Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, September 6, 2020

My Thoughts on Ancillary Justice

So I found I really like The Imperial Radche series. And of course, when I finish a book, or movie, or game I like I surf the internet to see what other people thought about it and they hated it. 

Well, that's overstating the case. What attracted me to the book, other than the algorithm is that it won a ton of awards. But it is a case where at least anecdotally there is a dissonance between the critics and the general audience.

In the end, I don't particularly care. There are millions, hell trillions of stories and I don't personally believe in the universality of those stories. If I were 15 years younger maybe but I'm long past the age where I feel compelled to force the world to like everything I like.

Still, I'm finding a lot of the things that other people disliked are things I specifically liked. And that's worth examining. 

It's Boring
It's not the most interesting thing about the story but it's worth mentioning, many of the major conflicts in the story aren't solved by a big battle. This is a story where a lot of the action occurs by talking. And I kind of like that. There are plenty of stories where the heroes win by killing the bad boss at the end. This is more a story of diplomacy. 

Yes The Book Has Progressive Politics and That's Okay
It doesn't matter now but this book was a target in the backlash against progressive politics in science fiction and fantasy. This isn't 2014. By now everybody knows the sad puppies are stupid. But I've still seen the sentiment and people trying to defend the book by saying it's not that political and progressive and...

Look the third book has a B plot where a couple breaks up because one of them can't wrap their head over what a microagression is and getting back together when that person learns to "check their privilege". 

If you're argument is that this book is apolitical you're wrong. Subjective truth, power to reader, death of the author yada yada... you're wrong. 

And this bothers me specifically because people "not seeing race" or gender or sexuality. Is kind of a button for me because not seeing it gives them license to act abhorrently in regards to those things. 

So when not just this story but ANY story stands up and says, THIS. THIS is what I'm about when it specifically is about people being blind to those things I find it particularly infuriating. 

...There is a reason why in a series about an expansionist, domineering (and racist don't forget the racist) empire, EVERY FIVE MINUTES THE CHARACTERS STOP TO TAKE TEA!

On Personhood
So like the Fifth Season, Imperial Radche is about personhood. I want to be careful about saying it's about racism even though it is A LOT of science fiction and fantasy is about racism. And a lot of it is done badly. Racism isn't bad because racism is bad. Racism is bad because it SUCKS BALLS for your humanity to not be recognized. 

It is a story about a sentient machine slowly discovering it has feelings, and then asserting to the powers that be that those feelings are valid and should have been considered even within the framework of its own actions. 

Gender and Language
So one of the things that turns people off of the series is that it uses feminine pronouns for all genders. I don't think that ALL of the backlash against this creative decision is misogyny. It is a decision that does make the book harder to read. But it's also a show don't tell thing. 

Part of how the book explores the concept of personhood is through exploring how language can restrict or expand thought and expression. The book goes through GREAT pains to explain how in the language most of the characters speak the word for civilization and the word for citizenship to the dominating nation-state are the same implicitly making ANY conversation either the nation-state, "citizenship" or "civilization" implicitly exclusionary. 

English doesn't really have a gender-neutral singular other than "it" or "one" which have their own implications in a story about personhood. The language itself forces people to make presumptions about gender. And the book is trying force the reader to confront that. To confront how the language itself can force them into certain thoughts. 

Like I said this is a book where a lot of the conflicts are solved or even initiated through talking and as such both the audience and the characters are conditioned to understand implicit statements. How someone chooses to dress, or stand, the exact wording of a statement, what's not said and even what can not be said because neither the language nor the mental framework of the participants in the conversation to adequately describe something sometimes something important... like personhood exists. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

So... Infinity Train is back

So Infinity Train is back. It was one of the best new animated shows of 2019 so I'm really excited to see where it goes. In case you don't know the basic premise is that kids are whisked away to a magical train to deal with their "issues" via puzzle challenges designed to teach them something. Which sounds kind of like every other kid adventure story except that Infinity Train sticks to its guns. These are kids with actual issues that could cause them to turn to the dark side if unchecked, no matter how likable they are now and the train IS... NOT... SCREWING ... AROUND in its quest to beat some sense into them before things go south. 

