Monday, June 29, 2015

Marta & the Demons

My near future SF novelette Marta and the Demons is now up on Smashwords as well, and for the time being it's free.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I am the VAT thy God! -- thoughts on sales-fi

Two pieces of short SF about selling stuff.


David D. Levine’s short story ‘Tk’tk’tk’ (which I read in Hartwell and Hayden's big Twenty-First Century Science Fiction) focuses on the tribulations of Walker, an interstellar salesman, as he struggles to understand local market conditions.

Walker trips up over a variety of linguistic and cultural caltrops. He does not realise that the deepest and darkest room in the hotel is the most desirable and expensive (duh). He falls for the extrastellar equivalent of downing a local liquor he really can’t handle (more literally, his shoulders are sprinkled with strange green rings, but the principle is the same, and even the chanting “Rings, dance! Rings, dance!” (p. 170) faintly echoes a frattish ‘Drink! Drink! Drink!’). He has difficulty distinguishing high and low denomination currency boluses, since figures are written in fragrances (p.162). Numbers have qualitative associations he is frequently forgets: one buyer is mortified at the idea of paying seventy for an item, but will happily pay seventy-three (p.162). Potential customers profess themselves, with elaborate humility, to be unworthy to take ownership of Walker’s exalted merchandise, calling it “beyond price” (p.161). They do hint at the possibility of compensating him for an “indefinite loan” (p.173, cf. p. 161), but seem to prefer endless, aimless, chinwagging (“did you come through Pthshksthpt or by way of Sthktpth” (p.163)) to talking turkey.

Detail by detail, Levine conjures an amusing and convincingly exotic setting, and only a heartless reader would blame Walker for his bewilderment. Nonetheless, at bottom, Walker’s experiences are just exaggerated versions of what a naive and insensitive late C20th North American (or "Westerner," maybe) might encounter, trying to hock their merch in Asia and East Asia, and perhaps particularly, in Japan.

That is: compared to Walker, the aliens belong to what the anthropologist Edward T. Hall influentially described as a “high-context culture” (Beyond Culture, 1976), in which comparatively greater emphasis is placed on implicature, supported by shared context and experience. Walker’s frustration with meandering chit-chat – what he at best justify as “building rapport” (p.163) – recalls the reactions of some North Americans to a more informal style of decision-making common in Japanese organisations. That is, a style which exhibits a more flexible understanding of what might constitute ‘on-topic’ and ‘off-topic’ conversation, and which closely links the legitimacy of decisions to the social intimacy which has led up to them (cf. e.g. Haru Yamada Snr., Different Games, Different Rules, pp.55-59).

We must be wary of stereotyping, of course -- I'm pretty sure that golfing and drinking is part of work for London City bankers, every bit as much as it is for Tokyo salarymen -- but the broad distinctions are there, at least in the Business Studies and Linguistics literature. And in light of these connections, Walker’s eventual spiritual transformation, which sees him reforming his earlier striving attitudes, is not particularly difficult to understand – he is simply one more tourist-turned-Western Buddhist. Which is still good.

Is the story colonialist, orientalist? When I first wrote this post, I pussyfooted around the question a bit, because I like the story -- and also because I also think I need to try to take an author seriously when they tell me that somebody is a giant alien insect, or an orc, or whatever: and not simply unscramble the story in some way which suits me, and then critique the cleartext as if the ciphertext had never existed. But. The use of insect and swarm imagery, in the depiction of an inscrutable, indirect and exotic people? A people whose ways are a little more collectivist than our narrator's, and who offer him a mystical path to self-transcendence? This is definitely horrible territory.

Should no more pussyfooting. Levine should have used squidbears. And/or France.


Doctorow’s novelette ‘Chicken Little’ appears in the same anthology, and also follows a salesman, Leon, into a difficult market. But here, I think, things manage to be genuinely a little stranger.

