Rejiquar Works 2016-05-31T01:56:11-05:00 copyright 2016 Sylvus Tarn Sylvus Tarn 2016-04-26T00:00:00-05:00 Skateboard takes the concept of Holi & um, *rolls* with it:) 26apr2016

Courtesy of boingboing, another fun and colourful post, this time about a skateboarder filmed in slowmo while using the board to spray coloured pigment all over. It's absolutely fantastic—just plain fun.

I have no doubt the guy got the idea from colour runs, which in their turn were inspired by the Indian holiday (Holi).. —Frankly, I love the concept, though I could wish it a little less commercialized. —Which is one reason I liked this variation, which is clearly a joyful cross-pollination, if you will, in the spirit of the original.

Speaking of colour, I've got another another giftwrap example.

2016-04-25T00:00:00-05:00 India's ``first trans band''. 25apr2016

Hey, let's celebrate spring with some giftwrap! Also, somewhere or other I stumbled upon a similarly happy and colourful vid, made to celebrate India's trans community. I really like the way ‘bad monitor artifacts’ —screen slicing, degraded images—have been used to give the video a distinctive look, while subtly suggesting that this community is only very imperfectly perceived by the rest of the world.

2016-03-25T00:00:00-05:00 new index for pysanky ---aka dyed easter eggs. Or oestra eggs if you prefer:) 25mar2016

No rants today, just a link to a new index page for pysanky. Haven't actually got any new pysanky—I was acting as a studio assistant 4 days last week, and only really started to recover yesterday (hence the hiatus)—but there are plans to dye some, so perhaps next week.

2016-03-24T00:00:00-05:00 The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Amen. 24mar2016

So extremists continue to act badly, do they?

Well. There are many things to celebrate about current culture—the improving lot of various minorities (including my own), the fact that, however horrible the crime-of-the-week is, violence is on a downward trend—on a local note, that a highly experimental drug meant a fellow beadmaker won't drop dead of cholesterol poisoning because the standard drugs don't work for her. Or that dads, on the whole, are more involved in their children's lives than those from the Silent Generation.


I'm not much of a fan of religion, the best I can say for it being that it's works as sort of an ethics_system1.0; I think there are better, more modern approaches. But it's a good and useful framework for many, and I found this woman (who frankly I'd never heard of) and her comments about courage interesting. We admired the tremendous sacrifices that, frex, the Brits made during WWII, and the courage Londoners displayed during the air raids.

The terrorists-of-the-week—be they Islamist extremists, or anti-abortion extremists, or any other kind—are attempting to polarize everyone else with fear. When I try to imagine what it must have been like even to live in this country during WWII (let alone the actual theatres) I think we could stand to emulate some of that earlier generation's fortitude.

And speaking of peace, love and all that—here is a post about easter eggs.

2016-03-17T00:00:00-05:00 an old challenge gets recycled. 17mar2016

Happy St Patrick's Day! I'm happy to have an annual excuse to enjoy corned beef (on the extremely inauthentic but tasty onion rolls) & to make yet another themed charm bracelet in my favourite colour. Which I haven't even finished making the beads for, let alone put together, so I'm featuring some beads I made a few years ago that are in a properly festive green & orange colour scheme.


2016-03-16T00:00:00-05:00 Since today's post is a memorial of sorts, meant to keep memories of one now gone alive, it seems only appropriate to link to this series of photos of fin de siecle black women ---via lovejoyfeminism. I'd hate to wear the clothes back then, but I sure like looking at them. Speaking of which, ...

Since today's post is a memorial of sorts, meant to keep memories of one now gone alive, it seems only appropriate to link to this series of photos of fin de siecle black women —via lovejoyfeminism. I'd hate to wear the clothes back then, but I sure like looking at them.

Speaking of which, via ML, which linked to a post about maligned historical figures which had this blog on its sidebar, the costumer did an absolutely gorgeous variation on a mantua she called a robe a la francaise which surely looks like something right out of one of Georgette Heyer's Georgian romances. Yum.

Seems apropos, given today's ‘ancient’ bead.

2016-03-15T00:00:00-05:00 Sound spaces. 15mar2016

Um, yesterday was ‘rounded pi day’—and so here's vihart's latest rant on that topic. Personally, I was just so proud of myself for remembering, never mind fiddily details.

Anyway. Speaking of mathematics... I keep meaning to read that book on how environment has shaped various musical traditions—it's by David Burne of Talking Heads, I believe. Anyway, in that vein, I stumbled across this article about how the (internal) shape of churches affected the sound of chants. in very specific ways. People even put jars in them to absorb certain frequences to ‘tune’ the space. The art historian realized that the echoes from the domes were the ‘angels’ voices’—hence the paintings of same in the dome. ‘We got it,’ she said. ‘We got what they were trying to do’ (700 years ago). Sooooo cool. We forget, by attrition, the amazing things people did back then.

