Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mason Humor

This gem from my two-year old...

What sound does a rooster make when he's sick?


Thank you. Thank you very much. I'll be here all week.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Devil Is Not in the Details, the Devil is In My Pants. Yeah!

Spare me a media fan moment.

Can I tell you that I love the new Battlestar Galactica? I know, I know. I'm not exactly bleeding edge here with this admission. Thing is, we don't have cable. I've been catching up on this series as soon as the DVDs arrive at Netflix.

I'm sure there are plenty of blogs devoted to this series, so I'm not going to say much. Except that last night while I was watching the first few episodes of season 2, I turned to Shawn and said, "Do you know what I really love about this series? What I love is that when people get hit hard enough to bruise the bruises don’t magically disappear in the next episode! Apollo has been sporting a shiner he got in the middle of the last season during a prison riot."

My suspenders of disbelief are made of the strangest kind of stretchy material. I have no problem with faster than light or machines that can mate with humans.... IF, and this is the key, IF you provide me these "contemporary fantasy" details I talked about in an earlier post. I will roll with the most insane plot holes -- like a virus that can infiltrate a LAN -- because the people, the situation, and the details captivate me.

This is true in writing to a fair degree as well. TV has the advantage of being singularly consuming. Pretty pictures can completely distract from a lame storyline (sometimes). Reading is a slower more internal process, so you have to be much more careful with plot... BUT, I still think that a detail can make or break a book. A detail that knocks the reader out of the story is a very, very bad thing. Cops don’t use those kinds of handcuffs anymore! Bang. The book hits the wall and bounces into the recycling bin. (And, if you’re my partner, the author's name is committed to memory on the "never buy again" list.)

Meanwhile, bits of arcane minutia can fascinate and captivate a reader. My experience as a reader tells me that a reader wants to feel like they're experiencing something new in a "true" way. Like reading about an archeologist might actually give you a tiny bit of understanding about archeology as a science, or a profession, or a lifestyle. (Like, the summer I did archeology camp I got eighty hours of sun. I had the best farmers' tan ever that year. Of course, my snot was black from the dust... but hey, I looked good.)

I think about this in reflection of the other posts I’ve made recently. Like, one of the reasons I think it's important to represent all the various ways of being in the world (ethnicity, queerness, religious bent) is because the more of the weird, fascinating truth you include about your world, the more real it becomes to the reader, and the more interesting. Knowing that Minnesota has a large Armenian immigrant population, for instance, is just the kind of cool, useless knowledge that readers love to collect, IMHO.

And, in some weird way, you can get away with minor plot problems if your details are all right. At least a satisfied reader is more likely to forgive.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

She Thought She Was A Woman, But She Was Another Man

I want to talk about a book I read some time ago called A BROTHER'S PRICE by Wen Spencer. Set in ubiquitous fantasy/stock science fiction alternate universe, this is a fairly straightforward gender role reversal story. On this unnamed Earth-like planet (complete with horses, steam power, and European feudalism), men are rare. Women do all the heavy lifting and the men are left in charge of raising children and keeping house. Our hero, Jerin Whistler, is the prettiest and most fertile boy in the all land. When a princess ends up nearly dead on his family's doorstep, sexual hijinks ensue.

Actually, I found the sexual situations fairly entertaining. Admittedly, this is a fantasy I like to play with myself. I've even started a few role-reversed stories of my own (though none are finished, see entry regarding my problems with short stories below) and I even have a dystopian matriarchy, which involves an alternate future Russia that I've been noodling around with in my own head for years.

Plus, my own life lends itself to thinking about gender and gender roles a lot.

I had a very weird problem with this novel. It pushed all my buttons, but none of them hard enough. It's a strange complaint to say, "Hey, you didn’t piss me off enough."

I think in a lot of ways this is a really ambitious novel. Or, maybe it could have been, and that's what bothers me. My sense is that all my big questions with this novel were accidental. Spencer seemed to be playing up the titillating aspects of all of this, rather than bringing the gender/sex question to the forefront.

After a couple of days of mulling this book over, I started asking myself, what was Spencer thinking when she wrote this? Was she actually intentionally making some kind of statement about gender and society? In many ways, our hero, Jerin, could just as easily have been a woman. Though I think there would be a fair number of feminists out there (probably including myself) who would have cried bloody murder if she had written this book with Jerin cast as a woman. The number of times he's threatened with rape alone would have pissed me off. The things that are vaguely titillating about his situation (the way women grope him, the words they use to discuss, crudely, having sex for procreation with him, how he’s treated like property, and the amount of money he’s "worth") would be completely offensive if he were a woman.

Then, I thought, well, Tate, you sexist pig. They're plenty offensive as they're written. And, that could could be the point. Pretty subversive on Spencer's part.

But, at the end of the thing, I decided that I was once again just thinking too hard. It seemed to be meant as a kind of science fictional Regency romance, all meant in a tongue-and-cheek, wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way. (The very last line in the book was my tip off.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Yes, But What's the Hypothesis?

Do you ever wonder if someone is running a social experiment on you?

On my way to taking my partner to work the other day, I discovered, of all things, a plastic pot -- the kind you might, in a less inclement season, find an ivy growing in -- sitting on the last step in front of my house. I had a brief moment where I thought, "I could walk around this." But, I didn't. I picked up and threw it into the garbage bag I keep in the back of my car.

Today... there was a newspaper in the exact same spot.

Okay, who ever is out there, yes, I am compulsive about picking up what I perceive as garbage in front of my house.

Stop it all ready. You're making me crazy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

At Home in SF/F

It's interesting to hear Elizabeth Bear say she's also on the look out for queer folks in novels she reads. And that finding them is like finding home.... or at least suddenly feeling more welcome.

There are many reasons I read. One of the reasons science fiction and fantasy keeps me coming back is because it is one of the few places in which an odd duck like myself can reliably find a reflection on the page.

I think that's why this issue of diversity is so important to me.

I remember having my heterosexism kicked in the teeth by Elizabeth A. Lynn's novels, which I read in high school. She not only made me realize when I was fourteen that people of the same gender could love each other, but also she made me really take a hard, cold look at my gender assumptions, in general. Who says "soldier" automatically means "male"? Who says "artist" is more likely female?

These questions have haunted me my whole life. When I see a science fiction show with the ubiquitous male space ship captain, I ask myself, why? Why is the captian a man? Why is white (if he is)? Why is he straight (if he is)? What else is out there?

Of course, I ask these same questions when watching commericals, driving my friends and relations absolutely spare. A real quote from me: "Honey, did you notice the guy selling the matresses is the white guy with perfect teeth and the people who can't seem to find a decent bed are the black couple?" Real response from significant other: "Could you just not think for five seconds?"

I blame Elizabeth A. Lynn.