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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some examples:

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

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

PNH: Kree as in Kree-Skrull wars?

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

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

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

PNH: What?

TNH: The Inhumans moved their city there.

PNH: What?

TNH: Black Bolt and Medusa’s guys.

PNH: Oh.

TNH: Also, Uatu the Watcher.

PNH: What?

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

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

PNH: Huh?

TNH: She’s Russian.

PNH: Red Room?

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2015
On sale today: Greg Van Eekhout’s Pacific Fire, the sequel to California Bones
Posted by Patrick at 08:50 AM * 6 comments

pacificfire.jpg On sale today in hardcover and e-book. Excerpt here. Author website here. West Coast tour schedule here.

(Making Light post about the previous book, California Bones, here.)

My flap copy:

I’m Sam. I’m just this guy.

Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of practice, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can.

Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never going anywhere near Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me.

But always hiding, always traveling gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of magical destruction. Daniel thought only he could stop them, but now he’s hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Yeah. Lots of women. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Some reviews and quotes:

“Half crime caper, half heroic quest, Greg van Eekhout’s Pacific Fire pulls the reader into an inventive, compelling, fully-textured urban fantasy world, mixing SoCal culture with magic so ingenious and convincing you can practically smell it, and feel it crunch between your teeth. A real treasure, not to be missed.”
—Kurt Busiek, author of Astro City

“Tense action and great worldbuilding.”
Library Journal

“Van Eekhout switches his POV from Daniel to Sam in a generational kind of move, and the tactic pays off. Instead of simply recapitulating the same sensibility and attitudes, the author delivers a fresh perspective on both the actors in the game and the social structures that support them. […] Van Eekhout’s scrupulously crafted language continues to flaunt that Zelazny-esque balance of demotic and poetic. I am also reminded of Steve Gould’s voice in the Jumper books. […Pacific Fire] comes to a highly satisfactory and resonant conclusion, while still keeping its face turned toward an open horizon of further adventures.”
Paul Di Filippo, Locus Online

“L.A. noir as dark as La Brea tar meets magic drawn from ancient bones.”
—Steven Gould on California Bones

“It’s got subterranean halls with pillars of bones, a magic sword, magical duels and some of the coolest bone magic ever, but that’s all interwoven with the taste of an LA burrito, the concrete waterways of Los Angeles, and the neon glow of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. Van Eekhout has written a 21st century alchemy.”
—Maureen F. McHugh on California Bones

January 24, 2015
Open thread 203
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:03 PM * 756 comments

So every now and then someone asks me for a link to something nice, or expresses so much stress in their life that I want to send them one. Usually, what I do is to Google “baby $animal” (where $animal varies depending on my mood), switch to image search, copy the link and clean up all the referrer crap, and send it on. It almost never fails to improve things.

But at the moment, my go-to link is not an image search; it’s a video of someone scratching capybaras until they bliss out. “Scratch me like one of your capybaras,” I found myself murmuring once. Don’t judge me.

What are your go-to links for the bad times?

January 23, 2015
“Why I Am Not a Maker”
Posted by Patrick at 10:02 AM * 100 comments

Deb Chachra, engineer, teacher, sometime Making Light commenter, on what’s wrong with the notion of “maker culture”, and why she doesn’t identify as part of it.

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not. […]

[C]oders get high salary, prestige, and stock options. The people who do community management—on which the success of many tech companies is based—get none of those. It’s unsurprising that coding has been folded into “making.” […] Code is “making” because we’ve figured out how to package it up into discrete units and sell it, and because it is widely perceived to be done by men.

But you can also think about coding as eliciting a specific, desired set of behaviors from computing devices. It’s the Searle’s “Chinese room” take on the deeper, richer, messier, less reproducible, immeasurably more difficult version of this that we do with people—change their cognition, abilities, and behaviors. We call the latter “education,” and it’s mostly done by underpaid, undervalued women.

When new products are made, we hear about exciting technological innovation, which are widely seen as worth paying (more) for. In contrast, policy and public discourse around caregiving—besides education, healthcare comes immediately to mind—are rarely about paying more to do better, and are instead mostly about figuring out ways to lower the cost.

Worth reading in its entirety. Deb’s email newsletter Metafoundry, from which this was reprinted, is a constant stream of similar insight, and is thoroughly recommended.
January 16, 2015
The Just City: Spoilers, Arguments, and Speculations
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:19 AM * 117 comments

It’s all but a tradition here on Making Light now: shortly after the launch of a Jo Walton book, we’re in need of a spoiler thread. But for this one in particular, I think we need more than that. As both Liz Bourke and Amal El-Mohtar point out, The Just City is not only a fascinating book, but a set of arguments that invite arguing back. And judging by my Twitter stream, its premise is also a rich source of speculation.

So here’s a thread where you can indulge in all of these things with people who have either read the book, or don’t mind spoilers.

January 13, 2015
On sale today: Jo Walton’s The Just City, Book One of Thessaly
Posted by Patrick at 05:20 AM * 47 comments

TheJustCity_final.jpg On sale today in hardcover and ebook in North America, on January 15 February 28 in ebook in the UK and associated markets, and in print in the UK &c. in July.

Excerpt here. Author’s post about it (with FAQ!) on her own site, here.

