I think a lot of Trek fans misremember the degree of scientific accuracy in the original series. I was really really annoyed by the Red Matter business in ST09, but I had to admit it was no worse than a hundred other sciencey things from all of the Trek series. Scientific accuracy has never really been a goal of Star Trek.
The first seven broadcast episodes of TOS (which I recently rewatched and took notes on) included, among other things:
And so on.
It's not that all of those things are scientifically implausible; I can imagine that some of them might be feasible with less-than-magic-level tech. It's more that I don't feel like Trek ever took the science seriously as science. That wasn't what they cared about; they set out to make (iIrc) Wagon Train in space. TOS was, imo, primarily an adventure series with science fiction trappings, and some investigation of philosophical/moral/political issues that gave it some depth.
This isn't really a criticism. There's a long tradition of popular adventurey science fiction that doesn't especially care about scientific accuracy. But it does mean that I think criticisms of Abrams on grounds of scientific implausibility are failing to take into account the history of the show.]]>
But some people are also using it to create really nice art. The app recently added a feature called Made with Paper that showcases stuff created by their users, and I love some of the art they're showing there. Thought I'd link to some examples:
It's about fifty pages long in PDF form. I got about halfway through it a couple weeks ago; have been meaning to post about it, but wanted to finish reading it first. But I may not get around to that for a while, so I'll go ahead and post the link.
The abstract/introduction is fairly short, and gives a reasonably good idea of the topics covered. A couple of excerpts:
[...] The central empirical finding is that group discussion is likely to shift judgments toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by the median of predeliberation judgments.
[...G]roup polarization is heightened if members have a sense of shared identity. [...G]roup polarization is diminished, and depolarization may result, if members have a degree of flexibility in their views and groups consist of an equal number of people with opposing views.
[...] Like-minded people engaged in discussion with one another may lead each other in the direction of error and falsehood, simply because of the limited argument pool and the operation of social influences.
[...On the other hand, p]artly as a result of group polarization, enclave deliberation can produce positions that would otherwise fail to emerge and that emphatically deserve a public hearing. [...M]embers of low-status groups are likely to be silent in, or silenced by, broader deliberating bodies.
The full article is complicated and covers a lot of ground; I don't think I've entirely wrapped my head around even the half of it that I've read so far. But it's very much worth reading.]]>
She's done some cover and interior art for various books, including the cover for Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, and I like her other art, too, especially this sky coat. And I'm amused by some of her posts, like the game of Blurb Wars, in which people come up with titles, draw covers, and write blurbs.
But what I'm here to link to today is the Dalek Game. The core game involves just replacing words in titles with the word “Dalek,” but Jennings takes it a step further by making drawings for some of the resulting titles.
She has over 120 Dalek illustrations so far, with new ones still being added intermittently.
That's a lot of Daleks, so here's a starting point: my dozen or so favorites.
But if you have time and interest, check out the rest of the list too; I could easily have added another dozen favorites, but I wanted to keep my introductory list relatively short.
I also like what she says about Daleks:
They are my favourite Doctor Who monster not because of their construction and complex history but because of that tone of rising panic in their voices. They remind me of harried engineers.
It's fun and funny and silly and a bit slashy and has some nice emotional moments too. And it's a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy without worrying too much about how those aspects fit together.
You could start at the beginning by following the above link, or you could first visit my favorite strip, the Christmas special, which is a standalone page outside of the main storyline. And then go back and start from the beginning.
New episodes are posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oh, and the comments sections are also fun to read; the comic has a devoted and entertaining (and slashy) following.]]>
There were also a few items on the list that were completely resolved rather than ongoing things: Getting back lost vacation time, getting my annual physical, getting my taxes done early. I mention those here only for completeness. Oh, and because the physical indicated that my bad cholesterol is too high and my good cholesterol is too low, so I need to do something about both of those things, but haven't worked on that yet. (Except inasmuch as walking to work more often helps with the good cholesterol.)
There were three things on my near-future list; I haven't even started the first two (going through more boxes of unsorted papers, getting my house cleaned regularly), but I've started the third (hosting writing days again) and hope to make it a more regular thing. Though I've said that many times before.
