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July 21, 2010

Julian Comstock, “tomorrow never happens,” and whether characters can only be gay if the story “needs” them to be
Posted by Patrick at 01:38 PM * 360 comments

This began as a quick email to Jo Walton, but I decided it was a post for Making Light instead. Hi, Jo!

I’m reading Paul Kincaid’s review of Julian Comstock on, and although Paul is a pal and it’s a thoughtful review, I’m having a mild case of “did we read the same book?” Paul thinks, for instance, that the Dominionist church in Wilson’s future “dictates every aspect of everyone’s life,” whereas in fact one of the things that fuels the plot is that nobody has the technology necessary to actually dictate any such thing. Wilson’s future is one of reversion to Victorian-style self-enforcing conventionality, complete with a big city (New York City, in fact) with a lot of demimondes in which people break various rules in the shadows. There are tyrannical authorities, secular and religious, who will do bad things to you if you get on their bad side, but they don’t have Orwellian powers of panopticon-style surveillance.

More to the point, though, Paul seems to have completely missed the fact that the book is extremely funny. He has a thesis going—he’s arguing that three of this year’s five Hugo nominees are about the decline of America, in different ways—and while this thesis allows Paul to say some insightful things, it also seems to have blinded him to the genuine exuberance and joie de vivre that’s also part of Wilson’s novel.

I finished Julian Comstock not with a sense of tragic glumness, but with a sense that, whether or not anything like the novel’s scenario ever comes to pass, the book is right about the future in important ways: (1) History is not a smooth ascent. It may not even be an ascent at all. Sometimes things get better, sometimes they get worse, sometimes we just get by. (2) Life goes on anyway. The world is rarely all one thing. (3) Even in times of horrifying decline, people come up with peculiar and inexplicable personal ambitions. The narrator, Julian’s longtime sidekick, wants to become a writer of boys’ adventure novels. Julian, even after becoming President, is obsessed by the dream of making a movie about the life of Charles Darwin. Why? Well, why not? Julian Comstock brings home the same news as Janis Joplin’s remark preserved in Making Light’s commonplaces: “”Tomorrow never happens. It’s all the same fucking day, man.” This is a tragedy only if you were previously under the impression that the universe has promised you a life in which everything gets steadily better forever.

But what I was most amused by was yet another outbreak of that thing we saw in some of the reviews of Farthing:

We are meant to see the tragedy of Julian Comstock as being the tragedy of America (though in that respect, his homosexuality seems an unnecessary distraction).
Yes, it’s our old friend Unecessary Homosexuality! It’s okay for people to be gay, but they should be civilized about it and only actually do so when the plot shows up with a clipboard and says, “Okay, I need a gay person now, so be gay.” Gay people being gay just because some people are gay? Not done. Uneccessary. A distraction.

And this, children, is how we construct a world of marked and unmarked states.

Comments on Julian Comstock, "tomorrow never happens," and whether characters can only be gay if the story "needs" them to be:
#1 ::: JamesK ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:09 PM:

When the character's needlessly straight, it's called Unnecessary Romantic Subplot.

#2 ::: Puss in Boots ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:31 PM:

Now I'm worried.

I'm not a fictional character and probably won't be reviewed, so is there some kind of test I could take to find out if my gayness is unnecessary or distracting?

#3 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:32 PM:

whether characters can only be gay if the story “needs” them to be

This reminds me of Outer Limits episode "The Moonstone". Apparently the censors came up with a request to explain why one of the characters on the Moonbase was black as there was nothing requiring it in the script. The writer turned around and added a bit in the script specifically saying that the character was black. That was enough to make the censors happy.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:36 PM:

I'm necessarily gay. It's essential to my plot. At least my main plot, which is nothing less than The Conquest of the Entire Worrrrrld!!!! BWAHAHAHAHA.

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Coming soon, "Xopher the Conqueeror"!!!
(Cue in the Poledouris music.)

#6 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:57 PM:

I for one welcome our new Xopherian overlord.

#7 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 02:59 PM:

A (very) straight friend of mine was always anxious watching movies with gay people in them, because he was always waiting for something terrible to happen to them, and he couldn't bear it. Sadly, that's the way to bet.

Gayness is completely necessary to my own personal plot as well. And I hail Xopher, our new conqueeror.

#8 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:03 PM:

If in the first act you have a hung penis, then in the second or third it absolutely must go off.

#9 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:10 PM:

I suppose it might be different if Comstock were the villain, or died badly. Then his orientation would make more sense. Or something.

(PNH -- "Janis Joplin", not "Janice".)

#10 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:17 PM:

This got me thinking about Necessary Homosexuals in fiction down the years. There is, of course, the entertaining hair dresser (or something else creative in a blue collar sort of way) sidekick. They can be flamboyant and provide comic relief without complicating the important heterosexual romance.

I believe it's now less common to have the Tragic Outsider. Used to be that any gay character that wasn't a monster (sympathetic friend, relative, whatever) had to die tragically. Well, only actually die if they'd achieved love, since you couldn't allow that to happen. If they remained alone and sad, then they could live. I think that's the plotline that siriosa @ 7's friend dreaded.

#11 ::: Hilary L Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:19 PM:

Yes, because everything must be necessary to the plot including but not limited to: whether the character has one lump of sugar or two in hir tea, the weather, and the fact that the copier has run out of toner.§

As someone who was gleeing last night over the plot/lines/character development White Collar is giving to its lesbian agent, I find this incredibly bewildering.

§Note that this does not suggest that any of these things are never relevant, just that they are not always relevant and can make the prose more interesting in other ways.

#12 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:22 PM:

janetl: Thus "I LOVE MY DEAD GAY SON."

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:25 PM:

janetl @ 10... There is, of course, the entertaining hair dresser

...usually called Serge.

#14 ::: CLP ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:29 PM:

This reminds me of the people who object to the repeal of DADT on the basis that it's unprofessional to reveal information about your sexual orientation at work. Of course, such people would probably think nothing of a picture of someone's opposite-sex partner on their desk. Or someone causally mentioning their opposite-sex partner in a conversation in the lunchroom.

#15 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Isn't the reason Julian Comstock is gay because the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, on whom he is modeled, was gay?

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:44 PM:

Those of you who have acknowledged my Overlordship even before the Conquest of the World™ which I will inevitably achieve will receive fiefdoms, and be spared when I purge the heterosexuals.

#17 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 03:59 PM:

xopher... be spared when I purge the heterosexuals

"NO! Not the prune juice!!!"

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:02 PM:

"What's the matter, Serge? Are you afraid of...dried fruit?"

#19 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:19 PM:

But Serge! It's a warrior's drink!

#20 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:23 PM:

Great. Serge, you now have my labmates wondering why I just snorted with laughter when I was discussing a procedure for later in the week.

Gah. Now you have the image of epic military purges powered by prune juice going through my head. Gah!

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:24 PM:

Seriously (if I'm allowed to be serious), while I agree in general on the topic of Unnecessary Homosexuality, is it possible that in this case Paul meant that in the context of Julian Comstock representing the tragedy of America, making him gay sends the wrong message? That is: America's tragedy is (or is in part) its toleration of homosexuality?

I would disagree with that as well, but not as strenuously. Given the Jrfgobeb Oncgvfg Puhepu and similar people, I can understand a bit of flesh crawling at the thought.

Less seriously, there's something very childishly amusing about the fact that 'Church' Rot13s to 'Puhepu'. There's a 12-year-old inside me giggling.

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:25 PM:

TexAnne @ 19... I was wondering if someone would remember that one.

#23 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:26 PM:

HP: I was waiting for someone to check off that box....

#24 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:40 PM:

Xopher, do you need minions? I don't resemble a Corn Pop with goggles, but I'm happy to lend a hand in any world domination plot that involves gluten-free Black Hole Brownies and other excellent chocolate.

#25 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Benjamine Wolfe @20, "epic military purges" is putting me in mind of O'Brian's discussion of "the captain has taken physic." Awkward if scheduled wrong!

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:47 PM:

I just hope our conqueeror (all hail!) has enough room for all of us in his minyan. Oops, did I just channel Serge?

#27 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 04:48 PM:

Oh, and I'll have to become an abjurer of the ROT-13 comments before it leads us nowhere.

#28 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:00 PM:

Tom Whitmore @26--I saw what you did there, and so have the rest of us and if it was a typographical error, you must never admit it.

New Jersey is a long haul from here, but I am perfectly prepared to be a long-distance, telecommuting minion, even if I have to settle for making my own chocolates from recipes provided by The Master, instead of getting the real things, from his own hands.

#29 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Well, humor sometimes falls flat. I read Confederacy of Dunces because listed in a discussion thread of "Favorite Funny Novels" in rec.arts.literature back in the day. So I knew it was meant to be funny. Still I don't think I cracked a smile throughout. I have the same problem with Vonnegut. I'm just not wired right for the wit of those authors, apparently.

On the other hand, sometimes Paul is Just Wrong. He opined that the Christian flavor of the witchcraft in The Patriot Witch was implausible, whereas to me, the Christian flavor of the witchcraft is one of the most dead-right aspects of the book. Of course an 18th C. American witch would be a Christian first. Pennsylvania Dutch hexes and practitioners of voudoun and hoodoos and brujas all draw on Christian traditions and mythologies. Western Hemisphere traditional witchcraft is all about the Christianity. It's really only with 20th C. neopaganism that you pry the two apart again.

#30 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:15 PM:

I find it odd that people who write can even have this opinion. Have they never had the experience of discovering that one of their characters has some attribute that they hadn't originally planned? Does this mean their process of writing is so completely different to mine that this kind of thing can never happen to them? Or does their imagination just not work in the way that means this happens with their characters' sexuality?

#31 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:19 PM:

Leaving aside the Case of the Unnecessary Gay, Comstock isn't about "American decline." Wilson's America (now with Extra Canadian Goodness!) is rebuilding. Not only that, but Julian's eventual replacement as President (Admiral Whats-His-Face) is (albeit slowly) liberalizing the country.

I do think Mr. Kincaid missed the boat on this one.

#32 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Ha! I acquire minions without half trying! All the righteous will rally to my cause!

Rikibeth, you have said it! It's the Chocolate Revolution! Chocolates for all! Down with those who would deprive us!

Ulrika, and barely then: the supposed traditional cry of the Witch upon seeing the God, 'Io! Evohe!' is one of Gardner's lifts from Ceremonial Magic, and is derived from Y(oh) H(eh) V(oh) H(eh), which is not particularly Pagan in origin!

Extra sentence added just to have one that doesn't end in an exclamation point.

#33 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:34 PM:

In any case Kinkaid's wrong about immigration in NYC and at least Boston, from before and during the Civil War period.

Indeed, it's often opined by confederacy apologists that the only reason the Federals won the war was because of the endless supply of fresh cannon fodder coming into the Union's seaports before and during.

Scorese had great fun including scenes of the Union Army recruiter grabbing the ignorant Germans, etc. literally right off the boat and enlisting them in the army.

He also had great fun filming bits and pieces of the notorious draft riots in NYC in which recent immigrants (and others) literally burned black children to death and lynched many other people of color, as well as brutally and in grisley manner murdering many more.

Louisia May Alcott has many scenes in her March novels of German and Irish immigrants in Boston -- particularly in Little Women, the first volume of which is set while the Civil War is still raging.

Love, C.

#34 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:34 PM:

Xopher@32: some days I find a disturbing number of my sentences trying to end with an exclamation point. I must bear in mind your elegant solution.

By the way, if becoming your minion involves black hole brownies then I'm in.

#35 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:37 PM:

All my minions will get black hole brownies. And they are delicious and moist.

#36 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:40 PM:

Supposedly, then, one of Richard Morgan's Steel Remains protags, Ringil Eskiath, is also 'needlessly' gay? O wait, he has suitably suffered consequences of teh gay, as his father's filled with teh disapproval. That's all right then.

Love, C.

#37 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:46 PM:

Unwittingly (never a better choice of word to describe fried brain) the film for which Scorsese filmed immigrants right off the boat and processing getting enlisted in the Union Army was, The Gangs of New York (2002).

Love, C.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:49 PM:

Joel, #9 -- Thanks for the catch; misspelling fixed. That's what I get for writing a post in the last hour before an important sales presentation, when I'm supposed to be pulling together last-minute notes instead. (The presentation went fine.)

Chris Gerrib makes a good point in #31:

Leaving aside the Case of the Unnecessary Gay, Comstock isn't about "American decline." Wilson's America (now with Extra Canadian Goodness!) is rebuilding. Not only that, but Julian's eventual replacement as President (Admiral Whats-His-Face) is (albeit slowly) liberalizing the country.
Quite right. In addition, what we take away from the epilogue is that America isn't the center of the world; its condition, improving or not, is the result of its particular circumstances, not an emblem of whether there is or isn't hope for the entire human race.

#39 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:55 PM:

Xopher, is it too late to join your gang of minions? Because I'm all about the chocolate. (mmmmmmmm, chocolate!)

#40 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 05:58 PM:

I have a suggestion for our Brownie-Wielding Overlord: those who do not swear fealty should be fed Brownies of Doom* which shall purge them of their liking for chocolate, thereby leaving more of the Glorious Nectar of the Gods for the Overlord and his Loyal Minions.

*Brownies made with mediocre chocolate and laced with purgatives. Why yes, I do have an evil streak.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Xopher @ 32... 'Io! Evohe!' is one of Gardner's lifts from Ceremonial Magic

...used his editorial meetings over at Asimov's?

#42 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:06 PM:

Xopher @ 35: Dude, brownies? I'm in. Please post the Homosexual AgendaTM on Google Calendar ASAP.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:12 PM:

Ulrika#29 "Practitioners of voudoun" draw on Christianity? This presumes that the ancestral religion of the Yoruba is Christianity. I beg leave to doubt it. The fact that vodun is a syncretic religion does not exactly make it Christian. Unless, of course, you're planning to claim that Christianity centres on belief in a deus absconditus, possession of the religious practitioner by divinities, and the sacramental use of spirits of sugar, among other things.

#44 ::: Julia Rios ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Thank you for making this a public post, and not just a private e-mail.

#45 ::: JanetM ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Mark @42: According to at least one of my friends (or at least, according to one of her LiveJournal userpics), the Gay Agenda is:

Do laundry
Pick up milk
Destroy social fabric of America

#46 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Xopher #4: How much are you paying?

#47 ::: Kirilaw ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:23 PM:

I will absolutely be a minion to anyone who supplies me with chocolate! It really is the perfect recruiting tool.

Mark @42:
The Homosexual Agenda
(not mine -- that was Elizabeth Bear's doing from a while back)

#48 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:35 PM:

Xopher@32: Surely "evohe" is derived from the Bacchic cry εὐοῖ? Which, being mentioned in Euripides, predates Christianity by at least four centuries, and probably a good deal more than that.

#49 ::: Not Anonymous Exactly ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:43 PM:

If I'm bi do I only get half a glass of prune juice and half a brownie?

I could deal with that.

#50 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:45 PM:

David, that would be nice, but I don't think so. Not with the 'Io' in front of it. If only 'Io' were Greek too, but alas, it's Latin.

#51 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:51 PM:

Mark@42: as per Hollywood...

08:00 Introduction
09:00 Do something "queer"
10:00 Intensely passionate moment (hold lover's hand)
11:00 Get beat up by passing homophobes who are never seen again
12:00 Lover to die from backstory-related homophobia
13:00 Cry
14:00 Rest of cast to express sympathies
15:00 Tragic demise
16:00 Close

Mark it in your diaries

#52 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 06:55 PM:

IIRC when I was reading a lot of Bad Historical Romances in the late 80s and early 90s, the obligatory lecherous villain/rival males started to change from Obsessive Heroine-Pursuing Sadists to Obsessive Hero-Pursuing Sadists, though sometimes the villain was simply bi enough to harass both of the romantic leads. However, at this point I've forgotten most of the authors/titles, and the characters themselves were interchangeably forgettable to start with.

(There was one "historical" series that was apparently straining for inclusiveness by following a family of half-sisters (one per book) whose mothers were all of different ethnicities. Despite having been born in antebellum Texas, the half-Chinese one somehow managed to retain an eternal stash of slinky silk cheongsams (whose tailoring wasn't invented until the 1920s) and little sachets of exotic spices for goopy sweet sauces to be poured over deep-fried meat chunks.)

#53 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Please, please tell me there's a Fruit Auxiliary for chocagnostic would-be minions. I mean, I'll eat the stuff and enjoy it well enough, but if you offer me something fruit-based (particularly citrus) instead, look out! I'll try not to crawl over you bodily to get to it, but it'll take willpower.

Thinking about marked and unmarked states, one of the things I liked about Inception (NO SPOILERS INCLUDED HAVE NO FEAR) was that neither Ken Watanabe nor Dileep Rao seem to have been cast because it was plot-necessary that they be of non-European ancestry. Saito's a businessman and Yusuf is a chemist, and that's what's important about them, not their ethnicity.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Jules #30:

I was thinking about this w.r.t. the famous Chekov quote ("If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.").

One way of reading this quote (I don't know the context) establishes a set of objects (attributes, ideas, whatever) which should only show up when they're important to the plot. That's the sense I get from Patrick's excerpted review--the idea that if a character in the story is gay, there needs to be some *reason* for it in the plot--the plot somewhat needs to be about them being gay. (Similar things apply to being black, fat, religious, nerdy, handicapped, etc.)

I remember my wife pointing something like this out to me in Notting Hill, where there was a minor character in a wheelchair, not for any deep plotting reason, but just because there was a character who was in a wheelchair. And this makes me think of the gay couple in Four Weddings and a Funeral, who similarly were just characters in the story, without the plot being somehow mainly about the fact that they were gay.

I wonder if this is just a property of a given audience and their worldview, and what attributes they can either accept in passing without much attention. If your background assumption is that gays are very rare and exotic, then having a gay character in the story feels like having a pistol hanging on the wall--it should be an important part of the plot, somehow. If your background assumption is that gays are part of the world that just show up now and again, then having a gay character in the story feels like having a painting on the wall--it could conceivably be important, but there's no need for the story to turn on that painting.

And somewhere in here is the notion of visibility of differences. For all its brokenness, modern USian society doesn't hide away its gay members, handicapped members, black members, etc., as it once did. And that means that you can have a minor character in a wheelchair without justifying it by making the story about her struggles with life in a wheelchair, or a gay couple as important characters in a story, without the story being *about* them being gay. It's just another detail to bring those characters to life, like having someone with red hair or something.

And *that* makes me wonder what my "pistols" are, which I expect to go off when they appear in a story, not because they're inherently special or weird or meaningful, but just because my worldview has a blind spot where they appear in the regular world.

#55 ::: Sharon Mock ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:04 PM:

Zak: Did you read Patrick's Making Light post about Julian Comstock?

Me: No, it must have gone up after I checked this morning.

Zak: Somebody wrote this essay-review-thing on the Decline of America--

Me: They reran it on io9. There was this one parenthetical that bugged the shit out of me...

#56 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:08 PM:

Xopher - do I need to submit an application to Minion, or is it just first come, first served? I am really good at eating chocolate, and at the moment my heterosexuality is quite unnecessary to the plot. alas.