Leon works for Ate, a corporation whose opulent fortunes are entirely based on one previous sale, and are now looking to make their second. Nobody at Ate knows what they sold last time. It's a well-kept secret. Better than well-kept: deliberately lost, forever. They do have a general idea of the type of customer they sold it to:
The normal megarich got offered experiences [...] The people in the vat had done plenty of those things before they’d ended up in the vats. Now they were metastatic, these hyperrich, lumps of curdling meat in the pickling solution of a hundred vast machines that laboriously kept them alive amid their cancer blooms and myriad failures. Somewhere in that tangle of hoses and wires was something that was technically a person, and also techincally a corporation, and, in many cases, technically a sovereign state. (p.535)
Here we encounter a connection, which crops up pretty frequently when fantastic literature thinks about economics: that is, a connection between capital and living, disaggregated bodies:
“The monster in the vat. Some skin, some meat. Tubes. Pinches of skin clamped between clear hard plastic squares, bathed in some kind of diagnostic light [...] Eyes everywhere else. [...] I looked away, couldn’t make contact with them, found I was looking at something wet. Liver. I think.” (p.548). 
Compare that with the many wriggly legs of Terry Pratchett's Luggage (a diabolic avatar of Echo-Gnomics) in the Discworld novels, or the mashed-up flesh which Marx points out is the real substance of which all commodities are made (“human labour in the abstract . . . mere congellations, semisolid, tremulous comestible mass, Gallarte, of homogeneous human labour” (Sutherland 2008)), or, of course, Adam Smith's monstrous Invisible Hand.

These immortal quadrillionaires are capital personified, referred to as monsters, gods, and at one point, “the fortunes in the vats” (p.533).

The equivocation in first of the above-quoted passages over sovereignty – “in many cases” (q.v.) – is also worth noting. “The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the shift from state power to market power” (Susan Strange, Mad Money, p.183). Somewhat distinct from the questions of how market power operates, and the ways in which they do or could serve human needs, there is controversy over the extent to which market power remains embedded in and limited by state power. The historical and ontological relationships between states and money is also complex and controversial: very briefly and broadly, chartalist accounts of money tend to emphasize money's unit of account function, and see the relationship between money and state as crucial, whereas the metallist accounts emphasize money’s function as a medium of exchange, and argue that money can emerge and operate independently of state action. These issues are complicated by the fact that the ingredients of sovereignty vary state-by-state: China, Greece, ISIS, Luxembourg, Somalia, and the United States of America, to pick a few, are not all states in the same way.

‘Chicken Little’ offers us a glimpse of Mammon, of the monetary sublime, of capital purified and personified, and so it confronts this difficult question: is what we see still mingled with state power? Is capital power by its very nature entangled with state power? Or does capital in its fiery, purest form finally shrug off the state altogether?

Finally, an answer!

Or . . .

One sharp approach is to allegorize all the ambivalence, equivocation, frustration and controversy itself -- which is what Doctorow goes ahead and does. 'Chicken Little' tells us that in many cases, the people in vats are "technically sovereign states" -- but not in all cases, and the assertion is in the same breath as an allusion to corporate personhood, something we all know to be at least a bit unsavory, and probably completely ludicrous.

There's also another reference to a person in a vat as a country unto himself, but it has a kind of metaphorical, "no man is an island, wait, this man is a big scary quadrillionaire island" vibe to it.

But the novelette's most interesting move in this respect involves a bit of wordplay, centred on the one way in which the people in vats (they're most frequently referred to in that way, "the people in vats," "the quadrillionaire in the vat," "the old thing in the vat") still somehow come across as vulnerable. Buhle, the one person in a vat whom we meet, is essentially on life support. Despite his no doubt endless state-of-the-art fail-safes and back-ups, he feels unpluggable. He may be pure money, but he's nothing without his vat.

Personified capital's continued reliance on the state is thus inscribed, punningly, into its very name -- PERSON IN A VAT -- through an allusion to one of the state's more subtle and pervasive forms of extrusion, which makes itself felt in every "pure" market dyad, if only by its conspicuous absence. VAT: Value Added Tax. Money is not really money without the support of the state's taxonomization and taxation of our material existence.

There is some thematic movement in the second part of the novelette. But Doctorow isn’t abandoning one set of themes for another, so much as rapidly orbiting to a new vantage point. And that’s something I’ll deal with, probably, in the next blog post.


PS: Compare Jack Vance's 1961 story, 'The Moon Moth' . . .

Thissell came to a breathless halt in front of the hoslter. He reached for his kiv*, then hesitated. Could this be considered a casual personal encounter? The zachinko perhaps? But the statement of his needs hardly seemed to demand the formal approach. Better the kiv after all. He struck a chord, but by error found himself stroking the ganga. Beneath his mask Thissell grinned apologetically; his relationship with this hostler was by no means on an intimate basis. He hoped that the hostler was of sanguine disposition, and in any event the urgency of the occasion allowed no time to select an exactly appropriate instrument. He struck a second chord, and, playing as well as agitation, breathlessness and lack of skill allowed, sang out a request: "Ser Hostler, I have immediate need of a swift mount. Allow me to select from your herd."

