Categories
Authoring Cons & Appearances Writing Life

Accomplished: first convention of 2021!

Capricon 41 took place over the weekend. I was going to pass on it this year. I’ve been running on fumes for ages and saving my small energies for Finishing The Book. The deadlines for submitting panel ideas and for interest in programming came & went while I was still fully mired in the midwinter mental mire. I planned to buy a membership to support the incredible, generous, hard-working people who were making the con happen despite stick-in-the-muds like me, but I was going to steer VERY clear of the chaos created in my brain by attempting online interaction over multiple, simultaneous channels.

Meh, I thought, and blergh. I don’t have it in me to deal with All The Virtual Things.

Then I found out at the last minute that Michi Trota was going to be one of the Guests of Honor. C’mon, self, you canNOT miss out on that, I told myself, and I asked myself in my most persuasive inner voice, How hard could it be to simply attend the virtual con? No responsibilities. Zero expectations. Nothing to panic over.

My argument was simple but convincing. I boxed up all my freakout fears & scraped up all my post-hibernation energy and registered, bullied my tech into cooperating, and got online.

…nd promptly freaked out and panicked and had a Really Bad Day over the ordeal of dealing, but! BUT! I collected some support (THANK YOU ALL MY SUPPORTIVE ONLINE FRENZ) applied warm fuzzies to the anxiety prickle wounds, and in the end it was an amazing good time.

I learned a ton of new things. How one person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia, what makes space opera space opera, the need for shaping society with hopeful, inclusive, personal narratives that go beyond reflecting and amplifying existing systems, and much more. My TBR list has exploded with new titles both fiction & research-related. The affirmation of hearing Real Experts validate the importance of stories like the ones I write–ones with complex, flawed characters, with resolutions based on cooperation & collective action, where erasing a villain doesn’t fix systemic ills, but determination and hope make improvements that are framed as worthy, achievable goals–well! That alone was worth the emotional price of admission. (and that was just the start!)

It’s post-con now, so of course I’m wrestling with residual weasel-whispers of, “You weren’t really freaking out, you just want attention, you’re a weak, whiny, lazy little coward who has all the privileges in the world but can’t be bothered to work hard, so you’re making excuses and posturing and claiming victimhood, you should be ashamed of yourself, other people who have it much worse than you do and manage to do so much more.” Stupid weasels. Good thing I have on my big, spiky weasel-stomping boots.

One extra-grand thing about the con being virtual was that I could bake bread, make oatcakes, and also get a lot of words written in the same weekend I was attending panels and engaging in inspiring discussions. I streamed the filk circles & performances while I was working on Ghost Town more than once, and that was particularly enjoyable.

And now, have pictures of the bread I baked. Because stress baking is a thing in this house.

apricot toaster bread is not pretty when it’s in the process of becoming.
it looks much more appetizing after baking
Glamour shot of the final result with gratuitous bacon
Still here? Here’s a peek at my office dragon’s current hoard.
Categories
2. Worldbuilding 3. Other Things Writing Life

This isn’t over. Not yet. Maybe never.

Look. I’ve spent years into studying societies, how people fuck them up, and how they unfuck themselves. Politics is history happening, science fiction is the history of the future, and I write hopeful dystopian fantasy & science fiction. So of course I’ve been glued to the news for, um, ever, but especially the last few months. It’s mesmerizing.

This post contains meandering musings about this & that, life the universe, and so on. No particular idea where it’s going, so bail now if you’re looking for a Dramatic Point or a Conclusive Proclamation.

I wish I was surprised by the direction politics have been heading in the US since, oh, since we hit the twenty-first century, but I’m not. I’ve been doing deep research on the history of religious cults, separatist groups, American fascism, racist organizations, Confederate true-believers, insurrectionist movements FOR 35 YEARS.

All this time, I’ve been disappointed and fearful about national politics more often than not, but I cling to hope that my country’s leaders would avoid total collapse. I am too optimistic, perhaps. Still, I remain confident the world won’t end, no matter what.