I don't want to get too heavy into spoilers but the interesting thing about season 3 and why I'm so excited is that we were introduced to this season's protagonists as minor antagonists in season 2 who have utterly refused the train's guidance so this season it's going to be a heavier lift to redeem them than kids who already feel kind lousy about whatever is screwing with their heads and just want things to shake out alright. 

Like I said I don't want to get into spoilers. While each season of Infinity Train tells a complete story the episodes themselves are really short. So short that just giving a description kind of gives it away.  Hell, it takes season 1 like two or three episodes to explain the logic of the train and even then the season has a few plot twists that turn everything on its head making it so that even talking who the main characters of season two creates a giant spoiler.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Black Sci-fi/Fantasy Books Through July and Early August 2020

...Okay so it happened slowly but surely. I burned through most of the new TV shows and movies wanted to watch on streaming. Production schedules are screwy right now on top of the fact that I've just been watching more lately... for reasons. I got a free subscription to audible and rekindled my habit of reading.

A Word on Audiobooks
It's been a while since I've gotten new physical books but for a while, I've been subscribed to Tor's free ebook club. What I've kind of found is that I just don't have the attention span I used to so while I have a lot of books a lot of which are good I haven't really worked through them. 

Part of what got me into reading as a child is that at school there would just be long spans of time where I couldn't do anything else, attendance, the bus, latchkey. As an adult, I think it's even stupider but a lot of my teachers could never just say do whatever the hell you want as long as you don't bother anybody during times like that. To be fair to them I've taught, well substitute taught and there is just some stuff that's a bad look. Anyway, they did tolerate the quiet kid reading stories about alien invasions.  

Aside: Don't watch the Animorphs TV show. The closest filmic thing to what the books "felt like" is The Faculty, which is probably why to this day it's my favorite horror movie. I was already primed for it. 

But that's not now. I've got a computer in my pocket whenever I go out and these days again for... reasons I don't go out much at all. There is enough to do that books aren't really my only option anymore. 

That being said I've found it's easier for me with audiobooks. With an audiobook, if I get distracted for a minute or two or start dooffing around on my phone in the slower bits it seems less like a big deal rather than reading print where the story stops when I stop, though I know that may come off disrespectful to the writers that the story may not have my full attention. 

The speakers on my computer were busted and I never really had the cash to spend to fix them so one of the first things I did with my COVID-19 check was to get some new speakers and fix a few other things that bugged me about my computer. 

It took me a while but eventually, I started to think about all the stuff that I would have liked to do them and audiobooks made the cut.  

I Love It But... It Can Suck

I love science fiction and fantasy and have for a while. They are my genre of choice. But specifically with fantasy. It annoys me how everything comes back to white people. The default setting for fantasy is medieval Europe and while for the most part, I can get into that grove when I want to annoys me that a genre whose name derives from its infinite possibility consistently excludes other histories and other stories.  I made the decision that if I get back into reading fiction regularly I would try to make the effort to read more black science fiction and fantasy writers. 

This is to say that while I did and do read other stuff today at least I focusing on stuff from Black authors. 

It's not the first book I picked up but it's been on my list for a long time. Fantasy as a genre is in the shadow of Tolkien who loved the old stories and used them to make new ones. As I said it annoys me that at least until recently I didn't really see a lot of stories doing the same with other old tales, at least ones that aren't from Europe.  

This one does. 

You might want a quick primer on Yoruban and Caribbean folklore. 

Both of these series by the same author are good and are worth reading but The Broken Earth Trilogy feels as though it's a ground-up reworking of the Inheritance Trilogy which is why I think they work better together than as a single read. Both book series feature peoples that seem alien as major players to the plot. The Inheritance Trilogy is more so ABOUT these peoples than the Broken Earth. And so it takes a bit longer to get into the heads of these people though once you get into the grove it's not hard. 

As a result, I think The Broken Earth is the more accessible read since it's the characters at its focus are a little bit more relatable. And then once you get used to the idea that these are still people, which is part of the point of both series, come back to The Inheritance Trilogy.

