Oh, neglected blog…

2 05 2011

This is a placeholder post to announce that Meredith blogs here!

More recently she’s been contributing here (BBC Travel).

Fixing up this blog is a project for this summer.


Guest Post: Baby, It’s Creepy Outside.

10 12 2010

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile. I don’t have any good-enough excuses. I moved across the country and started a new graduate program? Seems feeble; it’s been, like, 5 months. To bring back the blog, here’s a most excellent rant from one of my favourite people, the Happiest Sadist.

Baby, It’s Creepy Outside

It’s the end of November, and that means I’ve been hearing Christmas music every time I leave my house for about a month already. Of course, that includes the perennially creepy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. I mean, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a nice holiday date rape anthem, right? (Here’s a link to the lyrics)

The thing that really gets me, aside from the fact that this song still gets played as a charming, sweet thing, is the legion of very stupid defences that people love to come up with for why it’s just an innocent song, why you gotta be so serious, you feminazis?

So, I thought I’d take apart a few of those defences. Because they’re terrible, and frequently, so are the people who make them.

– The “Say, what’s in this drink?” line is a big one. Mostly because it’s one of the most immediate “Wait, WHAT!?” lines. “Ahh, but you humourless feminists are imposing a modern interpretation on that!” is the most common rebuttal. “Rohypnol wasn’t even invented back then!” says the dudebro smugly, confident that he’s punctured any argument.

Except, y’know, that it’s actually long been that alcohol is the most frequently used date-rape drug. Being that it is legal and stuff, and that plenty of judges still think that just because she was unconscious from drinking doesn’t mean she didn’t necessarily consent. And that there had been drugs to spike drinks for a long time before Rohypnol, so that argument sucks even more.

-There’s the “The answer is no” line. I’m really not seeing how that’s at all fuzzy. And yet our charming creepy dude pushes on. Because that was back in the day, when “no” was simply a sign that you need to push more. Not, y’know, a statement of another human being’s wishes. This idea that a woman’s default state when it comes to sexual contact is “yes” is the goddamned core of rape culture.

– Then there’s the combo of “At least I’m gonna say that I tried” and the invocation of a possibly vengeance-seeking family waiting for her. Sure sounds like enthusiastic consent from a partner that’s enjoying it to me!

I really, really hate this song. Almost as much as I hate the people who defend it.

Quick Links for Monday

26 07 2010

Two Wheels, Four Paws – Misha Warbanski explains bikejor and canicross, that is, what those crazy people running their dogs while riding their bikes are actually up to. It sounds like fun, but I’m definitely not ready to try it.

The World’s Most Southerly ATM: An Interview With Wells Fargo’s David Parker – needcoffee talks to David Parker about the ATM at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Turns out if you’re down there and you run out of cash, you don’t even need to pay service fees.

“How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade” by Nick Poniatowski

19 07 2010

I read short fiction, too.

How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade by Nick Poniatowski is a sweet, smoothly crafted, heartbreaking fantasy about what it’s like to be queer (in both senses of the word) and smart in junior high school. It’s about those silly assignments teachers make you do and the dream (which I’m sure every bright kid has) of doing work that has real value, even if no one recognizes it.

I call it fantasy, because there’s a lot about what happens in this story that isn’t quite believable. Why would an alien ship lurk in the Earth’s atmosphere, ignoring every attempt at communication but that of a lonely seventh grader with a model rocket? Were they on safari? Poniatowski leaves that up to the reader’s imagination, and thinking of a plausible explanation takes more than a little imaginative yoga. But the story has deep emotional resonance, and I suspect that many readers who spent the ’90s watching the x-files and dreaming of something better will find a lot to relate to in Ashley and Tyler, and this slice of junior high.

Either way, “How to Make Friends in Seventh Grade” is a compassionate story well worth the read. You can find it at Strange Horizons.

Quote of the Day

19 07 2010

In an effort to, you know, update this here blog more often, I’ve decided to post a quote of the day – something thought-provoking, or beautiful, or grotesque that I’ve found in what I’ve reading. Maybe it’ll spark interest in the book. Maybe it’ll spark discussion. But either way, it will help me remember that I have a blog to update.

Here is the first.

“But they can’t just go off into the wilderness,” said Luz, who had been listening to her thoughts as well as to her father’s words. “Who’d farm our fields?”

Her father ignored her question by repeating it, thus transforming a feminine expression of emotion into a masculine assessment of fact. “They can’t, of course, be allowed to start scattering like this. They provide necessary labor.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Eye of the Heron, p. 21

I like this. Luz (who is an educated woman in her early twenties) is in the process of figuring out her own economic and social privilege as she moves toward taking action (the cover blurb promised me action). She’s working her way through information, speaking up to her kingly father. And without missing a beat, he translates what she says – her feminine discourse (and it’s decidedly feminine, in this universe where City women are denied the right to participate in the power-structures of their community and men rule the world in a third-generation-removed parody of pageantry on earth) – into useful, authoritative masculine discourse. He re-expresses her thoughts as if they were his own, and takes credit for her insight.