That’s because I’m a biology major who studied ecology. I have immense respect for matters straightening themselves out on a planetary scale. Global warming may wipe out all life down to bacteria, but life will go on. It’ll be different, it won’t be a place anyone human can live, but…okay, maybe I have a weird perspective.

AND I DIGRESS. Ha. Big surprise. Moving on…

Here’s one thing that sank in early in my fascination with studying ways the future might careen towards hell in a handbasket: wars don’t happen the way I learned about them in history classes. They only look obvious in hindsight or from a distance.

The questions history likes to answer are ones like, “what caused the war?” “how bad did it get?” and “how long did it last?” No one can answer those from the happening side of a conflict. Worse, war in the modern world is messy. To borrow from Dr. Seuss, war can happen without uniforms, it can happen without guns, it can happen without declarations, legislation, or sides.

“War: a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state” (italics mine, definition courtesy of Oxford Languages)

By that definition, the United States has been in a state of war for months now, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near over.

Skirmishes have been happening for years (Occupy movement. Bundys. Border detentions, Charlottesville…the list goes on and on.) Since June 2020 fighting has broken into the open and gone through multiple cycles of violence, truce, and renewed conflict. BLM protests. Pandemic protests. Pre- and post-election Trump rallies. The mob assault on the Capitol.

Yeah. That last one. That’s the one that seems to have finally tipped the scales into “HEY WTF IS GOING ON” for a lot of people.

Looking back, it’s always much easier to connect the dots.

I’m gobsmacked by how stunned people were that the “pro-Trump” rallies “turned violent.” It takes a whopping big dose of denial to ignore the open calls for sedition from a movement so obviously, violently fascist that it embraces the use of the Nazi swastika, one whose followers put bullseye targets on pictures of their enemies, and who call for lynchings and firing squads against their own elected officials.

But hey, denial and lies have served conservative political representatives so well for so long that maybe they forgot that the people they were lying to believe the lies. There’s a dangerous false security in downplaying calls to violence that don’t meet the historical standard of “warfare.” (They aren’t fascists, pfft. That was 1930’s Germany. This is now. They aren’t racist, they’re making jokes. They aren’t proposing the overthrow of the elected government, they’re merely objecting to results they don’t like, and, uh, talking about holding the people who disagree hostage until they change the result…or lynching them…or…yeah…hm.)

I’m glad the Capitol incident made an impression. It barely escaped being a bloody, gruesome wake-up call. Call it a rally gone wrong, call it a riot, call it an organized insurrection–those labels can be discussed. But it escaped being a mass murder only by a chance combination of heroic actions coupled with good luck. It was almost an undeniable act of insurrection. It was almost the first battle in an undeclared war. (have you noticed how Americans only tend to call things wars if they happen somewhere else?)

I wish the immediate aftermath gave me more hope. Sadly, there was also an immediate return to the same old playbook of minimizing, and that doesn’t stun me in the least. The whataboutisms, misdirection, false equivalencies, ad hominem dismissals, and wholesale denial of reality–those tactics have served certain government representatives for so long they can’t seem to accept that they’re not riding the tiger any more, that they’re being batted back and forth by it.

It’s been a quiet fortnight since January 6, in the news at least. It hasn’t been peaceful, and too many people are suffering under the awful laws of the current regime, but the insurrection threats are being taken more seriously by the institutions that are still functioning. So there’s that.

And tomorrow, if all goes well, there’ll be a new president, one who has plans ready to go, a commitment to make the job more than a 4-year series of election rallies, and a team of idealists who want to make systems work better, not just make life better for some people under the current systems.

But those insurrectionists? They’re not going anywhere. Most of them are home, and they live all over the nation. They live in my town and your town. In our neighborhoods. In our families. They work where I work. They shop where I shop.

That isn’t going to end when control of the executive branch of the government changes hands.

But that’s a good stopping point for my post. Time to go do some dreaming, hoping that the world will get better tomorrow and the next day, and maybe for a few thousand tomorrows after that.

Until later.

Categories
3. Other Things Whimsy Writing Life

Two random thoughts

…because I am awake at ridiculous o’clock  (thank you, abrupt weather changes, for these fantastic joint aches and this fabulous itch-behind-the-eyes headache-ish thing that cancelled my sleep after only two hours)

AND I’m behind on blogging, so here I am, filling time and space.

