Hiatus. It’s an ungainly word that means “a break or interruption in continuity.” If you’re one of the five faithful readers of this blog, or anybody with whom I correspond more or less regularly, you know I’ve been mostly off the net for a while without explanation. It was due to a convergence of issues, some under my control, others not so much.
No major crisis, no emotional breakdown, no terrorist kidnapping. Just a conglomeration of stuff. Broken computers, stricter protocols on private use of the internet at work, moving my daughter to her new college, birthday celebrations, job assignments, drained mental batteries, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Anyhow, like Noisy Nora, I’m back again with a monumental crash.
Here are a few things that happened while I was away that seem to deserve comment, in no particular order of time or priority:
Meep-Meep: The Darling Daughter is now enrolled as a sophomore at the University of Texas San Antonio, Home of the Roadrunners, where she secured a debate scholarship and is studying college stuff when not arguing the merits and demerits of the War Powers Act, legalized gambling, fracking, and other urgent social controversies, ad nauseam, with ruthless precision. She and her partner won their division in this year’s first tournament, so she’s off to a good start. She likes her classes (with the possible exception of the mandatory Texas Politics course), she’s got a good job that flexes with her school schedule, and San Antonio seems to agree with her.
I’ve posted previously about her two rounds of Basic Cadet Training at the US Air Force Academy, where she was stymied by a pair of freak accidents that resulted in a torn knee ligament and a broken ankle. After much soul-searching and prayer, she decided that two tries were enough, and perhaps she was being guided in a different direction. Having gone through Basic just the one time myself, I agreed she’d given that opportunity more than a fair chance. There have been some dismaying changes at USAFA over the past several years, and I can see that what might have been the right place for her at one time probably isn’t so any longer. She learned some important things from her experience there, and she’s the stronger for it, so it certainly wasn’t wasted time.
Sadly, There Is No Curry on Mars: India’s space agency, ISRO, successfully placed its Mangalyaan satellite (aka Mars Orbiter Mission, or “MOM,” gotta love that) into Mars orbit this week, on a modest budget and a whole lot of ingenuity, right behind NASA’s considerably more expensive MAVEN probe. Good on ‘em, and the more the merrier. I’m anticipating some spectacular images of Comet Siding Spring, which brushes by Mars within 82000 km on October 19. China, meanwhile, issued a press release stating that they are NOT jealous of India’s accomplishment, no way, no how. Mm-hmm.
UPDATE (22 Oct 14): The Siding Spring images were good, but not spectacular. Here’s a link to NASA’s archive of photos from its various satellites and rovers, plus some misleadingly bombastic conceptual art.
Bon Temps Bonté: This has been in the works for over a year now, but my short story “Not So Vast a Space” debuts this month in the preview issue of Port Yonder Press‘ new literary journal, The Bonté Review. You might remember that the story was originally written for Book of Sylvari – An Anthology of Elves, but Port Yonder Press decided to go a different direction with its approach to short stories. Happily, my story was not left behind. The Bonté Review includes a variety of genre fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and art, and provides a nice taste of the realistic, thoughtful writing focused on the human condition you can expect from Port Yonder, though my story subverts that approach, just a bit. The preview issue is currently offered only to Port Yonder Press supporters, so inquire at their webpage if you’d like a copy. UPDATE (Nov 19, 2014): The journal has been renamed The Eastern Iowa Review, and will accept its first round of submissions from December 1, 2014 through February 28, 2015. Guidelines here.
Pulling the Hydra’s Teeth: I was gratified to see the U.S. government muster the wherewithal to mobilize a multinational coalition for the purpose of stamping out ISIS, or ISIL, or IS, or whatever we’re calling it this week. I expected some World Heritage Site plus a few thousand civilians would have to explode before anyone took substantive action, so that’s a plus. I’m skeptical we’ll be able to shut ISIS down entirely from the air (and I’m an airpower guy), but this particular brand of thug isn’t as circumspect as some of its predecessors with regard to operating out in the open where precision-guided munitions work best. They’re not at all cautious about chattering on social media, either, which should be saving our intelligence community a ton of effort locating them. One interesting press release described our attacks on “mobile refineries,” a sort of kit-car approach to oil processing that generates a large chunk of ISIS’ revenue. I’d never heard of these before, but they seem to be a big thing now, ironically touted as a way for countries with oil resources in “danger zones” to refine their crude at lower risk and cost. Anyhow, we’ll see how well the “caliphate” holds up when it can’t pay its cannon fodder or provide them bullets, beans, and shiny new Toyota Tacomas to replace the ones we’re blowing to smithereens. Takes a bit of the gloss off “terror tourism.“
Credibility Lost: In catching up on a few of the winning stories from this year’s Hugo Awards, I encountered Charles Stross’ novella, Equoid,* which begins as a clever pastiche of H.P. Lovecraft and his tales of eldritch horror but devolves into something else entirely and resorts to one of the most offensive clichés of back-alley pulp spec-fic and hentai manga: the tentacle rape of a young woman. Lovecraft is routinely lambasted for being a misogynist, but he never exploited sexual assault on a female character to embellish an atmosphere of horror. Stross’ fans assert this explicit content isn’t necessarily representative of his work in general or other stories in his Laundry Files series about a British agency fighting “occult threats from beyond spacetime.”
Popular science fiction writer and pundit John Scalzi, de-facto leader of a faction that has spent much time over the past couple of years crusading against misogyny and patriarchal culture in the speculative fiction community, lauded the story and affirmed Stross’ credit for inspiring it during a 2008 bar conversation about an idea for an anthology that mashed-up unicorns and a degrading sexual act. Both authors seemed to think the concept was rather amusing, and Stross took up Scalzi’s challenge to write a story about it.
So, the whole thing began as a dirty joke between a couple of fraternity bros, which is banal enough, but after the story’s written, after the award is presented, they’re still laughing about it.
Responses to Equoid’s public posting on the Tor website were celebratory, for the most part. A few readers expressed some discomfort with the subject matter without directly criticizing the story. One ventured that, in light of Lovecraft’s literary restraint, Stross’ portrayal felt a bit gratuitous.
The reactions seemed oddly subdued, considering the recent uproar over things like chain mail bikinis in the American Science Fiction Writers’ newsletter artwork, Golden Age authors reminiscing admiringly about their attractive female colleagues, and the British Science Fiction Association’s perennial failure to gender-balance its award nomination lists.
How am I supposed to take seriously the moral outrage of writers and fans who tut-tut about failed Bechdel Tests and sound loud alarms over the tiniest gender-bias transgression, when a story inspired by abusive sexual behavior, showcasing the brutal violation of a female character, gets a free pass?
The answer, of course, is that I’m not. The difference between moral conviction and social expediency is displayed in the living, and the writing, and the conversations held behind closed doors, and the jokes swapped at the bar after a couple of beers when you think nobody’s listening.
Not that I expect they’ll care much, but Scalzi and Stross will get no recommendations from me now or ever, no matter how exquisitely crafted and popular their stories. Everybody has their lines, and Equoid blasted through one of mine.
*Link to Equoid provided for reference. As the Tor website cautions, the story contains material that may be upsetting or repellent. Fair enough. Color me repelled.