Even better, this collaborative effort between an archealogical art historian and engineer can record the shape of the acoustics of churches being lost—possibly even recreate the acoustics of buildings already lost.

Some days, I fear for the future. Others, I'm just happy to learn cool stuff like this. And, um, speaking of collaborative efforts, today's post features one between Frances and me, a beadcurtain strand with boro.

2016-03-14T00:00:00-05:00 Happy pi day! On that cheerful note, I thought I'd feature some pix from my garden (and my next-door-neighbour's garden as well;) Enjoy. 14mar2016

Happy pi day! On that cheerful note, I thought I'd feature some pix from my garden (and my next-door-neighbour's garden as well;)


2016-03-11T00:00:00-05:00 Since I've been photographing some of Cindi's work for an exhibit, I thought I'd feature some beads from an earlier series, last year. No ranting today---just a cool photo that would make a great basis for a bead . Enjoy. 11mar2016

Since I've been photographing some of Cindi's work for an exhibit, I thought I'd feature some beads from an earlier series, last year. No ranting today—just a cool photo that would make a great basis for a bead.


2016-03-10T00:00:00-05:00 Leigh Phillips' _Austerity Ecology & the Collapse Porn Addicts_ has some good points but is a frustrating read. 10mar2016

Just finished reading Leigh Phillips’ Austerity Ecology & the Collapse Porn Addicts: A defence of growth, progress, industry and stuff and since I asked the local library to buy this book, I feel as if I ought to say something about it. I'm sure I found out about it on boingboing, and iirc the publisher (zer0) published a chapter online, which I found intriguing enough to want to read the book.

It's not that I don't have a lot of sympathy for the message. Like the author, I fall on the left end of the political spectrum(1), and as a long time sf fan, am all about progress. The author unapologetically announces in the preface that the book is a polemic, and, again, it seems to me that in our current political climate, those have a place: sometimes, you have to shout to be heard.

And I trundled along with out too much trouble until I hit my first snag on pp.72–73, in which Leigh throws out an aside while comparing aerobic to anaerobic organisms:

It's an X-men film where Magneto wins. (Which would be awesome, by the way. Come on, who else thinks Professor Xavier is a bit of a pussy?) p.72

Why, thanks ever so, dude. Well, getting slapped in the face with that dead-fish-delightful example of everyday sexism did at least cause me to pull back and consider: who is this book's intended audience? Not me, obviously.

Yet the author cites women's concerns later in the book that shows that he clearly considers himself feminist, or at least an ally. But it did set me to thinking, because nearly every woman cited in the book is on the other side, promoting lo-tech back-to-the-earth downsizing he so decries. In fact, a lot of what the cold hard rationalists decry as lefty, crunchy-granola woo appears to have a surprising number of woman participants (as opposed to the STEMmy types opposing them.)

I couldn't help speculating that there are so many women into this stuff because they're able to get traction in this arena. I mean, after all, women are constantly being told to be polite, not take more than our share, to make do with less; what could be more natural (ahem) for them to adopt downsizing, localvore, —the austerity movement in general? We're expected to do this as a matter of course!

Put another way: I agree with many of the author's points, but the pervasive sexism in our society is, I suspect, a big part of the reason that women tend to range themselves with the austerity collapse movement; and the author's failure to specifically address why they might tend to go in that direction reduces the effectiveness of his argument.

Nor does he address some of the biggest concerns of his opponents. Take the localvore/farmers’ market segment, particularly eggs, which Leigh cites with a certain level of disdain. I can think of lots of reason to pay a premium for local eggs:

  1. opting out of factory farm cruelty
  2. greater freshness
  3. heathier: 40% USA factory eggs infected with salmonella—forget runny yolks!
  4. some of us like the acquaintance/friend aspect of the transaction
  5. co-ops/farmers’ markets have (much) less advertising, warmer ambience, fewer people, noise, etc
  6. supports small-town culture (part of the reason I live here)

But none of those advantages really form a part of Leigh's calculus; yet those hidden benefits can be incredibly important.

Now, as it happens, our household also shops at the local grocery, and even costco. But for certain kinds of perishables—milk, eggs and meat especially, I prefer to buy local, not least because our national standards for the health and comfort of food animals are disgracefully low, and by purchasing from a farmers’ market I have the option of either interviewing the producer myself, or knowing the co-op has vetted the stuff for me (& having a reasonable expectation that they actually checked out)

Besides, as an artisan myself, I appreciate the passion local food producers put into their products. Do I want to buy all my food that way? No; but I surely appreciate the option. Leigh makes many good points, with which I agree—we should ‘save’ the environment—for our own benefit; we should continue to pursue knowledge (and thus improve technology, an unavoidable consequence). Just for example, for all its problems, I still find the rise of the internet an incredible gift. But it's important to remember that it still is creating all sorts of horrific problems: harassment, identity theft, the rise of survaillence, just to name a few.