Random thing the first: a realization about genderthink

It all started way back when I read Anne Leckie’s Imperial Radch series. It blew my mind in several ways, all excellent and glorious.  The biggest impression it left was the foundational nature of gendering assumptions.  It was HARD wrapping my brain around the default pronoun being she/her. Such a simple concept was far more difficult to process than I anticipated.  WORTH IT, though. Such a good book.

The read cut and polished new facets into my worldview.

Most of my life, when I saw an identifier like, “his cousin,” in a book I was reading, I would assume that cousin was male until given a name or other information that indicated otherwise.  And to be honest, if it was a side character, or a bit player, no such information would ever be offered. So in my mind, all the random NPCs in fiction ended up being male by default.

That doesn’t happen any more. In the last few years my default assumption has changed to female.  I noticed this reading something today where cousins were referenced several times before being gendered. Learning they were boys jarred me right out of the narrative. I had just assumed…a completely opposite assumption than in the past.

A lot of terms do not require or include gender (like cousin, or manager, accountant, neighbor or staffer versus aunt or uncle, ) There’s zero reason to default to a male identity other than cultural expectations. And expectations can change.

I’ve got no conclusion here, it’s just a thing I noticed.

Random idea the second: why isn’t mothering a job?

What would the world be like if we treated mothering as an activity rather than a gender-chained identity?  I fear I’m missing some huge meaningful Spiritual aspect of Motherhood or inadvertently insulting millions by asking that question,  but there it is.

There’s a lot of mystical, magical malarkey associated with being “A MOM” that seems to only apply when the job is done by a FEMALE presenting person. And I don’t think perpetuating those ideas is good or healthy for anyone with a mothering gig.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but mothering is a set of definable actions.**  Mothering is a thing one does. It doesn’t even entirely require a child, although I would submit that is the prime example of it. Strip away the cultural gender baggage, and the whole thing gets much simpler and healthier.

So I’m amusing myself picturing a world where Mother or Mom is a just a job title meaning “person or persons whose social role is primary child nurturer.”  This also creates an opening for Father/Dad to be an action-defined role too. Maybe it becomes the term for the secondary nurturer or nurturers–the one or ones who nurture the primary child nurturer, for example, or contribute to the social unit in other ways.

(I’ll leave details to someone more clever and well-rested than I feel right now.)

This random thought was sparked by reading an article on “stay at home dads” and the different expectations placed on them, and thinking to myself, hang on, how much of this whole problem is the labeling? If their primary job is taking care of the kids, the meals, the wash, the home finances, the scheduling and so on, then they’re doing the mom job, so why aren’t they stay-at-home-moms?

And I suspect the answer is, “That would make too many people feel unmanly.” Which kinda indicates there’s gender-baggage, and that’s why it tickles my imagination to ponder a world where a dude proudly calls himself Mom, and a woman answers to Dad.

ANYway.

Totally random stuff. And that’s all there is, so I’ll wrap it here.  G’night. Or good morning. Whatever.

 

and here is a random chicken image.


**Yes, any activity or job can also be an identity, but the dangerous nature of tying identity to specific work is a topic for a whole ‘nother post.

 

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts

Class in My Classless Society

This week’s bit of Restoration Stories trivia takes a look at the Subsistence system and the way good ideas always have unintended consequences.  Like the earlier ones I’ve posted, it’s framed as a bit taken from faux publication.

Excerpt from “A Call for Change,” the unofficial manifesto of the anti-Subsistence movement.

The Subsistence system, with its simple and dignified expectation of work in return for support, was originally implemented by the Constitutional Restoration Committee to rebuild the country’s demolished and neglected physical infrastructure. It was a brilliant temporary measure, but when it became an integral facet of the Social Aid Network developed by the New Senate in its first session, it grew into a monster.

Outsourcing health care, other support services, civic development and maintenance spread the costs of such unprofitable necessities over the whole of the business community. The tithes for the social contract are specifically mandated and tightly controlled by the Senate, but a system that awards any tithing corporation voting rights along with representatives of every recognized political unit is doomed to favor profit. Everyone has loved to hate this ugly compromise for more than forty years, and the time has come to move from hatred to action.