From the author’s essay for the Tor-Forge newsletter/blog:

“One of the odd things about explaining what The Just City is about is people’s reactions. The Just City is a fantasy novel about a group of classicists and philosophers from across all of time setting up Plato’s Republic on Atlantis, with the help of some Greek gods, ten thousand Greek-speaking ten-year-olds they bought in the slave markets of antiquity, and some construction robots from our near future. What could possibly go wrong?

“Now I get two different immediate reactions to this. The first is from people who say ‘That’s insane, and I want it now!’ The second is from people who say they know nothing about Plato or philosophy in a kind of apologetic way, as if anything that touches on these subjects in any way would require background reading and be kind of boring….What I’ve written in The Just City is a utopia. No, a dystopia. No, wait, no…no, it’s not an ambiguous heterotopia either. But it’s about a designed society, and about human nature, and consent, and questioning. It’s about two women (and one god) growing up.”

Some reviews

“A remarkable novel of ideas…Superb. In the end, the novel does more than justice to the idea of the Just City.”
Booklist (starred review)

“As skilled in execution as it is fascinating in premise, The Just City doesn’t require a degree in classics…Although rich with philosophical discussions, what keeps this novel from becoming too chilly or analytical are its sympathetic female characters.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Walton shines, as she always does, in the small and hurtful and glorious business of interpersonal relationships. Some of her children are forever scarred by slavery, others are lifted from it. Some find Plato’s teachings and philosophy to be a powerful force for happiness and satisfaction, others fare less well. The others around them—including, eventually, both Socrates and Apollo (who has incarnated himself as a mortal child)—reflect back their philosophical and human development, and show us the incredible beauty and the cruelty of utopian projects….Nobody writes like Walton. The Just City manages to both sympathize with social engineering at the same time as it demolishes paternalistic solutions to human problems. In so doing, this book about philosophy, history, gender and freedom also manages to be a spectacular coming-of-age tale that encompasses everything from courtroom dramas to sexual intrigue.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

“A brilliant and haunting meditation on utopia, power, and consent—with deeply engaging characters and consummately clever worldbuilding. Jo Walton has given us another winner.”
—Susan Palwick

The Just City will be followed by Book Two of Thessaly, The Philosopher Kings, slated for June 2015, and Book Three, Necessity, currently being written, tentatively scheduled for mid-2016. Follow Jo Walton’s blog for updates.

January 08, 2015
Editorial work, 2014
Posted by Patrick at 07:38 PM * 9 comments

Or perhaps I should say, my editorial work that appeared in 2014. We’re always working on several years at once. What day is today?

Original hardcovers
What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
Like a Mighty Army by David Weber
Working God’s Mischief by Glen Cook
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Severed Souls by Terry Goodkind
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout
The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi
Lock In by John Scalzi

First softcover editions
The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
The Human Division by John Scalzi
Homeland by Cory Doctorow
Gaudeamus by John Barnes
Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick
The Third Kingdom by Terry Goodkind
The Incrementalists by Steven Brust & Skyler White
Dangerous Women eds. George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Original short fiction (all published on Tor.com)
The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging” by Harry Turtledove
The Cartography of Sudden Death” by Charlie Jane Anders
Something Going Around” by Harry Turtledove
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome” by John Scalzi
Combustion Hour” by Yoon Ha Lee
The Devil in the Details” by Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald
Sleeper” by Jo Walton
As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders
Midway Relics and Dying Breeds” by Seanan McGuire
Where the Lost Things Are” by Rudy Rucker & Terry Bisson
Father Christmas: A Wonder Tale of the North” by Charles Vess

2014 also saw the softcover edition of the reprint anthology Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

What Makes This Book So Great, The Incrementalists, and “Father Christmas: A Wonder Tale of the North” were co-edited with Teresa. In addition, Teresa copyedited My Real Children, and edited the original hardcover Hawk by Steven Brust. She also edited Skyler White’s story in the Incrementalists universe, “Strongest Conjuration,” which appeared on Tor.com; and another book she edited, Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson, saw its first softcover edition in 2014.

January 07, 2015
Juan Cole on the Charlie Hebdo murders
Posted by Patrick at 02:48 PM * 148 comments

Specifically, on why al Qaeda targeted a bunch of satirists and cartoonists.

Hint: It had nothing to do with outraged piety.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

I never cease to be amazed at how many people, including thoughtful, intelligent friends of mine, look at political events without ever considering the possibility that some actors might be doing things for reasons other than those they declare. My guess is that we’ve all become so chary of the dreaded wrongthink of “conspiracy theory” that we no longer have the common sense to extrapolate our everyday knowledge that people lie a lot into the world of larger affairs.

Back to Cole’s theory: Of course, it’s hard to imagine where Al Qaeda (or ISIS, or Name-Your-Band-of-Heavily-Armed Assholes) would get the idea that it’s possible to drive a prominent Western country into batshit behavior that would roil the entire Islamic world for years and decades to come. What an imagination!

January 01, 2015
Not much rhymes with “Zamyatin”
Posted by Avram Grumer at 02:48 AM * 43 comments

Some say the world will end in Huxley,
Some say in Orwell.
From what I’ve seen of those with bucks, the
Odds do seem to lean towards Huxley.
Yet as I on the matter dwell,
It seems the military state
Is bent on showing that Orwell
Is just as great.
But time will tell.

Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.