And anybody pushing for nuclear energy in a book published in 2015 has to at least address Fukushima in passing—after all, if the Japanese, a famously careful and conservative people, manage to screw up, there's clearly some real danger: and that's why folks are so leery of nuclear power—it has very much the potential to fail catastrophically, to the point where ‘a little extra pollution from coal’ doesn't seem so bad (even if cumulatively, it is.) Moreover, big projects, in addition to the big-scale disruption they can cause (which the author at least brings up) also have the potential for big-scale corruption and failure.

There's nothing wrong with becoming more efficient, less careless—doing more with less. Both technological gains and the small-footprint movements attempt to achieve this very laudable goal, albeit in differing ways. Without acknowledging the ‘loyal opposition's’ points fairly and thoroughly, the arguments come off as pie in the sky, rather than realistic goals.

As the book I started before this one, The Diffusion of Innovations, made very clear, a lot of innovations don't take if they clash with the culture. Worries over GMOs or irradiated food as typically stated may be groundless, edging into silly on the face; but they mask real fears over rapidly changing technology and loss of control over food production to big faceless corps/factory farming for which I think consumers have every right to be cautious. And unless the futurists make a case that we will all benefit, they're gonna have a hard sell.

(1)By nature I'm more of a conservative, being cautious by nature. But, yanno, the current GOP is a joke.

2016-03-09T00:00:00-05:00 I love Lois McMaster Bujold, but her latest book is not up to her typical standard. I speculate (probably uselessly) as to why. 09mar2016

I actually wrote this review at the beginning of November, but I wanted a friend who was both a)a published author and b)an avid Bujold fan to look it over. She never got back to me (November is Nanowrimo, after all) but now that ML has published a spoiler thread for Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen with at least a minority opinion similar to mine I figure I'm good to go.

The tl;dr version can be summed up in what was originally the subtitle for this page: Both go astray, alas.

This is not so much a review as an analysis, so for the spoiler averse: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a slow, meditative novel in which two middle-aged people attempt to recover from their grief over a lost loved one, and the work-life balances they choose in that aftermath. Though I thought the book had great potential, and it certainly shines at points with Bujold's wit—as, for example, when the highly sensible (and maternal) Cordelia opines that the current fashion of teens deliberately infecting themselves with Sergyarian worms as a form of decorative scarification/bravura/stupidity will likely die out in a generation or two, especially if it's not outlawed—it ultimately fails because there's never any doubt, from the title on, what any of the protagonists will choose, making for a sadly dull story.

This is unlike Bujold, and the rest of this essay attempts to explore why the author did this. (AKA spoilers abound here on out. And for those of you paying attention, a link to an analysis of “Penrik's Demon” to which there are some parallels;)

In a nutshell, Cordelia, three years after Aral's death is now planning at last finally to have her “herd of Vorkosigans” and simultaneously presents Oliver Jole (who like her was also Aral's lover & devastated) with ‘eggshells’ —anucleated eggs, which he can then combine his genes and Aral's for children. Cordelia, for political reasons, will have all girls. Jole, for similar reasons, will, if he goes ahead, have all boys, the Y chromosome from his side. This is pretty much set out in the first chapter. (Why didn't they at least argue or even discuss a bit about this, before coming to this reality? Dunno...)

It was obvious, from the title, that the book was gonna be about Cordelia and Jole falling in love, and the first blurb the wizard and I encountered strongly implied that Jole and Aral were lovers. I wondered how that was supposed to work, because Jole wasn't that much older than Miles (who compares Jole to Ivan for their handsome features, and implies they're fairly close in age—as it happens, Jole is about 8 years older.) By the time Jole was old enough to have a relationship with Aral, the latter would've been married to Cordelia, who tartly announced at the beginning of Barrayar that Aral

... was bisexual. Now he's monogamous.

Now, there's no reason why, over the course of two decades, Cordelia and Aral couldn't re-negotiate their marriage to admit a third (since the menage a trois lasted about twenty years, and they were married about 40 total: Aral died when Miles, who was conceived nearly at the beginning, and born 5 months in, was 39) but the thing is, Aral and Oliver Jole evidently began their relationship while Cordelia was off at a visit to Beta. I didn't see much evidence that Aral and Cordelia negotiated an open relationship in advance, but rather that Cordelia returned from Beta to a done deal, which she appears, textually, to merely have accepted because she's Betan, and all Betans are down that sort of thing.

Le sigh.

