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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


Whoopsie. I meant to post this six months ago! And forgot to “turn on” the page.” Despite the hot pink outlining of the date, which is the wizard's way of alerting me that the page is not yet live. Well, better late than never...

Here's a couple of cute photographer photographed pix —Don't remember where I picked these up, sorry. Also, a review by Sarah Monette of Joanna Russ who, unsurprisingly, is pretty darn insightful. (Though it would be nice if her How to Suppress Women's Writing wasn't still so valid, some, what 40 years later...?)

Yay, that cleans up the links that have been lying open for days. And, fresh, PZ's got a couple of interesting links, one to an article in Nature that makes explicit how artificial the ‘two sexes (only)’ category is; the other about some of my favorite plants: sundews, venus flytraps, and most especially, pitchers.

Or, you can check out this extremely dull post that is mostly to record when I finished this piece of purple and green kumi...


It's time for another “How to photograph Kristin Perkins’ work!” post. Now, since afaik only three people shoot her stuff—Larry Saunders, yours truly, and the artist herself—this howto is really only of interest to one person, namely, me (since Larry Saunders hardly needs my advice, and Kristin pays us [would-be, in my case] pros precisely so she doesn't have to learn this crap.)

Otoh, you do get to see some stunning silver and glass jewelry.

Also, there's roughly 10–15 pages between this and the last post. Admittedly, about 5 of them were for an abortive Nanowrimo for July, but the fact of the matter is I seem to have spent most of the summer prepping for travel, traveling, or recovering from jet lag. That's all done now, and I still have all of August left! With, perhaps some more art coming down the pike...Meanwile, enjoy some of Kristin's beautiful pieces.


I've been in hiding away from the world, but today's news is so historic, I figured I oughta celebrate. It's kind of amazing that we reached this tipping point so quickly—I figured it'd be another decade or two.

Plus, the white house icon is just adorbs. And I happen to like the SLPC's take on the news as well.

And this little pic of the iconic flag is my offering.


So for various boring, assorted reasons I won't go into, Blacksad has recently been obsessing me, to the point where I've spent the last ...week or so analysing it. Blacksad is a spanish comic, detective noir, in which the characters are drawn as animals, and it's brilliant. My critique is my effort to understand why; where it works (and doesn't).

However, I doubt anyone else will be much interested, so here's some spiffy links—a 10 minute CGI short that, as the Mary Sue notes, will get you right in the feels. Yeah, I want the full length version too.

The other is this absolutely superb story about memory, and its malleability. I have always had a crappy memory—one reason I make this blog, an artificial extension. If you're wondering what a hugo-worthy short looks like, well, Ted Chiang's The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling would be an excellent example.

Or you can read my rather incoherent ramblings about Blacksad. Beads should show up at some point. I am actually making them, and in the meantime, you can see them on my fb/twitter/tumblr. Thanks for your patience.


So the rabid puppies dominate the short fiction nominations for the hugos; one exception being this brilliant story by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It's Dutch, which I thought, cool, and Hugo-worthy, I was assured.

And in terms of construction, it is. In fact, in a lot of ways, it could be said to be a companion piece to that bugaboo of the puppies, Rachel Swirsky's “If you were a dinosaur, my love” (which did not win the hugo, last year, but a nebula; that is her fellow sff authors handed her the prize.) Like Dino, “The day the world turned upside down” is about a heartbroken person who's lost his love; even the internal structure is similar.

But I can't vote for it. (Spoilers, obviously.)

The conceit of this story, like Swirsky's, is implicit in the title: some guy's girlfriend breaks up with him, and this is so shattering his world turns upside down. Literally. Most people tumble off into the void, if they're not crushed immediately against their ceilings; the narrator describes the plight of a woman, desperately clinging to a chain-link fence, while he timidly attempts to rescue a pet goldfish. She begs for help, but ultimately falls away, conveniently leaving her five year old daughter behind for the protag to interact with.