 The hostler wore a mask of considerable complexity which Thissell could not identify: a construction of varnished brown cloth, pleated gray leather and, high on the forehead, two large green and scarlet globes, minutely segmented like insect-eyes. He inspected Thissell a long moment, then, rather ostentatiously selecting his stimic,** executed a brilliant progression of trills and rounds, of an import Thissell failed to grasp. The hostler sang, "Ser Moon Moth, I fear that my steeds are unsuitable to a person of your distinction."

 Thissell earnestly twanged at the ganga. "By no means; they all seem adequate. I am in great haste and will gladly accept any of the group."

The hostler played a brittle cascading crescendo. "Ser Moon Moth," he sang, "the steeds are ill and dirty. I am flattered that you consider them adequate to your use. I cannot accept the merit you offer me. And"—here, switching instruments, he struck a cool tinkle from his krodatch† —"somehow I fail to recognize the boon companion and co-craftsman who accosts me so familiarly with his ganga."

 The implication was clear. Thissell would receive no mount. He turned, set off at a run for the landing field. Behind him sounded a clatter of the hostler's hymerkin— whether directed toward the hostler's slaves or toward himself Thissell did not pause to learn.

 * Kiv: five banks of resilient metal strips, fourteen to the bank, played by touching, twisting, twanging.
** Stimic: three flutelike tubes equipped with plungers. Thumb and forefinger squeeze a bag to force air across the mouthpieces; the second, third and fourth little fingers manipulate the slide. The stimic is an instrument well adapted to the sentiments of cool withdrawal, or even disapproval.
† Krodatch: a small square sound-box strung with resined gut. The musician scratches the strings with his fingernail, or strokes them with his fingertips, to produce a variety of quietly formal sounds. The krodatch is also used as an instrument of insult.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What counts as "published"?


Honestly I'm super-busy today so I hereby promise myself I will not spend more than ten minutes on this blog post. I will time myself.

What counts as "published"?

Well, obviously, you decide!

The law has to decide sometimes too. What does the real law say?

Well, something I just Googled in thirty seconds, without properly checking it out, suggests that the legal definition of publication in the USA is:
“the distribution of copies [...] of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies [...] to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not itself constitute publication.”

Hmm, so does that cover when you post something on a blog? Is that a "transfer of ownership" etc. which counts as published, or is it merely a "public performance"? Well, I'm assuming it does count, because the file that is downloaded onto your computer is a transfer of ownership. Ownership of the digital file, not of the rights in the work, is what matters here. That makes good sense: I couldn't get a court order for you to delete a file you've saved from All That Is Solid Melts Into Aaargh! just because I wrote the words that are in it! (But if anyone knows better, please tell me about it).

Courts can be expected to navigate through any murky territory by making regular reference to competition. If something has been maybe-published, and the courts were trying to figure out "well heck has it been published or not?" they'll usually pay attention to whether the maybe-publication hurts the commercial opportunities enjoyed by the definite-publication. If the work in question had appeared in a different version, for example, the law on originality and materiality (labour and skill or judgement etc.) might come into play.

So much for the law. But what really interests me here is the extra-legal definitions of "published" we make up -- or could make up -- for our own uses, informed by the sense that "the public" and "the market" are not self-evident incontestable realities.

That is, I'm interested in the definitions of "published" we could make up when we fully realize that we can make them up.

In making up our own definitions of "published," we should be striving to keep focused on the nitty-gritty deets of why publishing things is valuable and worthwhile -- who actually edited or proofed or typeset it, who actually read how many pages, how do they actually feel, what do they actually learn or think or forget or write or say or do as a result, and how do you actually feel about whatever it is you've done with those words? -- and of course, how much you actually get paid for it, what you can actually put on your CV or whatever? We shouldn't be thinking of publication as crossing a magic line (not to buy into the expression "of publishable quality").

From time to time you get that in writers' groups and workshops: "Oh, you're a writer. Are you published?" I understand the impulse to get a better sense of how writing fits into a person's life, but it does seem to pose the question in a misleading way. (Maybe "how do you publish?" would be better? Not sure!)