I like this passage because in bold, obvious strokes, it demonstrates a couple of processes that happen much more often than one would think in our supposedly liberated twenty-first century world: the appropriation of subaltern speech and the way in which it is then re-interpreted and integrated into the dominant group’s power structures for their own purposes, and their own purposes only.

Needless to say, Luz and her father have quite different uses for this thought.

In which I discover Pamela Sargent, and a bookstore you should check out

18 07 2010

Well, Pamela Sargent’s Starshadows: Ten Stories was a little disappointing: bleak stories of doomed humanity, skirting daring statements and ideas, but never quite making them. It deals with all the important topics – the role of technology in society, social inequality and privilege, colonialism, crime, poverty, violence, extreme environmental degradation – but lacks the punch to truly make the ideas convincing. The blurbs on the back of the book and the introduction all speak of “potential,” so I’m assuming that Sargent developed considerably as an author after the publication of these stories. I have The Golden Space and a couple of Women of Wonder collections in the queue, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve made it through those.

Image of the cover of Pamela Sargent's Starshadows

“Clone Sister” presents an interesting family, but its understanding of cloning is all muddled. “Gather Blue Roses,” which tells of a hyperempathetic Jewish character whose mother survived the Nazi camps, shows a lot of possibility, but stops before it gathers any depth. “Oasis,” explores what another hyperempathetic character, driven to the brink by others’ pain, might do to escape his own suffering but is little more than shocking. And “If I ever should leave you” reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife (which was Dr. Who fanfiction y/n?) with a lot less romance novel and a lot more darkness.

“IMT” was a favourite of mine because (no, I don’t mind admitting it) I’m a bit of a transit geek. The idea, here, is that the city of New York has in hand the plans for a teleportation-based public transit system, the eponymous IMT, that would solve its transportation woes. City manager Lisa Fernandez isn’t ready to reveal and implement the plan yet, but Joe Taglia, the head of the transportation research group, forces her hand. This move, rather than resulting in the immediate implementation of city-wide commuter teleportation, ends up revealing Lisa’s real concerns with and ambitions for the IMT, which extend to the structure and daily movements of society as a whole. In a way, it’s suburbia taken to its logical extreme, but it’s a striking idea nonetheless.

In the title(ish) story, “Shadows,” aliens invade the earth to save its inhabitants, to bring them enlightenment and eternal life among the stars. The earthlings don’t understand, are horrified by the loss of their homes, by their relocation to domed huts, by the forced and seeming pointless labour that the aliens make them do, and conspire and rebel against their captors. The aliens lash out at the rebels, killing them for their disobedience, then mourn those who have died. It seems a fairly obvious metaphor for the furious colonialism of the so-called Age of Discovery and, intergalactic expansion and colonization being a common theme in science fiction, particularly apt. What makes this story particularly interesting is that the earthlings never do mount a successful rebellion, the focus-character almost willingly gives in to the aliens’ religion, and the author never explicitly condemns the aliens actions. She leaves this up to the reader to do.

View of fields, lake and hills from Mission Hill winery in the Okanagan Valley

It’s been a while since I’ve had an update. I was in heartstoppingly spectacular Kelowna for several days, and I’ve been busy with various commitments since. It’s difficult to blog, having fallen out of the groove. In Kelowna, I worked my way through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles, Mystery and Mayhem. I’m always a little uncomfortable with Bujold’s work – there’s always something that doesn’t ring quite right – but her books are so addictive and fun. In Ethan of Athos, her manic hero, Miles Vorkosigan, doesn’t appear as anything more than a name dropped, which was pleasant because love and admire him though I may, Miles, with his boundless energy and his schemes, is exhausting, and I have no idea how anyone keeps up with him.

Readers in the Vancouver area should check out Booktown in New Westminster. It’s a huge used bookstore with a great SF collection, and it’s having a going out of business everything must go sale. Older SF titles range in price from as little as $1.95 to $7.95 and everything’s 50% off, so they’re going for pennies – you can really stock up. The selection is fantastic; I’ve filled some of the holes in my to-read list without even having to pay shipping charges. It’s a short walk from the Columbia SkyTrain station and there are a couple of coffee shops nearby in case, like, me, you can’t wait to get home to start reading your new books.

Help! I’ve been abducted by Atlantic Canadians!

27 06 2010

Salty Ink is an excellent blog on Atlantic Canadian writers and books by Newfoundland author Chad Pelley. He does make the dated and for the most part unnecessary distinction between “genre” and “literary” fiction, but his coverage is broad, thoughtful, and really gets into the meat of what’s great about Atlantic Canadian writing.

