green’s digital work, but that falls, at least for me, into the long tradition of using earlier examples of lettering as a basis for new fonts. I think, or hope, that the work of translation and interpretation required to make a digital typeface from the Doves printed matter would form enough of a remove for Cobden-Sanderson’s peace of mind.)

(Thanks to Cadbury Moose for the heads-up on the story, and Sisuile Butler for the link to the article.)

February 06, 2015
Everything is now fandom and fandom is now everything
Posted by Patrick at 05:35 AM * 94 comments

Just the other day I noted in the sidebar my bemusement that heated lettercolumn exchanges in the New York Review of Books now resemble nothing so much as those found in fanzines like Richard E. Geis’s The Alien Critic, back in the day.

In further bemusement, I see that the New York Times Magazine is running a profile—in next Sunday’s issue—of the late Andrew J. Offutt. By his son Chris, focussing on Offutt’s prodigious lifetime output of pornographic novels.

Like most people who were involved in the subculture of science fiction fanzines and conventions in the mid-to-late 1970s, I remember Andy Offutt as an SF writer with a large presence in fandom and a reputation for approachability and generosity. And I remember his wife Jodie as an ever greater presence in printed fanzines.

But I have to admit that my first reaction was to be startled that the article doesn’t so much as mention Offutt’s two years as president of SFWA (1976-78). Immediately followed by the realization that I was mentally recapitulating the logic of Field and Stream’s legendary 1959 review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (“One is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping”), the difference being that Field and Stream was joking and my brain was not.

February 02, 2015
The joy of continuity
Posted by Teresa at 11:08 AM * 146 comments

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter have been pandering to me expertly. (Humongous Spoiler Alert: if you don’t want spoilers, skip this entry entirely.)

Some examples:

The substance that brought Coulson back from the dead came from the preserved corpse of a blue alien:

TNH: The effing Blue Kree are mixed up in this?

PNH: Kree as in Kree-Skrull wars?

TNH: Sort of. Blue Kree are the Kree Empire equivalent of Batista-era super-right-wing Cuban refugees: blah blah blah no surrender, blah blah blah they will be avenged.

Agent Coulson finally decodes that weird diagram and displays it as a 3D blueprint of a city:
Coulson: We don’t know where this city is.

TNH: It’s in the Blue Area on the moon.

PNH: What?

TNH: The Inhumans moved their city there.

PNH: What?

TNH: Black Bolt and Medusa’s guys.

PNH: Oh.

TNH: Also, Uatu the Watcher.

PNH: What?

TNH: I think he’s there. I can’t keep track of Uatu.

When Agent Carter’s friend Dottie the Waitress is threatened by the sinister, trigger-happy Mr. Mink, she unexpectedly pulls some spectacular martial arts moves and drops him cold:
TNH: Red Room!

PNH: Huh?

TNH: She’s Russian.

PNH: Red Room?

TNH: Sinister Cold War-era organization that trained Natasha Romanov. Dottie’s using the same moves as Black Widow.

Watching the shows has reminded me how much pleasure there is in piecing together continuity, even when that continuity is derived from some fairly cheesy ancestral narratives. Story is greater than the sum of its parts.

What happens in my head when I spot one of these Marvel universe connections feels like a bigger version of the little burst of pleasure you get when you figure out an inobvious word in a crossword puzzle. It’s a physiological response: your mind rewards your success.

I’ve since learned that the term for this kind of thing is “continuity porn”. Someone’s bound to point out that it can be overdone, which is true; but in general, I’m for it. It makes stories more interesting, and multiplies the payoffs the reader or viewer gets in return for assimilating some bit of exposition.

One of the more useful properties of interconnected continuity is the way it provides a bridge for new exposition, making it easier to assimilate. Say I’m looking at a comic book panel that shows an unfamiliar superhero team. What I find myself automatically doing is scanning the picture for characters I’ve met elsewhere. If any are present, who they are and how they’re drawn will tell me a lot about this new team and their storyline. If no characters overlap with my previous reading, I feel it as a slight additional burden: I’m going to have to figure these guys out from scratch.

Note: I’m not saying any of this is good or bad. I’m saying this how something works.