Let me take a step back. Here is a pretty intuitive pair of individually sufficient conditions for "publication," which I think a lot of magazines and sites use:
(1) If there was ever a time when "anyone" could buy access, then it's been published. Cf. Kickstarter and, especially, Patreon.
(2) If there was ever a time when "anyone" could see it -- if you've put it up on your blog -- then it's been published.
So if either of those things have happened, you could say, you've totally published.

The scare quotes are because, obviously, the "anyone" isn't really "anyone alive on the planet," it's a much more narrow "anyone": shaped by literacy, digital divide, leisure time, disposable income, languages spoken, etc.

These two criteria might be important, for example, in the relationship between a magazine or a podcast and an author, if the former were trying to figure out whether to pay for first rights or reprint rights. I think using these criteria is perfectly okay, if a bit stern. In fact, I think being a bit stern with a threatening and quite possibly ultimately destructive unbundler / disintermediator like Patreon is a sensible thing to do. (Although there may be more weird & creative approaches to dealing with it too. Idk, stuff like this).

But here's a list of questions / counterexamples, which draw those two criteria into question.

I'm not posing them as some kind of attempted take-down or weird sea-lioning or whatever -- just, hopefully, bringing out the ways in which those criteria are deliberate constructs, based practical working hypotheses, with particular rationales and particular effects -- and so bringing out ways in which they could be constructed differently, if we felt like it, or could see some use in doing so.

(1) What about people who have done open calls for beta readers, e.g. on Twitter? "Anyone" could see such a call, and have been e-mailed a copy. So it perhaps meets one of those two criteria, but it doesn't "feel" published, does it?

(2) What about authors who maintain a regular pool of beta readers, e.g. on LiveJournal? Or is really prolific with review copies?

(3) What if you publish it on your blog, but your blog's private? What if it's private, but with hundreds or thousands of subscribers -- what if it gets more hits than the webzine you're submitting it to? The webzine probably won't count it as published, but it does feel published to me.

(4) What makes the difference between a private blog or e-mail list, and an online forum which requires you to register as a member? What if the forum has certain membership requirements, does it still count as published? What if they're really strict -- say it's just for members of your class -- does it count then?

(5) If the difference between "privately circulated" and "publicly available" doesn't come down to the number of readers, perhaps it comes down to the author/publisher's theoretical ability to approve access on a case-by-case basis. So what if your blog's private but you'll invite anyone who goes to the trouble of e-mailing you ("aha! the bouncer was a scarecrow!")? In fact, what if you make it a solemn oath that you will invite anyone who asks? Is it fair to say that whatever is on there is now "published"? Or what if you make a big fuss about your right to exclude somebody who looks dodgy, but in practice have never exercised it? In those cases, should the texts count as published? What if you just e-mailed it to yourself, but told everyone the password?

(6) Then there are the silly Sorites paradox-style thought experiments. What about a post that was live for one second, then deleted? What about two seconds? How many seconds is "published"?

(7) What if "anyone" could buy it, or "anyone" could see it, but your analytics tell you nobody did? Or what if hardly anybody did? What if  the number of people who saw it mean its reach is comparable to something that had been circulated in a crit group, or among beta readers? (If I were an editor, and I trusted an author who told me this, I'd be very inclined to treat their work as unpublished! But I am not an editor, and I do not trust anyone, and my heart does not beat but hisses).

(8) And/or should barter, gift economy, reciprocity, non-standard currencies be treated any differently? What if there was a huge forum, a bit like a social media site for writers, where your activity got rewarded by virtual points (compare e.g. Patreon Good) -- would "transactions" denominated in WriterCoin count as money changing hands?

(9) Is the point that it's been published if people you don't know have had a look at it? Who you know and who you don't is a funny old thing, especially online. If you have a Patreon and only a few supporters, and you and they are active on your Patreon page, they may well become more like a crit group / friends. In fact they may eventually understand you better than anyone including maybe your dog? Shouldn't we differentiate between a Patreon which has a rich little community like this, and a Patreon which is operating much more like a small market? (Cf. Polanyi, disembedding etc.).

Okay! Yeah!