Two more items that weren't on the list last time:
So overall, it seems like I'm doing pretty well with most of these things. Which kinda surprises me; I was half-expecting to stall on more of them. But I'm pleased.]]>
I should make clear that these are all the kinds of things that most people take in stride. People disagree; people argue. But I'm a delicate flower sometimes, and this kind of thing makes me tense.
Meanwhile, I've been thinking about how I've been spending my time. I've sometimes been spending a couple hours a day playing games (mostly iPad games, especially Spider solitaire), and a couple more hours a day on Facebook. And although I resist the common idea that those activities are inherently a waste of time that would be better spent on, say, face-to-face interactions with people—I get a lot of enjoyment out of both games and Facebook, and I learn a lot from reading stuff friends post—I think I have to admit at this point that both of those activities are getting in the way of my doing stuff that I want to do and/or should be doing.
The games thing has been coming and going. I've always had periods of a week or two when I obsessively focus on a particular game and play it in every spare moment; with most games, after a couple of weeks I lose interest and move on. But over the past couple months I've had a couple of periods when I was playing the same small set of games over and over, and my interest doesn't seem to be waning.
So sometime around Wednesday morning, I decided to try again on something I've tried before: each time I get the impulse to play an iPad game, I'll open an ebook instead. Or Paper, the drawing program I've been playing with. Ideally I would divert to writing instead of reading, but that's harder because I do my writing on my computer rather than on the iPad. So for now, reading will do, especially because there are a lot of books I want to read.
I intended it to be just one day, and it went well. But the next morning I decided to do it again. And again the next. And now I haven't played any games in three or four days.
(I may have made one or two Letterpress moves somewhere in there; I'm not counting that, because it's asynchronous, only needing a couple of minutes for a move a couple of times a day. I don't get obsessive about it in the same way. But I also went so many days between Letterpress moves in the past week or two that I suspect the other players have given up on me.)
I'm not dead-set on stopping playing permanently or anything; I still see nothing wrong with games per se. But I think that at the moment, it feels better to me to stop for the time being.
Meanwhile, after some arguing on Facebook the other day, I decided to take a day off Facebook. I was losing sleep over the various abovementioned conflicts, and needed to take some time to destress. And that went pretty well. I'll almost certainly be back on Facebook sometime soon, and I already stopped by briefly this morning to say happy birthday to someone, but I may start treating FB more like Twitter, just looking at the latest posts rather than trying to stay totally caught up on specific people. So if you post something to FB that you want to be sure I see, may be best to let me know via other channels.
Then again, I may be back to my normal behavior soon. We'll see.
Oh, and I've also stepped away from the Wikipedia “American novelists” controversy.
Plan for this weekend: (1) clean up messy house; (2) host a writing day tomorrow. Will also try and get some writing done today; am trying to get second draft of my novelish thing done by May 9. Unclear as yet whether I'll be able to do that, but this weekend seems like my best chance for it.
(What I've been reading lately, instead of playing games (started some of these long before the games moratorium, though): The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan; Wide Open, by Deborah Coates; Tingleberries, Tuckertubs and Telephones, by Margaret Mahy; The Body Project, by Joan Jacobs Brumberg; Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, by David J. Schwartz; Farthing, by Jo Walton. All worth reading, though I'm not yet done reading the last three of those.)]]>
And unfortunately, a lot of female authors have recently been removed from that category in favor of putting them in the “American women novelists” category. For more on this, see Amanda Filipacchi's New York Times op-ed piece Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists.
There's nothing wrong with female authors being listed in both categories, but there's a lot wrong with removing only the women from the main category.
So here's how to help fix the problem:
I encourage y'all to do this for your favorite female American novelists!
It's possible that Wikipedia will soon decide on some other approach, such as merging the “American female novelists” category into the “American novelists” category. But that may or may not happen anytime soon, so in the meantime, we may as well fix the current problem.
A better programmer than I could probably write code to fix this in a few minutes. But there are only a couple hundred authors affected, so it seemed simpler to just crowdsource the fix.
I do have subtext here: part of my point is to remind people that Wikipedia is editable, and that we can all contribute to making it a better place.
