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

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

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

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

Hello, pain
Posted by Patrick at 07:48 AM *

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2015
Open thread 204
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:27 PM * 978 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2015
You must understand that it is the Borgonzian’s proud tribal culture that requires him to strenuously object when you punch him in the nose and steal his stuff
Posted by Patrick at 12:12 PM * 43 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

March 01, 2015
It is not logical, but it is often true
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:54 AM * 136 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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