Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 3

I've been blogging my way through the July/August 2014 issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, guest edited by C.C. Finlay.  You can read parts 1 and 2 of this series here and here.

I didn't expect to enjoy Chris Moriarty's "Books" column this time around.  My first reaction was "Another tribute to Iain (M.) Banks?"  But I suppose it's a tribute both to Banks and Moriarty that I did enjoy it.  I daresay people will be writing about Banks for quite some time to come.

Next up was "The Traveling Salesman Solution" by David Erik Nelson.  This story impressed the hell out of me, not only for the strength of the ideas in the story because also for the protagonist.  The protagonist of "The Traveling Salesman Solution" (whose name I don't remember at the moment and can't find on flipping through the story just now) is in a wheelchair, but the story isn't about him being in a wheelchair.  There are details of the story that play out a certain way because he's in a wheelchair, but that isn't the focus of the story.  Very well done.

Cat Hellisen's "The Girls Who Go Below" is a fairy tale retelling, but so much more than that.  I didn't even recognize it as a fairy tale retelling - despite being very familiar with and fond of the fairy tale in question - until very near the end of the story.  And no, I won't tell you what story it is:  You'll have to read it and find out for yourself.

And this installment comes to a close with "The Day of the Nuptial Flight"by Sarina Dorie.  This one was just amazing - a classic science fiction story like they supposedly don't write anymore, told from the point of view of an alien.  When humans come to a new planet, maybe terraforming isn't the way to go.  Maybe there's another option.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Make your own kind of music, rap your own kind of rap

In the wake of the recent Forbes article on Iggy Azalea, there's been a lot of discussion about Iggy Azalea's "right" to be a rapper and the (to some people disproportionate) amount of attention she's been given by the media.  A lot of discussion.  (I'm not even going to try to sum it up for you - it's huge.)  But the point that kept popping up in my mind is that despite the fact that I have major philosophical issues with Iggy's appropriation of African-American culture, I keep going back and relistening to "Fancy."  The song is catchy.  But my mind keeps being tripped up by the fact that I know Iggy doesn't really talk that way.  But even more troubling is the fact that the experiences she's rapping about don't seem to be hers either.  Why would I want to hear Iggy rap about faux urban American experiences when I can hear so many other equally talented rappers rap about their genuine urban American experiences?  (AKA the Vanilla Ice problem.)

I think this is one of the factors behind the success of Lorde's "Royals" - the experiences related are genuinely hers, but presented in a way that's universal enough that almost anyone can relate.  And even though Lorde has an accent when she speaks that's not present when she sings, it's not really noticeable (and certainly not objectionable) because (A) she's singing in a neutral accent rather than trying to adopt a particular accent and (B) the experiences she's relating are still hers - she's not putting on a persona.

This was all thrown into sharp relief for me yesterday when I head "Fighting Fish," a new (to me) song by Dessa, one of my favorite rappers.  Listen to the song, and watch the video, and you'll see that Dessa presents a totally different way of being a white* female rapper.  She raps in her own voice, not only in the sense of her own accent, but also in the sense of speaking from her own experiences.  She has a degree in philosophy, and rather than hide that fact, she goes out and writes a rap where the chorus is centered around Zeno's Paradox of the Arrow.  But not, as my daughter expected when I first told her about it, in a geeky, Weird Al kind of way, but in a deliberate, conscious way, that recognizes this as part of her experience and then goes from there.

And I wonder what kind of music Iggy Azalea would produce if she adopted this sort of honest musical philosophy, where the performer is the person.  I'd certainly like to hear it.

*  Dessa is actually half Puerto Rican, but she recognizes that she's fair-skinned and appears white and has privilege because of that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If voting on the floor of the House could change anything, they'd make it illegal

One of the local candidates for my state legislature has as his platform a pledge to poll his constituents before any major vote and vote the way they instruct him to.

Go back and read that first sentence again.  I'd like to call your attention to my very deliberate choice of "as his platform," and not "as part of his platform."  I've talked to this candidate, I've been to his website, I've been to his Facebook group, and the entirety of his platform is his pledge to poll his constituents and vote the way they instruct him to.

I was ranting about this ("What kind of fools does he take us for? . . . But so many people will fall for this! . . . etc."), when my daughter asked "What's so wrong with that?"  After discussing the matter with her, I thought I'd share my thoughts with all of you, in case a candidate in your area tries to pull this kind of thing on you.

What's wrong with having a representative (let's call him "Bob") whose only function is to vote however his constituents direct him to?  Well, f you look at the process of how a bill becomes a law, you can see that there are a lot of steps that a bill has to go through before you get to the main floor vote and Bob polls his constituents.  First the bill has to be written - which nowadays often comes in the form of special interest groups presenting representatives with prewritten legislation.  Then it has to go to committee - during which process it's usually extensively rewritten and amended.  Then it comes out for debate on the floor - during which process it's usually extensively rewritten and amended.  Then is goes for a final vote - if and only if the party with a majority wants the bill to pass and thinks that they have enough vote to do so.  So you see that even if Bob's constituents instruct him to vote against what his party wants on the final vote, he's still had plenty of opportunities to shape the legislation the way his party wants.