(Unpacked, that means, however much Cordelia culturally might have been okay with Aral screwing around on her, their original agreement was for monogamy,(1) and he evidently cheated. Yes, you can cheat in poly relationships. I'm not really sure why Bujold didn't make the situation clearer: it's not as if she hasn't explored this sort of relationship before, in the Chalionverse, what with dy Lutez, Ias, and Ista:

They were lovers since before I was born...Dy Lutez loved Ias; I loved Ias. Ias loved us both. (p. 320, The Curse of Chalion)

Elsewhere, Ista explains that dy Lutez not only chose her for Ias’ second wife, but insisted her mother explain the relationship ahead of time. Thus, like generation-younger Jole joining a long-successful pair or equals, so too here. The difference is that Ista is explicitly warned what she's getting into, and her addition to the pair is agreed on by both members of it ahead of time: consent all around. Had Penrik's Demon gone further, and Penrik fallen in love (with a human) one presumes similar consent would've hardly failed to happen, as Penrik and Des are in constant communication, seeing as they share the same body.

Bujold is certainly familiar with current consent models: Cordelia, explaining Jole and Aral's relationship notes that while Betans had no trouble with the same-sex aspect, the differential in power and age made for troubling consent issues from the Betan(2) point of view; whereas the Barrayarans’ attitudes more or less paralleled the feelings of a society in which the educated elites might tolerate nominally illicit sexual relationships, the person (man) on the street would not. However, he wouldn't be nearly as exercised about consent issues.

So far, so parallel to current USian progressive and reactionary sexual attitudes.

Then there's their son Miles, who would've been roughly 20 when all this started. He's not informed at all until three years after his dad's dead and his mother is thinking of picking up the relationship with a man barely a decade older than Miles himself.

Add to the mix that Jole is being offered a fabulous position—but which a) is downside on Barrayar (while Cordelia has made it very plain she plans to retire on Sergyar) and b) will leave no time to rear children. Meanwhile, Cordelia, as Vicereine of Sergyar has been attempting to some final housecleaning before stepping down as the de facto Queen of Sergyar, namely, moving the capital from a desert-dry volcanically active region to a more sensible location, against the howls of those invested in its original spot. (Cue more parallels to USian problems with water and fire issues in the west, and concerns over the fact that growth there is particularly unsustainable.)

That is, Bujold has done a pretty good job setting up various internal and external stressors for her characters: will Jole take the kids (& relationship with Cordelia) or the prestigious position? Would Cordelia sacrifice her kids and retirement with Jole to enact this last, vital piece of political manuvoering? (What if Aral had made it especially clear, just before he died in harness, that moving the capital was to be the one, last task before he retired...?) What if some of her political enemies get wind of her relationship? How pissed is Miles gonna be at having a major chunk of his parents’ life hidden from him? What about Gregor—who is open-minded, but very conscious of how vulnerable this might make him, to have the widow of a beloved figure cavorting with a man half her age?

All of this could have come swirling in one, grand climax, as Cordelia and Jole get put through the political wringer (external) while coping with Miles (intimate family) and their own doubts (internal).

It never happens. By the time Jole is offered the Barrayaran plum, it's obvious he's already signed on for wife & kids; Miles, instead at the end of the conversation, nearly at the beginning summarizes the complex relationship as marriage, and Cordelia declares by fiat that the capital will be moved, end of discussion. No-one's pissed, no-one's thwarted, everyone's plans (except the mostly nameless land speculators’) just ride on rails. What happened to ‘No plan ever survives contact with the enemy?’ or ‘The best laid plans...’ Yes, both Cordelia and Jole are brilliant, experienced tacticians/politicians and students of Aral; nevertheless, if Bujold has picked this part of their life to write, presumably it's because it's interesting—illustrative—a story.

Why? Why did Bujold, a brilliant and experienced author, make this simplest and mary-sueish author type of mistake, of failing to push her characters? It's not for lack of time: she spent four years (2–4x the usual time) to write the book. When cornered, she's admitted that Memory is her favourite Vorkosigan novel: that's the one in which Miles wrestles with his integrity, in a match of two out of three, and never comes closer to losing everything he cherishes.

I considered the JK Rowling epilogue theory: that, after trying to end the Vorkosigan saga three times before (Civil Campaign [Miles finally married, and ready to live his happily ever after]; Cryoburn [Miles losing his beloved father, and becoming head of his household, and for everyone who whined about that book, the ending should've been obvious from the get-go], and, finally, tidying up Ivan for everyone who wanted his story, which we got, with his happy ending) she really put her foot down and wrote this deliberately dull book so folks would stop begging for mo’ Miles. Personally, Miles is a vampire to compete with Sherlock Holmes—even killing him off (which she's also done...) isn't gonna do it. I wish she'd just tell people she's done, and that they're gonna have to make do with fanfic. Mebbe release the universe into the wild after she's dead...? Anything to stop the whining and get on with other stuff, which she's hinted, over the years, that she would like to try.