Note, however, that longtime Wikipedia editors sometimes get a little impatient with people who appear to be there only to do one specific thing. If you create an account for the first time in order to work on this, you may unfortunately encounter some resistance. I'd like to encourage people to sign up and stick around and become part of the community, but I know it can be hard to persevere in the face of what appears to be old-timers trying to push new people away.]]>
I've been a supporter of marriage equality since February 2004, for a simple reason: I saw a bunch of people who had never thought they could get married, and who were getting married, and who were gloriously happy about it. Increasing happiness, when it can be done without harming anyone else, is one of the things I value most in life, and after seeing those happy couples I could no longer take the stance that I had taken previously, that we needed to move slowly and be wary of potential backlash.
But even in 2004, I knew that there was another angle on this issue, one that was hard to even talk about without potentially sounding like a traitor to the mainstream queer cause:
Not everyone wants to get married, and not everyone thinks marriage is a good idea.
It's all too common for a group to become socially acceptable by further marginalizing the people who don't fit that group. I think the first time I noticed this was reading an op-ed piece in a queer paper in the '90s, in which a gay upper-middle-class white guy was upset that people like the Lesbian Avengers were getting weird non-mainstreamness all over his nice clean guy-next-door Pride parade. Saying to Middle America “We're just like you except gay” is a great strategy for gaining acceptance for some people, but not a great strategy for gaining acceptance for everyone.
In 2009, I finally tried to write a blog entry talking about this and other related concerns, but I never got it into publishable shape. But recently, as marriage equality has become a mainstream position in America, some people are beginning to more publicly voice the nuanced caution and concern that I've been wanting to see. (Others have been voicing these concerns all along, but I think usually in lower-profile venues.)
So here's a collection of links, mostly from the past couple months, looking at same-sex marriage from various marginal positions. The first couple are fully supportive of marriage equality, but the later ones get at some concerns and issues.
Almost all of the ones expressing concerns, though, start with the position that I too want to make clear I still hold: letting people who want to get married do so is awesome. Making people happy is awesome. I just want us not to lose sight of the potential problems with basing so much of our approach on a specific mainstream institution that doesn't work for everyone.
Echo's Children was one of my favorite music groups. Cat Faber and Callie Hills sang and played lovely harmonies and catchy melodies; a bunch of science fiction and fantasy songs and a bunch of others, almost all original to them.
Some starting points (listen free!) if you haven't heard them before:
If you can only afford one album, I recommend A Dancing World. I like all of them, but that one has more songs than the others and a higher concentration of my favorites.
You can buy individual songs for $1 apiece, or entire albums for $10 apiece, which is a great deal given that each album contains at least 17 songs. (Those are the minimum prices; you're allowed to pay more if you want to.) (You can also buy the physical CDs for $17 each, but one of them is out of print.)
(If you can only buy two of the albums, As Good As Any is a close second for me. It includes several songs derived from a roleplaying game I ran, but one of the things I especially like about Cat's songs is that they're often sparked by something specific but applicable universally. One of the abovelinked songs, for example, is about characters from that game, but there's nothing in the song to indicate that it has anything to do with roleplaying or even with science fiction.)]]>
The file arrived today, delivered by FedEx: 272 pages of material, with almost every name redacted.
I read through half of it tonight, and skimmed the rest. I'll probably write up some of it in more detail later, but for now, just a summary, plus a copy of the best part.
The overall summary goes like this:
In April of 1960, when my father was a 20-year-old junior at the University of Washington, someone whose name is redacted—probably his father, my grandfather—reported Peter to the FBI. Peter had written a ten-page letter home in which he said he no longer believed in God and was planning to apply to a particular Soviet university.
The file contains a photocopy of the handwritten letter, plus a typed copy. It's good stuff; I'll post it at some point. The file also contains, for handwriting-comparison purposes, a two-page handwritten screed in which Peter expresses extreme angst about his lack of a relationship and his general inaction.
The FBI decided to keep an eye on him. In November, a couple days after he turned 21, Peter joined the Socialist Workers Party, which prompted the FBI to add him to their Security Index.
In 1961, Peter traveled to Mexico, planning to go to Cuba. A remarkable number of pages are expended on this trip, even though Peter never made it to Cuba, because apparently while in Mexico he met a young soldier-of-fortune named Rigsbee who apparently subsequently started calling himself Peter Hartman.