#57 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:12 PM:

Not Anonymous Exactly writes: "If I'm bi, do I only get half a glass of prune juice and half a brownie?"

Of course not, if you acknowledge the Overlordship of Conqueeror Xopher.

On the other hand, once the purging of the heterosexuals begins, one imagines there will have to be some cadre of untergropenführers charged with taking Kinsey-scale measurements of suspicious individuals and meting out hard justice [whew! i almost succumbed there] on a case-by-case basis.

Clever bisexuals will want to make sure they're ready to serve the Conqueeror in any capacity they can when the Revolution comes. The line forms behind me.

#58 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:38 PM:

mr. watson, come here. i need you. to be gay.

#59 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:49 PM:


actually, xopher, "iô" is a perfectly good greek exclamation. it's already in aeschylus' suppliants, line 125; in sophocles' philoctetes line 736; in euripides' bacchae line 578, and fairly common elsewhere in tragedy (several times combined with the name of a god being invoked for assistance). this can all be found in lsj s.v.

if you want to try to trace some sort of semitic origin (very dubious in my estimation), why not take your semites neat? true, christianity happened after the 5th bc, but moses comes centuries before the greek tragedians.

still--the whole thing is a bit silly, to my mind--like trying to figure out the origin of the english exclamation "ow!" by looking at ancient words for hammers and thumbs. sometimes people make vowel sounds when excited. there are only so many vowel sounds to go around.

#60 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:50 PM:

Is now the time to mention that in the book I'm contractually required to hand in in (checks clock) a little under 200 hours, every one of the main characters is some subset of LGBTQI, except for the psychopathic villain?

He's only straight because it's necessary to the plot. Oh, and he dies.

#61 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 07:53 PM:

though please allow me several cringes, a grovel, and a sniveling apologetic afterword:

"naturally all of this depends on your conquerorship's pleasure!
liddell and scott know nothing of greek if your conquerorship wishes otherwise! be it as you will, your conquerorship!"

and now some rubbing of hands, more groveling, and more bows as i exit in reverse.

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:00 PM:

On the topic of marked characters and the "default setting", Janet Kagan did a masterful dissection of this in her foreword to the NESFA Press Best of James H. Schmitz -- with examples of how Schmitz went against the default settings for the period in which he was writing, and sometimes caught flak for doing so. The book is still available from the NESFA Press site, where I was browsing the other day.

#63 ::: ebear ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:12 PM:

"And this, children, is how we construct a world of marked and unmarked states."

I think PNH gets a black hole brownie on credit for just that sentence alone.

#64 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:14 PM:

Xopher @35:
All my minions will get black hole brownies.
And they are delicious and moist.

The Brownies, the minions, or both?

#65 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:34 PM:

I'm on board for minioning, if there's chocolate involved, but do we have to wear silvery jumpsuits? I really don't have the hips for that look.

(Hm. Might have something to do with chocolate?)

#66 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:44 PM:

Xopher - I think that would be an odd way to read Julian Comstock; as far as I can tell, Comstock represents in some ways the resistance to the decline and an attempt to restore the glory of the past. So how can his homosexuality be a symbol of the cause of the decline?

I found that aspect of Julian Comstock's character sweet, and I think the fact that homosexuality persisted (while disliked by the dominion and somewhat shameful and hidden) made the world richer ... and helps support Patrick's point that this world is one without a dominant totalitarian power. So in that sense, I found that his homosexuality added to the richness of the world and therefore of the story.

#67 ::: Lowell Gilbert ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:48 PM:

I think ebear@63 has put her finger on the most meaningful detail in this post/thread. On the other hand, dozens of posts have gone by since meaningful detail was the top reason to appreciate the discussion.

Mildly apropos of which (I hope... no, I guess it's completely irrelevant -- sorry), conquest of the entire world doesn't break the top five reasons I follow Xopher's thoughts.

#68 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 08:53 PM:

albatross @54
"the idea that if a character in the story is gay, there needs to be some *reason* for it in the plot--the plot somewhat needs to be about them being gay."

Those are not the same thing.

My canonical example is Greg Egan's short story Cocoon, found in his collection Luminous. The plot only works because the central character is gay. The story is not in any shape, manner, or form about being gay.

Further explanation is best sought by reading the story in question. For me to say more would be not so much spoilery as my attempt to abridge the whole thing.

J Homes.

#69 ::: MItch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 09:24 PM:

I think maybe I need to re-read "Julian Comstock," because I *did* see it as a novel about America's decline, and maybe the decline of civilization on Earth in general. But also a comedy, about how people even in that context can have goals and be happy and fulfilled. Which made the story bittersweet. Which was one of the things I loved about it.

albatross (#54):

If your background assumption is that gays are part of the world that just show up now and again, then having a gay character in the story feels like having a painting on the wall--it could conceivably be important, but there's no need for the story to turn on that painting.

You've articulated a thought I've struggled with, literally, for years, and been unable to articulate.

Gays are just part of the world and show up again. It's the same for disabled people, and something that Hollywood almost never gets right, and that "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings" nailed 100% spot-on.

When I think of the lesbian and gay people I'm friends with, their sexual orientation is incidental to our relationship. It would *have* to be incidental, because I don't share it. I'm friends with one because we've been friends since childhood, another because we're both tech bloggers and New Yorkers who live in San Diego, a third because she's a Second Life enthusiast who happens to live locally near me in San Diego. Those things are what tend to dominate our relationship, not sexual orientation.

#70 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 09:25 PM:

I have read books called "The Windup Girl" and "Julian Comstock," but I think Kincaid read different ones with the same names and authors.

In any case Julian Comstock is gay because Julian the Apostate was gay, at least in Vidal's novel. It seems unnecessary for Kincaid to call it out as "unnecessary" for that reason alone. Further, if anything it makes perfect thematic sense for J. C. (hmm...) to be an "apostate" against the Dominion in multiple ways, not just by being a believer in science/Darwin.

I agree with PNH that it was a very funny book, and given that it was "written" by the wannabe boys' adventure book author, once can't even believe a word of it, and the author warns us very nearly explicitly that this is the case. It is the inversion of Severian's claim to be a perfectly reliable narrator.

#71 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 09:35 PM:

#423 Fragano

That's what I say too.

However, Vodoun isn't Yoruba; the Yorubas practice Lucumi or what is also known as Ifá, from whence syncretized Santería in the New World.

Whereas the lwa, or back in the Old World, the foduces of Vodoun are from old Ouydah, now Benin.

The orishas and the lwa are not synonomous. And Vodoun most certainly does not have Ifá, which is the heart of the Yoruba traditional religion.

Though yes, they and the Yorubans did have more and less contact culturally, more particularly during the era of the Yoruba Oyo Kingdom. Much more contact during the wars of the later 18th - 19th century.

Love, C.

#72 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:03 PM:

Benjamin Wolfe: Gah. Now you have the image of epic military purges powered by prune juice going through my head. Gah!

Cue the Thundermugs.

(Which always reminds me of the attempts to figure the exact location of Lewis & Clarke's camp in Oregon by taking soil samples in hopes they can find high mercury content left by the purgatives brought on the mission, but that's another story.)

#73 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:17 PM:

I seem to have read the book pretty much the way DaveL@70 did, and the idea that Julian's homosexuality was "unnecessary" is boggling to me.

However, speaking of marked and unmarked states:

I am surprised that no-one has mentioned the unmarked elephant in this state room. Am I the only reader who noticed that the narrator, his wife, and Julian's lover are all what we would call "black", but that it's apparently without "ethnic" significance? It is, IMHO, a very marked unmarkness, a joke Wilson is pulling on the readers, to put a lot of black characters (not just one, as in Left Hand of Darkness, but a *lot*) into a story and see if anyone notices.

The fact that Paul Kinkaid was reminded of the US Civil War but didn't see the black people strikes me as hilariously revealing, but in fact when I skimmed through a bunch of reviews *no-one* seems to have noticed -- even though this is set in a North America in which *slavery* has come back.

But then, I haven't come across anyone who's noticed that the ruling Church in Julian Comstock already exists, which is why Wilson put its headquarters in Colorado Springs. Or that the back-to-the-1880s political philosophy they use is actually taken directly from a certain trend among modern libertarianism.

#74 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:32 PM:

I also think that Julian's sexual orientation was, if not essential to the story, important to it. He was an outsider-on-the-inside, in the same way that his Jewish mentor was, and in the way that the book's narrator, a heterosexual Christian and therefore part of the majority culture, was not.

#75 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:35 PM:

Jeez, I thought Julian was gay so that his sidekick could be comically clueless about it. /sarcasm

PNH, I think I read the book you did. I know I didn't read the one Paul Kincaid did. I don't generally laugh while reading SF books--at least not often. I found myself giddy reading Julian Comstock.

And for what it's worth, Xopher, if there's a heterosexual sidekick section of the Great Minion Army, can I join? You don't even have to give me chocolate! I'll come just for the conversation.

#76 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Xopher @35:
All my minions will get black hole brownies.
And they are delicious and moist.

jnh @64: The Brownies, the minions, or both?

::raises hand:: I'm definitely both.

#77 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:03 PM:

Doctor Science @ 73 - I didn't catch that the narrator was black either - it's only mentioned at the very beginning. It's also not terribly relevant. The slavery of the 22nd century is more like serfdom - slavery not of race but of economic inheritance.

I did notice the "Back to the 1880s" vibe - but then I've wrestled with libertarians before, so it wasn't a new thing.

#78 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:22 PM:

May I be a minion, too?
I don't do sidekick well, but I have done a little grovelling from time to time.

Also: chocolate

#79 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:32 PM:

I don't think Kincaid's review of Julian Comstock encouraged me to read the book, but the conversation on this thread definitely has.

#80 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Siriosa at #7 and Charles Stross at #60:

Also, it is a trend some people have remarked upon that in war movies, often the first person to get killed is the minority guy.

This is also true in Xvyyqbmre, ol Gurbqber Fghetrba.

#81 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2010, 11:51 PM:

HP #8:
or get off?

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:07 AM:

Minions of course need not be personally queer...though it helps. The future under me, and I use that term advisedly, is one where all serve me and all have BHBs.

Lexica 53: Of course, all manner of Delicious Things will be available to all in the Xopherian Hegemony. Be aware, however, that Hegemon Xopher does make Lemon Fondant that really tastes like lemon, and Chipotle-Lime Chocolate to combine both flavor-lusts (along with the fire-eater fetish).

nerdycellist 56: In the minionage there is room for all, though Your Hegemon is particularly partial to musicians.

kid bitzer 59: Hmm, now I'm going to have to remember where I heard that Gardner got it from YHVH, and figure out whether he had the classical education to know

Charlie 60: Well, I'll be reading it, but then the words 'Charlie Stross' on the cover are enough to ensure that.

kid bitzer 61: and now some rubbing of hands, more groveling, and more bows as i exit in reverse.

But you see, I prefer that the gentlemen of my minionage bow away from me.

ebear 63: Indeed, HAWE Patrick wins the Internet for that line.

jnh 64: Aha! So you see what I did there.

janetl 65: The skin-tight look is for those whose moist deliciousness it enhances. Others will wear what flatters them (in Your Hegemon's case, a shapeless bag with a mask), in keeping with my policy of maximum enjoyment for all.

aphrael 66: Interesting. I haven't read the book, though I suspect that will change in the near future.

Lowell 67: *blush*

Madeleine 75: Your Hegemon will not discriminate among His minions. (They are exempt from the purges.)

siriosa 76: You're a brownie?

P J 78: You don't do sidekick well? I can show you how. Stand just to my right.

#83 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:15 AM:

Chris Gerrib @77 writes: "...The slavery of the 22nd century is more like serfdom - slavery not of race but of economic inheritance...."

Which is also a feature of a certain existing brand of American church noted elsewhere in this thread.

#84 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:21 AM:

Xopher 32 and responses to it: 'Io! Evohe!'

I thought Io was the nymph-turned-to-cow chased by Zeus-turned-to-gadfly.

or the moth of the same name.

but that's neither here nor there.

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:26 AM:

Xopher, may I have a brownie to chew on while I'm standing there? I think it will be an excellent distraction. (On the other hand, being me, I can trip over a shadow on the carpet.)

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:45 AM:

Xopher, can we set up some kind of reciprocal deal where I can be your minion and still boss you around on Making Light? Because otherwise I am afraid I shall have to stand in opposition to you and all your pomps*, and just generally be your nemesis.

Which would be socially awkward on occasion.

* as circumstances dictate

#87 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:21 AM:

The especially funny thing about there being too many gay people in Farthing is that Patrick and I didn't notice, until reviewers started pointing it out to us, because in our lives, gay people are not oddities.

I think there's a way that Julian Comstock is about the decline of America, or anyway I doubt it would have been written in the same way without Bush. But that said, yes, it's a very funny book about people having adventures in a science fiction future, and if it reminds me of anything it's Edgar Pangborn.

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:29 AM:

abi, Making Light itself is the domain of its hosts, mods, and front-page posters; the rule of your Hegemon will be just and generous, and the State will not interfere with, as it were, the Church.

So there will be no circumstances where you have to oppose my pomps, though you may find this an enigma. There will be a few people on my true staff—the true body, as it were, of my army; the rest will be on the false staff, designed to hoodwink the opposition. I will come among them only to relieve their tedeum and issue benedictions. You can be one of those; eventually you might achieve the status of an elgar states(wo)man.

#89 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 03:12 AM:

/me brings Xopher his bow of burning fire and arrows of desire.

#90 ::: Paul Kincaid ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:31 AM:

Patrick, I've always said that any author who responds to a review is on to a loser, whether they are right or wrong. And I think the same applies to critics. But there is one point I should make: I do not think Julian's homosexuality is irrelevant. But to the extent (and only to the extent) that the tragedy of Julian is meant to stand for the tragedy of America, it is a potential distraction. Because it can be argued that the tragedy of Julian is his homosexuality, that allows a separation between him and the country.

As for the rest, agree or disagree as you wish.

#91 ::: Geri Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:18 AM:

Xopher @35: As an already-certified minion myself, I thoroughly approve of overlords providing their minions with tasty treats. First it was Deb Geisler's Legions of Darkness with her sweetrolls and now you with your black hole brownies.

Do you also provide samples in advance, like Deb does? It could be great fun to host a minion recruiting drive at some upcoming convention you'll both be at.

How many overlords can a minion sign on with, anyway? Inquiring minds...

You're welcome contact me directly with further details:

#92 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:27 AM:

Extra sentence added just to have one that doesn't end in an exclamation point.

In other words: Necessarily Gay, but Superfluously Cheerful.

If I can't pun, I don't want to be a part of your revolution.

#93 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:56 AM:

Xopher, don’t you like your minions to kneel before you now and again? I know I do.

Can I be a sidekick? Watch: 1, 2, 3, * kick *

I’ll take the bells off...

#94 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:57 AM:

@86, @89--

listening to you two negotiate your interlocking imperia/magisteria i was somehow reminded of dune, with abi as the representative of the bene gesserit. (she has the voice, you know).

this led me to reflect that the present passive infinitive of bene gesserit would be bene geri, and to wonder whether ben e geri already make a tempting brownie ice cream.

you see? you two will have many future opportunities for delicious collaboration. the rest of you--don't put your hand into the carton.

#95 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:58 AM:

Fifty years ago, any kind of sex in sf had to be "necessary." This is progress, of a sort.

#96 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 07:31 AM:

Tom Whitmore at @27 writes:

> Oh, and I'll have to become an abjurer of the ROT-13 comments before it leads us nowhere.

Tom is trying to irk and vex us with his ROT-13 shenanigans. Surely no group of people on all of green terra is less deserving of such treatment.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 07:44 AM:

Xopher @ 89... Speaking of your pomps, whether they be opposed or not, would they be like THIS?

#98 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 07:46 AM:

Constance #71: I bow to your more detailed knowledge (although it seems to me that Santería and Vodun spent a lot of time intertwining -- because both Cuban and French planters seem to have had a preference for enslaved labour from the Bight of Benin -- and their mythological structure looks pretty similar to me).

#99 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:04 AM:

@95: Bene Geri is the waist killer.

#100 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:14 AM:


excellent. yes.

i wonder whether they could see their way to offering a spice ice.

#101 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:41 AM:

Dave Bell @90--Is the Chariot of Fire exempt from the rules about parking by fire hydrants? Because that would be so convenient, in the event the containment shields fail and things get out of hand.

#102 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 09:12 AM:

Chris Gerrib @ 77:

Actually, there are crumbs throughout the book indicating that the narrator and various other major characters are black. In particular, Wilson uses "tightly-curled" to describe what we'd call "black" hair. He's careful not to say "nappy", because he doesn't want the signal to be overt, he's *inclueing* the characters' race.

It's also not terribly relevant.

... um. You realize, don't you, that this parallels what Kincaid says about Julian's homosexuality. Indeed, I think one of the functions of homosexuality in the novel is to be the text while race is the subtext -- flipping the foreground/background in actual 19thC novels, where race could be text but sexuality had to be subtext.

No one else has spoken up, so I don't know if anyone here besides me perceived what Wilson does with race. I can't figure out which prospect boggles me more: that his clues were too subtle even for this group of very insightful readers, or that insightful readers noticed and thought it was trivial.

#103 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Doctor Science @ 103 - race is "irrelevant" in that it's not a slavery based on race. There's no pontificating on "octaroons" etc.

But neither is race a distraction, which is what Kincaid says about Julian's sexuality.

I do think, and that's why Comstock is on the Hugo ballot, that the book can benefit from a second reading. Things that one can blast by in the first read jump out in the second.

#104 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:21 AM:

j. h. woodyatt @ 83 - I read that "Christian slavery" link you provided. It's proof (if more were needed) that the human mind can rationalize anything.

#105 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:09 AM:

Jon Meltzer @ 100... Bene Geri is the waist killer

"I am the quizz-kid-had-a-rash!"

#106 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:11 AM:

I'd like to present my application to be a Xopherian flunky. I pride myself on my flunking; indeed, I've flunked for Jo in the past, if references are required.

I've prepared this small banner, should it meet your Xopherness's approval: "Flunking Forward into the Future for Fabulous Foodstuffs!"

#107 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:17 AM:

Doctor Science #73 -- I figured Wilson put the headquarters of his Dominionists in Colorado Springs because that's the location of the US Air Force Academy, and the Air Force is the part of the modern US military most notably infested with scary right-wing end-times religious types in high positions.

#108 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:17 AM:

I know it's a bit late, but can I apply for Xopher's minion status too?

albatross @ 54:

That's a very insightful way of putting something that I've been thinking about for a while. There is an awful lot of human variation out there, and any of it may or may not be an important plot element. As J Homes says at 68, it may be important to the story, in that the story couldn't be about someone else (the situation would be different, the character wouldn't interact with others in the same way), but it's not the character's reason for existence or, worse, sole defining characteristic. I'm not sure whether, given the choice between the two, I'd choose trait-X person as plot point, or trait-X person as best friend, but I'd much rather prefer people as people over people as line item or accessory.