Modern corporate success is grounded on the backs and bellies of a population whose members are trapped in a vicious web of bureaucracy. Inertia is a powerful force; once citizens fall into the Subsistence network, many find themselves stuck there. Our Federal government is a tacit partner in a corporate plot to create a permanent underclass.

Citizens who accept Subsistence jobs constrain not only their own opportunities but those of their children. The percentage of Subsistence-raised children who break into the free-market employment pool as adults has fallen under thirty percent, with military veterans disproportionately represented. The safety net is warping under the burden of its current obligations. Something has to change, and soon, or it will break under that weight.

All companies above a minimal profit bracket are expected to maintain a quota of Subsistence-pay positions to broaden the jobs pool as well as contributing Social Aid funds that provide work for people earning adult citizenship status and for citizens who have no other options.

In theory those with ambition or talent move from Subsistence into the world of free enterprise. In reality many businesses fulfill their obligations with menial or unskilled service positions that offer no chance for advancement. A system meant to reward labor has instead choked off hope.

Hopeless people are desperate people. If history of the Revision years taught us anything, they taught us that desperation leads to anger, and anger to violence.


I paint a pretty picture of humanity, don’t I? The future I envision isn’t all bad, I promise. Thanks for reading. There’s more to come.

Categories
Book reviews

Review: Mystic & Rider by Sharon Shinn

Disclaimer: Like most of my reviews of a sole title in a multi-book ecology, this review really covers elements common to the whole series, not merely the first book. The book is Mystic & Rider, and the series is called The Twelve Houses.

Every so often, I revisit the backlist of authors I love. It usually starts after I’ve finished the latest novel. When I’m done and I’m still hungry for reading and reluctant to leave that world behind, I go back to the beginning and read through all the way to the end again, series by series, chronologically by publication date.

It’s like going back home for a holiday and walking through the old neighborhood, only instead of the houses changing and the people moving on, I’ve moved on and changed. As time passes, my perspective shifts, and sometimes once-beloved stories look dramatically different then they did the first or even most recent time I read them.

I love Sharon Shinn’s work. All of it. Her Samaria series is a beautiful blend of a fantastical setting and some fabulous science. This series, though, remains my favorite from a craft standpoint.  The world-building is rich in detail, the characters are all flawed, complex, and tied to one another by many motives, not merely the thin threads of a single plot, the dialogue is snappy, and the writing is uncluttered–not a word wasted. Reading it all again, now that I’m taking my own writing seriously, is even more of a joy than it was the first time around.

The world of the Twelve Houses is, on first sight, a typical medieval fantasy setting. Then little flourishes and details of a complicated social structure are dropped like gems into the plot. The plot of this introductory novel looks like your basic companion quest. Then the politics and the personalities start to clash. Complications set in. Relationships build and break, and people act in their own self-interest, sometimes at a high cost.

Fantasy stories are like chocolate chip cookies. The recipes all use same basic ingredients, but they achieve astonishingly different results. My oatmeal-chocolate-chip-banana bars taste nothing like my mother’s crunchy name-brand recipe drop cookies. Add an ingredient or two, change the proportions of a few others, and the end product will be unique. That’s what’s done here. It’s a chocolate chip cookie, but it’s a rich one, full of chunky tidbits and subtle flavors.

Religious persecution, racial discrimination and economic  inequality are heavy topics to hang off the hero’s journey, but Shinn does so with finesse. This isn’t a morality play. It’s a rollicking adventure set in a complicated world. She doesn’t shrink from adding the grays and deeper shades to her societies and her characters, and the story is the better for it. Her characters are moral but mortal. They face hard choices with good intentions and get mixed results.

Best of all, from my perhaps-skewed viewpoint, there are no easy solutions. The story ends with a satisfying finale, but there’s no tidy resolution to the underlying issues. There is progress, there is always another conflict on the horizon, and the world goes on, even when the story ends.

If you like your fantasy with a little ambiguity and a lot of humanity, Shinn’s work is well worth the investment.