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July 30, 2014
Open thread 199
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:10 PM *

One of my long-running disgruntlements with survivalists and Galters is their collective ignorance of one key aspect of self-sufficiency: cloth. I can’t count how many people I’ve watched loading their own ammunition and slaughtering their own deer. But all the while, they’re wearing flannel shirts and jeans made of fabric that was woven on an industrial scale, from mechanically-spun fibers, before being shipped across the world either made up or on bolts. Even when they sew the garments themselves, their participation in our shared culture lies across their shoulders and hangs from their belts.

I suspect that a substantial element in this inconsistency is the relative priority of men’s work over women’s, which determines what actions are more valuable for Making A Statement. But I think a good deal of it is also simple blindness: fabric and clothing is so ubiquitous in our civilization that all we focus on is its variations (AKA fashion, style, or what those damn kids are wearing).

Spinning and weaving are crafts or hobbies (knitting and crochet less so). As a culture, we’ve forgotten how much of the lives of all classes of women, from the Middle Ages to well past Jane Austen’s time, was spent on thread, fabric, and clothing†. Our closets overflow*, and only the mindful consider how much of our history was made by people with at most two outfits, Sunday best and workaday garb. Even wealthy Bingley had but two new coats a year.

(I read somewhere that one of the reasons that the National Socialists did so well in Germany is that they gave people a chance to join organizations with uniforms, which is to say, provided them with clothing during the Depression.)

I often wonder what things we carry now the way that medieval women carried their distaffs: continuously, unconsciously, and (in the sweep of history) temporarily. What will our descendants look back on and say, “they spent so much time doing that. Thank goodness we don’t have to”?

† eg Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park: “That is a very foolish trick, Fanny, to be idling away all the evening upon a sofa. Why cannot you come and sit here, and employ yourself as we do? If you have no work of your own, I can supply you from the poor basket. There is all the new calico, that was bought last week, not touched yet. I am sure I almost broke my back by cutting it out.”
* with clothing that lasts less and less well, because cheaper fabrics keep the price down

Continued from Open thread 198

July 28, 2014
Making Light at Loncon 3
Posted by Patrick at 02:25 PM * 243 comments

Both Nielsen Haydens and Abi Sutherland! Opinions! Moderation! Speech acts!

All of our events will be in the ExCel Centre. I have taken the liberty of condensing the official panel descriptions. The full program guide is here.

Thursday, 14 August

1:30 - 3:00 PM, London Suite 2
Diggy Diggy Hole!: Minecraft and Gaming Communities
(What it says on the tin. The game is one thing, but the intense communities it’s spawned are another.)
Esther MacCallum-Stewart [m], Abi Sutherland, Mark Slater, Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

4:30 - 6:00 PM, Capital Suite 9
Ideology versus Politics in Science Fiction
(And how most SF hasn’t got a clue how either of them work.)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden [m], Martin McGrath, Laurie Penny, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Courtenay Greenwood

Friday, 15 August

10:00 - 11:00 AM, Capital Suite 1
Don’t Tell Me What To Think: Ambiguity in SF and Fantasy
(Ambiguity: it’s a thing.)
David Hebblethwaite [m], Nina Allan, Scott Edelman, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Ellen Klages

10:00 - 11:00 AM, Capital Suite 9
The Deeper the Roots, the Stronger the Tree
(Pre-genre authors whose work featured little or no fantastic content, but who SF&F people read and obsess about anyway. Dumas, Doyle, Austen, etc.)
Abi Sutherland [m], Zen Cho, Mary Robinette Kowal, Keri Sperring, Delia Sherman

12:00 - 1:30 PM, Capital Suite S
Settling the Alien World
(Worldbuilding in real time.)
Marek Kukala [m], Robert Reed, Tobias Buckell, Amy Thompson, Abi Sutherland, Laurence Suhner

3:00 - 4:00 PM, Art Show
Art show docent tour
(May require advance signup.)
Led by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

4:30 - 6:00 PM, Capital Suite 3
The Role of Fandom in Contemporary Culture
(Or, how the entire world turned into fandom while you were distracted.)
Chris Gerwel [m], Jean Lorrah, Emily January, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Laurie Penny

4:30 - 6:00 PM, Capital Suite 2
Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Next Generation
(You may have heard that there’s a lot of good stuff happening here lately. You heard right.)
Amal El-Mohtar [m], Abigail Nussbaum, Abi Sutherland, Andrew Ferguson

Saturday, 16 August

10:00 - 11:00 AM, London Suite 4
(Will definitely require advance signup.)
Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Haytden

4:30 - 6:00 PM, Capital Suite 14
What Is I?
(Consciousness: it’s a thing.)
Ken MacLeod [m], Russell Blackford, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Martin Poulter, Ashley Pollard

Monday, 18 August

10:00 - 11:00 AM, Capital Suite 8
All the Traps of Earth
(Culture, the “natural” world, and how their relationship’s been handled in SF&F.)
Sam Scheiner [m], Glenda Larke, Amy Thomson, Anne Charnock, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

1:30 - 3:00 PM, Capital Suite 16
Codes of Conduct
(At science fiction conventions. Sure to be a dull panel, because nobody has any opinions about the subject.)
Crystal Huff [m], Michael Lee, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, B. Diane Martin, Patrick McMurray

July 22, 2014
A fund for Velma and Soren
Posted by Patrick at 07:30 AM * 34 comments

A guest post by Debbie Notkin:

Many Making Light readers know Velma and Soren (Scraps) deSelby-Bowen. Those who read the open threads here may also know that Velma has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She hasn’t been very specific on the site, but I have her permission to tell you (to tell anyone, in fact) that the cancer is “smooth muscle cell neoplasm.” Velma was scheduled for surgery tomorrow (7/23), but they have just discovered at least one infection, and surgery may be postponed. Velma’s doctors tell her that surgery will likely be followed by chemotherapy. I will do my best to keep Making Light readers informed as I learn more.