Thoughout this entire story, the end of the world barely impinges upon Toby's self-indulgent grief for his high-school sweetie, whom he bitterly imagines caressing, kissing, and worst of all fucking some other man. For someone so grief-stricken, Toby has remarkably little to say about what (besides sex) he finds in common, or attractive, in his ex. In fact, early on, he says between his many bouts of hot, self-indulgent tears:

At the end of the world, it’s every man for himself.

You had taught me that, Sophie.

So it's hardly surprising that he sees her as mostly a possession, her goldfish as a coded love letter, and thus a symbol more worth saving than people. A cute five year old engages his interest briefly, but he soon abandons her to the crones who are building a rope ladder to the end/bottom of the world, freeing him to resume his quest of returning her goldfish.

The girlfriend at least survives (instead of being fridged), though at the cost of a broken kneecap, but oddly enough is not terribly interested in her fishy pet, now that the world is ending. Toby-the-asshole having braved hell and high water on the pretext of returning it, since it is, in his eyes a love letter, badgers her to get back together, despite the fact Toby knows she's just seen her new boyfriend killed. It doesn't even occur to him to offer her any comfort.

I had the misfortune to recently stumble across Randall Garrett's infamous Queen Bee, featuring a woman unhappy with the idea of being raped with the goal of continuous, forcible pregnancy in order to populate this virgin—heh!—world with humanity and so is lobotomized for her pains. It was published in 1958 by Campbell in Astounding, then the leading sf pulp, so I suppose we've made progress.

But not as much as you'd expect for the last half-century, reading this story.

I find it telling that in Dino, the heartbroken protag wishes her lover whole, even at the cost of losing that lover to another; whereas in this story the rejected person remains bitterly resentful and possessive, only barely releasing his rage at the very end. He does not wish the best for his ex; she has become a ghost, indifferent, discarded in his necessary journey—which to my mind makes pretty clear that he never loved her so much as possessed her, and when she escaped his grasp, finally, the entire world pays the price.

To be clear, I'm not accusing the author of Toby's sociopathy. But Heuvalt chose to write a story that is very easy to read as a metaphor for the insanely jealous abusers who kill their wives/girlfriends rather than let them escape. (In that sense, how much is this an advance on Queen Bee? Both are horrifying indictments of unfaithful, unco-operative women.) If the author's intent, like that of Nabokov, is make clear just how awful this position is—and I admit, an argument for this stance could be made, in the two elderly women who counsel Toby to ‘let go’—then I think the author failed. I particularly think that the message of letting go is likely to go right over the heads of the self-absorbed persons who most need it; and even at the end, there is remarkably little generosity.

And, despite the fact that I slotted this story as fantasy almost immediately (how else could goldfish breathe sugar-water or blink?) it still bugged me that while rocks and furniture fell away, that tunnel dwelling animals were sucked into the sky whilest houses remained anchored to their foundations and water and air remained earthbound, solely that the people could live long enough for the story to happen. Given some deus ex machina benevolent to preserve air and water, the death of billions and the presumed eventual destruction of the world seemed all the crueller; not to mention that everyone climbing this ladder (that would be roughly 3/4 of the named characters, including the narrator) into the atmosphere was gonna asphyxiate once they got to stratospheric heights, provided they didn't freeze first.

Which, fine. Some people enjoy reading about horrible people who become marginally less so (and surreal environments, but sff is, yanno, supposed to have decent world-building. This story's internal logic makes no sense—not as fantasy, and not even as surrealism.) Logic aside, its worst flaw is that it reads too clearly of sympathizing with controlling, abusive jerks at the expense of their innocent victims; and call me utopian, but one old-fashion golden-era sfnal value I retain is that my future will be a better place for everyone.