However, I don't think that was her intention. She's stated for quite awhile that ‘This is a book for grownups’ —not a military adventure of the sort that made her early career so enjoyable for Miles fans. Also, Cordelia really is her Mary Sue stand in. (Even if the height, red hair, and the fact that she's the protagonist of the very first Vorkoverse novel wasn't a dead giveaway, the fact that ‘Cordelia Naismith’ was a heroine in a Sherlock Holmes pastiche written very early in her career makes it plain. Now, as it happens, Cordelia is a successful Mary Sue, having enough flaws to be appealing in much the same way the plain, sullen Harriet Vane is wildly popular.) While you can certainly put your Author stand-ins through the wringer(4) and in fact Bujold has done just that in her prior two books starring Cordelia, you don't, typically, want your readers to be bored with her!

And that was my biggest problem.

This book was boring.

I honestly don't know why she screwed this book up so badly. (And why didn't her beta readers, editor or someone else point this out...?)(5) I do think she's been working on its thematic content for awhile: besides the fact that it's been at least three years since she put out a book, note the similarities between the young, ‘perfect’ beautiful blonde Penrik and the wise, older (much) more powerful demon Desdemona. We never get to the point where Penrik falls in love with a human, because Bujold abandoned the book before getting that far, but it's not unexpected, given that romantic subplots have basically featured in every book she's written, like, ever. She tries again with the gorgeous, perfect Jole and the older, powerful (Queen, remember?) Cordelia.

I mean even on fairly straightforward stuff she dropped the ball: just as elephants are an ongoing symbol in Memory, plumbing in general (and that subpar plascrete in particular) are motifs in this book, but even the dishonest contractors never really get their comeuppance—the best we get is the Cetagandan with the contractors’ background who might eventually make them sorry. But I wanted that warehouse to be more than just a clandestine place for conversations.

After I wrote the bulk of this essay, I went trawling through the LMB mailing list and a goodreads spoiler thread trying to figure out what the dickens was going on. I didn't get much satisfaction, but it was fairly obvious that Bujold wanted to write, so to speak, a book that rested on its psychological, rather than action-adventure, hooks. Given the fact she's published by Baen, what with all that ridiculous Puppy blatheration the last two years, I can very much see why she might want to do that. And I have no problem with it!

After all, Cotillion, the Heyer I cited earlier, has, as its top action, a punch to the nose, and all parties cry friends within fifteen minutes. Otherwise, the protagonists like each other throughout, the male protag's family likes the girl from the get-go (she's orphaned), there's no violence, (or sex). Yet it's a highly engaging story. Or take one of my fave fantasies of all time, Robin McKinley's retelling of Beauty & the Beast. We already know how it ends; she actually downgrades the stress by inverting the traditional ugly sisters into loving, beautiful kind ones, and the whole book is basically, we have bad fortune, and people (even the Beast) are kind to us. The climax of that book can be summarized as ‘Beauty wandering around a castle.’

I finally realized it's not the lack of action. (Even in Bujold's books, the action bits don't necessarily resonate: one of the most affecting scenes in WGWII were not the fights, but Fawn's burning her hand reaching into a camp or cookfire, and having lotion smoothed on it by one of her husband's relatives. But these bits stuck with me because of what they represent: Fawn's rejection by her toxic, emotionally abusive mother-in-law, who throws a peace-offering of handmade socks into a fire, her own good sense resisting this woman by reaching in to save the socks rather than letting them burn, and acceptance by her Uncle (in Law?) who puts salve on her burnt hand—which doesn't fix a culture that has historically rejected her kind but drives home the idea that people are diverse—some cruel, many others kind. It is, in some sense, the core of the story.

When I briefly discussed Cryoburn I noted how certain aspects of the book paralleled current US political realities (the power of corporations, frex.) This book sets up similar conflicts with sexual mores: Cordelia's more progressive ones, versus the conservatism of Barrayar. Sergyar, having both the more liberal, galactic Komarrans as well as what would be presumed to be more adventurous Barrayarans coming into settle a frontier, is thus a political landscape in flux. I mean, the author even makes this explicit with a sex workers’ rights group. So as a reader, my expectations were set up by her (highly successful) working methods in prior books, but also by the book's own background. —There didn't need to be earth shattering events to make for a strong story, but we as readers had to be engaged with Oliver and Cordelia's situations and choices, and without some kind of conflict, be it even all interior, that engagement simply don't happen.

The sad and frustrating thing is that this story had so much potential, and was so right up my alley. I'm happy to read relatively slow moving stories featuring older or middle-aged people (especially women) in which there are no explosions (technically speaking there are actually a few in this book, but, like everything else, end up being curiously attenuated). I'd purely love watching Cordelia&co negotiating all those messy consent issues, both past and present, with regard to the dicey menage a trois—plus, I admit, I thought mebbe there would be infants with all three of their parents’ gametes, and wouldn't that have been cool?

There is, however, one teeny, tiny ray of hope: what I read is an ARC. Usually, by this point, it's only the stray comma or quotation mark that gets changed, but if enough people have similar concerns, perhaps Ms. Bujold will kindly fix the story for us.

I certainly hope so.