#109 ::: Quercus ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:33 AM:

It's been a long time since i saw "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and God (and Xopher) willing will be a long time until I see it again, but wasn't the homosexuality of the couple kind of central to the plot? The emotional impact of the relationship is based on the surprise (to the characters and the viewer) of the relationship being revealed (and that it took those particular circumstances to reveal it). It's clear to me that a heterosexual relationship of that kind would not have been hidden.

[Was it worth it carefully not-spoilering the plot of a mediocre at best 20-year old movie?]

#110 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:34 AM:

Listen, everyone can be my minion. Next time I go to a WorldCon (not this year, alas) I will dispense minionizing chocolates and ID cards. Or maybe buttons.

Maybe I'll also make Proof Of Loyalty chocolates with odd fillings. Wasabe buttercream. Candied habanero. Like that. No spiders though.

#111 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:48 AM:

Fragano @#43 - I may well be wrong, I often am, but it was my understanding that voodoo, at least as practiced on these shores, incorporates a number of Catholic saints and rituals. If that doesn't count as having a Christian flavor then I don't know what does.

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 11:48 AM:

"Everybody wants to be a minion, but nobody wants to be a henchman. That's because nobody wants to do the real work and dirty their hands."
- Igor

#113 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:02 PM:

Ulrika #112: Would you call Christianity or Islam forms of Judaism? Both of those religions worship the god of the Jews. Vodun and Santería both use the names of Catholic saints as covers for the African divinities who are being invoked, if you will, for the names of west African divinities. Thus Orula, whose image I have in my office, is also referred to as San Francisco. That does not make the black cigar-smoking drummer I'm looking at right now, the white friar normally identified as Saint Francis.

#114 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:17 PM:

PNH @ 108:

Actually, it's more explicit than that: as Jeff Sharlet pointed out years ago, many important fundamentalist (and Dominionist) organizations have concentrated in Colorado Springs *precisely* in the hope that they can infiltrate/evangelize the Air Force. Focus on the Family is there, as is the New Life megachurch. In many ways, Colorado Springs already *is* the headquarters of Dominionism.

And yes, that's New Life Church as in "Ted Haggard", and that's why Julian Comstock's homosexuality is *crucial* to the story IMHO. Besides the Classic allusion, it's part of how Wilson shows that the tragedy of his future world is built from currently available ingredients.

#115 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:27 PM:

Fragano Ledgister@114: The original statement @29 was "practitioners of voudoun and hoodoos and brujas all draw on Christian traditions and mythologies" (extracted from a larger sentence).

That's not a claim that they are part of Christianity, that I can see.

You seem to be making a distinction between "drawing on" and merely "using as cover"? So that the surface appearance of Christian influence (which has been widely noted) is inaccurate and misleading with respect to the overall practice?

(Not disagreeing; no knowledge in this area. Want to be sure I understand what I'm filing away for future reference.)

#116 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Fragano - I have to think that you are taking my suggestion that Santeria draws on Christianity as a rather stronger claim than I intended. I never said that it was Christianity, nor did I mean that. Would I be happy claiming that Islam and Christianity draw on Judaism? Of course I would. They do.

#117 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:35 PM:

Quercus @110 - you know, I've heard that before, about the viewer and even the characters being surprised at the nature of Matthew and Gareth's relationship, and I've never understood it (w/r/t the viewers; believed it, w/r/t the characters). I don't think there was anything remotely closeted about those characters or that relationship, and not only was I not mystified by it when I first saw the movie, neither were any of the people in my small dubiously-enlightened town's movie theater (whom I heard afterwards talking about how they'd been surprised at their own reactions, e.g. "choking up when that gay guy was giving the eulogy" - the fact that there'd been this gay couple there all this time was not news to them, in short, but the fact that they felt sympathy for the gay bereaved was).

I think the impression comes from the one bit where Charles says "Two of us have been for all intents and purposes married all this time" and Tom says "Traitors in our midst!" (Seems I dig the movie more than you do, barring Andie MacDowell. ;-) ) But I've never, ever understood that to mean that the gang have only just realized Matthew and Charles were a couple. They'd been treating them as a couple all along, particularly at the third wedding, when Fiona asks Matthew where Gareth is ("torturing Americans"), and then when Gareth collapses and Charles has to go find Matthew to tell him. And Gareth has (earlier, obvs.) said - to everyone! - that he knows he will not have a wedding of his own.

It is, in other words, so blindingly obvious to me that these men are a couple, that I've never believed it wasn't meant to be, and also to be blindingly obvious to their friends - so when Charles and Tom have their bit of dialogue after the funeral, I've always understood it to be a marriage/non-marriage issue, not a together/single issue. (I concede that the minister at the funeral refers to Matthew as "Gareth's closest friend", but I find it easier to believe the minister would employ a euphemism than that their friends wouldn't understand the nature of their relationship.)

#118 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:42 PM:

I don't suppose there's room for a nonminion at the black hole brownie table? I'm in New Jersey already, and I hear it's best to use mercenaries for the really dangerous work, like food tasting.

#119 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Paul, #91: Only if you think that being homosexual is a tragedy. And that argument is SO last century, so either you're arguing that the book is pandering to anti-gay bigotry, or that you are. Personally, I don't care which; it's still spinach, and I still say the hell with it.

#120 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:47 PM:

Fragano: Easy dude, he's only talking about a Christian influence, not saying that Vodoun etc are "types of" Christianity.

Ulrika: Like most polytheistic faiths, the African traditions had no problem syncretizing the Christian saints and other trappings into their own practices, just as Caesar had no problem declaring of the Gauls "Mercury they revere among all other gods". (Most likely the Germanic Odin, though the Celtic Lugh is pretty mercurial.)

Of course, that's not limited to the "pagan" faiths, as Christianity has happily absorbed elements from nearly every faith it overran in its expansion... starting with the cross itself! For that matter, a goodly number of the saints were originally pagan heroes or deities. (I wonder if any of those wound up the Afro-American pantheon -- that would be ironic!)

#121 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Bah, double typo. "... revere above all other gods" and "wound up in..."

#122 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 12:57 PM:

#115 ::: Doctor Science:

If it's especially a focus on the Air Force rather than other services, do you have any idea why?

#123 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:02 PM:

PNH@108, that may be reversing cause and effect. At least, Colorado Springs, 1994, was where this straight male first noticed that the big wide world wasn't as accepting of its gay members as my protected space (which explicitly included my church, and explicitly didn't include the Ranchman's bar). Oh, I knew there were people who didn't like them, and even people who would abuse them, but bad enough for them to decide to leave a wonderful job and move across the country because of it? No.

Xopher@89, I'm not sure I want to be a minion, even if there are variations for straight people, even for chocolate. Does that make me a nimrod?

Unfortunately, I'm already a member of a (admittedly defunct) global domination conspiracy ( However, as I have always been ambivalent (or, rather, undistractable) on the subject of Moon Chroming, I guess there might be room in my multi-valent (not duplicitous - but then again, I would say that, wouldn't I?) mind for another pursuit.

#124 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:06 PM:

Agree with 118. I'm fairly sure that there was never meant to be a "surprise reveal" in "Four Weddings".

(I concede that the minister at the funeral refers to Matthew as "Gareth's closest friend", but I find it easier to believe the minister would employ a euphemism than that their friends wouldn't understand the nature of their relationship.)

And there's a cut at that point to a (probable) elderly relative of Gareth looking slightly disgusted - which I think is meant to imply that he knew, he wasn't happy about it, and the euphemism isn't fooling him a bit.

I am also baffled that someone could watch Simon Callow's performance in that film and then exclaim after the funeral scene: "Wait, Gareth was meant to be gay? Well, that came out of nowhere!"

("Yeah, and I can't believe Liberace was gay. I mean, women loved him! I didn't see that one coming!")

All that having been said...

I think that their being gay was actually central to the plot. They're part of the circle of single friends that makes up the core cast. The whole film is about members of that core cast getting married off and settling down in domestic life. If it had been, say, Gareth and "Sarah" as the loving couple (with Gareth dying and Sarah giving the eulogy in the same words) then the question would have been: why didn't they get married?

You need an emotionally close couple for the funeral scene to work. But if it's a het couple, then either they're happily long-term unmarried - which is dissonant to the theme of the film - or they are married, and then it seems odd, from the film's point of view of "settling down", that they're still living a single-type life, single friends, not raising kids etc.

But Gareth and Tom can't get married. Problem solved.

#125 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:08 PM:

But Gareth and Tom can't get married. Problem solved.

Should of course read "Gareth and Matthew". Well, Gareth and Tom can't either, but that's hardly the point...

#126 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:13 PM:

Xopher @82: siriosa 76: You're a brownie?

I am moist and delicious: I am a lesbian.

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:15 PM:

ajay: That's a nice point, and one I didn't think of at all. Having them be a gay couple removes the question of "well, then why aren't *they* getting married?"

#128 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:16 PM:

Nancy @123 Because they are the keepers of the nukes?

#129 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:17 PM:

ddb #116: I'm making a distinction between utilisation and derivation. Practitioners of Vodun,Santería, Shango, and Candomblé have drawn a Catholic scrim over an African structure. All too often, the surface has been adjudged to be what lies beneath. The names of Catholic saints have been attached to those of African divinities whose characteristics are similar to those of the saint.

#130 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:18 PM:

The juxtaposition of #128 and #129 is amusing:

"well, then why aren't *they* getting married?"

Because they are the keepers of the nukes?

#131 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:19 PM:

ajay @125 - yes, quite. But while their being gay is central to the plot, it's not a movie about a gay couple. That's a point someone else made somewhere upthread, the difference between those things.

#132 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:33 PM:

This conversation is reminding me of something I found odd in Julian Comstock. I expected at the end of the novel that Julian would or rkcbfrq nf tnl ol uvf rarzvrf. Lrg ur jnf abg. Va gung erfcrpg, uvf orvat tnl jnf n tha ba gur znagrycvrpr, bar gung jnf arire sverq. Jul qvqa'g gur Qbzvavba rkcbfr uvz nf tnl naq guhf arhgenyvmr gurve rarzl? Have I forgotten something in the novel?

#133 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:34 PM:

It's impossible to proofread ROT13.

#134 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:39 PM:

Ulrika #117: My apologies. I tend to get alarmed at what look like attempts to whitewash Afro-Caribbean culture and history. Syncretic religions appropriate European elements, but for what are fundamentally African purposes.

#135 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:41 PM:

Actually, the Department of Energy are the official keepers of the nukes. The Air Force just gets to fly some of them around.

#136 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:44 PM:

Doctor Science #115, Mycroft W #124 -- Thanks for the additional info about Colorado Springs. I didn't know that stuff.

#137 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 01:49 PM:

As an asexual, can I get in on your plot, Xopher? Make it ice cream, chocolate marble chip chunk swirl decadence with chocolate syrup. Regular method or liquid nitrogen will do. Myself and trebuchets are ready to minionate. The trebs can discharge in whatever act/scene/chapter/verse works best.

#138 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:08 PM:

#99 Fragano

Yorubas weren't on the slave market until very late in the game -- by the time they came in any significant numbers the Haitian Revolution was already in progress and then concluded.

The only region to which Yorubas were brought in any significant numbers was Cuba and Bahia de Salvador, Brasil.

Via Cuba, then, Yorubas did also come in far smaller numbers, to Puerto Rico as well, during that period.

One of the primary reasons for this was Cuba began plantation economy very late -- Havana was the center, the port first, second, the port from which the New World flotas brought back the New World wealth to Spain -- and that was the source of Cuba's economy and the reason for its existence.

When Cuba turned to plantation economy late in the 18th century it was, first because the British occupation had started it, with the superior British technology for sugar, etc.

Second, when the Brits left Cuba, soon after the Napoleonic wars disrupted many trade systems, leaving vacancies.

Third, much of the Caribbean island lands had already burned out from cane.

Fourth the Kingdom of Oyo fell at the end of the 18th C, slaving within West Africa, particularly by the Ouydah kingdom, had become hysterical, and thus Yorubas from Nigeria and the competition among the Abakua (who were also avid slave dealers) in Cameroon, threw both Yoruba and Abakua on the slave market -- and to Cuba they came. The Abukua, btw, only went to Cuba, nowhere else in the New World.

During the San Domingue Revolution fleeing slave owners came to Cuba with their slaves to establish coffee plantations and sugar fields -- but they came to the Caribbean end of Cuba, Oriete. There you do have Vodoun -- and you don't have Santería (though now, with the end of slavery and more mobility, Santería is present but mostly it's Kongo Palo, which naturally is throughout Cuba -- and practiced everywhere as the Kongo are the foundation layer of slavery throughout the New World, and constantly refreshed, as the region was slaved the earliest and longest by everyone, from the Arabs to the USians.

Some orishas were well known throughout the mid African West Coastal regions, in some form or another, notably Eleggua-Elegba, etc. and Changó -- lord of drums -- but NOT in Kongo. So you have Legba families in Vodoun as well as Changó, but he's not as important in Vodoun as in many other religions. Also the mixing in the Caribbean in the later 19th century and the 20th, as at the building of the Panama Canal, brought the orishas to others as well.

Alas -- I can really go on and on and on with this!

Love, c.

#139 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:13 PM:

'if the story “needs” them to be'

Is that similar in intent to what John Campbell said about a good science fiction story? That "the story has to need the science"?

#140 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:17 PM:

I haven't read Julian Comstock yet, but black protagonists not being made obvious was a major feature of a previous award winner (American Gods) where it didn't get much discussion either (that I saw); not to mention Orson Scott Card's Magic Street, where he felt he had to beat the fact that the main characters were black into the reader's consciousness in the author's introduction. So, yeah, for this crowd it's probably not something that's worth mentioning, though it's quite a nice change in the world (cf. PNH and Jo's comments about gays in Farthing upstream).

#141 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:23 PM:

Mitch @ 133 - I'm not sure that the Dominion knew of Julian's sexuality.

#142 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:23 PM:

Xopher @#111: I understand the reluctance to include spiders, but what about crunchy frog? They're dew-picked, you know!

#143 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:28 PM:

Tom Whitmore@141: Or even earlier award winners like Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Or (for a lighter shade of color) Starship Troopers.

#144 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:35 PM:

ddb @144 -- one can go back to Eric Frank Russell in the 50s, too. Most of those let on explicitly at some point that the character is non-white; Gaiman doesn't bother (or at least I didn't notice if he did).

#145 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Fox@118, etc: In addition, Matthew's gayness is pretty clearly established at the first wedding by his remarks about the dishiness of David (Charles's brother).

#146 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 02:53 PM:

I'll say that I certainly noticed that the first-person narrator was black; not sure about other characters such as the woman he married. I found myself a little skeptical that racial issues would seemingly have completely disappeared in only a couple hundred years, but I was able to suspend my disbelief.

#147 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 03:38 PM:


Geez, given the huge changes in the last couple centuries along those lines, it seems completely plausible to me. I don't even expect it to take that long--I think in another 50-60 years, people will look back at current racial issues with the kind of puzzlement that young people now look back on 1940s/50s racial issues.

And a lot of that is the nature of social change, which happens partly by changing minds, but at least as much by the holders of the old ideas getting old and dying off. Fifty years ago, there was a substantial constituency among whites for segregation. That constituency lost out, through being outnumbered and outmaneuvered, but the reason they're not much of a force now is that a whole lot of them have died of old age. (And it's worth remembering that in 1950, there were people still alive who remembered slavery and the civil war, and a lot of folks who grew up in its aftermath.)

You can see that continuing with racial issues, and even more with gay rights issues. The anti-gay-rights folks can see, looking at polls, that they're doomed. Tolerance of gays, support for gay marriage, etc., goes up as you look at younger and younger people. Absent some big social change that causes that to reverse itself, there will be gay marriage and laws against discriminating against gays and widespread social acceptance of gays, just by the natural process of the older cohort ceasing to vote as they die of old age.

#148 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:13 PM:

Hi, Patrick. Just wanted to stop by and apologize for the assumptions I made in the post on my blog. That was thoughtless of me, and I've corrected the entry.

#149 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:29 PM:

Tom Whitmore@145: In ST for example Heinlein gives a lot of clues, starting with the character's name, extending to the point of saying they spoke Tagalog at home; but never actually mentions race that I've found (I've looked fairly hard).

The whole issue of what skin color and cultural heritage will mean in various distances of future is complex of course. And then communicating it to current readers is complex.

In ST, Heinlein seems to be saying that despite minority languages surviving, it will be a non-issue. AND that the behavior and home life of the people then will look quite comfortable and familiar to mid-20th-century readers. That's on the face of it unlikely, but it may be the only way to tell the story (since the book isn't at any level about racism, except for the labeling of the main character as non-white and showing him getting as much respect as anybody else). It might have been better if he'd just skipped the anti-racism tidbit, since it doesn't have much to do with the rest of the book. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to distract from the other content of the book for much of anybody.

In Moon, I didn't get a whiff of it until he was arrested in Kentucky, and observes that the range of colors in the family photo was a factor in being able to goad the sheriff into doing something so stupid (he wasn't in on setting it up ahead of time, but learned later). But on Luna, the culture we're shown isn't straight 50s America, so it's much easier to believe that other things are different too. (Wyoh staying with them while disguised as black is at least a clue that race prejudice isn't a big issue, since she doesn't encounter it. On the other hand, the choice of switching to black for her disguise sort of suggests to me that she thought that would make her disappear more effectively, which means she (or the author) thought the people searching for her still sorted people by race subconsciously.)

Long before I knew the marked / unmarked state terminology, I'd noticed that SF works that labeled a character as "of color" in a culture where that didn't mean anything were somehow strange. Either it was not showing us the ways in which it meant something, or it was teasing our expectations (probably hoping we'd learn something from seeing how we reacted).

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:32 PM:

Carrie 143: Yes, but they used to be dew-picked and flown from Iraq. Do you know WHERE in Iraq? Anbar. And with the power outages they've been having, it's hard to get anbaric frogs.

#151 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:41 PM:

Tangentially, my daughter and I feel much the same about Jewish characters in fiction and especially on television. They're (almost) never "just" Jewish; usually there's a point of some kind being made. (and much of the time it's played for laughs)

#152 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 04:45 PM:

Andrew @146: yes, but (in a moment of devil's advocacy) I suppose a person on the surprise-reveal side might argue that it was relatively clear that Matthew was gay, but not necessarily that he and Gareth were a committed couple. (I don't think there's much in that, but I was always taught to anticipate objections.)

#153 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:07 PM:

Tom @ #141 - Are you sure you're thinking of American Gods and not Anansi Boys?

#154 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:10 PM:

Constance #139:
I'm not entirely in agreement with you, as you'll see below. You're right about the break-up of the Oyo Kingdom. But borh Lagos and Whydah were major centres of the slave trade, and sources of slaves for the entrepôt trade out of Barbados and Jamaica in the 18th century. What I do know is that French planters (in Saint Domingue, but also in the eastern Caribbean) seem to have had a preference for slaves from the Bight of Benin (i.e., from Whydah, Lagos, and other slave factories in between), while planters in Jamaica and Barbados appear to have preferred slaves from the Bight of Biafra.