Ooooh, more controversy:)

Via pharyngula, a post by scicurious, about favorite versus ‘good’ books. I know exactly how she feels. Being smarter and more disciplined than I am, she banged her head against this wall far longer than I have; I couldn't stand the amoral people in Vanity Fair, and gave it up. The biggest thrill of Tess of the d'Ubervilles (besides the admittedly fascinating bits about dairying—being a milkmaid was hard work!) was recognizing the basis for some Harry Potter characters (Voldie's folks, for those of you who are curious). I did manage Willa Cather and T.S. Eliot (I think?) and they were ok.

Honestly, this is the only good reason in my opinion to read stuff that doesn't thrill you, one way or the other: reading the old classics to see how they've informed stuff you do love. (Harry Potter fandom was the reason for reading HP & its antecedents, frex.) Or: I've wasted an incredible amount of time reading about the Beats, a) because they're a major cultural influence in the early 50s milieu my kittycats live in and b) cuz I recently picked up somebody else's 50s kittycat graphic novel in which the Beats play a part and I was trying to nail down exactly who the authors were riffing. Cuz I don't really wanna read a bunch of disaffected, experience-seeking druggies-car thieves-all-around-flakes who keep impregnating women then deserting them, and that, summed up, is the Beats in general, and On the Road in particular. I have a feeling, though, that some day I'm gonna have to read the damn thing, for research. C'est la vie.

I haven't read any of Weintraub's suggestions (though I've read other things by Feynman—his Six Easy Pieces, as the title implies, are pretty accessible, and would someday like to read Darwin.) Of Sci's recces, I enjoyed The Girls of Atomic City and The Immortal Henrietta Lacks, and was unable to finish Galileo's Daughter, despite receiving it as a (sigh) hardcover xmas gift. And I actually consider myself reasonably literate in the sciences, for a layperson. Certainly I devoured Stephen Jay Gould, and it took years and years of his Natural History magazine columns and many of his books before I really got it through my head that no, evolution is not directional. This is still a misconception for most people, but I think Gould is considered kind of dated now; and you could perhaps get the same thing from Peter & Rosemary Grant's wonderful The Beak of the Finch. These researchers have tracked every single bird on one of the most remote of the Galapagos islands. For decades. I was lucky enough to hear them talk about this book, at one of our community reads projects, one year.

Also seminal for me was Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. Despite not being able to finish the follow-up Collapse (after purchasing it in hardcover, mind you), and some controversy about the author, I found Guns an incredibly useful model for thinking about why some cultures seem to pull ahead technologically than others. (Hint: it's not because they're smarter/stronger/better.)

I'm not sorry I read Hawking's Brief History of Time, and though I can't say I retained as much as I would like, I didn't understand why people found it ‘too hard’ to finish. That said, the guy who writes physics from his dog's point of view is super-accessible and easy to read. On the other hand, if you want a challenge (just a little bit) I'd try Sean Carroll's The Particle at the End of the Universe. To be honest, I don't recall exactly whether I read this book, or just heard the author's lectures and read articles by him, but I do recall it was with his explanations that it finally began to penetrate that the higgs particle is more an artifact of the field, which is what confers mass than a thing in and of itself.

But, actually, most of my science reading is either via Science News, or online stuff by, yanno, scientists. I liked the former better when it came out every week, but am grateful they're still publishing, and am happy to support them. Originally written for scientists wanting to keep up with the big news outside their particular field, it's a good way to stay on top of things, and given the horrendous state of mainsteam news science reportage, certainly a good antidote to the breathless crap. It's not perfect, but I'd say it's the reason I currently consider myself more-or-less informed.

As for the online scientist articles...well, look at this link TOTALLY EXPLAINING KITTYCAT COAT GENETICS oh-be-still-my-beating-heart, AT LAST!!!<— thank your lucky stars rejiquar's ccs doesn't do shifting rainbow or blink tags, cuz I would totally inflict both monstronsities upon you to express the depth of my glee via pharyngula—cuz I've been wanting this for years, thought I had it for awhile, then the best link got taken down, and now I shall suck this entire page into my computer for future reference, yay. (Though, if the elaborate coat genetics I worked out are now broken, too bad.)

When I'm not busy making art, as is obviously the case here.