(Side note: I gotta say, the FBI is not all that careful at redacting. In addition to letting one instance of Rigsbee's name through, and leaving substantial indications that the person who reported Peter was his father, they also redacted some bits that didn't really need it. My favorite of those is the phrase “Pascal's Wager” in Peter's letter home.)
Rigsbee was five years older than Peter, was blond, came from New Orleans (and had been arrested there in 1953, when Peter was 14), had various scars and tattoos, had possibly participated in the Cuban revolution, had attempted to run guns to Cuba, and was in Mexico long after Peter had returned home to Washington; but the FBI's US offices and legal attaché (“legat”) in Mexico spent quite a bit of time believing that Rigsbee and Peter must be the same person. The FBI eventually showed photos of Peter to informants in Mexico, who couldn't be sure whether he was the same guy as Rigsbee or not. So the US FBI office decided they weren't the same person and closed the case, and then the Mexican legat decided that they were definitely the same person and closed the case, and then the US FBI reiterated that they were different people, and so on.
(Oddly, there is no mention that I can find of the CIA's investigation of Peter during his 1961 Mexico trip, even though that CIA memo says they're going to coordinate with the FBI in Mexico. The CIA, if I'm interpreting right, seems to have been concerned with a friend of Peter's who had defected to the USSR; you'd think the FBI would've noticed that too, but apparently not.)
Rigsbee, the report suggests, may have been “slightly psychopathic” and/or suicidal. I think that's the reason that every so often throughout the rest of the file, it says that the FBI shouldn't approach Peter because he's mentally unbalanced.
At any rate, after the Rigsbee matter blows over, almost the entire rest of the file consists of the FBI keeping tabs on Peter as he moves around the country, taking assorted odd jobs. There's one particularly angry-sounding note that declares that they haven't known where he was for SIX MONTHS, and that this is unacceptable.
Finally, in 1968, the FBI notices that Peter hasn't engaged in any overt subversive activity since a SWP meeting in 1963, and they decide that he's no longer a threat to national security, and they remove him from the Index. There are a couple more administrative notes after that, but only a couple, and the last one is dated 1971.
So more than half of the file consists of the FBI's records of Peter's frequent changes of address and employment throughout the '60s. There's also a lot of duplication, including many copies of a one-page general backgrounder on the SWP. I found the file to be an interesting window onto FBI procedures and the way informants were handled and so on; I guess a lot of paranoid-seeming people at the time were actually right that they were under observation by the FBI.
Anyway, my favorite page that I've seen is one of the last entries. It's dated 4/22/68, less than a month after I was born. I'll attempt to reproduce it below. The places where I'm writing [REDACTED] are actually just white rectangles outlined in black.
On 4/15/68[REDACTED]Postmaster, Mendocino, Ca., advised that GEORGE HARTMAN continues to reside in Cabin 5, [address removed by Jed], Mendocino, Ca. [REDACTED] stated that HARTMAN is the dirtiest man he has ever seen and he resides in a "hippy colony" near Mendocino. His main occupation, according to [REDACTED], appears to be to retain his title as the world's dirtiest human and his only employ- ment is doing odd jobs. He recently shocked the community in Mendocino by personally delivering his wife's baby. Everyone expected the baby to be diseased but so far, this has not been the case.
It goes on to note that they talked to relevant locals “but none were aware of any subversive activities in the Mendocino, California, area.” I'm sad to learn that my birth was not considered a subversive activity.
So that's the story of Peter's FBI file. I'll get the long letter into electronic form at some point, but I think this is enough for now.
(Entry lightly updated the next day after re-checking a few details.)]]>
Added later: Turns out most of these have actually been around for a while. Sorry about that; I hadn't seen them before, so I didn't know.]]>
And then I noticed the lyrics to the Sweet Honey in the Rock song that was playing on my car stereo:
Those who have died have never never left;
The dead are not under the earth.
They are in the rustling trees; they are in the groaning woods;
They are in the crying grass; they are in the moaning rocks;
The dead are not under the earth.
It had never occurred to me before to think of “Breaths” as a scary zombie song.