Note: Not everyone shares my opinion! So if this analysis has depressed you, here's some far more upbeat reactions to this book. Plus, there's also the ML thread referenced above.

(1)You could argue, I suppose, that Cordelia lied to the Barrayaran attempting to needle her over the bisexual comment, but she replies absently—thus, those are her real feelings, not a politically calculated rejoinder.

(2)I.e. modern progressive

(3)That thing in Dreamweaver's Dilemma is a novella.

(4)And I can state from experience that it's great fun;)

(5)Or did they, hence the slightly snippy sounding ‘grownups’? I mean another thing that really, really resonated was how Cordelia has come to start counting from the other end: her death. She has, she figures only so much time left. Man oh man, I feel the same: another fifteen-twenty years, mebbe, to make art, before my vision and joints, not to mention my mental acuities, give out.

Anyway. Here's a bracelet full of hearts, which are after all a symbol of romantic love. Also, it finishes up that 2013 series.

2016-03-08T00:00:00-05:00 Setting up sfnal worlds. Or, another example of the author's worldview really does impinge on the story. Always. 08mar2016

So in honor of it being primary season (all you usians have or will voted, right?) I bring to you a just slightly politically tinged rant (but no candidates are directly mentioned unless you follow a link, if you're burnt out on all that, I promise;)

A lot of these little rants come out of ‘criss-crossing’ two (or more posts) I've encountered: the juxtaposition provides an opportunity. Take, frex, Rachel Swirskey's recycling of a recce from 2011, in which she pushes a 6k story with strong anti-war and PSTD themes. In this future almost no soldiers actually “die”; when they're blown up, the human bits left—a patch of thigh, a pair of hands—are hooked up to a life-support computer which also stores their memories. It's a good story, deserving of its nebula nom. Take this excerpt, which was for me the most striking aspect of the story's universe:

A section of her thigh, about the size and shape of a cigarette pack, [was] returned to her parents in a box and now living in their upstairs room, where it made a living proofreading articles on the internet. That's no life, the notification officer said.

In that sentence and a half, the author has immersed us in a world in which minute body parts not only survive their destruction in war zones, but are conscious as well. Wow. But then the character above goes on to say, later in the paragraph “[T]here was always the cloning lottery. The chances were a couple of million to one...” and that's where my problems started.

This was brought into sharp focus reading a Cory Doctorow Locus column, in which he excoriates the backdrop of a very famous sfnal short: Tom Godwin's The Cold Equations in which (spoiler alert: a young girl—of course, a girl—stows away on a ship stripped to its essentials to deliver desperately needed medicine. She wants to see her brother, who's not even on the sick continent. There's not enough fuel with her added weight to get there in time to save the dying people, so she gets shoved out the airlock.) It's not the author's fault: according to Doctorow, Astounding's

editor John W. Campbell sent back three rewrites in which the pilot figured out how to save the girl. He was adamant that the universe must punish the girl.

Thoughtless young innocent wants to see her family, is ignorant of the consequences, and the cold hard universe doesn't care. Of course, as Doctorow points out there's all sorts of nasty assumptions:

  • Why isn't there an autopilot (the pilot of the ship is willing to sacrifice himself for the child)
  • Why isn't there a margin of safety (in terms of fuel/water/food)? —This one actually could be addressed, as increased mass slows you down—but honestly, compared to getting out of the gravity well? Either most of the extra fuel has already been spent, or, if they launched from space, it wouldn't’ve been such a big deal
  • Why can't this planet make their own medicine, or if they haven't the technology, why isn't it on hand? Even if that's not practical, why is there not more robust planning to deal with this sort of emergency? Disaster planning is a thing, yanno.

That's the heart of Doctorow's argument: that the story works like a punch to the gut—it's a classic for a reason—because the parameters have been very tightly set up to funnel you, the reader, to one, inescapable, horrifying conclusion: the child must die. Campbell's point is that the universe doesn't care about her (& by extension, humanity). Doctorow's counterpoint is, yes, precisely, so it's up to us to care.

Which brings us back to "Her Husband's Hands": in a universe in which people can back up their memories, and computer life support for human flesh can be reduced to the size of a cigarette pack, why can't people get cloned, or at least have the option to be androids?

Well, the major reason is that it would subvert the point of the story, which is to castigate not only the appalling way US society treats its veterans but also its mealymouthed approach to the actual damage war causes—civilian casualties immediately spring to mind, but that's only the starkest of costs; think about how war undermines the victims’ culture, infrastructure—their future. It doesn't actually do the aggressors any favour either.

So how do you keep the striking image of the creepy, disembodied hands without losing the thematic core of your story?

