Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Great Things I've Been Reading, January 2017

This round-up has been on hiatus over a few particularly chaotic months, but is back for 2017. A few old stories and articles popped up in here because I was reading voraciously over that period - I just was encumbered by workload, a novel, and family events and illnesses. This month the round-up comes in three flavors: Short Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Non-Fiction Related to a Certain Odious Fool.

Short Fiction
"Ndakusuwa" by Blaize M. Kaye at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
Pour one out for Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, which is closing its doors. It paid more than double the professional average for short fiction, and steadily gathered interesting voices and great reprints. As I've gone through my back catalog, this one stuck with me. It's a flash fiction biography of a genius, from the first time she disassembled a clock, to all of the times she left her parents, always for further and less imaginable shores. Perfect poignancy.

"Mamihlapinatapei" by Rachael K. Jones at Flash Fiction Online
Another day, another title that's tricky on the tongue. You'll have to read to the end to learn the meaning of the title, and it's a joyous revelation. The line "For these children, there has never been a world without dinosaurs" gave me such a smile. It's exactly the sort of thing I crave people to speculate in our worlds of speculative fiction. This flash is saturated worldbuilding about coexistence and what it means to have to switch cultures and languages. Jones is, as always, really good at writing characters switching.

"Monster Girls Don't Cry" by Merc Rustad at Uncanny Magazine
My writing naturally lends itself to long scenes, which leaves me fascinated by writers like Walton and Zelazny, who are so comfortable with compact scenes. Rustad's story is a case study in how to do extremely quick cuts in prose, with some scenes lasting only a paragraph, but still being poignant. This takes such advantage of the short fiction form to build to some wonderful emotions.

"The Psittaculturist's Lesson" by Marissa Lingen at Daily Science Fiction
A cracking story of an assassination attempt on an empress whose magic and guards have stopped every avenue so far. More than their, she surrounds herself with parrots, and it's in teaching them language that the twist comes.

"My Grandmother's Bones" by S.L. Huang at Daily Science Fiction
When an editor asked for some good flash for a possible anthology, this was one of the first recommendations I emailed to him. This tab stayed open for a couple months because I relished in revisiting Huang's meditation on an adoration that existed in orbit with love and respect. It's a beautiful and concise view of a relationship.

"In Memoriam: Lady Fantastic" by Lauren M. Roy at Fireside Magazine
It opens complaining about a sexist obituary for one of the world's first superheroes, and it rolls on with rich personality from there. It's a great intersection in poking at superhero culture and at how we treat women, blended perfectly. The account of a fictional superhero life colors in how the narrator grew up, through the Halloween she dressed as Lady Fantastic, and her impacts later in life. Remarkably sweet.

Non-Fiction: Non-Trump Edition

"Villagers knit jumpers for Indian elephants to protect the large mammals from near-freezing temperatures" by May Bulman at The Independent
Temperatures plummet every year in India, but citizens of one village had a new problem: elephants recently rescued from abuse were going to freeze. Their answer? Knitting the most fabulous jumpsuits you've ever seen. It's worth clicking for the gallery alone, but your heart also warms at humans making sure their rescued animals are safe and cozy.

"Suicide Squad's Secret Drama: Rushed Production, Competing Cuts, High Anxiety" by Kim Masters at Hollywood Reporter
It's very easy to snark at disappointing blockbuster movies. Why didn't they just do ___? But these things are made by literally hundreds of people, and a single director or producer is never in charge of the full finished project. This piece focuses on Suicide Squad, the movie nerds couldn't wait to hate, and how its screenplay was rushed, its staff was underpaid, and how multiple editors were hired to cut different versions of the film. None of this is unusual, and we need to learn more about how these things are made if we're going to be actual critical audiences rather than whiners.

"Hyper Light Drifter taught me it was OK to ask for help" by Clayton Ashley at Polygon
Hyper Light Drifter was one of my favorite games last year, but what I didn't write about it was where it came from. The company is named "Heart Machine" because one of its founders suffered from acute heart problems and nearly died during development. This lovely article talks about how both the game's intense mechanical challenges and the story of its developer changed the writer's life, making them more willing both to ask for assistance in considering challenging art, and for assistance with their own disability. The part about the airport gave me such a smile.

"We Were All Trini: Searching For Asian American Mirrors in SF/F" by Sarah Kuhn at Uncanny Magazine
A beautiful essay about growing up Asian American inside fandom. Kuhn shares how other children wouldn't let her pretend to be non-Asian characters (hence being stuck with Trini from Power Rangers), and the toxic self-loathing she felt getting a toy of the only character on She-Ra who looked like her, but whose packaging described her as jealous of the superior main character. These are some of the experiences that leave people so pissed off that Scarlett Johansson would be cast as Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell film, and for them to clamor for an Asian or Asian American actor to play Iron Fist. It's an insightful essay worth the time of everyone in fandom.