"But," I hear you say, "his party still needs his vote on the final floor vote to pass the bill."  Not necessarily.  They'd like to have his vote, I'm sure.  But since he's running against a long-time incumbent from the other party, it's not like they'd be losing anything if his constituents instruct him to vote against his party, and in the meantime, he's had plenty of opportunities to do damage work for his party in the legislature.  They're willing to sacrifice this one floor vote which they weren't getting anyway to unseat an incumbent and get one of their own in to work behind the scenes, and are probably counting on voter apathy and the power of incumbency to hold onto the seat and eventually let Bob start voting however he pleases (or, more to the point, however the party leadership pleases).

Also, go back and read the first sentence of this post again.  Look particularly for the word between "any" and "vote."  Guess who gets to decide if a vote is "major" enough for the constituents to be polled.  If you guessed "Bob," give yourself a gold star.  Any sucker want to take the bet that as the term goes on, the number of "major" votes goes way down?  No, I didn't think so.

So that's why I won't be voting for Bob, and why I hope that if there's a Bob running in your district, you'll vote against them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 2

I've read some more of this issue, so here are some further impressions: (part 1 of this series is located here.)

When I started Paul M. Berger's "Subduction," my initial reaction was "Great, another protagonist with amnesia."  But the amnesia turned out to be an integral part of the story, not just authorial laziness, and the mystery is such a big part of the story that I really can't say any more about it without giving something away.  Just go read the story - trust me on this one.

Next up was Annalee Flower Horne's "Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned From the Trade Summit Incident."  I enjoyed this one while I was reading it - the light, comedic style that Horne used for this story perfectly suited it - but afterward I kept thinking about it and becoming more and more dissatisfied with it.  The story begins with a cadet on a spaceship being wrongly accused of a practical joke that released stink bombs into the ship's ventilation system.  In an effort to clear her name, she discovers bigger, darker things afoot.  And that's where everything fell apart for me.  The villains weren't over-the-top evil and incompetent in a humorous way (think Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb), which would have been great for this story.  They were just evil in a bland, corporate way, as well as being incompetent.  I started out really liking this story, but at some point it zigged where it should have zagged.

At one point in this issue's installment of Charles De Lint's "Books to Look For" column, he makes a point about how so much of the urban fantasy being published now is just kind of more of the same.  Case in point:  This issue he reviewed four novels that fall in or near the label of "urban fantasy," but after setting the magazine aside for two days I had to reread the reviews to see which was which.  I mean, they all sounded like perfectly charming books but none of them really jumped out at me in a way that made me want to read them right away.  He also reviewed a new "writers on writing" type book which, while not really my cup of tea, he seemed to really like.

Still to come:  Four more novelets (I still don't think I like that spelling), 5 short stories, the other book review column, and the movie review column.  Looking over the table of contents for the rest of the issue, I must confess I'm kind of skeptical about Ian Tregillis's contribution:  When the title of your story promises "With Diagrams" but there are no diagrams, you've just made your work that much harder.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014, part 1

It's been years since I read any of the SF digests regularly - occasionally I'd pick up an odd issue here and there, but I hadn't really read them regularly since the late 1980s. So when C.C. Finlay, the guest editor for the July/August 2014 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction came on Twitter saying he had 8 copies of the issue to send to people who were willing to blog about them, preferably people who generally didn't read the digests, I figured I'd give it a shot. I was thrilled to be chosen, and about a week later I was pulling the issue out of my P.O. box. First impressions: The first thing I noticed when pulling the magazine out of the envelope was that it was huge. I've bought novels smaller than this! (Back in the days before page inflation.) The second thing I noticed, as I happened to be pulling it out of the envelope upside down, was that someone other than the Science Fiction Book Club had purchased the ad on the back cover! Back when I was reading the digests regularly, SFBC pretty much had a lock on the back cover and inside back cover of any SF magazines, so this was a huge shock for me. Finally, I turned it over and looked at the front. The front cover art (by Mauricio Manzieri) is pretty awesome. It's got kind of a retro feel - not a steampunk sort of retro, but a 1970s-80s sort of retro. If I had seen this artwork on a book at any point in my life, I would have immediately known the book was SF, and I probably would have bought it. Late last night, I started to actually read it. Normally, I'm someone who reads magazines strictly in order, from front to back. I generally even skip the table of contents, so that I'm surprised by whatever comes up next. But when I was flipping through the issue, my eye was caught by "End of the World Community College" by Sandra McDonald and I started reading that, out of order. After about a page, I was so caught up by the humor it that I convinced my wife to let me read it aloud to her. While I continued to find the story amusing, she found it depressing and sad. So apparently I've got a much darker sense of humor than her - either that or story's not funny at all and I'm just a horrible person. At any rate, I still recommend the story. After that, I checked out the classifieds (there's usually something interesting in there; this issue it's an Easter egg for "End of the World Community College") and Paul Di Filippo's "Curiosities" column. This morning I got up, made a pot of coffee, and started in to read the rest of the magazine. The first story in this issue was "Palm Strike's Last Case" by Charlie Jane Anders. I admit I was kind of hesitant about starting this one. Not because of anything in particular about the story, but because I'm used to starting a magazine with an editor's column, or at least a short story. To start out with a novelette (or "novelet" as this issue's of contents spells it) seems to be demanding I pay a bit much attention to one particularly story right from the start. But I dove in, and I don't regret it. The story moves so quickly that I didn't really notice its length. I don't want to say too much about the story itself, as there's a large mystery component to it, but I think I can say without giving too much away that fans of SF or superheroes will love this one. And that's all I've read so far. More posts to come once I've read more. DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of this issue by C.C. Finlay, the guest editor, in exchange for agreeing to blog about it.