(PS: So the next fun thing to do might be to make up some more exotic rights and licensing arrangements. For instance, a publication could decide that it pays "Signal Boost Rights Rates" for some fiction which it really just wants to get out there: the deal with those could be, you automatically license reprint rights to anyone else who pays the same Signal Boost Rights Rates to the author as you did. It would be a way for publications to tacitly compete with each other on some stories, while tacitly collaborating with each other to signal boost others. That's kind of how the press operates: sometimes it's about an exclusive, but sometimes it's about getting a political agenda out there, and you want your competitors running the same story. Here's another one: a publication could purchase "You Get Going We'll Catch You Up Rights," which actually requires that the author to have sold a certain number of copies within a specific timeframe -- not too many and not too few, just enough to prove to the editors that the story has some traction. (Compare how translation rights tend to work now). But those are just two small and not very great ideas. Earlier I argued that the Hugo Awards voting system itself should be fantastical and/or science fictional, because why not? And the same could be done for rights. So the next fun thing to do might be to make up even a quasi-mathematical Total Possible Publication Rights Space. Now we're talking).

(PPS: One of the reasons I'm interested in that is because I've been involved in micropress poetry publishing for a few years, and I know that: (a) printing out 1600 A4 pages, folding 100 pamphlets & "binding" them with a long-armed stapler, and giving them to your friends, can be a major literary event whose reverberations permanently remake the literary landscape; (b) or you can sell 200 books and not a single one of your readers will read more than a few sentences, plus they'll hide the fact from you; (c) you can put a lot of time and effort into editing e.g. a digital magazine and never know what, if any, difference your curation has made, compared to if the contributors had simply posted their poems on their own blogs; (d) aaaand fwiw I don't always feel convinced by the distinctions usually offered between self-publishing, indie publishing, vanity publishing, boutique publishing, etc.; & (e) aaaaaand come to think of it, back in the SFF world, it all feels a bit relevant to Jonathan McCalmont's BSFA-nominated (including by me!) moan last year about the publication ecology of short SFF fiction. But maybe that's all by the by).

(PPPS: Here's Neil Clarke laying out some clear guidelines about what Clarkesworld considers counts as publication).

Yeah! Aargh!

Twenty-one twenty-four thirty-two thirty-six minutes. Not bad. Kind of bad.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Marxist Science Fiction Studies

According to Mark Bould, because science fiction rarely addresses “the economic dimensions of social totality” it leaves a negative space which “is often primarily, if unwittingly, bound by the structures, potentials and limits of capital” (Bould in Marxism and Science Fiction (2009), p.4).

According to this approach, fantastic literature, and science fiction especially, has a particular mode of telling us about the historical moments which produce it. For the most part – and despite the importance to science fiction of pedagogic essayistic or dialogic inserts (info-dumps) – this mode isn't overt or deliberate. Teasing out science fiction's knowledge requires interpretation that can see the text’s “negative space”: that is, which is alert to a variety of allegorical figurations, psychic transferences and disguises, symptoms, inversions and negations, and lacunae and aporia.

Behind such thinking, there is also the excellent intuition that it is difficult to directly acquire and sustain knowledge of the economic dimensions of social totality. It is not just for the extra challenge that we try to discover such knowledge in certain kinds of cultural production: it is because we think we have good reason to believe that it will be more discernible there than elsewhere.

For Bould, the reason that science fiction reliably produces these rich negative spaces is that it does not “take place in a world which pretends to straightforward mimesis” and it therefore cannot help but foreground its own internal consistency. Reading science fiction implies a continuous process of identifying fantastic elements and trying to relate them to each other and to its less fantastic elements. The systems which are thereby produced tend to “impact against material reality,” sort of in the sense that material reality leaves scuff-marks and indentations.

In short, material totality falsifies itself through ideology, and one of the best ways of exposing it is by studying the false totalities of fantastic literature.

There are some elegant ideas there, and they aren't just Bould's. I think that theoretical approaches of this kind underpin a great deal of science fiction scholarship (especially Marxist of course), and a great deal of that scholarship is very useful. It's roughly the sort of thing I did in my sprawling review of Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I think we should keep doing it, too!

But the paradigm has been creaky for a while. Here are some of the main issues.

First, why should tacit knowledge of social totality be so reliably present in cultural production at all, let alone at such a convenient grain and scale, and in association with so many striking shibboleths? Is it not just as likely that at, any one moment, the most significant features of social totality may have left no traces, or a pattern of partial and misleading traces, in whatever work of fantastic literature happens to be under inspection?