Some sort of cultural bias against androids would at least eliminate that escape route, but it seems to me that a level of technology able to support memory storage would actually find the cloning cheaper than the down and uploading. (Hm. Part of the problem is as technology advances our sense of the relative possibilities changes. When Spider Robinson wrote Mindkiller back in the, um, early 80s, let alone my fave story along these lines, Vinge's 1978 Fireship, cloning was still seen as a very distant goal, akin to the computerization of memory, whereas by ’96 Dolly the sheep was all over the news and now you can actually purchase a clone (or three) of a beloved dog. Human cloning is clearly within our grasp now. Whereas we're still decades away from AI, never mind storing human memories on computer.) Still, the author let the worldbuilding go instead of the moral component, so good on him. Ursula K LeGuin got around the problem in Omelas by making the story a fantasy, and setting up the parameters, baldly, by fiat.

Ultimately, the society, as set up, could give the man back his body. The problem isn't that they can't be bothered, but rather that even as heinous as the culture is, it's in their best interest to clone soldiers because it simply beggars belief that they'd spend the cash on the miniaturized computer support, a much greater expense, and then ignore an easy crowd-pleasing aspect, the cloning. In much the same way, the society of Campbellian Cold Equations couldn't be bothered to create the kind of safety interlocks that would've prevented the girl's death. (OSHA wasn't a thing in 1954, I'm guessing. In a sense, this story is an argument for it, though I don't think that was Campbell's goal;) It's not the cold cruel universe: it's lack of empathy on our part. There will always be priorities.

SF, at its best, helps us to explore those options. (Games, I'm guessing, do it even more directly.) This is the great gift of being human: deciding to combat the fear, cruelty and bad behaviour that can come out of being social apes. Cuz, in the end, yes, the whole universe will become cold; we can't stop it, so we might as well make the ride as wonderful as we can in the meantime.

Which, I suppose, is why I write this stuff. Hardly anyone reads it, and there's a ton of people doing it better. But it's better than throwing up my hands ’cuzza cold equations heat death of the universe. (Even when I fail, as with today's beads.

2016-03-07T00:00:00-05:00 Woodshop skills, practical engineering and physics combine to make some very fun music(al device)... 07mar2016

Hey, it's procrastination, er, displacement activity time to make a web page or two for my poor, neglected website. Firstly, I wanted to put a link out to this delightful marble machine. Link via pharyngula, one of whose commenters described the device as a variation on an orchestrion —Yes!!! One year a bunch of collectors displayed the more traditional band/horn versions of these in the local park, and I collected pix like crazy (for the kittycats. Even if I never actually write/draw/comic those stories, they will have provided a wonderful excuse to delight in many ‘various and sundry’ things.

Another pet peeve: if only physics were taught to us artsy types like this we would be all over it. (In fact, the musician above shows not only knows his way around a woodshop—and computer—but also obviously has a good working knowledge of classical physics and very much the understanding of the experimental method, which he combines so effectively in making his device.

I, on the other hand, have a very old post, which I finally got around to finishing the photography.

2016-02-11T00:00:00-05:00 Western art music by way of youtube vids. 11feb2016

Recent linkies:

Mission Impossible with Lindsay & the Piano Guys. I really quite like the way modern youtube artists are updating western art (i.e. “classical”) music with these cute online pastiches. I've known about the piano guys (one of whom usually plays cello, as far as I can tell) for awhile, but Lindsay was new to me. This is the charming western/steampunk vid that introduced me to her:)

Hamilton—the broadway musical I mean (which I also became familiar via youtube)—will, I suspect, get a lot of people interested in our founding fathers above and beyond those dull middle and high school textbooks. It's certainly the first piece of art that's made a convincing case for real-person-fic, something that's squicked me hereto. I still feel writing fics about living (or the recently dead whose loved ones are still alive to be offended) is tacky (to say the least), but overly venerated political figures two centuries dead who read now more as myth than relatable people—especially when we have so many demagogues attempting to co-opt their legacies—are in my opinion ripe for this sort of drama.

And it's just sort of interesting to find one's mind changing. Though I loved the beads featured today from the get-go:)

2016-02-10T00:00:00-05:00 Highly spoilerific discussion of Naomi Novik's _Uprooted_ as it compares to Robin McKinley's ouevre. 10feb2016

So the following is a paraphrase of a conversation I had:

What do you mean, you don't adore Uprooted? Why, it's right up your alley—faerytale, angsty male lead, feisty feminist magical protagonist, love story?

To which I replied—I didn't hate it; I enjoyed it; it just didn't make much of an impression—went meh and promptly forgot it. But, f2tE protested, if in fact it's an homage to Robin McKinley (my favourite fantasy author) then why not love it, instead of re-reading Chalice yet again? Good question, so I re-read it to try and figure out the answer.