This has obvious consequences for the cultures of the Caribbean societies. In particular, for the fact that in places where the French had some kind of influence, we find a Yoruba presence. Maureen Warner-Lewis's work on Yoruba continuities in Trinidad is important in this respect -- and the Yoruba presence there is due to the arrival of French planters from Martinique bringing their enslaved labourers with them following the Spanish Cédula Real of 1783 permitting the settlement of alien Catholics in the colony.*

If French planters were hauling Yorubas to Trinidad in the 1780s, they were clearly taking them to Saint Domingue as well.

*The arrival of French planters in Trinidad ended with the conquest of the island by Abercrombie in 1797.

#155 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:25 PM:

Ulrika @154 -- you're right, brainfart!

#156 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Tom, Ulrika - I thought that both novels had black protagonists? Anansi Boys uses this fact to specifically reverses the marked/unmarked states status quo (characters assumed black unless narration says otherwise) so it's very noticeable there, but to my recollection* American Gods's Shadow was also black, no?

*Distant recollection. Haven't reread it in over a year or two; should go run do.

#157 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:38 PM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little #157: Somehow, I think it unlikely that the son of Odin would be black. The son of Kwaku Anansi, on tarra han'...

#158 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 05:59 PM:

Fragano, there is a Raven Master at the Tower of London. Has there even been a one-eyed Raven master? I don't know, but...

#159 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Dave Bell #159: But if so, he'd live in Peckham?

#160 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:32 PM:

ISTM that another such "marked" state for characters, in many contexts, is religion, especially anything other than generic weddings-and-funerals-only generic Christian. It seems like you rarely[1] see someone in a TV show or movie for whom religion really matters, unless some important part of the plot requires it.

It's not that any of these states represents a worldview that's evil or discriminatory or whatever. But it does reveal something about the worldview of the writers, or perhaps the expected worldview of the readers. It's interesting because it reveals blind spots of the culture, or at least of the people producing a lot of the culture's popular entertainment[2]. Looking at our popular entertainment, you'd certainly get a weird set of ideas about the modern US.

[1] I may be completely wrong, because I don't actually watch a whole lot of TV or movies these days.

[2] I suspect our view of the beliefs and worldview of the past is overwhelmingly determined by the worldview of the folks who wrote the books, plays, operas, etc. And that's colored by the many ways those folks weren't like the rest of the society, the written and unwritten rules of what could be done in fiction, the conventions and tropes that were in common use, etc.

#161 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:44 PM:

David Goldfarb (#147) : "... I found myself a little skeptical that racial issues would seemingly have completely disappeared in only a couple hundred years... "

albatross (#148): " ... it seems completely plausible to me. I don't even expect it to take that long--I think in another 50-60 years, people will look back at current racial issues with the kind of puzzlement that young people now look back on 1940s/50s racial issues."

For a direct historical analog, consider the changed attitudes toward the Irish in 19th Century America vs. 20th and 21st century. If there can be that much change in the status of that minority, I can believe the same thing could happen to blacks.

#162 ::: Incoherent ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:49 PM:

Nicole @157:

Shadow is "brown" -- it's commented on by one of the guards at the prison and later on he thinks to himself that his mother was nothing like the women Wednesday was usually attracted to (i.e., presumably not northern-European-blonde). However, she (and therefore he) is never identified with any particular ethnic or racial group(s), just not pasty white.

Shadow could just as easily be part American Indian, part Asiatic Indian, part African (-American or not), part North African/Middle Eastern, part Australian aborigine, part Pacific Islander, part mestizo... or a mix of any or all of the above.

#163 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 06:51 PM:

It seems like books and movies are ripe for a gay version of the Bechdel test.

#164 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:09 PM:

Mitch Wagner@162: That's a good example.

#165 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:24 PM:

David Goldfarb @147 said: I'll say that I certainly noticed that the first-person narrator was black; not sure about other characters such as the woman he married. I found myself a little skeptical that racial issues would seemingly have completely disappeared in only a couple hundred years, but I was able to suspend my disbelief.

I believe it was posited upthread (by Dr. Science, who has had much lovely litcrit to share?) that talking about t3h gh3y while utterly not-talking about -- to the point of leaving an odd hole -- the race stuff might have been an inverse of actual late-1800s novelistic convention. And I would venture, perhaps a deep statement about the nature of that society by the (noted as very unreliable) narrator?

#166 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 08:56 PM:

Since Shadow is the son of a Norse god, he could have a human form even if he were begotten on a nonhuman creature. Or NOT have a human form even if he were begotten on a human, if I recall correctly.

So his mother could be a Norn (eww, NBL) or, say, the Night.

#167 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 09:39 PM:

And strangely enough, BoingBoing is discussing the Bechdel test at the moment, with predictable results.

1) Well, look at all the movies that make money. They don't pass the Bechtel test. Therefore, it's not what the paying public want. - Well, what choice do we have? There's a reason people remember Ripley and Sarah Connor (T2 only) and The Bride from Kill Bill - because (apart from non-group superhero movies where the protagonist's gender is set, like Catwoman and Electra) that's pretty much it.

1a) Similarly "Guys are the main movie-paying demographic, so they write for guys." Yeah, ergo propter hoc, eh?

2) We don't want women or men, we want characters. Well, yeah, but "unmarked" characters are men - women are women. Which is why you see postmodern "mixed-gender" military squads, or business committees - usually the woman is pretty important, too (but not the leader).

It seems to me that there is a two-sentence Bechtel Test Corollary (which doesn't even require you to watch the movie, a plus for me): There are three ways the top two billings can happen: two male leads, two female leads, or one of each. What percentage of movies are in each category - and what percentage of the "one of each" are woman-first? Why is that? (no fair counting porn). If you want to add a third sentence - and this test I do, actually, do, since I started to notice: how far down the billing chain do you have to go to find the second woman?

There's a place for movies that fail the Bechdel test - Fight Club pretty much has to (or so I'm told - I should see it some day), Wayne's World would make a lot less sense otherwise, The Blues Brothers didn't have to (but was probably funnier because it did). Conversely, like "don't write Mary Sues", passing the test doesn't mean your movie won't suck or suddenly will be a "female-friendly" movie. You still have to write well. But if writers, producers, and audiences aren't aware that "unmarked" character = male, and actively work to break that prejudice, it'll stay.

On a final side note, I've been reading the Malazan books. Okay, very little gay that I can see, but soldiers in the two human armies are soldiers; might be male, might be female, might be low-rank, might be high-rank. Now, nobody actually *mentions it*, but you notice - and you notice the non-humans where it's not always that way.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 09:46 PM:

Mycroft W @ 168... Which is why you see postmodern "mixed-gender" military squads, or business committees - usually the woman is pretty important, too (but not the leader)

Does anybody else remember Space: Above and Beyond?

#169 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 09:56 PM:

Xopher 167: what does NBL mean? Acronym finder doesn't help much. (Not bloody likely, never been laid, nebraska bird lady, nothing but love)

#170 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:19 PM:

Not Before Lunch?

#171 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:25 PM:

#164: It seems like books and movies are ripe for a gay version of the Bechdel test.

Two small statistical/cultural points:

1) Something like 3% of people identify as gay [I'm not attached to that number; if it's wrong please tell me.] It's not outrageously unlikely for the 6 or 8 most prominent characters in a given movie/book to all be straight. Whereas if you have 6 or 8 prominent characters and at most one is female, that's a tad unlikely on pure random chance.

2) There are people who just don't talk about their sex lives. (I'm thinking of a "confirmed bachelor" I know in his 70's; in that quaint old-fashioned phrase, it's none of my business.)

#172 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:29 PM:

Being gay is essential to my plot too. Otherwise the story would be a tragedy instead of a romance. :-(

#173 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:39 PM:

Jo Walton at # 88: if it reminds me of anything it's Edgar Pangborn.

Must have now! Amazon isn't fast enough! Must find a 24-hour Barnes & Noble!

#174 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2010, 10:48 PM:

I've been kicking around for awhile the half-formed idea that "necessary to the plot," aside from a convenient hammer that gets pulled out by readers to criticize stuff that makes them uncomfortable, is a manifestation of a fetish for... I don't know, economy, that seems peculiar to the styles of the present age. Entertainment culture, very broadly speaking, is not especially kind to works that are not as streamlined as they could possibly be (how many reviews have you read with something like "it could have been 20 pages/minutes shorter," as if a work having more stuff in it than it absolutely needs is a terrible aesthetic misstep?). This strikes me as something that happens when perfectly sound popular writing advice like "omit needless words" gets turned into puritanical dogma; but then, I'm a writer naturally prone to clause-and-adjective bloat, so it's possible I'm just being cranky and defensive.

On gayness and narrative "necessity": One of the things I've been chewing on in the urban fantasy I've been writing for my own amusement these last few years is that I have a protagonist who is female, queer, and a magician, and I'm deliberately sidestepping the trope of Lesbian Wiccan Moon Power!! that feels like a sort of cheap, shades-of-Magical-Negro way of making gayness "necessary." (It didn't bother me so much in the metaphorical-made-manifest world of BtVS, but that's not the kind of thing I'm doing.) My heroine, Mary Sueish though she may be, doesn't have Speshul Powerz because she's a gay woman; she has Speshul Powerz and is a gay woman. (All things that affect the story to one degree or another, but are not quite the point of it. Which, echoing J Homes @ 68, strikes me as a potentially important distinction.)

On race in SF: I'm always mildly surprised that The Player of Games doesn't come up more often in this context, which also has a protagonist (much like A Wizard of Earthsea) whose non-whiteness is revealed well into the narrative and only after the reader's been firmly placed behind his eyes. And it's definitely an important plot point, but only revealed to be so once Gurgeh finds himself in the middle of a racist (to the point of eugenically wiping out its dark-skinned members) and xenophobic society, trying to act as ambassador to a civilization that he thinks of as human but that sees him as an alien. There's a lot of stuff quietly packed in there.

On American Gods: Echoing Incoherent @ 163, ISTR Neil confirming that Shadow's race was meant to be read as ambiguous, and that Vin Diesel wasn't a bad model for the kind of features he had in mind.

albatross, back @ 54: Interestingly, the first time I heard that quote, it was "If you introduce a gun in the first act, the audience will expect it to go off by the third act"--which is a subtly different thing. (That rendering strikes me as a little more likely from Chekhov, who famously puts out a lot of guns that ultimately fail to go off. But now I wonder what the original Russian says.) The point I took away from that is that a writer should be aware of expectations but not necessarily play into them; an unfired gun can have just as much impact as one that goes off just as anticipated.

(And, finally: I am not a minion. I am a minor but pivotal functionary in the baroque machinery of His Hegemonious Overlordship's unwieldy but sadly necessary beaurocracy. Go ahead and laugh; see how well you do out in the field without your plasma halberd because you didn't correctly fill out and submit Procurement Request Form HHOXH211B(b): Arms and Equipment/Superscience/Lethal.)

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 12:45 AM:

Erik 170: I meant Not Bloody Likely (Odin have sex with a Norn? I. Don't. Think. So.), but I like your other ones.

Earl 171: And yours.

Dan 175: I think when people say "it could have been shorter," they mean that it SHOULD have been shorter. For example, when I say that CJ Cherryh's Regenesis could have been a third shorter, I mean that I have specific cuts in mind, and/or "rewrite this bit, it's wordy and tedious." The description of Alpha Wing under construction, with "here's where this is going to be, here's where that's going to be" is OK, but it makes the later description of the COMPLETED Alpha Wing, with all those things right where they said they were going to be, seem a bit tedious. I would have cut the earlier description to a single paragraph describing how satisfied the main character was, and saved the dazzle for the reveal of the completed project.

And your Hegemon needs his minor functionaries just like he needs his outright minions. Just don't ever ask your Hegemon's Self to fill out some ridiculous form, or you may find yourself filling out form XHAA9G9, Disposition of a Body Complete in All Parts Save the Head.

#176 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:00 AM:

I wouldn't really point to The Player of Games, or any other Culture novel, as a book where it's eventually revealed that the main character is non-white. We know that Gurgeh has darker skin than the dominant Azadians, but we have no idea how a 21st century American would classify him racially.

The real low-key revelation about race in the Culture is that their definition of human is considerably broader than ours. (This is more explicit in some of the books than others.) If one of us saw Gurgeh, chances are we'd think he looked at least as much like an alien as one of those bumpy-forehead Star Trek guys.

#177 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:16 AM:

The Kids Are All Right (in some theaters now) passes both trad and gay versions of the Bechdel test, and (probably not coincidentally) is the best movie I've seen in years.

#178 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 03:17 AM:

On the quiet blackness of Wilson's characters -- I noticed, and I thought it was really cool. But when I was writing my post about the book, I couldn't quite seem to formulate that thought in a way that sounded right and wasn't open to being read as racist, so I ended up not saying it, because it didn't seem worth the risk for something I saw as a nifty bit of background incluing. I wish I'd thought of comparing the text's use of blackness and sexuality with the C.19 reverse, because that's a brilliant insight and definitely worth pointing out.

#179 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:54 AM:

It throws a completely different light on "Four Weddings and a Funeral" to read 129 immediately after reading 128.

#180 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 05:09 AM:

Partly, it was escapism, but Where Eagles Dare is a bit careless about the history, and so I began to wonder a bit about fan-ficcing it.

And ended up with a bunch of furry anarchist commandoes dropping in to kick Nazi ass.

Well, two bunches. One dropped a few miles up the valley so they could arrive in the guise of a troupe of female entertainers. And I added ghosts, Nazi Black Magicians, and a demonstration of what happens when you mock Odin (Some of the slightly odd religious relics which the Hapsburg line controlled may have pre-Christian significance).

Not so historical after all. But fun.

I suppose it's a bit hard for a skunk to pass himself off as a soldier in the Alpenkorps.

#181 ::: Sandra Bond ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 05:32 AM:

I'm not enough of a historian to correct the history in Where Eagles Dare, but it did amuse me to note that he named almost all the German characters in it after 1930s motor racing drivers.

#182 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 06:34 AM:

Manny @164:

Do you mean ...

There are two (or more) gay characters who are not gay stereotypes, and who at some point talk about something other than [gay] sex or [stereotyped obsessions projected onto all gay characters by the media, e.g. interior design]?

Or something different?

#183 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 07:46 AM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy @ 175... Vin Diesel wasn't a bad model for the kind of features he had in mind

Anybody else noticed that Diesel was in Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", along with Nathan Fillion?

#184 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 08:58 AM:

re marked and unmarked: I wish I had a better link to this, but zoom in on the image at top right of pp. 14-15.

#185 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 09:30 AM:

I suppose it's as good a way as any to find character names. Now you can find lists of names all over the internet.


“I am terribly worried about the war,” exclaimed Carol, with a particularly theatrical gesture. She'd seen at least two SS officers in the room already. “I have not seen my husband for three years, and I am so alone!”

“Ja,” agreed Marta, “This is not good. All the good men are at war. Only yesterday, I found the window cleaner watching while I bathed.”

“Goodness, what happened!”

“I was so astonished, I dropped my towel and he dropped his bucket!”

Even the SS Officers laughed as Marta listed the five Ordnungspolizei, three Kriminalspolizei, and two Gestapo officers who “wanted to see every detail.”

“And did they?”

“Only the Gestapo. Only a fool refuses a request from the Gestapo.”

Of course the audience laughed, but a good many of them would be a little uneasy afterwards. A fringe benefit of the performance.


He could make out the shape of the roof, not so steep a slope but covered with snow and ice. He made sure that he had a firm grip on his ice-axe, all he had to do was pick his moment, and trust in his skills. God? All help gratefully accepted, but this was going to be up to him.

Three minds in the cable-car didn't notice the noises and the sudden swaying. They weren't allowed to notice. And then Carol whistled a few notes of music, and four trained minds shut down hard, hiding within their own illusion of innocent thought. Well, not exactly innocent, perhaps, but the thoughts of four women, none yet too old, who were left a little too lonely by the war. And Schafer, whatever else he might be, was a handsome, virile, man.

It never occurred to Schafer that the whatever else really mattered to women such as these.


And I suppose I do mention a spear and a magic helmet...

#186 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 09:32 AM:

My pet peeve about the Bechdel test:
While I think it's an interesting statistical tool because it shows a problematic dearth of "real" interactions between women in movies, I'm seeing more and more people (not here) use it as a kind of purity test: if your movie fails the Bechdel test then it is a bad movie.
Well, no. Failure of logic there.

Certainly, more movies should pass the test and it's a problem that they don't.

Re: the Malazan books
There are two prominent lesbian characters, very much of the unmarked variety, but I don't remember any gay male character.

#187 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:00 AM:

Matt Austern @ 177 - I see what you're saying about race and the Culture, but I disagree; I think it's pretty clear that TPoG has a deliberate thread running through it dealing with racism as a function of imperialism. While we don't quite know what Gurgeh would look like to Terran eyes, it doesn't matter - we know he's some shade of brown and that Azadians are pale, that they've carefully all but exterminated all the members of their own species with his or similar coloration, and that in the Empire Gurgeh is an exotic outsider who the Azadians see as repulsive and alluring in equal measure (and can't pronounce his name right). I think the analogues to our own social and cultural issues are pretty unmistakeable, though I'd be interested in hearing what readers of color get out of it.

(Me, I tend to picture Gurgeh as vaguely Indian or Middle Eastern-looking, partly because it seems that's what a British writer in the mid-80s might have associated with issues of race and empire at least as likely as someone of African origin, and partly because "Gurgeh" rings a little like "Gurkha" to me. But that's my own interpretation, and far from the only possible one.)

OTOH, I think you're right that the real trick of the Culture novels is the way the term "human" is universalized to include people we'd think of as mind-bendingly strange. Among other things, it's a subversion of the popular SF idea that a forehead prosthesis is enough to make you "alien."

Your Overlordship @ 176: Of course not; the whole point of being at the apex of the Byzantine hegemony is being able to avoid paperwork. (Unless, of course, the regime starts to overreach itself, and atrocities like the withholding of BHB rations become rampant, necessitating a revolutionary conspiracy of beaurocrats to tie the hands of the administration with red tape. But of course that's never going to happen, is it?)

#188 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:15 AM:

Xopher @176:



#189 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:16 AM:

So that's twice now that I've misread "beaurocrats"* as "bearocrats." Ah, well. (I've already pointed out this stunning piece of critical theory, right?)

*which ought to be "bureaucrats" anyway.

#190 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:25 AM:

190: Through judicious amounts of obsequious and shameless flattery of Xopher, I hope to rise to the rank of beurrocrat. I know what side my bread's buttered on.

#191 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:28 AM:

Dan 188: OK, I have to read these Culture novels. Which one should I start with?

And should the supply of ingredients for BHBs run low, the Hegemon will simply increase the BHB ration to compensate.

abi 189: Wherefore snrkest thou, o abi? Am I unintentionally speaking Dutch? (The XH was for Xopherian Hegemony, of course, but the rest was random AFAIK.)

#192 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:32 AM:

I should have said *5nrk* -- it may be unintentional, but it's still there.

#193 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:34 AM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy @ 175:

This reminds me of the way I had to learn to watch films like Blade Runner and Soylent Green. You don't watch them for fast pacing or dense plot, you watch them for the atmosphere. Once I did that, they became far more enjoyable. That's not to say that economy is a bad thing, necessarily (see the first Star Trek film), but I do agree with your main point overall.