Well, good progress can be made on those questions just by setting aside the habit of scholarly squeeing -- where valorizing the text and valorizing the institution of text-valorizing comes first -- and thinking carefully and realistically about ideology (and by looking at what theorists of ideology, especially Althusser, have actually said, not what we tell undergraduate students they said in the hope of being proved delightfully and invigoratingly wrong). One rule of thumb is: the author (and perhaps some editors) made this text, so let's think about how the supposed tacit knowledge was preserved intact through that particular bottleneck.

Second, how should we approach science fiction which does attempt, in one way or another, to address the economic dimensions of social totality? When it comes to economics, it is difficult to sustain a firm distinction between science fiction (where material reality leaves its imprints) and science fiction studies (which exposes them, as if by taking rubbings). Why shouldn’t science fiction writers undertake, within their narratives, to also interpret and explicate the negative spaces created by their imaginative world-building? As a reader, I know that they do do this. They go ahead and weave the sorts of statements you could imagine literary critics making into the texts. Why wouldn't you? And so when economic terminology and concepts appear explicitly in science fiction narratives do they require some different interpretative approach? And/or the same approach, with particular alertness to the confusion which will be caused by interpreting economic language as a symptom of something which is, once hermeneutically excavated, necessarily construed in the same economic language?

Third, what word can I use instead of "totality" to avoid a really boring conversation?

Fourth, there is a tradition of more-or-less informal literary criticism which places science fiction in some privileged relationship to the future. It is easy to take the mick out of futurism, and although science fiction studies rightly rejects naive accounts of science fiction as a predictive art based on rigorous extrapolation of present circumstances, the notion that science fiction has a distinctive temporal orientation is intuitively pretty persuasive -- and it's an influential part of how writers and readers of science fiction talk about science fiction. Science fiction is about the future (including Gibson's famous future that is "already here"). Science fiction tells us what's going to happen, what might happen, what won't happen but at one point could have.

Approaching the same issue from the other side, the economic humanities unpick the ways in which the models, thought experiments and other cognitive-rhetorical constructs of our best predictive sciences -- economics, say -- work as fictions, albeit also as sporadically performative, self-fulfilling (or other-fulfilling) prophecies. In short, while science fiction studies has got comfortable with the idea that science fiction doesn't predict the future, the study of future-predicting practices has started investigating the ways in which they are science fiction.

Design fiction in particular seems to be challenging the scholarly orthodoxy that science fiction tells us more about its contemporary moment than any future moment, by orienting itself at materialisation, mediated by readers. Fabian Muniesa (2014), drawing on Jean-François Lyotard, remarks that “[k]nowledge about things no longer occupies an overarching, critical, general and properly modern position but is now, in a sense, part of the industrial functioning of things” (p.8). We might not want to accept design fiction as SF or SF-related in any way; it could be understood as a kind of unsubstantiated grab for some cultural capital clustered around the idea of the future. But assuming we did accept it on more-or-less its own terms: design fiction doesn't fall into the trap of trying to work with complex and chaotic social trends. Instead, it usually concentrates narrowly a single imaginary product or service in the hope of performatively influencing its likelihood of emerging. A video clip on Kickstarter, which portrays a mock-up or prototype of a product in an effort to fund its development, may be considered a design fiction.  Design fiction does not attempt to predict the future: it attempts to pitch it.

Authors and fans have a particular way of evaluating science fiction: according to what it knows about the future. Literary critics don't have to get on board with every bit of that, but they can't afford to ignore it either.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Daiquiris & Demigods on SmashWords

Finally jumped through SmashWords's NUKE AND MEATGRINDER process, so the drinking tabletop RPG is now available on your Nook, your Kobo, your Sony Reader, your tea leaves, shaving mirror, squirrelk viscera, Obelisk of Tears, and your rainbows-infused briolette-cut walnut amulet:

"Elegant, modular rule set, clearly and colorfully explained, with bonus material on the shiny bits on the ends of shoe laces, which help you thread them. Also a great way to introduce otherwise fun and interesting people to a style of gaming that has never really held any appeal for them. A bargain at twice the price."
-- Mark McClelland

It was fine, I think, although the Amazon process is conspicuously simpler. Which is a damn shame.