Velma has been out of work for some time, and will not be able to work for some unpredictable amount of time going forward. Soren’s stroke of several years ago (followed closely on this site) makes it very difficult for him to earn any income, though he does have some disability income.

Their need is great, and is not likely to get any less great for many months. I’m asking this community for donations to help them survive this period. I have set up a unique gmail address ( for nothing other than taking Paypal donations and communicating with me and a team of supporters about this issue.

If you can’t/don’t use Paypal, you can email me at the velmascraps address and we can discuss other means of getting money to them. Since we’re hoping to cover their needs for several months, some people may want to donate a lump sum to spread out over that time, and other people may want to send monthly small amounts. PLEASE, no one give anything that will affect your own ability to get along.

I have been unable to identify any online services that will track monthly donations and reminders (if anyone knows of one, please tell me!). If you would like to make a monthly donation, someone will send you an email reminder around the 25th of each month. If you need to halt your donations, just let me know.

Please pass this along to anyone who you think knows them or might otherwise help, but who doesn’t read Making Light.

And thank you in advance for your generosity, whether in the form of money or good wishes and good thoughts. They need those too.

July 21, 2014
I dreamed a Wikipedia entry
Posted by Patrick at 11:42 PM * 93 comments

I dreamed a Wikipedia entry. It was about William Rowse Sitcup, a deservedly obscure figure in the history of colonial Virginia. Born to a family long established in James County, young William grew up living a life of the mind. For reasons imperfectly understood, by adolescence he became obsessed with the geographical details of Virginia itself—its tidewater region, its Piedmont, its rugged western mountains, its long Shenandoah valley, and all the individual counties. He became convinced that the Dominion had been, in its physical shape and political subdivisions, ordained by God as a perfect miniature of the greater world outside. (The fact that Virginia contains no deserts, no year-round snowcaps, no rainforest, and no permafrost seems never to have impinged on young Rowse’s—he went by his middle name—frenzy of hermetic insight.) On reaching his majority, he came into an inheritance that gave him a modest level of financial independence, and allowed him to pursue his dream of visiting all of Virginia’s counties—this is when “Virginia” included what are now the states of West Virginia and Kentucky—in order to deliver a series of lectures to be offered to the public in each of them, elucidating to no-doubt-thunderstruck audiences his vision of the Dominion as a divinely-wrought miniature of the great world, hammered out on God’s anvil as a benign but distinctly pedagogical message to erring humanity. It goes without saying that, in Rowse’s worldview, the institution of slavery was assumed to be part of the divine plan. It is peculiar, then, that on his visit to Ohio County, in that portion of then-Virginia which stuck like a northern-pointing spear between Pennsylvania and Ohio, Rowse was on several occasions heard to express sympathy and support for slaves who had managed to cross the Ohio and light out for freedom. Whether he actually met any is lost to history. Little is known of him following this sojourn beyond the mountains; he died under mysterious circumstances in Palmyra on his way back to his familiar Tidewater home. After much pressure from his family’s solicitor, the inkeeper returned Rowse’s portfolio of manuscripts, but when it was opened in the parlor of the family’s old manor, all that remained was a fall of ash and the smell of rosemary. Citation needed.

July 18, 2014
Penny Dreadful: The Mysterious Affair of the SPOILERS
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:26 AM * 15 comments

Once again, I am writing a spoiler thread for a show I haven’t watched. It does protect me from inadvertently spoiling it in the OP, at least.

Reading up on it on the internet, it sounds like a good argument for public domain: the opportunity to recast and reconsider classic figures from literature and popular culture. In a funny kind of way, I’m grateful that Sherlock Holmes’ status is still up in the air in some jurisdictions, since otherwise, I’d worry that his all but inevitable presence would distort the show.

But I digress. Here’s a chance to discuss the show, the characters, the plots, and the possibilities without needing to ROT-13 anything.

July 10, 2014
Singularities in the rearview mirror
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:58 AM * 109 comments

Writing at io9 recently, Charlie Jane Anders mentioned Jo Walton’s 2009 essay on, which discussed George Eliot as a pre-SF writer who dealt with SF themes and topics. From the essay:

She saw how technology changes society—she understood that thoroughly. In a way, she was someone who had lived through a singularity—she had seen the railroad coming and had seen how it had entirely transformed the world she grew up in, with second order effects nobody could have predicted. Her books constantly come back to technology and the changes it brings.

I was emailing back and forth with Serge, and he mentioned a series he’s been enjoying lately: Halt and Catch Fire. It’s not SF, in the sense that it’s not postulating an unknown technology. Rather, like Middlemarch, it’s an examination of the impact of a real technological change on a pre-existing society. It is, if you will, looking at that particular view out the side-windows or the rearview mirror rather than the windscreen.

I think this particular sub-category of liminal, not-quite-SF storytelling is interesting, for the same reasons that I’m interested in the SFnal flavor of the real-world terraforming efforts that I see around me in the Netherlands. I think they can inform our thinking, both about change and about the ways our genre deals with change. Also, it’s neat.

What other stories are there in this area? And where else, on the borderlands of our genre, are there similar caches?

(Thanks, Serge, for suggesting that this would make a good blog post.)

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