#194 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:48 AM:

On race in SF: I'm always mildly surprised that The Player of Games doesn't come up more often in this context, which also has a protagonist (much like A Wizard of Earthsea) whose non-whiteness is revealed well into the narrative and only after the reader's been firmly placed behind his eyes.

Ged's non-whiteness is revealed pretty early on, IIRC - Chapter 1 has the attack on Gont by the white-skinned sea raiders and I think it's clear that they're a different colour from the Gontish. I could be wrong though.

#195 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:51 AM:

OK, I have to read these Culture novels. Which one should I start with?

Yes. Yes you do.

The order they were written in is Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, Excession, Look to Windward, Matter. That's probably as good an order as any. Consider Phlebas isn't the best of them, but it's a good introduction to the Culture because the main character is an outsider looking in. It's also the least Banksian of the Culture books; after that he starts getting sneaky.

#196 ::: KévinT ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:53 AM:

Xopher @ 192:

I'd recommend starting with The Player of Games or Consider Phlebas: lots of action and sensawunda.

Use of Weapons is more difficult, due to the plot structure and a very grim story.

My favorite is Excession but you'll appreciate more with some prior familiarity with the Culture.

#197 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 11:14 AM:

TexAnne @ 190... Borocrats?

#198 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 11:44 AM:

Ack. "Bureaucracy" and its variants are words I Cannot Spell Right. My apologies to the poor injured eyes of the readership.

(I'd probably fit right in in a bearocracy, actually. Though it might be disconcerting to suddenly conform to mainstream beauty standards after twenty-odd years of being an outlier.)

Xopher, I recommend starting with The Player of Games--it's a good place to get a baseline reading of the Culture from their own perspective and then immediately contrast it with a society that has very different values. (The book is, among other things, a deconstruction/subversion of the romantic pulp idea of Galactic Empires.) My second pick might be Look to Windward, which is a bookend of sorts to Consider Phlebas, but you don't really need to read CP first to appreciate it. (Consider Phlebas is pretty good, but I'd argue it benefits from getting the perspective of the later books first.) Use of Weapons and Excession are both excellent, but not great places to start; either would make a fine second helping, though, if you like your first taste.

#199 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 12:47 PM:

187 KévinT:

I did try to make that point in my ramble - whether I succeeded, I don't know. But yeah, it's not "if it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it's a bad movie" or even "if it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, it's alienating half its potential audience"; it's "if it fails the Bechdel test, there should be a reason" (cue circle closure on "Chekhov's Gun") or even "it should be a choice on the part of the makers to fail the Bechdel test".

As it is now, most movies that fail the Bechdel test fail because "unmarked" = male.

#200 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:05 PM:

#112 Urika

This masking of one spiritual system with another is often called 'syncretic.' This is resorted to because one's traditional practice is forbidden by the masters, as in slavery, just as drums were forbidden -- which generally in African religions are fundamental to the rituals, as well as for other practices.

#155 Fragano

I see what you mean, and you're right, as far as that goes. This explains why we find a Shango in Trinidad and one in Jamaica and one in Haiti -- but as in Haiian vodoun, again, Chango is not the same figure as he is in Ifá. The systems are very different, and Orula and Ifá practice as Ifá is not found at all in these practices. Nor are most of the pantheon of the orishas that live in Cuba in Santería. For that matter there are some practices that made it to Bahia, such as the ancestoral groupings ruled by Oyá, of Egungun, that did not come to Cuba, because, for one thing, so many fewer women were brought there than to Brasil. And they were brought very late in the slave trade industry. Partly that was also due to the Edo Empire (Bini City -- not Ouydah-Ouidah-Ouidah-Whydah that became Benin) of that region refusing to engage in the Atlantic slave trade; Bini City controlled the Lagos region for a long time. This is one of the places they traded with the Portuguese.

No groups were brought anywhere in the numbers that were brought everywhere from Kongo, thus the universal brilliant knowledge of botanicals that are part and parcel of all the Congolese life aspects including Palo. That is the what is the greatest infusion in what made Haitian Vodoun.

Love, C.

#201 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:27 PM:

Xopher @176: Who's to say Odin doesn't have a masochistic streak? "Oh yeah baby, tell me again how I'm doomed!"

#202 ::: E. Liddell ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Serge @198: A borocracy is clearly a hierarchy of termites, of which I hope we have none here (although you never can tell).

#203 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:39 PM:

E Liddell @ 203... I think we have an infestation in our dept.

#204 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 01:54 PM:

I'm told that some countries ruled by editors wielding ball-point pens are known as birocracies.

#205 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:08 PM:

Constance #201:

Interesting points. I'll definitely have to make rice and gungo (from the KiKongo ngungu, meaning "peas") at Christmas (in west Africa, gungo peas are called "pigeon peas", but the Jamaican name definitely indicates that slaves from the Congo basin had something to do with their arrival). You're right about the ubiquity of the Congo presence.

You'd also have to consider the survival of the indigenous population in Cuba, something which, alas, I don't know enough about. Except that, as in Puerto Rico, it seems to have happened and to have been somewhat underreported. Some elements of Santería may involve practices going back to before any Old World peoples reached the Americas.

In the West Indies, in those places where English planters made the key choices about where slaves were to be obtained, it seems that the preference from some point in the early eighteenth century on, as Douglas Chambers makes clear, was for slaves from the Bight of Biafra. As a result Jamaican culture in particular has strong Igbo influences. In his eagerness to emphasise the strong Igbo cultural influences, however, he underplays the evidence, historical, linguistic, and cultural, of Akan presence. The Akan thread we find wherever obeah is the sorcery to be feared. Not to mention Akan rebels, whether successful, like Cudjoe and Accompong in Jamaica, or less so, like Cuffy in Berbice.

We're beginning to see some real historiography on the African continuities in the middle belt of the Americas, and the ways in which the enslaved peoples adapted their traditions over the course of their long bondage and after. The results are fascinating.

#206 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:09 PM:

I prefer to live in a place of constant ferment, a beerocracy.

#207 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:13 PM:

You've all misunderstood Dan. He said 'beaurocracy', which is of course a reference to the fact that my boyfriends will have power in the Xopherian Hegemony.

#208 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:31 PM:

kid bitzer @ 59:

sometimes people make vowel sounds when excited.

I'm not surprised, what with all the prune juice.

#209 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 02:44 PM:

Xopher @ 208:

Could you do something about these form numbers? The form numbered XHAA969, Application for Xopher's Boyfriend Status (And Attendant Power Therefrom) is altogether too close, visually, to XHAA9G9, and I rather like my head where it is.

#210 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 03:12 PM:

Dan @175, Incoherent @163, thanks for filling me in on the details of American Gods I was imperfectly remembering. Also, am now imagining Vin Diesel as Shadow, which is hella awesome.

#212 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:07 PM:

Keith, the Hegemon can't be bothered to fuss with that sort of thing. What you want is XHAA939(d): Renaming Request for Hegemonic Form or Application/Romantic/Nonlethal. Fill it out with care.

The problem with the word "bureaucracy," of course, is that the first syllable has a liquid u and that Gallic-derived triplicate vowel in the second syllable isn't even a dipthong in almost any English dialect. The temptation in writing it out is to move all those letters up front where they'll do some damn work for once.

(Someone requisition me a beat.)

#213 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:35 PM:

All mimsy were the borocrats.

#214 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:35 PM:

Dan @ #213

"(Someone requisition me a beat.)"

Kerouac and Ginsberg are dead.

#215 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:47 PM:

I started with Excession, it's understandable and fun to read, even if you don't get all the jokes. I started there because, well, I found this book and I had to read it. And then on to the beginning of the series...

I don't think I liked Phlebias as much as Player of Games, and I'm still waiting to reward myself with the rest. I think I need more gravitas though...

#216 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:50 PM:

I started Banks with Use of Weapons (based on advice from online sources). It's badly padded, boring, and completely populated with characters I did not give a cockeyed tinker's damn about. One of the worst books I've ever finished (and one of two that I forced myself to finish for the rhetorical value).

#217 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 04:54 PM:

Linkmeister, they live on in the hearts of black-clad hipsters everywhere, though good luck getting them to admit it.

(Someone requisition me the heart of a hipster.)

#218 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 05:37 PM:

Which if course leads to another list, of things to bring (like not sending things to editors, or 143s).

1. The head of Alfredo Garcia
2. The head of John the Baptist on a silver platter
3. More wine

#219 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 05:43 PM:

I started with Consider Plebas, which was pretty good[0]. I think Banks does better, the further he stays away from interactions between Minds. Excession really suffered from this, because the Minds were the major players, and mostly, they were very much like petty power players in human politics. About the only one that made any sense as a godlike being (with the requisite unwholesome weirdness[1]) was Sleeper Service, and even it wasn't weird or wise enough.

By contrast, I thought Look to Windward worked out pretty well. Humans in the Culture are used to interacting with Minds' avatars, and those mostly try to act human enough not to completely weird out their pet humans. But the actual motivations of those Minds ought to feel deep and incomprehensible, the way a smart dog might feel about its human master's often weird and inexplicable actions. So the hub's role in the story made sense.

I thought Player of Games was pretty good, and gave a flavor of what kind of ethical corner-cutting was done in order to respond to "special circumstances." Matter was also pretty good, though ISTM that the whole four-dimensional makeup of the shellworlds must have been a retrofit to answer a "why don't they just...." type plot question.

[0] I very much liked the sense of what a company of pirates/mercenaries was likely to draw to itself. And to this day, I vaguely expect to see news coverage of some impending disaster showing a Damage game going on while everyone else is evacuating.

[1] Yes, I'm thinking about Pham's godshatter here.

#220 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Serge @ 169: "Does anybody else remember Space: Above and Beyond?"

Yes. I enjoyed it, except for the "oh, someone got transfered in - they'll be dead by the end of the episode" trope (red shirts). And yes, the leader of the squad was female - but the higher-ups were male.

Melissa Singer @ 152: Have you read any of Faye Kellerman's books? I rather like having the Jewsih cultural stuff in there - although it's very different from my Jewish life. At least it's neither invisible nor, as you said, "played for laughs".

#221 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 06:26 PM:

There's also Inversions, which is clearly a Culture book, but an unusual one. (Unusual in much the way the title would suggest.) It's told from the perspective of people who do not understand what's really going on. You should read at least one other Culture book first, or you'll miss some of the same things the narrators do.

And yes, I'll second what other people have said: the order doesn't matter that much, either The Player of Games or Consider Phlebas is a fine place to start, and Excession is the weakest of the books.

#222 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 06:41 PM:

Charlie Stross @183

I hadn't thought about the contents of the test. Hm. Thinking about characteristics of the test ... It should be aimed at assessing a population of movies, not a single movie. It should be realistic about the proportion of gay people in the world at large. Hm. Maybe (1) Does it have a queer character? (2) Does the queer character have a last name? (3) Does the queer character with a last name have a conversation with a non-lead character that is not about the protagonist?

#223 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 07:16 PM:

Well, I hope y'all are happy. I took Iorich back to the library today and checked out Julian Comstock. I'm never going to make it through my list of books to be read at this rate, I can't keep up. And that's without being able to browse because I'm trying to rush a two year old through the building.

#224 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 07:28 PM:

Dr Science, I wonder if you would be so kind as to post the quotes or page numbers from "Julian Comstock" that led you to believe that Calyxa (and Julian's lover) were black.

I know Calyxa was described at least once as having curly hair, but she always struck me as (almost stereotypically) French-Canadian.

#225 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 07:33 PM:

albatross @54:

If your background assumption is that gays are very rare and exotic, then having a gay character in the story feels like having a pistol hanging on the wall--it should be an important part of the plot, somehow. If your background assumption is that gays are part of the world that just show up now and again, then having a gay character in the story feels like having a painting on the wall--it could conceivably be important, but there's no need for the story to turn on that painting.

This is pretty insightful. I reckon it can be generalized to all sorts of aspects of storytelling, in worldbuilding as well as characterization -- for instance, if the setting is mostly generic space opera or fantasyland, but has one or two fairly original or at least atypical characteristics, one tends to assume those atypical elements of the setting are going to be important to the plot. In Julian Comstock, I'd say that includes the neato hybrid of silent film, radio theater, and musical theater; it's not just a cool bit of worldbuilding that makes RCW's future stand out from other declining-civilization futures, but it turns out to be important to the plot.

How common you perceive a trait to be depends a lot more on how common it is among people in your local environment than how common it is globally, or nationwide. Growing up in Decatur, Georgia, I knew black people were a minority because people said so, but the first time I read a book or article giving a specific figure -- I think it was 11% of the U.S. population as of the last census, at the time? -- I couldn't believe it was that low, and had to double-check with another source. Similarly with gay people, in reverse -- not that I have any evidence that gay people were less common in the places I grew up than they are nationwide or globally, but they were less obvious in those places than in some. (Or maybe I was just as clueless as RCW's narrator.) Probably every reader has unconscious assumptions like this about what traits are rare in the real world and therefore likely to be plot-relevant if a character with those traits appear in a story.

Dan Layman-Kennedy @175:

I've been kicking around for awhile the half-formed idea that "necessary to the plot," aside from a convenient hammer that gets pulled out by readers to criticize stuff that makes them uncomfortable, is a manifestation of a fetish for... I don't know, economy, that seems peculiar to the styles of the present age.

It seems like a better rubric for criticism of short works than of long. The longer a story is, the less expectation I'd have that every single element will lead to or tie into something else, or that every element of characterization and worldbuilding will have obvious relevance to the plot.

Another way my assumptions about a work affect my reading of it is from what I know of the author, or their previous works -- if the main character is of a different gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever from the author, or from the main characters of other stories I've read by them, then I'm more likely to expect that trait will be important to the plot. (This is me trying to analyze my assumptions and ways of reading here, not defending them.)

On the other hand, the longer and more complex a story is, the more chance any given trait of any major character has to affect the plot in some way.

Another set of traits that we tend to assume will be plot-relevant -- far more so than race or gender, I reckon, and somewhat more so than sexual orientation or religion -- is various handicaps; especially blindness or deafness. Someone mentioned a movie which has a character in a wheelchair and where this is pure characterization, not plot; but I can't think of any movie or book I've ever read where a main character was blind or Deaf and this wasn't vital to the plot. Robert Sawyer's WWW: Wake, on this year's Hugo ballot is a good example; Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados stories, Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Blind Geometer", and Toph in Avatar: the Last Airbender all come to mind. (I think all those are excellent stories, and Toph is by far the coolest character in Avatar; but if we're judging stories or the culture that produces them by whether atypical character traits are expected to be plot-relevant or are allowed to be "mere" characterization, this isn't a good sign.) I've got two unfinished stories with blind main characters, one of which also has several characters with other handicaps, and I have to admit that in each case the plot-oriented story idea came first, and the characters were built up around their handicap -- the recklessness that led to this character getting blinded and the way he altered his life in reaction to it, or the way those characters' growing up was affected by their paraplegia, etc.

DaveL @70. Madeleine Robins @75, Elliott Mason @166:

Julian Comstock was by far the funniest of the Hugo nominees -- the only funny one in the novel category, really -- and the clueless unreliability of the narrator is the primary source of the humor. It didn't occur to me at the time, but on reading this thread I find myself wondering if the narrator is really as clueless as he (apparently inadvertently) reveals himself to be -- or if it might be an act, a pervasive subversively self-deprecating humor. That would cast an entirely different light on the way he inadvertently tells the reader that Julian is gay without realizing it himself, among other things. I'll have to keep that in mind when I re-read it.

Re: the Paul Kinkaid review -- the probems Patrick pointed out were the most serious, I reckon, but I noticed a number of other minor inaccuracies, which led me to leave off reading before I got as far as his discussion of The Windup Girl (which I thought also excellent, but not as good as Julian Comstock or The City and the City).

#226 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 07:57 PM:

I've been kicking around for awhile the half-formed idea that "necessary to the plot," aside from a convenient hammer that gets pulled out by readers to criticize stuff that makes them uncomfortable, is a manifestation of a fetish for... I don't know, economy, that seems peculiar to the styles of the present age.

It may be an overreaction to a valid problem. I read the uncut version of Les Miserables, as I'm sure I've mentioned here before, and it was my first exposure to a style of writing where an entire chapter is spent on the history of the convent as an institution in France, with some minor notes on this specific convent; a convent in which the characters spend about six pages, and to which they never return.

I've had the same thought with [I think it was] Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, which led me to my own personal partially-finished thought. It's something like "Most movies without explosions in them could be improved by the addition of same." It clearly foreshadowed my Infernokrusher Phase.

#227 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Sandy, #227: IME, any given reader's tolerance for such divagations is in direct proportion to his or her interest in the side topic.

#228 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 08:28 PM:

Sandy B @ 227 and Lee @ 228:

For Les Mis, that sounds more like the tendency of some authors to show that they've done their research. Research is good, but the author is supposed to use the research to inform their story, not dump a school report into it.

I'm not of the opinion that everything has to be necessary to the plot, but it should be doing something; plot, character, story, atmosphere, and so on. Where the line is drawn can be subjective. Some people may like one thing, while others may consider it a serious digression. Bits of 2001 feel like that to me. You've set the atmosphere. Hey, neat, commercial space travel. A bit anachronistic in places, but still neat. Can we move on now? Um, hello, anyone listening? Can we move on? Even so, where to draw the line on something like that is a matter of taste.

I have a hard time seeing characterization as something that has to be justified by being "necessary to the plot", however. People are complex and have traits that are important to who they are without being relevant to the plot, and yet they inform how the character behaves in any number of situations. People aren't little wind-up toys designed to perform their section of the story, and then be put away again.

#229 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 08:29 PM:

Sandy B, Lee: I tolerate Hugo's longwindedness because I absolutely love his narrator's dry, dry 150-proof snark, which is contained in the divagations. (Even when he's wrongity-wrong-wrong about the Middle Ages, he makes me not care. He makes *me* Not Care! That ought to tell you something.)

#230 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 08:41 PM:

A dinosaur on the wall in the first act must be...

oh bother.

#231 ::: Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 09:29 PM:

DaveL @225:

Alas no, I gave it back to the library. I shall try to see if Amazon's Look Inside or Google Books can help. Remind me, please, what Julian's boyfriend's name is.

#232 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2010, 10:25 PM:

OK, through the magic of, here are the descriptions:


a pink and radiant face, and large eyes whose color I could not at this distance discern, although I imagined them (correctly, as it turned out) to be a handsome chestnut-brown; and a crown of hair that coiled list a vast collation of ebony springs, the light behind her making a spectacular Halo of it.
Now, I admit that "pink" is suggestive of what we'd call a white woman -- but it's not clear if he's talking about someone like Beyonce, either. The hair, IMHO, is the crucial element in Wilson's descriptions of "black" characters, and when I read this I thought, "she's got a 'fro!" Throughout the book, Calyxa's hair is described as "coiled" (if not "spring-loaded"), and in the Epilogue when their daughter Flaxie is described:
her hair is as glossy and dark and tightly coiled as her mother's was.
Now, for Magnus Stepney, Julian's lover, the description is unmistakable:
lustrously dark skin and wiry hair.
While searching for these citations, I also came across the first description of Lymon Pugh, who has an "unruly knot of black hair" under his cap, and I wonder whether he, too, is supposed to be black ... or not.