(At least some fancy macro-work might save me having to re-do all the italics next time, we'll see).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

June: a few links

Poor Mike Glyer must by now be realising it would have been easier to do a regular round-up of everything that isn't about Hugos / Rabid Puppies / Red Puppies etc.! Here are a scattering of SFF-ish links etc. on the theme of not-that.

Ian Sales Apollo Quartet giveaway (WHICH I WON).

Lightspeed's enormous Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue (to buy).

Finally some robots I can actually identify with (spoiler they fall over, they are human, the machines may do everything better than us but they will never fall over as good as us, yes they can they are human).

Games: Fiasco on Tabletop. (Video. Had a freaky moment when I remembered who Wil Wheaton was / what he looked like the last time I saw him (doing an exam at Starfleet Academy shouting at some guy with a weird hand because the race of weird hand people like it when you shout at them)).

Jonathan McCalmont's list of top one reason why Guardians of the Galaxy reminds us of Star Wars.

Mars Terraform vid (Erik Wernquist / Jamie xx, via Martin Wisse).

Ignore the Rabid Herrings, I am the true enemy for thinking about 1 in 3 @futuristbot tweets actually sounds really interesting and cool.

Feels like this was the month when everybody got a Patreon.

Here are Ethan Robinson's May picks of short SFF fiction (based on some really big broad reading). & via Ethan, stories by Rachel Reddick, and by Tao Lin (without increasing the hit meter lol).

Quick science fiction short story for you. "JERRY IS CREATING: SOCIAL CARE."

Did you enjoy it?

"Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction." Laura Flanders interviewing Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Brown about Octavia's Brood.

Lana Polansky, Beyond the Sea: Subtext and Environmental Storytelling in Ecco the Dolphin (via Aisha's latest links list).

Sad Duppies / Rabid Duppies Podcast (Catapult): Episode 16: Alice Sola Kim & Dolan Morgan. Hosted by Jaime Alyse. "And it's not that I started writing like this book, but more that it got stuck in my head. Like my thoughts started to sound a little bit like the narrator of the audiobook, which I was listening to at like 1.5 speed to move through it more quickly [...]"

Ursula Le Guin? More like Versusula Le Amagone! Um, Ursula Le Guin on Amazon.


The ToastA Woman Who Travels Back In Time And Doesn't Have Sex With Anyone. The Other Avengers Are Pretty Busy Right Now. Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.

I added a note / placekeeper thing about Invocation to (Fwiw, Amazon are now very guarded about Kindle content updating, although I'm not sure it's always been / will always be that way (there's a risk of losing notes & highlights, you see)).

I can't remember where I found this

Cecily Kane on Game of Thrones: Sexual Violence in Epic Fantasy Follow-up & Linkspam: Sansa Stark.

Sarah Shoker: An Ambiguous Utopia: Science-Fiction and Fantasy as the Solution to our Problems? "Perhaps some would laugh at the idea that there’s any connection between elves and the social sciences [...]"

M. Harold Page series defending "traditional" high fantasy, dangling Strossblog lengths of discussion thread. Some interesting stuff here, although (having not read it all yet), it seems oddly thin on obvious (*) stuff like gender politics, and like how fantasy races (or species, you could say) relate contemporary identity politics more generally?

Meanwhile, next door in the gaming world, there's been discussion a-plenty. Here's a little more: Daniel Starkey on the tabletop RPG Ehdrigor. "Ehdrigohr starts from the base assumption that there are no colonizers. There are also no dwarves, orcs, elves, or gnomes. It's a world populated by nine nations of humans, inspired primarily by Native cultures and mythologies. They've learned to coexist with spirits and natural forces around them, but must also contend with monstrous creatures called 'Shivers' that emerge at night from dark places inside the Earth [...]."

OK, re that: three mini-theses on epic fantasy and race:

(1) It is the white supremacists, not the allegorists, who control the border with Fairy. It is difficult or impossible to "address race issues" by transposing them to the struggles of these fantastical beings, these tailor-made myths, transformed and enchanted figures and emblems, insofar as it is precisely the transposition to myth which always militates on behalf of racial domination.

(2) Fairy is definitively, constitutively oblique, and so is the systemic. Maybe they name the same thing. Invoking the systemic is starting to look as childish as invoking the mischief of fairies.

(3) Fantasy tries to honour the power of true names as a way of forgetting about the power of true slurs.