"Mars Rover Curiosity Examines Possible Mud Cracks" at nasa.gov
There's dirt on Mars. We guessed that without going there. But mud means water, and ancient, cracked mud suggests where the water went. The history of moisture on Mars is one of the most important mysteries in deducing if there is life, or if there was, and if we can possibly survive there. Here we have images that suggest millennia of terrestrial development, and in the study, traces of what may have been lakes that existed for very long periods of time. That opens up huge possibilities for Martian history.

"Of kimono and cultural appropriation" by Shaun O'Dwyer at The Japan Times
The flipside of the previous article, this is an excellent editorial on people claiming cultural appropriation on behalf of others. It digs into a recent case of protests, mostly by white Americans, against the "insensitive" museum try-on display of Japanese kimonos, protesting its reinforcement of harmful Orientalism. But in Japan, the kimono industry is dying and makers hope foreign interest will help keep it alive, and many Japanese-Americans want this element of their history to be studied and experienced. It's a junction where the good intentions of SJW culture runs up against irrational outrage culture. This whole business is harder than knee-jerks, and we owe the world better.

Non-Fiction: Trump Edition
It's hard to do a link round-up right now and not talk about Donald Trump's disastrous first week as president. But why would we bother avoiding it? Any reasonable adult in the country should be concerned.

"“I’m begging FEMA for boots on the ground”: Donald Trump leaves GOP leaders begging for aid after deadly storms in the South" by Sophia Tesfaye at Salon.com
When I say "disastrous," I mean literally. He was too busy signing executive orders restricting women's healthcare to send aid for victims of tornados in Mississippi and Georgia. This is literally the biggest job of the presidencty and he already screwed up so badly that mayors and governors are begging him to pay attention.

"Trump's state department purge sparks worries of 'know-nothing approach' to foreign policy" by Julian Borger at The Guardian
Prevention of future disasters seems less likely than ever given how his administration has gutted foreign policy intelligence. Consider this article which explains, among other things, "Thomas Countryman was on his way to Rome for an international meeting on nuclear weapons on Wednesday when he found out he had been summarily removed from his position." Trump has surrounded himself by candidates for cabinets who have little or no experience with the areas he's nominated them to cover. Especially for a president who plans to use drone strikes, border walls, mass deportations by military violence, and aggressive manipulation of foreign economies, he is leaving the government with far inferior resources to predict when those vile policies will cause retaliation.

"Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually" by David Himmelstein and Steffie Woodhandler at The Washington Post
The Republican-dominated Congress has rushed to hamstring Obamacare since coming into session. At multiple points they've been callow and held meetings at midnight, attempting to avoid being covered by the press as they slashed or eliminated funding for parts of the ACA. The party keeps promising a superior replacement, but the president, Speaker of the House, and Senate Pro Temps have never once laid out such a plan - not in their years of opposition to Obama, nor since winning the November elections. Without powerful replacements, this move will kill at least tens of thousands of citizens. They are voting to kill the chronically ill, and they are coming for Medicare next.

"Pentagon confirms weekend drone strikes under Trump" by Kristina Wong at The Hill
Drone strikes are an evil perpetrated by George Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump. He was in office less than a week before he started using drones to blow people up. In the brief history of drone usage, the victims have overwhelmingly been innocent civilians. This is not a policy unique to Trump. It is instead part of my country's legacy that he eagerly embraces. One hopes he would rein it in, but after less a month of his presidency, he has given no sign that will be the case.

"Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Cowardly and Dangerous" at The New York Times
Disgusting as Trump immediately handcuffing people at JFK International Airport and banning refugees was, this also marked a turning part in discourse. People who remained notoriously apolitical finally broke their silence around the capricious policy, standing up for refugees who have settled peacefully in this country for centuries. Not only are people growing louder; the people standing up are growing altogether. We need this.

"Indiana bill would allow police to shut down protests 'by any means necessary'" by Joanna Walters at The Guardian
Republican lawmakers in Indiana rushed to propose a bill that would allow police to kill protesters. Police can already get away with killing rioters who endanger the lives of others, but this bill proposes that simply blocking an intersection on a road is grounds for "any means necessary" behavior. The trouble with such legislation is that police are often the source of justification, meaning that any taking of life during a protest could be excused without so much as a court hearing. Especially as the United States heads into four years of what most hope will be peaceful protests, such laws are draconian and nightmarish.

2 comments:

  1. So many great things here, and of course I forgot what I wanted to respond to as each new thing came up. I remember desperately wanting to see Native American characters that were real. In that way, Smoke Signals was amazing, and Hillerman's books, as well. I find the sudden rushes to quell demonstrations/protests legally and viciously to be terrifying. That that are so many unwilling to let others have their voices. Those around DAPL are actually trying to push through a bill to make it okay to run over protesters as long as it's "accidental." Cute.

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  2. Hey John! Definitely want to check out some of your short fiction recommendations. It's something I've never been fantastic at writing, but it does get easier when you're reading it!

    So I feel like your blog is too legit for something as silly as a blogger-to-blogger award, but.... I love your writing so I'm giving you one anyway. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award - come check out the post and pay it forward :) https://sashimiforbreakfast.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/interlude-awards-ceremony/

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