Firstly: it is indubitably modelled on McKinley's work:

  1. the introduction, in which the monster isn't so monstrous: in this case, the mysterious ‘dragon’ doesn't actually eat maidens, which is a common device in McKinley's stories: cf. the Beast doesn't actually kill the people in his garden who cheat him; they die from their own guilt.
  2. The magical terms have a very Damarian feel (cf names of things Damarian vs names of spells—lirintalem; tualidetal; vanastalem; darendetal(1)
  3. The mess and klutziness of the heroine, as well as her personality in general, is set out much like Beauty or Aerin or any other of half a dozen McKinlesque heroines
  4. The initial description of the forest and its corruption
  5. And, oh yeah, the only named magical tome in the Dragon's vast library is called Luthe's Summoning.(2) Um, so no arguments there, I hope.

Well, I think a big part of the problem is that it's supposed to read much like a Damarian novel (except set in a lush Eastern European land, featuring instead of harsh deserts murderous forests,) right up to including rulers and wizards of shall-we-say dubious morality (cf Deerskin and Pegasus respectively). It's a noble endeavour, and given that McKinley has not only forbidden fanfic but also neglected to finish Pegasus, I totally get the impulse to write up some yummy McKinlesque fantasy, since the actual author ain't providing us with much these days.(3) Novik, moreover, cut her teeth in fanfic circles, and her best known series, the Temeraire books, are set roughly in the same era as The Blue Sword, whose protagonist, like Laurence, is something of a[n alt] British outcast.

McKinley's strengths, as I see them are as follows:

  • inverting the often sexist tropes of traditional faery tales while absolutely adhering to the form
  • gorgeous prose and settings, particularly exposition of magic
  • writing absolutely fabulous—and egalitarian!—love stories
  • while typically maintaining a relatively upbeat story, or at least ending (yes, even Deerskin ends on quite a positive note)

Having attempted to write this sort of story myself, because I just love it so much, I do have some idea of how difficult it is, and Novik is to be congratulated for the bits that worked, to wit:

  • the sympathetic explanation of the ‘dirty, ragged’ part of being a witch (the protagonist, Nieshka)
  • the love of sisters/friends (one of Beauty, and also Rose Daughter’s real strengths) between Nieshka and Kasia
  • the organic quality of the protagonist's magic, versus the clockwork, analytical methods of the male lead (Dragon)
  • the sympathetic portrayal of ‘commoners’ versus the powerful (both Nieshka and the Beekeeper in Chalice are poor woodcutter's daughters, frex)
  • the motivations of the antagonists, specifically the younger prince Marek and the magician Falcon
  • the fabulous dresses, obviously a callback to Beauty's outfits.

All of these elements read like hallmark McKinley stories. Less successful was the romance between the Dragon and the Witch. Romantic love tends to get short shrift in the Temeraire stories—it happens, but generally is much less important than aromantic peer-to-peer relationships—and my feeling was, either develop the growing feelings between Nieshka and Dragon properly, or leave them out entirely.

The other difficulty I had was with the Wood. As a concept, it was fine; but for a faery tale, we needed more setup, more history (earlier) in the book to understand the tragedy of the Wood people, and their misunderstandings with humans (again, something that McKinley has done in several stories, as with the Faery in “The Door in the Hedge”, or the mer-people in the Water/Elemental Spirits collection.) Moreover, the fact that Dragon is not rooted in the soil but Nieshka's people are needs to be stressed more, and earlier in the story.

Also, as the story progressed, what I think of as the intricate filigree—in the descriptions, the magic, just the overall atmosphere of the story—that so characterizes McKinley's (and, for the record, Tanith Lee or Catharine Valente) style started to fall away, to the point where I felt I'd shifted to my other favourite fantasy author, specifically Bujold's WGW.(4)

Novik came closer to replicating the best of McKinley's faery tales than anyone else; and the book works very well on its on terms; but it wasn't the romance I was hoping for, and while I was a little disappointed, I hardly felt I could blame anyone but myself for that; and so I shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

Which doesn't mean anyone else should, of course.

And speaking of others, here are some fabulous hearts made by my fellow guild members.

(1)Can't find my copies of either Sword or Crown, so no specific examples; and it's quite possible that Novik & McKinley are drawing on the same eastern European(?) languages for their vocabularies; and yes, Novik specifies spells, whereas McKinley various nouns, but my point is the feel of the language of foreign words is very much the same.

(2)If a Mary Sue (the original meaning) is an author insert (though traditionally a badly written one) then Luthe—like Lord Peter Wimsy—is the author's beloved, her beau ideal.(5) Luthe appears in a number of McKinley's stories as the ageless, secluded wizard whose mountain home has ‘clearer, more truthful’ air; his spell is not just a namecheck but refers to this aspect of his home and being, and is critical to the success of Uprooted’s protags.

(3)If my spouse had died after a long illness I wouldn't much feel like writing either.

(4)Also, the way the protags appeared to throw off the horror of 6k men slaughtered before their eyes didn't quite sit right.

(5)Why yes, I would happen to have one of these myself, who is, like Luthe, blonde, blue-eyed, emotionally perspicacious—though his jewels don't include a red dragonheart:) But these sorts of similarities are the reason, I presume, that McKinley resonates with me.