Like all good humorous novelists, I think the author spent some time laughing at *us*, the readers.

#233 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 12:00 AM:

dcb @ 221... I seem to remember that one starship's captain was an older woman, but, yes, women in positions of command are rare in those shows.

#234 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 12:15 AM:

Doctor Science, #233: For me, the first thing suggested by "an unruly knot of dark hair" is Native American, with Eastern Asian as a second possibility. I couldn't tell you exactly why that connection is the one that springs to mind, though.

#235 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 01:12 AM:

"unmarked states"
There is a poem by W.S.Gilbert where he describes a character saying "no characteristic trait had he of any distinctive kind"

#236 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:22 AM:

Davel@225 -- I live in Montreal. There are lots of stereotypically Quebecois people who have dark skin, and indeed skin of the whole possible range of human skin tones. You may have heard of French West Africa and the French Caribbean, whence we have had a lot of immigration. I was picturing Calyxa as looking like my son's friend Shannon.

JimHenry@226: _Four Weddings and a Funeral_ has a Deaf character -- the hero's brother -- who is Deaf as part of his character and it's a minor plot point. Richard Curtis really does well on this stuff, it's a lot of why I like his movies.

#237 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 06:15 AM:

Erik Nelson #236: There is a poem by W.S.Gilbert where he describes a character saying "no characteristic trait had he of any distinctive kind"

The Bab Ballads, "General John", fourth stanza.

#238 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 07:57 AM:

Jo Walton @ 237... There are lots of stereotypically Quebecois

I haven't had poutine since last year's worldcon.

#239 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 08:13 AM:

Another thing that may be relevant is that people tend to associate with people similar to themselves. If a person has trait X, for any of a large number of traits, then the probability of somebody in their circle of friends and associates also having trait X is higher than of some random person having that trait. This explains things like Farthing, which on first reading I was inclined to criticize not because any of the characters being gay was "unnecessary", in Paul Kinkaid's term, but because it seemed like a Dickensian plot-driving coincidence for there to be so *many*... but on further reflection I realized that it made sense. Any group of people who are socially connected to one another is probably going to have a significantly higher or a significantly lower proportion of people with certain traits that are stigmatized in the broader culture, even if this social circle isn't formally organized around that trait.

So perhaps it's a coincidence harder to accept for a story's cast of characters to have *exactly one* black, or gay, or {having trait X} character, than for it to have none, or several? Maybe, depending on how many characters there are, how common trait X is in the broader population of the story's setting, and how strongly trait X affects people's opportunities and inclinations to form relationships within that setting. (Or the extent to which a given trait is regarded, within the culture of the story's setting, as important to a person's identity; or whether the main characters have known each other for a while or have just met, and if the latter, how and where...)

But again, if this is a valid test or the basis for one (which I'm uncertain of), it's so only statistically -- not as a rubric to criticize an individual work, but only perhaps a substantial oeuvre or an entire genre.

#240 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 08:29 AM:

What struck me as odd about Farthing wasn't that there were disproportionately many gay characters as that it seemed as though practically everybody was concealing something major about their life.

I don't know if this is simply how the world is in general (and of course, I'm not likely to see it), or if it's an idiosyncrasy of the novel, or only to be expected in highly repressive societies, even if most authors don't make so much use of it when they write about such societies.

#241 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 09:16 AM:

albatross @148: Geez, given the huge changes in the last couple centuries along those lines, it seems completely plausible to me. I don't even expect it to take that long--I think in another 50-60 years, people will look back at current racial issues with the kind of puzzlement that young people now look back on 1940s/50s racial issues.

And a lot of that is the nature of social change, which happens partly by changing minds, but at least as much by the holders of the old ideas getting old and dying off. Fifty years ago, there was a substantial constituency among whites for segregation. That constituency lost out, through being outnumbered and outmaneuvered, but the reason they're not much of a force now is that a whole lot of them have died of old age. (And it's worth remembering that in 1950, there were people still alive who remembered slavery and the civil war, and a lot of folks who grew up in its aftermath.)

I wish I agreed, but I overheard a lot of things as I was driving to New Jersey; dining in diners between LA and here, as well as getting a drink and cooling off in truck stops. The one which stood out the most was a couple of kids, early twenties, talking about how much New Orleans needed Katrina, because if any place was "in need of a bath," it was there. My first thought was it was a reference to the sense of it being a cesspool of sin and decadence; which was in it, but part of it was that it was, "dirty" and infested with blacks, who managed to somehow, just by virtue of being so large a part of the population, muck the place up.

That they couldn't get out, and so were the ones most afflicted was seen as fitting.

So no, I don't think race is going to abate that much in my lifetime. Some, one day at a time, but not enough to make it something people basically don't notice.

Mitch: The differences with the Irish/Polish/Bohunks/Italian, is that they could blend into the greater whole, in a fairly short order, because the two primary differences were language, and religion. The former is going to be blended out, not more than 30/40 years in, as the grandchildren learn the tounge of the grandparents as a second language; if at all.

Religion, by and large, is an invisible affair, so that doesn't really mark; unless the person makes a point of it.

Blacks (and aisians, and hispanics) don't have the first edge. No matter what they do, they stand out.

#242 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 10:32 AM:

#223 Dr Science:

Thanks for the quotes. This morning I found the one from when Adam first sees Calyxa in the church ("pink and radiant"), but hadn't found the others yet. I was using old technology (leafing through the book).

I think it's clear that Magnus is black, and I think it's reaching to believe Calyxa is, curly hair or no. It's actually kind of interesting if Calyxa is white, as then her romance and marriage to Adam are interracial and no one bats an eye at it. One might well expect a religion descended from the Dominionists of today to be racially as well as religiously intolerant, and yet there seems to be no evidence they are.

#237 Jo Walton:

I agree that Montreal (lovely city!) has plenty of racial diversity, but by "stereotypically French-Canadian" I meant in the "pulp novels and B movies about Canada" sense. Calyxa's brothers come across as "stereotypically French-Canadian" country louts/bruisers, too. It fits in with Wilson's nineteenth century novel framework. "Blake" isn't a French name, which is something of a problem with that theory, alas. (I'd love to work out a connection between "Calyxa Blake" and Edgar Pangborn's "The Trial of Callista Blake," but I can't see one.)

I'd expect a lot of ethnic mixing and migrations and general hyphenation in the aftermath of the sort of catastrophes that led up to the 22nd century described, so the future New York and Montreal might well be much more ethnically diverse than what we see today.

#243 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 10:40 AM:

DaveL @ 243... stereotypically French-Canadian" country louts/bruisers

In old movies, the main cliché about my ethnic group was that we speak funny.
("As a matter of fact, Serge...")

#244 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 10:43 AM:

When I used to watch the various "Law & Order" shows, if it was brought up that someone was an SF fan, there was a reason for it in the plot. Almost always an unflattering reason.

#246 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 11:25 AM:

terry @242--

i wish i could disagree with you more vehemently, but that would take more optimism than i'm capable of.

so i'll agree with you, for the most part, and register just one or two little dissents.

1) traveling through mississippi recently, i stood at a hotel desk behind a black guest talking with the white desk clerk. he needed to change some reservations, suddenly; it emerged that there had been a death. she was solicitous, and urged him to invoke the "bereavement rate" for his extra reservations. the entire exchange was professional, cordial, and, at least to all surface appearances, unmarked by racial difference. after he left, i chatted with the clerk a bit about the interaction, specifically the awkwardness of having to ask questions that you know may lead to someone's saying "yes, i just lost a loved one." again, nothing about his race came up.

this conversation could not have taken place, between those two people, in a hotel in mississippi, when i was a young man. there's a kind of progress in that.

2) re: the easier integration of irish/poles/etc. . yes; to us, now, they look indistinguishable from the "native" (sc. wasp) populations into which they integrated.
but that is an accomplishment as well. look at lots of 19th anti-immigration propaganda, and irish people are caricatured as simian, thick-browed, chinless thugs. their very physiognomy marks them out as sub-human. so too with lots of other immigrant groups; at the time, they were not at all thought to look like "we", sc. anglo-saxons, do. (my particular "we" was subject to other visual caricatures, then and now, so i wasn't part of that wasp "we".)

what we take to be evident facts of physical appearance, "they just don't look like us", are themselves subject to at least some degree of sociological conditioning, some arbitrary lumping and splitting. ask a white kansan whether koreans look like japanese look like han. now ask a han.

over time, our sense of "looks like us" can change, too. and there too i take a little bit of comfort.

#247 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 11:40 AM:

I just read the Roger Ebert review of The Stoning of Soraya M. and he criticizes that, among other things, the movie is not enough about the men of the village. The review

#248 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 02:27 PM:

kid bitzer@247--

you know, kid, there's really no good excuse for your invoking the "white kansan" as an example of ignorance. all your argument needed was something like "someone who doesn't have much familiarity or experience with a range of asian facial types."

the fact that you used "white kansan" as a shorthand for that says some things about your own prejudices, too.

#249 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:08 PM:

kid bitzer @ 249: I think you can be excused, or at least refrain from publicly flogging yourself, once it's understood that your shorthand contained an implicit 'the average' rather than an implicit 'any'. Asserting that there could not be a white Kansan capable of making the distinction in question would be prejudicial. Asserting that a white Kansan capable of making such distinction would not be particularly common is a legitimate observation.

#250 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Jim, #240: Good point. Certainly there are more LGBT people in my social circle than there would be likely to be in a random population sample of the same size. Whether that's because being a more accepting group draws in more such folks, or because it makes it easier for people to be out about it, is a tossup.

#251 ::: Acuvue oasys ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:28 PM:

@ Serge above - LOL, I know I'd always tell that to my husband and he thought I was a crazy conspiracy theorist!

#252 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:28 PM:

#206 Fragano Ledgister

You really see this in the music: music forensics >>> Postmamboism.

Cuba's anthropologists have been attempting to reconstruct the islands indigenous populations. Some interesting archeology has been accomplished.

As for the Yoruba slaves who came to Cuba: they were men, primarily, and primarily confined to the baracoons when not working. There was little if any chance for the baracoon populations to interact with anyone but each other -- thus one of the huge reasons that homosexual behavior is so very taboo in Abukua culture. Also, unlike many places the nación were confined together, which again did so much to help preserve and transmit their spiritual and cultural practices. And again, their arrival was so late -- late 18th century to start with, but the major arrivals were in the 1820;s and 1830's; after the 1850's they were the largest numbers of the slaves brought to Cuba.

For such information all in one place and cited to sources, see Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo.

Love, c.

#253 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:59 PM:

Constance #253:

I've long wondered at the automatic acceptance of the almost instantaneous disappearance of the Taino and Lucayans in the sixteenth century. But that's an issue for another time and place. (It's been much too easy to just blame the Spaniards for genocide, and not think about ethnic and cultural absorption over the generations).

Not all Yoruba were included in the Oyo kingdom. I'm going to be interested to see, whenever the genetic mapping gets done, what the genetic connections are between west Africa and the Caribbean. Or even southern Africa and the middle belt of the Americas more broadly. The late Neville Hall once mentioned to me that the Spanish in the 16th century imported enslaved labour taken by the Portuguese from Madagascar. While that's a long route, if it was profitable to haul labour by sail from the Dutch East Indies to Surinam in the 19th century, it can't have been all that unprofitable to do so a shorter distance in the 16th.

#254 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Doctor Science, I don't think "ebony springs" is a fro. I think it's what I know as a sausage curl. Fros are not really batches of coils.

#255 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 06:22 PM:

Serge, 245: My former boss complains bitterly about how techies are portrayed in media, because they're all ill-dressed, computer-obsessed, socially-maladroit goofs, and he has had problems getting dates because of the stereotype. (I have referred to my former company, in an earlier incarnation, as the world's only white-shoe computer consulting firm.) This is not to say that ex-boss, who I think the world of, doesn't have a little bit of nerd in him. Or a lot.

Plus, he loves The Big Bang Theory, in spite of all this. Go figure.

#256 ::: heresiarch sees spam, maybe? ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 06:58 PM:

acuvue oasys' comment @ 252 doesn't really track, and the link is to a commercial site selling Acuvue products.

#257 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 06:59 PM:

Chris Quinones @ 256... I'm not sure how I feel about The Big Bang Theory. I saw one episode at one of the local SF club's meetings, and we can laugh at the show and with it because we're all nerdy even when we dress well. It may be true that the nerds have won, and not just because one of us works in the Oval Office. But... I still remember the way it used to be before we won. If we truly won.

#258 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 07:35 PM:

254 Fragano

The late Neville Hall once mentioned to me that the Spanish in the 16th century imported enslaved labour taken by the Portuguese from Madagascar. While that's a long route, if it was profitable to haul labour by sail from the Dutch East Indies to Surinam in the 19th century, it can't have been all that unprofitable to do so a shorter distance in the 16th.

They did! The Portuguese slaved both coasts of African starting with their very first voyages. They also committed terrible destruction upon the East Coast of Africa and the west Coast of India on their very first voyage, and that didn't end then. They were a brutal and ruthless set, the Heros of the Age of Discovery.

Love, C.

#259 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 07:39 PM:

Though, it must be mentioned that via the Swahilis, the Arabs and especially the Omanis, had already been doing a fair amount of slaving of East and Central Africa by then -- though NOTHING compared to the numbers that got going when the Portuguese set up their ports. Thus the number of Muslim slaves out of Africa ending up in the New World, particularly Brasil.

The Spanish throne, however, forbade fairly soon the enslavement of any Muslim slaves -- because they could read and write, and were a danger for starting slave rebellions, and also because they were people, then, of the book, who at least knew of Jesus Christ.

Love, C.

#260 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 08:04 PM:

KeithS 210: Could you do something about these form numbers? The form numbered XHAA969, Application for Xopher's Boyfriend Status (And Attendant Power Therefrom) is altogether too close, visually, to XHAA9G9, and I rather like my head where it is.

While my minion Dan (213) is correct about the Renaming Request Form, you also have the old version of that form. Your Hegemon's Forms Revision 3.14.15 (called the "rebaking" by the vulgar and seditious) addresses both your concerns.

1. The new Application for Hegemonic Boyfriend Status is form XHBTM4U.
2. It has a section in which you may specify exactly where you like your head, as well as how.

#261 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 08:07 PM:

Borders is not open 24 hours, so I had to wait until after work yesterday to get what you all have built up as this year's must-read. I'm not very far into the book yet, but so far it is living up to promises.

Peeking ahead, I too noticed the Calyxa/Callista Blake connection.

#262 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Kid Bitzer at 247 and 249: Your phrase even brought a particular (fictional) white Kansan to my mind: Ms. Wagadorn's sister visiting Log Angeles in an episode of the late 1960s TV series Julia, who had never touched a balck person before.

#263 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 09:00 PM:

Constance #260: There are people of recent African descent in India, and the trans-Indian Ocean slave trade from Africa wasn't all that small.

I think the fear of revolt was much more in the minds of the Spanish throne than the desire not to enslave fellow believers in the One God. Anti-Islam ran pretty deep in Spanish culture for a very long time. The first slaves taken on the west African coast by the Portuguese, btw, were Muslims seized in what is now Mauritania. They were, Hugh Thomas indicates, probably related to the Portuguese who seized them. Being Moors, they didn't look all that different from the Portuguese either.

#264 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 11:09 PM:

Manny @248 - On reading Ebert's review, I think a more accurate representation of his complaint than "is not enough about the men" is more like "presents the men as 2D monsters rather than as believable humans."

I think a movie portraying as monsters those guilty of orchestrating a stoning does us a disservice; it helps prop up the convenient fiction of "It can't happen here."

#265 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 01:36 AM:

To reinforce/amplify the point I take kid bitzer to be making @247: Any breeding population is going to display physical traits that can be abstracted and used to mark its members, which is why ethnic caricature is possible at all--or type-casting, for that matter. Even in a population like that of the US, in which there has been considerable interbreeding from a wide range of immigrant populations, it is still possible to spot traits that match old caricatures and stereotypes. I suspect that the same social forces that led to intermarriage (that is, socially acceptable interbreeding) and the subsequent blending of traits are responsible for a decrease in the hostile attention to markers-of-difference. It's no longer a big deal to look "a little bit" Jewish or Irish or Italian. (Of course, we're still struggling with looking a "little bit" black and having some problems--and confusion--with "looking Muslim," whatever that means.) I amuse myself by watching for "typical" ethnic features and faces in the crowds at the mall or on the street and reflecting on the social changes that led to the lovely mongrelization I see everywhere.

#266 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 01:58 AM:

Russell @ 266: Not all of that mixing and matching comes from harmonizing social change, says the green-eyed blond with the Jewish nose.* Some of it comes from distinctly antisocial behavior in highly unpleasant times that were not so very long ago, genetically speaking.

* You are, perhaps, cognizant of the fact that Judaism is matrilinear? One generally knows who one's mother is.

#267 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:16 AM:

Constance at 260 and others:
I'm reading about the Omani portion of African slavery in Christine Bird's The Sultan's Shadow. I'm learning a lot!

#268 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:25 AM:

Russell @ #266, visit Hawai'i. You'd realize pretty quickly that trying to figure out ethnic mixtures here is nearly impossible. It was done pretty peacefully, unlike the situations Mark @ #267 describes, but there are still varying degrees of otherization to be found.

#269 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 08:45 AM:

Allan Beatty @263: In the early 1990s I worked alongside a woman not that much older than me (I was in my early 20s at the time) who told me that, growing up in a small mid-Western town, she had never seen (in the flesh, as opposed to e.g. on TV) anyone who wasn't white until she went away to college. Having grown up in Manchester, UK, I found this astonishing.

Mind you, as a teenager at a local horse show on the edge of north Manchester, I once surprised and amazed someone when I said something that made it clear I was Jewish. Her response was to the effect of "but... you're normal."

#270 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 10:01 AM:

In the 1970s I lived for a few years in South-East Asia.  There was quite a mix of peoples – Chinese, a few Japanese, Filipino, Malay, Dayak, a few Indian types, whites from Europe and Australia and USA.  But African faces were very rare, so a Ghanaian friend of ours got a lot of interested comments, just because of her rarity in that area.  (I said interested, not racist;  those people mostly are a lot more grown-up than we are and just enjoy their diversity.)

At the time I had a big red handlebar mustache (I was very young).  East Asians’ facial hair tends to be sparse, so mine got a fair bit of interest.  Once on a train in southern Korea an old man reached across and tugged it to see if it was real.

#271 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 10:07 AM:

Mark #267 : indeed.  My daughter has auburn hair and blue eyes and a small nose (she knows who her father is) – but she’s Jewish, no question, by matrilinearity.

#272 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 12:43 PM:

Mark #267: Not that long ago historically speaking either.

#273 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Ben Grimm is Jewish.

#274 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 12:50 PM:

We make certain assumptions about markers too, that are culturally bound. In American and other western societies, those are often things like hair and skin colour, height, accent, and so on.