I read these as e-books and I still need to read the third book in the series. They are shorter than everything else I read... which is good. I like N. K. Jemisin but at least the stuff of hers I read has been big and epic with both The Broken Earth and Inheritance Trilogy taking place of thousands, in the case of The Broken Earth Trilogy tens of thousands of years.  

The scale of those stories can get ... exhausting.  So I was and if I'm being honest still am looking something smaller and more intimate. For that Binti is a good start. But... it feels very much like it's written for a younger audience. 

Which isn't bad but sometimes does take me out of the story. 

Other Notable Mentions/Stuff I'm Thinking About
  • Lillith's Brood: I've read Lilith's Brood before. In fact I consider it to be the most complicated, densely intellectually packed novel I've ever read. I kept stopping to just mull over what the main character said for a bit. It's a book of ideas.  N. K. Jemisin's writing style kind of reminds me of that and it has similar themes of change and imperialism so I kind of want to revisit it. 
  • Midnight Robber: Brown Girl in the Ring was Nalo Hopkinson's debut. When I read writers talking about writing many are jaded by the fact that their first novel defines them when they've grown (mostly I'm talking about William Gibson and Neuromancer) If I find an author I like I kind of feel I owe it to them to give later stuff a chance and a lot of people have said that Midnight Robber is a better book. 
  • Children of Blood and Bone: I know next to nothing about this one but it keeps showing up in my recommendations. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Me Bloviating About Economic Policy and COVID-19

So yesterday was there was a big giant protest at the capital about Governor Whitmer's various executive orders and my initial reaction was. Ehem.


But then I calmed down. And realized once you scrape away the trumpisms, and confederate flags, and the guns, they do have a point.

Not being able to work for a lot of people means not being able to pay your bills and that sucks. I want to be clear. I'm not talking about the cult of work where people just want to "get back to normal" and start "doing stuff again". I mean folks where the disruption caused by COVID-19 will have serious life-altering consequences. Folks who can't buy groceries. Folks who might lose their cars. Folks who are worried about their kids dealing with permanent losses to their educational attainment.

The best way to mitigate that is finding ways to essentially "pay people to stay home." For a lot on the right paying people not to work is anathema. So I doubt we're going to get the response we really need to encourage the types of behaviors that would create optimal public health outcomes. But I can think about it.

I can think about UBI. I can think about paid sick leave (without the loopholes). I can think about college debt forgiveness. I can think about medicare for all. I can think about paycheck protection. I can think about a national moratorium on utility shutoffs and evictions.

And I want to be clear a lot of these things this pinko scum supported before the pandemic.

But then the question always becomes how do you pay for it.

Increasing the National Debt 
My feelings on the national debt have been chiefly influenced by the 2008 financial crisis where a lot of economists I trust have stated that due to the politics of the era politicians didn't go far enough when it came to using public spending on programs to fix the crisis. There were lots of reasons for this but one of them were of debt hawks.

This is 2020 not 2008 and thus far I haven't really heard much from anybody on that front but generals always fight the last war. The real risk of national debt spending has nothing to do with moral imperatives but rather the risk that interest payments will crowd out other government spending in a death spiral that collapses the public sector.

To that end increasing the national debt to mitigate a larger or more immediate economic crisis is a good investment and just common sense.

Cutting Spending
...I live in Michigan. The last decade of public policy in this state has been robbing Paul to pay Peter. I honestly believe that there are not many more places to cut money from both the federal and state budgets that will not be felt. If not immediately eventually.

This is going to be a long crisis. The government is going to have to do a lot. And I have a fear that eventually to get anything done the representatives in both levels of government are going to ask for spending cuts in other areas. And I'm going to hate it. I'm going to hate it so much.

Raising Taxes
I have a firm belief that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. At the same time. A lot of people are hurting right now. Time for some wealth redistribution.

So I am in favor of essentially progressive tax reform (and a UBI) that would lay the burden of paying for this emergency on the people most able to do so without harm.

But I am also aware that those people are the most capable of utilizing and mobilizing the systems of economics and government to not do that.

Furthermore, the last few years have turned me into a jaded cynical bastard. We are not a society of self-sacrifice for the greater good. I wish we were. We are not.

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