Right now he’s running Atlantic Canada Reads, in which a panel selected six reader-nominated books for a no-holds-barred fight to the death over which book every Atlantic Canadianone should read this summer.

So I’ve been a little distracted from reading SF!

The nominees are Lisa Moore’s February, a story about a woman whose husband dies in the ocean ranger disaster; Kenneth J. Harvey’s Blackstrap Hawco, a tale of the beauty and the ugliness of Newfoundland; Lesley Choyce’s The Republic of Nothing, in which a small island declares independence and hijinks ensue; George Elliot Clarke’s George and Rue, a stunning prose-poem about the last public execution in New Brunswick, the crime that led up to it, and the way racism perpetuates inequality and crime in a bigger-than-its-britches city; Darryl Whetter’s The Push and the Pull an antidote to the nostalgic pastoralism of too much Atlantic Canadian (or pseudo-Atlantic Canadian *ahem* The Shipping News) writing, about sex death and bicycling; and Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, about an intersex child born in Labrador’s ultra-masculine fishing culture.

Blog-readers get two choices. Even then, what a dilemma!

I haven’t read any of the books nominated, but I have read Clarke’s Governor General’s Award-winning Execution Poems, and I’m tempted to vote for George & Rue on that basis alone. When Matt Stranach suggests that Execution Poems may be the best book of poetry ever produced by an Atlantic Canadian author, he is not exaggerating; Clarke’s writing is spectacular and the book is one of the most powerful works of Canadian literature I’ve read.

But the other nominators make strong cases as well. Lesley Choyce is a hugely prolific author who has produced nearly 50 works of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction in the past 30 years. I’ve read about a dozen of them, and I can’t say that I’m a fan of his style, but I’ve always had a soft spot for micronations. The Republic of Nothing is probably a fun, light read.

In a violent storm, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982, killing all 84 men aboard. In his office, my dad has a piece of cream-coloured card, beautifully printed with the words Amateurs built the ark; professionals built the ocean ranger. A quick Google to find the source of the quote tells me that the real expression refers to the Titanic (another Atlantic Canadian shipwreck) and that it’s meant to encourage amateurs to trust themselves, to ignore accepted wisdom, and to take risks.

In an engineer’s office, I always took it as a reminder of the importance of humility, of professional responsibility, of the fact that every project touches lives. It was from that simple, letter-pressed card that I first learned of the Ocean Ranger disaster. February is perhaps particularly relevant in the wake of the more recent oil rig explosion off Louisiana.

The book sounds like everything that’s delectable about so-called literary fiction; vivid descriptions of the every day, events drawn so skillfully it becomes impossible to miss the layers, the resonance, the deep connections that give meaning to human life. It’s passion, tragedy and heartbreak that’s palpable. This story, of families spread apart by the need to find work, broken by disaster at sea (even today), could be representative of life in the region.

I’m curious about Kathleen Winter’s Annabel – dying to read it – but nervous about it as well. I wouldn’t vote this one the book everyone should read without having read it because I’ve read few novels written by cissexual, cisgendered authors dealing explicitly with gender, transgender and intersex, that aren’t sensationalizing and dehumanizing. Trawling reviews, I’ve read that Winter’s story is carried by the characters and avoids being political (hmm…), and that Annabel’s condition is a device to explore “more conventional issues.” It is dehumanizing and exploitative to use the body and experiences of a non-cis person as a device to explore cis understandings of gender and sexuality. The Globe & Mail‘s review of the book gives me hope, but this remains the one book of the six that I’m the most unsure about.

Thanks to Nicole Dixon’s lucid, concrete pitch, Darryl Whetter’sThe Push and the Pull is high on my to-read list. It sounds like Dixon and I are frustrated by much the same trends in Atlantic Canadian literature, and she’s really convinced me to give this one a try. As a cyclist and perpetual pedestrian, I sympathise with Andrew Day, the main character of this Halifax-to-Kingston cycling odyssey as he faces down “the consequences of our car culture.”

I prefer Whetter’s stories of educated women torn between heart, crotch and briefcase to outport Gran’s poultice recipe for the croup. – Nicole Dixon (Yes! – Ed.)

I’m finding Blackstrap Hawko a little difficult to grasp, because Perry Moore’s pitch for Kenneth J. Harvey’s 825 page behemoth talks a lot about Newfoundland, and what Newfoundland isn’t, but not a lot about what Blackstrap Hawko is. I know I want to read it, but I’m not sure why.

So this, Jessica Grant‘s delectable Come, Thou Tortoise, Farah Mendlesohn’s terrific, Hugo-nominated The Inter-galactic Playground, and an abortive attempt at reading Gwyneth Jones’s Bold as Love (does anyone want to talk to me about Bold as Love? Because it’s really not working for me and I’m feeling painfully un-hip over the whole thing) have kept me from my project. I’ll be back on track before long.