Fortunately, the amusing coincidence was not compounded by an actual zombie attack. Perhaps the anti-zombie people kept me safe.]]>
The most troubling thing to me is that there are only three short-story nominees.
This is not quite unprecedented, but the last time it happened was in 1968.
Normally, each category lists the top five nominees. But after the first three slots, a nominee needs to get at least 5% of the nominating votes that are cast in its category in order to appear on the ballot. This year, 662 people cast ballots in the short-story category (the third-highest number of ballots for any category this year, after only Novel and Dramatic Presentation Long Form), so apparently no more than three short stories got 34 nominations this year.
In other words, the category is in some sense the victim of its own success. The more people who nominate in a category, the harder it is to reach the 5% threshold. In a category where there's a relatively small pool of high-profile material, such as DP Long Form, nominations cluster. But in a category where there's a large pool—I have a vague idea that there are on the order of a thousand short stories published in pro and semipro magazines each year—it can be a lot harder for there to be anything that enough people have read and liked to reach the threshold.
My concern about this is that, after decades of having at least five short stories nominated each year, in 2011 there were only four. Last year there were five again, but dropping to three this year concerns me. I'm delighted at the steadily increasing numbers of nominating ballots, and I think getting more people involved in the Hugo process can only be a good thing in general—but if the short-story category is so fragmented that the increased participation is going to regularly reduce the number of stories on the ballot, I'll be sad.
There's another especially unusual thing about the short-fiction ballots: the venues that the works were published in.
Normally, the short-fiction categories are dominated by the Big Three print prozines: Asimov's, F&SF, and Analog. In 2001, 88% of the nominated short fiction came from those three magazines. From 2001 through 2009, the lowest that percentage ever fell was 60%. Sci Fiction and Interzone had some nominees over the years, and one each from SH and Infinite Matrix, and a few others from other venues, but the Big Three continued to hold a substantial majority.
And then in 2010, it suddenly dropped: only 18% of the short fiction (3 of the 17 nominated works) came from the Big Three. (All from Asimov's, actually.) But that year was something of a fluke: in addition to the record-high nominating numbers, there were a bunch of well-received original anthologies and standalone novellas, and Tor.com and Clarkesworld had two noms each. In 2011, the Big Three were back up to 50%, and in 2012 it was 56%; no longer the total ownership of the categories that they used to have, but still a lot.
This year, though, that number dropped to 8%. Which is to say, there's one story (novella) from Asimov's, and none at all from F&SF or Analog. And I find that really surprising.
It looks like a couple of things happened:
First, the novella category is almost entirely standalone novellas, including two from Tachyon. That's awesome, in that Tachyon is a great press that I feel doesn't normally get enough attention. But it's also really unusual.
Second, four of the eight nominees in the other two categories are from original anthologies, and one more is self-published. That too is unusual, and the self-published one may be unprecedented (I haven't searched).
And third, Clarkesworld has gone from no nominated fiction in 2009, to one or two nominated stories a year in 2010 through 2012, to three this year.
It remains to be seen whether this is another unusual year like 2010, in terms of venues that nominators are looking at. It wouldn't surprise me if next year half the nominees are from the Big Three again.
But it would surprise me if more than two-thirds are.]]>
I'm surprised and pleased to see that, for the first time ever, over 60% of the fiction nominees were written by women.
This is also the third consecutive year in which 50% or more of the fiction nominees were written by women. There were two consecutive years in the early '90s, but this is the first time there've been three.
This year is a little odd, in that four of the fiction nominees are by the same woman, writing under two different names. However, there've been plenty of past years in which multiple nominees have been written by the same person; my stats are about percentage of works written by women, not about percentage of authors who are female.
It's also interesting that this is (I think) the fourth consecutive year in which the number of nominating ballots has set a new record. I'm very pleased to see the numbers going up; as recently as 2007, only 400 people nominated, and now we're over 1300. I'm tempted to say that the increase in nominations of women correlates with the increase in nominating ballots, but I think there's too little data to say that for sure yet. Still, two pleasing trends.
One more gender note: I believe this is the first time since 1986 that a woman has been nominated in the Best Pro Artist category! Way to go, Julie Dillon!]]>