On being marked or unmarked: A graduate student of mine is currently doing an internship in New York. He's Ghanaian, Ashanti to be precise, brought up in Ghana and the UK. He reports that Senegalese have been approaching him on the street and addressing him in French (which he speaks badly) and Wolof (which he doesn't speak at all). All on the basis of his height and facial features which make him "look Senegalese". To cap it all, because his parents were working there at the time, he was actually born in Dakar. His sister suggested that he was "really" Abdul Diop.

#275 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:00 PM:

#268 ErrolC

The Omani history in The Sultan's Shadow is fascinating, and not so easily obtained in this country, particularly these days. I learned a lot of things I didn't previously know. That's always a big plus! I was glad to have had a solid floor of the Portuguese activities in those parts of the world to bring to the book.

It rather bogs down, for me, with accounts of African exploration by other Europeans then, since I've read so many accounts of these people and their adventures, castrophes (for themselves and the Africans) in other sources. It was Oman itself that makes the author's book a valuable addition to my African history library. But then, mileage varies, depending on what we are looking for!

#264 Fragano

Indeed, what the Portuguese were doing to the cities, ports and their peoples along East Africa, the Arab Peninsula, the Persian >!

#276 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:15 PM:

Ooops, something went wrong, from the caroted exclamation mark between Persian Gufl to indicate the conflict over the naming of that body of water:

Which was speculation for alternate history.

The Portuguese clearly saw the destruction they wrought along the east African coast, the Persian Gulf, the Arab Peninsula and the West Indian coasts as a continuation of the Crusades and the Reconquista. That mindset also formed much of the attitude with which the Spanish and the Portuguese regarded the indigenous inhabitants of the New World. So, if there had been no centuries' old conflict between Islam and Christendom, would the brutality and cruelty characteristic of the Age of Discovey by the Europeans have been different?

Love, C.

#277 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:18 PM:

Fragano -- We were invited to a gathering of the Portuguese 'tribes' of New Jersey for a big dinner and concert by Bongo, brought in from Portugual.

There was a whole section devoted to Portuguese from Goa -- who were, of course, Goa African-Indians.

Love, C.

#278 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:23 PM:

Fragano @ 273: Quite so. Historical references to time feel more subjective, so I said 'genetically' instead as an attempt at greater clarity.

#279 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:48 PM:

Constance #277: The Portuguese did see themselves as continuing their war of national reconquest and expansion. Thus, Henrique o Navegador saw the voyages he sponsored as part of the same fight that he'd been involved in in the conquest of Ceuta. They also saw it as a religious fight -- Christian v. Moslem, which is why, when they found the Muslim enemy engaged in war against a Christian kingdom in east Africa, Ethiopia, they allied themselves with that Christian kingdom and saved it from conquest by a Somali sultanate. They also despoiled weaker realms, even ones they'd Christianised, like the Congo kingdom.

Had there not been a history of conflict fuelled by religion, would there have been the impetus on the part of either Iberian kingdom to conquer? The political structures of the Spanish and Portuguese overseas empires were projections en/no ultramar of the institutions created by the Portuguese and Castillian monarchies (and before Castile absorbed Leon, the Leonese) during the centuries of conflict with Córdoba and its successor taífas to settle, and police the mobile frontera between Christian and Muslim Iberia.

#280 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Mark #279: I take your point.

#281 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 02:57 PM:

Serge #274: Yeah, but he's also heavily marked for another minority....

dcb #270: My family is Jewish... at one point in childhood, my sister went to a gymnastics camp in the Midwest. She told of teasing them with "Wanna see my horns?"

#282 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 03:35 PM:

David Harmon @ 282... If I remember correctly, there was a reason for his ethnicity to come up, as the plot involved a Golem.

By the way, I've always liked movie actor Issur Danielovitch Demsky. One of his most famous pictures had a bunch of people all claiming they were his character, near the end of the movie.

#283 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 03:37 PM:

Finally got around to reading Julian Comstock this weekend and enjoyed it very much. Was slightly taken aback that PK's review referred to it as steampunk—there's steam power in it, sure, but it didn't feel like steampunk to me. Actually the steam engines and the oppressive Church and the kites made me think (fleetingly) of a Keith Roberts Pavane/Kiteworld mashup.

(The steam worried me, a bit: if our industrial civilization did collapse and we had to start again, would there be enough easily-obtainable coal for a second Steam Age? There's still a fair amount of coal under Britain but you need modern machinery to get to it; is America luckier in this respect?)

#284 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 03:50 PM:

Steve wab, it depends which mountains got their tops blown off in the nuclear war.

Otherwise, nahh.

#285 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 03:56 PM:

Steve @ #284, a chart (whose source is the highly credible British Petroleum) which shows that the US had, as of 2006, 22.5% of world coal reserves. The UK is way down the list.

#286 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 06:20 PM:

My dad was in the Navy, so I saw black and Filipino folks as soon as I could see.

#287 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 07:46 PM:

Linkmeister@286: the coal is certainly there; my doubt was over whether it's extractable in the conditions of the Julian Comstock future, which has little oil and not much technology. Xopher put his finger on the issue I was thinking of—how much American coal requires mountain-munching machinery to extract it?

#288 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 10:21 PM:

DCB at # 270: I had almost that experience growing up in South Dakota in the 1960s. Except it was a college town, so I had met some black college students. They were from Africa, not from anywhere in the United tates.

#289 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 11:11 PM:

dcb, #270: I grew up in one of the very white, middle-to-upper-middle-class suburbs of Detroit. While I had definitely seen black people*, I had never actually met one until we moved to Nashville and I had some black kids as schoolmates. It took me roughly 1 day to get from "I wonder what they're like" to "they're just kids, like me".

* Enough of them to wonder, at age 5 or so, why you only saw black couples and white couples, but not couples with one of each. It remained a puzzle to me until much later, when I learned about racial tensions and civil rights.

#290 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2010, 11:25 PM:

There's rather a lot of easily-accessible coal in southern Illinois (near -- in a twist that will surprise no one, I'm sure -- a town called Carbondale, among others). It's just incredibly dirty-burning, sulfurous, not-legal-to-use-in-the-US coal.

So we ship it to China. :-/

#291 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 12:11 AM:

I had a not-dissimilar experience to Lee @290's, growing up in the 90's in small-town Iowa, so sadly that kind of... disconnectedness isn't confined to the past yet. I'm pretty sure it wasn't until I got to college that I interacted with anyone who was Jewish (or Indian, or atheist, or gay, or African-American who hadn't been adopted by a White family, or ...) in any way that made a lasting impression.

I still do sometimes feel as though I have stepped through a portal from the boring white 1950's suburban life I was leading in high school into a fairyland filled with wonderful, fantastic people of all shapes and colors and sizes and abilities and beliefs, into the place where things that happen matter. I could never willingly walk back through the wardrobe, and in that sense I can't quite understand why anyone would.

#292 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 02:13 AM:

I remember being in high school during the Six Day War in 1967 and asking a guy why he seemed so unnerved by it. "I'm Jewish," he said. There weren't any religious groupings at my high school (oh, the cool kids and the jocks and the nerds, sure, but not religious or ethnic -- for one thing, the school in suburban Northern Va was pretty much all white), so that was the first I knew that he was.

I've still got the senior class yearbook; there are about five kids with Asian names. There's one black girl and there are maybe three Hispanic names. Out of 300 or so seniors.

#293 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 08:28 AM:

My kids' high school is about 60% black; the county is about 35% black; the University of Georgia is about 2% black. Thus we can be a minority, an overwhelming majority, or somewhere in between, all without leaving home.

#294 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 01:19 PM:

Terry @ 242:

"Religion, by and large, is an invisible affair, so that doesn't really mark;"

Perhaps if you're only looking at various flavors of Protestant Christianity. I'd say Sikhs, Hasidic Jews, Mormons on mission, Muslim women who consider wearing hijab to be required by the Qu'ran, and Catholics on Ash Wednesday, just to offer some examples, are pretty clearly marked, and it's not at all clear to me that these are instances of "making a point" of declaring their religion so much as observing its dictates and traditions.

#295 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 01:25 PM:

dcb@221: Many of them, yes. They're pretty good. I like some of Naomi Ragen's stuff too and of course I cut my eye teeth on Harry Kemelman's "Rabbi" series.

But those are books in which being Jewish is kind of the main point. As are books like "We are So Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah".

What the teenager and I would like to see are books in which characters are Jewish the same way _we_ are Jewish--living in a multicultural world and living pretty much "like everyone else" except for keeping different holidays. Stories which allow characters to simply "be Jewish" instead of using them to make points.

Of course, we wish much the same about other groups as well. Where are the (American-born or youthful immigrant) Indian and Pakistani kids in fiction? They're all over our real world . . . .

#296 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 01:30 PM:

dcb@270: Many times when I have gone to writers' conferences in non-urban parts of the US, I have literally been the first Jewish person some attendees have ever met. This was harder in the days of "The Nanny" and "Seinfeld" than it is now, but it's still interesting.

#297 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 01:38 PM:

Ulrika@295: You don't have to be Hasidic or even Orthodox to be "marked" when it comes to Judaism.

"Why do you need time off next week?"

"Wait, you don't believe in Santa? I mean, I know you don't celebrate Christmas, but Santa--he's secular!"

"What do you mean 'your Bible'? Aren't all Bibles the same?"

I know I am sometimes more obviously Jewish, usually in response to stuff like that.

#298 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 03:00 PM:


Fair point. I was just going for low-hanging fruit, i.e. examples where religion is marked visually in distinctive, easily recognized ways. Once you get to the point of talking to people it's easy even for atheism to be a marked state, depending on where you are and what the social norms are. In the South, a friend of mine was actually asked point blank what church she attended in a job interview.

#299 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 04:05 PM:

Hair described as "unruly" maps instantly to "curly" to me. Having grown up with straight hair and a yearning for curls, I was surprised to learn while reading Curly Girl how strongly straight hair is privileged (in US society at least). Much like being large-breasted, having curly hair seems to be considered by many to be a sign of being uncontrollable and "loose".

#300 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 10:15 PM:

kid bitzer: I don't argue that things are better, I just don't expect them to be resolved (much less gone) in my lifetime.

The thing with the Italians, etc. is that while the caricatures of them existed, the actual markers were behavioral, more than they were truly physical. Once they didn't sound different, and had done some cultural assimilation, they could be accepted as being real people.

Not so much with the black, and the brown. One of the interesting things (in re blending out of features over time) is that I see some fairly distinct local traits... once I get out of the larger cities. I also feel a lot more comfortable when I can see a broader palette of skin tones.

Ulrika: Yes, but most of those involve open variance from the norm. Wiccan, Jewish (apart from Orthodox sects), Athiest, Satanist, Muslim, Santeria, Shinto, Buddhism, etc. don't require activities which stand out. I know a fair number of white santerians, there is nothing to mark them as apart. It's not an issue of making a point (though some of those are, there is not requirement to bear the ashes all day), but that, by and large, even for variant religions, being white masks them.

Yes, being atypical is marking (I was catholic in areas where the only catholics were perceived as being, "Mexican"), but for white folks, it's not a thing which is obviously marking. Some secondary activity, usually, has to happen for that variance to be noted.

Lexica: When I have shortish hair, it's both straight, and unruly. It will not lie in any one direction. Nor will it, in any way shape or form, hold a curl, nor even a wave.

#301 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 10:28 PM:

Kevin Riggle, 292: I still do sometimes feel as though I have stepped through a portal from the boring white 1950's suburban life I was leading in high school into a fairyland filled with wonderful, fantastic people of all shapes and colors and sizes and abilities and beliefs, into the place where things that happen matter. I could never willingly walk back through the wardrobe, and in that sense I can't quite understand why anyone would.

This is lovely, and expresses my feelings perfectly. Thank you.

#302 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 10:57 PM:

Jo Walton@179:

I'm very glad to hear that you noticed, because I remember looking up your review after I'd finally gotten around to reading the book, and was both boggled and distressed that you seemed to have missed the way Wilson marks (or rather un-marks) race. I'm relieved to know that I can still trust your powers of observation, but distressed that you didn't feel you could talk about what you observed in a way that wouldn't be misconstrued.

The fact that issues of gender, race, inclusion, and all that are under *constant* discussion on livejournal/dreamwidth made it easy for me to notice what Wilson does, but it also made it easy for me to think and talk about it.

I was hoping that someone in this discussion would know if Wilson has talked/written about the way he handles race in "Julian Comstock". I basically agree with Terry @242: I think the idea that slavery could come back to North America and *not* have anything to do with race is preposterous. But writers are allowed one preposterous assumption per book, and I'm willing to go along with this one.

#303 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2010, 11:44 PM:

Marilee @255:

I completely disagree. I think Wilson is describing this kind of hairstyle, not sausage curls.

Remember, Calyxa's hair is like a *halo* -- that certainly sounds like a 'fro. And black african hair definitely coils naturally -- each hair is like a little slinky.

In general, too, sausage curls are a highly artificial, high-maintenance hairstyle, and it seems clear to me that, throughout, the narrator is talking about Calyxa's natural hair, which her daughter inherits.

But I'm not sure if I would have come to the same conclusion about Calyxa's appearence based on this passage, except that I was looking for other unmarked black people once I noticed what Wilson did with the narrator.

#304 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 07:04 AM:

Melissa Singer #298:

"Aren't all Bibles the same?"

I've come across real shock when some people whose only exposure to the Bible is to the Protestant version discover the Roman Catholic version, much less the fact that the Jewish Bible is missing part of what they consider to be Scripture. Then there's the fact that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a couple of extra canonical books. As do the Eastern Orthodox Churches (and they're not the same extra canonical books either).

#305 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 08:46 AM:

I am by no means an example of racial enlightenment, but even I get a squirmy uncomfortable 'where are all the brown people?' feeling from certain books, TV shows and movies. Also "where are all the old people?" "Where are all the fat people?" and "Where are all the people with disabilities?".

Since I became a physical therapist assistant, I can spot a gait disturbance a quarter of a mile away--and they're not at all rare. Physical handicaps, as someone said above, seem to fall into that "only if the story requires it" category too.

I get the feeling that actors with disabilities are in a similar situation now to what actors of color were a generation ago--you never get to play the real estate agent, or the bank teller, or the next-door neighbor. Unless it's played for Significance.

#306 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 08:51 AM:

fagano @305--

"the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a couple of extra canonical books"

which, in other churches, are considered extra-canonical books.

what a hyphen can do!

#307 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 09:00 AM:

terry @301--

i think we are in basic agreement. yeah, some progress. but goddamn it's slow.

(i almost wonder whether you meant to put a "not" in this: 'that things are better"?)

#308 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Fragano@305: Judaism has extra-canonical books too and huge rafts of thought and practice come out of them. Not to mention some wonderful arguments. Even a prayerbook (or _siddur_) can be the source of interesting discussion. My congregation switched to a new siddur a couple of years ago--one with more gender-neutral language and more readings by women and modern writers--and for some people it's been a big adjustment.

Lila@306: We saw Despicable Me this weekend and I was sad to see that it takes place in an apparently all-white world (the minions don't really count). Cute movie, but . . . .

#309 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 11:04 AM:

I am by no means an example of racial enlightenment, but even I get a squirmy uncomfortable 'where are all the brown people?' feeling from certain books, TV shows and movies. Also "where are all the old people?" "Where are all the fat people?" and "Where are all the people with disabilities?".

cf. the underrated (not that good, but still underrated) "Last Action Hero", in which a small boy tries to convince Jack Slater (Arnie) that he's inhabiting a fictional movie universe.

"Haven't you noticed that every one of the women here is gorgeous? Where are all the ordinary everyday women? They're not here because this is all fictional!"

"No, they're not here because this is California."

#310 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 11:18 AM:

Lila 306: I was just informed the other day that it complicates lighting a scene when there are people of markedly different skin colors in it. My friend was explaining this as his reasoning for not picking any actors of color for the movie we're working on.

I was pretty unhappy, but as he's the director and we have time constraints, I didn't fight him for too long. But the next one will be different, because whether he knows it or not, I and the actor he wants to play my character's student have very different skin tones. The other guy is caramel-colored, but in addition to being Caucasian I'm WHITE. As in pale pale white.

Also, I'm going to tell him the extra work of lighting is worth it for the statement colorblind casting makes. And it's rarely significant in the kind of movies we make, though casting the heartless murderer as black and everyone else white is going to be Right Out.

#311 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 11:23 AM:

311: I remember hearing someone who worked on the Harry Potter films saying that it was quite a shift for all the Hollywood lighting types to go from lighting California tans to lighting English pallor.

#312 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 11:23 AM:

I should point out that most people in America would not consider my friend the movie director white either.

#313 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 12:34 PM:

Xopher@311: That's an interesting point, especially at the "cheap" level of film-making (I don't think I'd accept this excuse at the Hollywood feature level).

It certainly makes some difference for standalone portrait lighting. I suspect that, the better you are at it, the more difference it makes -- you're caring about smaller and smaller subtleties, as is generally the case as one becomes more expert at a craft. (I'm pretty mediocre at lighting -- among the set of people who do lighting at all.)

#314 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 12:54 PM:

It's the same in photography. When you are photographing white and poc in the same frame it can be really tricky not to blow out the person of color.

You also photograph black musicians with different light settings than white ones.

It's a basic photography skill, akin to shutting off the red eye flash function.

Love, C.

#315 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 12:58 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 296: "like everyone else" except for keeping different holidays I agree - re. Faye Kellerman's books, I rather like the bits where e.g. Dekker's brings home-made Kosher sandwiches for lunch - but is otherwise living the "normal" life of a policeman of his rank: it's part of his life, but doesn't define him. And yes, I'd like to see more "normal, but also Jewish" characters in fiction.

Melissa Singer @ 309: We've recently started using a new siddur with transliterations as well as Hebrew and English, to assist those with poor Hebrew to join in without being embarrassed. I've always found the Study Passages sections of the siddur and machzor to be fascinating, thoughtful reading.

kid bitzer @ 307: Lovely. Yes, puctuation is important!

#316 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 01:04 PM:

Terry -

No, actually, I was drawing on examples where the average member of the group is not deviating from the norms of their specific religious beliefs to be visually marked. Also, "Muslim" is not a religion. The religion is called Islam. Also, "I know people who" =/= the norm. Yes it is possible for people who practice Islam, for example, to "pass" in a non-Islamic majority culture (perhaps as Spanish Jews "passed" so thoroughly down over the generations that they lost all knowledge of the practices of the religion, and only knew that they were secret Jews, whatever that meant). But that doesn't mean that the majority of the worlds Muslims don't believe that wearing some form of hijab is not required for practicing Muslim women.

I recognize that skin color is revered as an icon of "anti-racist" theology as more special and intractable than other forms of marking, but just believing it doesn't make it so.

#317 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 01:13 PM:

dcb@316: Are you using Mishkan T'filah? That's what we've got and I really like it.

Since I don't read Hebrew, this is the first siddur where I am always on the same page as everyone else and don't have to keep a finger bookmarking the transliterations in the back. Plus the readings can really be inspiring.

My dd was bat mitzvah last year and it was great, though some of my family were a bit befuddled (not unexpected as we are secular, Conservative, Reform [most using Gates of Prayer], and Reconstructionist in the current generations).

#318 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 01:41 PM:


I can't help thinking that there may be important differences between extra canonical books and extra-canonical books...

#319 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 01:42 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 318: It's the new (2008) UK Reform Judaism "Forms of Prayer" (UK "Reform" approximates to US "Conservative", as I recall). I've always found the readings inspiring and I'm sure I'll find some new ones in this. Remembering discussions here in Making Light about the impression Christians are given about Judaism (that it's all smiting and "Thou shalt not" etc.), I wish I could introduce more non-Jews to the readings in our prayer books.

#320 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Constance@315: Backwards, I think; "blow out" means overexpose. Lighting a mixed group, it's the light skins that are in danger of being "blown out", not the dark. (There isn't as well-established a term for disappearing into the shadows, which is the corresponding thing that happens with underexposure, but that's what dark-skinned people are at risk of in a mixed picture.)

#321 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 05:05 PM:

dcb@320: Sorry, somehow missed that you were in the UK.

Mishkan T'filah is the new (2007) US Reform siddur; not all congregations have adopted it in part because it's pretty expensive and in part because some people consider it kind of radical, while others think it's too traditional (what else is new, lol).

Our congregation switched over and is covering some of the costs by having members sponsor bookplates--I did that for dd's bat mitzvah.

One of the many things I like about Mishkan T'filah is that it draws on so many sources and not all of them are Jewish; dd pointed out a Langston Hughes poem she knew from a school project.

I'm glad that we bought the two-volume version, which is easier to read and use, even though it means more work to swap out the Shabbat edition and the weekday/festival edition.

We also use the "Hertz" Bible, which is stuffed with commentaries.

How interesting that your movement and mine both brought out new prayerbooks at pretty much the same time. I read some stuff on the Movement for Reform Judaism website and it sounds like both groups were working with similar goals.

#322 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 322. No problem.

Reform Judaism (previously Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, RSGB) has had a siddur for daily/shabbat services and a separate machzor for the High Hold Days for a long time. So far, only the siddur has been brought out in the new format. Our synagogue is quite small, but it's bought a fair number of the new siddurs, so anyone who turns up can use one and be on the same page as everyone else, which I think is great. I'm sure some are sponsored, like you mentioned (some of the old ones were, I know). I bought my own.

Reform over here probably is not so different from Reform in the USA, but we also have the Liberal/Progressive synagogues, which are even more liberal than Reform (holding more of the service in English, for example).

I grew up in a very Jewish neighbourhood - we were the only non-Orthodox Jewish family on our street, I went to Jewish infant and junior schools, there was a Lubavitch centre just down the road, and a couple of streets over was the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood.

#323 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 06:20 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 322 and dcb @ 323:

Liberal Judaism (previously the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues) released its new siddur in 1995, and finally its new machzor in, I think, 2003. In the interim, it was quite an adjustment to go from the inclusive language of the new siddur back to the other for the high holy days, although the rabbi was very good at converting on the fly.

It's my understanding that Reform in the UK is closer to Conservative in the US, and Liberal in the UK aligns pretty closely with Reform in the US, but there will, of course, be various nuances and overlaps.

I have very briefly looked at the new US Reform and Reconstructionist siddurs. I should probably take a closer look out of curiosity.

#324 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 07:26 PM:

Lexica, #300, I had three cowlicks back when my hair was straight and that was unruly. Now that my hair is normally wavy/curly/sausage curls front-to-back, the cowlicks are still noticeable. And temporarily now, and probably a few more months, while I have the cytoxin kinky hair, nobody would know I had cowlicks.

Doctor Science, #304, the kind of hair in the picture is artifically curled. I have natural sausage curls, although I admit they came in after my hair fell out during the second renal failure.

Lila, #306, or the guy in Glee who is playing someone who uses a wheelchair. I'm sure there's real wheelchair users who can act and sing.

#325 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 07:38 PM:

Xopher @ #311, ddb @ 321: there's a great story Nichelle Nichols tells of when they were having considerable difficulty lighting her in a scene for the original Star Trek, and the director kept saying, "she's black, she's black" (meaning insufficiently lit) and the tension kept climbing higher and higher on the set until she chimed in, "but COMELY!"

Marilee @ #325, yes, arrgh. I like the counterexample of Joe (Jim Byrnes) in the "Highlander" TV series--they eventually explained in a flashback why he's a double amputee, but initially he was just a guy (Watcher, bartender and blues guitarist) who happened to have two prosthetic legs.

#326 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 10:45 PM:

Lila, 326: Another counterexample is Doc Robbins, the coroner, on the original CSI; the actor, Robert David Hall, lost his legs in a car accident and has prosthetics. Doc uses a crutch, but otherwise the show calls little or no attention to his condition.

#327 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 10:54 PM:

For my sins I spent ten years managing a one-hour photo lab. If I had a nickle for each time I had to go through "If you want to use flash indoors with a group of people from several different races, please, PLEASE switch to 100 speed instead of 400. You can't AFFORD what would have to be done to make these images look good with 400 and a flash" speech then I'd be a wealthy man.

#328 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 27, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @328: As an amateur (descended from professionals) photographer working on learning how to make Pictures That Don't Suck, one of my first suggestions when helping friends take the first steps away from 'awful snapshots' to 'neat pictures' is TURN OFF THE FLASH. Also, learn your camera's limitations.

Flash can be a lifesaver and awesome if used very carefully, and if it's nowhere near as close to the lens as built-in flashes are, but I've very, very rarely seen any picture that doesn't look like ass taken with a point-and-shoot camera that was using flash at the time, indoor, outdoor, nighttime, daytime.

Trick shots like using flash to 'stop' and highlight snowflakes is one of the few reasons I'll turn mine on ... otherwise it makes everyone look like bloated corpses who've been squashed under glass.

#329 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 06:35 AM:

kid bitzer #307: Hyphens aren't the only scribal items you have to worry about. There's a reason why I publish as F.S.J. Ledgister.

Melissa Singer #309: Do you mean extra-canonical books like the Maccabees? Those are in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as well?

#330 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 12:01 PM:

dcb & Keith: Yes, my understanding is that Reform in the UK maps to Conservative in the US. Reform in the US is generally pretty liberal (not necessarily politically but in terms of practice) and services are almost entirely in English, though that varies from congregation to congregation. The new siddur has actually brought more Hebrew into services at my temple, since we have many members who do not read or speak Hebrew (and many who do--this congregation was created by the merger of 4 shrinking congregations, 1 modern Orthodox, 1 Conservative, and 2 Reform).

I grew up in and still live in a largely Jewish neighborhood but it's not uniform in any sense. I live on what is often referred to in the area as "synagogue row" as there are several blocks with temples or Jewish centers as well as a Jewish Y. The neighborhood supports (that I know of) 1 Reform congregation, 2 Conservative ones, and a whole bunch of Orthodox congregations of various sizes (modern and Hasidic), and has a big population of Israelis, Russian Jews (many of whom are secular), and Bukharan Jews as well as American Jews who have been in the US for generations.

Fragano@330: I meant the _mishnah_, actually.

#331 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Fragano@330: Not "Ledgister, F.S.J."?
(different, of course, from "Ledgister, F., S.J.")

#332 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Melissa Singer @331: UK Reform services tend to be about 50% Hebrew (+/- depending on which congregation and who is leading the service). I have less experience of Liberal services, but they are more (although by no means entirely) in English. Reform services in Israel are conducted entirely in Hebrew - which is logical, of course, but threw me when I first experienced it!

#333 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 07:42 PM:

Mycroft W #332: Not usually. If I come across a Father Ledgister who belongs to the Society of Jesus I'll definitely be amused.

#334 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2010, 08:24 PM:

Elliott Mason: As an amateur (descended from professionals) photographer working on learning how to make Pictures That Don't Suck, one of my first suggestions when helping friends take the first steps away from 'awful snapshots' to 'neat pictures' is TURN OFF THE FLASH. Also, learn your camera's limitations.

Depends. You used to be able to get a nice 50 ASA from Fuji (I think) that was acceptable with most flashes indoors, and I always liked Ilford's C-41 stuff as long as you understood there was no way to control the tone of the images when printed on color film. B&W was outstanding, however.

Then again, there were the other discussions.

"1600 ASA doesn't help in the Kingdom. 3200 might." (Obviously this one is vintage.)

"The reason your photographs of porcelain dolls take three times longer to print is that you shoot 400 ASA with a flash from a foot away. I have to take the machine to maximum density settings to get anything that can be seen."

"Why are all your pictures blue? Come outside with me. Notice how the gray concrete looks blue when we look closely? THAT'S BECAUSE WE'RE IN THE FREAKING SHADE AND YOU COMPENSATE FOR IT MENTALLY! FILM DOESN'T HAVE A BRAIN AND CAN'T COMPENSATE!"

"Why are all your photos out of focus? Your family is so ugly we were trying to save the main lens from cracking."

"Can you have your prints in an hour? Certainly! Can you have them in less than an hour? Do you have kneepads and mouthwash?"

"Why is your order 20% off? You took pictures of two people having sex. If you took pictures of three people you'd have gotten 30% off. If you took pictures of 12 you get your prints free and a free roll of film as well."

I have more, but you probably don't want to hear them...

#335 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 10:05 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @335 said: Depends. You used to be able to get a nice 50 ASA from Fuji (I think) that was acceptable with most flashes indoors, and I always liked Ilford's C-41 stuff as long as you understood there was no way to control the tone of the images when printed on color film. B&W was outstanding, however.

I've been shooting exclusively digital since about 2000, and therefore turning off the flash, because I have yet to see an indoor flash shot taken with my camera look not like ass.

The tradeoff is that con filkroom candids looked like people were in a fishtank, and required some post-processing to be people-colored again. Until I got a camera that could fake 1000ASA or higher -- nirvana! Turns out 1000ASA is the minimum for [any digital camera I have personally owned] to take satisfactory indoor shots at standard hotel-ballroom mid-dim lighting conditions.

#336 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 11:07 AM:

If I come across a Father Ledgister who belongs to the Society of Jesus I'll definitely be amused.

"Ledgister" does have rather the sound of a mediaeval job title. Like "almoner" or "harbinger" or "austringer". But it would have to be Brother Ledgister, I suppose.

#337 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 12:52 PM:

Like aegister, for instance, which I've only encountered recently. Still can't find a proper definition of it either.

Love, C.

#338 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 01:09 PM:

Fragano... If I come across a Father Ledgister who belongs to the Society of Jesus I'll definitely be amused.

I Franciscan't help but think that Fra Fragano sounds better.

#339 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 01:37 PM:

Ah. Now I know what an agestister is: "The marked animal's tail is trimmed by the local agister (Verderers' official), with each of the four or five Forest agisters using a different trimming pattern."

As for the Verderers:

"The New Forest Act 1877 confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure of more than 65 km2 (16,000 acres) at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown."

Love, C. Learning New Things Every Day, Becoming Better In Every Way! :)

#340 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 01:52 PM:

Elliott Mason: Get the flash off the camera, and it'll be a lot better.

#341 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 03:25 PM:

#340:  And the verderers and agisters are still going strong, doing real jobs:  see  Go to the Verderers’ Court page to read about agisters – and the Court of Swainmote!

#342 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 06:06 PM:

ajay #337:

& Constance #340

From the OED:

1 legister

[a. OF. legistre variant (influenced by ministre, etc.) of legiste LEGIST.]

1303 R. BRUNNE Handl. Synne 5410 Lordynges cunseylours Wykkede legystrys [F. legistre] or fals acountours. 1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. VIII. 62 {Ygh}e legistres and lawyers {ygh}e witen where I ly{ygh}e. 1387-8 T. USK Test. Love II. ii. (Skeat) I. 69 Amonge legystres there dare I not come. 14.. Nom. in Wr.-Wülcker 680/43 Hic legista, a legistery. 1430-40 LYDG. Bochas III. xviii. (1554) 90a, Legistres folowyng their ententes Greatly reioyce in lucre. 1440 J. SHIRLEY Dethe K. James (1818) 26 He was..a grete legister of lawe positive, and canone, and civille bothe. 1555 ABP. PARKER Ps. lx. 170 Juda legistere. 1616 BULLOKAR, Legisters, Lawyers. 1656 in BLOUNT Glossogr.

2 legister


Hide etymology* Hide quotations* Show date charts*

[App. f. L. leg{ebreve}re to read + -STER fem. agent-suffix.]

In a nunnery: A woman charged with the duty of reading aloud.
14.. in Aungier Hist. Syon Monast. (1840) 374 Whan al be sette, anone the legister schal begyn to rede..And sche muste rede suche mater as the abbes or chauntres assignethe.

Mediæval in verray dede.

#343 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 06:29 PM:

Fraqano -- My print OED* is at this point difficult to access, so I didn't look it up there, where, I knew, the true exposition lay!

Love, C.

* My print edition of the OED dates back to the 70's! You know, that one you need the magnifying glass for?

#344 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 06:32 PM:

#341 ::: eric @341 said to me: Get the flash off the camera, and it'll be a lot better.

Not an option on my camera. I agree, flashes that have a variable (and large) distance from the lens work very well. As do poseable flashes that you can, say, bounce off a handy wall or ceiling to get side-fill.

I agree that actual full-featured 'real' slrs which have all their variables independently and manually set by the user, can give much better results. However, I'm not bright enough to USE cameras like that; I need varying amounts of point-and-shoot automation. Partly because no matter how many times I'm told, I can't keep straight whether small F-numbers are for bright conditions or dark (slight numerical learning disability involving transposition) ...

I really like my current camera (Sony DSC-H2, for those that didn't click the link above) because most of its point-and-shoot-nesses can be made manual. I can manually pull the focus, if I want. I can manually specify values (or choose them in an analog fashion by going in and out till it's 'right') for F-stop, speed, white balance, etc.

The flash is really only useful at great distance, though, or for trick shots to freeze motion (or exaggerate snowflakes in flight).

#345 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 06:53 PM:

Constance #344:

My OED, same edition, is also difficult to access--if only because the magnifying glass seems to have gone walkabout. I've finally reached the point where even a really bright light doesn't make up for its absence.

#346 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 07:29 PM:

Constance #344: Ah yes, the two-volume small print OED. A wonderful thing. With the rectangular magnifying glass that made it just about legible.

#347 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2010, 11:29 PM:

compact OED
I can deal with the four-up version: being nearsighted and over-the-hill does have one advantage. But it's still pretty near my limit of 'small but visible'.

#348 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 01:05 AM:

Ulrika: A large number of Arabic Muslims believe in some form of hijab, not so much the Indian/Asian/Indonesian/African Muslims. Lebanese Muslims, vary (at least in my experience). I know any number of Muslims who are pale enough that their lack of hijab (which is only a marker for women; who have their own problems) means they are absolutely typical, blue eyes and blonde hair.

The issue isn't that skin color is the be-all and end-all of racism, but that skin color, as a marker which can't be avoided makes it a much more persistent element than things which are not something the racist/bigot can spot at a distance. The number of times I have been privy to conversations abot the idolatry/heresies of Catholics are, quite literally, without counting. Oddly enough, the same is true (even with my name) for some of the anti-Irish sentiments of the British Army.

I don't have the, obvious markers, so I get to hear all about the moral failings I possess. The same was, for reasons I can't fathom at all, also true when I was still an active member of the Army. People (even with my haircut) would start to tell me all sorts of things about, "the way soldiers behave", which were just amazing.

People look for cues; visual cues are much easier to work with. The other things require interaction to discover, the more interaction required, the longer to make the discovery; which reduces the effect (the same way knowing homosexuals seems to reduce homophobia).

#349 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 01:08 AM:

Elliot Mason: Flash is a problem, and on Point and Shoot, is a real trial.

That said, any modern SLR will do some of the thinking for you, and can be sussed out to avoid the obvious pitfalls.

My default setting is to have the camera choose the shutter speed, while I control the Aperture (thus having a say in the aspect which has the greater effect on the style of photography I tend to do).

Bigger numbers equal greater depth of field, and are used with more light, if that helps. If you want, I can send you more in the way of rules of thumb.

#350 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 06:31 AM:

Serge #339: I used to know a Father Mock Yen. I never got up the courage to ask if had a real yen for the priesthood.

#351 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 06:33 AM:

"agistment" is to do with livestock grazing. Where I've encountered it, it's been limited to non-enclosed land. Which would fit with the New Forest usage. Grazing stock on some of the wide roadside verges, for instance. The last time I saw that it was a tethered goat.

#352 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 08:38 AM:

Terry @530

My thumb would like some shutter speed vs aperture rules, please.

#353 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 08:40 AM:

er, that would be 350.

Me be slysdexic before cafeen.

#354 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 10:49 AM:

I've got an article on the basics of photographic exposure on my blog. I like details and history; if those interfere with how you learn, this will not be a good article for you.

#355 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 11:05 AM:

Feragano @ 351... Did I ever tell you that I have co-workers named Distant and Murders?

#356 ::: Gerald Fnord ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2010, 12:55 AM:

1.) I just viewed the film of "The Man Who Fell to Earth"; I think Buck Henry's character might have been the first "unnecessarily gay" character in a major studio's film.

I assumed several characters in "Julian Comstock"'s race's not appearing to matter much was just a way of saying that _something_'s actually improved from today.

#357 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2010, 08:29 AM:

Lin D @ 353.

The Sunny f/16 rule is a good start for photography.

I'm not sure that it's practical with a digital camera, because few have manual control of shutter speed and aperture.

#358 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2010, 10:53 AM:

Are you talking about compacts? Because my quite cheap SLR (Sony Alpha 200) can control both, and I was under the impression that that was true for all of them. Though I have to admit the Sony is a recent one.

#359 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2010, 11:46 PM:

Sorry, I was distracted.

With caveats, "sunny-16 works".

The caveats: the rule is precise only on the equinox, at the same latitude at Rochester, New York; where the test was created by Kodak, to determine the speed of their films.

The better thing to do is calibrate your camera.

Assuming one has manual control, set the shutter speed to the closest equivalent of the declared sensitivity of the recording medium (be it film, or sensor).

Record the recommended aperture.

Keep the camera in the same place (it need not be a tripod, but it should be the same general composition, and the same angle/height from the ground), shoot a range of f-stops, from wide open, to fully closed.

Then look at the images, and see which ones you like best.

That's your baseline for everything else. If you like f-8, then speed/f-8 = good. If the recommendation was f-11, then your preferred light level = -1 stop, and you can then adjust your camera (or your selection) to keep it that way.

There are some other rules of thumb. A cloudy day = -stop, so instead of f-16, it would be f-11. Dark backgrounds need to be underexposed (shadow is, as a rule of thumb, needs 1 2/3rds-2 stops less light than the camera thinks). Bright images need to be overexposed (snow can need as much as 3 stops extra light).

When in doubt, bracket (i.e. shoot some over, and some under, what the meter recommends). Yes, one can, "chimp" and look at the camera back, but that 1: takes time, and 2: the image is of poor dynamic range. A lot of information is lost in the conversion to LCD values, so one can end up with a lot of things which look good on the camera, and like crap on the monitor.

It might be easier if I had specific questions.

#360 ::: praisegod barebones SPAM görüyor ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 08:40 AM:

tıme to block thıs IP address I think.

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